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40 posts categorized "Early modern"

16 November 2016

‘Kett’s Demands Being in Rebellion’

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On 15 November 2016, Sky Arts aired the latest episode of ‘Treasures of the British Library’, with poet Benjamin Zephaniah. This is one of the books he chose.

At Wymondham, Norfolk, a multi-day play was performed annually during the Middle Ages, commemorating the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170. Although the play was banned by King Henry VIII (1509–47) when he broke with Rome, it was revived on 6–8 July 1549. The suppression of their cultural and spiritual lives exacerbated the audience's unrest, since their livelihoods had been threatened by ‘enclosure’, a process of fencing in common land by landowners to transform it into private property. The loss of commons made small farming unsustainable.

Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah at the British Library.

The performance of this play in 1549 turned into a uprising, and the crowds began tearing down the hedges that enclosed the land. Robert Kett, one of the landowners originally targetted, became leader of the cause, helping to tear down his own fences. Kett led a march to Norwich, and set up camp in the open space of Mousehold Heath, just outside the city walls. It grew quickly, with accounts estimating that it numbered as many as 16,000 people. This was one of many similar camps across the country.

Kett drew up a list of twenty-nine demands to present to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, then Lord Protector of England (for the minor King Edward VI). The demands were also signed by Thomas Codd, mayor of Norwich, who had a reputation as a moderate, as well as the past mayor, Thomas Aldrich. A simple plea ‘that from henceforth no man shall enclose any more’ heads the list, but this was not the rebels' only concern, which extended to improving education and reducing corruption. The movement was nonetheless suppressed and Robert Kett was hanged for treason on 7 December 1549; but the Mousehold manifesto endures as a witness to this attempt to propose reasonable solutions to deep-seated problems in society.

We pray your grace that no lord of no manor shall common upon the commons: Harley MS 304, f. 75v.

‘We pray your grace that no lord of no manor shall common upon the commons’: Harley MS 304, f. 75v.

The document in question is preserved in a small bundle of worn paper, folded probably to be delivered by a messenger, now British Library Harley MS 304, ff. 75r–78v. It opens with a list of the names of hundreds and their representatives in Norfolk, Suffolk and the city of Norwich, and the signatures at the end appear to be autographs.

The signature of Robert Kett: Harley MS 304, f. 77r.

The signature of Robert Kett: Harley MS 304, f. 77r.

The document is given the title ‘Keates demaundes beinge in Rebellyon’ (on the final page, f. 78v). Corrections by the scribe show revisions still being made as the sheets were written out from another copy.

There are errors in all published versions of Kett’s demands; the edition below has been corrected against the original manuscript, using the original spelling. Sections of the text whose reading is unclear due to damage are written in square brackets, while corrections are in angle brackets; these draw on earlier published versions of the text (see the bibliography below). Each of the demands is set out in paragraphs as below, but the numbering is editorial.

