Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

11 posts from October 2015

31 October 2015

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Happy Halloween! Just for you we’ve compiled a spook-fest from the British Library’s medieval manuscript collections. You might want to keep the lights on tonight… 

Don't be fooled by first impressions.

  Arundel 83_f.127

Detail of a miniature of the Three Dead from the the 'De Lisle Psalter',  England (London?), c. 1308-c. 1340, Arundel MS 83, f. 127r

YT 13_f. 180r

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of the Three Dead, from the 'Taymouth Hours', England (London?), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 180r

Stowe ms 39_f.32r

Detail of a miniature of a pope, a king, and a knight, being threatened by a skeleton with a spear illustrating the Dialogue with Death, from a collection of Middle English devotional texts, England, 1st half of the 15th century, Stowe MS 39, f. 32r

 Harley 2953_f. 19v

Detail of miniature of the Three Living and the Three Dead, from a psalter, Germany, last quarter of the 15th or 1st quarter of the 16th century, Harley MS 2953, f. 19v

 Harley 4979_f. 46

Detail of miniature of the hanging of the murderers of Darius, with their detached heads below the gallows, from the Roman d'Alexandre en prose, S. Netherlands, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Harley MS 4979, f. 46r


 Detail of a miniature of Perseus holding the head of Medusa from a collection of works on mathematics,  W. Germany (possibly Cologne), 10th century-Mid 11th century, Harley MS 3595, f. 49r


Detail of a bas-de-page scene of two men ('tyrauns' [=tyrants]) removing the bones of John the Baptist from his sarcophagus, from Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 109r

Harley ms 3240_f. 44v

Detail of a coloured drawing of the torments of the damned in Hell, from the Speculum humanae salvationis, Germany or Switzerland, last quarter of the 14th century, Harley MS 3240, f. 44v

 YT 13 f. 151v

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of the devil trying to drown a monk who was walking on a bridge, from Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 151v

Royal ms 19 c I_f. 33r

Detail of a miniature of the fall of the rebel angels, from the Breviari d'Amor by Matfre Ermengaud,  France, S. (Toulouse?), Royal MS 19 C I, f. 33r

What would a Halloween-themed medieval manuscripts blog be without some gruesomeness from Dante’s Inferno? 

Detail of a miniature of Graf Ugolino della Gherardesca gnawing on the scalp of his political rival, Archbishop Ruggiero, from Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia, N. Italy (Emilia or Padua), 1st half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 943, f. 58v

Discover more of this frightful manuscript here.

And perhaps most terrifying of all... the mutant bunny murderer.


Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a rabbit beheading a man, from the 'Smithfield Decretals', Southern France (Toulouse?) and England (London), c. 1300-c. 1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 61v

 We’d love to know your favourite Halloween-themed scenes – tweet your favourites to @BLmedieval

And if you’ve still not decided what to wear, you might want to read this post on medieval-style Halloween costumes!

Thirsty for more? Check out the gory Tarantino-esque depictions of martyrdom in Egerton MS 2019.

- Hannah Morcos

29 October 2015

Codex Sinaiticus: Both British Library Volumes On Display in London

The two volumes of Codex Sinaiticus held in the British Library's collections are together one of its greatest treasures. Produced around the middle of the 4th century, Codex Sinaiticus is the earliest manuscript of the complete New Testament and the best witness for some books of the Old Testament. The text of both volumes was heavily annotated by a series of early correctors, and the significance of Codex Sinaiticus for the reconstruction of the text of the Bible, the history of the Bible and the history of western book-making is immense.


The New Testament volume of Codex Sinaiticus open at John, chapter 5

From today, there is a very rare opportunity to see both volumes of Codex Sinaiticus on display in London. One volume of the manuscript is usually exhibited at the British Library and this week the Old Testament volume has been put on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, alongside other major highlights of the collection, including Codex Alexandrinus, the 5th-century manuscript of the Bible in Greek. This gallery is open for 7 days a week in the British Library building at St Pancras.


Codex Sinaiticus, Isaiah 66:12 to Jeremiah 1:7, on display at the British Library from this week (British Library Add MS 43725, f. 68r)

For the next few months, you can also see the New Testament volume of Codex Sinaiticus in London. The Library has loaned the manuscript for the first time to the British Museum for its new exhibition, Egypt: faith after the pharaohs, which runs from 29 October 2015 until 7 February 2016. As well as Codex Sinaiticus, the Library has loaned eleven other manuscripts to the exhibition, including the papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Thomas, a leaf from the Cotton Genesis and the First Gaster Bible. These loans are part of a major collaboration between the British Library and the British Museum which brings together in the exhibition some of the Library’s most important treasures, key items from the Museum’s own collection and a wide range of loans from other institutions, including a copy of the Qur’an on loan from the Bodleian Library.


