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Books for Devotion: English Prayer Books

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English Prayer Books

Bridwell Library’s collection of prayer books in English is particularly strong. During the Reformation, the Church of England replaced the privately used Book of Hours, or "Primer," with the Book of Common Prayer, but this service book was instituted in 1549 for communal prayer in church, not for private devotion. Nevertheless, other forms of English prayer books continued to be designed for personal rather than congregational use. The earliest of these in the exhibition include Saint Austens Manuell, or litle Booke of the Contemplation of Christe (1574) and A booke of Christian Prayers (1578), known as "Queen Elizabeth’s Prayer Book," both decorated with woodcut borders of Biblical scenes in the manner of Books of Hours.

Later English prayer books may have been designed to supplement the Book of Common Prayer, bearing titles like Ancilla pietatis: or, The Hand-Maid to private Devotion (1639) and The New Week’s Preparation for a Worthy receiving of the Lord’s Supper (c. 1770). The most political of the books exhibited here is Prayers of Intercession for their Use who Mourn in Secret, for the Publick Calamities of this Nation (1659). This banned booklet was compiled during the English Civil War by Rev. John Hewytt, former chaplain to Charles I of England. Although Hewytt’s call for the return of the monarchy cost him his life in 1658, two years later the prayers in this book were answered with the Restoration of Charles II.