This article examines the ways in which the Psalter was read and contemplated by rulers in medieval Latinitas. From Merovingian and Carolingian Times onwards until the Early Modern period, this book of the Bible served as a textual framework for royal piety as expressed, among other ways, in prayer. The Psalter travelled with the rulers, accompanying them to their chapels and bedrooms. This book, and no other, turned medieval rulers into cultivated readers - at least at one level of literacy. Investigating the 'private' use of the Psalter by royal owners gives us an opportunity to approach practices of private devotional reading (silent and semi-silent, meditative and polysemic). At the same time, the popularity of reading aloud before the king directs our attention to the ways communities were formed at royal courts through aurality and collective prayer. It also sheds light on the various uses of Psalter manuscripts, which were treated as physical objects of great value: these artefacts were produced on individual demand, were offered as precious gifts, and passed from one generation to another through provisions in last wills and testaments. The study of the uses of the Psalter by medieval lay elites is also relevant for the social history of language, as almost everywhere in Europe the Psalter was among the first books of the Bible to be translated into the local vernacular. These translations were made very often under the patronage of kings and queens. The comparative history of the Psalter as a book in all royal hands also provides clues on narratives regarding the practice of devotional reading. Medieval authors usually express their astonishment at the ruler reading, emphasising his effort breaking through both the barrier of the Latin language and of technical semi-literacy or illiteracy. This kind of description appears so often that one may assume the existence of an elaborated narrative strategy to stress the unusual character of royal literacy.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.