This manuscript was begun for Prince Alphonso, son of Edward I, who was betrothed to Margaret, daughter of the Count of Flanders. The arms of Flanders and England flank a defiant herring gull. Alphonso was only 10 and a half years old when he died in August 1284, two weeks before his wedding. So, the illuminators of this this Psalter downed tools, leaving the book to be completed by lesser artists for a lesser patron.

What is special about this Psalter?

Written in Latin on vellum and decorated in tempera colours, ink and gold, this psalter is often taken as the most perfect example of the refined 'court style' of manuscript illumination. The style evolved in the royal court at Westminster during the second half of the 13th century, emulating the highly sophisticated French royal court in Paris. The original decoration, which is of superlative quality, was completed and added to by several later owners, one of whom, around 1316, pasted in illustrations from an earlier Bible from the north of France.

In the 5th image displayed here the page sparkles with gold, and features such as the scales of the large mermaid in the lower margin would originally have also sparkled with silver. But from exposure to air, the silver has now oxidised and turned almost black. In the 6th image a finely dressed lady keeps control of her three hunting dogs by using two sticks, while a stag and deer are startled by a smaller barking dog.

This manuscript is available to view in its entirety online via our Digitised Manuscripts website.

Full title:
Psalter ('The Alphonso Psalter')
c. 1284–1316
Manuscript / Illuminated manuscript / Parchment Codex
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 24686

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