Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

12 posts from September 2013

28 September 2013

Guess the Manuscript VII

We'll be the first to admit that the next installment in our Guess the Manuscript series is a bit cruel.  In our defence, you loyal readers have proven so astute and resourceful in solving the previous puzzles that we've had to come up with a challenge for you (or rather, we hope it is a challenge for you).  As you can see below, we are offering you a bit of text from a medieval manuscript that is somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site; can you identify the text and the manuscript?


You can leave your guesses as comments on this post, or send them to us via Twitter @BLMedieval.  Good luck!

Update:  And the answer (of course) is Royal MS 15 D I, f. 61v, a bit of text from a copy of Guyart de Moulin's Bible historiale which was produced in Bruges between 1470 and 1479.  Massive congratulations are due to @AskthePast, who was the only one to get it right!  Thanks to everyone for playing along, and stay tuned for another Guess the Manuscript soon.

26 September 2013

Knight v Snail

Recently a group of us went into our manuscripts store to have a look at some medieval genealogical rolls.  We were examining Royal MS 14 B V, an English roll from the last part of the 13th century that contains quite a lot of marginalia, when one of our post-medieval colleagues noticed a painting of a knight engaging in combat with a snail.

An illustration from a genealogical roll, showing a knight in combat with a snail.
Knight v Snail  (from a genealogical roll of the kings of England, England, 4th quarter of the 13th century, Royal MS 14 B V, membrane 3)

This struck him as odd, which struck the medievalists in the group as odd; surely everyone has seen this sort of thing before, right?  As anyone who is familiar with 13th and 14th century illuminated manuscripts can attest, images of armed knights fighting snails are common, especially in marginalia.  But the ubiquity of these depictions doesn’t make them any less strange, and we had a long discussion about what such pictures might mean.

A marginal illustration from the Gorleston Psalter, showing a knight in combat with a snail.
Knight v Snail II:  Battle in the Margins (from the Gorleston Psalter, England (Suffolk), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 193v.  Read more on the gorgeous Gorleston marginalia, in our previous posts.)

There has been much scholarly debate about the significance of these depictions of snail combat.  As early as 1850, the magnificently-named bibliophile the Comte de Bastard theorised that a particular marginal image of a snail was intended to represent the Resurrection, since he discovered it in two manuscripts close to miniatures of the Raising of Lazarus.  In her famous survey of the subject, Lilian Randall proposed that the snail was a symbol of the Lombards, a group vilified in the early middle ages for treasonous behaviour, the sin of usury, and ‘non-chivalrous comportment in general.’  This interpretation accounts for why the snail is so frequently seen antagonising a knight in armour, but does not explain why the knight is often depicted on the losing end of this battle, or why this particular image became so popular in the margins of non-historical texts such as Psalters or Books of Hours.

A marginal illustration from a 14th-century manuscript, showing a mounted knight jousting against a snail.
Knight v Snail III: Extreme Jousting (from Brunetto Latini's Li Livres dou Tresor, France (Picardy), c. 1315-1325, Yates Thompson MS 19, f. 65r)

Other scholars have variously described the ‘knight v snail’ motif as a representation of the struggles of the poor against an oppressive aristocracy, a straightforward statement of the snail’s troublesome reputation as a garden pest, a commentary on social climbers, or even as a saucy symbol of female sexuality.  It is possible that these images could have meant all these things and more at one time or another; it is important to remember, as Michael Camille, who devoted a number of pages to this subject, once wrote: ‘marginal imagery lacks the iconographic stability of a religious narrative or icon’.   This motif was part of a rich visual tradition that we can understand only imperfectly today – not that this will stop us from trying!

A marginal illustration from the Queen Mary Psalter, showing snails atacking a knight in combat with a dragon.
Knight v Snail IV:  The Snails Attack (from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, 1310-1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 148r)

Some more of our favourite British Library images are below, and please let us know what you think. You can leave a comment below, or we can always be reached on Twitter at @BLMedieval.

