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12 posts from July 2018

29 July 2018

Pilgrimages: medieval summer holidays?

In Chaucer’s famous opening line to the Canterbury Tales, ‘Aprille with his shoures soote’ (April with its sweet showers) was the time when people longed to set off on their travels. Of course, holidays as we know them were not enjoyed by medieval folk. The word itself comes from ‘Holy Days’ in the Church calendar, when a break from daily routine usually involved praying and fasting, not sunbathing and drinking cocktails on the beach. But people have always enjoyed visiting new places, and so pilgrimages were a popular way of taking a break at the same time as showing piety and atoning for one’s sins — a great all-inclusive package!  

One medieval pilgrim was St Roch, who tended plague victims. He is usually pictured in typical pilgrim’s garb, with the staff, scrip or bag and shell (the symbol of Santiago and all pilgrims) on his hat. When he caught the plague himself, he was healed by a hunting dog who licked his wounds and brought him bread.

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Miniature of Roch, showing a plague-spot on his thigh, with an angel and a dog holding a loaf, from the Prayer-book of Joanna of Ghistelles, Ghent, c. 1516: Egerton MS 2125, f. 209v

Instead of backpacking in Thailand, booking a package holiday to the Costa Brava or braving the traffic jams to the English seaside, medieval pilgrims headed for Palestine, northern Spain or Kent. Some of the leading destinations for English pilgrims were Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and Canterbury.

 

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

The holy places in Palestine were the ultimate destination for medieval Christian pilgrims, although the journey could be arduous. Margery Kempe, the famous English mystic, travelled from Norfolk to Jerusalem and Rome in 1413–15, as recounted in her autobiography. Even kings could be pilgrims, including Louis IX of France: when on crusade to the Holy Land in 1251, he went on a pilgrimage from Acre to Nazareth on the Feast of the Annunciation.

Travellers to distant places needed maps. This plan of Jerusalem is found in a book of maps and sea charts, produced in Venice. It shows the holy sites including David's Tower, the Holy Sepulchre, Calvary, Pilate's house, St Anne's house and the Temple of Solomon.

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Plan of Jerusalem in Pietro Vesconte’s book of charts, maps and plans, Venice, c. 1331: Add MS 27376*

 

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

This city in northern Spain is believed to be the resting place of St James, one of the twelve apostles. According to legend, James went to Spain to spread the Gospel before returning to Jerusalem, where he was beheaded. His friends placed his head and body in a boat, which miraculously carried them to the Galician coast. After suffering trials and persecutions at the hands of local pagans, they finally buried his remains on a hill (now the site of the famous cathedral of Santiago), where they lay forgotten for many centuries. The cult of St James was revived in the 7th and 8th centuries when Christianity in Spain was under threat from Muslim expansion. St James allegedly appeared in a dream to Charlemagne, urging him to liberate his tomb from the Moors and showing him the direction to follow by the Milky Way: the name Compostela is believed to derive from the Latin campus stellae (field of stars).

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Charlemagne pointing the way to Spain, from the Chroniques de France, Paris, 1st half of the 14th century: Royal MS 16 G VI, f. 166r

The first known pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela was Gotescalc, bishop of Puy in France, who visited the shrine in 950. The Empress Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror, went on pilgrimage there in 1097. By the 12th century, half a million pilgrims were travelling from as far as Scandinavia, England and southern Italy, and hospitals, hostels, roads and bridges had been built to accommodate them. A pilgrims’ guide, the Liber Sancti Iacobi, was produced, listing the towns along the way, providing useful phrases in Basque to use when travelling through that region, and warning pilgrims against certain local foods and customs.

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St James, in the Liber Sancti Jacobi, Santiago?, 1st half of the 14th century: Add MS 12213, f. 3v 

The Camino de Santiago is now a very popular pilgrimage route, with many walking from St Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenées, a journey of six weeks. Getting there and back is much easier than in the Middle Ages, when most people walked or rode on horseback. The ‘Camino Ingles’ (English Way) has starting points at the ports of La Coruña and Ferrol, where medieval pilgrims arrived by boat from Britain.

