Medieval manuscripts blog

11 posts from February 2016

29 February 2016

The Leaping Saint: 29th February in the Middle Ages

Calendar crop

A close up of a volvelle, or wheel-chart, Harley MS 3719, f.  156r 

Today is a Leap Day. People born on this day are known as ‘leaplings’. This bonus day only comes around every four years to accommodate the fact that the solar year is a pesky 365.2422 days long. Throughout human history there have been a number of attempts to knit the solar year to the calendar, with varying degrees of success. Adding an extra day to the end of February is, actually, a comparatively recent innovation.

The ancient Egyptians had a whole leap-month, called the intercalary or epagonal month, which consisted of either five or six days, that was added to the end of the year. It still survives in the liturgical calendar of Egyptian (Coptic) Christians.

The Romans used this method until 46 BCE, when Julius Caesar set about reforming the calendar. Caesar got rid of the leap-month and came up with the idea of adding an extra day in February every four years. The addition, however, was inserted not at the end of the month, as in our calendars, but by repeating 24th February (the sixth day before the start of March - as the Romans termed it). Caesar’s practice, together with his reformed calendar, now known as the Julian calendar (after the emperor himself), was later adopted in both Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity. The leap day is still called “double-sixth-day”, in French (dissextile), Italian (bisestile) or even in Greek (disektos).

This doubling of 24th February, together with all the consequences it brought about, is accurately explained in a lavishly illuminated collection of ecclesiastical laws from the fourteenth century


The Smithfield Decretals, Southern France, c.1300-1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 309r. 

Leap crop 3

A close up of the gloss by Bernard of Botone (d. 1266). The text reads: 

A standard solar year has 365 days and six hours, so in four years’ time these hours make 24 extra hours, which must be added as a new day to every fourth year. This additional day is what we call “double-sixth-day”, because, although it is counted as an addition, it stands under the same number as the previous day in the calendar, so that the two days are regarded as one and the same. The extra day is inserted in the calendar after 24 February (six days before the first day of March) so that we celebrate the memory of St Matthias the Apostle (24 February) on the next day, too.


In 1582, calendrical reform came from Rome again, this time, from Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585). Gregory realised that because a whole day was added to every fourth year, when in fact it should be a bit less than a day to be accurate, the Julian calendar was 11 days ahead: 15th October in Gregory’s time was, astronomically, 4th October. In order to cut out this accumulated surplus, he issued a Papal directive stating that 4th October in 1582 will be followed by 15th October and the first year of each century will not be a leap year any more, except if it is divisible by 400. So what about the leaping saint? Well, the medieval solution for the leap-year problem was generous. By doubling 24th February the following saints’ feast days could all keep their original date and – because there were two 24ths in the month – February remained 28 days long. In this way, no saint suffered the ignominy of having their feast day celebrated only one year in every four. Instead, there was a gain: in the leap year Saint Matthias was celebrated twice – on the 24th(a) and 24th(b) alike.

Yet curiously, in this overhaul the repeated 24th remained in place. It was only over time that the medieval system of two 24ths was phased out and replaced by a 29th day of the month, but the tradition of having an extra 24th with its leaping saint, the Apostle Matthias, is still preserved in the Catholic liturgy.

Leap crop 2
 Page from a fifteenth-century breviary, with instructions on how to celebrate the Evangelist Matthias in a leap year, The Breviary of Isabel the Castile, Southern Netherlands, c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 347r

Happy Leap Day!

~ Peter Toth & Mary Wellesley

26 February 2016

Caption Competition Number 4

Sometimes we come across images that are just perfect for creative captions.  Here is one from an Apocalypse manuscript which has recently been fully digitised, Harley MS 4972.  It is filled with great images, including some weird hybrid concoctions.  So, over to you, dear, witty readers: how would you caption this image? The winner will be announced on the blog early next week.

Detail from Apocalypse in Prose, South-east France (Lorraine), 4th quarter of 13th century- 1st quarter of the 14th century, Harley MS 4972, f. 14r


Update 26 February 2016

Thank you for all of your entries. We are delighted to announce our Caption Competition Winner! 

