THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

8 posts from September 2018

21 September 2018

Cataloguer and Researcher, Early modern English manuscripts

The British Library is undertaking a new project to digitise many of its most important English manuscripts from the period 1500 to 1650. We are recruiting three Cataloguer/Researchers to work on this project, who will use their specialist knowledge of original sources from this period to research and catalogue the manuscripts, to prepare the content for online publication and to promote the digitised collection to a wide audience.

ElizabethI1 speech Tilbury f 87

The speech supposedly delivered by Queen Elizabeth I in 1588 at Tilbury Camp, assembled to defend England against the Spanish Armada, and featuring the poignant lines, "I know I have the body butt of a weake and feble woman, butt I have the harte and stomack of a king, and of a king of England too": Harley MS 6798, f. 87r

Successful candidates will have a post-graduate degree, or its equivalent, in early modern English/British history or literature, or another directly relevant field. They will have specialist knowledge of early modern manuscripts, and a strong knowledge of early modern palaeography, with the ability to read early modern English handwriting fluently. Experience of cataloguing or describing early modern manuscripts is essential, as is a high level of time-management and organisational skills.

The duties of this role are as follows:

  • To undertake research on and catalogue English manuscripts dating from c. 1500–1650
  • To input information into the Library’s manuscripts cataloguing system
  • To review and update existing catalogue descriptions to reflect recent research, checking details against other international databases and publications and adding bibliographies to the records
  • To add authority-controlled data, for example for people, places or subjects
  • To assist and answer queries from staff undertaking quality control of digital images
  • To assist in preparing the digital images for online publication, ensuring that all requisite metadata is captured accurately
  • To write blog posts and tweets and undertake other promotional activities to raise the profile of the digitised collections with specialist and non-specialist audiences
  • To demonstrate a willingness to take on a range of tasks and to develop new skills, as appropriate, in own or other departments/directorates to support the delivery of the Library's services

These are full time, fixed term contract roles, funded until 31 March 2020. There are three positions available.

Full details of the position and how to apply are available here. The reference is 02315.

The closing date is 30 September. Interviews will be held on 15 October.

 

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20 September 2018

The Book of Durrow to be displayed at the British Library

It is now less than one month until the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition opens at the British Library on 19 October. Today, we are delighted to announce that the Book of Durrow will be on display in the exhibition, on loan from the Library of Trinity College Dublin. This manuscript, dated to the late 7th or turn of the 8th century, is believed to be the earliest fully decorated gospel-book to survive from Ireland or Britain.

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Elaborated initial at the opening of the gospel of Mark

The carpet page and opening of the Gospel of Mark, in the Book of Durrow (Trinity College Library, Dublin, MS 57, ff. 85v–86r). © The Board of Trinity College, Dublin.

The date and origin of the manuscript have long been debated. Strong parallels with early Anglo-Saxon metalwork, including objects from the Sutton Hoo ship burial, encouraged former attributions to Northumbria. A sword pommel from the Staffordshire Hoard, discovered in 2009, also closely resembles some aspects of the decoration in the Book of Durrow and will be on display in the exhibition. However these similarities seem to reflect the dispersal and durability of Anglo-Saxon metalwork, and the strong cultural and artistic connections between Ireland and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The Book of Durrow is now generally considered to have been produced in the monastery of Durrow, Co. Offaly, or to have arrived there from Iona.

Our forthcoming exhibition will be the first opportunity to see the Book of Durrow in Britain since it was displayed at the Royal Academy in the ‘Treasures of Trinity College Dublin’ exhibition in 1961. The only loan to that exhibition was the Lindisfarne Gospels. Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms will be the first occasion on which the two manuscripts have been exhibited together for nearly 60 years. As we announced in November last year, the exhibition will also include Codex Amiatinus, which was made in Northumbria in the early 8th century and is returning to Britain for the first time since it was taken to Italy in 716.

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The opening of the Gospel of Matthew, in the Lindisfarne Gospels (British Library Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 27r).