 

Pilgrimage to Canterbury

Pilgrims came from all corners of Europe to worship at Canterbury Cathedral, where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered by four knights on the evening of 29 December 1170. In this compilation of Becket’s letters, accompanied by John of Salisbury's account of his life and death, is an image showing the martyrdom in four narrative scenes. The upper two depict Becket at table, being told of the knights' arrival. The lower sections show Becket’s martyrdom in the church and the later veneration of his shrine by four kneeling figures.

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The martyrdom of Thomas Becket, England, 4th quarter of the 12th century: Cotton MS Claudius B II, f. 341r

Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled from Southwark in London to Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. The routes from London and Winchester remain popular with modern pilgrims, passing through the Sussex and Kent countryside.

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Pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, from John Lydgate’s Prologue of the Siege of Thebes, London, c. 1457–1460: Royal MS 18 D II, f. 148r

 

‘Couch’ pilgrimages

Many people like to watch travel programmes on television, seeing places we may never visit. Some people were unable to go on pilgrimage, but they could make a spiritual journey using guides or maps. Numerous medieval versions of the allegorical pilgrimage were written for this purpose, where the pilgrim had to overcome various obstacles to reach the final goal of spiritual fulfilment. In this French text, the pilgrim is guided by the lady Grace-Dieu.

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The pilgrim is given his bag by Grace-Dieu, from Guillaume Deguilleville, Les Trois Pèlerinages, France, c. 1400: Add MS 38120, f. 28r

Matthew Paris’s famous itinerary of the route to Jerusalem is considered to be a guide for a spiritual rather than a real journey from London to the Holy Land, as he does not provide distances or practical details. As far as we know, Matthew never made the journey himself, instead learning of the route from travellers who passed through St Albans Abbey in the 13th century. The first part of his plan shows the journey from London in the lower left-hand column to Dover and then, in the right-hand column, from Boulogne-sur-Mer on the French coast to Beauvais. Each place is one day’s journey from the preceding one.

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Section of an illustrated itinerary to Jerusalem, from London to Beauvais, St Albans, 1250s: Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 2r

 

Animal pilgrims

In the medieval world, animals also went on pilgrimage. Here is an example from the Smithfield Decretals.

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A rabbit shooting at a dog who is dressed as a pilgrim, from the glossed Decretals of Gregory IX  (the 'Smithfield Decretals'), Toulouse?, late 13th or early 14th century: Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 57v

In this collection of animal tales in German, a fox, having grown old and setting off on a pilgrimage, refuses the companionship of the watch-dog, wild ass, bear, lion, peacock, wolf, pig and mule. Instead, he chooses to travel with the panther, ape, lamb, hare, hedgehog, ox, the young hound and the ant (let’s hope someone offers the ant a ride!).

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A fox choosing its companions for a pilgrimage, from Ulrich von Pottenstein, Spiegel der Weisheit, Salzburg, c. 1430: Egerton MS 1121, f. 36r

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Chantry Westwell

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26 July 2018

The Arnstein Bible: a grand monastic Bible

In addition to their size and legibility, Romanesque giant Bibles sometimes indicate that they are great monastic books, by including all three of St Jerome’s translations of the Psalms in parallel columns. In the Arnstein Bible, for example, the Gallicanum of the Vulgate appears first, but is accompanied by the Romanum and the Hebraicum, the last a translation made directly from the Hebrew that was never used liturgically. Moreover, each of these three versions is illustrated. This virtuoso display of learning is found in Giant Bibles made in the Mosan and Rhenish regions in particular, although two English examples also survive. These features constitute important material evidence of the status and wealth of the monasteries that commissioned and produced these Bibles: as C. M. Kauffmann stated, they are ‘symbols of monastic corporate authority’ (Biblical Imagery in Medieval England 700-1550 (London, 2003), p. 149).

