Medieval manuscripts blog

11 posts from November 2013

30 November 2013

Happy St Andrew's Day


Miniature of André Serre of Dijon praying to his patron, St Andrew, in a Book of Hours: Dijon, 16th century (London, British Library, MS Harley 3181, f. 22v).

It's 30 November, the feast-day of St Andrew the Apostle and the national day of Scotland. The brother of St Peter, Andrew is considered the founder and first bishop of the church of Byzantium. According to the Gospel of St John the Evangelist, Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, before becoming a follower of Jesus, and being present at the Last Supper. St Andrew is said to have been martyred by crucifixion at the city of Patras, reportedly by being bound to the cross rather than nailed to it; but a tradition later emerged that Andrew had in fact been crucified on a saltire or x-shaped cross, as he felt himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus.


Miniature of St Andrew, in a Book of Hours: Bruges, c. 1500 (London, British Library, MS King's 9, ff. 36v-37r).

Andrew is believed to have become patron saint of Scotland in the 10th century. A legend states that relics of Andrew were brought at that time from Constantinople to Scotland, and carried to the place subsequently named St Andrews. Since 2006, St Andrew's Day has been celebrated in Scotland with a public holiday (or bank holiday), which this year is on 2 December as the feast-day falls on a weekend.

To celebrate St Andrew's Day, here is a selection of medieval images of St Andrew from the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. You can find more by searching that site, and typing "Andrew" in the keyword box. Which one will be your favourite?


The calling of St Peter and St Andrew, from a choirbook: Italy, 15th century (London, British Library, MS Additional 18196, f. 84r).



The crucifixion of St Andrew, in Wauchier de Denain, Lives of the Saints: France, 13th century (London, British Library, MS Royal 20 D VI, f. 185r).



The crucifixion of St Andrew in the Queen Mary Psalter: England, 14th century (London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 286r).



The martyrdom of St Andrew, in a Book of Hours: England, 14th century (London, British Library, MS Egerton 2781, f. 76v).



Miniature of St Andrew, in a Book of Hours: Paris, c. 1410 (London, British Library, MS Egerton 1070, f. 80v).

29 November 2013

Medieval Movember

We in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section would like to congratulate everyone who has taken part in this year's Movember fund-raising drive (including some members of the British Library staff!).  To honour your achievements in some small way, we would like to offer this brief glance back at several choice examples of medieval manuscript moustaches.  In keeping with the spirit of Movember, we've largely tried to restrain ourselves to 'staches alone, although a few beards may have slipped while our backs were turned.

We'll lead off with this imperial example: the stylish and well-moustachioed Emperor Lothar I.

Miniature of an enthroned Lothar (or Lothaire) I, wearing a cloak covered in jewels, from the Lothar Psalter, Germany (Aachen), c. 840-855, Add MS 37768, f. 4r

Another fine specimen can be found on this personification of Justice from a 14th century copy of the Carmina regia, although his companion, Prudence, doesn't look too impressed (and her judgement ought to be trusted, after all).

Detail of a miniature of the personifications of Prudence and Justice, from the Carmina regia (Address of the City of Prato to Robert of Anjou), Italy (Tuscany), c. 1335, Royal MS 6 E IX, f. 21r

This noble member of Sulieman's army does not appear to have done very well during the 1519 Siege of Vienna, but even in defeat his facial hair has retained all its glory (and how could anyone ask for more, really?).

Add MS 33733 f. 9r detail
Detail of a miniature of Sulieman and his army being driven from the Siege of Vienna in 1519, from the Triumphs of Charles V, Italy or the Netherlands, c. 1556-1575, Add MS 33733, f. 9r

Next time you look up in the heavens, spare a thought for the moustaches preserved there for all of eternity.  Because there are some, you know, at least according to the French miscellany below:

Royal MS 13 A XI f. 105v detail c13313-85
Detail of a tinted ink drawing of the constallations Boötes and Corona, from a miscellany with works on the Computus and astrology, France, last quarter of the 11th century - first quarter of the 12th century, Royal MS 13 A XI, f. 105v

Although women's support for Movember is necessary and valued, it is the rare lady that can participate directly by growing some facial hair of her own, but we found one!  Witness the famous Bearded Woman of Limerick:

Royal MS 13 B VII f. 19r detail
Detail of a bas-de-page painting of the Bearded Woman of Limerick, from Gerald of Wales' Topographia Hibernica, England (Lincoln?), c. 1196-1223, Royal MS 13 B VII, f. 19r

But if your moustache efforts this year met with less-than-perfect results, you may need a little consolation from a good friend...