The Text

  1. |f. 75v| We pray your grace that where it is enacted for Inclosyng that it be not hurtfull to suche as haue enclosed saffren groundes for they be gretly chargeablye to them and that ffrome hensforth noman shall enclose eny more.
  2. We certifie your grace that where as the lordes of ther manours hath byn byn Charged with certen ffre rent the same lordes hath sought meanes to charge ther ffreholders to pay the same rent contrarye to right.
  3. We pray your grace that no lord of no mannor shall comon uppon the Comons.
  4. We pray that prestes frome hensforth shall purchase no londes neyther ffre nor Bond and the londes that they haue in possession may be letten to temporall men as they haue byn wer in the ffyrst yere of the reign of kyng henry the vijth.
  5. We pray that Rede ground and medowe grounde may be at suche price as they wer in the first yere of kyng henry the vijth.
  6. We pray that all marshysshe that ar holden of the kynges maiestie by ffre rent or of eny other may be ageyn at the price that they wer In the ffirst yere of kyng henry the vijth.
  7. We pray that all Busshelles within your realme be of one stice that is to sey to be in mesure viij gallons.
  8. |f. 76r| [W]e pray that [any prest] or vicars that be nat able to preche and sett forth the woorde of god to hys parissheners may be clerely putt from hys benyfice and the parissheners there to chose an other or elles the pateron or lord of the towne.
  9. We pray that the paymentes of castillward rent and blanche fferme and office landes whiche hath byn accostomed to be gathered of the tenamentes where as we suppose the lordes ought to pay the same to ther balyffes for ther rentes gatheryng and not the tenantes.
  10. We p⟨r⟩ay that noman vnder the degre of a knyght or esquyer kepe a dowe howse except it hath byn of an ould anchyent costome.
  11. We pray that all ffreholders and copieholders may take \the/ profightes of all comons and ther lordes to comon and the lordes not to comon nor take profightes of the same.
  12. We pray that no ffeodarye within your sheres shalbe a counceller to eny man in his office makyng wherby the kyng may be trulye serued so that a man beeng of good consyence may be yerely chosyn to the same office by the comons of the same sheyre.
  13. We pray that copie your grace to take all libertie of lete into your owne handes wherby all men may quyetly enioye ther comons with all profightes.
  14. We pray that copiehould londes that is onresonable rented may go as it dyd in the ffirst yere of kyng her henry the vij and that at the deth of a tenante or of a sale the same landes to be charged with an esey ffyne as a capon or a resonable […]ss some of money for a remembraunce.
  15. |f. 76v| We pray that a prest sh[all be a chaplaine] nor no other officer to eny man of honor or wyrshypp but only to be resydent vppon ther benefices wherby ther paryssheners may be enstructed with the lawes of god.
  16. We pray thatt all bonde men may be made ffre for god made all ffre with his precious blode sheddyng.
  17. We pray that Ryvers may be ffre and comon to all men for ffysshyng and passage.
  18. We pray that no man shalbe put by your Eschetour and ffeodarie to ffynde eny office vnles he be holdeth of your grace in cheyff or capite aboue x li by yere.
  19. We pray that the pore mariners or ffyssheremen may haue the hole profightes of ther ffysshynges in this realme as purpres grampes whalles or eny grett ffysshe so it be not preiudiciall to your grace.
  20. We pray that euery propriatorie parson or vicar havyng a benifice of x li or more by yere shall eyther by themselues or by some other parson teche pore mens chyldren of ther parisshe the Boke called the p cathakysme and the prymer.
  21. We pray that it be not lawfull to the lordes of eny mannor to purchase londes frely and to lett them out ageyn by copie of court roll to ther gret advaunchement and to the vndoyng of your pore subiectes.
  22. We pray that no propriatorie parson or vicar in consideracon of advoydin[g] trobyll and sute bet⟨w⟩yn them and ther pore parisshners whiche they daly do procede and attempt shall from hensforth take for the full contentacon of all the tenthes which nowe they do receyue but viij d of the noble in the full discharge of all other tythes.
  23. |f. 77r| [We pray that no man] vnder the degre of es[quyer] shall kepe any conyes vpon any of his owne ffrehold or copiehold onles he pale them in so that it shall not be to the comons noysoyns.
  24. We pray that no person of what estate degre or condicion he be shall from hensforth sell the adwardshyp of eny chyld but that the same chyld if he lyf lyve to his full age shalbe at his owne chosyng concernyng his marriage the kynges wardes only except.
  25. We pray that no matter mannor of person havyng a mannor of his owne shall be non other lordes balyf but only his owne.
  26. Item We pray that no lord knyght nor gentleman shall haue or take in ferme any spirituall promocion.
  27. We pray your grace to gyve lycens and aucthorite by your gracious comyssion under your grett seall to suche comyssioners as your pore comons hath chosyn or to as many of them as your maiestie and your counsell shall apoynt and thynke mete for to redresse and refourme all suche good lawes statutes proclamacions and all other your procedynges whiche hath byn hydden by your Justices of your peace Shreues Escheatores and other your officers from your pore comons synes the ffirst yere of \the reign of/ your noble grandfather kyng henry the seventh.
  28. We pray that those your officers which \that/ hath offended your grace and your comons and so provid by the compleynt of your pore comons do gyue onto those pore men so assembled iiij d euery day so long as they \haue/ remayned ther.
  29. We pray that no lorde knyght esquyer nor gentleman do grase nor fede eny bullockes or shepe if he may spende fforty pou[nds] a yere by his landes but only for the provicion of his howse.

By me Rob’t Kett           Thomas Cod

By me Thomas Aldryche

Further Reading

Fletcher, Anthony, and Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‘Robert Kett and the “rebellions of Commonwealth”’, in Tudor Rebellions, 6th edn (London: Routledge, 2015), pp. 66–89.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid, ‘Kett’s Rebellion in Context’, Past & Present, 84 (1979), 36–59, https://doi.org/10.1093/past/84.1.36.