A marginal illustration from the Smithfield Decretals, showing a knight in combat with a snail.
Knight v Snail V:  Revenge of the Snail (from the Smithfield Decretals, southern France (probably Toulouse), with marginal scenes added in England (London), c. 1300-c. 1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 107r)

A marginal illustration from the Gorleston Psalter, showing a snail beside a kneeling knight.
Knight v Snail VI:  The Gastropod Conqueror (from the Gorleston Psalter, England (Suffolk), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 162v)

An opening from a Book of Hours, showing marginal illustrations of a snail and a disarmed knight.
Knight v Snail VII: A Pretty Comprehensive Defeat (from a fragmentary Book of Hours, England (London), c. 1320-c. 1330, Harley MS 6563, ff. 62v-63r)

A marginal illustration from the Gorleston Psalter, showing a snail in combat with an armed monkey.
Knight v Snail VIII:  Switcheroo!  It's a Monkey This Time (from the Gorleston Psalter, England (Suffolk), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 210v)

A border detail from the Harley Froissart, showing a rabbit, monkeys, and a snail jousting.
Knight v Snail IX:  Just for Fun:  A Rabbit, Monkeys, and a Snail Jousting (from the Harley Froissart, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1470-1472, Harley MS 4379, f. 23v)


Further Reading

Lilian Randall, ‘The Snail in Gothic Marginal Warfare’ Speculum 37, no. 6 (June 1962), pp. 358-367.

Michael Camille, Image on the Edge (Reaktion Books: London, 1992), pp. 31-36.

Carl Prydum, What’s So Funny about Knights and Snails?,


Visit our Medieval England and France website to discover how to make a medieval manuscript, to read beastly tales from the medieval bestiary, and to learn about medieval science, medicine and monastic libraries.

- Sarah J Biggs

23 September 2013

Internship in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Section

The British Library is pleased to be able to offer an internship in the Medieval and Earlier section of the History and Classics Department for a doctoral or post-doctoral student in the History of Art or another relevant subject.


The intern will be involved in all aspects of the work of the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section, including responding to enquiries, providing talks for students and patrons, selecting and presenting manuscripts for display in our exhibition gallery, and cataloguing, thereby gaining insight into various curatorial duties and aspects of collection care.  During the internship at the Library, the intern will enjoy privileged access to printed and manuscript research material, and will work alongside specialists with wide-ranging and varied expertise. 

The primary focus of the internship will be to enhance our online Digitised Manuscripts and Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts websites by creating and supplementing catalogue entries for medieval manuscripts and accompanying images, working under the supervision of the Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts.  The internship is designed to provide an opportunity for the student to develop research skills and expertise in medieval and Renaissance art and history, and in presenting manuscripts to a range of audiences. 


The programme is only open to students who are engaged actively in research towards, or have recently completed a PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of pre-1600 illuminated manuscripts who have a right to work in the UK. 


The term of internship is either full time for six months, or part time for twelve months.  Applicants are asked to specify which term they would prefer in the application.  The salary is £8.55 per hour (Full time is 36 hours per week).  The internship will start in November 2013 after relevant security clearances are obtained.

How to apply

Please send an application letter detailing your area of research, the date you would like to start and whether you would like to work full or part time, a CV, and two letters of reference to Dr Kathleen Doyle, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts, The British Library, by email to kathleen [dot] doyle [at] bl [dot] uk, or by post to 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB, by 20 October 2013.  Interviews will be held in late October, and may include questions about the date, origin, and decoration of a particular manuscript to be shown at the interview.  The internship will start as soon as relevant security checks have been completed.

20 September 2013

The Luscious Luttrell Psalter

At long last, every glorious page of the Luttrell Psalter, bursting with medieval vitality, is available on our Digitised Manuscripts site here: Add MS 42130.

A page from the Luttrell Psalter, showing a historiated initial of King David playing the harp.
Historiated initial 'B'(eatus vir) of King David playing the harp, at the beginning of Psalm 1, from the Luttrell Psalter, England (Lincolnshire), c. 1320-1340, Add MS 42130, f. 13r

The Luttrell Psalter is justifiably considered one of the British Library’s greatest treasures.  It was created c. 1320-1340 in Lincolnshire, England, and takes its name from its first owner and patron, Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (1276-1345).  The Luttrell Psalter is perhaps best known for its wild profusion of marginal and hybrid creatures as well as its hundreds of bas-de-page illuminations (stay tuned for a blog post on these subjects!).  Many of these contain some remarkable and detailed scenes of daily life in the rural medieval England of the 14th century.  

