Medieval manuscripts blog

11 posts from May 2014

31 May 2014

Scraped Away Songs

As you may have already seen if you follow @BLMedieval on Twitter, we have just uploaded images of one of the British Library's smallest but most important medieval music manuscripts onto Digitised Manuscripts.

Ave gloriosa virginum regina, from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 3r

Egerton MS 274 is a fascinating and unusual collection of secular songs and liturgical music in French and Latin, written in northern France in the thirteenth century. The pages measure 15 x 10 cm, making this a perfect pocket-book for an individual singer. Some of the pieces are set for two different voices, though, which would have needed careful handling. You can read more about the contents at Trouvère Songs Online.

A two-part conductus 'Mundus a mundicia', from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 41r

The manuscript is one of the major sources of French chansons of the Trouvères, but frustratingly most of the first stanzas of the songs – as well as quite a number of the melodies – have been scraped away by a fourteenth-century scribe and replaced by Latin plainchant.

The words and music of a French song scraped away and replaced by a Latin responsory chant, from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 102r

The book started life probably in the 1260s as a seamless collection of songs of divine praise and songs of courtly love, presumably intended for a noble patron who was as much involved at church as at court. A later owner in the fourteenth century evidently had less time for courtly love, and changed the function of the book, making a much more ecclesiastical compilation in the process.

Detail of a miniature of a monkey at work, from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 37r

The manuscript contains a number of interesting miniatures throughout, including our favourite above, of a monkey at work - perhaps literally 'aping' the carpenter next to him.

We'll be adding some more medieval music manuscripts to the website over the next few months: keep an eye on this blog and our colleagues’ excellent Music Blog for more information.

-  Nicolas Bell

29 May 2014

A World of Words

The Catholicon Anglicum, a fifteenth-century English-Latin dictionary acquired by the British Library earlier this year, is now fully online on Digitised Manuscripts.

Opening page, beginning with the exclamation ‘Aaa’, from the Catholicon Anglicum, England (Yorkshire), 1483, Add MS 89074, f. 2r

The British Library possesses a world-class collection of materials for the study of late medieval language and lexicography.  The newly acquired CatholiconAdd MS 89074 – is the only known complete copy of the text, and was made in 1483.  An earlier, but fragmentary, example is also held at the British Library (Add MS 15562).  They are accompanied by a range of other late medieval bilingual dictionaries in the British Library’s collections.  Add MS 22556 contains an earlier English-Latin dictionary, the Promptorium parvulorum or ‘Storehouse for children’ attributed to Geoffrey the Grammarian, Dominican friar of King’s Lynn (fl. 1440).  A Latin-English dictionary, the Medulla grammatice or ‘Core of Grammar’ is found in two manuscripts (Add MS 33534, Add MS 62080) and in a third bound together with another copy of the Promptorium (Add MS 37789).

Beginning of Chapter 7 for the letter ‘G’, Add MS 89074, f. 65r

These dictionaries emerged at a time when the foundation of new grammar schools across England generated a demand for reference and pedagogical tools that aided students and teachers alike in Latin translation and composition.  The presentation and layout of the pages of the Catholicon Anglicum was designed to aid ready reference to its content.  The organisation of the words is largely alphabetical: each ‘chapter’ opens with a large, numbered heading that gives the opening letter for all the words that follow, and is further subdivided by marginal subheadings that give the second letter.  Flicking through the book, the reader could therefore quickly find the relevant section of the text and thus the relevant word he sought.

Detail of Middle English headwords and their Latin equivalents, including ‘to make Thyk’, ‘to be Thyk’, ‘to Thynke’ and ‘a Thynker’, Add MS 89074, 174r.

Each of the Middle English headwords is rubricated (written in red ink), capitalised with a ‘littera notabilior’, and aligned against the left-hand edge of the writing space.  The Latin translations follow in brown ink.  At a glance, the reader can differentiate between the beginning of a new entry and the continuation of one from a previous line, and distinguish between the Middle English and Latin words written by the scribe.  The compiler of the dictionary used the margins to insert words that signalled the parts of speech to which the headwords belonged: nouns are prefaced by the indefinite or definite article, and verbs by ‘to’ (thus giving the infinitive form). 