Russell, Frederic William, Kett’s Rebellion in Norfolk (London: Longmans, Brown, Green, Longmans and Roberts, 1859), pp. 48–56 [text with commentary].

Andrew Dunning
@BLMedieval/@anjdunning

05 November 2016

Showing Off Sailing Ships: The Anthony Roll

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When King Henry VIII (1509–1547) wasn’t looking for a new wife or dissolving a monastery, he was commissioning a new ship. He undertook a massive expansion of the Tudor navy. Anthony Anthony, a military administrator, set about to document and illustrate this, and presented Henry with three splendid rolls in 1546, now available in full through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site.

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The Antelope, launched in 1546: Add MS 22047.

The British Library holds the second of Anthony’s rolls, Add MS 22047, ‘The second Rolle declaryng the Nombre of the Kynges Maiestys owne Galliasses’. Galleasses were heavily armed three-masted galleys. The most unusual vessel shown on this roll is the Galley Subtle, highly decorated and built by shipwrights imported from Italy.

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The Galley Subtle, the centrepiece of the three rolls: Add MS 22047.

When they were created, the rolls were a fine display of the latest naval technology. They show not only the ships, but name their crews and list their armaments (the text is available on Wikisource, or printed with a commentary). These were of central interest to Anthony, who worked in the ordnance office in the Tower of London. The rolls are a key source for the Tudor navy: after the sunken Mary Rose was salvaged in 1982, the 16th-century depiction was enormously useful in making sense of the archaeological evidence.

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The Lyon and The Dragon: Add MS 22047.

The other two rolls show the navy’s warships, pinnaces and ‘roo baergys’ (row barges). King Charles II (1660–1685) gave them to Samuel Pepys, who had them cut up and bound into a volume, now in the Pepys Library in Magdalene College, Cambridge. Fortunately, the British Library’s roll is still in its original format.

Andrew Dunning
@BLMedieval/@anjdunning

05 October 2016

Reading and Writing Greek in Britain

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The Greek language has a long history in the British Isles. The earliest surviving examples of Greek text found in Britain date from its days as a Roman province, on multi-lingual curse tablets now held by the Museum of London. Although located at the north-western extreme of the Roman Empire, Britain nonetheless saw its share of Greek-speaking soldiers and civilians living within its shores.

It is less clear what happened to any Greek-speakers remaining in Britain after the Romans withdrew around 410. However, by the 7th century, we have clear evidence once again of prominent Greek speakers on the island, when Theodore of Tarsus was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Few in the medieval Latin west could read Greek, but there is clear evidence from early on of an awareness of the importance of Greek as the original language of the Gospels, in particular. So, for instance, we can find Greek letters used occasionally in the Lindisfarne Gospels. At the incipit of the Gospel of Matthew, the word ‘Filii’  (‘son’) is written once with an F and once with a Greek letter Φ instead.

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The incipit from the Gospel of Matthew in the Lindisfarne Gospels contains the Greek letter Φ in place of an F in the word ‘Filii’. Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 27r. England (Lindisfarne Priory), c. 700.

The Athelstan Psalter, an Anglo-Saxon manuscript written in Francia and taken to England shortly afterwards, contains Greek prayers transliterated into Latin letters. These examples indicate that even if Greek was not widely understood, its significance as the language of the early Church was recognised by scholars and clergy in medieval Britain. More information about knowledge of Greek in the early medieval West can be found in an article on the British Library’s new Greek Manuscripts Project Website.

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Greek Litany and sanctus written in Latin letters. Athelstan Psalter, Cotton MS Galba A XVIII, f. 200v. North-East Francia, 9th century.

The revival of interest in Greek learning in the West during the Renaissance also had an impact on Britain. Schoolboy compositions in Greek written and presented to members of the royal family during the Tudor era are now kept at the British Library. These make it clear that Greek was being taught in some public schools, but as Matthew Adams shows in his article on this topic, its availability varied and depended on a number of factors. There was considerable suspicion of the Greek language in the early 16th century as a result of the appearance of Erasmus’ edition of the Greek New Testament, and the study of Greek was briefly associated with heresy. After the accession of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603), however, who was herself a keen student of Greek, the language regained favour and began to be taught more widely in schools.

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The Etheridge Encomium, presented to Queen Elizabeth in 1566. Royal MS 16 C X, f. 1r. England, 1566?

