THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

20 December 2015

Medieval Festive Survival Guide

To help you negotiate the festive season, medieval writers, illustrators and patrons had some useful tips …

1. Ensure the prompt delivery of your Christmas greetings by hiring a messenger.

  Harley_ms_4425_f137v
Detail of a messenger from Guillaume de Lorris’s and Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, Low Countries (Bruges), c 1490-c 1500, Harley MS 4425, f. 137v

2. If you’re stuck for gift ideas, books always make great presents. The Bedford Hours was once a Christmas gift.

Add_ms_18850_f075r
The Wise Men offering Christ gifts, from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 75r

3. On the subject of gifts, if you can’t find a partridge for your pear tree, a king will do…

King Mark Pear Tree
Image of King Mark in a pear tree, from a series of drawings illustrating the Tristan romance, England (London?), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 11619, f. 8r

4. At Christmas parties, don’t get caught out under the mistletoe: timing is everything!

Royal 20 A XVII Pygmalion
Detail of Pygmalion kissing the statue, from Roman de la Rose, Northern France (Artois or Picardy), c. 1340, Royal MS 20 A XVII , f. 171r   

5. Know when you have had enough to drink.

Royal 6 E VII K042592
Ebrietas (Drunkenness) from Omne Bonum (Ebrietas-Humanus), England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375,
Royal MS 6 E VII , f. 1r

6. If you discover you have a headache, though, try tying some crosswort to your head with a red cloth or smearing your temples with pennyroyal boiled in oil or butter or placing ‘stones’ from three young sparrows on your head. This allegedly also works for nightmares, temptations and ‘evil enchantments by song’ (for an edition and translation, see Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England, ed. by T. O. Cockayne, Rolls Series, 3 vols (London: Longmans, 1864-66), vol II (1864), pp. 304-07).

Royal_ms_12_d_xvii_f111r
Remedies of headaches, from Bald’s Leechbook, England (Winchester?), mid-10th century, Royal MS 12 D XVII, f. 111r
.

7. Enjoy Christmas dinner.

Add 15268 Feasting c13842-19a
Detail of feasting from Histoire Universelle, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Acre), c. 1275-91, Add MS 15268, f. 242v

8. Enjoy some seasonal music.

  Harley_ms_2961_f012v
Part of the liturgy for Christmas, from the Leofric Collectar, England (Exeter), c. 1050-c. 1072, Harley MS 2961, f. 12v

9. And remember, a dog is for life not just for Christmas.

Margaret of York dog
Miniature of the resurrected Christ with Margaret of York and a dog, from
Nicolas Finet, Dialogue de la duchesse de Bourgogne, Low Countries (Brussels), c. 1468, Add MS 7970, f. 1v

Dogs Royal MS 20 A II, f 8v
Detail of King John with a hunting dog, from a collection of drawings with various inscriptions and poems, Northern England, c. 1307-1327, Royal MS 20 A II, f. 8v

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