From London to Utrecht

After Robert Cotton’s death in 1631, Thomas Howard, the 21st Earl of Arundel (1586-1646) kept in his possession the Utrecht Psalter, the Cotton Genesis and probably other manuscripts he borrowed from Cotton earlier on (see ch. 11). It is quite difficult to find out exactly what happened next to the psalter, when it arrived in the Low Countries and when it came into other hands. However, we have enough information to formulate some hypotheses.

Mary Talbott

No single document proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Arundel had the Utrecht Psalter in his possession. But we do know that he borrowed it and that the manuscript turned up again in Utrecht in 1716. For the rest circumstantial evidence is all we got. One part of this circumstantial evidence is to be found in the Utrecht Psalter itself, namely on fol. 57v. There we find an inscription, inscribed in drypoint (so without ink) of the name ‘Mary Talbott’. Several suggestions have been made about the identity of this Mary.

Four candidates

Already in 1876 already Walter de Gray Birch produced a list of three candidates. He supposed that the Utrecht Psalter had come onto the market with the dissolution of the monastic libraries of Canterbury around 1540. During that period a collector of rare manuscripts was active, named Robert Talbot (†1558) from Norwich. He is known to have acquired manuscripts from Canterbury, among others British Library, Cotton, Tiberius B. I. Birch reasoned that Mary must have been the wife or daughter of Robert Talbot (Birch 1876, 103-106; Engelbregt 1965, 12, 86-87, and ill. 52 en 53).

This is an ingenious and in itself plausible theory. However, we do not know if Robert Talbot was married or had children. Moreover, he was more interested in Middle English manuscripts (Graham 1997). Birch also mentioned two other Mary Talbots, both belonging to the noble Talbot family of Shrewsbury. The first Mary is the third daughter of Gilbert Talbot (†1542), the grandson of the second Earl of Shrewsbury. The second Mary is the eldest daughter of Gilbert Talbot (†1616), the seventh Earl of Shrewsbury, and wife of William Herbert (†1630), third Earl of Pembroke. His list is certainly not exhaustive, and for the rest he does not pay too much attention to them. However, the latter Mary became a serious candidate when it appeared afterwards which role Arundel had played as borrower of the Utrecht Psalter. As it happens, she was the mentally handicapped sister of Arundel’s wife Alatheia Talbot, and died in 1649. So this option was taken seriously at a later stage (Van der Horst & Engelbregt 1984, 61). No documents remain of this Mary, but it may be assumed that she would have signed as Mary Pembroke.

Later a fourth candidate was suggested: Mary was related to Thomas Talbot (fl. 1580) of whom Robert Cotton had acquired some manuscripts (Van der Horst 1996, 34). Also here we encounter the same problem as with Robert Talbot: we don’t know anything about a possible wife or relative with the name of Mary.

Alatheia’s mother

An option that has not been mentioned yet is that the Mary Talbot who inscribed her name was not Alatheia’s sister but her mother. The maiden name of this Mary Talbot was Mary Cavendish. In 1568 she married the Gilbert Talbot mentioned above, the seventh Earl of Shrewsbury, and signed documents with the name of ‘Mary Talbott’. This we can see in for example London, Lambeth Palace Library, Ms 3197 (Talbot Papers), fol. 191r (Gilbert and Mary Talbot to the Earl of Shrewsbury; Goodrich, 3 January 1576/7). Although the capitals M and T of Mary’s signature clearly differ from the ones in the Utrecht Psalter, fol. 57v, the other letters have such a strong similarity that we may assume that this is the Mary Talbot who scratched her name in the manuscript. If this theory is accepted, Mary must have done so between the beginning of 1630, when Arundel borrowed manuscripts from Cotton, and 14 April 1632 when she died in London.