Please have a look through the Luttrell Psalter online; we are always interested to hear about what you find compelling.  Feel free to tag us in some of your finds on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Here are a (very) few of our favourite images from this magnificent manuscript:

A detail from the Luttrell Psalter, showing an illustration of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell mounted on a horse led by his wife and daughter-in-law.
Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, mounted in full regalia, attended by his wife and daughter-in-law.  The elaborate display of family heraldry leaves the observer in no doubt as to the power and importance of this family.  However, the fish-like creature above is unimpressed; note the grimace on his orange face!  From the Luttrell Psalter, England (Lincolnshire), c. 1320-1340, Add MS 42130, f. 202v

A marginal illustration of a hybrid creature from the Luttrell Psalter.
There is always something new to discover in the marginalia.  This artist had real imagination – say no more!  From the Luttrell Psalter, England (Lincolnshire), c. 1320-1340, Add MS 42130, f. 27r

A detail from the Luttrell Psalter, showing a marginal illustration of a lady and her handmaiden.
Scenes from daily life in the 14th  century: a young lady at the ‘hair salon’. The creature on the right doesn’t seem to think much of her new hairstyle!  From the Luttrell Psalter, England (Lincolnshire), c. 1320-1340, Add MS 42130, f. 63r

A decorated page from the Luttrell Psalter.
Every page is a feast for the eyes:  this one containing part of Psalm 6 does not have the largest or most impressive images. But the ensemble: the regular gothic script (most letters requiring at least 4 pen-strokes), the gorgeous pastel colours of the borders and decorations, with splashes of luminous gold, and the matching shapes of the three elongated creatures providing amusement and focus, all combine to create a satisfying and harmonious whole.  From the Luttrell Psalter, England (Lincolnshire), c. 1320-1340, Add MS 42130, f. 18v

And if you want to see the Luttrell Psalter ‘in the flesh’, please visit our Treasures Exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library, where it is on display with many other treasures from our collections.

Chantry Westwell

18 September 2013

Marvellous Manuscripts from the Levant

Identifying the date and origin of Greek manuscripts can be very tricky. Sometimes, a scribe with an eye to posterity will note the date he completed the manuscript and, if we’re very lucky, the place, too. We might also get a clue based on the location of the manuscript before it was acquired by the British Library, but manuscripts travel, and many Greek manuscripts may have circulated quite widely since the time they were first created. So, how do we figure out where and when a given manuscript was made, if we don’t have any obvious clues?

Two of the Greek manuscripts recently digitised by the British Library share common palaeographic and iconographic features. One, Add MS 37002, contains a colophon on f 253v which gives us a year, 1314-1315, in which the manuscript was likely written (though this is not certain). The other, Add MS 26103, is not quite as helpful - though there are a number of erased inscriptions on the final leaf of the volume, there’s no indication of a date or location.

Add_ms_37002_f253v detail

The colophon recording the writing of this manuscript in 1314-1315: Add MS 37002, f. 253v

However, we can with reasonable confidence assign a general location to both of these manuscripts, and suggest a date in the first half of the 13th century for Add MS 26103, based on some shared features between the two and a larger group of manuscripts now dispersed in libraries around the world.


A headpiece in Add MS 26103, f. 71r

A large group of illuminated manuscripts form what is now referred to as the “decorative style” group. These manuscripts are characterised by similarities of decoration and illustration, for example, the elaborate headpieces that resemble carpets, or the distinctive features of illuminated portraits of the Evangelists – note in particular the elongated face of John the Evangelist in these examples, combined with the distinctive backgrounds. Excitingly, a number of the manuscripts that form part of the decorative style group contain colophons indicating that they were created in Cyprus or Palestine. The scholar Annemarie Weyl Carr, who has studied this group extensively, has also divided the manuscripts into subgroups, such as the “Interregnum subgroup”, which includes Add MS 26103 and which is dates to the first half of the 13th century (to the Byzantine interregnum).