Harley MS 3045 f. 12r detail
Detail of an historiated initial 'Q'(uantos) of two men, from Hrabanus Maurus' De laudibus sanctae crucis, Germany (Arnstein), c. 1170-1180, Harley MS 3045, f. 12r

... or perhaps just the reminder that this is in your future come the first of December:

Royal MS 16 G VI f. 93v detail
Detail of a miniature of Dagobert cutting his tutor's beard, from the Grandes Chroniques de France, France (Paris), 1332-1350, Royal MS 16 G VI, f. 93v 

Congratulations to everyone who took part in Movember!

- Sarah J Biggs

27 November 2013

Marginali-yeah: Take 2! The Incomparable Luttrell Psalter

It is almost impossible to discuss the fabulous and incomparable Luttrell Psalter (Add MS 42130) without resorting to hyperbole.  Produced in Lincolnshire, England c. 1320-1340, for Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, its namesake and patron (please see our earlier blog post for more details), the manuscript is a glorious explosion of visual delights.  Besides the illuminated and historiated initials, the Psalter contains hundreds of marginal and bas-de-page images which display a staggering and creative diversity.  A very few (compared with the overwhelming numbers in the manuscript!) selected details are below; please have a look at the fully digitised manuscript here for much much more.

A lady with a pet squirrel, Add MS 42130, f. 33r

A monkey riding a goat whilst hawking (except with an owl, so not hawking), Add MS 42130, f. 38r

The martyrdom of Thomas Becket, with a grotesque nearby, and later 'x' marks effacing the painting, Add MS 42130, f. 51r

A dejected, nude, and tonsured man (a winning combination!) with an archer below, Add MS 42130, f. 54r

A man being bled into a bowl while an attentive bird looks on, Add MS 42130, f. 61r

A blue-skinned man (perhaps a Saracen or Ethiopian?) doing battle with a dragon (not a snail in sight), Add MS 42130, f. 83v

Medieval Angry Birds, Add MS 42130, f. 145r

Two grotesques fighting and fighting dirty, Add MS 42130, f. 153r

A monkey being extremely rude, as far as we can tell, Add MS 42130, f. 189v

A cat (of course!), Add MS 42130, f. 190r

Stealing fruit, Add MS 42130, f. 196v

A female grotesque riding, um, herself, Add MS 42130, f. 198v 

This grotesque is unimpressed, Add MS 42130, f. 202r

Eeyore-ish, Add MS 42130, f. 208v

Check me out, Add MS 42130, f. 210r

This won't end well, Add MS 42130, f. 211r

Please let us know if you have any other favourites; you can always leave us a note in the comments below, or get in touch with us on Twitter @BLMedieval.

- Sarah J Biggs

25 November 2013

Happy St Catherine's Day!

St Catherine of Alexandria was one of the most venerated saints and martyrs in the medieval era, and indeed still is today.  Especially on this day, which is that of her feast; we hope you all have your fireworks ready for a St Catherine’s Wheel!

Miniature of St Catherine before the wheel, with the Emperor Maxentius in the background, from the Beaufort/Beauchamp Hours, England (London) and Netherlands (Bruges), 1401- c. 1500, Royal MS 2 A XVIII, f. 15v

According to her legend, Catherine was born to the pagan King Constus and Queen Sabinella of Alexandria in the very late 3rd century AD.  She was said to have been extremely well-educated, and converted to Christianity as a teenager.  Her devotion to Christ was such that she determined to visit the Roman Emperor Maxentius to argue against his persecution of Christians.  Needless to say, Maxentius was not receptive to her pleas, and had the young woman scourged and then thrown into prison.  While there she was visited by a number of notables, including Maxentius’ wife; Catherine’s passionate eloquence, we are told, succeeded in converting all of these visitors to Christianity, even though this meant that they were immediately put to death by the Roman authorities.

Detail of a miniature of St Catherine being scourged, from the Taymouth Hours, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 16v

After prison proved an ineffective constraint on Catherine, legend has it that the Emperor Maxentius tried a proposal of marriage, which Catherine rejected on the grounds that she had consecrated her virginity to Christ (although one imagines that the Christian-executing Emperor would not have been an attractive candidate to her regardless).  Maxentius did not take this well either, and sent Catherine to be executed on the back-breaking spiked wheel.  The wheel, however, miraculously broke apart the moment Catherine touched it, so Maxentius ordered that she be beheaded.

