Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

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


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