The Book of Durrow contains the text of the four Gospels, adorned with spectacular decoration. Its artists drew inspiration from Ireland, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Pictland and as far away as the Mediterranean. Its designs are outstanding for their precise geometry, harmonious compositions and bold style of drawing. One of the most striking features of the manuscript is its ‘carpet pages’, so-called because they are completely covered with complex geometric designs. Putting abstract ornament centre stage was new to manuscript illumination, and went on to play an important role in Anglo-Saxon gospel-books such as the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Page showing twisted anmals of Anglo-Saxon or germanic influence

The carpet page preceding the Gospel of John, in the Book of Durrow (Trinity College Library, Dublin, MS 57, f. 192v). © The Board of Trinity College, Dublin.

 Other important elements of the manuscript’s artwork are the images of the evangelist symbols, the creatures that symbolise the gospel-writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Early Christian writers assigned the evangelists the symbols of the man, the lion, the ox/calf and the eagle based on the visions of Ezekiel and John the Evangelist in the Bible. The Book of Durrow is the first surviving manuscript in which each Gospel opens with a picture of the evangelist symbol instead of a portrait of the human evangelist. It is also the first surviving instance of a ‘four-symbols page’ in a manuscript, an image of all four evangelist symbols arranged in a cross shape. The linear style and flat blocks of colour suggest that the creatures were inspired by metalwork objects.

Eagle symbol at teh start of the gospel of Mark

The eagle, acting as the evangelist symbol of St Mark, in the Book of Durrow (Trinity College Library, Dublin, MS 57, f. 84v). © The Board of Trinity College, Dublin.

The Book of Durrow is one of the most spectacular surviving works of early medieval art and we are very grateful to Trinity College Dublin for loaning this manuscript to the exhibition. If you haven’t already booked tickets to see the Book of Durrow — along with the earliest surviving complete Latin Bible, Old English poetry, Domesday Book and more early art — you can book them here. The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition runs from 19 October 2018 to 19 February 2019.

 

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17 September 2018

Two new charters from Ramsey Abbey

In 2017, we were delighted to receive the gift of two 12th-century charters from Ramsey Abbey, generously donated to the British Library by Abbey College, Ramsey. These two charters have been conserved and photographed, and they can now be viewed on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

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The charters were presented on behalf of the Trustees of the Ramsey Foundation by Robert Heal, Gordon Mather and a group of students from Ramsey Abbey College, pictured here with 
Andrea Clarke and Andrew Dunning of the British Library

Ramsey Abbey was one of the wealthiest and most influential monasteries in medieval England. It was founded by Oswald, bishop of Worcester and later archbishop of York, probably in the late 960s. With help from his benefactor, the nobleman Æthelwine, Oswald turned Ramsey into a major economic force and intellectual centre. It was even briefly home to Abbo of Fleury, one of the leading intellectuals in western Europe, who taught there for two years in the late 980s.

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Detail from the earliest account of the foundation of Ramsey (Ramsege), in Byrhtferth of Ramsey’s Vita sancti Oswaldi, written c. 996–1002 and preserved uniquely in the Cotton-Corpus Legendary, Worcester, 3rd quarter of the 11th century: Cotton MS Nero E/1, f. 11v

Most of our information about Ramsey's early years comes from one of Abbo’s students, Byrhtferth, a talented mathematician, author and teacher in his own right. The British Library has the only surviving copies of Byrhtferth’s Lives of St Oswald and St Ecgwine, as well as parts of three manuscripts that seem to have been based on the handbook he used in his teaching: Cotton MS Nero C VII, ff. 80–84; Harley MS 3667 + Cotton MS Tiberius C I, ff. 2–17; and Cotton MS Tiberius E IV. Ramsey remained an important intellectual centre throughout the Middle Ages, particularly for the study of Hebrew. 