Detail of Middle English headwords and their Latin equivalents, including ‘a Rest’, ‘un- Rest’, ‘Restfull’, ‘Restfully’ and ‘un- Restfully’, and ‘a Restoratyve’, Add MS 89074, f. 141r

The compiler also exploited the margins in order to group families of words together that strict alphabetical order would otherwise have kept apart.  For example, adjectives are frequently accompanied by their antonym, with ‘un-’ written in the margin so as not to interrupt the alignment of the headwords. 

Detail of Middle English headwords and their Latin equivalents, including ‘to Iangyll’
and ‘Iangiller’, with cross-references to ‘to chater’ and ‘chaterynge’, Add MS 89074, f. 86r

Cross-references to other Middle English words that might yield further relevant Latin words were provided at the end of entries, the headword rubricated by red underlining and prefaced by ‘ubi’.

Detail of Middle English headwords and their Latin equivalents, including an example sentence for the use of ‘to Hele’, Add MS 89074, f. 80r

A remarkable feature of the Catholicon is the sheer number and variety of Latin words the compiler provided for each Middle English one.  Since these were not necessarily synonymous with one another, the compiler provided guides to grammatical construction as well as example sentences that showed how particular words were used.

Detail of Middle English headwords and their Latin equivalents, including the entry for ‘un- Kynde’ and a guide to the pronunciation of ‘degener cor[repto] ge’, Add MS 89074, f. 91r

Yet the Catholicon was not meant as just a silent tool, for use solely in written Latin composition.  It also belonged in an oral context, in which Latin was recited, read aloud, even performed.  Throughout the Catholicon, Latin words are accompanied by ‘correpto’ and ‘producto’, signifying when vowel sounds should be shortened or lengthened. 

Detail of Middle English headwords and their Latin equivalents, including verses on the uses of Latin words for ‘to Lufe’, Add MS 89074, f. 101v.

Mnemonic verses, which gave the reader a memorable guide to the usage of the Latin words, were probably intended to be rehearsed and memorised out loud, just like in classrooms today.

Detail of Middle English headwords and their Latin equivalents, including various exclamations involving the word ‘Alas’, Add MS 89074, f. 4r

The Catholicon must also have found use in the composition of Latin dialogue.  It opens not with a straightforward noun, verb or adjective, but an exclamation: ‘Aaa!’.  ‘Alas!’ and its Middle English variants are each enunciated: ‘heu’, ‘prodolor’, ‘prodolor pronephas’ (for ‘Alas for sorow’) and ‘propudor’ (for ‘Alas for shame’). 

The Catholicon is important as a source of Middle English words, some of them quite unusual and specific to Yorkshire dialect, and as an early ancestor in the English lexicographical tradition.  Its contemporary cultural significance is also considerable: the development of a sophisticated tool for the learning of the Latin language is an indicator of important changes in educational organisation, of its secularisation and spread outside traditional environments such as cathedral schools and monastic almonries.  The Catholicon – designed for oral as well as written purposes – sheds fresh light on the form that that teaching might have taken.  Its availability now to scholars in its original and unmediated form promises an exciting new chapter in Middle English and Latin studies.

- James Freeman

27 May 2014

Just Like Heaven: Dante's Paradiso

When we last left Dante, he had met with his muse and lady-love Beatrice in Purgatory, and we were beginning to escort him into the third and last realm of the Divine Comedy – that of Heaven, or the Paradiso (see here for our previous posts about the Inferno and the Purgatorio).  

F. 144v K005808
Dominicans in Heaven, Egerton MS 943, f. 144v

It is worth noting how the style of the artwork changes throughout this manuscript to reflect the different stages of the poem.  Dante’s visual imagery is rich and occasionally quite strange, yet the artist of this manuscript took on the grand task of representing the un-representable (and we rather think he succeeded).

F. 152r K005717
The heavenly light, Egerton MS 943, f. 152r

The souls in the Heaven of Jupiter form the shape of an eagle.  Each stage of heaven corresponds to a virtue, and a planet.  Jupiter is where the just rulers abide.

F. 160r K005710
The eagle’s head, Egerton MS 943, f. 160r

F. 168r K005690
Souls in the 8th circle of Heaven, Egerton MS 943, f. 168r

See how Dante begins to pass into the concentric circles of Heaven as he approaches closer and closer to a final meeting with God Himself.

F. 172r K005694
Dante and Beatrice in Heaven, Egerton MS 943, f. 172r

A white rose, made up of the souls of the saintly, is at the very heart of heaven, and of the entire cosmos.  It’s a very beautiful image (see below), and our artist matches the poem’s glorious language.

