Medieval manuscripts blog

12 posts from February 2014

27 February 2014

Slavery and Sainthood in Cornwall

Copied in a scriptorium in Brittany in the early 9th century, this Gospel Book, new to our Digitised Manuscripts site, is referred to as the Bodmin Gospels, or the St Petroc Gospels.  Both these names are references to its place of origin; it was originally used for the swearing of oaths upon the altar of the Priory of St Petroc in Bodmin, Cornwall.  Within these Gospels are recorded 51 grants of manumission (records of the freeing of slaves) which occurred between 950 and 1025.  It is one of the most important records of early Cornish Christianity, and the written records are of great interest to paleographers and students of the Cornish language.  Though they are written in Latin and Old English, many of the names mentioned within them are Celtic, such as Wurci (from Welsh Gwrgi, meaning ‘man-dog’) and Modred (after that well-known villain, King Arthur’s nephew).

Decorated initials 'IN(ITIUM)' with 'I' forming interlace pattern border at the beginning of Mark's gospel, France (Brittany), early 9th century; annotations: Cornwall, 2nd half of the 9th centur, Add MS 9381, f. 50r

The Priory of St Petroc, Cornwall, was founded by Celtic monks some decades before St Augustine came to England in 593.  According to his legend, Petroc, a Welshman of noble birth, having completed his education in Ireland, set out in a small boat with a few followers towards the middle of the 6th century.  Though filled with zeal, they were an indecisive bunch, as they seem to have had no destination in mind, and so asked God to set their course.  The winds and tides brought them by pure chance (or divine will?) to the Padstow estuary, where Petroc founded his first monastery.  Again, he seems to have had some difficulty in making up his mind, as a short time later he packed up and moved everyone to Bodmin, where he remained until his death at a very great age.  The monastery at Bodmin was recorded in Domesday Book and later became an Augustinian priory.

Victorian glasswork of St Petroc of Cornwall, from his church in Bodmin, 19th century.  Image via Wikipedia Commons.

St Petroc is one of the patron saints of Cornwall, and though he may perhaps appear indecisive, his legend is in the swashbuckling tradition, including, at one point, travel to India and the taming of wolves.  He is usually pictured with a stag (not particularly imaginative for a British saint) and his feast day is June 4.  His relics, stolen and carried off to Brittany by a dastardly Breton in 1177, were restored to Cornwall by Henry II, but were then tossed in to the sea when the monastery was sacked in the Reformation.  The beautiful ivory casket in which they were kept survived and is still on display at St Petroc's church in Bodmin.

We know that this Gospel-book (Add MS 9381) was at St Petroc’s monastery from the 940s.  It does not contain elaborate decoration, and is obviously a ‘workaday’ copy; at the end of the manuscript there are tables of Gospel readings for use throughout the year.  There is an unfinished composition at the beginning of John’s Gospel and several large decorated initials in red and brown (see f. 50 above), but no Evangelist portraits. 

A frame with five roundels and interlace panels, probably intended for a 'Christ in Majesty' miniature, Add MS 9381, f. 108v

The principal decoration is in the Canon tables (ff. 9r-13v), which have Celtic interlace and zoomorphic decoration; see the bird-like creature on the right in image below. A note inserted between the arches records the presence of the book at the altar of St Petroc’s and its use there:

Canon tables with records added, Add MS 9381 f. 13r

The inscription reads:

Hoc est no[men] illius mulieris .i. medguistyl cum p[ro]genie sua .i. bleiduid, ylcerthon, byrchtylym; quos liberaverunt cleri s[an]c[t]i petroci sup[er] altare illius petroci, p[ro]
remedio eadryd rex, & p[ro] animab[us] illor[um]; coram istis testib[us] comayre p[re]spiter grifiud p[re]spit[er] etc..

(This is the name of the woman Medguistyl with her offspring Bleiduid, Ylcerthon and Byrchtylym who were freed by the clerics of Saint Petroc on the altar of this St Petroc’s for the souls of Eadred the King and for their souls, before these witnesses, Comuyre the priest etc…)

Of course we know nothing of this woman and her three children, but it does make you wonder what the lives of these slaves would have been like in the ninth century.  Where were they from, how did they come to be slaves, and why were they freed?  We have no answers to these questions.

