THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

01 January 2016

A Calendar Page for January 2016

Many thanks to all of you who voted to help us choose our 2016 calendar; we are pleased to present you with the winner – the Bedford Hours.   The Bedford Hours is a particularly apt choice for the beginning of the year, as it was originally intended as a Christmas gift; on 24 December 1430, the manuscript now known as Add MS 18850 was presented to the newly-crowned king of England, the 8-year-old Henry VI, by his aunt, Anne of Burgundy, the duchess of Bedford. 

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John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford, before St George, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 256v

It was indeed a magnificent gift for the young king, containing 38 large miniatures and more than 1,200 smaller paintings, produced by the best Parisian workshops of the day.   We have highlighted this glorious manuscript before on our blog; more information on the Bedford Hours can be found in our posts A Royal Gift for Christmas and What a King Should Know.

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Calendar page for January, from the Bedford Hours, Add MS 18850, f. 1r

The calendar in the Bedford Hours is suitably sumptuous.  The saints’ days for each month stretch across two pages, which are surrounded by lush foliage and ornately decorated letters.  At the beginning of each month are two miniatures that indicate the labour of that month, as well as the relevant sign of the zodiac.  But the Bedford calendar doesn’t stop there; also included on each folio are one or two medallions, which contain very unusual paintings for a calendar.  At the bottom of each folio are verses, written in blue and gold, which explain the scenes above.

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Detail of the miniatures for feasting and the zodiac sign Aquarius, from the calendar page for January, Add MS 18850, f. 1r

On the bottom of f. 1r we can see two adjacent miniatures.  On the left is the standard ‘labour’ for January, that of feasting – although in this case the gentleman is able to utilise his triple face for maximum eating and drinking.  Next to this is a nude figure of a man pouring out water, corresponding to the zodiac sign for Aquarius.

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Detail of a marginal roundel  with January opening the door to the year, from the calendar page for January, Add MS 18850, f. 1r

To understand the roundel on the middle right we must turn to the rubrics (and here I am indebted to our resident expert in medieval French, Chantry Westwell).  The two lines at the bottom of the folio explain how January ‘holds the key to daylight’, opening the door to the four seasons.  This is, of course, exactly what we can see happening above. 

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Calendar page for January, Add MS 18850, f. 1v

The following folio continues the saints’ days for the month, and include two additional roundels.  These illustrate how we are to greet the first day of the year, giving our hands to one another ‘as a sign of love’. 

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Detail of a roundel with figures greeting the new year, Add MS 18850, f. 1v

Happy New Year!

-  Sarah J Biggs 

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