F. 181r K004799
The Rose of Heaven, Egerton MS 943, f. 181r

Beatrice takes her place in this scene amongst the saints, and then St Bernard of Clairvaux takes over in the final explanation to Dante, whilst pointing to the Virgin Mary at the heart of the rose (see below).  It was very bold of Dante to place his love in such august company, but throughout the poem Beatrice is depicted as both human and as something so much more than that.  Dante makes love, even romantic love, the road to contemplation of God, and the force that binds all of heaven together, as we can see in the final moments of the poem, in the description of the vision of God.

F. 182r K005695
St Bernard shows Dante the Virgin Mary, Egerton MS 943, f. 182r

In the poem, Dante apologises that it was impossible for him to completely describe his vision of God, but that didn’t stop the artist of our manuscript from giving it a go.  God is shown here as three circles without circumference, representing the Trinity, and at the heart of it Dante sees a vision of both God and man in one.

F. 186r K004800
Dante before God, Egerton MS 943, f. 186r

To quote from Dante just once, there is something from the following description we can just about see in the image above:  ‘Alone, you know yourself.  Known to yourself / you, knowing, love and smile on your own being’ (Paradiso, Canto 33, verses 125-126).  We can perhaps see from the image above what the artist took from that – a smile!  For Dante, God’s innermost essence was reflected in the very smile, given in passing, that led him to devote his life to the adoration of a young woman he barely knew.  We would definitely recommend having a try at reading the Divine Comedy, and perhaps having Egerton MS 943 open as you do.  It’s not always an easy read, but you’ll find plenty of smiles within.

 - Arthur Westwell

22 May 2014

A Sense of Detachment

Those of you who have spent a great deal of time on our Digitised Manuscripts site may have encountered the occasional instance of a detached binding amongst the wonderful array of medieval manuscripts on offer.  Many of the bindings are spectacular works of art in themselves, featuring amazing examples of medieval embroidery, leatherwork, or ivories.  Besides being beautiful to look at, these bindings are also vitally important to scholars investigating the history of the manuscripts they were once attached to.

Detached binding containing an ivory plaque of St Paul, from the Siegburg Lectionary, 11th century, Harley MS 2889/1

Bindings can be detached for any number of reasons.  It was a policy among many collectors and institutions in the 18th and 19th centuries (the British Museum included) to automatically rebind every newly-arrived manuscript, and unfortunately many of the original bindings from this period are now lost to us.  Of course, this is no longer our procedure, and the British Library makes every effort to maintain the integrity of the manuscripts that come to us.  Bindings are only replaced these days when it is necessary for preservation or conservation purposes. 

Detached silk curtain, formerly covering a miniature, from the Bedford Psalter and Hours, 15th century, Add MS 42131/1

Because these detached bindings are usually kept in our manuscripts store under the same shelfmark as their erstwhile interiors, there was initially no good way to display them on Digitised Manuscripts, save a wonky workaround in which the images were numbered as end flyleaves.  This at least allowed the images to be displayed, but we were aware of the potential for confusion for those interested in examining the bindings themselves, so we’ve been working to develop a better solution.  And at long last, here it is: we have created new shelfmarks for a number of the detached bindings, and have republished many of the images online accordingly.  We still have a few more to go, and we should issue one caveat – this new system does not incorporate all of the detached bindings in the Library’s collections, only those for select and restricted manuscripts on Digitised Manuscripts.  As always, if you have any questions or would like to examine any of these bindings, please get in touch with the Manuscripts Reading Room at [email protected].

Our newly republished manuscripts and detached bindings are below; we hope you enjoy browsing through them!

Add MS 37768:  the Lothar Psalter, Germany (Aachen) or France (Tours), 9th century

Add MS 37768/1:  detached ivory carving from the cover of the Lothar Psalter, 9th century 

Add MS 42130:  the Luttrell Psalter, England (Lincolnshire), 1325-1340

Add MS 42130/1:  box and volume containing the detached former binding and flyleaves of the Luttrell Psalter, England (Cambridge), c. 1625-1640

Add MS 42131:  the Bedford Psalter and Hours, England (London), 1414-1422

Add MS 42131/1:  detached former bindings, paste-downs, spines, and silk curtains from the Bedford Psalter and Hours, England, 15th – 17th centuries

Egerton MS 1139:  the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143

Egerton MS 1139/1:  detached binding with ivory panels & backings, wooden panels and metal plates from the Melisende Psalter, 12th century (with later additions)