Sometimes the stories revealed by the records in the margins are a little more detailed, as is the following one in Old English:

Records of manumissions, Add MS 9381 f. 8r

Her kyð on þissere bec þæt Aelsig bohte anne wifmann Ongynedhel hatte & hire sunu Gyðhicael æt  þurcilde mid healfe punde æt thære cirican dure on Bodmine & sealed Aelsige portgereva & Maccosse hundredesmann iiii pengas to tolle.  Þa ferde Aelsig to þe þa men bohte ynd nam hig & freode uppan Petrocys weofede æfre saclesl On gewitnesse þissa godera manna þæt wæs Isaac messepreost & Bledculf m.p. & Wunning m.p. & Wulfger m.p. & Grifiuð m.p. & Noe m.p. & Wurþicið m.p. & Aelsig diacon & Maccos & Teðion & Modredis sunu & Kynilm & Beorlaf & Dirling & Gratcant & Talan & gif hwa þas freot abrece, hebbe him wið Criste gemene.  Amen.

(Here is made known on this book that Aelsig had bought a woman Ongynedhel and her son Gyðhicael from þurcilde with half a pound at the church door at Bodmin, and paid to Aelsige the reeve and Maccos the hundredsman four pennies for toll.  Then Aelsig did what he had bought them for, and freed them on Petroc’s Altar, free of any liability.  On the witness of these good men: Isaac the mass-priest & Bledculf….. And if anyone should violate this freedom, may he lose Christ’s protection. Amen).

This shows that sometimes people bought slaves so that they could set them free and that in this case a toll was paid to the King or his representative for the pleasure of doing so – not terribly magnanimous on the part of His Majesty!

The names are also of interest.  Seven of them are Anglo-Saxon, including the freer of the slave, the reeve and hundredsman - in other words, those in authority, as you would expect.  Aelsige was a very popular name, as it is shared by three people (it does have more of a ring to it than John or David – perhaps it will make the list of the most popular names again one day!). Nine of the names, including the two slaves’, are Celtic and 2 are from the Old Testament - Isaac and Noe, or Noah.

Chapter list of Matthew’s Gospel written in Caroline minuscule with added manumissions in Latin and Old English, Add MS 9381 f. 7v

Last but not least, the palaeography of this manuscript has long been of interest to scholars. The original gospels are written in a continental Caroline minuscule, the standard script used in France in this period.  Cornwall, however, was part of the Celtic world and so a form of Insular minuscule was used there in the ninth century.  The earliest manumissions are thought to date from the time of King Edmund (941-946), by which time Anglo-Saxon minuscule seems to have been widely adopted, though there is limited evidence and scripts varied considerably.  The additions in the Bodmin Gospels are mostly in Anglo-Saxon minuscule, but some of the later ones contain perhaps the earliest examples of Cornish Caroline script.  Notable are the Caroline ‘a’ and ‘g’, which are used even in the inscriptions in Old English. The contrast between the scripts is clearly visible in the above image, with additions by three different scribes. The full digital images now available online make this manuscript more accessible for palaeographical study.

- Chantry Westwell

25 February 2014

No Rest for the Wicked: Dante's Inferno

Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy is best-known for its gruesome catalogue of punishments suffered by the damned; and what punishments they are! Dante took great pleasure in devising hideous fates for the multitudes of the damned, and this included, for good measure, many people he knew personally. One can imagine that Dante relished sending to Hell those responsible for exiling him from Florence in 1301, not least because some of those named in the poem were still alive to read about the terrible fates in store for them. You have been warned -- be careful not to get on the wrong side of a poetic genius!

Souls waiting for Charon to ferry them across the Acheron to Hell, Italy, N. (Emilia or Padua), late 14th century (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 7v).

The lustful in the fire of Hell (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 109v).