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The beginning of the Psalms in the Arnstein Bible: Harley MS 2799, f. 5r.

A splendid example of this occurs in the Arnstein Bible, now on display in the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. The Psalms occur in the second volume, and are set out in three parallel columns of text, beginning with a large initial ‘B’(eatus) (blessed) created by elaborated foliate forms, clasps, and to the right, intertwined dogs or other quadrupeds. 

In the initials for the beginning of Psalm 101, ‘D’(omine) features different figures in the bowl of the letter: Christ blessing, the Virgin and Child, and a bishop.

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Christ blessing, the Virgin and Child, and a bishop, at the beginning of Psalm 101: Harley 2799, f. 40r (detail).

The Arnstein Bible was produced at the Premonstratensian abbey of St Mary and St Nicholas, Arnstein, in Germany. This abbey was founded in 1139 by Ludwig III (d. 1185), the last count of Arnstein, who became a lay brother and donated his castle to the new Order, established at Prémontré in northern France in 1120. Ludwig’s wife, Guda, became a hermit living in the abbey grounds. Originally, annals recording important events relating to the abbey were part of the Bible (now preserved in Darmstadt, Hessische Landesbibliothek, MS 4128). The entry for 1172 states that the book (liber iste) was written in that year by a brother called Lunandus, and asks that whoever reads it should pray that he rest in peace: ‘Qui ergo legit, dicat: Anima eius requiescat in pace’

The manuscript is also available in full on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website: volume 1 (Harley MS 2798) and volume 2 (Harley MS 2799).

 

Kathleen Doyle

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

24 July 2018

Reunion and Reunification: The Fourth Annual Meeting of Papyrus Curators and Conservators

It has become a summer tradition that curators and conservators of papyrus collections from across the UK meet every June to share their experiences of working with Ancient Egyptian and Greek papyri. After the first two meetings hosted by the British Museum, and the third one at Cambridge University Library, the fourth gathering was held here at the British Library.

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The end of Book 4 of Homer’s Iliad in a 1st-century Greek papyrus: Papyrus 136(3)

During its first three years the meeting expanded considerably. In addition to representatives from collections in the UK and Ireland, colleagues from Germany, France, Austria and even Australia attended this year's conference. This provided an excellent opportunity to discuss various aspects of collection management, cataloguing and conservation, sometimes with startling results.

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Conference programme of the Fourth Papyrus Curatorial and Conservation Meeting at the British Library

This year’s presentations began by highlighting the British Library's recent programme to digitise, catalogue and publish its papyri online: a full list of those already available can be downloaded here. After a session on online papyrus databases, the following international collections introduced their holdings: the Petrie Museum, London; the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin; Trinity College Dublin; Oxyrhynchus Collection, Oxford; Papyrussamlung, Berlin; University Library Leipzig; the National Library of Austria; and the Macquarie University, Sydney.

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Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens (Papyrus 131) on the British Library’s new image viewer

One of the most important lessons we continue to learn is the benefit of co-operation. A collaboration between the British Museum and the British Library to digitise and share the Museum's archival records will support the cataloguing of the 4,146 Greek ostraca held at the British Library. Co-operation with the Berlin-based Elephantine project, collecting and making an inventory of all written and artefact sources from the Egyptian town of Elephantine, has contributed to the discovery of 100 new ostraca from that site, and will result in the imaging and online publication of more than 250 Greek ostraca from the Library's collection.

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Great Doxology in Greek from the 6th century Ostracon 5878 captured in 3D

The most revelatory part of the gathering was when not only colleagues but also collection items met each other. A great example occurred when two parts of a long papyrus roll, one in Berlin and the other in London and both previously considered to be separate fragments, turned out to complement each other, providing us with a complete roll from the 4th century.