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Byrhtferth’s diagram of the groups of four elements he believed made up the universe, copied at Peterborough, c. 1120–1140: Harley MS 3667, f. 7r

These artistic and intellectual achievements were financed by careful estate management, land acquisitions, protection of the abbey’s rights, record keeping and accounting. The monks kept track of their income and accounts by making charters and other documents, ensuring that the texts could be easily located. The large amounts of documentation surviving from Ramsey make it one of the best places to study life in medieval England, as shown in Ramsey: The Lives of an English Fenland Town, 1200–1600.

The first charter presented to the British Library (Add Ch 77736) is a notification of King Henry I of England (1100–1135), issued at Falaise between 1133 and 1135. It states that William de Houghton, Henry’s chamberlain, has restored to Ramsey Abbey the estate of ‘Bradenache’ (presumably Brandish Wood), along with land at Gidding. This charter features an impression of Henry's Great Seal, in white wax. Its text was also copied into one of the surviving Ramsey Abbey cartularies, Cotton MS Vespasian E II, f. 12r.

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Notification by King Henry I: Add Ch 77736

The second charter (Add Ch 77737) is King Henry II's confirmation of this same grant, issued at Lincoln. Among the witnesses is Thomas Becket, the king’s chancellor (a position he held from 1155 until 1162).

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Confirmation by King Henry II: Add Ch 77737

Until now, these charters had probably remained within a single hectare for the better part of a millennium. Most of Ramsey Abbey’s archives and library were dispersed at the abbey's dissolution in 1539. The British Library now holds the largest segment of their remnants, among which are many charters and cartularies and nineteen manuscripts, including the famous Ramsey Psalter. These two charters seem to have remained on the site, and were owned beyond living memory by Ramsey Abbey School, a grammar school first documented in 1656.

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The Great Seal of King Henry I: Add Ch 77736

We are extremely grateful to Abbey College for its splendid gift to the nation.

 

Alison Hudson and Andrew Dunning

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14 September 2018

Wynflaed and the price of fashion

Some of the most interesting texts in the British Library’s collections have deceptively unassuming appearances. For example, this fragile piece of parchment is the closest equivalent of the Vogue wardrobe for early medieval England. Written in Old English, it is one of the earliest wills which survive from England in the name of a woman only. It details bequests made by a noblewoman called Wynflæd sometime before the late 10th or early 11th century, and it describes her wardrobe as well as her estates, slaves, metalwork, livestock and familial relationships. 

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Will of Wynflæd, England, late 10th or early 11th century: Cotton Ch VIII 38

We can’t be sure as to Wynflæd's exact identity. One of King Edgar’s grandmothers was called Wynflæd, but this will could pertain to someone else with the same name. What we do know is that our Wynflaed was a widow, and that she had a daughter called Æthelflæd and a son called Eadmer. We also know that she was rich. Her will mentions several estates, bands of tamed and untamed horses, slaves, many coins, livestock, items in gold and silver, and even books (annoyingly for us, no further information is given). The compiler of her will described some of the other items, such as Wynflæd's ‘wooden cups decorated with dots’ and her ‘red tent’. Anglo-Saxon nobles often travelled around — Wynflæd may have had to travel to manage her estates — and they stayed in tents when doing so. The Durham Collectar, for instance (Durham Cathedral Library MS A.IV.19), mentions that some of its text was written before tierce (around 9 a.m.) on Wednesday, 10 August 10, ‘for Ælfsige the bishop [of the community of St Cuthbert] in his tent’ while he was travelling in Dorset.

Wynflæd's will also gives details about her attire, from her engraved bracelet to linen gowns to caps and headbands. Such detailed descriptions of clothes are relatively unusual in Old English texts. A particularly striking item among Wynflæd’s clothes is a ‘twilibrocenan cyrtel’. This garment has been alternatively interpreted as a ‘badger-skin dress’, an embroidered dress or even a dress that was only worn twice. Gale Owen-Crocker and Kate Thomas have already discussed Wynflæd’s clothes, if you’d like to learn more.

