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210 posts categorized "Latin"

06 December 2017

Chronicles and cartularies – fact and fiction

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Regular readers of this Blog will know that we are constantly adding more manuscripts to our Digitised Manuscripts site. Many of these medieval books have been digitised as part of a major project sponsored by The Polonsky Foundation, in collaboration with our friends at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Here are three examples of newly-digitised British Library manuscripts containing chronicles and cartularies. All three have a connection to France and/or contain texts written in French.

Chronicle of Saint-Martin-des-Champs

Additional MS 11662 contains an illustrated verse chronicle of the priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, produced in Paris between 1072 and 1079, shortly after the events described took place. The priory was founded by King Henry I in the mid-11th century, on or near the site of a Merovingian church just outside Paris, dedicated to St Martin, the Roman soldier who gave his cloak to a poor beggar.  

Narrative illustrations in chronicles are rare in the Romanesque period, and these are unique early examples of the scenes represented. The text includes a copy of the foundation charter by Henry I, dated 1059–1060, and Philip I's confirmation of the donation of Janville and Neuvy-en-Beauce to Saint-Martin-des-Champs (1065). A page is missing after f. 4, but a complete copy of the text with its illuminations was made in Paris c. 1245 (now BnF, nouv. acq. lat. 1359).

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Henry I of France on his throne, pointing to a drawing of the church of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, in the Chronicle of Saint-Martin-des-Champs. At the bottom of the page, he presents the foundation charter to the canons of the priory; on the charter is written 'Libertas aecclesia Sancti Martini': Add MS 11662, f. 4r.

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Philip I of France on his throne, surrounded by his court, giving the charter to the canons. Members of the court are named and the churches of Saint-Martin-des-Champs and Saint-Samson of Orléans are illustrated to his left: Add MS 11662, f. 5v

The chronicle is followed by a modern transcription of the text with one of the images (f. 13r) and an index added by an earlier owner. Baron de Joursanvault (1748–1792), whose arms are found on f. 10r.

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An 18th-century transcription of the chronicle: Add MS 11662, f. 13r

The next two manuscripts are associated with St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, founded by Archbishop Augustine (r. 597–604) in the early 7th century. The church, originally known as SS Peter and Paul, was re-founded by King Æthelberht (r. 860–866) to house ‘the bodies of Augustine himself and all the bishops of Canterbury and the kings of Kent’ (Bede, Historia Anglorum, I.33). In the 11th century, the possessions of the convent of Minster-in-Thanet, founded by St Mildreth in the 690s, were acquired by the abbey along with her relics, allegedly donated by King Cnut (r. 1016–1035).

Lives of the Canterbury saints

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The opening page with a charter granting privileges to St Augustine’s Abbey. The name of its former owner, Sir Robert Cotton’s, is inscribed at the bottom: Cotton MS Vespasian B XX, f. 2r

Much of this volume, copied in the 12th century, consists of hagiographical works by Goscelin, a monk of the abbey of Saint-Bertin in Saint-Omer, northern France, who came to England in the 11th century and who visited many monasteries, collecting material on English saints. The manuscript contains Goscelin's writings on the miracles and translation of St Augustine, as well as a Life of St Mildreth and other texts relating to the early archbishops of Canterbury. On f. 25r, an otherwise blank page, are notes in very faint pencil, written in Old French, probably dating to the 14th century.

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Display initial at the beginning of Goscelin, Historia minor de adventu sancti Augustini: Cotton MS Vespasian B XX, f. 5v

Monastic institutions in the Middle Ages often manufactured documents granting themselves land and privileges. A series of spurious charters and papal privileges follows Goscelin's works in this collection, including a charter of King Edward the Confessor written in a 15th-century hand (ff. 276r–v) and two charters of King Æthelberht I of Kent in Anglo-Caroline script (ff. 277r–279r).

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A full-page historiated initial 'I' depicting King Æthelberht I of Kent, holding a scroll in his right hand and a document in his left: Cotton MS Vespasian B XX, f. 277r

A cartulary of St  Augustine’s, Canterbury

A fragmentary 12th-century cartulary owned by St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, is the first item in this composite manuscript, comprising five booklets bound together in the early modern period (Harley MS 337). The Canterbury cartulary contains various papal and imperial privileges, including the confirmation of a privilege granted by Pope Innocent III and correspondence between Calixtus II (r. 1119–1124) and Henry V (r. 1111–1125), the Holy Roman Emperor, relating to the investiture controversy.