Over the following centuries, increasing interest in Greek in Britain saw the arrival on the island of many manuscripts and printed books in that language. Some notable figures whose collections are now in the British Library from this period include Hans Sloane and Robert Harley. But it was the 19th century, and the great increase in philhellenism resulting from the rise of the Grand Tour, sympathy for the Greek War of Independence, and other factors, that saw the most interest in Greek literature and Greek manuscripts in Britain. Many British aristocrats travelled to Greece and Greek monasteries in the Eastern Mediterranean, and returned with substantial collections of manuscripts. The acquisitions of some of these figures are detailed in an article on British collectors of Greek manuscripts.

These are only a few instances of the long history of knowledge of Greek in Britain. Many more can be found in our collection items, or in the articles to be found on our new Greek Manuscripts Project Website.

Cillian O'Hogan

@BLMedieval/@CillianOHogan

16 August 2016

Research Curator, Renaissance Literature

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We have a job opportunity here at the British Library, to work on our Discovering Literature online resource, in the field of Renaissance Literature. This is a full time, fixed term contract, for a period of 7 months. Further details can be found here on the Library's recruitment pages.

Discovering Literature was launched in 2014, and showcases the British Library’s literary classics through an exploration of the historical, social and political contexts in which they were written and received. We are seeking highly organised candidates with excellent research skills and experience of working in the cultural sector. The successful applicant will be expected to identify collection material, ensure its safe and timely digitisation, research and author content, and support the creation of article or film content.

Egerton_ms_2711_f067r

Poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt, 16th century (British Library Egerton MS 2711, f. 67r)

Candidates must have the right to work in the United Kingdom, and the following minimum requirements:

  • Specialist knowledge and research experience using manuscripts and early printed books relevant to the collections at the British Library, evidenced through a post-graduate qualification or equivalent.
  • Strong palaeographical skills.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills, in particular editorial and web-authoring skills, and evidence of writing and publishing to deadline.
  • Familiarity with British Library catalogues and catalogues of other major research libraries.
  • The ability to work both independently and in a team.
  • High level of time-management skills.

To apply for this post, please visit our recruitment pages.

Closing Date: 28 August 2016 

Interview Date: 6 September 2016 

 

22 July 2016

Updated List of Digitised Manuscript Hyperlinks

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Saints and monsters and centaurs, oh my! Continuing our tradition of releasing roughly every 3 months an updated list of hyperlinks of ancient, medieval and early modern manuscripts digitised by the British Library, we are pleased to present our most up-to-date list here:  Download List of Digitised Manuscripts Hyperlinks, July 2016 . For our long-term followers who are interested only in the manuscripts uploaded since the March hyperlist was made, they can be found at the end of this file:  Download July 2016 Updated Hyperlinks Masterlist. You can find all our digitised content on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site.

The past few months have seen some major releases on Digitised Manuscripts. We are now close to digitising almost 1500 manuscripts. Highlights of the most recent upload include:

  • A copy of the Gospels translated into Old English, made nearly 1000 years ago.

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Opening of St John’s Gospel, from an Old English translation of the Gospels, England (Wessex?), c. 1000–1050, Cotton MS Otho C I/1, f. 70r 

  • The earliest surviving world map which includes a depiction of the British Isles. This manuscript — a scientific miscellany made in England in the mid-11th century — also contains colourful depictions of the labours of the month, of constellations and of the Marvels of the East.

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Sagittarius, from a scientific miscellany including Cicero’s Arator, England, 11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 37r 

  • A copy of Usuard's Martyrology used at St Augustine's Canterbury and updated there in the 12th and 13th century. One addition commemorates the death of 'Harold, king of the English, and many of our brothers' at the battle of Hastings. 

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Historiated initial at the beginning of entries for the month of September, from Usuard's Martyrology, England (St Augustine's, Canterbury), late 11th-early 12th century with later additions, Cotton MS Vitellius C XII/1, f. 139r

This is to name but a few of the recent uploads. And stay tuned: there are many more exciting uploads coming up in the next few months. We’ll publish an updated list in the autumn, but until then please check our Twitter account for announcements about the manuscripts which have most recently been added to Digitised Manuscripts. (Our Twitter account is also good for London Underground-inspired puns and pictures of woodwoses, among other things.)