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A badger? Detail of a decoration around a flaw in parchment, from the Tollemache Orosius, England (Winchester?), late 9th or early 10th century: Add MS 47967, f. 62v

Wynflæd may have taken religious vows towards the end of her life, but that does not seem to have impeded her fashion sense. Her will mentions a ‘holy veil’ and at the beginning it focuses on her donations to an unspecified church. This church seems to have housed women, since the first part of the will also specifies bequests to ‘slaves of God’ there with female names such as Ceolthryth, Othelbriht and Elsa. At least one of these names appears again towards the end of the will as the recipient of some of the finer pieces in Wynflæd's wardrobe: Ceolthryth was to receive ‘whichever she prefers of her black tunics and her best holy veil and best headband’ (translated by D. Whitelock, Anglo-Saxon Wills, Cambridge, 1930, p. 15). Nor were these the only fashionable religious women or nuns in late 10th-century England, if later stories about St Edith are to be believed.

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A holy veil? An angel presents Queen Emma with a veil, from the New Minster Liber Vitae: Stowe MS 944, f. 6r

Wynflæd’s will highlights another important aspect of fashion history: who made the clothes. Wynflæd not only bequeathed her clothes to her relatives, but she also bequeathed the people who made them. To Eadgifu (possibly her granddaughter), she gave ‘a woman-weaver and a seamstress, the one [also] called Eadgifu, the other called Æthelgifu’. One gets the impression that her granddaughter Eadgifu was a favourite: she also received the ‘best bed-curtain’, ‘best dun tunic’, best cloak and an ‘old filigree brooch’, among other objects.

Eadgifu the weaver and Æthelgifu the seamstress were not so lucky. While Wynflæd freed some of her slaves in her will, these two may have been condemned by their skill. They are two of only four slaves whose professions are specified in the will, the others being a wright and a cook called Ælfsige. Wynflæd was — and is — not alone in exploiting garment makers. To this day, the fashion industry has an uncomfortably close relationship with exploitation and poor labour conditions in many parts of the world.

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Detail of the names of Eadgifu (Edgyfu) and Æthelgifu (Æþelyfu): Cotton Ch VIII 38

Although Cotton Ch VIII 38 is a copy of the original will, it shows signs of how such a document might have been used.  It is a single sheet, folded carefully in half, then lengthways, and then again into thirds, as if it has been used and been put away for safe keeping.  The interlinear additions to the text are also intriguing: as these are meaningful pieces of text, rather than occasional words, they are clearly not just the result of scribal error, but were intended as clarifications, or to add extra information.  For example, when Wynflaed bequeaths her cloak, an extra word is added to specify which one: it is 'hyre beteran mentel' (her better cloak).  Many of these additions are concerned with what would happen to Wynflaed's slaves.  The will specifies that 'at Faccombe Eadhelm and Man and Johanna and Sprow and his wife … and Gersand and Snel are to be freed,' with Sprow and his wife added between the lines; while elsewhere, where 'aelfferes dohtor' (Aelffere's daughter) is given to Aethelflaed, someone has added 'þa geonran' (the younger) between the lines, specifying which one of his daughters was to be Aethelflaed's slave.  Needless to say, these additions had serious consequences for the futures of Sprow, his wife, and of Aelffere's daughter.

Cotton Ch VIII 16 detail
Detail of folds and interlinear additions: Cotton Ch VIII 38

The British Library's major exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, opens on 19 October 2018: tickets and further details are available here.

 

Alison Hudson and Kate Thomas

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

11 September 2018

Births, births and (more) births

In 1490, the curate of St Theodor in Basel, Switzerland, began compiling a register of the baptisms he performed at the church. The handwritten portion of the manuscript begins with a note in his hand: it records the year, 1490; the purpose for which the register was kept (‘ad inscribendum pueros baptisatos’); and his name, Johann Ulrich Surgant. The first entry, underlined in red, is for a baptism performed on 13 July, the feast day of St Henry (also known as Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor): a boy named Henry Falkner – after his father, it seems, rather than his beatified namesake. 