Portrait of St John the Evangelist: Add MS 26103, f. 188v


Portrait of St John the Evangelist: Add MS 37002, f. 193v

Similar conclusions can be reached on palaeographical grounds. Paul Canart identified two distinct, but closely related, styles of Greek minuscule that diverge from the mainstream of Greek bookhands. These styles, which Canart called “rectangular epsilon” (le style epsilon rectangulaire) and “rounded epsilon” (le style epsilon arrondi). Many of the examples of these two hands are to be found in manuscripts of the “decorative style” group, a further way of linking these manuscripts with the broader Palestino-Cypriot region. As you can see from these examples, Add MS 26103 can be assigned to the rectangular epsilon style, while Add MS 37002 is an example of the rounded epsilon style. The two letters are clearly very similar, but the one in Add MS 37002 is a little more rounded.

Add_ms_26103_f003r detail          Add_ms_37002_f009v detail1
The epsilons on (a) Add MS 26103, f. 3r and (b) Add MS 37002, f. 9v

Taken together, these palaeographic and iconographic markers greatly help us to identify the location and date of the creation of these manuscripts.

Other manuscripts in the British Library collection that have been associated with the “decorative style” group include Add MS 11836, Add MS 17982, Add MS 39595, Add MS 40753, and Harley MS 1810.

Cillian O'Hogan

Further reading

P. Canart, ‘Les écritures livresque chypriotes du milieu du IXe siècle au milieu du XIIIe et le style palestino-cypriote “epsilon”’, Scrittura e civiltà 5 (1981), pp. 17–76 [reprinted in idem, Études de paléographie et de codicologie, Vol. I, Vatican City 2008, pp. 677-736.]

A. W. Carr, ‘A group of provincial manuscripts from the twelfth century’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 36 (1982) 39–81.

A. W. Carr, Byzantine illumination, 1150-1250: the study of a provincial tradition. Chicago 1987.

16 September 2013

Dogs: Medieval Man's Best Friend

Are you interested in dogs? Are you interested in medieval manuscripts? Are you interested in dogs in medieval manuscripts? Who's not?! And you can find out more by reading Kathleen Walker-Meikle's new book, Medieval Dogs, published by the British Library. Here the author kindly picks out for us some of her highlights.

A detail from a medieval manuscript, showing a portrait of Christine de Pizan writing at her desk alongside her dog.

Christine de Pizan and her dog: Harley MS 4431, f. 4r

Dogs abound in medieval sources, whether in the margins of manuscripts or entries for dog collars and ‘bread for the dogs’ in accounts, and they range from the hunting hound to the spoilt lapdog. (According to the 13th-century scholar Albertus Magnus, the latter often died of constipation due to their overly rich diet.) The 15th-century Boke of St Albans enumerates the following types of dog: a greyhound, a bastard, a mongrel, a mastiff, a lymer (a hound that finds the game), a spaniel, raches (a hound that runs the quarry down), kennets (small hunting hounds), terriers, butcher’s hounds, dung-heap dogs, trundle-tails, ‘prick-eared curs’ and small ladies’ puppies ‘that bear away the fleas’ and other small dogs. Assorted working dogs are described in John Caius’s On English Dogges (1570), such as the dog-messenger (who ‘carried letters from place to place wrapped up cunningly in his leather collar’), the water-drawer (who turned well-wheels), the tinker’s cur (which carried the tinker’s buckets), the turnspit (which turned kitchen-spits), and ‘defending dogs’.

A page from a theological miscellany, showing a series of illustrations of dogs.

A dog attacking its master's killer: Harley MS 3244, f. 45r

Loyalty was the most praised canine attribute in the Middle Ages. The late 14th-century author of Goodman of Paris remarked how ‘a greyhound, mastiff or little dog, whether on the road, or at table, or in bed, always stays close to the person who gives him food and ignores all others, being distant and shy with them. Even if far away, the dog always has his master in his heart. Even if his master whips or throws stones at the dog, the dog will still follow him, wagging his tail and lying down in front of his masters to placate him. The dog will follow the master through rivers, woods, thieves and battles.’

A portrait of King John petting one of his hunting dogs.

"Bad King John" and one of his hunting dogs, Royal MS 20 A II, f. 8v

Dogs were popular pets for those in religious orders, despite numerous injunctions that attempted to limit the practice. William Greenfield, Archbishop of York, remonstrated in the early fourteenth century that bringing little dogs into the choir during divine services would ‘impede the service and hinder the devotion of the nuns’.