@BLMedieval

20 July 2016

Off With His Head

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As a manuscript curator, one often gets asked, what can we achieve by studying old handwriting? Surely every important document in the British Library's collections has already been published. Surely every manuscript has yielded every clue as to why it was written, and who may have consulted it. 

Sometimes when we do explain what our job entails, people still raise a quizzical eyebrow. Old handwriting is hard to read, isn't it? Am I a graphologist (or whatever it is you call them)? Is it ever possible to gain psychological insight into the people who wrote our documents?

Vesp F XIII, f 273

Certein pointes of weighty matters to be immediately concluded on by my counsell. 18 Januarii 1551 (Cotton MS Vespasian F XIII, f. 273)

The text I am highlighting here goes some way to answering some of those questions. I came across it when I was cataloguing the Cotton manuscripts, one of the foundation collections of the British Museum (and hence the British Library), and home to some of our finest literary and historical treasures: Magna Carta, Beowulf and the Lindisfarne Gospels, to name just three. The document in question is bound with other state papers, and I recognised the handwriting immediately: it is in the distinctive hand of the boy-king, Edward VI of England (reigned 1547–53), the son of Henry VIII. The title, written at the top in Edward's schoolboy hand, explains its purpose: 'Certain points of weighty matters to be immediately concluded on by my council'. The date given is 18 January 1551, that is, January 1552 according to the modern calendar.

What we have here is a memorandum for the meeting of the king's council. I guess it's not dissimilar to the agenda that would have been produced for the first Cabinet meeting of Britain's new Prime Minister, except that some of its items — one of them, in particular — are perhaps slightly more bloodthirsty than we are usually used to. In fact, many of the nine items listed by King Edward for discussion have a certain modern resonance. They deal, for example, with the national debt ('The conclusion for the payment of our debts in February next coming') and foreign trade ('The matter for the steel yard to be so considered that it may be to our profit, and wealth of our subjects.')

Below is a full transcription of this memorandum. It is the third item on the list that really made me raise my own eyebrows. It reads, in modern English:

'The matter for the duke of Somerset and his confederates to be considered as appertaineth to our surety and quietness of our realm, that by their punishment and execution according to the laws, example may be showed to others.'

Vesp F XIII, f 273 detail

Detail of item 3 of Edward VI's memorandum

Now, Somerset's fate remains highly controversial. Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, was the brother of King Edward's mother, Queen Jane Seymour (the 3rd wife of Henry VIII), and he had been the lord protector at the start of Edward's reign. He fell from grace after rebellions had taken place against his governance of the kingdom, and he was stripped of the protectorship in January 1550. Then, in 1551 Somerset was accused of plotting against the life of the duke of Northumberland; he was arrested on a charge of committing high treason on 16 October 1551, shortly after dining with the king.

Somerset's trial took place on 1 December, at which he argued skilfully against the charges laid against him. He was acquitted of high treason, but convicted of bringing together men for a riot. It was widely expected that Somerset's life would be spared, but on 19 January 1552 (the day after Edward wrote his memorandum), the king and council decided to proceed with the execution. Edward Seymour was taken to Tower Hill on the morning of 22 January and beheaded. Certain of his fellow conspirators were executed on 26 February, but others survived with their lives.

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A prayer book that once belonged to the duke of Somerset (Add MS 88991), featured in a previous blogpost

The eagle-eyed among you may have realised that, as originally written, King Edward's memorandum did not deal directly with Somerset. As first written, the third item read, 'The matter for the duke of Somerset's confederates to be considered as appertaineth to our surety and quietness of our realm, that by their punishment example may be showed to others.' Edward VI made three substantial changes to this passage. First, he changed the subject from the duke of Somerset's confederates alone to the duke of Somerset AND his confederates; next, he commanded that they be punished AND executed; and thirdly, lending his statement a little gravitas, he ordered that this be carried out according to the laws.

This brings us back to the handwriting of the document under scrutiny. Did Edward change his mind while he was drafting the agenda for his council? Was he really determined to proceed with the execution of his uncle, or was there somebody standing at his shoulder, persuading him to act 'according to the laws'? It's slightly unnerving to think that a 14-year-old boy wielded absolute power in England at this time, and at the royal whim one of his own relatives could be sent to the scaffold. You may sniff, of course, but this is just one of the ways that reading an original manuscript can transform our understanding of the past.

London, British Library, Cotton MS Vespasian F XIII, f. 273

Certein pointes of weighty matters to be immediately concluded on by my counsell. 18 Januarii 1551.