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Detail of the opening entries in the baptismal register of the church of St Theodor, Basel: 
Egerton MS 1927, f. 8r 

This register was maintained at the church for a little short of 250 years, with the last entries being made in 1737. In 1620, when the volume begun by Johann Ulrich Surgant was full, a second one was acquired. These two manuscripts – Egerton MS 1927 and Egerton MS 1928 – are a valuable resource for anyone pursuing prosopographical or genealogical research for families in Basel across four centuries. You can also study them in detail on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site.

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Printed page from a Missale Basiliense, containing the ceremonies performed in preparation for the use of the baptismal font: 
Egerton MS 1927, f. 7r 

Surgant evidently sourced the blank volume locally. Inserted at the beginning are several printed pages from a Missale Basiliense printed by Michael Wenssler in 1488 (the British Library holds a complete copy at IB.37136; ISTC im00651500). These comprise a calendar, with the main religious feasts printed in red ink, and the ceremonies and prayers performed in preparation for the use of the baptismal font. These contents were of obvious utility in such a volume and illustrate that the book was designed and acquired with this specific purpose in mind.

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Front binding showing exposed oak boards, blind-stamped pigskin and metal clasps: Egerton MS 1927

The cover is characteristic of late 15th-century Swiss bindings, with blind-stamped pigskin covering a third of the front and back oak boards. Using the Einbanddatenbank, it is sometimes possible to identify the craftsman responsible, but in this case, none of the tools used on the covers of Egerton MS 1927 are a match for known binders or workshops in that region.

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Detail of an entry recording the baptism of Christiana Foxe, 22 September 1555: 
Egerton MS 1927, f. 115r 

These registers are of particular interest to anyone studying the protestant religious communities in Switzerland during the 16th century. The martyrologist John Foxe (b. 1516/17, d. 1587), of Acts and Monuments fame, spent at least four years of his exile in Basel, before returning to England in October 1559. The earliest evidence of his arrival in the city is an entry in this very register, on 22 September 1555: ‘to John Foxe, the Englander, a child, called Christiana’. Along with other Marian exiles, Foxe rented rooms in the Clarakloster, a former convent. The first of his daughter’s godparents was a fellow resident: Thomas Bentham (b. 1513/14, d. 1579), who became Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield under Queen Elizabeth I.

 

James Freeman (Medieval Manuscripts Specialist, Cambridge University Library)

06 September 2018

One-day tickets for ‘Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms’ symposium

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, we are hosting an international academic conference on manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms on 13–14 December 2018. This conference is now sold out. However, tickets are still available for the one-day Early Career Symposium on Saturday 15 December (9.00–17.30) and you can register here.

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Detail of the Harley Psalter, made in Canterbury in the 11th century: Harley MS 603, f. 16v

Speakers at the Symposium and their topics will be:

Colleen Curran (Junior Research Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Oxford)
‘960 and All That: An Earlier ‘Style’ of English Caroline Minuscule’

Robert Gallagher (Junior Research Fellow, St Cross College, Oxford)
‘Latin Verse and Book Culture in the Age of Æthelstan’

Louise Garner (doctoral candidate, Durham University)
‘Underneath the Arches: Pigments in the York Gospels and the Wider Canterbury Context’

Alison Hudson (Project Curator, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, The British Library)
‘Laymen, Churchmen and Literacy around the Turn of the First Millennium AD: Multispectral Imaging of Æthelweard’s Chronicle’

Eleanor Jackson (Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts, The British Library)
‘Consolation in the Labyrinth: A Picture Poem in Cambridge University Library, MS Kk.3.21’

Rebecca Lawton (doctoral candidate, University of Leicester)
‘Papyrus, Performance, Prestige: Examining the Physicality of Papal Letters in Early Anglo-Saxon England’

