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43 posts categorized "Early modern"

17 May 2017

Digging for the past at Norton Priory

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Despite the trail of desolation left by the dissolution of the monasteries in England and Wales beginning in 1536, former monastic sites remain among the most beautiful places to visit in Britain. The Norton Priory Museum and Gardens, thought to be the most extensively excavated monastic site in Europe, has long been known for its spectacular grounds. In August 2016, the museum opened an entirely new building, adding a fascinating interpretation of the site that shows just how much we can understand about the past, even when it appears that little is left on the surface.

Plan of Norton Priory by Randle Holme: Harley MS 2073, f. 107r.

Plan of Norton Priory, probably by Randle Holme: Harley MS 2073, f. 107r.

The dissolution of the monasteries in England and Wales was one of the most significant upheavals of British society — it is estimated that one in fifty adult males were in religious orders at the outset of the 16th century, and within a generation these people, their functions, and their lands had to be absorbed elsewhere. Nonetheless, the process of the dissolution is still little understood. Although it has often been thought to have been a decisive blow, executed purely out of the greed of King Henry VIII, the reality is somewhat more complicated. This is exemplified in a 1536 letter of Piers Dutton to Thomas Cromwell, on loan from the British Library and now on temporary display at Norton Priory.

Sir Piers Dutton claimed descent from the same Dutton family that had been a supporter of the priory (and later abbey) since the 12th century, but evidently sought to take control of Norton for his own purposes. The first Act for the Suppression of the Monasteries applied only to houses worth £200 or less, under which Norton fell. It seems unlikely that this could have occurred without falsification of documentary evidence, which Sir Piers could have accomplished as a royal commissioner for Cheshire.

Letter from Piers Dutton to Thomas Cromwell, 3 August 1536: Harley MS 604, f. 60r.

Letter from Piers Dutton to Thomas Cromwell, 3 August 1536: Harley MS 604, f. 60r.

Fascinatingly, the letter shows that in 1536, the closure of Norton was not yet finalized. It has recently been emphasized that the initial Act of 1536 should be read as aiming at the reform of the monastic system, and not its total destruction. The letter from Sir Piers keeps up the appearance of this approach. He writes to Cromwell that he has arrested the abbot of Norton, Thomas Birkenhead, and other canons, though he does not explain why.

Sir Piers does not, however, ask for the immediate seizure of the abbey itself: he instead proposes that Dom Rondul of Wilmslow, a monk at Vale Royal, become the master of the house. This is a rather odd suggestion, given that Vale Royal Abbey was Cistercian, while Norton was composed of Augustinian canons. Ostensibly, the replacement is suggested on account of his learning and devoutness, but one wonders whether something else is afoot, with his allusion to an unspecified undertaking that the monk is to satisfy:

Please it \your/ gud mastership my duetie remember this to aduertise you that I haue taken the bodies of thabbot of Norton Robert Jannyns and the straunger a connyng Smythe two of the seid abbottes seruantes also Randull brereton baron of the kynges excheker of chestre and John hale of chestre merchuant and haue theym in my custody and kepyng⸝ And the rest I entende to haue as spedely as I can and to be with you with theym god wylling in all convenyent spede as I possiblie may. Moreouer I haue causet dan Rondull wilmyslow the moncke of the Valle royall to cum vp to you⸝ for whom I spake vnto your gud mastership whiche is a gud religious man dyscrete and wel groundet in lernyng and hathe many gud qualites most apte to be a master of a religious howse then any other moncke of that howse Wherfore it may \please/ your gud mastership to be his gud master toward his preferrement that he may be admitted master of the same And that I did promyse your mastership this seid Moncke will accomplishe accordyngly. Wherfore I beseche your mastership that this berer and the seid moncke may resorte vnto you from tyme to tyme to knowe youre pleasure therin ensuryng you what ye do for me or my frende all is your owne as knowithe our lord god who mercifully preserue you At dutton the iiide day of auguste By youres assured

                                                         Perus
                                                         Dutton K.

This letter is a glimpse into the complexity of the often undocumented machinations that surrounded the closures of abbeys. Sir Piers attempted to have Abbot Thomas executed after arresting him, but eventually he became a secular priest, and like other monastics was paid off with a state pension.

Norton Priory itself had a tumultuous few centuries ahead of it, but today makes a delightful visit. It is still graced by a splendid 14th-century statue of St Christopher, and the grounds cover nearly fifty acres. The gardens from the monastery and later residents are now kept in top condition. Its new museum is truly innovative, combining cutting-edge archaeological, historical, and even medical research, and presenting it in accessible terms to both young and advanced audiences. We very much hope that you are able to visit Norton Priory, and to see our wonderful document while it is on display until 1 August 2017.