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Image of the join of the British Library’s Papyrus 47 and Berlin Staatliche Museen P 5026

This recent discovery by a Greek scholar has now been physically tested. A printout of the Berlin fragment (P 5026), presented by colleagues from the Papyrussammlung, was attached to the British Library piece to reveal how neatly the two portions match. Lines broken at the end of the Library's roll continue on its Berlin counterpart. This creates a long scroll containing magical spells, evoking a gruesome headless demon to reveal secrets to the sorcerer.

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Marginal note in the lower right margin of the British Library’s Papyrus 47 running over to the left margin of Berlin Papyrussamlung P. 5026.

We may never discover how the roll became separated, but we hope that discussions and reunions like we saw this year will lead to further discoveries and reunifications. To be continued at the next meeting in the Chester Beatty Library in 2019 ...

 

Peter Toth

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21 July 2018

Medieval Love Island

British television has been swept off its feet this summer by a certain reality contest in which a group of singletons compete to find romance on an exotic island. Love it or loathe it, society has always been infatuated with dating and finding true love, especially during the Middle Ages. This is shown in many medieval romance tales and guides to love.

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The Castle of Love under the siege of romantic knights as maidens defend themselves with flowers, from the Luttrell Psalter, Add MS 42130, f. 75v

In place of the modern island, the medieval castle was used in art and literature to set the scene for love. The ‘Castle of Love’ popularly appeared in literature as a figurative representation of the Virgin Mary, such as in Robert Grosseteste’s religious poem in Anglo-Norman French, Le Chasteau d’Amour. The castle of this poem is a spiritual tower of strength and its architecture symbolises Mary's characteristics, with the turrets representing her virtues and the baileys her chastity, maidenhood and marriage.

The Castle of Love soon became a secular and more light-hearted image, as depicted in the 14th-century Luttrell Psalter (Add MS 42130). Knights can be seen clamouring with weapons to reach the maidens inside a model castle, who are defending themselves playfully with flowers. The illustration is placed in the margin of a passage from Psalm 37, with King David stating his enemies ‘that render evil for good, have detracted me, because I follow goodness. Forsake me not, O my Lord’ (Ps 37:20–21). The maidens most likely symbolise virtue and the knights the temptations of vice.

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How you doing? A young man addresses three women at the gate of the Castle of Love, from Royal MS 16 F II, f. 188r

The Castle of Love again features in a late 15th-century illuminated manuscript (Royal MS 16 F II) containing a guide to love, Les demands en amours. Opening with the chastel d’amours, the text contains a list of 18 questions in verse and 87 in prose on how to find a suitable lover. Similar to relationship columns today, the text advises the reader to declare his love wisely, to live joyously, dress well, be pleasant socially and to sustain his love through the exercise of ‘courtoysie’.

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Love may be sustained through the exercise of ‘courtoysie’ (line 21), from Royal MS 16 F II, f. 188v

This manuscript was made for an aristocratic reader. It may have been first intended for King Edward IV of England but was left unfinished after his death in 1483; it may then have been completed by 1500 for King Henry VII and his family.

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The Castle of Jealousy where Fair Welcome is Imprisoned, from Harley MS 4425, f. 39r

Medieval writers were also aware of the darker side of courting. The Castle of Jealousy appears in a late 15th-century Flemish copy of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, a popular tale in which a lover dreams of a rose held captive in a castle, shown above. Here the lover waits outside the outermost wall of the castle, unable to get past Danger (Dangier) holding the keys to the gate and the many soldiers who guard the tower of Jealousy (Jalousie) to reach the beautiful rose represented by a woman. The course of true love never did run smooth!

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The king of love sits in a tree with two musicians, aiming his arrows at a couple sitting below, from the Maastricht Hours, Stowe MS 17, f. 273r

 

Alison Ray

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19 July 2018

Leeds in July: The Polonsky Foundation Pre-1200 Project

For the past twenty-five years, thousands of medievalists from around the world have travelled every July to the Leeds International Medieval Congress. This is the United Kingdom’s largest academic conference and one of the largest global gatherings of medievalists. With nearly 3,000 participants this year, the IMC provided the perfect opportunity for The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project team to showcase their work ahead of its official launch in November.