  1. The conclusion for the payment of our dettis in February next coming.
  2. The matter for the stiliard to be so considered that it may be to our profit, and wealth of our subiectis.
  3. The matter for the duke of Somerset and his confederates to be considered as aparteineth to our surety and quietnes of our realme, that by there punishement and execution according to the laws example may be shewed to others.
  4. The resolution for the bishops that be nominated.
  5. Many of our ambassadours diettes to be sent them forthwith.
  6. Dispaching our commissioners to Guisnes to see the state thereof.
  7. Taking some order to the Londoners that they that come to our parliament may not be holly discouraged, empourished or woried with their attendawnce, wich order can not be well taken (as me thinketh) without punishing th'offendours.
  8. The matter for thexchaung to be well wayed and considerid.
  9. The bishop of Durhams matters to be executid according to our laws.

 

Julian Harrison

@BLMedieval/@julianpharrison

06 July 2016

The Execution of Sir Thomas More

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2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the publication of one of the most influential early modern books, Thomas More's Utopia. We currently have a Utopia display in our Treasures Gallery, and this Friday, 8 July, historian John Guy will be talking about Thomas More and Utopia at the British Library. Today is also the anniversary of the execution of Sir Thomas More on 6 July 1535, the subject of this blogpost.

Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein the Younger, The Frick Collection, New York

Sir Thomas More, English lawyer, diplomat, statesman and internationally renowned humanist scholar, entered royal service in 1517 and was appointed Lord Chancellor of the Realm in 1529, following the fall of Cardinal Wolsey. More, who first met Henry VIII in 1499 when he accompanied Erasmus, the Dutch humanist scholar, on a visit to Eltham Palace to meet the 9-year-old prince, became a close friend and confidant of the adult king. The two men shared a passion for astrology and according to contemporary accounts enjoyed gazing at the stars together after supper and discussing theology, which was another of their shared interests. As a devout Catholic and loyal servant of the Pope, More used his growing influence in the 1520s to defend Catholic orthodoxy against the Lutheran movement, writing polemics against heresy, banning Protestant books and, as Lord Chancellor, prosecuting heretics.

More had opposed Henry VIII’s quest to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, but he nevertheless accepted the position of Lord Chancellor, trusting Henry’s promise to keep him out of such matters. By 1532, he was growing increasingly distressed over Henry’s repudiation of papal jurisdiction in England and the King’s increasing power over the Church. The final straw came on 15 May 1532 when the clergy submitted to Henry’s demand that they accept that all ecclesiastical law required royal assent. No longer able to serve the King and obey his own conscience, More resigned as Lord Chancellor the very next day and retired from public life to his family home in Chelsea. To avoid further trouble, More remained silent on the subject of the King’s marital problems, but his refusal to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn in June 1533, followed by the publication of The Apology of Sir Thomas More, in which he urged ‘good catholic folk’ to defend the old faith, incurred the wrath of Henry and Anne. 

The moment that More and his family had long feared came on 12 April 1534 in the form of a summons to appear at Lambeth Palace to swear the Oath of Succession, which recognised Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s children as legitimate successors to the Crown and declared Princess Mary to be illegitimate. The next day, More stood before the King’s commissioners, including Cromwell and Cranmer, and declared that although he was willing to accept Henry’s new wife and the succession he refused to swear the oath, the preamble to which also renounced papal power and affirmed the Royal Supremacy. More was arrested for his act of disloyalty to the King and imprisoned in the Tower along with John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and active supporter of Katherine of Aragon, who had also refused to swear the Oath of Succession. 

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Letter from Sir Thomas More to Margaret Roper from the Tower, reporting on his interrogation before members of the King’s Council, on Friday 30 April. Tower of London, 2-3 May 1535 (London, British Library, Arundel MS 152, f. 294r)

In November 1534, the Act of Treasons made ‘malicious’ denial of the royal supremacy punishable by death. More was interrogated on four different occasions in the Tower but held firm to his principles and steadfastly refused to acknowledge Henry’s Supremacy which would require him to deny his ultimate allegiance to the papacy. In the dignified letter illustrated above, written to his daughter, Margaret Roper, More provides a detailed account of his interrogation on 30 April 1535 before Thomas Cromwell, who demanded on the King’s behalf to know More’s opinion on the Supremacy. More responded that his life was now reserved for ‘study upon the passion of Christ’ and his own ‘passage out of this world’ and he refused to ‘meddle with any matter of this world’. As if sensing that his words would be preserved for posterity, More defiantly declared on the final page, ‘I am, quoth I, the King’s true faithful subject and daily bedesman and pray for his highness and all his and all the realm. I do nobody harm, I say none harm, I think none harm but wish everybody good. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive in good faith I long not to live’. It certainly wasn’t enough for Henry, who demanded More’s full submission; anything less was unacceptable.