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A decorated initial at the beginning of the cartulary: Harley MS 337, f. 1r

Also bound with these earlier works is ‘the Harleian Roll’, so-named because it contains a series of shields, painted around 1314, decorating a work in Anglo-Norman French by William of Waddington, the Manuel de Pechiez. A total of 126 armorial shields in colours are found in the upper margins and the outlines of unfinished shields are sketched in brown ink on the remaining pages.

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A fragment from the Manuel des Pechiez, with armorial shields including that of Sir Giles of Argentein, killed at Bannockburn in 1314: Harley MS 337, f. 15v

Chantry Westwell

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19 November 2017

Happy birthday, Statute of Marlborough!

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Earlier this month, we celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charter, Magna Carta’s little sibling. It inspired a new Tree Charter, with accompanying events ranging from bike rides to pole launches. Today, we commemorate the Statute of Marlborough. At 750 years old, issued on 19 November 1267, it’s one of the the oldest pieces of legislation in England still in force today.

The Statute of Marlborough almost didn’t make it to this day. Only four of its twenty-nine sections are still in force. In 2014, the Law Commission made plans to scrap it altogether. The surviving sections are now known as the Distress Act and the Waste Act. The Distress Act states that anyone seeking reimbursement for damages must do so through the courts, while the Waste Act ensures that the tenants do not lay waste, sell or ruin their lands and other resources without special permission. This is still a concern in modern agriculture:

Fermors, during their Terms, shall not make Waste, Sale, nor Exile of House, Woods, Men, nor of any Thing belonging to the Tenements that they have to ferm, without special Licence had by Writing of Covenant, making mention that they may do it; which thing if they do, and thereof be convict, they shall yield full Damage, and shall be punished by Amerciament grievously.

The closing page of the Statute of Marlborough: Cotton MS Claudius D II, f. 131r
The closing page of the Statute of Marlborough: Cotton MS Claudius D II, f. 131r

There are eight pieces of English legislation from the 13th century that have not been repealed. One of those is Magna Carta, which was originally issued by King John in 1215; the earliest versions were repealed, with the version now in force dating from 1297.

One of the two sources for the official Latin text of the Statute of Marlborough is held at the British Library (Cotton MS Claudius D II). It forms part of a book collecting English laws — the medieval version of legislation.gov.uk, you might say. You can see the Cotton manuscript of the Statute of Marlborough right now in our free Treasures Gallery, alongside a copy of the Forest Charter that was narrowly saved from destruction and a plan of the waterworks at Waltham Abbey

A plan of the waterworks at Waltham Abbey: Harley MS 391, ff. 5v–6r
A plan of the waterworks at Waltham Abbey: Harley MS 391, ff. 5v–6r

The plan of the waterworks at Waltham Abbey is further evidence of how the environment shaped the medieval world. Medieval monasteries aimed to be self-reliant, and water was key to this. This plan of a conduit built in 1220–22 at Waltham Abbey is one of the earliest surviving English maps. The water flows from three round sources at the top, through a filtration system, and into a pipe towards the abbey. It is found in a cartulary made for the abbey, a collection of charters copied into a single volume for reference and preservation. The agreements in this book show that the monks had to negotiate with several different landlords to build across their land.

 

Andrew Dunning (@anjdunning)

 

14 November 2017

Canon tables in the Lindisfarne Gospels now on display

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As a text, the canon tables are ubiquitous and fundamental to Christian copies of scripture. Over many centuries copies of the Gospels in Latin, Greek, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Gothic, Syriac, Georgian or Slavonic begin with these tables. Devised and created in Greek by the early Church Father Eusebius (d. 340), bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, these tables formed a unifying gateway to the fundamental, but multiple narratives of the Evangelists Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As Eusebius explained in a prefatory letter to his friend Carpianus, he compiled the ten tables (or canons, in Greek) to help the reader ‘know where each of the Evangelists was led by the love of truth to speak about the same things’.

Canon 1 lists passages common to all four Gospels, Canons 2-9 different combinations of two or three Gospels and Canon 10 those passages found only in one Gospel. Building on a system of dividing up the text of the Gospels into verses that he attributed to Ammonius of Alexandria, Eusebius assigned consecutive numbers to sections in each Gospel and used these numbers within his tables to correlate related passages. By this means he adduced the unity of the four narratives without attempting to harmonise them into a single text.

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Codex Sinaiticus, the folio currently on display at the British Library: Add MS 43725, f. 201r

The earliest known evidence for the use of the tables occurs in Codex Sinaiticus, an extraordinary 4th-century Greek manuscript that is also the earliest surviving complete New Testament. In Codex Sinaiticus the tables themselves do not survive, but the Ammonian section numbers are included throughout the Gospels. These can be seen in the Gospel of St Matthew currently on display in the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, or viewed in detail on our Digitised Manuscripts website. In Codex Sinaiticus, the section numbers (in Greek characters) are added on the left-hand side of each column in red ink, with the number of the canon table that needs to be consulted for parallel texts of that section.