Egerton MS 3277:  the Bohun Psalter and Hours, England (London?), second half of the 14th century

Egerton MS 3277/1:  detached binding from the Bohun Psalter and Hours, 18th century

Harley MS 603:  the Harley Psalter, England (Canterbury), first half of the 11th century

Harley MS 603/1:  detached binding and flyleaves from the Harley Psalter, 19th century

Harley MS 2820:  the Cologne Gospels, Germany (Cologne), fourth quarter of the 11th century

Harley MS 2820/1:  detached binding from the Cologne Gospels with an ivory panel of the Crucifixion, late 11th century (set in a post-1600 binding)

Harley MS 2889:  the Siegburg Lectionary, Germany (Siegburg), 11th century

Harley MS 2889/1:  detached binding from the Siegburg Lectionary, with two 11th century ivory plaques (set in a 19th century binding)

Royal MS 12 C VII:   Pandolfo Collenuccio’s Apologues and Lucian of Samosata, Dialogues, Italy (Rome and Florence), 1509 – c. 1517

Royal MS 12 C VII/1:   detached chemise binding embroidered with the badge and motto of Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612)

Update (3 June 2014):

We've just added three more detached bindings to Digitised Manuscripts.  And here they are!

Add MS 18850:  the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410 - 1430

Add MS 18850/1:  detached former binding for the Bedford Hours, consisting of a wooden box, 2 red velvet covers with metal clasps and 4 folios, England, 17th century

Add MS 42555:  the Abingdon Apocalypse, England, 3rd quarter of the 13th century

Add MS 42555/1:  detached former binding components from the Abingdon Apocalypse, 18th century

Add MS 61823:  the Book of Margery Kempe, England (East Anglia?), c. 1440

Add MS 61823/1:  remains of the original white tawed leather chemise binding from the Book of Margery Kempe, England, c. 1440

- Sarah J Biggs

16 May 2014

Anyone for Hawking?

We are delighted to tell you that the magnificent Kerdeston Hawking Book is now available on our Digitised Manuscripts site (Add MS 82949). This manuscript, together with the related Kerdeston Hunting Book (a fragment of 5 leaves, now Additional MS 82948), was in the collection of HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, until his death in 1974, being acquired by the British Library in 2007.

Add ms 82949 f031v
Ypocras sitting on a stool writing with a dog at his feet. Three hunters, each with a beating stick and three hawks on his arm stand in front of Ypocras. Two buildings are at the top of the miniature, with Kerdeston's arms in the upper centre, from the Kerdeston Hawking Book, England (Norfolk): London, British Library, MS Additional 82949, f. 31v

The library of a 15th-century country gentleman would not have been complete without books on everyday matters such as estate management, heraldry and hunting, sometimes compiled as one volume. The Middle-English ‘Kerdeston Hawking Book’ is from the library of Sir Thomas Kerdeston of Claxton, Norfolk (d. 1446), whose first wife, Elizabeth, was daughter of Sir Edward Burnell, one of the English soldiers killed at Agincourt in 1415. It is a tall, thin book, probably designed to be carried around, and the pages are worn, indicating that it was well-used  by its owner.

The first leaf of the book has two full-page images, one on either side, unfortunately rather damaged by cuts and rubbing. The first shows a man in very fine hunting dress, thought to be of the Master of the Hunt, with his pouch at his waist and hawk on his wrist, riding towards a stream with fish and fowl in it.

The Master of the Hunt, shown on horseback, and, below, a hermit with beggars, from the Kerdeston Hawking Book: London, British Library, MS Additional 82949, f. 1r

On the verso of the first folio is an image showing a king in full regalia, holding three hawks on a leash in his right hand. In the lower third of the page are three hawksmen with poles, lures and pouches. The seated scholar in the middle has an open book and a scroll that reads ‘ypocras’. This refers to the first treatise in the book, a dialogue between Ypocras (Hippocrates) and Cosma, a Roman senator, on falconry.

A royal figure, scholar and three hawksmen from the Kerdeston Hawking Book: London, British Library, MS Additional 82949, f. 1v

The book contains advice on how to care for falcons and hawks, with remedies and recipes for salves to keep their plumage in good condition, as well as instructions on their training and management.  The margins are decorated with images of birds, animals and the Kerdeston coat of arms.

