Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-684899dbb8-xt4p2 Total loading time: 0.604 Render date: 2022-05-29T12:17:54.620Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

Aid, Protection, and Social Alliance: The Role of Jewelry in the Margins of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

John R. Decker*
Pratt Institute
Rights & Permissions[Opens in a new window]


This article examines five miniatures in the “Hours of Catherine of Cleves” (completed 1442), each containing representations of jewelry in the margins, which operate on two different levels. First, they demonstrate Catherine of Cleves’s adoration of five female saints. I argue that the fictive jewelry may be understood as simulated ex-votos designed to secure the aid and protection of the saints. Second, the images establish strategic alliances with each saint. As a final dimension, I explore how the vitae of these saints may have had resonances for the duchess that help explain the focus placed on them in the manuscript.

Research Article
Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 2018


The Hours of Catherine of Cleves (completed 1442) is a complex manuscript designed and executed for a member of the high nobility.Footnote 1 The book is lavishly decorated with 157 full-page miniatures depicting scenes from the Bible, abstract theological concepts, and devotional images of the saints. The miniatures provided its patron, Catherine of Cleves (1417–76), Duchess of Guelders and Countess of Zutphen, with a feast for the eyes, mind, and soul. Each miniature includes not only a main image, but also intricately worked marginal motifs ranging from subject matter standard in books of hours (e.g., plants, animals, and scenes of daily life) to more idiosyncratic, even baffling, images (e.g., Saint Bartholomew surrounded by pretzels or Saint Ambrose surrounded by mussels and a crab). The combination of themes normally found in books of hours as well as less common subject matter may be understood in terms of customization in which idiosyncratic elements reflect the interests, needs, and desires of the patron (and presumably her confessor).Footnote 2 Although many miniatures in the book evidence a more or less opaque relationship between the main image and the marginalia, I am concerned with five in particular: an Adoration of the Magi, which focuses on the Virgin and Child, and prayers dedicated to Saint Agatha, Saint Agnes, Saint Cecilia, and Saint Lucy. Each of these folios is located in the section of the manuscript containing the suffrages (intercessory prayers) and each has minutely executed works of jewelry in its margins. While jewelry occurs within other miniatures in the book, the depictions of it are usually small-scale, rather indistinct, and do not take up much space relative to the entire page. In the five miniatures under study in this article, the presence and scale of the jewelry draws attention to the depicted saints and appears to indicate that each woman is of particular interest for the book’s patron. That none of the margins surrounding the miniatures of the other female saints in the suffrages section contain jewelry underscores the importance of these images. Unlike other objects appearing in the margins (i.e., pretzels, shellfish, birdcages), the precious metals and stones that make up jewelry had long-standing links with religious adoration and devotion, especially when used in ex-votos and reliquaries. Further, jewelry was socially freighted and, among the aristocracy, operated within a complex web of personal and political associations.

In this article, I argue that the miniatures in question work on at least two different levels. First, the images demonstrate Catherine of Cleves’s pious adoration of five influential female saints (the Virgin Mary, Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy). The objects in the margins may be conceptualized as simulated ex-votos dedicated to each woman. The appeals to the saints that such gifts signal may be understood within the context of Catherine’s roles as mother and lady of the house. Second, the marginal motifs establish personal, social-political relationships (some bordering on social equality and even a slight superiority on Catherine’s part) with each of the saints. The choice of such strategic alliances was fitting for the duchess not only based on her gender, but also on her rank. Within the context of these alliances, the vitae of these saints may have had particular resonances for Catherine of Cleves that also help explain the focus placed on them in the manuscript.

Other scholars have discussed the marginal motifs in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves as mnemonic triggers, as subtle encodings of complex theological principles, and as references to didactic literature.Footnote 3 The analysis I offer here is not meant as a negation of any prior interpretations but instead is designed to operate in conjunction with these (and other) possibilities. The manuscript is intricate and its complex layering of meaning and association—and the heuristic and hermeneutic difficulty entailed in such imbrications—helped to drive the mental work it took to engage with the book’s contents and make sense of them ever anew.Footnote 4 The religious and social-political interpretations I explore are subsets of those demands. In what follows, I take a multitiered approach to each of the images as a means of understanding the manuscript’s complexity as well as the types of work it required from the viewer. As it is impossible to know with any certainty how the duchess received these images, the readings I propose are necessarily speculative.

The Appeal of These Particular Saints

An immediate question needs to be addressed: of all the saints in the suffrages, especially the female saints, why these five in particular? Given the Virgin’s elevated position in medieval Christianity, the special honor shown to her is in keeping with orthodox norms. The attention given to the others, however, is a bit more perplexing. I begin my analysis of the miniatures by attempting to establish what and how these holy women may have meant for the duchess. As a means of evaluating various possibilities for interpretation, I examine the common connections between Christians and the community of saints that pointed to a saint’s role as a patron. For example, similarities between the saint’s name and the names of the patron and her kinfolk (i.e., name saints) could become a source of linkage. Further, it was often customary for Christians to have a so-called day saint in which the feast day(s) of the saint coincided with major events in a devotee’s life (birth, christening, marriage, etc.). These are not the only possibilities, as will become clear, but they are perhaps the most quotidian and provide ready points of departure for analysis.

Four of the saints—Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy—appear to have no direct or overly compelling connection with Catherine. They are neither her name saints nor are they the name saints of any of her children.Footnote 5 Saint Catherine, name saint of both the duchess and her youngest daughter, appears in the suffrages but is not singled out by the inclusion of jewelry in the margins. Beyond Catherine of Cleves’s progeny, the only name linkage with the four saints in question is through the duchess’s sister Agnes; the rest are otherwise unaccounted for by name. The Virgin is better represented by name in Catherine’s family as the duchess’s mother, another sister, and eldest daughter were all named Mary. In terms of connection via feast days, there appears to be no overlap between the saints depicted and any significant days or events for Catherine or her children.Footnote 6 The same apparent lack of compelling overlap between name and day is also the case for Catherine’s husband, Arnold of Egmond, and his family. Neither the duke nor his father or his brother (for obvious reasons) shared a name with the saints depicted: his mother, Mary, overlapped with the Virgin. As with Catherine’s family and children, none of Arnold’s family had any of these saints as a day saint either.Footnote 7 Catherine commissioned this book for her own use and the emphasis placed on these saints probably reflects her interests rather than those of her husband anyway. This is especially likely given the already strained state of affairs between the duke and duchess by the time of the manuscript’s completion, a point to which I will return. If the saints were not strongly linked to Catherine via the normal day or name associations, what other types of appeal might they have had?

Each of the five saints was a virgin, each was a bride of Christ/God, and each was a martyr (the Virgin through her compassio). As such, all five offered the duchess and her three daughters a positive example of female, Christian behavior. In addition, Catherine, as duchess, was responsible for the welfare and comportment of her ladies-in-waiting. The virgin martyrs provided beneficial examples to them as well. These links, however, are incomplete at best, as the suffrages contain prayers to other virgins and martyrs, including Saint Catherine (a virgin martyr and bride of Christ), who are not singled out by the inclusion of fictive jewelry in the margins. A more compelling reason for the choice to differentiate these five saints in the manuscript is that they are named in the Canon of the Mass—the Virgin in the Communicantes section and the other four in the Nobis quoque peccatoribus section, which included petitions for salvation.Footnote 8 Their inclusion in the Canon marked each as being especially elevated above the other members of the community of saints. Each was a powerful intercessor and, as such, was worthy of special attention and veneration within the context of a book of hours created for a pious laywoman. The presence of jewelry in the miniatures may have been a means of recognizing their special status and appealing for their aid. As such, the fictive jewelry may have operated as simulated ex-votos.

Simulated Ex-Votos

Normally, the gift of an ex-voto operated within a larger votive complex, which involved a specific saint located at a particular shrine.Footnote 9 Either the saint, the location, or both were associated with the ability to cure specific maladies or offer particular types of protection and aid (e.g., the shrine of the Virgin in the Old Church in Delft that was purportedly efficacious in cases of drowning).Footnote 10 When a votary sought the help of a wonderworking image of a saint, she or he made a vow to that saint at that location. The vow of a gift was offered as a sign of good faith between the petitioner and the saint.Footnote 11 The underlying mechanism for the exchange was the concept, borrowed from Roman law, of do ut des (I give that you may give).Footnote 12 Generally speaking, the supplicant under the oath (the votary) promised a gift of some value in the hope that the saint would respond with a reciprocal (though greater) gift of a miracle or a specific benefit (e.g., protection or healing).Footnote 13 Such vows were designed to persuade the saint to cooperate but did not guarantee that the intercessor petitioned would respond favorably, if at all. Theoretically, the item promised was not given quid pro quo but was a display of respect meant to initiate or maintain a relationship between the petitioner and the saint. Only after the petitioner received the saint’s blessing was she obliged to make good on her initial oath to deliver the promised item.Footnote 14 Offerings could be highly mimetic, as in the case of body-part ex-votos or of portraits of the donor (painted or sculpted). In cases in which the offering was a portrait of the votary, the gift not only expressed thanks, but also made it possible for the donor to offer prayers perpetually and continue seeking aid and protection through her surrogate.Footnote 15 Ex-votos could also be completely abstract, as in the gifts of particular weights of silver or of wax.Footnote 16 Even with mimetic offerings, a level of abstraction was acceptable. The image or object given need not, for example, be an exact copy of the limb affected or of the person making the offering to be efficacious.Footnote 17

It seems a rather short step from the accepted practice of offering items that were already representations of other things (e.g., feet, hands, breasts, etc.) to the use of purely fictive items as perpetual gifts. The representations of jewelry in the margins of the Adoration of the Magi and in those of the prayers dedicated to Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy, I argue, provide examples of such an approach. They, in part, act as stand-ins (though still using expensive gold and silver leaf) for valuable items offered to powerful saints. To be sure, there are differences between a standard votive complex and the relationship between gift and saint in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. First, there is no indication that the images in the book were considered to be wonder working. Instead, each saint (with the exception of Cecilia) appears to make available the standard, orthodox offers of aid and protection assigned to each by common belief. Second, the images in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves are not associated with a particular shrine or site. That said, however, the inclusion of the depiction of each saint within a book of hours situates it within a sacralized location (albeit one that is transportable). In addition, that these saints occur in the suffrages section of the manuscript, with its strong associations with supplication and intercession, inflects each in a manner strongly suggestive of a standard votive scenario. In other words, each representation of a saint becomes a locus of devotion and petition that operates within the sacralized space of the book. Such spaces can be conceived as providing simulated shrines at which the miraculous becomes possible.