Codex Sinaiticus, Luke 3:21-4:18, on display at the British Museum from 29 October 2015 to 7 February 2016 (British Library Add MS 43725, f. 230v)

Codex Sinaiticus originally contained the whole of the Bible in Greek, and is named after the monastery of St Catherine near the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt, where it had been preserved until the middle of the 19th century. The principal surviving portion of the Codex is the two volumes, comprising 347 leaves, now held by the British Library. A further 43 leaves are kept at the University Library in Leipzig, parts of 6 leaves are held at the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg, and further portions remain at Saint Catherine’s Monastery.

Cotton Otho B VI, f. 26v

A leaf of the Cotton Genesis, on loan from the British Library to the British Museum (British Library Cotton MS Otho B VI, f. 26v)

On 9 March 2005, representatives of the four institutions holding parts of Codex Sinaiticus signed a partnership agreement for the conservation, photography, transcription and publication online of all surviving pages and fragments of the Codex. The principal outputs of the project were published online in full on the Codex Sinaiticus website in July 2009. This website includes a record of the detailed new conservation work undertaken, new photography of the whole manuscript and a full electronic transcription of the text of the manuscript in which every word in each image is linked to the corresponding word in the transcription. The work on the transcription was led by Professor David Parker at the University of Birmingham and was funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Other aspects of the project were generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the A. G. Leventis Foundation, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and a number of other donors.


Detail showing repaired split on Add MS 43725, f. 8r, 1 Chronicles, chapter 9

As part of the collaboration between the British Library, Leipzig University Library, the National Library of Russia and Saint Catherine’s Monastery, all four partners also worked together to undertake research into the history of the Codex and to commission an objective historical narrative based on the results of the research. That account was published on the Codex Sinaiticus website in 2009.

Other outputs of the Codex Sinaiticus Project include a new book by David Parker, Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible (London, 2010), a full printed facsimile of the manuscript published in 2011, and the papers from the international conference held by the project in 2009, Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript, ed. Scot McKendrick et al. (London, 2015). 

The volumes of Codex Sinaiticus held at the British Library (Add MS 43725) are also available on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

We hope that as many people as possible will visit the British Museum and the British Library this autumn to experience these great manuscript treasures.

Claire Breay
Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts


28 October 2015

Pierre Sala’s Return to Lyons

We are thrilled to let our readers know that Pierre Sala’s Petit Livre d’Amour is currently on display in the exhibition Lyon Renaissance Arts et Humanisme at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. From now until 25 January 2016, you can explore a collection of almost 300 artistic works produced in 16th-century Lyons, a city regarded in this period as the ‘deuxième œil de France’ (second eye of France) and the ‘clef du royaume’ (key of the kingdom). This short video brings to life a selection of the items on display, from illuminated books to embroidered silk.

Pierre Sala (b. 1457, d. 1529) is one of the leading Lyonnais figures from this period. As well as serving both Charles VIII and Louis XII of France, he was a notable humanist and poet. However, the manuscript on loan concerns his personal rather than public allegiances.


Miniature featuring a man playing blind man’s bluff with three women, from Pierre Sala, Petit Livre d'Amour, France (Paris and Lyons), c. 1500, Stowe MS 955f. 7r

Despite measuring only 13 centimetres high, Pierre Sala’s Petit Livre d’Amour makes a big impression. You might remember this sumptuous little book from a special Valentine’s Day edition of the blog published a few years ago. Through a carefully compiled collection of quatrains with complementary illustrations, Pierre Sala makes a statement of his love for mistress Marguerite Bullioud. The discrete openings evocatively appeal to the reader, sometimes in more subtle ways than others.

In the opening dedication, he underlines the combined purpose of the words and images and their intended effects on his lover:

‘peincture et parolle qui sont les deux chemins pour ou l’on peult entrer dedans la meson de memoyre car peincture sert a l’eiul et parolle a l’oureille et font de la chose passee come si elle estoit presente’ (ff. 4r-4v)

(image and word are the two routes by which one is able to enter the house of memory, for images serve the eye and words [serve] the ear and make a thing of the past appear as if it were present)


Extract from Pierre Sala’s dedication of the book to his mistress Marguerite BullioudStowe MS 955f. 4r

This intriguing book also provides an exceptional witness of the work of Pierre Sala’s friend Jean Perréal. Another key figure active in 16th-century Lyons, this artist in the service of the French royal court is most famous for his portraiture. Whilst Jean Perréal is not responsible for the other miniatures in Stowe MS 955, who else would Pierre choose to paint his likeness in a book intended for his lover?! This dashing portrait certainly did the trick – Marguerite eventually became his second wife!