Marginal image of a dog with a duck in its mouth, from the Kerdeston Hawking Book: London, British Library, MS Additional 82949, f. 45r

Marginal image of two hawks swooping on a heron, from the Kerdeston Hawking Book: London, British Library, MS Additional 82949, f. 48r

No English book on hunting would be complete without foxes and hounds, and here they are:

Marginal image of two hounds chasing a fox, from the Kerdeston Hawking Book: London, British Library, MS Additional 82949, f. 32r

Chantry Westwell

You can read more about the Kerdeston Hawking Book here:

Bror Danielsson, 'Library of Hunting and Hawking Literature (early 15th c. fragments)', in Et Multum et Multa: Beiträge zur Literatur, Geschichte und Kultur der Jagd. Festgabe für Kurt Linder zum 27.November 1971, ed. by S. Schwenk, G. Tilander &C. A. Willemson (New York, 1971), pp. 47-60 [refers to the Kerdeston Hunting Book, a related manuscript: Add MS 82948].

Kathleen L. Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts 1390-1490, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, 6, 2 vols (London, 1996), no. 91.



13 May 2014

Comic Mania

We received some lovely feedback about our recent post, Superheroes, True Romance, Blood and Gore ... so here are three more medieval comic strips. Some people suggested, incidentally, that the famous Bayeux Tapestry qualifies as one of the earliest "comic strips", but here are some British Library examples from the 12th century.

Silos Apocalypse - Daniel the Superhero

A vision of the life of Daniel is illustrated in graphic detail in this Spanish version of Revelations made in the monastery of Silos in Northern Spain. King Darius orders Daniel to be thrown into the lions' den. Daniel appears in the den, on the right, where he is given food and the lions lick his feet. In the lower half of the image, Darius lies awake, worrying about the punishment he has inflicted on Daniel.


Scenes from the Life of Daniel, Spain, 4th quarter of the 10th century: London, British Library, Ms Additional 11695, ff. 238v-239r

The Guthlac Roll -  the life of a ‘cult’ hero

Saints’ lives were usually action-packed and gory, lending themselves easily to the comic-strip format. The Guthlac roll tells the story of the life of St Guthlac using a series of images in roundels with labels (see our recent blogpost On A Roll).

St Guthlac receiving the tonsure at Repton Abbey, with the inscription 'Guthl[acus] tonsura[m] suscipit apud rependune', and inscriptions 'Epi[s]c[opus]', 'Guthlac[us]', and 'Ebba abbatissa' labelling the figures, England (possibly Crowland), c. 1175-1225: London, British Library, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 3 


Drawing of Guthlac exorcising a demon from Ecgga: London, British Library, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 10


Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert - miraculous events 

St Cuthbert’s life is told in 46 pictures in this beautiful picture book from the 12th century:


Miniature of Cuthbert accepting the bishopric at a synod of fellow monks; miniature of a man ministering to his ailing servant with holy water blessed by Cuthbert, from Chapter 24 & 25 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, Durham, 4th quarter of the 12th century: London, British Library, MS Yates Thompson 26, ff. 53v-54r

Here is an action-packed image of a man falling from a tree (degree of difficulty 1.7):

Cuthbert's vision of the soul of a man, who was killed by falling from a tree, being carried to heaven, from Chapter 34 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert: London, British Library, MS Yates Thompson 26, f. 63v

Don't forget that our exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is on at the British Library until 19 August 2014.

Chantry Westwell

10 May 2014

Our Favourite Map

What's your favourite map? This is our's (at least, today it is, next week we'll doubtless have a different one).

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f012v Studio c02661-02

Look closely, and you can just about discern the shape. Can you guess what it is yet? It's a medieval view of Britain, one of four surviving maps by Matthew Paris, historian and cartographer at St Albans Abbey. Scotland is shown at the top, joined to the rest of the British mainland by a bridge at Stirling ('Estriuelin pons'). Moving southwards are depicted two walls, one dividing the Scots from the Picts (the Antonine Wall) and the other the Scots from the English (Hadrian's Wall). Along the spine of the map is a series of English towns, including Newcastle ('Nouum castrum'), Durham ('Dunelmum'), Pontefract ('Pons fractus') and Newark ('Neuwerc'), culminating with London, Rochester, Canterbury and Dover ('Douera'), a castle located in the centre of the South coast of England. Wales ('WALLIA') is sited in just about the right place, with a sequence of jagged lines representing Mount Snowdon ('Snaudun'); diagonally opposite is Norfolk and Suffolk, and the towns of Norwich (a metropolis, no less), Lynn and Yarmouth.