Associating the pages of a manuscript with a shrine dedicated to a saint was not unique to the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. The connection between books of hours and shrines or pilgrimage sites was firmly in place by the fifteenth century. Modifying a personal book with an object purporting to contain the power of the saint, or even referring to it, was not unusual. Pious book owners, for example, collected pilgrimage badges and had them sewn into books of hours as physical links between the manuscript, the sacred site, and the wonderworking power(s) ascribed to the saint.Footnote 18 Generally, these objects were included in the suffrages section of books of hours as a means of offering a focal point for building a close connection between the saint and the reader.Footnote 19 In some cases, the pilgrimage badges were replaced by painted renditions, which appear to have preserved the claims to power and efficacy asserted by the physical versions.Footnote 20 The inclusion of such contact relics (actual or simulated) elevated the already sacred content of the book and transformed the manuscript into a repository for the saint’s presence and intercession. In short, they made the book into a second-order shrine.Footnote 21

Although the miniatures for the Adoration of the Magi and those dedicated to Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy contain neither actual nor fictive pilgrimage badges from sites associated with them, the concept was not foreign to the manuscript’s painter or its patron. In the suffrages section of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, the book’s illuminator depicts a Saint James scallop (in an alternate form) in the shells represented in the miniature dedicated to Saint Ambrose.Footnote 22 He also painted this same sign—depicting scallop shells along with the shells of mussels and oysters—in the margins of a folio in the Van Alphen Hours.Footnote 23 In addition, the three enameled roundels in the miniature dedicated to Saint Agatha in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves may be a variant of a pilgrimage badge from Wilsnack, though it is difficult to establish this with any certainty.Footnote 24 In short, the practice of linking manuscript illuminations with sacred sites was widespread in the Low Countries in the fifteenth century and provided epistemological tools that may have allowed sophisticated readers like Catherine of Cleves to understand and interact with such miniatures as a form of simulated shrine.

The simulated offerings of jewelry in the margins of the folios under study need not be understood as gifts presented in thanks for specific outcomes but may be conceptualized, following the logic of do ut des, as all-purpose, perpetual gifts to help secure each saint’s friendship and cooperation, especially in terms of her particular soteriological-apotropaic specialization(s). The vita of each saint helped to determine the types of aid and protection she offered. In what follows, I will examine each of the miniature-margin combinations and will discuss the depicted saints in terms of the help a supplicant could expect from them. I will return to the vitae throughout the article as a means of developing various points. For now, I turn to two of the folios—the Adoration of the Magi and the prayer dedicated to Saint Lucy—that employ items that have rather clear links to ex-voto supplication and, as a result, present felicitous starting points.

Offering and Supplication

The Adoration of the Magi (fig. 1) depicts the Three Kings bringing gifts to the newborn Christ.Footnote 25 The Virgin supports the infant on her lap and receives the visiting Magi like a noblewoman holding court. The scene occurs in a framed border, which is placed between blocks of text. The margin spaces above, below, and to the right of the text and image are dominated by an ornate paternoster.Footnote 26 The strand is represented as being comprised of coral beads, a golden cross (executed in gold leaf) with coral and pearl embellishments, tassels with seed pearls, a golden seven-pointed star (also in gold leaf) with pearls, and a purse or talisman bag decorated with tassels, pearls, and the initials CD likely denoting Catherina Duxissa (Duchess Catherine).Footnote 27 The paternoster was a highly personal piece of jewelry as well as a devotional item that was often worn not only to demonstrate piety, but also status.Footnote 28 Catherine of Cleves, for example, is depicted with a similar (though not exact) paternoster hanging from her arm in a Crucifixion miniature that appears earlier in the manuscript as part of the Saturday Mass of the Virgin (fig. 2).Footnote 29 The specificity with which the paternoster in the margins of the Adoration of the Magi miniature is depicted raises the possibility that it is a representation of one of the duchess’s actual prayer strands, though it may also be an idealized paternoster that was never part of her collection.Footnote 30 In addition to being indicators of piety and status, the expensive materials used in luxurious strands, like the one represented in the miniature, often purported to have apotropaic qualities. Coral, for example, was associated with protection against evil and diseases of the blood.Footnote 31 In the context of the folio, the paternoster strand frames both the text and the scene of the Adoration of the Magi. It appears to sit atop the surface of the vellum as if it were independent of the other elements on the page. In doing so, it claims to occupy a middle ground between the narrative world held within the borders of the main image and the duchess’s own reality. As a result, it acts as a mediating device between the sacred and the profane. Such a role is in keeping with the paternoster as a devotional aid—it helps focus and discipline the devotee’s pious work by providing a means by which one can count and track one’s prayers. It is also in keeping with the function of a votive offering in which a physical object becomes a mediating link between the faithful and the heavenly host.

Figure 1. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Adoration of the Magi in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 237. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

Figure 2. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Ladder of Salvation in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 160. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

By the mid-fifteenth century, paternosters (after 1470, rosary strands) were ready-to-hand aids by which the faithful were able to offer devotion to the Virgin.Footnote 32 The prayer cycles recited in connection with paternosters included the angelic greeting Ave gratia plena (hail, full of grace) and the paternoster (our father). Christians offered their veneration to Mary because her unique status as mother of Christ and bride of God allowed her to intercede with the godhead on behalf of humankind. Further, the faithful believed that Mary’s compassio with Christ during his tribulations imparted to her the status of co-redemptrix (co-redeemer), making her another source of salvation.Footnote 33 The relationship the votary entered into with the Virgin is made abundantly clear in tracts dedicated to Marian devotion. A late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century work titled The Book of Our Lady’s Psalter is a good example of the benefits Christians believed the Virgin offered. Though published several decades after the completion of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, the tract encapsulates long-standing beliefs about Mary’s efficacy as an intercessor and, as such, is instructive. In the text of The Book of Our Lady’s Psalter, the votary addresses the Virgin and asks for aid and protection:

[Mary] … take from us the burden of our sins. Show mercy my lady and heal my sickness [of sin] and drive sorrow and fear from my heart. Deliver me not into the hands of my enemies and strengthen my soul at the hour of my death. And, lead me to the haven of purity and deliver my soul to its maker. … You are my strength and my support oh Maria, my comfort and my protection. To thee I have called out when my heart was heavy and you heard me from the heights of the eternal mountain. In your virginal hands, most beloved woman, I commend my soul for all my life, to my dying days.Footnote 34

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves includes similar sentiments, though not as part of the text accompanying the Adoration miniature. At the end of the Saturday Mass of the Virgin, prefaced by the miniature of the duchess kneeling in prayer with her paternoster before the crucified Christ (fig. 2), the text contains a petition to Mary. The inclusion of the prayer was not a normal part of the Mass and likely reflects Catherine of Cleves’s devotional interests:

Holy Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, in your hands and in the hands of your Son I commend on this day my soul, my life, my feeling, my sight, my lips, my eyes, my hands, my feet, and my whole body. Protect me, lady, from misfortune and from sins and from the temptations of the devil and from the punishments of hell. Illuminate my heart with the holy spirit and with your grace make me forever obedient to your commands, and permit that I may never be separated from you.Footnote 35

While not directly tied to the paternoster prayer cycle, the depiction of the duchess with her prayer strand in the opening miniature for the Saturday Mass of the Virgin strongly implies that this prayer fits into the type of Marian focus that paternoster strands facilitated. The performance of paters and aves was a self-conscious action directed toward winning Mary’s favor and increasing the chance of being one of the elect when judgment arrived. In addition, early modern Christians believed that the act of reciting the prayer cycle was akin to weaving a chaplet of roses for the Virgin, making the recitation of the prayer a supplication and a votive offering simultaneously.Footnote 36 The combination of the Adoration scene and the paternoster that flanks it in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves thematizes the devotional act of offering votive gifts to the Virgin. The Magi present themselves to Christ and his mother and bear costly items (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) as a show of respect and as an acknowledgment of the hope of salvation offered by the Incarnation. The prayer beads in the margins represent a similar action—through prayers and the mediation of a precious item, the duchess could offer her own gifts of thanks and express her own desires for intercession and redemption.

The miniature dedicated to Saint Lucy displays a similar focus on offering and supplication (fig. 3).Footnote 37 Lucy stands in front of a cloth of honor holding a martyr’s palm in her right hand and a chemise-bound book in her left. Though ostensibly alive, she is pictured with a sword protruding from her neck, which refers to her particular martyrdom.Footnote 38 Rather than reproducing the story of her heroic death in detail, the miniature offers the reader a static, iconic image. The timeless, placeless setting in which the saint is situated centers the devotee’s focus squarely on Lucy and on the task of addressing her to invoke her aid and protection. The simple border delimiting the saint’s image separates the iconic representation from the text below it. Filling the margins surrounding the main image and text is a fictive chain comprised of silver beads (in silver leaf), gold connector rings (in gold leaf), and gold tags (also in gold leaf) inscribed with Luciae Virginis (of Lucy the Virgin). It is unclear whether the chain represents a necklace or a long girdle (possibly a demi-ceint), though a long girdle is more likely for reasons that I will discuss later.Footnote 39 Whether it is a necklace or a girdle, the genitive form of address on the tags implies that the item depicted belongs to the saint.Footnote 40 As the story of Lucy’s martyrdom makes no reference to such an object, the chain may be understood as a gift destined for the saint depicted in the iconic image it surrounds. In other words, the silver and gold item in the margins acts as a simulated ex-voto offered on the duchess’s behalf. The tags not only designate the item as belonging to Lucy, they also invoke her name. Such invocations, with or without the addition of a gift, were a common means of activating the power of a saint in order to receive the benefits she or he promised.

Figure 3. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Saint Lucy in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 310. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

A good example of this is found in an Upper Rhenish woodcut depicting the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (1440–60). Below the tableaux of the saint’s first martyrdom, a Latin text invokes Sebastian’s name as a means of asking for his aid: “I beseech you blessed Sebastian, for great is your faith, to intercede for us with the Lord Jesus Christ that we may be delivered from pestilence or epidemic. … Almighty everlasting God, through the merits of blessed Sebastian your most glorious martyr, revoke that widespread pestilence deadly to men.”Footnote 41 The text directly invokes the saint and follows that invocation by naming the help requested. In addition, the prayer uses the saint’s name as a means of beseeching God for similar aid. The request made in the invocation is specific and is limited to the apotropaic competency associated with the saint—in this case, Sebastian’s link to plague. The Lucy miniature in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves relies on a similar formula of intercession. The text names the saint, “Lucia sponsa xri” (“Lucy, bride of Christ”), and then asks her to “ora pro me ad dominu[m]” (“pray for me to the Lord”). Further, the section of the Canon in which Lucy appears—the Nobis quoque peccatoribus—beseeches God for mercy through the saints named in it. Unlike the woodcut dedicated to Sebastian, however, the text in the Lucy miniature does not make an appeal to her areas of specialization.

By the late Middle Ages, Lucy was associated with ocular maladies (presumably based on her name, which was associated with lux, or light) and was often portrayed with a pair of disembodied eyes on a platter. The story of Lucy recounted in Jacobus de Voragine’s popular Golden Legend, however, does not mention the removal of the saint’s eyes as part of her martyrdom. Their absence in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves may indicate a preference for the Golden Legend as an iconographic source, or it may be a means of shifting attention to other forms of aid that Christians believed Lucy could offer. De Voragine’s version of the saint’s life, for example, associates Lucy with the cure of menstrual hemorrhage. According to the narrative, the saint visits the tomb of Agatha and prays for a cure for her mother, Euthicia, who suffered from a bloody flux. In response to a vigil and prayers, Saint Agatha informs Lucy in a dream vision that she need not seek saintly intervention. Lucy’s faith, Agatha says, has given her the power to cure such afflictions all on her own.Footnote 42 If I am correct and the object depicted in the margins of the miniature is a girdle, it may be seen as both a simulated ex-voto invoking Lucy’s aid and also as an apotropaic object for protection concerning a practical health concern of the female reproductive body.

