Friday, April 19, 2013

The Vaux Manuscripts

An alert reader noted that a couple of medieval illuminated manuscripts have survived the centuries which had links to the Vaux family of England, thought to be the original family surname that started at least some branches of modern Vances of Irish origin.  We can add the libraries where these manuscripts are housed to the next edition of the Vance Travel Guide; they are occasionally on display and anyone visiting might feel a closer connection to medieval history through a richly decorated manuscript that might have once been carried by a possible relative many centuries ago!   

Illustration from the Vaux-Bardolf Psalter

The Vaux-Bardolf Psalter

Housed at the Lambeth Palace Library in London, this psalter (a collection of psalms and other texts from the Bible) is thought to have been written about 1310-1320 and woven throughout its many illustrations are heraldic arms for the Vaux, Bardolf, and other medieval noble families.  It is believed to have been written specifically for a noble lady of the Vaux family from the county of York for her devotional use.  This psalter has apparently not been digitized (or at least is not apparently available on the Internet) but according to several more modern books, its complex illustrations are major sources for what we know today of medieval religious beliefs and practices.

The Vaux Passional
Illustration from the Vaux Passional

Housed at the National Library of Wales, this manuscript IS digitized and available on their site.   Written in French around 1503, it contains the Passion of Christ and religious poetry and was owned by Lady Jane Guildford (née Vaux), who was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen and married to King Henry VII's comptroller.   This book holds rich examples of late 14th and early 15th century court practices and also some of the few surviving illustrations of noble figures of that age, including what is believed to be the future King Henry VIII as a child of 11, weeping on his mother's deathbed.   A good review of the importance of this manuscript with a close-up of the figure of Henry VIII is given here.

So were these books actually carried by medieval relatives of Vances living today?  I don't think anyone knows for sure - I don't know of any Vances who have reliably traced their ancestry far enough to show these exact Vaux connections on their family tree.  But with 500-700 year old manuscripts, it's very likely many people living today are related to these Vaux somehow, whether or not we inherited our last name from them!  And if you have reason to think that your own Vance ancestry includes the Vaux (or de Vaux) of England from the 14th and 16th centuries, then you might possibly be looking here at pages from books that your own ancestors once held in their hands and used every day.  

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