Portrait of Pierre Sala, made by his friend Jean Perréal, Stowe MS 955, f. 17r

You can see Jean Perréal’s portrait of Pierre Sala in the Petit Livre d'Amour at Lyon Renaissance Arts et Humanisme until 25 January 2016.

- Hannah Morcos

23 October 2015

Hybrids and Shape-Shifters

Animal Tales, an exhibition exploring the role of animals in literature and what it says about us as humans, is open in the entrance hall of the British Library until 1 November 2015. One of the exhibition cases is devoted to shape-changing: stories where human and animal identity is blurred, with humans taking on the shapes and characteristics of animals. Works on display include illustrated editions of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Little Red Riding Hood.

The Library's collections of medieval manuscripts contains a wealth of the most incredible images of animals, humans and everything in between. For example, an advanced search for ‘Hybrid’ in Iour Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts gives 196 results! Here are some of the most intriguing.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses is perhaps the earliest example of, well, metamorphosis, and it was widely copied and adapted in medieval manuscripts. Here is an example from 15th-century Germany.


Decorated initial 'I'(n) with acanthus leaves, a lion, a lady with pointed headdress and the head of a hybrid creature holding arms in its mouth, at the beginning of book 10 in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Germany, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 2489, f. 120r

Of course, most of the shape-shifters in our manuscripts are in the marginalia livening up the pages of a wide variety of texts, some of them religious. This image, illustrating an episode from the Old Testament apocryphal legend of Tobit, has a knight-centaur and a hairy man in the border.


Miniature of the blinding of Tobit, lying in bed in his house; outside, Tobias leading the angel Raphael into the house; with a full border including a wildman holding a banner bearing the royal arms of England and a centaur, with a banner inscribed with the Yorkist motto, 'Dieu et mon droit', Netherlands, S. (Bruges); 1470 and c. 1479, Royal MS 15 D I, f. 18r

The Luttrell Psalter, featured many times in this blog, is filled with fantastical marginal creatures and here are two delights: a bishop and a king with bird/animal/reptile-like bodies.


A page from the Psalms with marginal hybrids, from the Luttrell Psalter, England, N. (Lincolnshire), 1325-1340, Add MS 42130, f. 175r

The Gorleston Psalter has a variation on the knight versus snail theme, one of our favourites. Here a knight with a horse’s body holds up a face-shield to the snail, while attacking it with curved blade.


Marginal image of a knight/horse attacking a snail from the Gorleston Psalter, England, E. (Suffolk), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 179r

This Book of Hours from St Omer, formerly owned by John Ruskin, has some of the cutest marginal creatures, and what a great hairstyle for a hybrid!


Marginal images of a male hybrid holding a fish and a female hybrid in the St Omer Hours, France, N. (Saint-Omer or Therouanne) c. 1320, Add MS 36684, f. 96v

Legends and romances are often decorated with marginal creature too and this manuscript of Arthurian tales, known as the Prose Lancelot-Grail contains an image in the top left-hand margin of a hybrid man reading an almanac, with an ape trying to snatch it away.


Opening page of Lancelot du Lac with the lines ‘En la marche de Gaule’, a large miniature in colours on a gold ground of King Ban of Benoith and King Bohort of Gaunes, and a full bar border with hybrid creatures, animals and human figures, one side consisting of a 3-storey chapel, each storey containing a courtly character, France, N. (Saint-Omer or Tournai), 1316, Add MS 10293, f. 1r

This page from a book of canon law, the ‘Smithfield Decretals’, is a riot of imagination. The lower margin contains some great hybrids doing what hybrids do!


Two hybrid creatures blowing trumpets on either side of a castle full of people, from the Smithfield Decretals, England, S. E. (London), 1325-1350, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 2v

Of course, hybrid creatures are found not only in the margins. This miniature illustrates an episode from Froissart’s Chroniques: the Dance of the Wodewoses. These were mythical satyr-like creatures or men of the woods who were popular figures in medieval folklore. The episode illustrated is the tragedy at the Bal des Sauvages in Paris on 28 January 1393. King Charles VI of France and some of his courtiers were dressed as wild men and chained together for a masquerade. Their costumes contained flammable glue attaching a hemp-like material that made them appear ‘hairy from head to foot’. As they were dancing, a spark from a torch set their highly-flammable costumes alight, so that some of them were burned alive; the king's life was saved through quick action by his aunt, the Duchesse de Berry, who used her dress to smother the flames.