Long girdles (like the demi-ceint) were worn around the waist or hips and, as such, came in contact with the pelvis. When treating any ailment, whether by conventional medicine or folk remedies, it was often necessary to ensure that the cure and the affected region came into contact. In the case of certain apotropaic treatments, physical contact was absolutely vital. An example of this is found in the use of so-called pregnancy scrolls.Footnote 43 Rolls of parchment, inscribed with appeals to saints (especially Margaret as patroness of pregnant women) and apotropaic formulae, were unrolled and draped over the abdomen of a parturient woman. Those employing such aids believed that the contact between the charm and the woman’s body most effectively transferred the scroll’s power to the recipient and helped ensure a good outcome. As a girdle, the item depicted in the Lucy miniature functions in a similar manner, at least notionally, by providing a means of encircling the affected area of the body with the saint’s healing power (much in the same way it encircles the miniature). Were it a necklace, its potential efficacy as a healing object for menstrual hemorrhage, as well as its value as an ex-voto, would be diminished.Footnote 44 When taken in conjunction with the simulated coral beads of the paternoster in the Adoration of the Magi miniature, and their association with protection against diseases of the blood, the potential appeal to Lucy for help with blood-related maladies may signal that this was an abiding concern for Catherine.Footnote 45 As the mother of four young children ranging from nine to two years in age (three of which were girls), and as a woman still in her childbearing years, concerns regarding bodily health would have been practical daily matters.Footnote 46 Given the ambiguous nature of the object depicted, however, these conclusions must remain speculative.

Care and Protection

Such daily concerns regarding childbearing and child-rearing may also have been at play in the miniature of Saint Agatha (fig. 4).Footnote 47 As with the Lucy miniature, the folio depicts Saint Agatha in a shallow space before a patterned cloth of honor. Agatha carries the attribute of her martyrdom—a pair of pincers holding a disembodied breast. The border surrounding the main image separates it from the text below it as well as from the representations of lavishly patterned cloth in the margins. Depictions of wrapped and unwrapped boxes appear in the bas-de-page immediately below the text. Two wrapped boxes standing one atop the other (the bottom package bearing the saint’s name), flanked by the initials S and A, occupy the center of the bas-de-page. Two unwrapped boxes appear at the left and right corners and display their contents—on the right, a trio of enameled roundels (highlighted with gold leaf) and, on the left, a heart-shaped brooch, pin, or badge with a banderole (also in gold leaf). The decorative wrappings, the saint’s name on one of the closed boxes, and the presence of the unwrapped containers place the still-wrapped packages, as well as the heart and roundels, in a gift-giving context evocative of the courtly tradition of the exchange of joyaux at the New Year (a subject to which I will return later).Footnote 48 Like the silver girdle in the margins of the Saint Lucy miniature, the particular jewelry items (heart and roundels) depicted below Agatha do not appear to have any direct link with the saint or her cult (i.e., as emblems or as known pilgrimage badges).

Figure 4. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Saint Agatha in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 306. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

As with the Lucy miniature, however, the inscription of the saint’s name on the unopened boxes, as well as the initials occurring between them and the opened packages, establishes a strong link with Agatha and implies that both the wrapped and unwrapped gifts belong to her.Footnote 49 The inscription of Agatha’s name on the gift boxes, like the tags on the girdle in the Lucy miniature, invokes her name as well as the protections she offers. Among other things, Agatha was invoked against diseases of the breast and was patron saint of wet nurses, which may have been important for Catherine of Cleves as a woman and as a mother. The use of wet nurses was a common practice among the noble classes, and the court of Cleves followed this norm.Footnote 50 Court records show that Duchess Catherine, like other mothers among the nobility, oversaw the upbringing of her young children at her court by employing the services of wet nurses and others.Footnote 51 Wet nurses were valued members of the inner circle, or familia, and often enjoyed special relationships with the lady of the house as well as the children nursed. Such relationships could, and did, lead to gifts and rewards. For example, the wet nurse for Catherine’s son Adolf was recognized for her service via an annual gift of grain, even after she had ceased nursing him.Footnote 52 Given the importance of wet nurses in the upbringing of noble children, seeking Agatha’s aid on their behalf would also likely fall under the purview of the duchess as mother and as manager of her household.Footnote 53 To that end, the fictive jewelry depicted in the miniature may be seen as functioning, at one level at least, as a form of simulated ex-voto in which the depicted joyaux, with their attendant invocation of the saint’s name, are offered as pleasing items to secure Agatha’s ongoing cooperation and protection.

The care and protection of noble children was vital to the interests of the court, and the invocation of multiple saints offered higher chances of success than appealing to just one. Special devotion to Saint Agnes, patron saint of young girls and the betrothed, may also be seen in terms of addressing Catherine’s concerns for her young children (fig. 5).Footnote 54 The iconic image of the saint appears in the same shallow space as the others. Agnes holds a martyr’s palm in her left hand and a book in her right. Next to her, a lamb (her attribute and a pun on her name) places its front hooves on her right leg. Like the miniatures discussed thus far, the main image is enclosed in a simple border; unlike the others, it is placed under the text rather than atop it or between it. In this instance, the placement of the main image appears to be an accommodation for the text of the prayer that begins immediately above the border with the words “Agnetis virgi[n]is et m[a]r[tir]is” (“Agnes, virgin and martyr”) and continues on the next folio. The marginal space surrounding the text and saint’s image contains a depiction of an elaborate piece of jewelry comprised of pearls; golden medallions (in gold leaf) with precious stones such as emeralds, rubies, and sapphires; and golden bars (also in gold leaf). Previous scholarship identifies the item as a necklace and links it to Agnes’s hagiography in which she rebuffs the advances of a would-be suitor by noting that her true groom, Christ, has already pledged his troth by placing a ring on her finger and a necklace of precious stones on her neck.Footnote 55 The mention of a necklace in de Voragine’s text indeed offers an attractive solution for identifying the item in the margins. That said, however, I contend that it is more likely a representation of a type of short girdle known as a sur-ceint, rather than a necklace.Footnote 56 This identification largely rests on the construction of the depicted item, specifically on its apparent breadth and the use of membra (bars) along the spans of green, yellow, and red silk tissu (bands) between medallions.Footnote 57

Figure 5. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Saint Agnes in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 300. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

The sur-ceint, a broad girdle worn over outer clothing just below the armpits, came into fashion by the fourteenth century and remained in use until the end of the fifteenth. Like other girdles, the sur-ceint (especially when owned by a member of the nobility) was often decorated with pearls and precious stones to display the wearer’s status and wealth.Footnote 58 To be sure, necklaces also employed pearls and precious stones as signs of prosperity and social rank. The use of metal membra along the length of the tissu in the item depicted in the miniature, however, points more insistently toward a girdle than a necklace. Such bars acted as reinforcements that allowed for the common practice of carrying items such as bells, keys, or purses from a girdle.Footnote 59 An example of this type of girdle is seen in the anonymous ca. 1430 portrait of Lysbeth van Duvenvoorde (fig. 6).Footnote 60 In this instance, four bells (perhaps pomanders?) dangle from a metal girdle on which large sapphires are mounted. European nobles gave and received girdles as gifts and, by the thirteenth century, lavishly decorated versions were often presented to young women before their weddings.Footnote 61 The version depicted in the portrait of Lysbeth van Duvenvoorde, for example, was likely meant to represent the wedding jewelry given as part of her marriage to the knight Simon van Adrichem in 1430.Footnote 62 Although both Lysbeth and Simon were members of the petty nobility, the sur-ceint rendered in the image demonstrates how lavish such objects could be and hints at the higher levels of quality that elevated nobles, like the duchess, could bestow.Footnote 63 Like the other high nobles in Northern Europe, the Duke and Duchess of Guelders routinely offered expensive wedding gifts to their family, friends, courtiers, and faithful servants.Footnote 64 While there is no clear evidence that the item in the margins of the Saint Agnes miniature represents a particular item purchased by the Guelders court for a wedding (or any other occasion, for that matter), the practice of giving such things was certainly not foreign to Catherine of Cleves.

Figure 6. Anonymous. Portrait of Lysbeth van Duvenvoorde, ca. 1430. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, SK-C-1454. Oil on Parchment, 32 × 20 cm. Photo Credit: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

If I am correct and the item depicted in the margins is a sur-ceint, it acts as an indirect reference to Agnes’s hagiography. Instead of being the necklace of pearls and precious stones mentioned in de Voragine’s text, the girdle evokes the virgin martyr’s betrothal to Christ with an item from her trousseau—the type of item that a wealthy woman like Catherine might give to another lady of noble birth as a wedding gift. Rather than representing a straightforward depiction of Agnes’s story, the girdle allows Catherine to insert herself into the saint’s narrative by offering a gift and showing her respect in a manner fitting a noblewoman. As a fictive, preemptive ex-voto, the sur-ceint invokes Agnes’s protection for young girls and aid in suitable betrothals by evoking the saint’s hagiography as well as her close, marital connection with Christ. As a member of the high nobility, Catherine understood the need to ensure that her children married well. Such unions were vital not only for carrying on the lineage of particular families, but also were important tools for winning territory, settling disputes, and maintaining political stability in a region. Catherine’s own marriage to Arnold of Egmond, for example, was designed to bring about closer ties between the court of Cleves (and their Burgundian relatives) and the court of Guelders.Footnote 65 The attention Catherine paid to advantageous marriage strategies came to its highest fruition with the wedding of her eldest daughter Mary with James II, king of Scotland, in 1449. In preparation for marrying her daughter well, Catherine sent the young Mary to live in the court of Philip the Good (Catherine’s maternal uncle) in Brussels in 1442.Footnote 66 The coincidence of this event with the accepted completion date of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves (1442) raises the possibility that the aid and protection Agnes purported to offer had a special appeal for the duchess at a moment in which she was already planning marriage prospects for Mary. The cult of Agnes enjoyed popularity in Guelderland in the fifteenth century and had centers of devotion in Harderwijk and Zutphen.Footnote 67 As a result, it is probable that Catherine of Cleves (who was Countess of Zutphen) was aware of the special local connections to Agnes and may have invoked the aid of a local saint in the complex negotiations between the Guelders court and the court of Scotland. To that end, a sur-ceint (even in its simulated form) as an ex-voto would have made abundantly clear exactly the type of aid the duchess sought from the saint.