But the poem isn’t called the Divine Comedy for nothing. Latin Commedia at this time simply meant a narrative poem, albeit one with lighter tone and supposedly a happy ending. Inferno, the description of Hell, is the best-known part, probably because we all secretly love the scandal and gore, as well as Dante’s gloriously passive-aggressive sniping at his foes. Yet the Comedy presents a journey through the entire Christian cosmos, continued in Purgatario and Paradiso respectively.

Dante’s Dream (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 3r).

Humour is definitely an aspect of the poem appreciated by the illustrator of Egerton MS 943. This manuscript contains the entire Divine Comedy accompanied by 261 images, and was copied in the 14th century, not long after the work was composed, in the poet's Northern Italian homeland. Perhaps this manuscript's creators shared the same world-view which animates the poem, making it as close as possible to the way Dante would have illustrated it. Dante would certainly have appreciated the rendering of some of his imagined punishments. 145 images are currently online in the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, and the whole manuscript will soon appear on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

Back to the torments of Hell. Here, for example, are the lustful, tossed around in a cyclone to represent their loss of reason, while Dante and his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, stand by in awe.

The Carnal sinners (London, British Libary, MS Egerton 943, f. 10v).

And here the gluttonous are feasted on by the monstrous Cerberus. They include a man called Ciacco ‘hog’ who describes the woeful state of politics in Florence.

Cerberus (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 12r).

The violent drown in a flaming sea and are shot at by arrows. The poem makes the archers in question centaurs, but interestingly our illustrator neglects to give them horse bodies.

Centaurs by a river of blood (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 22r).

The treacherous are frozen up to their necks in ice. If anyone ever claims that something will happen when Hell freezes over, remind them that this actually happened in Dante's account! For Dante, Hell got colder as you went further down, representing the distance from God which is the true punishment for all the damned.

Traitors in ice (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 57r).

Here, the arch-traitor, the Devil himself, stands at the freezing heart of the Inferno. In contrast to the menacing figure in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is quite pathetic in the Divine Comedy. A monstrous three-faced entity, he is utterly immobile and cannot even speak as his mouths are occupied chewing on the three greatest traitors of history: Judas Iscariot (all we can see of him here is his lower half poking out of Satan’s mouth) and two of the murderers of Julius Caesar, Brutus and Cassius. It's ever so slightly ridiculous that Dante regarded Caesar's death of Caesar to be the second worst crime in history (after Christ' betrayal). But Dante, like so many of his contemporaries, saw imperial Rome as a lost golden age, and he yearned for the unification of the divided and troubled Italian states. For him, Italy's troubles could be blamed directly on Brutus and Cassius.

Lucifer devouring 3 traitors (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 61r).

After Satan, our two intrepid wanderers are spat out through the plughole of Hell and onto Mount Purgatory. And then we move from Inferno, to the exciting sequel, Purgatario. Here you can see Virgil warming himself on Satan’s feet which are poking up from the ice!

Satan and the mouth of Hell (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 61v).

We will devote future blogposts to Dante's Purgatory and Paradise -- keep an eye on this blog!

Arthur Westwell

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.


23 February 2014

Gawain Revealed

One of the British Library's greatest literary treasures is the unique manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Last week we hosted a visit by Murray McGillivray (University of Calgary), who is director of a research project investigating this idiosyncratic manuscript's physical make-up and the poems contained within it.

Paul and Murray
Murray McGillivray (left) and Paul Garside (right), carrying out multi-spectral imaging of the Gawain-manuscript.

Many aspects of Gawain remain open to debate -- who wrote the poems? where and when they were written? who was responsible for the accompanying illustrations? -- and so we hope to provide new insight into some of these questions. Although critics have been overwhelmingly full of praise for the manuscript's poetic quality, many have been very scathing about its handwriting and drawings ("some paintings rudely executed" according to one early cataloguer), giving rise to the theory that this is a provincial or unprofessional production. Murray was particularly keen to discover more information about the pigments, underdrawings and binding structure of the manuscript (British Library Cotton MS Nero A X, ff. 41–130), the results of which will ultimately be published on his project website. Aided and abetted by Christina Duffy, our Imaging Scientist, Paul Garside, Conservation Scientist, and Ann Tomalak, one of our conservators, Murray was able to analyse parts of the Gawain-manuscript with stunning results.