Esther Lemmerz (doctoral candidate, University of Göttingen)
‘Visualising Latin in the In Cena Domini Version in London, British Library, Cotton Faustina MS A IX’

Stephenie McGucken (University of Edinburgh)
‘The Psychomachia in Late Anglo-Saxon England: Transmission, Adaptation, and Manipulation’

Alexandra Reider (doctoral candidate, Yale University)
‘The Search for the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Codex’

Simon Thomson (Research Assistant, Ruhr Universität, Bochum)
‘Scribal Interactions: The Communal Making and Remaking of Manuscripts in Late Anglo-Saxon England’

Jiří Vnouček (doctoral candidate, University of York)
’The Parchment of Codex Amiatinus and Ceolfrith’s Bibles’

Christine Voth (Dorothea Schlözer Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Göttingen)
‘Intellectual Professionals in Anglo-Saxon England: A Case Study of the Medical Manuscript London, British Library, Royal 12 D XVII’

If you would like to be added to a waiting list to attend the first two days of the conference, please email manuscriptsconference@bl.uk. The conference and symposium are being held in connection with the Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdom: Art, Word War exhibition, which opens on 19 October. More information about the exhibition and other associated events is available here.

 

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05 September 2018

A letter of a Scottish rebel

In early January 1489, Alexander Gordon, master of Huntly, wrote from Edinburgh to the king of England, Henry VII (1485–1509), soliciting his support against the government of his own king, James IV of Scotland (1488–1513). Alexander's letter is preserved in the Cotton collection at the British Library, and is one of only a small number to survive from late medieval Scotland. The scribe wrote this letter in Scots, in a pre-secretary hand; the master of Huntly himself then ‘subscribit’, sealed and sent it to the English monarch.

The master of Huntly was the eldest surviving son of George Gordon, second earl of Huntly, and his second wife, Annabella Stewart, sixth daughter of James I, king of Scots (1406–1437). The earl of Huntly was the most powerful nobleman in North-East Scotland. He had opposed his nephew James III, king of Scots (1460–1488), during the late 1470s and early 1480s, culminating in his participation in the seizure of the king at Lauder in July 1482, when ‘ye lordis of Scotland … slew ane part of ye kingis housald and other part yai [they] banysyt [banished] … for he wrocht [valued] mair ye consaell of his housald yat war bot sympill na [that were but lowly than] he did of yame yat [them that] was lordis’ (Royal MS 17 D XX, f. 308r). Several other uncles of the king, including James Stewart, first earl of Buchan, played a leading part in imprisoning him and taking power, probably in support of James III’s exiled brother, Alexander Stewart, first duke of Albany, who invaded Scotland with the support of an English army. Huntly changed sides and helped the king to recover his authority and to send Albany and Buchan into exile.

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James III, king of Scotland, accompanied by his son James Stewart, duke of Rothesay (future James IV), and St Andrew, the inside left panel of the Trinity Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes (c. 1478–82): The Royal Collection, RCIN 403260

From the mid-1480s opposition to James III focused on his eldest son, James Stewart, duke of Rothesay. He fled Stirling Castle in February 1488 to join rebels in the South-West led by the Hepburn and Hume families, and then demanded greater authority as heir to the throne. Rothesay’s mother, Margrete of Denmark, was said to have admonished him on her deathbed: ‘nothing achieved by violence, be certain, can endure’ (Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti, Gynevera de le clare donne, 1489–90). Despite this, the 15-year-old Rothesay entered into open civil war with his father. Huntly and the master of Huntly sided with the king, as did Buchan, who was back in royal favour. King James III was defeated and killed at the battle of Sauchieburn on 11 June, carrying the sword of his illustrious ancestor Robert the Bruce in hope of victory. Huntly and the master of Huntly had been too late to help him on the field, while Buchan had been handed over to the rebels as a hostage during a negotiated truce the previous month. James III was buried beside his queen before the high altar at Cambuskenneth Abbey. Rothesay, now crowned James IV, was present and for the rest of his life he wore an iron belt as an act of penance for the death of his father.

