THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

31 December 2014

The Top Ten Blog Posts of 2014

Before 2014 is out, we’d like to say a big thank-you to all our readers for your support of the BL Medieval blog and your interest in the work that we do.

Back in April, we were honoured to receive a National UK Blog Award (Arts & Culture category), beating off stiff competition from the Tate, Horror Cult Films and other organisations. The award was made after an online ballot in which 16,000 votes were cast – so we literally couldn’t have done it without you!

In the course of the year, we’ve also passed another major milestone: the blog has now received over 1.5 million hits! Can we break the 2 million barrier in 2015? 

Add_ms_49622_f193v
Detail of a knight fighting a snail, from the Gorleston Psalter, England (Suffolk), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 193v
 

So which posts have helped us to achieve this fantastic result? Two in particular, written in previous years, remain at the top of the tree: our ‘discovery’ of the Unicorn Cookbook, and our study of the those bitter enemies who slug it out (no pun intended) in the margins, Knight vs Snail. For 2014, however, here is the top ten, in reverse order: 

10. The Burden of Writing: Scribes in Medieval Manuscripts 

Arundel_ms_66_f033v
Detail of a miniature of the constellation ‘Draco’, from an astrological compilation with political prophecies, England (London?), 1490,
Arundel MS 66, f. 33v 

Here are some depictions of scribes hard at work from the pages of British Library manuscripts: pen in hand, eyes fixed in concentration over the page, labouring over desks and lecterns. 

9. A Calendar Page for April 2015 

Add_ms_38126_f004v
Calendar page for April, with a roundel miniature of an aristocratic couple courting, followed by a small child, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480,
Add MS 38126, f. 4v 

Manuscript miniatures offer wonderful insights into the medieval world...but there’s just something a bit odd about these ones. 

8. A Medieval Comic Strip 

Egerton_ms_1894_f005v
Detail of a miniature of the building of the Tower of Babel, from the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, England (Norwich or Durham?), 3rd quarter of the 14th century,
Egerton MS 1894, f. 5v 

Inspired by the British Library’s exhibition Comics Unmasked, this post takes a closer look at the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, which contains 149 illustrations of the Book of Genesis, from Creation to the story of Joseph, with captions from the Historia scholastica. 

7. How to be a Hedgehog 

Royal_ms_12_f_xiii_f045r
Hedgehogs rolling on the ground to collect grapes for their young, as illustrated in the Rochester Bestiary (England, c. 1230): London, British Library,
Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 45r 

We love it when people are inspired by British Library manuscripts to make things: here’s an animation about a hedgehog’s life, according to one of our bestiaries (Royal MS 12 F XIII). 

6. Sex and Death in the Roman de la Rose 

Harley_ms_4425_f131v
Detail of a miniature of the Lover being beaten by Honte (‘Shame’), Peur (‘Fear’) and Dangier (‘Danger’), from the Roman de la Rose, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1490-c. 1500,
Harley MS 4425, f. 131v 

Beatings, murder, mutilation, suicide – oh, and handholding, dancing, music and polite courtship – in the miniatures of a beautiful 15th-century copy of Guillaume de Lorris’s staple of medieval romance literature, the Roman de la Rose. 

5. Weird and Wonderful Creatures of the Bestiary 

Harley MS 4751, f. 11r
Detail of a miniature of hunters pursuing a bonnacon with a very long lance and strategic shield, from a bestiary, with extracts from Giraldus Cambrensis on Irish birds, England (Salisbury), 2nd quarter of the 13th century,
Harley MS 4751, f. 11r 

We’ve found our animal posts are always popular, but we think you’d struggle to find the bonnacon cute – and don’t make eye contact with the basilisk! 

4. Anatomy of a Dragon 

Royal_ms_12_c_xix_f062r
Detail of a miniature of a dragon attacking and suffocating an elephant, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210,
Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 62r 

We all know about St George – but what about his reptilian foe? Here’s a look at dragons across a range of medieval manuscripts, from bestiaries (apparently they prey on elephants) to astrological texts and apocalypses. 

3. The Three Living and the Three Dead 

Harley MS 2917, f. 119r
Detail of a miniature of the Three Living (a pope, an emperor, and a king) and the Three Dead (wearing matching crowns), at the beginning of thee Office of the Dead, from a Book of Hours, France (Paris), c. 1480-c. 1490,
Harley MS 2917, f. 119r 

Need a sober reminder of man’s mortality and the inevitability of his demise? Look no further! 

2. An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love 

Egerton MS 881, f. 141v
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. 141v 

There still time to prepare for Valentine’s Day next year, singletons, so don’t despair: read our handy guide to the do’s and don’ts of courtship. 

1. Bugs in Books 

Royal MS 20 A IV, f. 3v
Detail of a grasshopper, from a copy of Martin de Brion's Description of the Holy Land, France (?Paris), c. 1540, Royal MS 20 A IV
, f. 3v 

Not actual bugs – goodness, no! – but the butterflies, caterpillars, beetles, spiders and other creepy crawlies that are found to populate the decorative borders of British Library manuscripts. 

- James Freeman

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