A detail from the Maastricht Hours, showing an illustration of a nun holding her lapdog.

 A nun holding her lapdog: Stowe MS 17, f. 100r 

Medieval Dogs by Kathleen Walker-Meikle is available now from British Library Publishing (£10 hardback, ISBN 9780712358927). On a similar theme, Kathleen Walker-Meikle is also author of Medieval Cats (£10, ISBN 9780712358187).

You can read more about medieval dogs in our previous post, Nothin' But A Hound Dog. Meanwhile, many of the manuscripts featured here (and the dogs in them) can be viewed in their entirety on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site.



12 September 2013

The Worms Bible on Display in Mannheim

The British Library is delighted to have loaned three manuscripts to an major exhibition in Mannheim at the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen.  This exhibition, The Wittelsbachs on the Rhine: The Electoral Palatinate and Europe, will run from 8 September 2013 until 2 March 2014The exhibition corresponds to an important period of history, namely the 800th anniversary of the granting of the County Palatine of the Rhine to the Wittelsbach family, and celebrates the history, arts and culture of the Wittelsbach Counts Palatine and Electors.


In 1214, Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen invested the Wittelsbach Duke Ludwig I with the  County Palatine, formerly under the control of the Welf family.  This established an unbroken Wittelsbach line of Counts Palatine which continued through to Carl Theodor, Count Palatine and Duke of Bavaria (d. 1799).  The Wittelsbachs always referred to themselves as Counts Palatine of the Rhine and Dukes of Bavaria; emphasis was given to the title of Count Palatine because it included the right to serve as one of the seven electors of the king.  This is an exceptional story of the transformation of a rather obscure family into a dynasty that ruled vast territories in the Holy Roman Empire for 800 years.

Miniature of Jerome writing at a desk with a small monk below, and the illuminated initial 'F'(rater) with foliate interlace and bands, at the beginning of Jerome's letter to Ambrose, Germany (Frankenthal), c. 1148, Harley MS 2803, f. 1v

The first volume of the Worms Bible (Harley MS 2803; the manuscript is now in two volumes) appears in the first section of the exhibition, which highlights the importance of the Rhenish Palatine region.  The massive Worms Bible was probably written or illuminated c. 1148 at the Augustinian abbey of Mary Magdalene in Frankenthal, 10 kilometers south of Worms, now a short train ride from Mannheim.  If you are unable to make it to the exhibition, you can view this first volume in its entirely on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website (Harley MS 2803).  We hope to digitize the second volume and make it available on the web in the next several months.

Alongside the history of the Rhenish Palatine region and the Wittelsbach family and its origins, the concept of the 'Electoral Palatinate' will also take centre stage in the exhibition's first section.  The Palatinate was one of the richest and most important regions in the Holy Roman Empire, a domain of innovation and creativity.  Co-curator Viola Skiba comments that this remains true today, noting that ‘it is a common phenomenon that the people call themselves “Kurpfälzer”, meaning “Palatinates”, without knowing what this signifies'. 

Despite the importance of the so-called 'Pfalzgrafschaft' around 1200, there were only few places of renown in the Palatinate, but one of these was Frankenthal and its Augustinian monastery, which developed into a centre of economic and cultural potential with an influence that lasted until the dissolution of the monastery in 1562 and the consequent dispersal of its library.  In commenting on the relative paucity of surviving material from the region, Skiba describes the Worms  Bible as 'the highlight and the key exhibit of this first section dedicated to the region and its cultural and political importance.’

Two other British Library manuscripts feature in the exhibition, both Hebrew illuminated manuscripts.  They are placed in the second section of the exhibition, which addresses the importance of the river Rhine and highlights the different cultural and political aspects of the region.  Part of this is a focus on the rich cultural heritage of the Jewish communities in Rhenish cities, above all the so-called SchUM cities Speyer, Worms and Mainz (SchUM is an acronym derived from the initial letters of the Hebrew names of the cities: Schpira, Warmeisa, Magenza).

Numerous precious manuscripts - now found all over the world - trace their origins to the region along the Rhine. Many of these manuscripts are beautifully illuminated and testify to the high artistic quality of the work done by the scribes and illuminators employed.  

