Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

12 posts from October 2011

07 October 2011

More Greek manuscripts go online

Rejoice! Εὐφράνθητε! We are delighted to announce that 10 more Greek manuscripts have been published in full on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website. They range in date from the 13th century to the 17th century, and include items from the Library’s Arundel, Harley and Royal manuscript collections. All 10 items have been digitised as part of our Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Maximos Margounios, νασκευ τν κυριωτέρων πιχειρημάτων τς γενομένης πρς τ ατο γχειρίδιον πολογίας inc. Πολς ζλος κ γε το φαινομένου. Completed at Venice, 19 March 1621 (f. 129). London, British Library, MS. Harley 1803, f. 86v.

The British Library has extensive holdings of Greek manuscripts, and is committed to making them available online. Among the manuscripts forming part of the recent upload can be found a 13th-century Synopsis Basilicorum; a collection of letters of Libanius and Synesius; and a 15th century translation of the Dialogues of Gregory the Great. Also included is the Greek Grammar of Manuel Moschopoulos, and two items from the Royal collection, including a panegyric on King Henry VIII of England.

The new manuscripts are:

Arundel MS 516 (Synopsis Basilicorum, 13th century)

Arundel MS 517 (a collection of letters of Libanius and Synesius, 15th century)

Arundel MS 519 (Palladius of Helenopolis, Historia Lausiaca, 16th century)

Arundel MS 520 (a collection of hymns, 15th century)

Arundel MS 521 (Manuel Moschopoulos, Greek Grammar, 15th century)

Harley MS 263 (Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great, 15th century)

Harley MS 1613 (Greek ecclesiastical hymns, 16th century)

Harley MS 1803 (works of Maximos Margounios and others, 17th century)

Royal MS 16 C IX (Maximus ᾽Ασκητικός, 16th century)

Royal MS 16 C X (panegyric on King Henry VIII of England, 16th century)

Diagram entitled Διάγραμμα τν κδʹ ποδν, ριστον. London, British Library, MS. Arundel 517, f. 28r.

During the next months over 200 more Greek manuscripts will be published to Digitised Manuscripts. Regular updates will be posted on this blog. 

04 October 2011

The Spy's Choirbook

Among the manuscripts on display in our Royal exhibition is a sumptuous choirbook made for King Henry VIII of England (r. 1509-1547). Henry's ownership of this book is no surprise, since he had received a thorough musical education and brought the finest musicians in Europe to his court. The scribe who made this choirbook is perhaps more worthy of attention. He was none other than Petrus Alamire (d. 1536), a resident of the Low Countries, who for a short period worked as a spy in Henry's service.

Alamire was not our scribe's real name, being a musical pun on the notes "A-la-mi-re". During his career, Petrus Alamire made similar books for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (d. 1558), Pope Leo X (1513-1521), and Frederick III, Elector of Saxony (d. 1525). Many of these manuscripts survive in Vienna, Brussels, Munich, Jena and the Vatican, as well as at the British Library, and they are hugely important for preserving the works of the leading composers of the day.



Motet 'Celeste beneficium' by Jean Mouton: Royal MS 8 G VII, ff. 2v-3.

But Alamire also had another string to his bow. A number of letters written between 1515 and 1518 document his career as a spy, keeping Henry VIII informed of the movements of Richard de la Pole, claimant to the English throne, who was living in exile in Metz. Pole was the son of Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister of King Edward IV of England (1461-1470, 1471-1483), and was a constant thorn in Henry's side until he was killed at the Battle of Pavia in 1525.

The magnificent choirbook Royal 8 G VII was made in Alamire's workshop for Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), his first queen, and contains twenty-eight motets by Josquin des Prez, Pierre de la Rue and other composers. The opening pages are the most richly decorated, bearing the motet ‘Celeste beneficium’ by Jean Mouton. This motet was composed originally for Anne of Brittany and King Louis XII of France (r. 1498-1515): it calls upon St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, to bring forth children, and clearly echoes Henry's pressing desire to father a male heir. This was clearly a manuscript made specifically for the king of England: the marginal flora and fauna common to Flemish illumination are combined here with typical Tudor symbols such as the dragon, greyhound and portcullis.

High-resolution images of the complete manuscript are freely available on the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music. We will be publishing similar descriptions of our books in the lead-up to and throughout our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. 

The Royal project team

03 October 2011

Register now for the Royal Conference

In connection with our exhibition Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination, the British Library is hosting a two-day international conference (12-13 December 2011). Registration is now open.


Eighteen speakers based in the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and the USA will be sharing their research on various aspects of the Royal collection, including readers, scribes, genealogy, style, law, legend and history. The conference promises to be a groundbreaking occasion, bringing to light some of the most outstanding examples of painting collected by the kings and queens of England.

Registration fees: £50; £45 AMARC members; £25 students

An optional delegate dinner on Monday, 12 December, is available for £30 (limited to 50 delegates).

Registration includes admission to the evening lectures by Michael Wood on 12 December and John Goodall on 13 December, for the first 120 delegates.

The research for this exhibition has been funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Student bursaries for the conference are generously supported by AMARC.

The speakers at the Royal conference are: Jade Bailey (University of Bristol); Alixe Bovey (University of Kent); Lieve De Kesel (University of Ghent); Olivier de Laborderie (Paris); Ilya Dines (University of Cambridge); Erin K. Donovan (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign); Sonja Drimmer (Columbia University); Anthony Edwards (De Montfort University, Leicester); Matthew Fisher (University of California, Los Angeles); Joanna Fronska (The British Library); Anne D. Hedeman (University of Illinois); Dorothy Kim (Vassar College); Thomas Kren (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles); Marigold Anne Norbye (University College, London); Maud Pérez-Simon (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle); Lucy Freeman Sandler (New York University); and Sara Torres (University of California, Los Angeles).

01 October 2011

A Calendar Page for October

For a further discussion of medieval calendars, as well as the Isabella Breviary itself, please see the post for January.


Additional 18851, f. 6: calendar page for October

This calendar page for October includes the zodiac sign for Scorpio (the Scorpion) in the upper right section of the folio.  The scene below combines two of the traditional labours for this time of the year, against an autumn landscape.  At the right, two men and a team of horses are plowing and sowing a field, while below, two other men are fattening hogs for winter by knocking acorns from oak trees.