On the morning of 3 July, the project’s cataloguers, Laura Albiero and Francesco Siri from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and Cristian Ispir from the British Library, presented research on manuscripts in the project, highlighting aspects which have benefitted particularly from the availability of digital images. Thanks to The Polonsky Foundation, everyone will soon be able to access 800 medieval manuscripts online.

Laura’s paper gave examples of the project’s liturgical manuscripts, and discussed how the names of different saints in the calendars help us to trace the origin and movement of individual manuscripts across the Channel. Erasures and additions tell their own tale of changing ownership through analysis of the veneration of particular local saints.

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Laura Albiero discussing a calendar originally from 12th-century Tewkesbury, now Paris, BnF, Latin 9376.

Cristian followed with an overview of author portraits and decorative elements in manuscripts containing Classical Latin texts. Francesco’s presentation focused on diagrams and their use in texts such as philosophical works, and defined the different functions they perform.

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Cristian Ispir and Francesco Siri presenting on the visual content in some of the project manuscripts.

The second session presented by the team gave an overview of the project itself. Tuija Ainonen, The Polonsky Foundation Project Curator at the British Library, drew attention to The Polonsky Foundation and the roles of the two project partners. She highlighted the various goals of the project: the full digitisation of 800 manuscripts (400 from the British Library and 400 from the BnF); the publication of a book highlighting selected manuscripts from the project; and the building of two websites — one hosting all 800 manuscripts, with 260,000 digitised images in total, and another bilingual interpretative site for a wide public audience which will present a selection of manuscripts in the project. Even interoperable image viewers, annotations, and the plan to allow image downloads had their few minutes in the spotlight: see this earlier blogpost for more details.

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The project’s coordinators Tuija Ainonen and Francesco Siri at the discussion and question time.

The audience then saw the different stages in the digitisation of 800 manuscripts and online publication in various forms. In this evening session Francesco Siri discussed the demands and challenges of cataloguing and conservation in digitisation projects. Alison Ray, Curatorial Web Officer at the British Library, discussed the workflow, from photography and image processing through to presentation in various online environments including social media and the bilingual interpretative website that will launch in November. She also reminded the audience that 600 project manuscripts are already fully digitised and available via Digitised Manuscripts for the British Library and Gallica for the BnF.

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Alison Ray discussing the various digital environments for showcasing selected manuscripts.

As the project is ongoing, the IMC presentation was very much a sneak preview of things to come. Our readers will be able to see the full outcomes at our project conference in Paris in 21–23 November 2018. Attendance is free but registration is required.

You will also be able to see some of the project’s manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition that opens at the British Library on 19 October: tickets are available here. To hear more about Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, you can also attend a conference and early career symposium at the British Library on 13–15 December: please book tickets here.

 

The Polonsky Pre-1200 Project Team

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval (#PolonskyPre1200)

 

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

In collaboration with

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Supported by

The Polonsky Foundation logo

17 July 2018

Digitised Manuscripts hyperlinks July 2018

Hot on the heels of our recent announcement that the British Library's Anglo-Saxon charters are now online, we are pleased to provide you with another phenomenally fantastic list of digitised manuscripts hyperlinks. As usual, we are making this list available to download in two formats: as a PDF and as an Excel spreadsheet.

A quick glance reveals that no fewer than 2,336 of the Library's ancient, medieval and early modern manuscripts are now on Digitised Manuscripts, from Add Ch 19788 (a grant of King Wulfhere of the Mercians) to Yates Thomson MS 51 (Skazanie o Mamaevom Poboishche, 'The Tale of the Rout of Mamai', in Russian Church Slavonic). More are being added weekly to that number. It's always worth checking our Twitter feed, @BLMedieval, for the latest updates.