Andrew Dunning

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

21 April 2017

Digitised Manuscripts hyperlinks Spring 2017

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From ancient papyri to a manuscript given by the future Queen Elizabeth I to King Henry VIII for New Year's Day, from books written entirely in gold to Leonardo da Vinci's notebook, there is a wealth of material on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site. At the time of writing, you can view on Digitised Manuscripts no fewer than 1,783 manuscripts made in Europe before 1600, and more are being added all the time. For a full list of what is currently available, please see this file: Download PDF of Digitised MSS Spring 2017. This is also available in the form of a spreadsheet (although this format can not be downloaded on all web browsers): Download Spreadsheet of Digitised MSS Spring 2017 .

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Image of St Æthelwold, King Edgar and St Dunstan, at the beginning of a copy of the Regularis Concordia, England (Canterbury?), mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius A III, f. 2v

If you are looking for something more specific, there are separate lists of Greek manuscripts, pre-1200 manuscripts digitised thanks to funding from the Polonsky Foundation and manuscripts written or owned in England before 1066.

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Image of the patron, Lord Lovell, and possibly the artist, John Siferwas, from the Lovell Lectionary, Southern England (Glastonbury?), c. 1400–1410, Harley MS 7026/1, f. 4v

If you'd like to know how to make the most of Digitised Manuscripts, we highly recommend this blogpost. Downloadable images of portions of our manuscripts can also be found on our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts (which allows for searches by image content, origin, scribe, etc) and on the British Library's Collection Items pages, which includes the only known playscript to contain William Shakespeare's handwriting and the burnt copy of Magna Carta

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The Anastasis, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), c. 1131–1140, Egerton MS 1139, f. 9v  

Please follow us on Twitter, @BLMedieval, to get the latest news about our digitisation projects, exhibitions and events. 

11 April 2017

Scandal, espionage, treason: discover Renaissance writers

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Which Renaissance playwright killed an actor in a duel? Which Tudor poet narrowly escaped the executioner's block for an alleged affair with Anne Boleyn? Which 17th-century writer was reputedly a 'great visitor of ladies'?

You can find answers to these and other questions on the new Renaissance module of the British Library’s Discovering Literature site. From espionage and imprisonment to a secret marriage and an untimely death, the site allows you to uncover the colourful lives and works of key poets and playwrights including John DonneBen JonsonChristopher Marlowe and John Webster.

On the site you can find out more about the scandalous life and ignoble death of Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593). Marlowe wrote seven plays and three poems in a brief period in his 20s, before he was killed in a brawl, on 30 May 1593, at the age of 29. Earlier that month, Marlowe had been arrested and charged with heresy. The case against him was supported by the testimony of the double agent and informer, Richard Baines. You can see the document in which Baines makes damning accusations that Marlowe was an ‘Atheist’ with too much love for ‘Tobacco & Boies [boys]’. (Those words are visible in the 4th line of the image below.)

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Richard Baines' accusations against Marlowe, Harley MS 6848, f. 185v

Also on the site, you can read about a manuscript notebook compiled by Sir Walter Ralegh (1554–1618) during his imprisonment for treason in the Tower of London. In July 1603 Ralegh was arrested for his alleged involvement in a plot against the new king, James I (r. 1603–1625). He would spend 13 years in incarceration, during which time he wrote several prose works, including the History of the World (1614), and this notebook  contains his research for that work. On the final page is one of Ralegh's poems, written in his own hand, which has been identified as one of the ‘Cynthia poems’, in praise of Queen Elizabeth I. His fortunes had taken a turn for the worse since the accession of James I, so the poem of praise addressed to the now-dead queen is an intriguing addition to the notebook's final pages.

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The last page of Raleigh’s notebook, containing one of the Cynthia poems, ‘Now we have present made’ which he addressed to Queen Elizabeth I, Add. MS 57555, f. 172v

Another writer whose life and work you can discover more about is Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503–1542). Wyatt was a diplomat, courtier, poet and possibly a murderer. The opening lines of one of his poems reads, 'What wourde is that that chaungeth not/Though it be tourned and made in twain?'. The lines mean, ‘what word is there that does not change, even when it is turned and cut in half?’ Wyatt’s point is about how words can be turned and changed easily. He knew this better than many. In May 1534 he was imprisoned after a fight he was involved in resulted in the death of one of the sergeants of London. The circumstances of the fight are unclear and we can only speculate on what words were said — or turned — to lead to the death of a man.

