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John Lydgate’s Lives of Saints

John Lydgate, The Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund

Bury St Edmunds, c. 1434 – 1439

British Library, Harley 2278

Miniature of Henry VI kneeling before the shrine of St Edmund, Harley 2278, f. 4v

In 1433 the young King Henry VI (just eleven years old) spent Christmas through Easter at the abbey of Bury St Edmunds. In honour of the visit the abbot William Curteys commissioned an English version of the Life of the abbey’s patron saint from one of the abbey’s monks, the author and poet John Lydgate (b. c.1370, d. 1449/50?). Lydgate combined the story of Edmund’s life with that of a more obscure saint, Fremund, supposedly Edmund’s nephew. This lavish and heavily illustrated copy of the text — it has 118 painted illustrations — was probably written under Lydgate’s direct supervision at the abbey as a presentation copy for the…

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