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Section 16, canon 5: a note in the Gospel of St Matthew, a detail from Codex Sinaiticus (Add MS 43725, f. 201r column 2)

For example, in the right-hand page on display in the Gallery, the third number in the second column (in the account of one of Christ’s temptations) is marked as section 16, in Canon 5. Further information about the manuscript is available on the Codex Sinaiticus website, including a full transcription and translation, and in this previous blogpost.

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The Golden Canon tables, Constantinople, 6th–7th century (Add MS 5111/1)

One of most splendid illuminated examples of the Canon Tables in Greek are the leaves now known as the Golden Canon Tables, because they are written on parchment previously painted entirely with gold. Made in Constantinople in the 6th or 7th century, the tables are now fragmentary but nevertheless betray a very sophisticated artistic style. They are a rare witness of an early version of these tables.

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The pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels currently on display at the British Library: Cotton MS Nero D IV, ff. 14v–15r

Canon tables are also included in the Latin copy of the Gospels known as the Lindisfarne Gospels, which was probably made on the island of Lindisfarne in Northumbria in around 700. The fifth canon, which lists texts that are common in the two Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke, is now on display in the British Library's Treasures Gallery. This is the same canon as that referred to in Codex Sinaiticus, several centuries earlier. The canons in the Lindisfarne Gospels are surrounded by intricately designed micro-architectural decoration, with wonderful intertwined biting birds. You can view them in more detail with the zoom function on the Digitised Manuscripts website, or visit the Treasures Gallery in the coming months.

31 October 2017

An excellent day for an exorcism

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To celebrate Halloween we are taking a look at the subject of exorcisms. As part of the ongoing England and France 700-1200 joint project with the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the British Library has digitised a 12th-century psalter and collection of prayers (now Harley MS 2928), which includes an interesting exorcism performed in a traditional Christian rite.

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Exorcism of salt in a prayer for baptism, from Harley MS 2928, f. 10r

There are several accounts of exorcisms in the Gospels, and from the early Middle Ages, the practice of exorcism has been closely linked to the Christian rite of baptism. Evidence suggests that exorcisms were first performed during baptismal services as early as the 3rd century, in ceremonies to convert pagans to Christianity, and exorcism remained popular in works of liturgy which outlined the services and prayers followed in medieval Christian worship.

Exorcisms were performed on people, but could also be used on animals and even objects. Baptism involved the use of salt and water by a priest to bless a person, symbolising their purity as they were admitted to the Christian faith. As the salt and water were tools of purification, these also needed to be pure themselves to prevent demons from entering the person being baptised. A 12th-century baptism prayer in Harley MS 2928 contains an exorcism for salt and water (ff. 10r–11r) to rid them of any demons that might be lurking within. Below is an extract in Latin from the exorcism of salt, followed by an English translation. The + sign represents when the sign of the cross was made during the ritual:

Exorcizo te, creatura salis, per Deum + vivum, per Deum + verum, per Deum + sanctum, per Deum, qui te per Eliseum Prophetam in aquam mitti jussit

‘I exorcise thee, creature of salt, by the living God +, by the true God +, by the Holy God +, by the God who by the prophet Eliseus commanded thee to be cast into the water’

 

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Full-page miniature of the Baptism of Christ, from Harley MS 2928, f. 16r

The manuscript features later 13th-century illuminations attributed to an anonymous artist known as the 1285 Master, and these miniatures depict biblical scenes including the Baptism of Christ showing him being immersed into blessed water. Several medieval manuscripts contain illuminations depicting exorcisms being performed, such as the Tsar Ivan Alexander Gospels (Add MS 39627). Composed in 14th-century Bulgaria, the Gospels are accompanied by decorated scenes of Christ expelling demons from men. One colourful image depicts a scene from Scripture in which Christ expels demons from a man, which then enter a herd of pigs. The now-possessed pigs rush to a nearby lake and are drowned.

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Christ exorcising demons from a man which enter a herd of swine, from the Tsar Ivan Alexander Gospels, Add MS 39627, f. 162v

Exorcisms were just one practice performed in the Christian Church to protect its followers from harm. The collection of prayers in Harley MS 2928 includes three prayers for the absolution of penitents (ff. 12r–v), used by priests to forgive those who may have committed sins. The sinner could confess their misdeeds, and if they wished to be forgiven, the priest would absolve them with prayer. Absolution was an important rite, as having received forgiveness for wrong-doing, that person’s soul could now enter Paradise after death.