Wyatt spent his adult life in the court of Henry VIII. This was an environment of intrigue and danger, where words could turn, and turn against you. On 5 May 1536, he was arrested and sent to the Tower of London on charges of treason. There were rumours that he had had an affair with Anne Boleyn. On the 17th of that month, Anne’s supposed lovers were executed at the Tower. Wyatt may have seen their deaths from his cell window. In the end, he escaped their fate and was released from the Tower.

 There are several manuscripts containing Wyatt's poems which survive, but the British Library holds arguably the most important one, Egerton MS 2711, which contains around 100 of his poems. This is the key manuscript because some of the poems are written in Wyatt’s own hand and he has gone through the manuscript, marking the poems which are his and making changes. In one poem he makes reference to 'her that did set our country in a rore', which some scholars have interpreted as a reference to Anne Boleyn. Intriguingly, however, the line has been revised in Wyatt's hand so that the lines seem to refer to a generic brunette. The altered line reads, 'Brunet that set my welth in such a rore'.  

 

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Wyatt’s translation of one of the poems which intersperses the sonnets in Petrarch’s ‘Canzionere’,  Egerton MS 2711, f. 67

Another writer who was also imprisoned more than once in his lifetime was the poet and playwright Ben Jonson (1572–1637), who was a contemporary of Shakespeare. In September 1598 Jonson killed the actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel. He only escaped being hanged by reciting Psalm 51 (colloquially known as ‘neck verse’), a loophole in the law available to anyone who could read. In 1605 he was imprisoned again, this time for contributing to the comedy Eastward Ho, which was deemed offensively anti-Scottish by the new king, James I (James VI of Scotland). Jonson wrote that he feared execution yet again and recounts a story of his mother preparing poison for him to make his death less painful.

Jonson was released and returned to royal favour, writing entertainments for the monarch, including the Masque of Queenes, written in 1609 and performed at Whitehall Palace in honour of Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales (1594–1612), the king's eldest son.

 

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Page from the autograph manuscript of Ben Jonson’s ‘Masque of Queenes’, executed in a stylish Italian cursive hand, Royal MS 18 A XLV, f. 3v

Manuscripts like these are a window into the literary culture of Renaissance England. This was an environment in which poems often circulated in manuscript form rather than being printed. On the Discovering Literature site you can find out more about the enigmatic Devonshire Manuscript, compiled by various noblemen and ladies in the Court circle of Henry VIII and the richest surviving record of early Tudor poetry and the literary activities of 16th-century women.

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The first two stanzas of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey’s poem ‘O, happy dames’ inscribed by his sister Mary, Duchess of Richmond, Add. MS 17492, f. 55

Another poet whose poetry was circulated in manuscript form was John Donne (1572–1631). Donne was famous in his own day for his sermons, which are rhetorical masterpieces largely written when he was Dean of Saint Paul's in London. Today he is more famous as a poet who wrote complex, cryptic and often erotic verse. In his youth, Donne had a reputation as a womaniser. One of his contemporaries wrote that he was 'a great visitor of Ladies, a great frequenter of Plays, a great writer of conceited Verses'. When he did marry at the age of 29, it was in secret. In 1601 he wed the niece of his employer, Sir Thomas Egerton. Egerton was horrified that one of his juniors had presumed to marry into his own family. Donne was sacked and briefly imprisoned, before he was barred from public office altogether.

On the site you can find articles about Donne and his work, including material about The Newcastle Manuscript, an anthology of verse and prose made for Sir William Cavendish (1592–1676), the first Duke of Newcastle. It includes 98 poems by John Donne and masques and poems by Ben Jonson.  

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Copy of John Donne’s poem ‘Elegy: To his Mistress Going to Bed’, Harley MS 4955, f. 95v

While these manuscripts tell us about the kind of literature that people were reading and copying, we also have links to the only known copy of William Scott’s (c. 1570–1612) The Modell of Poesye. Written in the summer of 1599, it is one of the earliest examples of English literary criticism. It has much to tell us about what people thought about literature itself in this period.  

 

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Scott's dedicatory letter to Sir Henry Lee, introducing his treatise on the art of poetry, Add. MS 81083, f. 2

The Renaissance module is the latest phase to be added to Discovering Literature, which will continue to expand in the near future to cover the whole of English literature from Beowulf to the present day.

Mary Wellesley & Andrea Clarke

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

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.

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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