Cotton Nero Ax f129v_PSC   Cotton Nero Ax f129v_011_F
Multi-spectral and infrared images of the Green Knight (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero A X, f. 129v).

We're not going to pre-empt the full findings here; but it is possible to make some tentative deductions about how the manuscript was made. The illuminated pages contain underdrawings, often heavily over-painted by the medieval artist, but now revealed using modern technology. Christina made images of the pages in question under different spectra, including infrared and ultraviolet light; and we discovered that the underdrawings are sometimes best visible using infrared. Likewise, Paul's analysis of the pigments used for the illustrations suggests, for example, that the blues are more likely to be made of indigo rather than azurite or lapis, and that the reds may be composed of vermilion.

Cotton Nero Ax f41r_PSC
Multispectral image of the Dreamer (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero A X, f. 41r).

Cotton Nero Ax f41r_011_F
The same image under infrared light.

Christina and Paul continue to process their results, which will then be interpreted by Murray and his team. We wait on tenterhooks to discover what conclusions they will draw: was the scribe of the manuscript the same person who did the underdrawings? were the same pigments employed for the illuminations and the decorated letters in the text? were the illuminations painted at a later date? In the meantime, you can find out more about the Cotton Nero A X Project here, with full colour images of the manuscript; and you can find out more about the work of our British Library colleagues on their Collection Care Blog.

Julian Harrison

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

22 February 2014

Prepare to Meet Your Doom

Followers of this blog may harbour a suspicion that we possess an unhealthy interest in scenes of violence and torture in medieval manuscripts.  The following should remove any doubt on the matter!

Detail of a miniature showing the punishment of cardinal sinners in Hell, from the ‘Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri, Italy (Tuscany), 1444-c. 1450, 
Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 9r

Last week, the Getty Museum (@GettyMuseum) tweeted this image from our Digitised Manuscripts site to highlight that 13th February was marked in some medieval calendars as the day on which Hell was created (to which anyone who has forgotten to buy a Valentine’s Day present can surely attest).

This has inspired us at the British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog to explore depictions of Hell, past and present.

Aficionados of 1990s video games will likely have fond memories of Doom, id Software’s seminal first-person shooter.  The plot follows the typical ‘scientific experiment gone awry’ trajectory.  While experimenting with teleportation technology on Mars, some scientists inadvertently open a portal to Hell – whoops!  (Guess this is why we have risk assessments…).  You, the sole survivor, must fight your way back to Earth, with just an assorted array of guns and a chainsaw (yes, really) at your disposal to fight off the assembled hordes of demons.

Full-page miniature showing the fall of the rebel angels, from the Old English Hexateuch, England, second quarter of the 11th century,
Cotton MS Claudius B IV, f. 2r

The portal to Hell in Doom has an obvious antecedent in medieval art: the Hell-mouth, a representation of Hell as a gaping, often flaming, animalistic maw.  The fall of the rebellious angels from Heaven, illustrated here in the Old English Hexateuch, foreshadows the later fall of man.  The unusual depiction of a Hell-mouth as a serpent reinforces this narrative connection as well as Lucifer’s agency in both events.

The rather horrifying motif of the Hell-mouth was not confined to medieval manuscripts.  It appears – most commonly as a hairy, fanged beast – in stained glass windows and wall- and panel-paintings as well.  It was therefore visible to ordinary medieval people, for whom owning an illuminated manuscript was an unimaginable luxury, and the prospect of suffering an eternity in Hell an imminent possibility.  St John’s visions of the end of the world and the Last Judgement were frequently depicted in ‘Doom paintings’ on the walls and rood-screens of medieval churches.  Though mostly destroyed at the Reformation, examples have survived, particularly in East Anglia, some of them ironically protected and preserved by the very whitewash that was meant to obliterate them.

Detail of a miniature showing the Last Judgment, from the ‘Abingdon Apocalypse’, England, third quarter of the 13th century,
Add MS 42555, f. 77v.

