The Luttrell Psalter
Sir Geoffrey Luttrell was born in 1276 and died in 1345. He owned the manor of Irnham in Lincolnshire, as well as land in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.
To find out more about Irnham (and to see a few pages from the Luttrell Psalter) visit the village website at: http://www.irnham.org/
As a knight, Sir Geoffrey was inevitably involved in the military campaigns of King Edward I. He is known to have served in France and in the king’s invasions of Scotland. (There are illustration in the Luttrell Psalter of women and children being massacred, which reflect the grimmer side of Sir Geoffrey’s life, but these are seldom reproduced). On other occasions his activities were more courtly than military. In 1298 he accompanied Blanche of Navarre, who had married into the English royal family, on a journey into France. Sir Geoffrey probably spent much of his time looking after his estates.
A Psalter is a book containing psalms and prayers. Rich people often had such books made to help them say their prayers – most people had to make do without this help! It is not known exactly when Sir Geoffrey had his Psalter made. It may have been towards the end of his life, as the illustrations were never finished – some 200 of the 309 pages were finally decorated.
The Luttrell Psalter is one of the most famous books made in England in the Middle Ages. This is because it is filled with pictures in the margins that tell us so much about everyday life in this period. One scribe wrote out the text and the book was then handed over to be illustrated. At least five different illustrators were involved, although only one of them was responsible for the central part of the book, which shows most of the scenes of ordinary life.
The scenes that have been adapted for use in this on-line Advent Calendar are from the hand of this distinctive illustrator. Apart from the gorgeous picture of Sir Geoffrey dressed as a knight with his wife and daughter-in-law, we are not sure of the identity of any of the other characters, although some of them must surely have been based on people known to Sir Geoffrey. The names used in this calendar for some of the characters are derived from Sir Geoffrey’s long and detailed will, which lists not only members of his family, but of his wider household as well.
If you would like to see some of the pages from the original Luttrell Psalter then the British Library has included them in its ‘Turning the Pages’ online gallery at: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/ttpbooks.html (This site requires the shockwave plugin).