Arundel’s mission

This may be a bright spot in the darkness shrouding the adventures of the Utrecht Psalter. In 1642 Thomas Howard started on his last diplomatic mission for the English king, Charles I. He escorted the king’s daughter Mary Henrietta to the Low Countries. She was ten years old at the time and was married the year before to Willem, the son of Frederik Hendrik, Stadtholder of the Netherlands. Willem was to succeed his father in 1647, but died three years later of smallpox. The only son of the couple would later become Stadtholder of the Netherlands as Willem III, as well as king of England, Scotland and Ireland, from 1672 to 1689.

Art collectors

In 1642 there was something brewing in Great Britain. Charles’ autocratic rule had brought him into conflict with Parliament and the country was rushing into a civil war, which was to break out in the summer. When Mary left for the Low Countries on 22 February, together with her entourage, Arundel and his wife Alatheia were also on board of one of the thirteen ships, of which one would sink during the passing. Franciscus Junius F. F. (1589-1677), since 1620 employed by Arundel as his librarian and teacher of Arundel’s children, would declare under oath in 1657 that the countess brought a considerable part of her personal possessions to the Netherlands. It is said to have involved at least £100,000 in money, silver, jewels, paintings and other goods.

Alatheia was one of the three daughters of Gilbert Talbot, the already mentioned seventh Earl of Shrewsbury. When he died in 1616, she inherited a third of her father’s considerable estate. This enabled Arundel and Alatheia to begin an art collection which was unequalled in Europe. Arundel had been on diplomatic missions before and had often bought works of art on these occasions. But now the couple seemed to have other intentions, foreseeing a longer stay on the Continent.

In exile

Having arrived in the Netherlands, the English queen Henrietta Maria, who had accompanied her daughter Mary Henrietta to The Hague, asked Arundel to be prepared for a diplomatic mission to the queen of Bohemia. In the meantime, Arundel and Alatheia stayed in Antwerp, but soon had to sell their jewels to obtain funds for their maintenance and to support their oldest son. Henry Frederick Howard, Lord Maltravers, was in the king’s service and needed money to preserve his dignity and to buy weapons. Arundel managed to raise £54,000.

Arundel’s youngest son, William Howard, Viscount Stafford, had been in the Netherlands since August 1641. In April 1642 he sent a letter from The Hague to his parents in Utrecht. In August he sent a message from Antwerp to his father in Mechelen that soldiers had plundered the house of John Penneduck in Kingsbury (King berry), a royal country estate near London. While the earl grew more and more restless in Antwerp, the position of the king and his supporters deteriorated. In fact Arundel lived in exile now, he did not want to return to England.

Death in Padua

The very few letters to and from Arundel that have been saved show that in March 1643 the English Parliament confiscated Arundel’s jewels and other treasures which he had entrusted to a supervisor. They had to be sold to finance the British troops. However, the Arundels survived this blow. As early as September 1643 Stafford again attempted to buy jewelries in Amsterdam, so it was business as usual. After this period the sources remain silent, until Arundel turns up in Padua in July 1645, where he stayed as part of his Grand Tour through Italy - also an expensive adventure. He stayed for a long time in Padua, where he fell seriously ill and he died in the Italian city in September 1646. In his will he stipulated that his wife was his only heir. His son Henry took care that his remains were buried in Arundel Castle in Sussex.

The Utrecht Psalter in Antwerp?

Arundel’s letters and related sources (see Hervey 1921) do not tell when Arundel and Alatheia had the most important part of their art collection transferred. Supposedly this took place in the second half of 1642 or at the beginning of 1643. We know that not the complete collection was moved, a part stayed behind in Arundel Castle (Springell 1963, 109-110). The treasures confiscated in March 1643 probably belonged to what remained. In 1643 a poem by Lucas Lancelottus was published in Antwerp which sang the praise of Arundel’s art collection. It was already famous, but when seen for real generated an even greater admiration. The painters Rubens and Titiaan are mentioned by name (Weijtens 1971, 33-35, 40 n. 56, ill. I-III). From this we may understand that the poet had seen the collection himself in Antwerp.

