Produced in Oxford in around 1240, this small, portable manuscript (measuring only 150 x 125 mm) is the earliest extant English Book of Hours. The book takes its name from its designer and painter, William De Brailes, who was active in England between 1230 and 1260. He is identified on two of the manuscript’s pages (ff. 43r and 47r) by the phrase W. De brailes qui me depeint ‘W[illiam] De Brailes who painted me’ (image no. 2). The inscriptions are written alongside initials that include images of a tonsured man, kneeling in prayer, who is probably to be identified as William himself.
The manuscript contains the Hours of the Virgin Mary, the Penitential Psalms, the Litany, and the Gradual Psalms (Psalms 119 to 133, thought to have been chanted by pilgrims on the way Jerusalem). Its decoration is particularly extensive. There are five illustrations in colours and gold that mark the beginning of the Hours of the Virgin (image no. 1), and numerous historiated initials throughout the volume, all accompanied by captions in Anglo-Norman French that describe their contents. It has been suggested that the book was originally made for a female patron, because four of the initials (on ff. 64v, 75r, 87v, and 88r) contain portraits of a woman in prayer (image no. 3).
A number of prayers in Anglo-Norman French were added to the manuscript shortly after it was made. These include prayers to the Virgin and the Saints, and prayers for certain friars, Richard of Newark, Bartholomew of Grimston, and Richard of Westey. The manuscript also retains a 13th-century binding that was probably added at this time.