Add MS 22413 f. 3r 077786
Historiated initial-word panel of the Receiving the Law with Moses streching his hands for the tablets and Aaron (shown as a Christian bishop) and the Israelites (divided according to sex) waiting at the foot of the mountain, at the beginning of a liturgical poem for the first day of Shavuot, Germany, c. 1322, Additional MS 22413, f. 3r

The first manuscript, Additional MS 22413, is a festival prayer book for Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) and Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles).  This is one part of the 'Tripartite Mahzor'; the other two volumes are Budapest (Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Science, Kaufmann Collection MS A384), and Oxford (Bodleian Library MS Michael 619).  The prayer book was originally a two-volume codex; in the exhibition the first two parts are reunited and can be viewed side-by-side.  Skiba comments that ‘This alone will be one of the absolute highlights of the exhibition’. 

Add MS 15282 f. 179v a80062-19
Full-page panel inhabited by hybrids and dragons, and four knights holding banners with the symbols of the four tribes camped around the Tabernacle (Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, Dan), and with the initial-word panel Wa-yedabber (and [the Lord] spoke) in its centre, at the beginning of Numbers, Germany, first quarter of the 14th century, Additional MS 15282, f. 179v

The second British Library Hebrew manuscript to be featured is Additional MS 15282, the famous 'Duke of Sussex's German Pentateuch').  This Ashkenazi manuscript, written in Hebrew and Aramaic, was produced in the first quarter of the 14th century by the scribe Hayyim, and contains a number of lavishly decorated word-panels.


Und jetzt in Deutsch!

2013/14 gedenken die Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen in Mannheim gemeinsam mit der Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe Rheinland-Pfalz, den Staatlichen Schlössern und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, der Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten Hessen, dem Historischen Museum der Pfalz, Speyer, und dem Kurpfälzischen Museum Heidelberg einem bedeutenden historischen Jubiläum. Dann jährt sich die Übertragung der Pfalzgrafschaft bei Rhein an die Familie der Wittelsbacher zum 800. Mal. Mit einer unter dem Titel „Die Wittelsbacher am Rhein. Die Kurpfalz und Europa“ geplanten, großen Doppel-Ausstellung soll an die Geschichte, Kunst und Kultur der wittelsbachischen Pfalzgrafen und Kurfürsten gedacht werden.

1214 übertrug der staufische Kaiser Friedrich II. die vormals welfische Pfalzgrafschaft an Herzog Ludwig I (1174-1231).  Damit wurde eine ununterbrochene wittelsbachische Traditionslinie begründet, die bis hin zu Carl Theodor (1714-1799) reichte. Über alle Landesteilungen und dynastischen Zufälle hinweg bewahrten die Wittelsbacher die Verantwortung für die Einheit von Haus und Herrschaft. Stets nannten sie sich Pfalzgrafen bei Rhein und Herzöge von Bayern. Der Pfalzgrafentitel stand dabei häufig im Vordergrund, denn aus diesem konnten die Wittelsbacher das Vorrecht ableiten, im Kreis der Kurfürsten den König zu wählen und mit ihm gemeinsam die Reichspolitik zu gestalten.

Die British Library unterstützt den Ausstellungsteil, der sich mit dem Mittelalter befasst (um 1200 bis 1504) durch die Leihgabe von drei kostbaren und bedeutenden Handschriften.

Bei der ersten Leihgabe handelt es sich um den ersten Band der „Frankenthaler Bibel“, die auch als „Wormser Bibel“ geführt wird und die im 12. Jahrhundert in Frankenthal entstanden ist. Die großformatig und wunderbar illuminierte Bibel wird im ersten Ausstellungskapitel zu sehen sein, das sich der Bedeutung der rheinischen Pfalzgrafschaft widmet. In dieser Abteilung wird eine außergewöhnliche Erfolgsgeschichte vorgestellt: der Aufstieg einer bis dahin eher unbedeutenden Familie zu großer Macht.  Die Geschichte einer Dynastie, die schließlich für 800 Jahre große Gebiete im Heiligen Römischen Reich beherrschen sollten und zu den mächtigsten Fürsten Europas zählten.