The government of James IV proved to be as narrow-based as his father’s It was dominated by Patrick Hepburn, first earl of Bothwell, and his kinsmen, who attacked the former supporters of the late king, among them Buchan and the master of Huntly. The master thus wrote to Henry VII of England in January 1489, soliciting his aid against those who had ‘falsly slayne’ James III. He described how, he had ‘put me in [and] divours wicht [with] my said soueraine lord [James III’s] frendis and kynnysmen to causs the comittaris of the saide slauthir [murder] to be punyst acording to Iustice and the honor of our realme’, and he petitioned Henry ‘to put to zour [your] hande … in the punyssyng [punishing] of fals and tresonable trattouris’. The master ended by saying that Buchan, Henry’s kinsman, had the authority to negotiate further terms.

The rebellion broke out at Easter 1489, concentrated in the North-East and the West, with the master of Huntly prominent among its leaders, but also a number of others who had fought against James III at Sauchieburn but now felt that they too had been excluded by ‘parciall personis’ (Edinburgh, National Records of Scotland, GD220/2/1, no. 85) from the presence of the young James IV. The rebels demanded that the killing of James III should not go unpunished, that his treasure (which had been embezzled) should be restored to the crown, and that justice should be administered. They wanted parliament summoned to settle their differences. Bothwell responded by bringing a number of them in from the cold, including Buchan, by laying siege to the strongholds of others, and by forcing battle. Fortunately, Henry VII could not intervene because he had a rebellion of his own to deal with in Yorkshire; but Bothwell failed to take the main rebel stronghold, Dumbarton Castle on the Firth of Clyde, and he was constrained to give way to many rebel demands, including the summoning of parliament. Huntly and the master of Huntly were among those restored to favour; however, James III’s killer or killers were never found, never punished, nor was all his treasure recovered.

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The letter of Alexander Gordon, master of Huntly, to Henry VII: Cotton MS Caligula B III, f. 20r

 

Text

British Library, Cotton MS Caligula B III, f. 20r

8 January [1489].  Edinburgh.  Alexander Gordon, master of Huntly, to Henry VII.

Richt hee excellande ande mycthy prince I comende my seruice one to zour henez in ye maist hunble ande harty vyss I cane  Ande plessit ye sammyne ramembir of ye thresonable ande Cruel slauthir of my souerane lorde ande kyng falsly slayne be a part of his fals ande vntrew legis the quhilk stude in neyr tendirness of blude ande zour henez to giddir  And becauss of my lautay and allegeans I haif put me in divours wicht my said soueraine lordis frendis and kynnysmen to causs the comittaris of the saide slauthir to be punyst acording to Iustice and the honor of our realme  ffor the quhilk I ande the layf of my lordis and fallowis maist hunbli besekis zour grace to put to zour hande for the teyndirnes of blude yat bess betuix my souerane lorde quhom god assolve ande zour grace ande for the honor that euery anoynted prince and kyng soulde kepe tile vtheris in the punyssyng of fals and tresonable trattouris and with goddis grace and zour helpe the matter salbe reullit to zour gret honor ande our lautais  And forthir in a thir materis my lord of buchquhane is informyt at lentht of al our ententtis and quhat he promit tis in my Name I sal sykkirly abyde yerat to quhom zour grace wil gif ferme credens  The quhilk the trinite preserue ande kepe in honour and prosperite euerlasting  At Edinburtht the viii day off Ianuar subscribit wicht my hande