Miniature of the dance of the Wodewoses, from the Harley Froissart, Netherlands, S. (Bruges), c. 1470 and 1472, Harley MS 4380, f. 1r

Animal Tales is a free exhibition at the British Library until 1 November 2015.

Chantry Westwell


21 October 2015

A Kestrel for a Knave

Set in a coal-mining community in northern England, Ken Loach’s film Kes (1969) portrays the solace a young boy finds when nurturing a kestrel. The film is based on A Kestrel for a Knave (1968), a novel by Barry Hines currently on display in the British Library’s free exhibition Animal Tales. This 20th-century tale of social realism may seem out of place in a blog post about medieval manuscripts. However, it has an unexpected connection to an item in the British Library’s Harley collection and provides the perfect opportunity to explore one of the most frequently written about and depicted human-animal interactions in medieval books.

  A detail from a 14th-century manuscript, showing an illustration of different types of hawks.

Detail of a miniature of different types of hawks, from Brunetto Latini’s Livres dou Tresor, N. France (Picardy), c. 1315-1325, Yates Thompson MS 19, f. 54r

 In the preface of A Kestrel for a Knave, Hines alludes to the source of his title:

“An Eagle for an Emperor, a Gyrfalcon for a King; a Peregrine for a Prince, a Saker for a Knight, a Merlin for a Lady; a Goshawk for a Yeoman, a Sparrowhawk for a Priest, a Musket for a Holy water Clerk, a Kestrel for a Knave.”

Selected from the Boke of St. Albans, 1486, and a Harleian manuscript. (Kes: A Kestrel for a Knave (London:  Michael Joseph, 1974), p. 7)

The manuscript mentioned is Harley MS 2340, a 15th-century collection of treatises on hawking. It is one of a number of English hunting and hawking manuals created during this period. For an intriguing illuminated example, check out this blog post on the Kerdeston Hawking Book.

The first item in Harley MS 2340 is The Booke of Hawkyng after Prince Edwarde Kyng of Englande (ff. 1r-22v), which includes such useful information as treatments ‘ffor the hawke that hath lost his corage and luste’ (f. 12r). This text was also incorporated into the hawking section of The Boke of St. Albans (1486), the first source mentioned by Hines, which is the earliest printed English treatise on hawking and hunting.  

  An opening from a 15th-century collection of treatises on hawking.

The hierarchy of owners and hawks from a collection of treatises on hawking, England, 1st half of the 15th century, Harley MS 2340, f. 50r

The hierarchy of owners and hawks modernised by Hines is largely the same in both Harley MS 2340 (f. 50r) and the printed Boke of St. Albans (Hands (ed.), ll. 1164-1203). However, the famous line ‘a Kestrel for a Knave’ is only found in the Harley manuscript (‘A kesterell for a knafe’ (f. 50r)), despite The Boke of St. Albans being widely cited as the source of the title.

  A marginal illustration of a man hawking, from the Luttrell Psalter.

Detail of marginal drawing of a man hawking, from the Luttrell Psalter, N. England (Diocese of Lincoln), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 42130, f. 41r

It is unlikely that the hierarchies in the printed book and the Harley manuscript represent actual medieval practices. Indeed, specific types of bird were selected according to the nature of the prey or the location of the hunt. The two principal categories of bird, hawks and falcons, manifest different ways of attacking prey. Whereas falcons dive from a height and are better suited to hunting in open countryside, hawks swoop on their prey from a lower altitude, making them also suitable for woodland hunts.   

  A detail from the Smithfield Decretals, showing an illustration of a king hawking on horseback.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a mounted king, hawking, and a stag feeding, from the 'Smithfield Decretals', Southern France (Toulouse?) and England (London), c. 1300-c. 1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 254r

The hierarchy of birds and owner does, however, make clear how hunting with birds was a socially-coded activity. The circumstances surrounding this form of venery distinguished the rich and powerful from the lowly knave. What game keepers did to make a living, the aristocracy enjoyed as sport.

  A detail from a 14th-century genealogical roll, showing a portrait of King John with a hawk.