We may assume that the Utrecht Psalter was also in Antwerp, as was the Cotton Genesis (see ch. 11), even though there is no hard proof of this. In 1644 Junius was assigned with the task of drawing up an inventory of Arundel’s library. However, he did not come across the Utrecht Psalter and the Cotton Genesis there. In 1656 he would declare in a letter that he had seen the manuscript we now know as the Cotton Genesis in England, but only with the help of Arundel’s agent, William Petty. When asked he could not remember a Latin psalter with drawings in the Roman tradition, which also had been borrowed by Arundel from Cotton’s library. It looks like the Arundels kept both manuscripts apart from their normal library, maybe because both had conspicuous covers with Cotton’s coat of arms on them.

Alatheia’s peregrinations

After the death of her husband, Alatheia left Antwerp for Alkmaar where again Junius had to sort out the book collection and fit in newly acquired items. He later said that Alatheia worried that her treasures would be confiscated. She had a box chained to her bed with enough funds in the case of this event. In the spring of 1649 we find Alatheia in Amersfoort where she would stay for some years together with her entourage. Among them the German painter Henrick van der Borcht who managed her art collection.

Meanwhile her son William, Viscount Stafford, travelled to and from England and journeyed through Europe, squandering money, although his country estates were confiscated in 1649 due to his royalism. In 1649 and 1650 he was in Italy from where he sent the works of art his father had bought to Amersfoort. After a stay at the imperial court in Vienna he travelled through Germany in the summer of 1652. Possibly the news had reached him that his elder brother Henry Frederick, Earl of Arundel since 1646, had died in April. However, William was imprisoned in the Palatinate in Zwingenberg castle at the Neckar river. Even under torture he claimed to be innocent of a breach of decency of which he was accused. It lasted a year before he was released with the help of Junius.


Meanwhile Alatheia was in dire straits. Earlier Henry Frederick had taken legal action against her to dispute his father’s will, and so Alatheia’s position as only heir. Also Henry’s sons came to her for money to pay off their creditors. On top of all this, Arundel’s country estates were still confiscated by the English Parliament. Alatheia had many art treasures but probably no or little income or liquid assets. If this situation forced her to sell works of art is not clear however. It is said that she had already done so in Antwerp (Weijtens 1971, 19 and note 112; Van der Horst 1996, 35), but this allegation is only based on a passage in which the earl on his sickbed talks about ‘the unkindnesse of his Countesse, now in Holland’.

In November 1653 William finally arrived in Amsterdam where his mother first lived in a house at the Herengracht and later at the Singel. However, she also kept her house in Amersfoort. On 3 June 1654 Alatheia died at the age of seventy in Amsterdam. Immediately after her death the legal battle over her inheritance erupted between the youngest sons of Henry Frederick and their uncle, William, Viscount Stafford. In the meantime Junius demanded to be paid £1,200 in arrears of salary.


Where suits are brought, paper is being produced. The official papers show that after the confiscation of the goods of the late Alatheia lists were being drawn up and goods assessed. The legal battle could begin. In January 1655 a list containing seventy works of art was made in Amersfoort, later that year a list was compiled in Amsterdam, including the works on the first list, with almost 800 objects of art, mainly paintings. The names of the list are mouth-watering to every art lover. A copy, drawn up in Italian, was not discovered until 1911.

In February 1655 the Amersfoort pieces were transferred to the house of the procurator-general of the Court of Utrecht, Everard van Weede, lord of Dijckveld and Rateles. Only in the autumn of 1662 this collection ‘toebehoort hebbende Syn Exselentsye Vycontte de Staffoort’, (‘having belonged to His Excellency Viscount Stafford’) were sold by auction by order of Van Weede. The painter Herman Saftleven acted as auctioneer. Nowhere in the documents manuscripts or books are mentioned.

Meanwhile Stafford was no stranger in Utrecht. In January 1656 he was put behind bars for a couple of weeks, probably at the instigation of his creditor Colonel Henry Crowe. In March 1657 paintings and porcelain were sold by auction in Amsterdam and Utrecht; the viscount himself stayed in Utrecht during that period. There are documents from 1658 and 1661 showing that goods and household furniture of Stafford were claimed by his cousin Henry Howard, but it is not clear if this claim had any success.

