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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (1455-1536)

French psalter c. 1525-30

RCIN 1051956

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As part of their fine and thorough education, based on continental humanist principles, Henry VIII’s children were all taught to write in the new Italic hand. His second daughter, Princess Elizabeth, wrote in a particularly elegant and legible style. The passage shown here also demonstrates her accomplished use of the English language: even a hundred years earlier, French – rather than English – had been the language chiefly used at court.

The English poem added by the Princess at the end of this small edition of the Psalms (in French) reads as follows: ‘No croked legge no blered / eye no part deformed out / of kinde nor yet so ouglye / halfe ca[n] be as is the inward / suspicious minde. / Your Louinge / maistres. / Elizabeth.’  The signature ends with a decorative flourish, which has at times been interpreted as an elaborate capital R, standing for ‘Regina’ (Queen). Comparison with documents known to have been written by her before her accession in 1558, however, shows that the flourish was used by her in that period. It is not known to whom the young Princess addressed this profound reflection that a twisted, suspicious mind is far worse than physical disability. Her difficult childhood, in and out of favour as royal policy changed, had given her ample experience of the effects of suspicion.

On the opposite page is a beautifully-drawn astrolabe, poised on a book inscribed: ‘VERBV[M] DO[M]INI’ (The Word of the Lord) [both Ms are represented by superscript lines]. In a cartouche below this is a sentence in Italian: ‘Miser é chi speme in cosa / mortal pone.’ (Wretched is he who places hope in a mortal thing.) Taken with the astrolabe representing astronomy, the message appears to be that it is only with the help of divine inspiration that Man can understand the universe.

Read more about the Psaultier de David in Elizabeth Clark's blog post for BBC Radio 4.