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A Brief History of English Private Prayer Books

This chapter focuses on the development in the medieval and early modern periods of prayer books that organized written prayers into set patterns for daily worship. Perhaps as early as the sixth century, the Christian Church began to regularize the recitation of written prayers by establishing eight monastic hours of prayer, each "hour" consisting of a service of prayers, hymns, liturgical sentences, psalms, and other scripture passages. Although Elizabeth Tyrwhit's Morning and Evening Prayers was printed during the Elizabethan period, her prayer book itself remains firmly embedded within the earlier Lutheran-inflected reformist tradition. The proliferation of traditional, transitional, reformist, and occasional primers and prayer books during the reign of Henry VIII was sufficiently troubling to generate the first authorized primer in 1545. The Books of Hours thus became compendia of written prayers. As Virginia Reinburg notes, "Devout medieval people collected prayers the way twentieth century cooks collect recipes."