That winner (of eternal fame in the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts section) is M. Mitchell Marmel: "H'm. Wonder if St. Brigid can turn this into bacon?" Honorary mentions also go to those who sent us unconventional styles of captions, such as sound files.

Didn't get the joke? Read our previous post about St. Brigid's magical, alchemical abilities


Brigid’s fire, from a manuscript of Gerald of Wales’ 'Topographia Hiberniae', Royal MS 13 B VIII, f.23v


23 February 2016

Shakespeare: British Library Manuscripts in Washington D.C.

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the William Shakespeare, arguably the world’s greatest playwright. Special events, performances and exhibitions will be held around Britain and across the world to celebrate Shakespeare and his literary legacy, and the British Library is delighted to have loaned a number of significant manuscripts to the Folger Shakespeare Library’s exhibition Shakespeare, Life of an Icon

This fascinating exhibition brings together some of the most important original documents relating to Shakespeare’s life and career. One of the exhibition highlights, loaned to the United States for the first time ever by the British Library, is a page from ‘The Booke of Thomas Moore’, which is believed to contain Shakespeare’s own handwriting (Harley MS 7368, folio 9).

Page containing Thomas More’s speech to the rebels, thought to be written in the hand of William Shakespeare, Harley MS 7368, f. 9r

‘The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore’ traces the rise, career and downfall of Henry VIII’s staunchly Catholic Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, who was executed for treason on 6 July 1535 for refusing to acknowledge the Royal Supremacy over the Church in England. British Library Harley MS 7368 is the sole surviving copy of the play and its great importance lies in the fact that it is thought to be the only literary manuscript to survive from the pen of England’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare. 

The original text of the play was written sometime between 1596 and 1601 by Anthony Munday in a draft that is now lost to us. However, Munday also made a fair copy of the play for use as a theatre company’s official playbook. The copy was therefore submitted for a licence to Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels, who noted the cuts and revisions that he required to be made to politically sensitive scenes before public performance. It was most likely in response to Tilney’s censorship notes and deletions that the play was extensively revised c. 1603-4 by the dramatists Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Heywood and William Shakespeare, as well as a copyist whose task it was to pull together the original text and the later revisions to create a performable play. As a result, Harley MS 7368 is a complex patchwork of collaborative writing, revision and censorship. 

Detail showing Edmund Tilney’s marginal instruction calling for major changes to be made to the script, Harley MS 7368, f. 3r

The first section of ‘The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore’ centres on the Evil May Day riots of 1517. Thomas More, as under-sheriff of the City of London, is portrayed as taking a leading part when he makes an eloquent speech to quell the riots led by angry native Londoners against French and Lombard immigrants living in London. Edmund Tilney strongly objected to the insurrection scenes and ordered them to be cut from the play. No doubt his censorship was influenced by the fact that the play coincided with a period of economic instability and citizen unrest against ‘aliens’ and ‘strangers’. On the basis of stylistic, linguistic, palaeographic and orthographic evidence, the replacement insurrection scene and More’s powerfully persuasive and conciliatory speech to the rebels are now widely accepted as being the autograph composition of William Shakespeare. 

More begins his speech by expressing his horror at the inhumane behaviour of the rebels and tells them that their actions are an affront to the majesty and dignity of England and royal authority. Using logic and clear reason, More appeals to the rebels to change their view of the strangers and to see them as fellow humans and victims of prejudice. He also warns the insurgents that they risk encouraging other discontented groups to resort to violence in order to settle their grievances, which will lead to the disintegration of society into a state of unruliness and chaos. Lastly, on folio 9, currently on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library, More tells the rebels that by breaking the King’s law they have sinned against God himself because ‘to the king god hath his offyce lent  / of dread of Iustyce, power and Comaund / hath bid him rule, and willd you to obay’. More therefore urges the angry mob to turn themselves in peacefully and await the mercy of the King. In this respect, the play presents a distorted account of history and Thomas More’s rise to power for it was troops acting under the command of the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Duke of Norfolk that restored order and not in fact More’s eloquent speech. 

The British Library is happy to be supporting Shakespeare, Life of an Icon which is open in Washington D.C. until 27 March 2016. Pages from ‘The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore’ will be on display in the British Library’s exhibition, Shakespeare in Ten Acts (15 April – 6 September 2016).