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Text containing three prayers of absolution for penitents, from Harley MS 2928, f. 12r

The exorcism of salt and water shows that this ritual could be used as a positive force to protect the faithful. Yet, dark rituals did occur outside the authority of the Christian Church. One magical charm survives from the late 4th century (now Papyrus 123) that could be used to summon demons against others and depicts two demons that have been invoked by the charm.

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Depiction of demons, from a magical incantation, Egypt, Papyrus 123

It is small wonder then, that exorcisms survive in many forms from the medieval period to protect oneself, one’s animals and objects from demonic possession. The Anderson Pontifical (Add MS 57337) produced in 11th-century England even features an exorcism of bread and cheese.

Happy Halloween!

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Prayer to exorcise bread and cheese beginning ‘Incipit exorcismus panis’, from the Anderson Pontifical, Add MS 57337, f. 80v

 

Alison Ray

                                                                                                                               Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

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12 September 2017

The Mostyn Psalter-Hours: a new acquisition

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We are delighted to announce that the Mostyn Psalter-Hours has been acquired for the national collection at the British Library, thanks to the support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and other generous supporters. The manuscript is a late 13th-century illuminated Psalter-Hours produced in London, and is now Additional MS 89250.

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The Mostyn Psalter-Hours: British Library Add MS 89250, f. 52r

The book includes a calendar, decorated with twenty small miniatures of the labours of the months and the signs of the Zodiac (two months are lacking), and a Psalter with eight of the original ten large historiated initials, the Hours of the Virgin, and the Office of the Dead. 

The manuscript’s original patron is unknown, but its high quality illumination indicates that it was made for an important individual, possibly a bishop, as an image of a bishop appears in the illustration for Psalm 101, where a donor portrait might be expected.      

Importance to the national heritage

The manuscript can be identified securely as having been produced in London: its calendar records a sequence of London saints, including the 7th-century bishops of London, Melitus and Erkenwald, and the feast of the translation of Edward the Confessor in Westminster in 1269. Relatively few examples of luxury books made in London survive from the medieval period. The book is therefore of clear national heritage importance and a natural fit for the national collection, which holds the largest collection of English Psalters made in this period. 

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The Mostyn Psalter-Hours: British Library Add MS 89250, f. 13r

As an outstanding example of English illumination of the highest quality, the manuscript represents a crucial piece of evidence for the history of English painting. Textually, it is an interesting example of a combined Psalter Hours. Because it is localised to London, it is a critical focus around which to group other manuscripts—of Psalter texts and others—in a Westminster/London context, and to compare with books made in other centres.  

The addition of the Mostyn Psalter to the British Library’s collections will facilitate identification of other London-based scribes and artists in other manuscripts. Similarly, the representation of the possible patron within the book, as noted above, may also shed light on the production of these luxury books. 

Access

The manuscript has been digitised in full, and has been added to our Digitised Manuscripts website (Add MS 89250), where it may be accessed free of charge. In the coming months it will be placed on display in the Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, which is open seven days a week. Thereafter it will be available to scholars in the Library’s Manuscripts Reading Room. 

Funders

The purchase price of the manuscript was £775,000. We are grateful to the many funders who made this acquisition possible: the National Heritage Memorial Fund, who contributed £390,000, the Art Fund, Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement, the late Bernard Breslauer, the Friends of the British Library, and the Friends of the National Libraries. 

15 August 2017

Call for papers: Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon England

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Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon England

A postgraduate and early career symposium on the book culture of early medieval England before 1100

On Saturday 15 December 2018 the British Library will be holding a postgraduate and early career symposium on Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon England. The symposium follows an international conference taking place on 13 and 14 December 2018. Both events are being held during a major exhibition on Anglo-Saxon England which will open at the British Library in October 2018. We expect that there will be a reduced joint registration fee for the conference and symposium for students and unwaged early career researchers.

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The Vespasian Psalter, 8th century: British Library Cotton MS Vespasian A I, f. 31r

Proposals for papers are invited from advanced postgraduate students and early career researchers. We wish to encourage paper proposals from a wide variety of institutions. This symposium is intended to foster discussion about books, documents, the uses of writing, the transmission of ideas, the survival of evidence, and intellectual contact within and beyond Anglo-Saxon England. Manuscripts that were made or used in Anglo-Saxon England should be central to all proposals.

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Liber Wigorniensis, early 11th century: British Library Cotton MS Tiberius A XIII, f. 77v

If you would like to submit a proposal, please complete the attached form (Download 2018 Anglo-Saxon Symposium CFP) and send it to Claire Breay (claire.breay@bl.uk) by 1 December 2017. Decisions will be announced by 2 February 2018.