Birds of a Feather

The final miniature under study here, Saint Cecilia (fig. 7), breaks the pattern thus far established in that it does not offer any connections with childbearing or child-rearing.Footnote 68 However, this saint offers other associations on as equally personal a level as the others. Once again, the saint stands in a shallow space before a cloth of honor. Although she is best known for being the patron saint of music, Cecilia is not depicted with instruments of any sort. Instead, she is shown with a lady-hawk perched on her gloved left wrist, which she feeds with the stick she holds in her right hand. The cloth of honor behind her continues the bird-related theme by showing a repeated pattern of hawk-bearing cherubs. As with the other miniatures discussed thus far, the simple border surrounding the main image separates it from the text below. Depicted in the surrounding margins are feathers atop which are a series of golden letters (CD for Catherina Duxissa) attached to wing-shaped hawking lures by links of chain. The apparent disjunction between Cecilia’s normal subject of patronage (i.e., music and musicians) and hawking is rather perplexing. Scholars have observed that other miniatures in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves contain references to catching, keeping, and husbanding birds, and posit that aviculture—and specifically falconry—was likely important to the duchess.Footnote 69

Figure 7. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Saint Cecilia in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 308. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

The sport of falconry (sometimes called hawking) was a favored pastime of the nobility in the period that both men and women enjoyed and in which both genders participated.Footnote 70 The court of Guelders was no exception to this pattern.Footnote 71 Many types of birds of prey were employed in falconry and standard practice associated particular species with specific ranks of noble society. According to these rules, which appear in treatises like The Book of Saint Albans (published 1486, though written well before), the Merlin falcon, or lady-falcon, was the standard choice for women.Footnote 72 The pairing of Cecilia with a bird of prey suggests that she holds a Merlin falcon, which is appropriate to her gender and social standing. The depictions of feathers, initials, and hawking lures in the margins would seem to imply that they are perhaps simulated ex-voto offerings through which the duchess asks for protection for one of her favored birds. The question remains, however, why pair Cecilia with hawking in the first place? While it is impossible to know with certainty, the saint’s hagiography may contain the foundations for such a linkage.

The first of two potential overlaps appears in de Voragine’s Golden Legend when the author offers an etymology for Cecilia’s name. He decomposes the word to its component parts and posits that it may derive from “lily of heaven” (coeli lilia), “a woman who works for heaven” (coelum and lya), “lacking blindness” (caecitate carens), or “road for the blind” (caecis via).Footnote 73 Each of these interpretations receives a short explanation, the totality of which acts as an encomium to the saint. The analysis de Voragine offers of the connection between the name Cecilia and heaven, I contend, provides insight into the link between the saint and falconry made in the miniature in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves: “she is called heaven because, as Isidore says, the philosophers have said that heaven is revolving, round, and fiery, and Cecilia was revolving in a constant circle of good works, round in her perseverance, and fiery with the warmth of her charity.”Footnote 74 The imagery of revolving and circling in this passage may help explain, in part at least, why Cecilia is evoked for aviculture in general and falconry in particular. In the sport of falconry, each bird type is prized for its hunting habits and capabilities (e.g., speed, agility, etc.). Like other members of the falcon family, the Merlin falcon (lady-falcon) used by female practitioners is known for its habit of flying in circles, or ringing, in pursuit of prey.Footnote 75

The second potential aspect from the saint’s vita that may shed light on the link between falconry and Cecilia is found in her relationship with her husband. According to the narrative, Cecilia was betrothed to a man named Valerian. During her wedding, the saint prayed that God would keep her virginity intact and when the time came to consummate the union, she informed her husband that she was protected by an angel who would preserve her purity by striking dead anyone who touched her with lust in his heart. She then told Valerian that she intended to remain a virgin even in marriage. Following her edict regarding her virginity, she then convinced him to seek out Pope Urban and be converted to Christianity. Valerian did as the saint asked and, in the process, eventually brought his brother Tiburtius into the faith with the aid of Cecilia’s catechism. After their conversions, both men continued to show the saint deference. De Voragine states, for example, that the men “devoted themselves to works of mercy and gave burial to the bodies of the saints whom the Prefect Almachius had put to death.”Footnote 76 The handling of bodies was far below Valerian’s and Tiburtius’s social status and demonstrated their willingness to humble themselves in the service of God and their leader, Cecilia. The brothers accepted the loss of status and power in favor of their faith and made this abundantly clear when they were brought before Almachius to stand judgment. Rather than repudiate Christianity, Cecilia, or their own humiliation, the brothers asserted that God would transform the shame of their labors to eternal reward. Although there is no direct link with the sport of falconry in the narrative, there may be a metaphorical relationship between the behavior of male Merlin falcons and Cecilia’s male adherents. Among Merlin falcons, the male of the species appears to show deference to his mate by making a slow landing next to the female, bowing his head and fanning his tail.Footnote 77

In both cases—ringing flight and the apparent show of deference to a mate—the actions of Merlin falcons may be understood as conceptual equivalents of specific portions of Cecilia’s hagiography. The association of the saint with the flight characteristics and behavior of Merlin falcons is not direct but, instead, requires the viewer to make deep-level connections between seemingly disparate subjects and draw her own inferences. This type of thinking did not constitute a barrier but was familiar to fifteenth-century Christians, especially those like Catherine of Cleves who were versed in private devotion. Late medieval and early modern devotional practice made use of multiple epistemological strategies including two that are important for this context—typological reading/viewing and mnemonic chaining.

The habit of employing typology to understand sacred stories by drawing meaningful inferences between two seemingly unrelated things was commonly employed and well within the duchess’s intellectual and devotional reach. Such comparisons could be extended when paired with mnemonic chaining. Mnemonic chaining both allowed and required devotees to knit together a multitude of references by expanding single memory prompts into complex webs of associations. Such prompts could be explicit and direct, as in the case of the arma Christi as cues for remembering Christ’s Passion, or indirect and fluid to the point of verging on the enigmatic. Using mnemonic techniques that date to the Roman period, Christians often used arresting images to assemble complex narratives from and in memory.Footnote 78 The role of striking, even baffling, images was to provide the viewer with multivalent, multivocal jumping-off points that allowed her to mentally explore a variety of possible associations rather than one fixed narrative avenue. The ability to create variable chains of associations not only kept the meditational act fresh, it also allowed the votary to tailor each performance of devotion to her current needs. Scholars have noted that the marginalia in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves contain many elements that can be understood as providing the duchess with exactly these types of mnemonic cues.Footnote 79 When paired with typological reading/viewing, such mnemonic prompts made it possible for a votary like Catherine of Cleves to make any number of connections (both overt and subtle) between the images in the manuscript, sacred history, and her own lived experience.

It is worth noting that the ability to assemble and understand complex readings was not limited to devotional exercises or biblical exegesis. Members of the high nobility were inured to similar thought processes (metaphor, mnemonic association, metonymy, and synecdoche) thanks to their participation in chivalric games and the internationally disseminated use of armorials. Chivalric games required participants and audiences to make connections between the combatants and the qualities or virtues of the personas they inhabited during the event (often regardless of the actual known qualities of the participant). Armorials allowed the nobility to associate individuals with metonymic representations of their lineage and accomplishments. Herald’s books also provided members of court with enigmatic poems that challenged the interpretive abilities of the prince and his courtiers. Often, the poet hid the true identity of the subject of his paean, only revealing it at the end. The audience’s task was to parse vital details and determine the identity of the noble person praised in the verse before its conclusion. Failure to perform this task had the potential either to expose lacunae in one’s knowledge of the court’s vaunted history or the inability to assemble the provided clues properly, either of which was potentially embarrassing.Footnote 80 In other words, in addition to religious exegesis the Hours of Catherine of Cleves took advantage of the complex forms of sense making carried out by the duchess and her peers in their day-to-day lives at court.Footnote 81 These various forms of interpretive strategies not only made it possible to understand the jewelry depicted in the margins of the folios under study as simulated ex-votos, they also opened the possibility of seeing the miniatures of the virgin martyrs as being imbricated in a larger set of social relationships.

Giving Gifts, Forming Alliances

As a member of the high nobility, and a relative of the Valois dukes of Burgundy, Catherine of Cleves was accustomed to the use of gifts to establish and maintain advantageous social and political relationships. In this light, the jewelry depicted in the folios dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy may be understood in the context of building social and spiritual networks. In addition to being worthy offerings for the saints, the jewelry pieces depicted in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves also represent the types of objects routinely circulated among the nobility within their sociopolitical networks. Gifts of precious metals and stones (loose or in mountings) were common among members of the aristocracy, especially at the New Year.Footnote 82 The exchange of joyaux, along with other sumptuous gifts, was a vital part of building, maintaining, and (re)asserting complex social relationships.

The objects circulated not only reified existing sociopolitical entanglements, they also had the ability to (re)construct them. Generally speaking, the relationships made manifest in gift exchanges were situated within larger patron-client networks built on ever-shifting power differentials and expectations of reciprocity. Normally, the more advantaged party (especially in terms of social rank) established and maintained their position by meeting the obligation to reward a subordinate’s loyalty and service through lavish gifts. Successfully negotiating the exchange resulted in the creation or maintenance of semiporous patron-client relationships, often couched in terms of friendships.Footnote 83 Failure, however, often dissolved relationships and potentially created enemies. For gift giving to be successful, the giver not only needed to display her magnificence, she also needed to employ a keen grasp of subtle social gradations and offer items properly calibrated for the recipient’s rank, gender, familial relationship, length and quality of service, and level of obligation.Footnote 84 In the case of exchanges between high nobles (duke to prince, prince to king), and especially those of equal rank (king to king, duke to duke, etc.), the mutable realities of a participant’s power base, available wealth, and perceptions of his fame and honor could make it difficult to determine who, if anyone, was actually in the subordinate position. Such situations were socially fraught, as a misstep in the protocols of giving and receiving could impact the reputation of either party. Regardless of rank, the recipient of a gift was expected to be thankful and appreciative when receiving it. Further, she was under pressure to accept the skeins of mutual obligation that the gift signified. Fundamentally, the social exchanges of precious goods operated within the framework of do ut des and each party in the transaction expected the other to behave accordingly.

The relationships generated and maintained by successful gift giving provide a fitting analogue for the uses of ex-votos, real or simulated. When a Christian offered a gift to a saint, she or he hoped to gain various benefits both specified and unspecified. The faithful also hoped to instantiate a lasting friendship with the saint and in doing so, create a strategic social-spiritual alliance that theoretically integrated both parties into each other’s power networks at an almost familial level. As blessed members of God’s own court in heaven, saints were effective mediators between the faithful and the divine, which made them very good friends to have indeed.Footnote 85 In general, the saint’s ability to protect Christians from harm, effect miracles, and heal gave them the upper hand in exchanges with votaries. Such abilities were divine gifts of grace that God bestowed on the saint as a reward for martyrdom or other great service. In other words, the saints were also nodes in a patronage network stretching between heaven and earth that functioned according to the dictates of do ut des.

A standard model of saintly superiority appears to be at play in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, especially in the miniatures dedicated to the Adoration of the Magi and to Saint Lucy. In each, the jewelry item in the margins appears to be a rather straightforward offering in relation to a blessing. The paternoster surrounding the scene of the Virgin receiving gifts from the Wise Men, for example, is linked unambiguously with a prayer evoking Mary’s protection and intercession. The narrative depicted on the folio thematizes the nature of the exchange between the viewer and the Virgin. The Magi bring valuable items to the Holy Family as tokens of respect and adoration. Likewise, the votary viewing the folio lifts up her own prayers as offerings and as signs of her spiritual dependency on Christ and the Virgin. The kings in the main image as well as the viewer—through the mediation of the image, the book of hours, and the fictive paternoster in the margins—venerate a powerful intercessor in the hopes of striking up a friendship and entering into her networks. A similar operation occurs in the miniature dedicated to Saint Lucy, though without the explicit thematization of the exchange found in the Adoration of the Magi. The girdle surrounding the iconic image of Lucy offers the saint a valuable gift (though in a simulated format). The inscribed tags hanging from the beads along the belt invoke Lucy’s name and by extension her aid and protection. In both miniatures, the act of giving creates an opportunity for activating a reciprocal interchange between the petitioner and the saint that obeys the concept of do ut des.