                                                                                                                                                                Andrea Clarke


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20 February 2016

Fashion Goes Medieval

Are you sure

King Priam of Troy sends his son, Paris, to Greece. Grand Chroniques de France, Paris, c. 1320-30, Royal MS 16 G VI, vol. 1, f. 4v


It's that time of year. London Fashion Week began today. To celebrate, we have decided to republish an important op-ed piece we published 18 months ago. We were delighted to see some medieval inspired looks at the Dior Fall '17 couture show, which we suspect was inspired by the V&A's Opus Anglicanum show. However, we feel there is more to be made of the marriage of fashion and medieval culture. 

Here’s a run-down of some looks we want to see next season.

  1. The Wimple/Barbette

It hasn’t been on-trend since c.1550, but we think it’s time it made a come-back. Team with killer heels for maximum impact.

Wimple 2

Detail from La Somme le roy, France, late 13th century, Add MS 28162, f. 9v

A scalloped hem will give your wimple a more relaxed feel. Perfect for a first date.


Detail from a historiated initial, Israelites consulting the Lord, from a Bible, England, ?London, c. 1400-25, Royal 1 E IX, f. 56v  


  1. Statement Headpieces

The fascinator has had its day. Millinery needs to get theatrical.

   Statement head

Detail of the queen of Macedon and her ladies from ‘Histoire d’Alexandre le Grande', Paris, late 1420s, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 7r

Experiment with diaphanous fabrics for an improbable, wind-defying look.


Jean de Courcy is led form the Forest of Temptation by the Seven Virtues from 'Chemin de vaillance', Bruges, Master of the White Inscriptions, late 1470s, Royal MS 14 E II, f. 194r

Offset a linear silhouette with head-wear more suited to bee-keeping. 


Lady out hunting, Alphonso Psalter, England, c. 1281-4, Add MS 24686, f. 13v

Even a monochrome outfit can be made to stand out with some serious underpinning.   

Christine louis

Detail of Christine de Pizan presenting her work to Louis of Orléans from 'The Collected Works of Christine de Pizan', Paris c. 1415, Harley MS 4431, f.95r

    3. Upsized Outfits

Outfits? The attire of one person? It’s starting to look at bit dated. We want to see clothing put together with an eye for a person’s surroundings. For example, stockings should be matched to the robes of nearby bishops.


The Coronation Book of Charles V of France, Master of the Coronation Book of Charles V, Paris, 1365, Cotton Tiberius B VIII f. 48r

Or your horse.


Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, mounted, being assisted by his wife and daughter-in-law, The Luttrell Psalter, Northern England (Diocese of Lincoln), c. 1325-50, Add MS 42130, f. 202v

 4. The Bocking

We’re calling it the Bocking. It’s the stocking-boot. The shoe-boot (shoot) was big on the high street recently, but this year we want it to be all about the continuous sharp-toed stocking-boot.

The longer the toe, the better. Preferably so long, your shoe extends into the personal space of people nearby or over the lip of an image frame. 


                                 Bocking 3   

(Left) Le Songe du vergier, Paris , Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy, c. 1378, Royal MS 19C IV, f 1v

(Right) Detail, Philippe de Mézières presenting his treatise to Richard II of England. Philippe de Mézières, 'Epistre au roi Richart', France, 1395-6, Royal MS 20 B VI, f.2


5. Beards: Bigstyle.

The hipster beard is big right now, but it can be bigger. Think beard meets onesie.



A Wildman (Wodewose) from the Genealogy of the Infante Dom Fernando of Portugal, Lisbon and Bruges, Antonio de Holanda and Simon Bening, 1530-4, Add MS 12531 f. 1

~ Mary Wellesley


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16 February 2016

Joanna the Mad & Jheronimus Bosch

2016 is the 500th anniversary of the death of the Dutch painter Jheronimus Bosch (c. 1450-1516). The Noordbrabants Museum in s’Hertogenbosch (the city in which he spent most of his life) is holding an exhibition to celebrate his life and work , which opened on Saturday. It has been called 'one of the most important exhibitions of our century'.