Hell-mouths were commonly depicted in illuminated Apocalypse manuscripts, swallowing up the souls of the damned, while God, the angels and the souls of the saved look on from the safety of Heaven.

Detail of a miniature showing the Last Judgement, from the ‘Queen Mary Apocalypse’, England (London or East Anglia), first quarter of the 14th century,
Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 40r

A personal favourite of ours comes not from an Apocalypse manuscript but from a Book of Hours.  Along the bottom of the pages, a procession of demons escorts the souls of the sinful to Hell.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing a demon carrying souls to Hell in a wheelbarrow, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’, England (London?), second quarter of the 14th century,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 139v.

Demons are showing carrying souls in shoulder-baskets and other contrivances, or just dragging them along the floor with a rope.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing a lecherous woman, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 141v.

In this example, demons torment the soul of a lecherous woman as punishment for her sins: she is being ridden by one demon while the other prods her in the buttocks with a grapple and shouts ‘Avaunt, leccheur, avant’ (‘Forward, lecher, forward!’).

Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing the casting of souls into Hell, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 142r.

The procession culminates in the demons slinging the souls into the flames, to a little trumpet-fanfare provided by a demon perched on the Hell-mouth’s snout.

Contemporary critics of Doom’s violence, gore and satanic iconography (which still give us the shivers) ultimately missed the point that the storyline was inspired by Christian mythology.  After the eponymous character ‘Doomguy’ defeated the demons on Mars, he ventured into Hell itself to quash them on their home turf, and thereby re-enacted Christ’s Harrowing of Hell.

Detail showing Christ spearing and trampling a demon and rescuing souls in the Harrowing of Hell, from the Monte Cassino Exultet Roll, southern Italy (Monte Cassino), c. 1075-c. 1080,
Add MS 30337, membrane 7 (inverted)

Detail showing Christ rescuing souls in the Harrowing of Hell, with demons with trumpets and grapples and another rendering souls in a cauldron above a Hell-mouth, from the ‘Holkham Bible Picture Book’,
Add MS 47682, f. 34r

Alas, this was ultimately unsuccessful: upon Doomguy’s return to Earth, he finds that the hordes of Hell have overrun the planet (which rather neatly lay the ground for a sequel, Doom II: Hell on Earth).

Let us know if you have any favourite video games that deserve special treatment by the Medieval Manuscripts Blog!  Tweet us on @BLMedieval.

- James Freeman

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

20 February 2014

The Lovers Who Changed History

Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History is to be broadcast tonight on Channel 5 (Thursday, 20 February, 8pm). Presented by historian Suzannah Lipscomb, the first episode features Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours (British Library King's MS 9), in which she and King Henry VIII wrote flirtatious messages to each other.

Miniature of Christ as the Man of Sorrows kneeling before his tomb, with Henry VIII's message addressed to Anne Boleyn in the lower margin (London, British Library, MS King's 9, f. 231v).

The story of Henry and Anne's love affair is well-known; but less so is the precious evidence found in this Book of Hours, held by the British Library, which contains secret messages exchanged by the lovers. Henry portrayed himself as a lovesick king by placing his message beneath an image of the man of sorrows, writing in French ‘If you remember my love in your prayers as strongly as I adore you, I shall hardly be forgotten, for I am yours. Henry R  forever.’ Anne replied in English, writing beneath a miniature of the Annunciation: 'Be daly prove you shall me fynde, To be to you bothe lovynge and kynde.'

Miniature of the Annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel, with Anne Boleyn's note in the lower margin (London, British Library, MS King's 9, f. 66v).

We can only speculate how Henry and Anne came to exchange these private, scribbled messages. Perhaps Henry wrote his first, and passed the book to Anne Boleyn, who returned the favour. Hopefully we will find our more tonight: don't forget to watch the documentary!


