Save the Rookwood Book of Hours

Rookwood Hours05
The burial service from the Rookwood Book of Hours, image © Sotheby’s

The Rookwood Book of Hours is a fifteenth-century Flemish illuminated book of hours produced for the English market in the 1460s. It was owned by Thomas Rookwood of Coldham Hall (1658-1726) in Suffolk, a leading East Anglian recusant who fled England after the Revolution of 1688. Rookwood went into exile in France, where he served in some sort of military capacity; he even received a French knighthood. He attempted to return home but the conviction of his brother Ambrose for treason in 1696 (for his part in the Barclay Conspiracy to assassinate William of Orange) meant that Thomas went into exile again, this time to Bruges in the Low Countries. Thomas did not return to England until 1704, and thereafter he kept his Jacobite convictions quiet and began a significant collection of books, which was continued by his daughter Elizabeth (1683-1759). By 1737, when Elizabeth catalogued them, there were 1,889 books in the Rookwood family library, including a number of manuscripts and incunabula.

A particularly interesting feature of the Rookwood Book of Hours is the fact that the prayers for the Feast of St Thomas Becket have not been erased or defaced. In 1538, Henry VIII ordered the removal of all references to Becket, even from private devotional books (one of the first physical signs of the coming Reformation). This may mean that the Rookwood Book of Hours was owned by a religiously conservative family who later became recusants. It is possible that the Rookwood Book of Hours was owned by the Rookwood family from the 1460s onwards, although this would be well-nigh impossible to prove. It is equally possible that Thomas Rookwood found it in Bruges (where the manuscript was probably illuminated) and brought it back to England in 1704. But even if this was the case, it is highly likely that the Book of Hours (which follows the Use of Sarum) was being used by English Catholic exiles in Flanders. It is even possible that the book comes originally from the library of the English Convent (the house of Augustinian Canonesses) in Bruges, where Thomas is known to have stayed, where his mother was buried, and where his daughter Elizabeth went to school. In later life Elizabeth was a collector of medieval religious art and owned several painted panels.

The Rookwood family continued to own the Rookwood Book of Hours into the nineteenth century, and after their move from Coldham Hall to Hengrave Hall, the Book of Hours was displayed and used for daily devotions in the restored chapel of Hengrave Hall, which was completed by Sir Thomas Kytson the Elder in 1538. The chapel at Hengrave is one of the best preserved examples of a pre-Reformation domestic chapel in England and features 21 lights of imported Flemish stained glass which were made specially for Kytson’s chapel and shipped to Ipswich. After Catholic Emancipation in 1829 (or even slightly before), the Rookwood Gage family moved their worship (which had been conducted in a variety of secret chapels around the house) back into the chapel that had been built for it. The family continued to worship there until the death of the last Baronet in 1874.

The Rookwood Book of Hours was associated with the Rookwood family from at least 1704, and possibly earlier, and therefore belongs with the Rookwood family papers which form part of the Hengrave Manuscripts in Cambridge University Library. I have asked the Manuscripts Librarian to consider buying the Rookwood Book of Hours, but with only 12 days until the manuscript is auctioned at Sotheby’s on 2nd December, time is running out. The Rookwood Book of Hours occupies a unique place in the history of Catholic recusancy in Suffolk, and I am most anxious that it should remain in the UK and at an institution where it can be studied; if it can be reunited with the rest of the Rookwood family’s surviving manuscripts, even better.

One reply on “Save the Rookwood Book of Hours”

Fascinating. At two recent Kentwell events (1588 and 1593) my wife and I took the roles of Sir Robert and Lady Dorothy Rookwood, but found some of the available accounts of the family contradictory and confusing. We’d love to have more accurate information – especially as we found a way for the notorious Ambrose to be present as well…! (See;ccyB8AvUMhEG.bps.t.1224617021/1147739058630009/?type=3&theater )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.