Harley MS 5370, f. 167r C11650-08
Miniature of St Catherine being beheaded, from a Book of Hours (Use of Angers), France (Angers), c. 1450, Harley MS 5370, f. 167r

St Catherine is one of the most recognizable saints in medieval art, as she is usually depicted with one or both of the instruments of her martyrdom, most often the spiked wheel. Devotion to her in the Middle Ages was intense, and miniatures of her appear in many manuscripts of the period.  A number of these can be found below, including a remarkable sequence in the Queen Mary Psalter that details her martyrdom.

Harley MS 928, f. 10r c13619-50
Detail of an historiated initial of St Catherine praying and the wheel breaking, from the Harley Hours (Use of Sarum), England, last quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 928, f. 10r

Kings MS 9, ff. 58v-59r K108764
Miniature of St Catherine before her suffrage, from a Book of Hours (Use of Sarum), Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1500, King’s MS 9, ff, 58v-59r

Harley MS 2966, f. 10r K062157
Miniature of St Catherine, much effaced (possibly because of devotional kissing of the miniature), from a Book of Hours (Use of Sarum), Netherlands, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 2966, f. 10r

Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 280r G70032-91a
Detail of a bas-de-page image of St Catherine in prison, surrounded by musical angels, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, 1310-1320,  Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 280r

Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 283r G70032-92a
Detail of a bas-de-page image of St Catherine praying and angels breaking apart the spiked wheel, from the Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 283r

Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 284r G70032-93a
Detail of a bas-de-page image of St Catherine being buried by angels on Mount Sinai, from the Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 284r

St Catherine is considered the patron saint of unmarried girls, craftspeople who work with wheels, such as potters and spinners, philosophers, students, librarians and archivists (luckily for us).  Please do let us know if you have any other favourite images of this venerable saint, and we hope you have a happy St Catherine’s Day!

20 November 2013

The True History of Richard II

David Tennant (of Doctor Who and Hamlet fame) is currently wooing audiences in the new Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard II. This is one of William's Shakespeare's most famous history plays, notable for the richness of its language (“This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle ... This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”) and its depiction of the king's decline and overthrow. But Shakespeare was equally notorious for embellishing the facts -- to what extent does his play reflect the true history of Richard II?


The presentation page of ‘The Capture and Death of King Richard’, showing the author, Jean Creton, and the Duke of Burgundy (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 2r).

Much of our knowledge of the downfall of King Richard II of England (1377–1399) is based on a contemporary account entitled La Prinse et Mort du Roy Richart (‘The Capture and Death of King Richard’). This work was composed by the French historian Jean Creton (c. 1386–1420), and presented to Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy. Creton had been sent by King Charles VI of France to accompany Richard on a doomed expedition to Ireland in 1399, and was present when the English king was seized at Conwy in North Wales by the supporters of Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV). La Prinse et Mort du Roy Richart records the official version of Richard II's death, namely that the king had died by starvation; but Creton believed that Richard remained alive and in prison. In 1402, when the French received reports that Richard II was in Scotland, Creton was despatched to ascertain the truth, at which point he finally concluded that King Richard was indeed dead.

A number of manuscripts of La Prinse et Mort du Roy Richart survive, one of which (Harley MS 1319) can be viewed in its entirety on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site. Made in Paris early in the 15th century, and painted by the Virgil Master, the manuscript in question contains a series of 16 miniatures which depict events in the final year of Richard II's reign.

A selection of images from Harley MS 1319 is reproduced here. We highly recommend that you look at the others on Digitised Manuscripts, so that you can see how people living in the 15th century would have viewed the life of Richard II, events which even at that time were subject to mystery and suspicion.



 The relief ships (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 7v). 



 Archbishop Arundel preaching (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 12r).



 Richard II at Conwy (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 19v).



 Henry Bolingbroke and the dukes (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 30v).



Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke at Flint Castle (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 50r).



 Richard II delivered to the citizens of London (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 53v).



Henry Bolingbroke recognized as king by the parliament (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 57r).

18 November 2013

Guess the Manuscript IX

We're returning to our Guess the Manuscript roots (which stretch all the way back to April of this year) for this latest instalment of everyone's favourite game: it's a diagram!

Same rules as always: the manuscript this comes from is part of the British Library collections and can be found somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site. Extra points if you can tell us what kind of diagram this is - good luck!


You can see previous examples of these puzzles here, and as always, you can leave a guess in the comments below, or contact us on Twitter @BLMedieval.