This standard model, however, appears to be challenged or modified to an extent in the miniatures dedicated to Saint Agatha, Saint Agnes, and Saint Cecilia. The jewelry items depicted as gifts to Agatha and Agnes are indeed sumptuous but appear to intimate a certain level of social inequality in which the duchess assumes the role of benefactor. The joyaux below Agatha, for example, appear to be similar to objects given to subordinates at court. The heart-shaped pin and roundels are precious items to be sure but are more akin to small tokens of appreciation given to ladies-in-waiting (or perhaps wet nurses) than expensive gifts fit for a superior.Footnote 86 The sur-ceint surrounding Agnes’s image represents a far more lavish work of jewelry than the joyaux below Agatha. The pearl-laden tissu, golden membra, and plaques set with pearls, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires would be fit for the highest ranks of society were the belt an actual, rather than simulated, object. Although lavish enough to give to a superior, it was also the type of item suitable as a gift to a young noblewoman in anticipation of her wedding.Footnote 87 The offering of a sur-ceint would provide the duchess, a married woman who was a mother and supervisor of her household, a socially superior position to the saint who was a young, unmarried woman. While virginity was a prized trait that was held up as an ideal for late medieval and early modern women, in practical terms a noblewoman’s value to society was predicated on her passing through the stages of maturity to become both wife and mother.

Whereas the images depicting Agatha and Agnes appear to place Catherine of Cleves in a position of social superiority, the folio dedicated to Cecilia appears to posit the saint and the duchess as peers. The miniature shows Cecilia holding a Merlin falcon on her gloved hand, practicing falconry like a lady of high birth. The feathers decorated with initials and hawking lures surrounding the main image also make reference to the sport as well as Catherine of Cleves’s participation in it. As such, the item in the margins may be read as a gift from one noble enthusiast to another—in other words, an exchange between equals. The subtle manipulations of social rank (slight superiority or equality) in these three folios do not seriously disrupt the orthodox position of the saints in Christian thought, however. As with gift exchanges between people of high standing, any lingering ambiguity—are they gifts among noble ladies, which observe concomitant shadings of rank, or are they offerings to wholly superior saints—may be seen perhaps as an artful elision designed to maintain the honor and standing of all parties involved. In their guise as gifts to ladies of noble birth, they reflect the subtle grasp of social niceties required of a thoughtful, noble giver. As offerings to saints, they preserve the orthopraxis of veneration by pairing a gift with expectations of a response following the logic of do ut des. Put slightly differently, the sociopolitical valences of each piece of jewelry in a court context is balanced against the reading of the objects in the margins as ex-votos.

The seeming familiarity with the saints, especially Agatha, Agnes, and Cecilia, served at least two main purposes. First, it notionally decreased the distance between each saint and the duchess by bringing both sides into a friendship bordering on kinship. Such a bond had the potential to increase Catherine’s expectations that the saint would provide blessings by adding yet another layer of obligation to the relationship. The ability to conceptualize saints as family as well as friends may be the result of the rise of the cult of Saint Anna, the Virgin’s mother, which encouraged the faithful to interact with the community of saints as though they were relatives. For devotees of the Anna cult, the Virgin notionally became a sister and Christ a nephew. The cult grew steadily from the thirteenth century until its heyday at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and was popular throughout the regions of modern Germany and the Low Countries.Footnote 88 To be sure, the four virgin martyrs (Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy) were not part of the Virgin’s extended family, which was the cult’s main focus. That said, the habit of personalizing the members of the family of Christ and Virgin by seeing them as kin may easily have bled over into a devotee’s interactions with other saints.

Second, seeing these saints in terms of kinship allowed the duchess to understand the community of saints within her own cultural norms. Scholars have studied the various social networks that late medieval and early modern women of all socioeconomic levels employed.Footnote 89 In addition to standard patron-client alliances, women often integrated themselves or were integrated into large, extended family networks (both agnate and cognate) that touched on all aspects of daily life. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying the complex interchanges such affiliations facilitated, a large majority tended to center on issues of betrothal and marriage, childbearing, child-rearing, and peacemaking between individuals and groups. Each of these categories, in theory if not necessarily in practice, is predicated on close, affectionate relationships that acknowledge differences in rank or status between participants while simultaneously working to collapse them into a form of de facto equality. Such leveling, whether actual or fictional, theoretically facilitates complex and potentially contentious forms of personal and/or sociopolitical negotiation by opening back channels predicated on trust, interdependence, and obligation.

When bearing and rearing children, for example, women often benefited from the advice of other female relatives regardless of rank and status (i.e., cadet branches versus main branch, politically weak branch versus politically powerful branch). The networks a woman could create and activate when raising children also included extrafamilial relationships that supplemented the support available to her. As noted earlier, wealthy and powerful women often extended their familial networks by securing the services of a wet nurse. Such relationships could be quite close, even resulting in lifelong financial support for the nurse, and required a great deal of trust. Not only did a mother place the nourishment of her children in the hands of another, she was also demonstrating great faith in the other woman because breast milk went beyond just nutritional needs. Late medieval and early modern views on the matter held that breast milk, as the product of the lactating woman’s blood, had the power to impart both physical and mental traits (positive or negative) to a child and in doing so influenced who and what that child would become.Footnote 90 Any social disparity between mother and wet nurse was somewhat leveled by the nurse imparting her qualities (albeit pre-vetted by the mother and/or father) to the children she fed. In doing so, the nurse’s charge was like her own offspring, which knit parents, child, and wet nurse into something approaching an extended family. Put slightly differently, the nature of the service provided by the nurse complicated the normal patron-client pattern by eliding and partially reversing the inherent power differential between parties while not completely destroying it. Both nurse and mother maintained their normal, sanctioned social positions but within the context of the exchange, couched in terms of incorporating the nurse into the familial structure, the possibility of limited parity and greater familiarity (via caring for the same child) could exist.

The importance of female networks was also critical in the business of finding suitable spouses for one’s children and for arranging the most advantageous alliances between families.Footnote 91 While the public aspects of marriage negotiation, especially the dowry, occurred between male members of the concerned families, an equally vigorous discussion occurred in more private settings among the women and involved details including when a young bride would be allowed to join her husband.Footnote 92 This was particularly important for members of the high nobility as marriage was a key tool of building familial lineage as well as territorial dominance. Marriage unions became more complex over time as noble families sought advantage not only in political but also financial terms. The instances of influential families allowing a son to marry the daughter of a wealthy bourgeois to help build depleted coffers often caused problems with status.Footnote 93 The marriage unified two groups of unequal footing and in doing so created a new set of social relationships. The bourgeois family increased its social ranking by allying with a noble clan, but the offspring of the union often lost part or all of his or her noble status in the bargain.Footnote 94 Even in cases in which both parties were noble and seemingly equal in rank, marriages contracted through miscalculation or weaknesses in social networks could cause problems. This was especially true when a woman from a powerful dynasty married a man from a lesser house. Marrying below the status of her lineage placed a noblewoman in a disadvantageous social position and often opened her to subtle social censure.Footnote 95 Such misalliances also impacted a woman’s status within her larger female networks and had the potential to limit her agency in future negotiations.

Catherine of Cleves certainly understood the importance of marriage. She was able to marry her oldest daughter to the king of Scotland thanks in part to her relationship with the Valois Burgundian dukes (ostensibly via the intercession of other ladies in the family). Catherine’s own marriage to Arnold of Egmond was also the result of an arrangement designed to ally the Duchy of Cleves more closely with the Duchy of Guelders. Unfortunately for Catherine, her own natal house had greater prestige than her husband’s, which meant that she married down. According to an anonymous historian from the Guelders court, this fact troubled the duchess a great deal and she is reported as having complained loudly and often about Arnold’s ignobility.Footnote 96 Without reducing matters to mere biography, I would like to complete my analysis by exploring the issue of Catherine’s marriage as another lens through which we might view the special veneration the Hours of Catherine of Cleves appears to show the Virgin, Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy.

Making it Personal

The lives of each of the saints under discussion in this article, as recounted in de Voragine’s Golden Legend, include men of lower status or of base behavior as counterparts or foils. In two of the five stories (the Virgin and Cecilia) the men are positive characters, and in three of the five (Agatha, Agnes, Lucy) they are negative. The Virgin was entrusted to the care and protection of Joseph, who was honorable and upright though of a lesser lineage than Mary. Cecilia was born into a noble Roman family and married Valerian, whose ancestry is assumed but not overtly stated.Footnote 97 He shows his humbled status by subjecting himself to Cecilia’s instruction and leadership as well as his willingness to do manual labor—and in doing so becomes a Joseph-like figure who is patient, obedient, and chaste.Footnote 98 Valerian and his brother predecease Cecila, who joins them in martyrdom after a verbal contest with the authorities in which the saint shows her forensic superiority. In the narratives of Agatha, Agnes, and Lucy, each virgin runs afoul of a male figure who begins her process of martyrdom. Each woman’s life, honor, and virtue hang in the balance and only her steadfastness, faith, and wit help carry the day. Agatha is a chaste virgin who rejects the sexual advances of the consul Quintianus, who is described as being baseborn.Footnote 99 In retaliation for her rejection, the consul sentences the saint to a bordello run by a woman named Aphrodisia.Footnote 100 Agatha resists the madam’s tutelage and, after a debate with the consul in which she verbally gains the upper hand, undergoes her martyrdom. Agnes’s vita is closely aligned with Agatha’s. In her story, the saint rebuffs the advances of the son of a prefect and is denounced as a Christian. The prefect attempts to punish the saint, and avenge the slight to his family’s honor, by sentencing Agnes to a bordello. Like Agatha, the young saint conquers the situation—and in the process brings about the death of her would-be suitor and the conversion of his friends. Agnes also engages her tormentor in a lively debate and, after defeating him in a game of wits, is martyred. Lucy’s story follows a similar path. While giving her property away in the name of charity, Lucy’s fiancé (called “a stupid fellow”) discovers that she is a Christian and denounces her to the prefect Paschasius.Footnote 101 After a dispute with the prefect in which she refuses to bow to his will, Paschasius sentences Lucy to the bordello. God intervenes and prevents her from being moved from the spot. Not to be deterred, the prefect eventually martyrs her where she stands.