Julian Harrison

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

18 February 2014

Hidden Away

One of the most exciting things about working in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section here in the British Library is the possibility of making – or witnessing – a new discovery about one of our manuscripts.  We’ve written before about a number of these discoveries, including those about pigments and underdrawings, a newly-found seal matrix, hidden inscriptions, a letter of Robert the Bruce, and even the magnificent Unicorn Cookbook

Recently we undertook some conservation work on two autograph volumes from the Evelyn papers (Add MS 78328 and Add MS 78329).  These volumes are commonplace books (essentially scrapbooks), maintained by Sir John Evelyn (1602–1706) between the 1650s and 1680s to keep track of ideas that he encountered during his travels and studies.  Evelyn was a noted author on a variety of subjects, including history, sculpture, navigation, and gardening, and was also a diarist largely contemporary with Pepys.  The British Library holds a number of items from Evelyn’s library, including the commonplace books.

Manuscript fragment used to line the spine along the lower binding, Add MS 78329

The bindings of these volumes, which had been in place since Evelyn’s day, were in need of some restoration.  During the course of the repairs, we uncovered a number of fragments of earlier manuscripts hidden away beneath the leather covers, fragments which had been used as lining, binding stiffeners, and sewing guides. 

Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with sewing holes and thread traces visible, Add MS 78328, fragment 16v

The use of such materials is not unusual in medieval manuscripts, and we have a number of other instances from our collections which can be viewed online (see, for example, the Rochester Bible). But this case is unusual in that these particular fragments have gone back into their bindings, and will no longer be visible to readers.  We have, however, taken photographs of all of them, and these photographs are available for consultation in our Manuscripts Reading Room – and, of course, a number of them are reproduced here.

Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with a signature visible (‘Jaquet?’), Add MS 78329, fragment 7v

As far as we can tell, these fragments consist of pages from a printed Latin text and a number of scraps from French charters; charmingly, some of them still contain signatures.  But we don’t know much more about them, and would like to solicit your ideas.  Please do let us know what you think; you can always leave a comment below, or reach us on Twitter @BLMedieval

Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with sewing holes visible, Add MS 78328, fragment 1r

Fragment of a printed book used as a pastedown on the lower binding, Add MS 78329

Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with sewing holes visible, Add MS 78328, fragment 8r

Manuscript fragment used to line the spine along the lower binding, Add MS 78328

Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, Add MS 78329, fragment 3v

- Sarah J Biggs

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

14 February 2014

An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love

Oh, Valentine’s Day: romance is in the air, passions are running high, the sense of anticipation and excitement is building…but – alas! – you are alone.  How do you catch that man/woman/animal of your dreams?

Despair not, oh singletons!  The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is coming to your rescue.  We have combed our books to compile a handy illustrated guide to love, complete with some do’s and don’ts for both genders on their quest for true love:

1. Ladies: do not befriend men with dismembered arms: they are without chivalry (and probably have ‘wandering hands’ as well).

Royal MS 19 C VIII f. 32v E124202a
Detail of a miniature of Imagination showing the Knight a man with dismembered arms, from the ‘Imaginacion de vraye noblesse’, England/Netherlands (Sheen/Bruges), 1496-1497,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 32v

2. Gentlemen: do seek out opportunities to defend your lady’s honour, preferably with a violent display of martial skill:

Detail of a miniature of Sir Lancelot fighting Sir Mados to defend the honour of Guinevere, from the ‘Morte Artu’, France (Tournai/Saint-Omer?), c. 1315-1325,
Royal MS 14 E III, f. 156v

Extra marks if you present the head of your vanquished opponent as proof of your love.

Detail of a miniature from the ‘Meliadus’, Italy (Naples?), 1352-1362,
Add. MS 12228, f. 101r

3.  Ladies: do ensure that you go to bed with the right man; beware of shape-shifting wizards in particular.

Detail of a miniature of Nectanebus appearing as a dragon and sleeping with Olympias, from the ‘Roman d’Alexandre’, France (Rouen), 1444-1445,
Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 6r

4. Gentlemen: do not go to bed with someone else’s wife!

Egerton MS 881, f. 141v K061043
Detail of a miniature of Mars and Venus being discovered in bed by Vulcan, from the ‘Roman de la Rose’, France (Paris?), c. 1380,
Egerton MS 881, f. 126r

