Medieval manuscripts blog

12 posts from December 2015

10 December 2015

Important Notice: Temporary removal of Lindisfarne Gospels from display in the Treasures Gallery

We would like to advise visitors to the British Library that the Lindisfarne Gospels will not be on display on Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 December 2015. The manuscript will be back on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery on Wednesday 16 December 2015. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

The Lindisfarne Gospels can always be viewed online on Digitised Manuscripts.

Those wishing the visit the Library over the holiday period can find out more information on our seasonal closures here.


Chi-rho page at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, from the Lindisfarne Gospels, England, c. 700, Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 29r


Detail of the carpet page at the beginning of the Gospel of John, Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 210v


08 December 2015

New Images of the Book of the Queen

The Book of the Queen is one of the most treasured manuscripts held by the British Library. This beautifully illuminated collection of works by Christine de Pizan was made for Isabel (Isabeau) of Bavaria (b. 1371, d. 1435), queen consort of Charles VI of France. It is believed that Christine herself supervised the assembly of the book and may have even been involved in copying passages of text. You can find out more about Christine and this wonderful book here.

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Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan presenting her manuscript to Queen Isabel of Bavaria, from the Book of the Queen, France (Paris), c. 1410 – c. 1414, Harley MS 4431, f. 3r

Queen Isabel was not the only medieval female reader to enjoy this copy of Christine’s works. Later in the 15th century, the manuscript was owned by Jacquetta of Luxembourg (b. c. 1416, d. 1472), wife of John [of  Lancaster], Duke of Bedford (b. 1389, d. 1435). Jacquetta was not shy about leaving her trace on this highly prized manuscript, writing her name and her motto, ‘sur tous autres’ [over/above all others], on multiple folios.


Inscription of ‘Jaquete’ in the outer margin of Christine’s Epistre au Dieu d'Amours, Harley MS 4431, f. 52v

Thanks to the work of our fantastic Imaging Scientist, Dr Christina Duffy, we have new images of the ownership marks left by Jacquetta. By comparing the inscription of her motto on f. 387r with the damaged inscription above her name on f. 1r, Christina has helped to establish with more certainty that Jacquetta’s motto was also written on f. 1r.

Harley 4431 motto

Comparison of the damaged inscription on f. 1r with the motto on f. 387r. Images processed at the British Library by Dr Christina Duffy. Copyright of the British Library Board.

Christina has also rendered Jacquetta’s most unusual inscription more legible. It occurs in a miniature on f. 115v, which depicts Aurora bringing the dawn, and below her, a peasant, fastening his trousers and entering a hen house.


Detail of a miniature of Aurora bringing the dawn, with a peasant, fastening his trousers and entering a hen house, from the Epistre Othéa, Harley MS 4431, f. 115v

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Inscription up the right side of the hen house in the miniature on f. 115v. Image processed at the British Library by Dr Christina Duffy. Copyright of the British Library Board.

Of all the dramatic scenes that illustrate the Epistre Othéa, why did Jacquetta choose this one? Did she identify with the resplendent beauty of Aurora? Was she a morning person? Did this half-dressed fellow take her fancy? Share your thoughts with @BLMedieval!

For information on Jacquetta’s marks of ownership see:

Christine de Pizan: The Making of the Queen's Manuscript (London, British Library, Harley MS 4431)

Sandra Hindman, 'The Composition of the Manuscript of Christine de Pizan's Collected Works in the British Library: A Reassessment', British Library Journal, 9 (1983), 93-123.

You can discover more about Christina’s work by following her on Twitter and by checking out the Collection Care blog, which discusses the activities of the British Library’s scientists and conservators. Christina’s most important collaborations with the Section of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts include the creation of a CT scan of the St Cuthbert Gospel and her ground-breaking multispectral imaging work on the British Library’s burnt copy of Magna Carta 1215 .

- Hannah Morcos

03 December 2015

Postgraduate Open Day on our Pre-1600 Collections

Booking has opened for the British Library’s first open day dedicated to postgraduates working on our pre-1600 western heritage collections. The open day will be held on Monday 1st February 2016 and is aimed at first year PhD students who are new to the Library. You can reserve a place on our website now at

Papyrus deed of sale of a slave boy (P. Lond. I 229), with original seals, Syria, 24 May 166, Papyrus 229

The open day will introduce our very wide ranging manuscript and early printed collections to students working on history, literature, the history of art, religion, and the history of science and medicine. The day will help students to understand the practicalities of using our collections in their research and to find out about our catalogues and other online resources. In the afternoon there will be an opportunity to meet several curators who work with pre-1600 manuscripts and printed books, and to have a look at some collection items. There will also be sessions led by reading room staff and by one of the Library’s digital curators.

Map of the known world, from the Map Psalter, England, 1262-1300, Add Ms 28681, f. 9r

The pre-1600 day is part of an annual series of open days covering different Library collections. The other open days available in 2016 are:

Asian & African Collections – 18 January 2016
News & Media – 25 January 2016 
Music – 05 February 2016
Social Sciences – 12 February 2016
17th & 18th Century Collections – 19 February 2016
19th Century Collections – 22 February 2016
20th & 21st Century Collections – 26 February 2016

Page of music from Magister Sampson, Benedictus de Opitiis and others, Motets, Antwerp, 1516, Royal MS 11 E XI, f. 4r

To make the most of the day, you may wish to register for a free Reader Pass in advance if you don’t already have one. Each open day costs £5 and includes lunch and refreshments. Booking in advance is essential as a limited number of places is available. We are looking forward to meeting lots of new postgraduate students on 1st February.

Prologue with woodcut from 2nd edition of Caxton's Chaucer, G.11586, f. 3v

-   Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts

01 December 2015

A Calendar Page for December 2015

To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015.

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Calendar page for December, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500, Add MS 35313, f. 7r

Winter has fully descended in this calendar page for December.  Against a snowy landscape, a peasant is kneeling atop a pig that he has just slaughtered, bracing himself for the arduous task ahead.  Beside him crouches a woman, holding out a pan to catch the pig's blood.  Behind them a distant figure is crossing a bridge over a frozen river, while to the left two women are at work in an open-sided building.  The only hint of welcome warmth comes from the fire blazing in the hearth.  

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants slaughtering a pig and working in a snowy landscape,  Add MS 35313, f. 7r

December, naturally enough, includes a number of major feast days - so many, in fact, that the illuminators of this manuscript have had to be creative in order to include them all.  On the lower right, beneath a depiction of the Nativity of Christ for Christmas, are four roundels containing scenes commemorating St Stephen, St John, the Holy Innocents, and St Thomas a Becket, archbishop of Canterbury (for more on images of St Thomas, see our post Erasing Becket).   

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Detail of a roundels of the Nativity, and the martyrdoms of SS Stephen, John, Thomas and the Holy Innocents,  Add MS 35313, f. 7r