                                                Zouris at al pou

                                                ar master of

                                                Huntley

Translation

Right high excellent and mighty prince I commend my service unto your highness in the most humble and hearty way I can. And please it the same remember of the treasonable and cruel assassination of my sovereign lord and king falsely slain by a part of his false and untrue subjects the which stood in near tenderness of blood and your highness together. And because of my loyalty and allegiance I have put me and divers with my said sovereign lord’s friends and kinsmen to cause the committers of the said murder to be punished according to justice and the honour of our realm. For the which I and the rest of my lords and fellows most humbly beseech your grace to put to your hand for the tenderness of blood that be between my sovereign lord whom God absolve and your grace and for the honour that every anointed prince and king should keep to others in the punishing of false and treasonable traitors and with God’s grace and your help the matter shall be settled to your great honour and our loyalty. And further in all there matters my lord of Buchan is informed at length of all our intents and what he promise it is in my name I shall certainly abide thereat to whom your grace will give firm credence. The which the Trinity preserve and keep in honour and prosperity everlasting. At Edinburgh the 8 day of January. Subscribed with my hand

                                                Yours at all power

                                                master of

                                                Huntly

 

 

Alan Bryson

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01 September 2018

A calendar page for September 2018

Spears to the ready! It’s time to go on a hunt. So says a calendar page for September, made over one thousand years ago. You can read more about this calendar in the first of our series of posts about it this year, and soon you can come to see it in person at our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f007r lower detail
Detail of a scene with hunters and pigs: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

This calendar is one of only two calendars from Anglo-Saxon England that are illustrated with scenes of daily life (the other is in Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1). For the preceding months these scenes have tended to focus on agriculture, but for September the artist has drawn a hunting scene. Two men with spears, a hunting horn and a dog follow a group of boars or possibly domestic pigs into a forest of sinuous trees. The oblivious pigs, meanwhile, munch on items hanging near the base of the trees. This scene nicely matches a description in an Old English riddle from the Exeter Book on Creation/the World/the Universe:

‘I am bigger and fatter than a fattened swine,
a swarthy boar, who lived joyfully
bellowing in a beech-wood, rooting away …’ (translated by Megan Cavell)

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f007r
Calendar page for September: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

This page is also notable for containing the only depiction of a woman to feature in this calendar. She represents the astrological sign Virgo and appears in a roundel at the top of the page. She is shown holding a plant. Her dress seems to be that of an 11th-century English woman: she wears a veil on her head and has flowing sleeves.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f007r virgo
Detail of a roundel depicting Virgo: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

The absence of women elsewhere in the calendar is puzzling, since women would have participated in many agricultural activities. For example, notes on farming equipment, produce and workers from early 11th-century Ely mention dairymaids and other women working on farms. Women also attended feasts, such as the one depicted in the calendar page for April. Even the poem Beowulf — not noted for its gender representation — mentioned women attending a feast, including Queen Wealhtheow and her maidens.

Add_ms_61735_f001r
Farm records mentioning female agricultural workers: Add MS 61735

The absence of women elsewhere in the calendar is perhaps puzzling. The only other surviving calendar from Anglo-Saxon England that is illustrated with agricultural and pastoral scenes (Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1) does not include women, either. Perhaps these artists were working from models that did not feature women. Additionally, it is tempting to speculate that these images conveyed a spiritual meaning as much as depicting contemporary activities: scenes of ploughing and harvesting were well-known Biblical metaphors. It is therefore possible that female figures were excluded not because women did not play a role in 11th-century agriculture, but because women’s participation in preaching and spiritual teaching was being curtailed in some circles by the 11th century.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f007r Michaelmas
Detail of a verse on the feast of Michael the Archangel: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 7r

In addition to the artwork, this calendar features tables for calculating the day of the month, the day of the week, and lunar cycles, along with a poem with a verse for every day. Three major feast days have been marked out with gold crosses in the margin: the Virgin Mary’s birthday (8 September); the feast of St Matthew the Evangelist (21 September); and the feast of the Archangel Michael, or Michaelmas (29 September). Michaelmas continued to be an important feast throughout the Middle Ages, and its date still affects several institutions that originated in the medieval period. For example, law courts in England and Ireland and several universities in England, Wales and Scotland use Michaelmas as the start date for their terms.


Alison Hudson

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