Here are just a few of the items on Digitised Manuscripts. We hope you enjoy trawling through the list to find your own highlights.

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Miniature of St Dunstan as a bishop (Canterbury, 12th century): Royal MS 10 A XIII/1

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Memorandum for a trip to Constantinople (Egypt, 5th–6th century): Papyrus 2237

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William Bruggys' Garter Book (England, 15th century): Stowe MS 594, f. 5v

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An Anglo-Norman verse miscellany (England or France, 13th century): Harley MS 4388, f. 2v


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The Caligula Troper (England, 11th century): Cotton MS Caligula A XIV. You will be able to see more of our early medieval manuscripts in person in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, opening at the Library on 19 October.

 

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15 July 2018

It's coming home

There are just a few hours to go before one of the greatest tournaments in the world reaches its glorious, nail-biting outcome. We have witnessed Gallic flair, English optimism and German hubris. And now, everyone, the wait is over. Yes, today is the final of the #ManuscriptWorldCup.

Just for fun, we have been asking our followers on Twitter (@BLMedieval) to choose their favourite manuscripts, from a select list chosen by a panel of pundits. We'll shortly find out which two manuscripts have made it through to the final vote. Here are the eight contenders, the manuscript equivalents of Harry Kane, Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Johann Cruyff and, um, Manuel Neuer (get back in goal, quick!).

 

BYZANTIUM

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The Theodore Psalter (Constantinople, 1066): Add MS 19352, f. 1r

 

FRANCE

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Pierre Sala’s Petit Livre d’Amour (France, 16th century): Stowe MS 955, f. 17r

 

ITALY

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Carmina Regia (Tuscany, c. 1335): Royal MS 6 E IX, f. 22r

 

PORTUGAL

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The Portuguese Genealogy (Lisbon and Bruges, 1530s): Add MS 12531, f. 3

 

ENGLAND

C06172-06

The Luttrell Psalter (England, 14th century): Add MS 42130, f. 202v 

 

GERMANY

E046770

Splendor Solis (Germany, 1582): Harley MS 3469

 

NETHERLANDS

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Der Naturen Bloeme (Netherlands, 14th century): Add MS 11390

 

SPAIN

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The Silos Apocalypse (Silos, 1091–1109): Add MS 11695, f. 23r

 

Tickets to watch the final of the #ManuscriptWorldCup have been exchanging hands for, literally, nothing. You can be there in person by joining us on Twitter and making your vote count. It's coming home, at least until next time!

 

Julian Harrison

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

12 July 2018

Anglo-Saxon charters online

In anticipation of the British Library's major Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, which opens on 19 October, we are delighted to have added the vast majority of our Anglo-Saxon single-sheet charters to our Digitised Manuscripts site. A full list of the 203 charters currently available can be downloaded here; we plan to add the remaining 8 charters in due course.

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King Æthelbald of the Mercians and of the South Angli grants ten hides at Ismere by the river Stour and land at Brochyl in Morfe forest, Worcestershire, to Cyneberht, comes, for the construction of a minster, dated 736: Cotton MS Augustus II 3

The British Library holds the world's largest collection of Anglo-Saxon charters. They are issued in the names of kings, bishops and laypeople, and include a considerable number of writs, wills, records of disputes and decrees of synods. The charters supply significant testimony to the evolution of English handwriting (the scripts deployed include uncial, pointed minuscule, square minuscule and English Caroline minuscule). They are composed primarily in Latin but with a considerable number in Old English (or with Old English bounds). Some of the documents are originals or were issued contemporaneously, while others are later copies or are deemed to be forgeries. Collectively, these charters provide us with substantial evidence for early English political, ecclesiastical, administrative and social history.