One of the library’s manuscripts, Additional 18852, is on display in the exhibition, as the first item in the show. It is the prayer-book of Joanna the Mad (1479-1555). Joanna was queen of Castile and the sister of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. She suffered from mental illness and after the death of her husband, Philip the Handsome, King of Castile (1478-1506), her father had her forcibly confined to a convent in order that he might take control of her kingdom. According to some sources, she brought the corpse of her husband to the convent and kept it by her side, refusing to allow it to be buried.

Prayer-books or ‘Books of Hours’, contain a sequence of prayers and psalms to be said by their owners at each of the liturgical hours of the day. They were often decorated. Another Book of Hours in the library’s collection - Additional 35313, the Rothschild Hours - is also associated with Joanna (you can see a post on this manuscript here). This book is thought to have been made for a member of her family, and possibly the queen herself. However, the British Library manuscript which is in the exhibition is more personal. It contains two images of Joanna:


Joanna of Castile flanked by St John the Baptist and her guardian angel, the Hours of Joanna the Mad, Add MS 18852, f. 26r


Joanna of Castile kneeling in prayer, the Hours of Joanna the Mad, Add MS 18852, f. 288r


The book therefore belongs to a particular category of high-status Books of Hours, which offered their owners a bespoke kind of devotion. Owners could utter prayers to particular saints and see themselves visually realised on the page next to them.

In the first image, Joanna is seen flanked by Saint John the Baptist (her namesake saint) and her guardian angel. The image accompanies the opening of the prayer to the Guardian Angel.  In the margin to the right of the image, we can see Joanna’s initials alongside those of her husband, joined by a love-knot. The manuscript, which was produced in Bruges at the end of the fifteenth century, is extensively illustrated. Its decorative programme is a window onto the artistic environment which influenced Bosch. The manuscript throws Bosch’s fantastical and satirical work into relief. Its devotional scenes illustrate how maverick the painter’s work was.

Joanna’s prayer book contains an image of St Jerome in the wilderness. The scene is a familiar one from medieval art. In it St Jerome – the translator of the Vulgate Bible -- kneels beneath a crucifix in a lush, green meadow. Beside him is his companion, a lion, whose wounded paw the saint had nursed. On the ground at St Jerome’s feet is a discarded cardinal’s hat and robe, symbols of his rejection of earthly accolade.


St Jerome in the Wilderness, the Hours of Joanna the Mad, Add MS 18852, f. 328v

When we compare it to Bosch’s image of St Jerome from the Hermit Saints Triptych, now housed in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, we can see the way Bosch reconfigured stock images into works of startling originality. Bosch’s vision is altogether darker, both literally and figuratively. The palette of bright colours has been replaced with a more muted range. In this image, the wilderness is a place of ruin, filled with unnerving creatures and broken masonry. There is no friendly lion here, instead in the foreground a lizard can be seen feasting on a stricken rat.  


St Jerome in the Wilderness, Hermit Saints Triptych, Jheronimus Bosch, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. 

To see this image in the context of its triptych and to read about the latest research into Bosch, visit the Bosch Research and Conservation Project

~ Mary Wellesley


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14 February 2016

The Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love, Part II

Walking down your local high street over the past few weeks, you might have noticed some peculiar changes. Card shops have transformed into love-heart themed grottos filled with fluffy bears and pink gift wrap. Florists have been whipping themselves up into a rose-petal and ribbon-induced frenzy. Chocolatiers have been running on overtime, filling heart-shaped box, after heart-shaped box, with chocolate delights.

Yep, you guessed it, it’s Valentine’s Day.

Long-standing followers of this blog may remember our Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love Part I. Now the manuscripts are back, with even more tips to aid your romantic (mis)adventures this Valentine's Day. 

1. When choosing the appropriate spot for a clandestine tryst, try and avoid places overrun with imps or gargoyles. They can be quite the mood killer.