Claire Breay

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04 July 2017

A recipe for disaster? Medieval fireworks

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Fireworks have been used for centuries for entertainment. Their use in England was first recorded in 1486 at the wedding of King Henry VII. As well as a form of entertainment, fireworks were also of scientific interest in the medieval period as they could potentially be used as a form of gunpowder in warfare. A 14th-century English collection of medical recipes and experimental science (now known as British Library Royal MS 12 B XXV) contains recipes for fireworks, rockets and the burning glass. The opening recipe refers to Greek fire, an incendiary weapon first used by Byzantine forces against Arabic naval fleets during sieges on Constantinople in the late 7th century. We have not provided a translation to prevent our more foolhardy readers from attempting the recipe at home!

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Light my fire: ‘Puluis ad ignem grecum iactandum ita fiet’, opening line to a recipe for fireworks, from Royal MS 12 B XXV, f. 245r

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Miniature of a Greek fire burning Turks as a result of a miraculous change of wind, and Robert of Nazareth praying, from William of Tyre’s Histoire d’Outremer, c. 1479–1480, Royal MS 15 E I, f. 266r

Fireworks can be dangerous, so it should be no surprise that this manuscript also contains a number of protective charms, including against fire. The protective charms against fire invoke St Columcille (also known as Columba and Columkill) and St Agatha for protection. St Agatha was a patron saint against fire, lightning and volcanic eruptions. Protective charms may seem unorthodox to us today, but they were often employed in the same manner as medical recipes and religious prayers. Henry VII himself ruled England as a Catholic nation, but also it is believed he was presented with the luxury illustrated book of astrological treatises and political prophecies now known as Arundel MS 66, which contains the king’s portrait as he is presented with the work. This book may have come in handy; the stars were believed to exert powerful influences upon human character and affairs.

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Charmed, I’m sure: Protective charms in Latin invoking St Agatha and St Columcille against fire, from Royal MS 12 B XXV, f. 283v

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Detail of an historiated initial with the presentation of an astrological textbook to Henry VII, England, c. 1490, from Arundel MS 66, f. 201r

But if you must play with fire(works), we hope you have a St Catherine’s Wheel ready! This classic pinwheel firework is named for St Catherine of Alexandria, who according to legend was sent to be executed on the back-breaking spiked wheel, but it miraculously broke apart the moment Catherine touched it. Find out more about the popular medieval saint here.

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‘Cause baby you’re a firework: Detail of a bas-de-page image of St Catherine praying and angels breaking apart the spiked wheel, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, 1310-1320,  Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 283r

Alison Ray

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01 July 2017

A calendar page for July 2017

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It’s July, which means 2017 is now halfway through — time to check in with the fantastic calendar of Additional MS 36684 for a look at the 7th month! If you’d like to know more about this Book of Hours, check out January’s post, and for more on medieval calendars in general, please see our calendar post from 2011. 

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Calendar pages for July, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Théouranne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, ff. 7v–8r

The marginal decoration for July is a riotous combination of brightly-coloured birds and butterflies, contorted human/animal hybrids, and a few marginal figures participating in warm-weather activities. The first is the man (or woman?) taking a nice relaxing bath in the lower left margin of the first calendar page.

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Detail of a figure bathing, Add MS 36684, f. 7v

The second figure, to the right of the labour of the month (more on him in a minute), holds what appears to be a candle in each hand, perhaps a reference to the necessity of making candles in the summer, while the days are longer, in preparation for the dark winter months.

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Detail of a figure holding candles, Add MS 36684, f. 7v

The labour of the month, dressed for warm weather in a short tunic and hat, holds the two handles on the shaft of his long, curved scythe. Within his architectural niche, he is pictured on grass, against a gold background reminiscent of the wheat traditionally harvested by July’s labour of the month.

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Detail of a labour of the month for July, Add MS 36684, f. 7v

On the following folio, below the many saints’ days celebrated in the latter part of July — including St James the Apostle and Mary Magdalene — is the zodiac figure of Leo in his tiny Gothic niche. Leo, traditionally a symbol of fortitude, looks particularly happy in this instance, and rather than being painted a usual golden colour, is instead a dark grey with white accents — likely to contrast with the gold leaf background. Leo is flanked by two green hybrid animals and their instruments, posted on either side of his niche.

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Detail of Leo, Add MS 36684, f. 8r

We hope you enjoy exploring the many figures and decoration for the July calendar pages in Additional MS 36684 – let us know your favourite! And remember, you can see all of Additional MS 36684 online on Digitised Manuscripts. Stay cool, medieval enthusiasts!

Taylor McCall
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