Portrait of King John with a hawk from a genealogical roll of the kings of England, England (East Anglia?), c. 1300-c. 1340, Royal MS 14 B VI, membrane 6

The equation of falconry with nobility is frequently found in manuscript illumination. Aristocratic figures were often portrayed holding hawks as a sign of their status, even the ignominious King John. The time and wealth required to train and keep these often very valuable birds was substantial. As Robin S. Oggins sums up, hawking was ‘an almost perfect example of conspicuous consumption: it was expensive, time-consuming, and useless’ (The Kings and Their Hawks, p. 111).

A detail from the Smithfield Decretals, showing a marginal illustration of three kings hawking.
 Detail of a bas-de-page scene of three kings, Royal MS 10 E IV,  f. 258v  

Participation in hawking as a leisure activity increased by the 15th century, and so too did the ways of marking social superiority. It not only counted how one hunted, but also how one spoke about it. For example, after the hierarchy in Harley MS 2340, we find a list of the collective nouns for different types of bird, a terminology that distinguished the elite from the uneducated.

In addition to high social status, falconry was also associated with youth, as seen in this roundel from the Ten Ages of Man.

A detail from the De Lisle Psalter, showing an illustration of a mounted figure with a hawk.

Detail of a roundel from the section on Youth from the Wheel of the Ten Ages of Man, in the De Lisle Psalter, Arundel MS 83, f. 126v 

Hunting with birds was also an activity open to women. Two of our most famous illuminated manuscripts, the Taymouth Hours  and the Smithfield Decretals, both feature multiple scenes of ladies using hawks to hunt for hares and ducks.

  A detail from the Taymouth Hours, showing an illustration of a woman watching a hawk fly towards a duck.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a lady observing her hawk fly towards a duck, from the 'Taymouth Hours', England (London?), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 73r

A detail from the Taymouth Hours, showing an illustration of a woman watching a hawk bring down a duck.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a lady observing her hawk bringing down a duck, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 73v

A detail from the Taymouth Hours, showing an illustration of a woman using a hawk to hunt a hare.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a lady hawking for a hare, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 74r

A detail from the Taymouth Hours, showing an illustration of a lady holding a hawk and a dead duck.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a lady holding her hawk and a dead duck, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 74v

  A detail from the Smithfield Decretals, showing a marginal illustration of two women using hawks to catch ducks.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of two women with hawks catching ducks, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 78r

  A detail from the Smithfield Decretals, showing a marginal illustration of a woman hawking.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a woman hawking, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 79r

Venery and courtship were often connected in medieval literature and art. As well as the sexual connotations of the hunt, birds of prey represented the ultimate luxury accessory for the courtly lover.

  A detail from the Maastricht Hours, showing a marginal illustration of a couple courting and hawking on horseback.

A couple courting and hawking, from the Maastricht Hours, Netherlands (Liège), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 243r

Images of lovers hawking also often accompany the month of May in calendars at the beginning of books of hours, such as the manuscript from our recent caption competition and the Huth Hours discussed in this blog post.

  A decorated page from a 15th-century Book of Hours, showing illustrations of Adam and Eve and two lovers hawking.

Calendar roundels for the month of May depicting Adam and Eve and two lovers hawking, Book of Hours, Paris, 1440-1450, Egerton MS 2019, f. 5r

As with other symbols of social status or authority, the margins of the page provided the space to parody the prestigious connotations of hawking. Rather than an aristocratic male, here a monkey is depicted wooing a lady. Instead of a bird of prey, an owl rests on his arm, a nocturnal bird laden with negative and ignoble connotations, and even used as bait. The lewd sexual nature of these animals subverts the courtly erotic evoked in the images of lovers above. 

A detail from the Maastricht Hours, showing a marginal illustration of a woman and a courting monkey with an owl.
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a courting monkey holding an owl, Stowe MS 17, f. 62r

In other examples, parodic monkey falconers are depicted riding goats instead of horses. This fellow looks like he's having a hoot!

  A detail from the Luttrell Psalter, showing a marginal illustration of a monkey holding an owl and riding a goat.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a monkey holding an owl and riding a goat, Add MS 42130, f. 38r

You have until 1 November 2015 to explore the fascinating books (and sounds) on display in the British Library’s free Animal Tales exhibition.


Further reading

Rachel Hands, ‘Juliana Berners and The Boke of St. Albans’, The Review of English Studies, 18 (1967), 373-86.

Rachel Hands, English Hawking and Hunting in ‘The Boke of St. Albans’. A facsimile edition of sigs. a2–f8 of ‘The Boke of St. Albans’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975).