Gargoyles E086286c
Detail of temptation by lechery, from Matfre Ermengaud, Breviari d'Amor, Southern France (Toulouse?), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 19 C 1, f. 33r


2. Dragons can also have a nasty habit of interfering with your romantic moment.

Royal 20 A V f 7 dragon E124219
Detail of a miniature of Nectanebus in the form of a dragon, kissing Olympias while she is at the table with Philip, from Roman d'Alexandre en Prose, Northern France or Southern Netherlands, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 20 A V, f. 7r


3. If someone offers you the key to their heart, try not to take the phrase too literally. Things could get messy.

Add 42133 f 15 key c02249-01
Detail of a framed miniature of the God of Love locking the Lover's heart with a large gold key, from Guillaume de Lorris, continued by Jean de Meun, Roman de la Rose, France (Paris), 4th quarter of the 14th century, Additional MS 42133, f. 15r


4. There's only one thing better than a nightcap with a handsome man, and that's a nightcap on a handsome man. 


Detail of lovers in bed, Aldobrandino of Siena, Le Régime du corps, Northern France, Details of an item from the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts 3rd quarter of 13th century (perhaps c. 1285), Sloane MS 2435, f. 9v. 


5. But if the impulse strikes, why not go ahead and 'put a ring on' your special someone. Beyoncé would be proud!

Royal 6 E VI ring
Detail of couple exchanging a ring, from James le Palmer, Omne Bonum, South-eastern England (London?), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal 6 E VI, f. 104r


6. When partaking in romantic activities such as getting married, at least try to get into the spirit and look enthusiastic about it.

Royal 6 E VI marriage
Detail of a historiated initial 'C'(oniugium) of a priest joining hands of a man and a woman, from Royal 6 E VI, f. 375r


 7. If your love is unrequited this Valentine’s Day, why not channel your inner teenager and doodle your feelings away?

King's 322 1 heart rain c0430-02
Historiated initial 'A'(more) of a kneeling lover presenting a book to a lady, identified in the text as Mirabel Zucharia, with borders and a shield, the original arms of which have been overpainted with two hearts burning in a fire, and in the right margin is the device of a heart on a bonfire, being quenched by the rain, from 49 love sonnets, Northern Italy (Milan?), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, King's MS 322, f. 1r


8. And, if rejection comes your way this Valentine's Day, have no fear!

Royal 6 E VI rejection E015129
Detail of an historiated initial 'C'(onsciencia) of two men in discussion, from Royal 6 E VI, f. 341r

 There are plenty of fish in the sea (and in the sky). Like these… 

Fish 9th century E021999
Pisces, from Cicero, Aratea, with extracts from Hyginus's Astronomica in the constellation figures, Northern France (diocese of Reims), 9th century, Harley MS 647, f. 3v

Or even these…

Fish 25542_2
Detail of Pisces, from Cicero, Aratea, Northern France (Fleury), c. 990-c.1000, Harley MS 2506, f. 36v

~Becky Lawton

11 February 2016

The Earliest English Poet

 Today is the feast day of Caedmon, the first known English poet. As well as being the first named poet in the English literary tradition, he is also a significant figure in the history of people who hate singing in public, people who develop new talents later in life, and of cowherds.

 Caedmon’s work and the story of his life are described in the Ecclesiastical History of English People written by the eighth-century monk, Bede. An eighth-century manuscript of this work-- which was possibly even copied at Bede’s own monastery of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow-- has recently been uploaded to our Digitised Manuscripts website as part of our Anglo-Saxon digitisation project. Sadly, it was damaged in the Ashburnham House fire in 1731, but it is still somewhat legible. In it, Bede gives us some biographical detail about Caedmon. Although we might imagine that English’s first poet would have been a highly educated individual, Caedmon was, in fact, a cowherd at the monastery of Whitby who did not take religious orders ‘until he was well advanced in years’. In this sense, Caedmon is a remarkable figure in Bede’s history, as he is one of the few non-elite figures to get a mention.

Detail of initials from Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow?), mid-8th-early 9th century, Cotton Tiberius A XIV, ff. 25r

Little in Caedmon’s early life suggested that he might become one of the greatest poets of his age. Ever the retiring type, he was so shy about singing or speaking in public that, according to Bede, when people began singing at parties, he would leave ‘as soon as he saw the harp approaching him’ (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, iv.24).

