Medieval manuscripts blog

13 posts from January 2013

10 January 2013

Discover Digitised Manuscripts

While some of our high-grade manuscripts are temporarily unavailable, please take the opportunity to use our Digitised Manuscripts site. We have already uploaded hundreds of manuscripts, digitised in their entirety, including many of our medieval Greek books; some of our scientific manuscripts; and dozens of volumes featured in the British Library's Royal exhibition. Check out some of our greatest medieval books, including one of our most recent acquisitions, the St Cuthbert Gospel. And don't forget to use the deep-zoom facility, which enables users to view the manuscripts as never before!

Cuthbert binding

The late-7th-century St Cuthbert Gospel (Additional MS 89000): note the lack of white gloves!

We are very happy to be able to share our wonderful manuscripts with you -- please pass on the good news, and share them with others.

07 January 2013

British Library Magna Carta Internship

The British Library is offering a six-month volunteership for an American doctoral student to join the History and Classics Department in 2013, working on the Magna Carta Project. This position has been generously funded by the American Trust for the British Library.

Detail from a 15th century English legal collection: London, British Library, MS Lansdowne 464, f. 32r.

The student’s primary focus in 2013 will be contributing to the development of the Library’s major temporary exhibition on Magna Carta which will open in 2015 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the granting of the document in 1215. The exhibition will examine both the medieval history of Magna Carta and its post-medieval impact and legacy, both in Britain and around the world. We are particularly keen to receive applications from students able to contribute to the development of the section of the exhibition which will explore the use and impact of Magna Carta in the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The student will work closely with the Lead Curators of the exhibition, Dr Claire Breay, Lead Curator for Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts, and Julian Harrison, Curator of Pre-1600 Historical Manuscripts. The intern will be involved in a wide variety of duties relating to the planning and preparation of the exhibition including researching and documenting potential exhibits, assisting in the selection of the items to be exhibited, and contributing to the planning of the wider programme associated with the exhibition. The project will provide the intern with invaluable research and practical experience of preparing for a major international manuscript exhibition. 

During the internship, the student will enjoy privileged access to printed and manuscript research material, and will work alongside specialists with wide-ranging and varied expertise. The position is designed to provide an opportunity for the student to develop research skills using original historical manuscript sources, and expertise in presenting manuscripts to a range of audiences


The programme is only open to US citizens who are engaged actively in research towards, or have recently completed, a PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of the legacy of Magna Carta. 


The term of the placement is for a period of six months. The placement is voluntary and therefore unpaid.  However, the successful applicant will be reimbursed in respect of actual expenses in the performance of his or her duties, such as direct travel expenses to London and commuting expenses to the British Library, accommodation, and immediate living expenses such as food (but not clothing or alcohol), subject to a maximum of £8,000. The volunteer will be responsible for making his or her own travel and accommodation arrangements.

If the applicant does not hold the right to work in the United Kingdom, the Library will sponsor the volunteer for a visa using the UK Border Agency’s points-based system under Tier 5 Charity Workers. The successful candidate will be required to submit the relevant application form to the local processing centre. The processing fee will be reimbursed by the Library.  No placement may commence until the appropriate right to work documents have been obtained and verified.

How to apply

Please send an application letter detailing the months you would be able to be in London, a résumé, and two reference letters to Dr Claire Breay, Lead Curator, Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts, The British Library, by email to, or by post to 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB, by Friday 8 February 2013. A telephone interview may be held. All applicants will be notified of the results by the end of March 2013.

04 January 2013

What is Beowulf?

Some of our readers may be aware that the British Library holds the unique manuscript of the Old English epic poem Beowulf (Cotton MS Vitellius A XV). Want to find out more? Then check this link, which supplies answers to some of the more frequent questions (How old is the manuscript? Who owned it? Why is the manuscript damaged?), and also contains a short film containing footage of the manuscript.


The more keen among you can also find out what Beowulf sounds like translated into nine modern languages (Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Telugu), as featured in an earlier post on this blog.

We're very proud to be custodians of this wonderful manuscript, and we hope that our readers derive equal pleasure from it.

02 January 2013

Temporary Unavailability of Select Manuscripts: Reminder

This is a reminder that, due to essential maintenance works, some of the British Library's Western Manuscripts material will be unavailable to readers from 10 January 2013 until 12 March 2013. (This notice was first published on the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Blog on 26 September 2012.)

This work will affect a large portion of our high grade material (Select, Restricted and Z Safe). Readers will need to return any such items already issued to them by 9 January 2013. We regret that no exemptions can be made to this rule. 

Surrogates are available for a significant number of the items affected. We are continuing to add full digital coverage of more manuscripts (including some affected by these temporary restrictions) to our Digitised Manuscripts site.

If you plan to consult manuscript material during this time, please contact British Library Customer Services using the details at the top of our contacts page.

We apologise for any inconvenience this essential work may cause, and thank you in advance for your patience during this period.


01 January 2013

A Calendar Page for January 2013

In an ongoing series on this blog, we have taken a closer look at images from medieval calendars, including the Isabella Breviary (please see this post for more details on calendars in medieval manuscripts) and the Hours of Joanna of Castile (Joanna the Mad).  This year, the featured calendar comes from the 'Golf Book', a mid-sixteenth-century Book of Hours (Additional MS 24098; soon to be featured on Digitised Manuscripts).  In addition to the usual 'labours of the month', the calendar also includes many images of games and sports, and the name 'Golf Book' in fact comes from an early depiction of a game of golf in one of the many bas-de-page miniatures.  Something to look forward to in the months ahead!



Miniature of Boniface of Lausanne, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 1r

The Golf Book is not, in its present state, a complete manuscript.  While it was originally produced as a full Book of Hours – a devotional book containing prayers to be recited at set times – most of the text is now missing.  Only thirty leaves remain from what once would have been hundreds, taken from the most elaborately illuminated parts of the manuscript: the first pages of each of one of the cycles of hours (the Hours of the Virgin), and the calendar.  The full-page miniatures were produced by an important miniature-painter working in sixteenth-century Bruges, Simon Bening (d. 1561), with the assistance of his workshop, and the Golf Book is considered one of his masterpieces.  Nothing is known about the patron of this enigmatic manuscript; illuminators in Bruges worked for buyers all over Europe.  But it is possible that the original owner was Swiss.  One of the surviving pages is a miniature of Boniface of Lausanne, a 13th-century bishop (see above).  He was not canonized until after the medieval period, and his cult in the sixteenth century was primarily a regional one.



Calendar page for January, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 18v

The calendar pages in the Golf Book are spread across two pages, with the first page for each month somewhat unusually reserved for a full-page miniature.  In the foreground of the opening January scene (above) is a man splitting wood for a fire, assisted by a woman close by.  Behind them a man and his wife, who is nursing an infant, can be seen in their home, warming themselves by the fire.  In the snowy background is a church, with bundled-up parishioners exiting.  The bas-de-page scene shows a group of men pulling (with great effort it seems) another man on a sledge.



Calendar page for January, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 19r

This same scene is mirrored on the following folio, which also contains a short listing of saints days for January and a small roundel of a man pouring water from two jugs, for the zodiac sign for Aquarius.