Medieval manuscripts in Dutch Collections
Medieval manuscripts in Dutch Collections

A psalter from Royal libraries

Psalter. Latin, Parchment, 185 ff., 245x177 mm. Northern England, 1190-1200. Leiden, UB : ms. BPL 76 A

Some manuscripts have come a long way to get where they are, and may have passed through many a famous owner’s hands… So has the psalter which was donated to the Library of Leiden University in 1741 by Johan van den Bergh, one of the mayors of Leiden and curator of the Library.

The Psalter was produced in England around the year 1200. It is adorned with 23 beautifully executed full-page miniatures and numerous decorated and historiated initials. Originally made for the Archbishop of York, Geoffrey Plantagenet, somehow it soon found its way across the Channel. It is assumed that it was no less a person then the French King Philip II Augustus who acquired it, brought it to France, and gave it to his son Louis.

Little Louis may have admired the colourful pictures and the neat and regular letters, but there was more to this book, for as an often-cited note on f. 30v informs us: 'Cist Psaultiers fuit mon seigneur saint Looys qui fu Roys de France, ouquel il aprist en s’enfance'. So not only did the saintly king own the book, he learned [to read] from it too.

It made the manuscript a precious heirloom, almost a relic: a book that once belonged to a saint! In the course of the centuries it was passed on among the highest rulers of medieval Europe. Was it used by the noble ladies of the family to teach their children to read? Blanche de Navarre, second wife of the French king Philip VI, bequeathed it to her step-grandson Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. From father Philip it went to son John the Fearless, and then to grandson Philip the Good. It may also have been used by Margaret of Parma, governor of the Netherlands from 1559 to 1567, who was an illegitimate daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Imagine the royal fingerprints that must be all over this fine piece of history…!



  • Goed gezien, Tien eeuwen wetenschap in handschrift en druk. Leiden 1987, no. 27.

  • H. Wijsman, ‘Het psalter van Lodewijk de Heilige’ in: Omslag (2004 - I), pp. 8-10. 

See also

  • Flemish surgical instruments

    Small manual for a surgeon, based on the Cyrurgie by Meester Jan Yperman (incomplete). Flemish. Paper, 130x95 mm. Flanders, last quarter of the 15th century. Leiden, UB : ms. BPL 3094

  • The Zwolle bible

    Bible. Latin. Parchment, 6 volumes, c. 530x390 mm. Brethren of the Common Life, Zwolle, 1464-1476. Utrecht, UB : Cat 31 and 15.C.11

  • The Utrecht Psalter

    Psalter. Latin. Parchment, 91 ff., 330x255 mm. Benedictine monastery of St. Peter, Hautvillers near Reims, c. 820-835. Utrecht, UB : Cat. 32 / 1

  • A child’s alphabet

    Alphabet and prayers. Latin. Parchment, 4 ff., 208x151 mm. South Holland, c. 1480. The Hague, MM : ms. 10 D 34

  • All articles in Highlights
Koninklijke Bibliotheek - Nationale bibliotheek van Nederland