On 1 July 1535, Thomas More stood trial for treason, and he was condemned to death for ‘maliciously denying the royal Supremacy’. Five days later, while Henry hunted at Reading, More was beheaded on Tower Hill, proclaiming himself ‘the King’s good servant but God’s first’.

Visions of Utopia is a free display at the British Library, open until 18 September, featuring an original edition of Utopia and books and documents associated with Thomas More. John Guy's lecture, Thomas More and Utopia (8 July), will examine the contents of this famous book, why it was written and its intended audience.

Andrea Clarke

06 May 2016

The Scottish Play and the Real Macbeth

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Here at the British Library (writes Julian Harrison) we look after everything from early papyri to the state papers of Tudor monarchs. Our Printed Books colleagues care for no fewer than 5 copies of the Shakespeare First Folio, 2 of which are currently on display in London (Shakespeare in Ten Acts). And that brings us to the topic of today's blogpost: how does the historical Macbeth differ from his portrayal for the stage by William Shakespeare?

King and Pilgrim

Let's start with what we know about the real, historical Macbeth. The most succinct account is found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry by Professor Dauvit Broun (available to subscribers online), which I summarise here. Macbeth became king of Moray in 1032 when his cousin, Gille Comgáin mac Maíl Brigte, was burnt with 50 of his followers, possibly at Macbeth's instigation. Gille Comgáin had killed Macbeth's father in 1020; intriguingly, Macbeth then married Gille Comgáin's widow, Gruoch (the real Lady Macbeth). In 1040, Duncan I, king of Scots, led a campaign against Moray, culminating in Duncan's death in battle against Macbeth, probably at Pitgaveny near Elgin. As a result, Macbeth then became king of Scots. Macbeth was the first reigning Scottish king to undertake a pilgrimage to Rome, in 1050, where he ‘scattered money like seed to the poor’; and in 1052 he was the first to take Norman knights into his own service. However, in 1054 he was challenged by Malcolm Canmore, Duncan I's now adult son, with the support of a Northumbrian army. A bloody battle took place on 27 July, probably at Dunsinane, after which Macbeth was forced to concede land to Malcolm. Malcolm then challenged Macbeth a second time, and he killed him on 15 August 1057 at Lumphanan in Mar. Macbeth was succeeded as king by his stepson, Lulach, whose father, Gille Comgáin, had been killed by Macbeth.

Mya Gosling Macbeth

Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1, by the utterly brilliant Mya Gosling (@GoodTickleBrain)

The Chronicle of Melrose

One of the earliest narrative accounts of the life of Macbeth is found in the Chronicle of Melrose Abbey, preserved uniquely in a manuscript at the British Library (and available on our Digitised Manuscripts site). This account was copied around 1174, but it is based on older source material. The Melrose Chronicle has intrigued me for many years (together with Dauvit Broun I found a new fragment of it at the British Library, and our account of the manuscript was published by the Scottish History Society in 2007). The historical Macbeth is mentioned a handful of times in this Melrose text. In 1039 (the chronology is slightly astray) he is said to have usurped the throne upon the death of King Duncan; in 1050 he visited Rome, where he distributed alms; finally, in 1054, Siward, earl of Northumbria, invaded Scotland at the behest of Edward of Confessor, defeated Macbeth in battle (whereupon Macbeth fled), and installed Malcolm in his place. No mention of daggers, witches or windswept heaths, no Banquo, Fleance or Macduff, no Lady Macbeth walking in her sleep. It's all rather disappointing, if you've been brought up on a diet of Shakespeare.

Cotton_ms_faustina_b_ix_f012v 

Cotton_ms_faustina_b_ix_f013r

Cotton_ms_faustina_b_ix_f013v

References to Macbeth in the Chronicle of Melrose Abbey (London, British Library, Cotton MS Faustina B IX, ff. 12v, 13r, 13v): (a) his succession to the throne in 1039; (b) his pilgrimage to Rome in 1050; (c) his defeat in battle in 1054.