The vitae of these five saints may be seen, I think, as providing the duchess with both positive and negative examples of marital misalliance. To some degree, each shows that humility and obedience to God are more important than the status of a marriage partner or prospect. The (pre)conubial pairing is the result of divine ordination rather than personal choice and does not diminish the woman’s honor or virtue no matter how badly matched. In some cases (Agatha, Agnes, and Lucy), a misalliance is the catalyst that permits the lady to prove her mettle and fulfill her role in God’s plan. For a noblewoman like Catherine of Cleves, either option—the Joseph type or anti-Joseph type—was largely out of her control and was something to be endured. This is not to say, however, that all noble pairings were loveless or unenjoyable for the couple. For Catherine, however, her union with Arnold of Egmond appears to have been something she suffered through rather than enjoyed. In addition to her criticisms of his lineage, she also seems to have been troubled by his apparent inability to manage his finances and disagreed with his growing anti-Burgundian politics.Footnote 102 By 1440 (two years before the completion of the manuscript), Catherine had already given birth to all her surviving children and refused to live with her husband any longer.Footnote 103

This tension appears to be born out in other places in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves besides the five suffrages miniatures. The first two folios in the manuscript, for example, contain the coats of arms for Catherine’s family, privileging her ancestry over that of her husband.Footnote 104 Further, Arnold only appears in a few places in the book: a miniature in which he kneels before Christ the judge—a demon on the other side of the composition mirrors his placement—and his name appears on a few of the coins in the margins of the miniature of Saint Gregory the Great.Footnote 105 In other words, the Hours of Catherine of Cleves downplays Arnold of Egmond’s presence; in the only place in which his likeness is depicted, he is paired with a demon sitting in judgment before Christ. It is difficult to know with any certainty how the duchess may have viewed the image of her husband before his judge, as it is tastefully ambivalent. It may imply that Christ receives the duke’s prayers and rescues him from damnation, or the opposite. In any event, Catherine discharged her duty as a good Christian woman and upstanding member of the high nobility even going so far as to rule in her husband’s stead while he was away on pilgrimage from 1450 to 1452.Footnote 106 Like the virgin martyrs her manuscript honors with gifts of jewelry, the duchess fulfilled the role appointed her and appears to have done so with a similar determination and wit.Footnote 107 Unlike the Virgin and Cecilia, but perhaps like Agatha, Agnes, and Lucy, she eventually took a stand against Arnold. In the late 1450s Catherine sided with her son Adolf, who was unhappy with his father’s rule. The pair deposed Arnold in 1465 and imprisoned him for six years in Arnhem. Adolf’s arrest at the court of Charles the Bold in 1471, and Arnold’s subsequent release from imprisonment, ended Catherine’s active participation in politics and she retired to her castle in Lobith until her death in 1476.


As I noted at the beginning of my study, the Hours of Catherine of Cleves is complex and intellectually challenging. Each of the readings I have offered for the five miniatures under study—as simulated ex-votos and as sites of alliance with the saints conceived in terms of social norms and personal experiences—demonstrates some of the rich possibilities at play in the manuscript. The various interpretive tracks that the pairings of a main image, text, and simulated jewelry facilitated likely did not stop with the few I have offered. The duchess could expand them to greater or lesser degree in myriad combinations as she dilated various mnemonic chains in each folio during devotion. Further, the possibilities for making and sustaining conceptual links between these folios, and others throughout the manuscript, extend and complicate such chains. I hinted at a simple form of this, for example, when noting that Lucy, Agnes, and Agatha provided protections related to childbearing and child-rearing. Such conceptual groupings unite images that are physically separated from one another (sometimes by several folios) by placing them under the same mental rubric. This type of gathering in which related concepts are assembled under abstract headings functions in ways reminiscent of florilegia, a subject that is far outside the scope of this study. Other scholars have made better headway in teasing out the clever and subtle interrelationships of the folios in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves but they, too, have only scratched the surface.Footnote 108 This should not be surprising as the entire manuscript was a site of exploration and invention that tested the viewer’s heuristic and hermeneutic abilities. The complexity inherent in the possible connections available to the votary ensured its continued freshness as a source of devotion and meditation as well making it a rich site for identity (re)formation.


I would like to thank Al Acres, Laura Gelfand, and Susan Richmond for reading early drafts of this article. The insights each provided have improved the argument dramatically and I am grateful to them for their kindness and collegiality. I would also like to thank the editors and reviewers at RQ for their feedback throughout the process of bringing this article to press.

1 For a summary of the scholarship on the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, see The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century; Calkins; Plummer. In his discussion of the codicology of the manuscript, Dückers, 76, argues that the internal evidence in the book supports a completion date of 1442 and points to the duchess as the patron behind the commission.

2 The manuscript appears to contain several idiosyncratic themes that speak to Catherine’s personal spiritual focus and concerns. See Reference LaneLane, 1973a and Reference Lane1973b. In addition, the manuscript contains items calculated to address Catherine’s interests and status. See Hand, esp. 67–74.

3 Carruthers discusses the marginalia in terms of mnemonic theory. Stowell and Voelkle each treat the motifs as encodings of complex theological concepts. Reference MarrowMarrow, 2009, raises the likelihood that the marginalia also contain references to didactic literature that scholars have yet to discover or fully comprehend.

4 The subject of complexity in manuscripts and complexity in viewing is nicely introduced in Sand; Reference RothsteinRothstein, 2013 and Reference Rothstein2014/15.

5 Thissen; Nijsten.

6 The closest Catherine’s children come to having date similarities are Mary, born January 17, and Adolf, born February 12. Neither, however, share an exact day overlap and it is unlikely that these would be determining factors for the choice.

7 Arnold was born July 14 and his brother William was born January 26. The birthdays of his parents are unknown.

8 Gihr; Catholic Encyclopedia,; Hahn. In addition to Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy, Saint Anastasia and Saint Perpetua are also mentioned in the Canon. These saints, along with Saint Margaret, are missing from the current manuscript. Their absence may be the result of the book being broken into pieces. See Plummer; Dückers.

9 Velde. The author’s formulation of the term votive complex is particularly useful as it requires a constant (re)contextualization of the gift, the giver, and the recipient.

10 Verhoeven. The author discusses the miracle books from Delft shrines detailing the efficacy of the image of the Virgin in the Old Church in cases of drowning.

11 Verhoeven; Velde; Maniura; Wood.

12 Bijsterveld; Velde.

13 Many scholars who deal with gifts, sacred or profane, have tended to discuss such interactions via Mauss’s model offered in his seminal study of 1923 titled “The Gift”: see Mauss. Scholars have challenged Mauss’s approach and assumptions. See, for example, Algazi, Groebner, and Jussen.

14 Velde discusses the importance of oaths and their fulfillment in early modern society. Maniura provides examples of votaries making good on promises only after receiving the desired miracle.

15 Gelfand and Gibson.

16 Verhoeven; Velde; Maniura; Wood.

17 Maniura, 419–20.

18 See, among others, Rudy; Foster-Campbell; Koldeweij; Asperen.

19 Foster-Campbell, 239.

20 Foster-Campbell; Koldeweij. Foster-Campbell, 248, notes that the “badges amplified the spiritual power of the manuscript’s contents as they distributed the sacred apotropaic power of the pilgrimage shrine though the pages of the book. Placed next to a specific prayer, the badges supplemented the devotion of the owner during reading or meditation.”

21 Carruthers, 246, notes, for example, that “some Books of Hours have pilgrims’ badges as marginal decoration; a book such as this was traditionally thought of as a scrinium, a ‘shrine,’ the pilgrim’s object.”

22 The Saint James scallop was (and still is) the preeminent sign for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Campostella in Spain. Pilgrims to the shrine attached a cockle shell (pecten jacobeus), or representations of it made from various materials (from lead to precious metals), to their clothing to commemorate their visit.

23 Van Alphen Hours, Walters Art Gallery, MS W 782, fol. 133r. See Koldeweij, 213, 217 (fig. 7); Stowell, 385–88. Stowell argues that oysters were known substitutes for the Saint James scallop in the Low Countries and would have been read that way by a Netherlandish viewer. The use of mussels as an alternative is less clear. Although Stowell finds no firm evidence for the mussel being an alternate form as well, he does not rule out the possibility. The dating of the Van Alphen Hours to the mid-fifteenth century complicates the associations between the two books. It may be that the Hours of Catherine of Cleves was completed first, which would perhaps indicate that the use of a variant was an early stage in including virtual versions of pilgrim insignia as stand-ins for physical badges.

24 The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century, 152–53 (cat. no. 6c).

25 The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 237.

26 The image predates the establishment of the Brotherhood of the Rosary (ca. 1470) and, as a result, is more properly a paternoster strand than a rosary.

27 Plummer, plate 116. Plummer makes the identification of the initials. He calls the bag on which the initials occur a purse. This may be the case but given the apotropaic associations that paternoster strands carried in the period, it seems possible that this pouch may also represent a talisman container.

28 Lightbown, 342–54.

29 The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 160. This miniature is the so-called “Ladder of Heaven” that Reference LaneLane, 1973b, discusses in her article on the symbolic Crucifixion.

30 Lightbown, 342–54, states that the strand in the miniature “reproduces reality” (345). Hand, 155, considers it a strong possibility that the strand depicted was an item known to Catherine. In part, Hand bases this on her assertion that the strand depicted in the Adoration of the Magi (Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 237) and in the symbolic Crucifixion (Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 160) are the same. I respectfully disagree with Hand’s findings regarding the identity of the strands. While both are depicted as being coral and both have a gold cross near the midpoint, this appears to be where the similarities end. The strand in the symbolic Crucifixion appears to lack the tassels of the strand in the Adoration of the Magi miniature and there appear to be major differences between the purse/talisman bag (red tassels in 237, blue tassels in 160) and the star pendant (coral-colored center in 237, sapphire-color in 160). It is certainly possible that each image indeed depicts the same object and that the (minor) variations are artistic. I contend, however, that those differences should not be discounted, and find it difficult to claim with certainty that the two items are the same or that they refer to an item in Catherine’s collection.

31 For more on the relationship between paternoster beads and/or rosary strands and apotropaism, see Reference Decker, Brusati and MelionDecker, 2011; Knippenberg.

32 The standard study of the development of the rosary in the fifteenth century is Winston-Allen.

33 Simson.

34 Hier beghint een boecxk[]e geheten, fols. 5v–6r, 16r–v: “Onfermet mijnre vrouwe ende ghense mine siecte ende verdrijven den rouwe ende bangheid mijnre herten. En gif mi niet in die handen mijnre vianden ende sterke mine siele inden daghe mijns stervens. Ende inleyde mi in di haven der salicheit ende ghift gheeste sinen maker ende sinen schepper. … Du bist mij sterchetyt ende toeverlaet o mara mijn troest ende mijn bescerminghe. Tot di heb ic gheroepen als mijn hert bedruct was ende du hebste mi verhoert van den hoechsten der eewigher bergen. In dien machdeliken handen alre liefste vrouwe beveel ick minen geest al mijn leven ende lesten dach.”

35 The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 178. Quoted in Reference LaneLane, 1973b, 9n35. Lane notes that the prayer was not part of the normal Saturday Mass of the Virgin.

36 There are several stories about the transformation of the spoken prayer cycle into a physical or metaphorical chaplet. A good source for these is Oostrom.

37 The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 310.

38 Voragine, 1:27–29.

39 For a discussion of the various types of girdles, including the demi-ceint, see Lightbown, 306–41.

40 Plummer, plate 152, notes the genitive form used on the tags but states that “the significance of the possessive form, ‘of Lucy the Virgin,’ is uncertain.” I believe that the genitive is a means of indicating the saint’s possession of the simulated ex-voto offered in the margin.

41 Field, cat. no. 244. I have used the translation offered in the catalogue.

42 Voragine, 1:27.

43 Skemer.

44 That said, however, as a necklace it could then reasonably be seen as invoking the saint’s aid against maladies of the throat. The sword through her neck raises the possibility that Lucy could be petitioned for throat- and neck-related issues but these do not appear in her vita. It is worth noting, though, that were it an actual item of jewelry, the tags affixed to it would make it essentially unwearable as a necklace but would not necessarily interfere with it being wearable as a girdle.

