The Luttrell Psalter

51DzJrfmOEL._SS500_[1]Michelle P. Brown. (2006). The World of the Luttrell Psalter. The British Library.  96 pgs, 90 color photos. 

“D(omi)n/(u)s Galfridus louterell me fieri fecit”

“Sir Geoffrey Luttrell had me made”

This inscription makes the Luttrell Psalter nearly unique. Psalters are usually carry inscrptions recording that it was made under the patronage of a bishop, abbot or royalty, or is inscribed by its clerical author. This Psalter was made under the patronage (and perhaps direction) of a local Lord, a knight. It was made by at least five different artists working over a period of years and in close association with the Luttrell family. 

The contents include a calendar, a Gallican Psalter divided into three 50 psalm divisions (Irish style?), Canticles, a Litany, five collects, and the Office of the Dead (Sarem) in 309 folios. The calendar includes St Edmund, king & martyr, St Thomas Becket (2), St Augustine, St Wilfrid of York, St Hugh of Lincoln, Guthlac, Botuph, Frideswide, and Ordination of Pope Gregory. For book with so much East Anglian influence, the absence of St Æthelthryth (Etheldreda/Audrey) is puzzling. Brown mentions the obits of several later owners of the book, but she doesn’t mention records of the Luttrell family. This, along with the less skilled finishing off of the book, would support her belief that the manuscript was incomplete when Sir Geoffrey died on 23 May 1345, but if it was completed by his son, then why wasn’t his name recorded as an obit? Brown notes that this book would have been one of Geoffrey Luttrell’s many efforts to keep his memory alive and provide for his soul. While his chantry chapel in St Andrew’s church in Irnham, part of his primary Manoral estate, survives, the psalter is perhaps the best-preserved memorial to the Luttrell family. Most of his other embellishments in St Andrew’s church were destroyed during the Reformation.

To this day the graves of the Luttrell family remain in St Andrew’s church. Sir Geoffrey and his wife Agnes are buried in the chantry chapel, where the Easter sculpture of the open tomb was originally located, and the brass plaque denoting his son Sir Andrew Luttrell (in armor) in the main church floor. Brown shows us how much we can learn about the Luttrell family from the illustrations in the book. She notes that Sir Andrew may have had rather negative feelings about his father’s extravagant memorial plans. Sir Andrew died at age 77 after an active military life, having his first child in his old age by his second wife. In Sir Andrew’s will he ordered a subdued memorial service, nothing like his father’s elaborate provisions. Brown notes that Sir Andrew had lived through the Black Death and with his active military life may have made him view death with less piety than his father. He was deliberately not buried in the chapel with his parents but out in the nave with the congregation. The Great Famine, the Black Death and peasant’s revolt, and a long barren first marriage punctuated Sir Andrew’s life. Sir Andrew’s grave out among the people makes him one of them.

The Luttrell Psalter is famous for its depictions of everyday life. Sir Geoffrey was proud of his estates and there are a few innovations like a watermill that are known to be on Luttrell estates which are carefully depicted in the Psalter. The Luttrell family is depicted in full along with their servants in a banquet scene. Sir Geoffrey was also a Lancasterian supporter, and this is depicted in discrete ways. 



250px-LuttrellPsalterFol202vGeoffLutrellMounted[1]Psalm 109 (110) illustration scheme is particularly striking – ‘The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies as your footstool’. This psalm is prefaced by a large illustration of Sir Geoffrey (or his son Sir Andrew?) in his armor aboard his warhorse being handed his helmet by his wife and his shield by his daughter-in-law. Heraldry of the Luttrells and his wife and daughter-in-law are prominent, signifying the close relationship between the three families. Brown interprets the illuminated initial opening the psalm as King Edward enthroned next to Christ, and Sir Geoffrey (or his son) answering his king’s call – ‘your troops will be willing on the day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth.’

There are biblical and saintly illustrations scattered throughout the book. There are illustrations of the Virgin and Child, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion. Although it lacks an Hours of Mary, Brown notes that there are illustrations of her life scattered about. The martyrdoms of Thomas Becket, St Andrew the Apostle, and Thomas of Lancaster (who was being promoted for sainthood at the time) were all included.  Note the family’s endowed parish church was dedicated to St Andrew, also reflected in the use of the name Andrew in several Luttrell generations. The Luttrell Psalter is also known for its grotesques that are supposed to scare but look more fanciful to me. Some remind me of something out of Alice in Wonderland. 

Michelle P. Brown, former Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts of The British Library, does a good job of fleshing out the world of the Luttrell Psalter. She has done an excellent job of showing how the Luttrell family shaped their Psalter in ways that were innovative for the laity at the time. She reminds us how important is to know the context of a manuscript!

Here is the  Turning pages version of the Luttrell Psalter at The British Museum (broadband only).


1 thought on “The Luttrell Psalter

  1. We recently made a short film based on the images in the Luttrell Psalter for our museum in Lincoln. We recreated the farming year following the illustrations in the Psalter and had items such as the medieval plough and the spinning wheel replicated. Michelle Brown was very supportive and the DVD contains an interview with her about the Luttrell Psalter. You might be interested to know that we created a choir to sing the music notation at the back of the Psalter led by a specialist in early music and recorded in it Irnham church itself – it was a very moving experience to hear the music being sung in Irnham church for possibly the first time in almost six hundred years
    Pauline Loven
    WAG Screen

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