Neben der Familie und ihrer Herkunft wird dabei auch das Gebiet der „Kurpfalz“ in den Mittelpunkt treten. Über die Jahrhunderte war die Pfalzgrafschaft eine der reichsten und bedeutendsten Regionen des Heiligen Römischen Reichs, ein Territorium, das von Innovationen und Kreativität geprägt war und noch immer geprägt ist.  Noch heute begreifen sich die Bewohner dieses historischen Gebiets, das als solches nicht länger existiert als „Kurpfälzer“, auch wenn sie gar nicht wissen, was dies bedeutet. Die Besucher sollen daher dieses besondere historische Territorium, seine Besonderheiten und seine Herrscher kennenlernen.

Trotz der Bedeutung der Pfalzgrafschaft gab es in der Zeit um 1200 nur wenige nennenswerte städtischen oder kulturellen Zentren in diesem Gebiet. Eines war allerdings Frankenthal mit seinem Augustiner-Chorherrenstift, das sich zu einem Zentrum von großem ökonomischen und kulturellen Potential entwickelte und das seinen Einfluss für 400 Jahre geltend machte.  Im Jahre 1562 wurde das Stift im Zuge der Reformation aufgelöst.  Alle Besitztümer und nicht zuletzt die Bibliothek wurden auf Befehl Friedrich III nach Heidelberg verbracht und der von Friedrich III der Universitätsbibliothek hinzugefügt.  Um einen der größten Schätze dieser Zeit, die sog. Wormser Bibel soll die Bedeutung der historischen Region der Rheinischen Pfalzgrafschaft erklärt werden. Tatsächlich war das Gebiet im Laufe der Jahrhunderte so umkämpft, dass unglücklicherweise nur wenig archäologisches Material oder anderes kulturelles Gut die Stürme der Zeit überdauert hat. Daher stellt die kostbare und wunderbar gearbeitete Bibel das Highlight und ein Schlüsselexponat für diese erste, der Region und ihrer Bedeutung gewidmete Sektion dar.

Das zweite Ausstellungskapitel widmet sich der Bedeutung des Rheins und versucht verschiedene kulturelle und politische Aspekte rund um den Strom aufzugreifen. Einer dieser Themenbereiche betrifft die jüdische Kultur im mittleren Rheingebiet und in der Kurpfalz.  Eine ganze Untersektion ist dem reichen kulturellen Erbe der jüdischen Gemeinden mit ihren Zentren in den rheinischen Städten, vor allem den sogenannten SchUM-Städten Speyer, Worms und Mainz gewidmet (SchUM ist ein Akronym, dass sich aus den Anfangsbuchstaben der hebräischen Namen der drei Städte zusammensetzt: Spira, Warmeisa, Magenza).

Da das Judentum essentiell eine auf Schriften basierende Religion ist, bei der die Arbeit mit Texten und Manuskripten zur Religionsausübung gehörte, kam es zu einer besonderen Entwicklung der Buchkultur. Zahlreiche kostbare Manuskripte, die nun über die ganze Welt verstreut sind entstanden entlang des Rheins.

Viele dieser Handschriften weisen wunderbare Illustrationen auf und belegen den hohen künstlerischen Standard der Arbeit der Schreiber und Illuminatoren. Mehrere dieser Manuskripte sind in der Ausstellung zu sehen, darunter zwei Bücher aus der British Library, ein Pentateuch und eine Machsor-Handschrift. Letztere ist Teil eines ursprünglich zweibändigen Werks, das heute in drei Teilen vorliegt und in verschiedenen Bibliotheken aufbewahrt wird. Für die Ausstellung in Mannheim wurden zwei dieser drei Teile wieder vereinigt: der erste Teil des Machsor aus der Bibliothek und Informationszentrum der Ungarischen Akademie der Wissenschaften und der zweite Teil aus der British Library. Das allein wird einen der Höheunkte der Ausstellung „Die Wittelsbacher am Rhein. Die Kurpfalz und Europa“ darstellen.