This particular map is now bound separately (London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius D VI, f. 12v), but it once belonged to a manuscript of the Abbreviatio Chronicorum of Matthew Paris, dating from the 1250s. There are less complete maps of Britain by Matthew Paris in two other St Albans' manuscripts held at the British Library, Royal MS 14 C VII and Cotton MS Julius D VII, and in another at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MS 16). You can read more about these maps in Suzanne Lewis, The Art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica Majora (Aldershot, 1987), pp. 364-72; but meanwhile here are some more details of the version in Cotton Claudius D VI. It's worth bearing in mind that Matthew Paris did not have satnav, GPS or an A-Z, and that he had never visited the vast majority of the places recorded on his maps.

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f012v Studio c02661-02

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f012v Studio c02661-02

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f012v Studio c02661-02


Julian Harrison

08 May 2014

Superheroes, True Romance, Blood and Gore

The British Library’s amazing new exhibition, Comics Unmasked, was opened last week by TV presenter and comics fan Jonathan Ross. Talking about the oldest item on show, an early printed version of the Bible with graphic images, Jonathan commented that the Bible can be a great source of material for comic books. We in Medieval Manuscripts know this only too well!

Of course, it all began with manuscripts. Here are some early examples.

The Old English Hexateuch – How many modern comic books have dancing camels?

This 11th-century Old English version of six books of the Old Testament is filled with graphic depictions of the well-known stories, like the series below showing Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden:

Adam and Eve, England, S. E. (Canterbury), 2nd quarter of the 11th century: London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B IV, f. 7v

We had to include this picture of the dancing camels!

Abraham’s Camels in the Book of Genesis: London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B IV, f. 39r

Holkham Bible Picture Book -  Joseph hears shocking news, ‘SHOCK’, ‘HORROR’!!

Sometimes described as England’s first graphic novel, this book tells stories from the Old and New Testament in a series of pictures with captions in Anglo-Norman French. There is some interesting material that didn’t make it into the authorised version of the Bible. The page below tells about Joseph’s reaction when he hears Mary is having a baby: the banners contain the dialogue, like speech bubbles in modern cartoons. In the second image, Joseph, whose friends have been telling him some home truths about his wife, is touching Mary’s stomach and asking her some awkward questions. Mary protests, ‘No, really don’t worry, I have never committed a bodily sin’. Of course he doesn’t believe her, but fortunately an angel drops in to reveal the divine plan and he has to eat humble pie.

Joseph finds out about Mary’s pregnancy, England, S.E. (?London), 1327-1335: London, British Library, MS Add 47682, f. 12r

Episodes from the life of Christ are also given the comic-book treatment:

The healing of the paralysed man; Christ rests by a well; the woman of Samaria; the disciples eat but Jesus will not: London, British Library, MS Add 47682, f. 24v

Egerton Genesis Picture Book – the Prequel, or where it all began

Egerton MS 1894, better known as the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, tells the creation story in a series of images:

The first days of Creation, England (?Norfolk), 3rd quarter of the 14th century: London, British Library, MS Egerton 1894, f. 1r

God creates the birds, animals and man, and rests on the final day: London, British Library, MS Egerton 1894, f. 1v

You can read more about this manuscript in our blogpost A Medieval Comic Strip.

Queen Mary Psalter –   Moses, the greatest epic hero

The life of Moses is one of the great stories of all time, providing material for comics and movies such as the Charlton Heston epic and Spielberg’s ‘Prince of Egypt’. The Queen Mary Psalter contains a remarkable series of Old Testament stories told in a series of 223 pictures with captions in French. Included in the series is the Moses story. Here are some of the episodes:

Miniature in two parts of the king of Egypt demanding that all Jewish infants be killed (above); of the birth of Moses, and Moses placed in a basket and left on the banks of the Nile (below), England (London?), c. 1310-1320: London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 22v

Miniature of Moses freeing the Israelites from the king of Egypt, (above); miniature of Moses and the king of Egypt's troops facing each other across the Red Sea, (below): London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 24v

Miniature of God giving the laws to Moses for a second time (above); and of Moses showing the laws to the Israelites (below): London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 26r

We'll feature more medieval "comics" on this blog in the next few weeks. We're having great fun putting this list together, and would welcome more suggestions via @BLMedieval. Meanwhile, you can see our Comics exhibition in London until 19 August 2014, book your tickets online here.

Chantry Westwell