5. Ladies: do not go to bed with someone else’s husband!

Royal MS 6 E VI f. 61r E108627
Detail of a miniature representing ‘Adulterium’ (adultery), from the ‘Omne Bonum’, England (London), c. 1360- c. 1375,
Royal MS 6 E VI, f. 61r

6. Gentlemen: do not leave the house without first checking your clothes; wardrobe malfunctions may result from ill-fitting codpieces…

Detail of a miniature of the Lover addressing three women outside the Castle of Love, from ‘Les Demands en Amours’, Netherlands/England? (Bruges/London?), c. 1483-c. 1500,
Royal MS 16 F II, f. 188r

7. Ladies: do not encourage the affections of lions; it is not seemly.

Detail of a miniature of Josiane with two lions, from the Taymouth Hours, England? (London?), c. 1325-c. 1350,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 8v

Detail of a miniature of Joanna of Paris embracing a lion, from the ‘Topographia Hiberniae’ of Gerald of Wales, England (Lincoln?), c. 1196-1223,
Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 19v

8. Gentlemen: do rescue women from attack by wild-men.

Detail of a miniature from the Smithfield Decretals, France (Toulouse?), c. 1300-c. 1340,
Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 101r

9. Ladies: do not reject your rescuer in favour of another; you will be eaten by bears.

Detail of a miniature from the Smithfield Decretals,
Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 102r

Detail of a miniature from the Smithfield Decretals,
Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 106v

10. Gentlemen: do not wear a suggestively shaped sword; it is unlikely to convince a lady of your honourable intentions.

Royal MS 6 E VIII f. 150r K028631
Detail of a miniature from the ‘Omne Bonum’,
Royal MS 6 E VII, f. 150r

Happy Valentine's Day!

 - James Freeman

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

12 February 2014

A Papyrus Puzzle and Some Purple Parchment

Among the many treasures in the Cotton collection of manuscripts, the contents of Cotton MS Titus C XV (new to Digitised Manuscripts) are particularly intriguing.  Consisting now of five folios, drawn from three different manuscripts, Cotton MS Titus C XV is good evidence of Sir Robert Cotton’s habits of collection and dismemberment.  Folios 2-5 are four leaves of the so-called Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus, a copy of the Four Gospels in Greek written on purple parchment in the sixth century (possibly at Antioch).  This manuscript, dismembered in the high Byzantine era, is now scattered across the world (the bulk of the leaves being in the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg, hence the manuscript’s name).

Fragment of the Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus,  6th century, Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 4v

Perhaps even more intriguing is the first folio.  Mounted on a blank sheet of parchment is a border cut from the Breviary of Margaret of York, a 15th-century manuscript written in Ghent.  And inside the border is a small scrap of papyrus (125 x 60 mm), dating from the late 6th or early 7th century:

Detail of a papyrus fragment surrounded by a border from the Breviary of Margaret of York, Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 1r

This may well be the first papyrus to enter the British Museum, given that the Cotton library formed one of the foundation collections of the Museum when it was established in 1753. Somewhat surprisingly, though, it was not until 2000 that this fragment was edited and published, by Robert Babcock, in an article in Scriptorium (54.2, pp. 280-88).  He identified it as a fragment from a papyrus codex of Pope Gregory the Great’s Forty Homiles on the Gospels.  Given the date suggested by the hand, it is very likely that this codex was copied in Gregory’s own lifetime.  The hand also suggests that the codex was written in France or Italy, raising the tantalising possibility that Gregory himself may have been responsible for its commissioning.

Detail of the papyrus fragment, Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 1r

How did the papyrus end up in Cotton’s collection?  There are no records that might help us, here, unfortunately, but Babcock argues that it is most likely that the papyrus was already in England when Cotton acquired it – and if so, it may well have been in England for centuries.  At this point we are into the realm of educated guesswork and speculation.  But it is not impossible that the codex could have come over with early missionaries sent to England by Gregory.  It could even be the case that it was an early copy of the Homilies (completed in 592-3) brought over by Augustine of Canterbury when he arrived in Kent in 597.  But if nothing else, we have here the earliest attestation for Gregory’s Homilies on the Gospels, and a fascinating story about a very unusual papyrus.

-  Cillian O’Hogan

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