Robin S. Oggins, The Kings and Their Hawks: Falconry in Medieval England (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004).

Jean Wirth, Les Marges à drôleries des manuscrits gothiques (Geneva: Droz, 2008).


Hannah Morcos

19 October 2015

Internship in the Medieval Manuscripts Team

The British Library is pleased to be able to offer a nine-month internship in the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section of the Western Heritage Department for a post-graduate or post-doctoral student in History, Art History, Medieval Language or Literature or other relevant subject.


The death of Wat Tyler in Jean Froissart, Chroniques (Royal MS 18 E I, f. 175r)

The intern will be involved in all aspects of the work of the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section, including responding to enquiries, providing talks for students and patrons, selecting and presenting manuscripts for display in our exhibition gallery, and cataloguing, thereby gaining insight into various curatorial duties and aspects of collection care. During the internship at the Library, the intern will enjoy privileged access to printed and manuscript research material, and will work alongside specialists with wide-ranging and varied expertise. 

The primary focus of the internship will be to enhance the online Digitised Manuscripts site by creating and supplementing catalogue entries for medieval manuscripts and accompanying images. The intern will also assist in researching and answering inquiries, preparing manuscripts for exhibition and writing exhibition labels, writing blog posts, and assisting in presentations to students and visitors, working under the supervision of the Lead Curator, Illuminated Manuscripts. 

The internship is designed to provide an opportunity for the student to develop research skills and expertise in medieval history, and in presenting manuscripts to a range of audiences. 

Previous interns have given feedback that they felt a valued member of the team, gained professional confidence and developed their career by carrying out a ‘real’ job with specific duties.

This is a full-time paid internship for nine months starting in January 2016, or as soon as relevant security checks have been completed. 

How to Apply

The programme is only open to students who are engaged actively in research towards, or have recently completed a PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of medieval manuscripts and who have a right to work in the UK full time. 


To apply, please visit our careers website with details of your experience of medieval manuscripts. 

Closing Date: 7 November 2015

Interview Date: 23 November 2015

The selection process may include questions about the date and origin of a particular manuscript to be shown at the interview.

17 October 2015

Curator of Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts

The British Library holds an internationally renowned collection of manuscripts relating to the ancient and medieval world. We are currently recruiting for a Curator of Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts to join our team, with a special responsibility for Classical, Biblical and Byzantine Manuscripts.


Papyrus 3053, found at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, from the blogpost Exit Pursued by a Bear

Among other responsibilities, the post-holder will be required 

  • to use innovative and traditional ways of interpreting and presenting our collections through online resources and engagement with academic and general users
  • to manage projects relating to ancient and medieval manuscripts
  • to use their specialist knowledge to support the development, management and promotion of our collections


The signature of the humanist scholar Lorenzo Valla, from the blogpost Livy Among the Humanists

Applicants should have a post-graduate degree, or equivalent, in a relevant subject, experience of research in Classics and /or Byzantine Studies and a personal area of expertise relevant to the collection. Strong knowledge of Ancient Greek and Classical Latin, excellent written and oral communication skills in English, and the ability to promote the collections to a wide range of audiences are essential.

For more information and to apply for this position, please visit 

Closing date 15 November 2015.

Interview Date: 26 November 2015.

14 October 2015

The Unicorn Lives On

On 20 September of this year our eagle-eyed friend and former colleague Dr Alixe Bovey drew our attention to that day’s edition of The Sunday Times.  In that issue was an article about the latest work by the artist Sir Peter Blake, who is perhaps best known for designing the iconic album cover for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Sir Peter had created a mural to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Lord Mayor’s Parade, compiling dozens of images to capture the spirit of the parade across the centuries.

Peter Blake mural

In the earliest years of the parade can be found the familiar figure of our ‘unicorn lady’; can you spot her amongst the crowds?  She first made an appearance on 1 April 2012 in our post Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library, and now you can see her between the years 1315-1415 and 1514-1515 (click the above image for a larger version).  It is a testament to the power of medieval images that they can continue to be reused and remixed today in such interesting ways, and to such astounding effect.  We are absolutely thrilled. 

Unicorn Head
Bringing the unicorn to table, from the Unicorn Cookbook

We’ve found a number of other images from British Library manuscripts in Sir Peter’s work, including the dancing nun of the Maastricht Hours (for more on that manuscript, see Monkeying Around with the Maastricht Hours).  Please do let us know if you discover any others, either in the comments below or on Twitter @BLMedieval

-   Sarah J Biggs