Update:  This diagram is from Arundel MS 501, a miscellany put together from a number of different codices that range in date from the 11th to the 16th century and produced in Germany.  Congratulations to @melibeus1, who solved this with impressive speed, and provided the following description: 'Diagram, at the end of an explanation to the Tables for finding the moveable feasts, the age of the moon, the golden number and the hour of the new moon.' Well done!

14 November 2013

A New Life for Royal Manuscripts

It is always a great pleasure for us in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Section to see the many and varied new ways that people make use of our 'old' material; see, for example, the dozens of retweets on our @BLMedieval Twitter account, or our previous post about a film inspired by the Luttrell Psalter. So, when Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey asked to borrow several banners that had been on display during Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination for an exhibition he was curating, we were thrilled to participate.

Leckey's exhibition The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things was sponsored by the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, and travelled to Liverpool, Nottingham, and Bexhill on Sea earlier this year. The exhibition explored 'how our relationships with artworks and common objects alike are being transformed through new information technologies' and included works of art from every genre and period. If you weren't able to catch the exhibition, here are a few images of our Royal banners in action!


Installation view: The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things curated by Mark Leckey, a Hayward Touring exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary 27 April – 30 June 2013. Photo: Andy Keate


Installation View: The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things curated by Mark Leckey, a Hayward Touring exhibition at De La Warr Pavilion 13 July – 20 October 2013. Photo: Nigel Green


Installation View:  detail of a Mappa mundi from Bartholomaeus Angelicus' De proprietatibus rerum, Royal MS 15 E III, f. 67v, behind Double Dome, 1967 by Derek Boshier, courtesy the Arts Council Collection from The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things curated by Mark Leckey, a Hayward Touring exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary 27 April – 30 June 2013. Photo: Andy Keate

11 November 2013

An Imperial Psalter

One of our latest uploads to the Digitised Manuscripts website is this exquisite copy of the Psalms which dates from the middle of the ninth century and takes its name from Lothar I, the grandson of Charlemagne and successor to half of his kingdom.


Binding of the Lothar Psalter with a large silver-gilt medallion showing a head in profile wearing a crown or helmet; it is believed to be from the 9th century and may represent the Emperor Lothar, Add MS 37768, upper binding

Following a prayer in gold and red on the opening folios is a full page portrait of the Emperor Lothar wearing a cloak decorated with precious stones. On the page opposite is a dedicatory poem to Lothar written throughout in gold capitals.


Full-page miniature of the Emperor Lothar, from the Lothar Psalter, Germany (Aachen), c. 840-855, Add MS 37768, f. 4r

Following the miniature of Lothar - and in the same style - are portraits of King David and St Jerome, whose translation of the Bible into Latin was the standard version used throughout Christendom in the Middle Ages.  Here Jerome is shown holding a book with a jewelled cover, perhaps representing a copy of his translation.


Full-page miniature of St Jerome, from the Lothar Psalter, Germany (Aachen), c. 840-855, Add MS 37768, f. 6r

The artist or artists responsible for the Psalter deliberately portrayed Lothar in the company of two of the most important religious leaders of the past, who represent power and knowledge. This manuscript was produced either at the imperial court of Aachen or by the monks of the abbey of St Martin, Tours, who made a series of exquisite books for the Imperial family, and was clearly a luxurious production.  Every word in the entire manuscript is written in gold, and every tenth Psalm opens with a full-page ornamented initial in the Franco-Saxon style.


Decorated initial 'B'(eatus vir) (Blessed is the man) at the beginning of Psalm 1, from the Lothar Psalter, Germany (Aachen), c. 840-855, Add MS 37768, f. 9r

This initial is followed by folio after folio of beautiful Carolingian script, punctuated by finely decorated initials in green, red and gold.


Text page from the Psalms, from the Lothar Psalter, Germany (Aachen), c. 840-855, Add MS 37768, f. 11r

This was no doubt a prized family possession, as the opening prayer is believed to have been composed by a sister or daughter of Lothar.  It was passed on to the Abbey of St Hubert near Liège and is believed to have been stolen from the abbey in the eleventh century.  Fortunately it was eventually recovered, and was rescued during the French Revolution by Dom Etienne, a monk of St Hubert.  There is no record of how it came to England, but it was owned by Sir Thomas Brooke of Huddersfield, who bequeathed it to the British Museum in 1908.


Decorated initial 'Q'(uem ammodum) at the beginning of Psalm 41, from the Lothar Psalter, Germany (Aachen), c. 840-855, Add MS 37768, f. 45v

- Chantry Westwell