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Vol. 61 The Fifteen Oes and Other Prayers

The Fifteen Oes
Edited from the Text Published by William Caxton (1491)

In 1491, at the command of two royal ladies – Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII, and Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry’s mother – William Caxton published a small collection of prayers in Latin and English (STC 20195). The volume is now known as ‘The Fifteen Oes’ from its opening set of prayers. The Latin Oes were very popular and probably of English origin, but sometimes erroneously attributed to St Birgitta of Sweden. Although the prayers were translated into numerous European vernaculars, English versions, as here, are relatively rare. The Oes constitute about a third of the book. About thirty other prayers in English and Latin follow, some with antiphons, responses, and psalms (in Latin), many of them also common in later medieval books of hours and other prayer books, in England and elsewhere.

The whole collection is important for several reasons. It was the first collection of prayers to be printed in England, and then to be frequently reprinted as a supplement to printed books of hours; it is connected with Lady Margaret Beaufort and highlights her close relationship with Caxton and also with Syon Abbey, the only Birgittine house in England; it combines Latin prayers with English, indicating that literate laywomen at the end of the fifteenth century were using both the vernacular and the official language of the Church in their devotions.

'... an important contribution to our understanding of vernacular religious prose, book production, and the ongoing influence of affective piety in the later Middle Ages'
Niamh Pattwell
The Mediaeval Journal 10.2 (2020)
'This model of editorial and scholarly rigour will surely serve as the standard authority on the subject ...'
Marlene Villalobos Hennessy
Journal of the Early Book Society (2022)
'a very welcome addition to the remarkable list of Middle English Texts ... an excellent example of the editorial quality that has been one of the hallmarks of the series ... this outstanding edition ... deserves lavish praise'
Denis Renevey
The Medieval Review (2022)
'This excellent edition of The Fifteen Oes will be very useful for those who are interested in late medieval devotional culture and spirituality, early print culture, late medieval female patronage and readership'
Diana Denissen
Archiv für das Studium der neuren Sprachen und Literaturen (2023)