Page containing Bede’s account of Caedmon, from Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow?), mid-8th-early 9th century, Cotton Tiberius A XIV, ff. 144r

It was only later in life that he began to write verse and compose song. Bede recounts how one night, when he was sleeping in the cowshed, Caedmon had a vision. When he woke, he remembered the song he had sung in his dream, and astounded everyone at the abbey with his beautiful poetry. Later on, he would impress the monastery’s leaders, including the abbess St Hilda, with his capacity to compose verse on complex theological topics which the monks and nuns discussed with him. (Caedmon might make a suitable patron saint for interdisciplinary work.)

Unfortunately all but one of Caedmon’s poems are lost. The sole surviving example is known as Caedmon’s Hymn and survives in manuscripts of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Some manuscripts provide a Latin translation, while others give a Latin translation and an Old English version. The different Old English versions use various regional dialects, including Northumbrian and West Saxon. One of the manuscripts containing the West Saxon version of this very precious literary fragment is British Library Cotton MS Otho B XI. The manuscript was unfortunately also damaged in the fire of 1731, but an early modern transcript of it survives (British Library Additional MS 43703). In Old and Middle English c. 890-c.1450, Elaine Treharne translates Caedmon's hymn into modern English as:

'Now we ought to praise the Guardian of the heavenly kingdom,

The might of the Creator and his conception,

The work of the glorious Father, as he of each of the wonders,

Eternal Lord, established the beginning.

He first created for the sons of men [children of earth in West Saxon version]

Heaven as a roof, holy Creator;

Then the middle-earth, the Guardian of mankind,

The eternal Lord, afterwards made

The earth for men, the Lord almighty.'

The hymn is a work in praise of God. It grabs the reader from its opening word ‘Nu’, meaning ‘Now’, making the poem feel immediate.  From there it proceeds to celebrate all of creation in a mere nine lines. Like all Old English verse, it uses musical alliteration. It closes, powerfully, with the word ‘allmectig’, ‘Almighty’, in praise of God.


Detail of an initial from Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow?), mid-8th-early 9th century, Cotton Tiberius A XIV, ff. 79v

Bede’s point, in his story about Caedmon, is that poetry is transformational, mystical and god-given. For, according to Bede, ‘no other English poets could compare’ with Caedmon, the humble late-comer not trained by human teachers, whose poetry in turn transformed and inspired those who read it in the Anglo-Saxon period and beyond.

~ Mary Wellesley and Alison Hudson


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06 February 2016

Medieval Library Rules

Today is National Libraries Day. Here's a guide to proper behaviour in the library. 

Rule No. 1: No Pets

Please do not bring your pets to the library. That includes pet rabbits and tame doves. 


St Gregory the Great in his study.  Hours of Bona Sforza, Milan, c. 1490–4. Add MS 34294, f. 196v

Sometimes pets get carried away and like to get involved, which may damage the collections. 


St Mark in his study. The Bedford Hours, Paris,c. 1423–30. Add MS 18850, fol. 24r 

So, even the most well-behaved of pets is not allowed. 


Attributed to the Master of the Cité des Dames and workshop and to the Master of the Duke of Bedford, Christine de Pizan,
various works (the Book of the Queen), Paris, c. 1410–c. 1414;  Harley MS 4431, f. 4r

Rule No. 2: Silence Please. 

 Please do not disturb other library users by playing obscure musical instruments in the reading rooms. 


Musicians in a study. Attributed to Maître François, Valerius Maximus, translated by Simon de Hesdin and Nicholas de Gonesse, 'Les Fais et les dis des Romains et de autres gens', Paris, between 1473 and c. 1480; Harley MS 4375, f. 151 v

Rule No. 3: Use Appropriate Book Supports.

(Although if you are able to make use of an angel, that is also permissible.) 


St Matthew in his study. Hours of Bona Sforza, Milan, c. 1490–4; Add MS 34294, f. 7r

Rule No. 4: Keep your desk tidy. 

Ensure there are no lemons or bishops' mitres in your work area. 

Desk tidy crop

Bonaventure, a biographer of Francis of Assisi, in his study. Attributed to Stefano Lunetti, Bonaventure, Legend and Life of Francis of Assisi (with Miracles), Florence, 1504; Harley MS 3229, f. 26r

More images of medieval readers in their studies and libraries will be available in April when the British Library is publishing Medieval and Renaissance Interiors, by Eva Oledzka. 

 ~ Mary Wellesley