- Kathleen Doyle and Viola Skiba

09 September 2013

The Quimperlé Detective

In July we told the story of how the three parchment fragments of the Ely farming memorandum were re-united in the 1920s through a remarkable act of sleuthing by an Anglo-Saxon scholar, Professor Stenton of Reading.  While updating our online catalogues in the British library, we regularly come across remarkable characters who have studied our manuscripts in the past, or who have owned them at some stage during their lifetime.

Here is another example of skilful detective work, this time by a French manuscript scholar, Monsieur Leon Maitre, in the late nineteenth century, who travelled from Brittany to Yorkshire to track down the Quimperlé Cartulary (Egerton MS 2802).

Former binding with label stating that the cartulary  was compiled in the 12th century by the monk Gurheden, Egerton MS 2802, f. i recto

This unprepossessing manuscript with only rudimentary decoration is of great interest to historians of Brittany, as it contains unique historical records of the Abbey of St Croix and environs in the 11th and 12th centuries.  For this reason it has recently been fully digitised, and can be viewed here.

Text from the Cartulary of Quimperlé abbey, compiled by Gurheden in the first half of the 12th century with preface entitled 'Opusculum Gurhedeni monachi', including a summary of the foundation charters and a Bull of Pope Boniface IV. Additions by different scribes in the 2nd half of the 12th century and the 13th century, Egerton MS 2802, f. 52r

Perhaps more interesting than its contents is the story of how it came to the British Library, a tale that could be straight out of the Scarlet Pimpernel!  In his introduction to the edition of 1904, the French scholar Leon le Maitre writes in the rather quaint academic French of the period that he is obliged to re-tell the ‘historique des peregrinations’ (the tale of the wanderings or pilgrimages) of the manuscript.  Apparently when the monastery was the object of ‘la rage destructive des révolutionnaires’ (the destructive rage of the revolutionaries) Brother Davau, one of the monks, escaped with this precious document and a few personal effects.  With no means of support, he fell ill, and was tended by the kindly Dr Le Guillou of Nantes, to whom he bequeathed his only precious possession (‘la seule richesse qui lui restât’) as a sign of his gratitude.  Le Guillou’s son sold it in 1836 to a Paris bookseller which was frequented by an English scholar, a Mr Stapleton. So our cartulary ended up in the collection of Lord Beaumont, nephew of Mr Stapleton, at Carlton Towers in Yorkshire, where it was kept (and mislaid among many old books and documents) during the remodelling and reconstruction of his magnificent new residence.

Text from the Cartulary of Quimperlé abbey, Egerton MS 2802, f. 162r

Fortunately, the pre-eminent French manuscript scholar, M Léopold Delisle of the Bibliotheque Nationale of France, kept his eye ('son oeil vigilant') on important French historical documents and so was aware of the situation.  In 1881 he and the French Ministre d’Instruction Publique sent M le Maitre on an important mission: to find and make a transcript of this lost treasure of the patrimony of Brittany. The most difficult part of the mission was to get an entrée into English high society, which was finally provided by the Marquis de la Ferronays, who by a happy chance was in London at the time as military attaché to the French Embassy. He made the introduction and our French sleuth set off for Yorkshire, where he was once again fortunate to encounter a Monsignor Goldies, the local Catholic priest, whose brother had married a lady from Nantes, and who was therefore well-disposed towards him.  He introduced Monsieur le Maitre to the Dowager Lady Beaumont, who was living alone at Carlton Towers at the time.

Carlton Tower Flickr 3575684098_2608168773_b
Carlton Towers, Yorkshire, as it is today – many rooms to search! Photo by William Thomas, 2009, via Flickr Creative Commons

With ‘bonne grace’ she allowed him the free run of all the many rooms in her home, and he was free to ferret around among all the chests and cases of old books and documents, which were in some disarray.  After eight days of searching, Lady Beaumont decided it was time to intervene, and finally emerged triumphant with a modest, yellowed booklet, untitled and unbound, which she had found in the middle of a pile of newspapers and brochures. It was the Quimperlé Cartulary!  Mr le Maitre was able to make his edition and subsequently the manuscript was bought by the British Museum from Lord Beaumont’s successors.  The funds used were from the bequeathed by Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Early of Bridgewater, and so it is part of the Egerton collection.

Full digitisation of the manuscript means that now French and other scholars will be able to study the contents in detail on our Digitised Manuscript here.

- Chantry Westwell