The Tragedy of Macbeth

What, then, do we know about Shakespeare's Macbeth? The play was first printed in the First Folio (1623), published 7 years after its author's death. Indeed, Macbeth is one of several Shakespearean plays whose text would probably be unknown but for the First Folio: other plays published for the first time in 1623 include The TempestTwelfth Night and Julius Caesar. We suspect, however, that Macbeth was written in the early years of the reign of King James I of England (1603–25). James Shapiro has recently argued that it contains echoes of the infamous Gunpowder Conspiracy of 1605 (1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear, Faber & Faber, 2015). James I was patron of the King's Men, Shakespeare's acting troupe, and he had a particular interest in demonology and witchcraft, which underpin Shakespeare's play.

Shakespeare-first-folio-title-page-introduction

The First Folio of the plays of William Shakespeare, in which Macbeth was printed for the first time (London, British Library, C.39.k.15)

The Second Murderer's Bowler Hat

The first recorded performance of what is probably Macbeth took place in London in 1611. Over the next 400 years, many leading actors have taken on the rôles of Macbeth and his partner in crime, Lady Macbeth, among them Richard Burbage, David Garrick, Sarah Siddons and, most recently, Michael Fassbender. A stand-out production is often said to be that directed for the Royal Shakespeare Company by Trevor Nunn (1976), starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. But two of the most significant versions of Macbeth involved Laurence Olivier: first, the Birmingham Rep production in modern-dress at the Court Theatre in London in 1928 (one member of the audience commented on the Second Murderer's Bowler Hat); and secondly, opposite his wife, Vivien Leigh, at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1955.

Garrick-club-portrait-of-g0743    Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth 1955

Portrait of Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth, by George Henry Harlow (1814), copyright Garrick Club, currently on display at the British Library; photograph of Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth by Angus McBean, currently on display at the Library of Birmingham

Humming A Gaelic Song

You can see artefacts from the Olivier/Leigh production of Macbeth at the British Library (until 6 September 2016) and at the Library of Birmingham (until 3 September). Contemporary critics were quietly reserved about Vivien Leigh's seductive performance as Lady Macbeth ('more viper than anaconda', wrote Kenneth Tynan), but over time they have revised their opinions, and count it among her finest rôles. Her beautiful, green silk dress and embroidered gown for the part is on display in London, having been kindly loaned by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Meanwhile, some of Angus McBean's photographs of Olivier and Leigh are on show in the Library of Birmingham's Our Shakespeare exhibition (organised jointly with the British Library). Also in Birmingham are other items from the British Library's Olivier archive relating to his proposed follow-up film of Macbeth, possibly the greatest Shakespeare film never made. These include Laurence Olivier's own annotated screenplay for the film. I am especially fond of the direction when the witches appear: ‘Macbeth is seen to stop. We CUT to him incredulously listening to the prophesies, which seem to emanate from the hills. Banquo rides gently on oblivious of these happenings, humming a Gaelic song.'

Olivier's annotated screenplay for Macbeth

Two pages from Laurence Olivier's annotated screenplay for his never-made film of Macbeth (London, British Library, Add MS 80508), currently on display at the Library of Birmingham

Separating Truth from Fiction

So let's recount: which facts does William Shakespeare get right in The Tragedy of Macbeth?

  • According to Shakespeare, Macbeth stabs to death the sleeping Duncan, who is a guest at Macbeth's castle? Wrong, Duncan dies in battle against Macbeth.
  • Macbeth is Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor. Wrong again, Macbeth is King of Moray (these false titles originated with Hector Boece, whose account was copied in turn in Ralph Holinshed's Chronicles, Shakespeare's chief source for Macbeth).
  • An English army defeats Macbeth at Dunsinane, and he is killed by Macduff. Third time unlucky, alas. There was a battle at Dunsinane, in 1054, but Macbeth remained king for a further 3 years. One fact that Shakespeare does get 'right' is the death of the 'young Siward' during the Northumbrian invasion: this refers to the death of Osbeorn, son of Earl Siward, at the hands of the Scots, though doubtless not in single combat fighting Macbeth.

But then again, why let the facts get in the way of a good story?! Which version of Macbeth do you prefer, the historical alms-giver or the blood-thirsty regicide?

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Julian Harrison (@julianpharrison)