Stafford and the Cotton Genesis

In the end Stafford was quite successful in obtaining a part of his parents’ estate, including the Cotton Genesis, from his mother’s estate. This means the Utrecht Psalter as well probably, if she had kept it in her possession, that is. In 1660 Charles II went back to England, and royalist Stafford followed him the same year. The Howards were known for their Catholic background and this landed Stafford in trouble. In 1678 he was associated with a Catholic conspiracy against the king. Although the charges against him were shaky, he was the ideal scapegoat and so Stafford’s life ended two years later on the scaffold.

We know that Stafford possessed the Cotton Genesis - borrowed by his father together with the Utrecht Psalter from Robert Cotton - in 1656. Anyway, Stafford had told Junius’ uncle Isaac Vossius so, even though he refused to show him the manuscript. Earlier on it had been seen by Van der Borcht in Alatheia’s collection. In 1683 Stafford’s widow Mary claimed that the manuscript belonged to Arundel’s estate and in the 1690s Robert Cotton’s grandson John bought it from her for £40. Eventually it ended up in the library of Ashburnham House, a name that bodes no good, and there it was burnt in the 1731 fire which destroyed so many manuscripts.

The sale of the Utrecht Psalter

The Utrecht Psalter was fortunately spared from this fate. We may assume that the Psalter had been shipped to Antwerp in 1642 or 1643, and that it was in Alatheia’s possession, just as the Cotton Genesis, after Arundel’s death in 1646. There is no direct proof that Alatheia had sold parts of her art collection or library to obtain funds, and it is doubtful if she parted with the manuscript for this reason. This is not in keeping with her character and status. It is very well possible that she still possessed the Psalter at her death in 1654.

Afterwards the Psalter, like the Cotton Genesis, is said to have come into the hands of her son William. Among all the lawsuits, confiscations and angry creditors Stafford would have had less problems with selling objects from his mother’s estate. We know that parts of his possessions, including paintings and porcelain he had inherited from his mother, were put up for auction in Utrecht in 1657 and 1662 by order of his creditors. It may well be that the Utrecht Psalter got separated from the more famous Cotton Genesis in these turbulent times and so got a Dutch owner. And after, we may assume, it came into the hands of Willem de Ridder who donated it to the library of the University of Utrecht in 1716 (see ch. 14).

Further reading

J. H. A. Engelbregt, Het Utrechts Psalterium. Een eeuw wetenschappelijke bestudering (1860-1960) (Utrecht 1965).

Walter de Gray Birch, The history, art and palaeography of the manuscript styled the Utrecht Psalter (London 1876).

Timothy Graham, 'Robert Talbot's "Old Saxonice Bede": Cambridge University Library MS Kk. 3. 18 and the "Alphabetum Norwagicum" of British Library, Cotton MS Domitian A. IX', in Books and Collectors 1200-1700, ed. James C. Carley & Colin G.C Tite (London 1997), pp. 295-316.

Mary F. S. Hervey, The life, correspondence and collections of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (Cambridge 1921; repr. New York 1969), pp. 436-455, 459-460 (testament), 473-500 (inventory).

Koert van der Horst, ‘The Utrecht Psalter: picturing the psalms of David’, in The Utrecht Psalter in medieval art: picturing the psalms of David, eds. K. van der Horst, W. Noel & W. C. M. Wüstefeld (’t Goy 1996), p. 22-84, especially p. 34-36.

Koert van der Horst & Jacobus H. A. Engelbregt, Utrecht Psalter. Vollständige Faksimile-Ausgabe […]: Kommentar (Graz 1984).

Francis C. Springell, Connoisseur and diplomat. The Earl of Arundel’s embassy to Germany in 1636 as recounted in William Crowne’s diary, the Earl’s letters and other contemporary sources with a catalogue of the topographical drawings made on the journey by Wenceslaus Hollar (London 1963).

F. H. C. Weijtens, De Arundel-Collectie. Commencement de la fin Amersfoort 1655 (Utrecht 1971).