45 Bleeding, especially nose bleeds, appears to have been of widespread concern in the late Middle Ages and early modern period. The ubiquity of the so-called fluum jordan charm, which purported to stop unwanted blood flow, demonstrates how common the concern was. See Skemer.

46 Hand, 69, notes that the manuscript is filled with small details throughout that appear to speak to the duchess’s responsibility as a mother. Ward discusses the importance of motherhood for high noblewomen. Ward, 110–32, observes that the substantial foundation for a noblewoman’s power at court derived from her role as mother, primarily to a male heir but also to female children who could strengthen political ties.

47 The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 306.

48 Beuttner. Nijsten, 298, 336–43, notes that the Guelders court was no exception to the practice of New Year’s gifts and made ample use of the goldsmith’s services.

49 The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century, 152–53 (cat. no. 6c). The catalogue entry for the miniature also posits that the presence of the saint’s name indicates that the viewer can reasonably surmise that the gifts are meant for Agatha.

50 Nijsten, 310, notes that the amme (Middle Dutch for wet nurse) was a common part of noble child-rearing.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid., 310n4.

53 Ward, 110–32; Harris.

54 The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 300. Agnes is the patron saint of young girls because of her young age when she was martyred. She is patron of betrothed couples because of her betrothal to Christ.

55 Plummer, cat. no. 147; Voragine, 1:102.

56 Lightbown, 309, discusses the development of the sur-ceint in relation to other types of girdles.

57 Ibid. Interestingly, the author describes an example of a fourteenth-century sur-ceint made of various colors of silk with pearls in the collection of the Angevins in Naples. The example in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves also appears to be comprised of multicolored silk and pearls. This is not to say, however, that Catherine or the manuscript’s illuminator had knowledge of the Angevin example, but only that such items existed and appear to have been in use among the high nobility.

58 Lightbown, 309

59 Ibid., 311.

60 Ibid., 335 (fig. 187), provides this image as an example of a sur-ceint in his text as well.

61 Ibid., 312; Dilling. Ibid., 347–48, argues that the tradition of giving the girdle as part of the wedding preparations may be linked to the equation of the girdle with the hymen in antiquity.

63 The Rijksmuseum’s catalogue notes that each member of the couple came from the lower nobility in and around Kennemerland.

64 Nijsten, 338–39.

65 Thissen and Nijsten each discuss the marriage arrangements between Catherine’s family and Arnold of Egmond.

66 Nijsten, 135n90.

67 See Muir. Ibid., 137, 150, notes that the saint was venerated in the region since the tenth century. To my knowledge, there is no indication that sur-ceints were given as ex-votos at shrines dedicated to the saint.

68 The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 308.

69 Plummer, cat. no. 151, notes that the iconography of the miniature is unclear. Hand, 86–88, states that the connection between the saint and hawking is still not established. The only other example of Cecilia with a hawk of which I am aware is a wooden statue dating to 1520, currently in the Museum het Catharijneconvent in Utrecht (ABM bh310). The statue depicts the saint with her normal attribute, the organ, near her right foot. In her right hand, she holds a falcon. The object is traceable to the St. Williborduskerk in Utrecht and may have been made in the city. This statute postdates the illumination in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, was manufactured outside Gelderland, and is in a completely different medium. While intriguing—and possibly an indication of an as-yet-unrecognized regional variation of the saint’s iconography—it is of limited help in understanding the illuminations in Catherine’s book.

70 Forsyth; Young; Jansen; Breiding.

71 Nijsten, 342.

72 Berners.

73 Voragine, 2:318.

74 Ibid, 2:321. There is another reference to flight in the story of Cecilia that is tempting to see as yet another link between the saint and birds. In a dispute with Almachius, Cecilia’s husband Valerian rebuffs the prefect’s attempt to learn the name of the true God by saying, “You will not be able to find his name, even if you take wings and fly”: ibid.

75 Beebe, 182–83.

76 Voragine, 2:321.

78 Carruthers.

79 Ibid.; Stowell; Voelkle; Reference MarrowMarrow, 2009. Carruthers, 246, for example, notes that the coins in the miniature of Saint Gregory the Great (Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 240) and the fish in the miniature of Saint Lawrence (Morgan MS M.917/945, p. 266) are likely mnemonic cues designed to refer to the treasury of the duchess’s mental storehouse of images/narratives and to the act of hunting for her devotional prey.

80 Nijsten, 108–50, discusses the socially and intellectually loaded aspects of manuals of heraldry.

81 Ibid. Such practices were part of the culture of the Guelders court thanks in large part to the legacy of the Gelre Harald (Claes Heynenzoon) who served Arnold’s predecessors before moving to the court of Bavaria-Holland.

82 Beuttner.

83 Lytle discusses the ways in which the rhetoric of friendship was employed within patron-client relationships. The concept of friendship in these contexts worked as a trope that idealized the give-and-take between both parties and removed the exchange from a purely mercantile paradigm.

84 In addition to Beuttner and Nijsten, Chattaway discusses the complex considerations that went into gifts in the courts of the high nobility.

85 Lytle, 53, notes that this idea was widely accepted among Christians in the period.

86 Nijsten, 337, describes how pins or brooches were used as gifts for ladies-in-waiting at the Guelders court. The exchange that Nijsten mentions occurred in 1395 under a previous Duchess Catherine, who should not be confused for Catherine of Cleves. That said, however, it demonstrates that there was already a precedent at the Guelders court for considering pins and brooches as gifts suitable for subordinates.

87 Lightbown, 309.

88 Brandenbarg; Reference DeckerDecker, 2016.

89 The scholarship on women and gender in the late medieval and early modern periods has grown to impressive proportions over the last quarter century. For a good overview of the work to which I refer (though clearly not an exhaustive list), see, among others, Migiel and Schiesari; Strocchia; Herlihy; Watt; Ward; Schutte, Kuehn, and Menchi; Stafford; Eichberger, Legare, and Husken; Larson.

90 Hairston, 189, states that “milk represented more than mere nourishment for the newborn, and its qualities held implications for the future heir’s health, personality, level of civility, and language—all characteristics of distinction marking membership in a particular social class.”

91 Strocchia; Harris. Strocchia details at length the various ways in which female members of the Florentine elite, especially the great ladies, spent time, effort, and energy activating their social networks to find suitable matches for their children. Harris details the ways in which widows took up the mantle of marriage negotiations not only for their own children, but for any children their deceased husbands may have had from previous unions.

92 Harris, 248–51. Harris discusses the various strategies both mother and mother-in-law used to set the terms of when a young bride would leave her natal home and enter that of her new in-laws.

93 Hurwich, 169, writes that “in the view of the English gentry, ‘it was permissible to marry your son to the heiress of a tradesman, but not to marry your daughter to a tradesman or even to his son.’”

94 Ibid., 177, points out that “marriage to non-nobles, even to the wealthiest of the urban patriciate, was almost out of the question for the German nobility. Such unions continued to carry the legal disability of ‘inequality of birth’ [Unebenbürtigkeit], which meant that children of the marriage could not inherit the title or estate of the higher-ranking parent.”

95 Ibid., 172, relates the story of the Countess of Leiningen, whose son-in-law made a pointed, but polite, jab at her for marrying below her status. The taunts were, Hurwich implies, meant to rebuke the countess for her poor marriage arrangement.

96 Thissen, 112: “The Historia Gelriae dating from the second half of the 15th century also reports that Catherine often expressed disdain for her husband’s humble origins [ignobilitas].” Joosting, 117, records that the court historian, who clearly favored Arnold’s side of things, notes: “Thus Duchess Catherine, Adolf’s mother, who appears to have been the previous instigator of all evil actions, very often reproached the duke for his low birth, saying he was unworthy of the noblemen in his presence for discussion or many other things such as common ball games or chess or any other kind of game which they used to play with him” (my translation).

97 Voragine, 2:318.

98 Ibid., 2:321. In his dispute with Almachius, Valerian implies that he gladly suffers a loss of status by burying the dead.

99 Ibid., 2:154.

100 Ibid.

101 Ibid., 1:28.

102 Nijsten.

103 Ibid., 71–72. Nijsten notes that the duke and duchess stayed alternately at the castle in Rozendaal in 1441/42. By 1450, Catherine made Lobith her base of operations as she took her son Adolf’s side in his struggle against Arnold. The Morgan Library website states, “In 1430 she married Arnold of Egmond (1410–1473), becoming Duchess of Guelders. Although she bore her husband six children, the marriage was not happy. By 1440 Catherine refused to live with him”:

104 Plummer, cat. nos. 1 and 2. Plummer, following Gorissen, identifies the arms of Count Diderik of Cleves; Count Engelbert of Mark; Duke Ludwig of Bavaria; Duke Ludwig of Liegnitz; John the Good, king of France; Count Lodewijk of Flanders; Duke Wilhelm of Jülich; and Duke Otto of Ravensberg.

105 Hand, 142, states that “Arnold’s presence in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves is minimal. Apart from their combined arms, he is only alluded to twice: kneeling in front of the Judge of the World on page 68 of Morgan MS M.917/945, and in the suffrage to Saint Gregory the Great on page 240 of Morgan MS M.917/945. In the second example, Arnold is referenced through a series of coins, which appear in the borders, some of which are inscribed ‘DUX: ARNOLD’: GLE.’”

106 Nijsten, 80.

107 Ibid., 424. Nijsten lists the books in the inventory for the Guelders court. He notes that in 1453—thus after Arnold’s return from pilgrimage—the court purchased multiple copies of the Saksenspiegel, which looked down on the concept of women speaking in judicial or political contexts. It may well be that Catherine, like the virgin martyrs, proved to be a more forensically gifted political operator than her husband. The adoption of a source critical of such female speech perhaps may be seen as an effort to delegitimize her accomplishments and reestablish male dominance for the weaker Arnold. This, of course, must remain pure speculation.

108 Carruthers; Stowell; Voelkle; Reference MarrowMarrow, 2005. By noting that these scholars have only scratched the surface, I do no mean to state implicitly or explicitly that their studies are lacking in any way. I mean only to recognize that for a book as large and as complex as the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, no one person can hope to offer a definitive explanation or to trace fully each of the connections possible between the miniatures.