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Archbishop Wulfstan grants a lease, for three lives, of a half hide at Perry Wood in St Martin’s-without-Worcester, to Wulfgifu, with reversion to the church of Worcester, 1003 × 1016: Add Ch 19795

We recently learned the sad news of the death of Peter Sawyer, whose handlist of Anglo-Saxon charters (published in 1968) has proved invaluable to generations of scholars. Many of the charters now available online have also been edited in recent years on behalf of the British Academy/Royal Historical Society Joint Committee on Anglo-Saxon Charters, and we are indebted to scholars such as Susan Kelly, Simon Keynes and the late Nicholas Brooks for their editions and painstaking investigations into these documents.

Stowe Ch 15 face

Record of a dispute between Archbishop Wulfred of Canterbury, King Coenwulf of the Mercians, and Abbess Cwoenthryth, concerning the minsters of Reculver and Minster-in-Thanet, and of the dispute’s settlement by the transfer to Wulfred of a hundred hides at Harrow, Herefrethinglond, Wembley, and Yeading, all in Middlesex, and thirty hides at Combe, Kent, 825: Stowe Ch 15

 

Cotton MS Augustus II 31

King Æthelstan of England grants privileges to the bishopric of Crediton in return for 60 pounds of silver, 933: Cotton MS Augustus II 31

 

Cotton MS Augustus II 39 face 

King Edgar of England grants 22 hides at Ringwood, Hampshire, to Abingdon Abbey, 961: Cotton MS Augustus II 39

 

Cotton Ch VIII 18 face

King Edgar of England grants land at Bleadon, Somerset, to the Old Minster, Winchester, 975 (copied in the 15th century): Cotton Ch VIII 18

 

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Bishop Eadnoth of Crediton mortgages a yardland by the river Creedy, Devon, to Beorhtnoth, probably 1018 (copied in the 13th century): Cotton Roll II 11

 

Stowe Ch 39 face

King Cnut of England grants his crown and the port of Sandwich to Christ Church, Canterbury, 1023 (copied in the 12th century): Stowe Ch 39

 

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Will of Bishop Ælfric of Elmham (d. 1038): Cotton MS Augustus II 85

 

 Cotton Ch VIII 9 face

King Edward the Confessor of England grants seven hides at Millbrook, Hampshire, to Bishop Ælfwine of Winchester, 1045: Cotton Ch VIII 9

 

Over the coming months, and throughout the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, we will be blogging about some of the Anglo-Saxon charters in the British Library's collections, starting with this charter made 1,025 years ago (Cotton MS Augustus II 38). While charters may not be as beautiful as some of the magnificently illuminated manuscripts from the period, they are every bit as exciting. Many of the charters we have digitised are presumed to be originals: they may have been seen and touched by some of the historical figures mentioned in the text, at crucial moments in history.

Cotton MS Augustus II 38 face

King Æthelred of England confirms the privileges of Abingdon Abbey, including the right of free election of a new abbot, 993: Cotton MS Augustus II 38

In this charter, King Æthelred (‘the Unready’) confirmed the rights and property of Abingdon Abbey. The text mentions ‘frequent and numerous difficulties to me [Æthelred] and my nation’ in the past decade. This seems to be a reference to the Scandinavian forces that had begun attacking England again in the 980s, culminating with the disastrous defeat of English forces at the Battle of Maldon. Æthelred therefore repented of his youthful indiscretions and issued a series of ‘penitential’ charters, including this one, to try to protect some of the churches he had neglected and to set his kingdom right. 

We know at least some of the people mentioned in this text actually touched this piece of parchment because some of them left marks in the shape of a cross next to their names in the witness list. (Alas, the parchment is damaged next to Æthelred’s name).

In addition to revealing major governmental reshuffles and wars, charters can also reveal more personal details. For instance, one of Æthelred’s ‘youthful indiscretions’ involved kicking his mother out of his court when he was a teenager. In this charter, she appears in the witness list, suggesting that she had become a powerful force in the kingdom and was accepted at court again. She appears in the witness list next to Æthelred’s sons, whom she was helping to bring up. Removing your mother from the palace clearly did not preclude relying on her for childcare.

 

Julian Harrison & Alison Hudson

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