Algazi, Gadi, Valentin, Groebner, and Bernhard, Jussen, eds. Negotiating the Gift: Pre-Modern Figurations of Exchange. Göttigen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003.Google Scholar
van Asperen, Hanneke. “A Pilgrim’s Additions: Traces of Pilgrimage in the Belles Heures of Jean de Berry.” In The Limbourg Brothers: Reflections on the Origins and Legacy of Three Illuminators from Nijmegen. ed. Dückers, Rob and Pieter, Roelofs, 85104. Leiden: Brill, 2009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beebe, Frank L. A Falconry Manual. Blaine, WA: Hancock House Publishers, 1984.Google Scholar
Berners, Dame Julia. The Book of Saint Albans, Containing Treatises on Hawking, Hunting, and Cote Armour. Facsimile edition, ed. William, Blades. London: Elliot Stock, 1901.Google Scholar
Beuttner, Brigitte. “Past Presents: New Year’s Gifts at the Valois Courts, ca. 1400.Art Bulletin 83.4 (2001): 598625.Google Scholar
Bijsterveld, Arnough-Jan. Do ut des: Gift Giving, Memoria, and Conflict Management in the Medieval Low Countries. Hilversum: Verloren, 2007.Google Scholar
Brandenbarg, Ton. Heilige Anna, Grote Moeder: De cultus van de Heilige Moeder Anna en haar familie in de Nederlanden en aangrenzende streken. Nijmegen: Sun, 1992.Google Scholar
Breiding, Dirk H.The Crossbow of Count Ulrich V of Württemberg.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 44 (2009): 6187.Google Scholar
Calkins, Robert. “Distribution of Labor: The Illuminators of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves and Their Workshop.Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 69.5 (1979): 183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carruthers, Mary. The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.Google Scholar
Châtelet, Albert. Early Dutch Painting: Painting in the Northern Netherlands in the Fifteenth Century. New York: Rizzoli, 1981.Google Scholar
Chattaway, Carol M. The Order of the Golden Tree: The Gift-Giving Objectives of Duke Philip the Bold of Burgundy. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Decker, John R.‘Practical Devotion.’ Apotropaism and the Protection of the Soul.” In The Authority of the Word. ed. Brusati, C. and Melion, Walter, 357–85. Leiden: Brill, 2011.Google Scholar
Decker, John R.. “More Strength for Contemplation: Spiritual Play in the Amsterdam Holy Kinship .” JHNA 8.1 (2016). doi: 10.5092/jhna.2016.8.1.1.Google Scholar
Dilling, W. J.Girdles: Their Origin and Development, Particularly with Regard to Their Use as Charms in Marriage, Medicine, and Midwifery.Caledonian Medical Journal 9.8 (1914): 337–57.Google Scholar
Dückers, Rob. “The Hours of Catherine of Cleves as an Object: A Codicological Approach.” In The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century (2009), 7499.Google Scholar
Eichberger, Dagmar, Legare, Anne-Marie, and Husken, Wim N. M., eds. Women at the Burgundian Court: Presence and Influence. Turnhout: Brepols, 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Field, Richard, ed. Fifteenth Century Woodcuts and Metalcuts from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1965.Google Scholar
Forsyth, William H.The Noblest of Sports: Falconry in the Middle Ages.” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 2.9 (1944): 253–59.Google Scholar
Foster-Campbell, Megan H.Pilgrimage through the Pages: Pilgrim’s Badges in Late Medieval Devotional Manuscripts.” In Push Me, Pull You: Imaginative and Emotional Interaction in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art. ed. Blick, Sarah and Gelfand, Laura D., 1:227–76. Leiden: Brill, 2011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gelfand, Laura D., and Gibson, Walter S.. “Surrogate Selves: The ‘Rolin Madonna’ and the Late-Medieval Devotional Portrait.” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 29.3/4 (2002): 119–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gihr, Rev. Nicholas. “The Saints of the Canon of the Mass.” In Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, 1918, reprinted from The Catholic Voice: Scholar
Hahn, Cynthia. Portrayed on the Heart: Narrative Effect in Pictorial Lives of Saints from the Tenth through the Thirteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.Google Scholar
Hairston, Julia L. “The Economics of Milk and Blood in Alberti’s Libri della famiglia. Maternal versus Wet-Nursing.” In Medieval and Renaissance Lactations: Images, Rhetorics, Practices, ed. Sperling, Jutta G., 187212. Farnham: Ashgate, 2003.Google Scholar
Hand, Joni. Women, Manuscripts and Identity in Northern Europe, 1350–1550. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013.Google Scholar
Harris, Barbara J.Space, Time, and the Power of Aristocratic Wives in Yorkist and Early Tudor England, 1450–1550.” In Time, Space, and Women’s Lives in Early Modern Europe. ed. Schutte Anne Jacobson, Kuehn, Thomas, and Menchi, Silvana Seidel, 245–64. Kirsksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2001.Google Scholar
Herlihy, David. Women, Family and Society in Medieval Europe: Historical Essays, 1978–1991. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1995.Google Scholar
Hier beghint een boecxke[n] geheten onser liever vrouwen Souter der zaliger magerte marine ende der waardiger moeder ons life heren ihesu cristi. Antewerp: Michiel Hoochstraten, ca. 1500. Leiden Universiteit Bibliotheek, DOUSA Collection, Hs. 1948 G 28.Google Scholar
The Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Morgan MS M.917/945.Google Scholar
The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century. Ed. Dückers, Rob and Ruud, Priem. New York: Abrams, 2009.Google Scholar
Hurwich, Judith J.Marriage Strategy Among the German Nobility, 1400–1699.Journal of Interdisciplinary History 29.2 (1998): 169–95.Google Scholar
Jansen, Rudolf K.De Arte Venandi cum Avibus.” German Quarterly 48.2 (1975): 187–89.Google Scholar
Joosting, J. G. C. Historia Gelriae, Auctor Anonymo. Arnhem: P. Gouda Quint, 1902.Google Scholar
Knippenberg, W. H. Th. Devotionalia: Religious voorwerpen it het katholieke leven. 2nd ed. 2 vols. Eindhoven: Bura Books, 1985.Google Scholar
Koldeweij, A. M. (Joos). “Pilgrim Badges Painted in Manuscripts: A North Netherlandish Example.” In Masters and Miniatures: Proceedings of the Congress on Medieval Manuscript Illumination in the Northern Netherlands, Utrecht, 10–13 December, 1989. ed. Koert van der Horst and Johann-Christian Klamt, 211–18. Doornspijk: Davaco, 1991.Google Scholar
Lane, Barbara. “An Immaculist Cycle in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves.” Oud Holland 87.4 (1973a): 177204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lane, Barbara. “The ‘Symbolic Crucifixion’ in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves.” Oud Holland 87.1 (1973b): 426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Larson, Katherine R. Early Modern Women in Conversation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lightbown, Ronald W. Medieval European Jewellery with a Catalogue of the Collection in the Victoria & Albert Museum. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1992.Google Scholar
Lytle, Guy. “Friendship, Art and Society in Renaissance Italy.” In Patronage, Art, and Society in Renaissance Italy. ed. Kent, F. W. and Patricia, Simons, 4761. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.Google Scholar
Maniura, Robert. “Ex Votos, Art and Pious Performance.” Oxford Art Journal 32.3 (2009): 409, 411–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marrow, James H. Pictorial Invention in Netherlandish Manuscript Illumination of the Late Middle Ages: The Play of Illusion and Meaning. Leuven: Peeters, 2005.Google Scholar
Marrow, James H.. “Multitudo et Varietas: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves.” In The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century (2009), 18–43.Google Scholar
Mauss, Marcel. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. Trans. Halls, W. D.. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990.Google Scholar
Migiel, Marilyn, and Juliana, Schiesari, eds. Refiguring Woman: Perspectives on Gender and the Italian Renaissance. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.Google Scholar
Muir, Carolyn Diskant. “St. Agnes of Rome as a Bride of Christ: A Northern European Phenomenon, c. 1450–1520.” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 31.3 (2004–05): 135–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nijsten, Gerard. In the Shadow of Burgundy: The Court of Guelders in the Late Middle Ages. Trans. Tanks, Guest. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
Oostrom, Fritz van, ed. Voorbeeldig vertellen: Middelnederlandse exempelen. Amsterdam: Querido Publishers, 1985.Google Scholar
Plummer, John. The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Introduction and Commentaries. 1966. Reprint, New York: George Braziller, 2002.Google Scholar
Rothstein, Bret. “Making Trouble: Strange Wooden Objects in the Pursuit of Difficulty ca. 1596.Journal of Early Modern Cultural Studies 13.1 (2013): 96129.Google Scholar
Rothstein, Bret. “Visual Difficulty as a Cultural System.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 65/66 (2014/15): 332–47.Google Scholar
Rudy, Kathryn. “Sewing the Body of Christ: Eucharist Wafer Souvenirs Stitched into Fifteenth-Century Manuscripts, Primarily in the Netherlands.” Journal of the Historians of Netherlandish Art 8.1 (2016).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sand, Alexa. “Vision, Devotion, and Difficulty in the Psalter Hours ‘Of Yolanda of Soissons.’Art Bulletin 87.1 (2005): 623.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schutte, Anne Jacobson, Thomas Kuehn, and Menchi, Silvana Seidel, eds. Time, Space, and Women’s Lives in Early Modern Europe. Kirsksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2001.Google Scholar
Simson, Otto von. “ Compassio and Co-Redemptio in Roger van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross.Art Bulletin 35.1 (1953): 916.Google Scholar
Skemer, Don C. Binding Words: Textual Amulets in the Middle Ages. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006.Google Scholar
Stafford, Pauline. Gender, Family and the Legitimation of Power: England from the Ninth to Early Twelfth Century. Farnham: Ashgate, 2006.Google Scholar
Stowell, Steven. “Reading the Margins of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves.” Word and Image 24 (2008): 378–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Strocchia, Sharon. Death and Ritual in Renaissance Florence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.Google Scholar
Thissen, Bert. “Catherine of Cleves (1417–1476), Duchess of Guelders and Countess of Zutphen: A Biographical Sketch.” In The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century (2009), 100–25.Google Scholar
Van Alphen Hours. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. MS W 782.Google Scholar
Velde, Hugo van der. The Donor’s Image: Gerard Loyet and the Votive Portrait of Charles the Bold. Turnhout: Brepols, 2000.Google Scholar
Verhoeven, Gerrelt. Devotie en negotie: Delft also bedevaartsplaats in de late middeleeuwen. Amsterdam: VU Uitgeverij, 1992.Google Scholar
Voelkle, William. “Coins, Mussels, and a Crab in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves.” In Tributes in Honor of James H. Marrow: Studies in Painting and Manuscript Illumination of the Late Middle Ages and Northern Renaissance. ed. Jeffrey, Hamburger and Anne, Korteweg, 563–65. London: Harvey Miller, 2006.Google Scholar
Voragine, Jacobus de. The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints. Trans. William Granger Ryan. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.Google Scholar
Ward, Jennifer. Women in Medieval Europe, 1200–1500. London: Longman, 2002.Google Scholar
Watt, Diane. Medieval Women in Their Communities. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1997.Google Scholar
Winston-Allen, Anne. Stories of the Rose: The Making of the Rosary in the Middle Ages. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.Google Scholar
Wood, Christopher. “The Votive Scenario.RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 59.60 (2011): 206–27.Google Scholar
Young, Bonnie. “The Lady Honor and Her Children.Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 21.10 (1963): 340–48 .Google Scholar
Figure 0

Figure 1. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Adoration of the Magi in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 237. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

Figure 1

Figure 2. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Ladder of Salvation in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 160. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

Figure 2

Figure 3. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Saint Lucy in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 310. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

Figure 3

Figure 4. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Saint Agatha in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 306. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

Figure 4

Figure 5. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Saint Agnes in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 300. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

Figure 5

Figure 6. Anonymous. Portrait of Lysbeth van Duvenvoorde, ca. 1430. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, SK-C-1454. Oil on Parchment, 32 × 20 cm. Photo Credit: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Figure 6

Figure 7. Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Saint Cecilia in Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library, MS M.917/945, p. 308. Photo Credit: The Morgan Library & Museum. MS M.917/945. Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963.

You have Access

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Aid, Protection, and Social Alliance: The Role of Jewelry in the Margins of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Aid, Protection, and Social Alliance: The Role of Jewelry in the Margins of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Aid, Protection, and Social Alliance: The Role of Jewelry in the Margins of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *