Medieval manuscripts blog

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27 August 2022

Help us decipher this inscription

Do you fancy yourself as some sort of medieval detective? Then this might be just the right thing for you.

Hot off the press is this ultraviolet image of one of the manuscripts in our Medieval and Renaissance Women project, the cartulary of Coldingham Priory. You can read more about the project in this blogpost and you can view the cartulary in full on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site (Harley MS 6670). The cartulary was made in 1434 for the Cistercian nuns of Coldingham in Scotland, and it contains copies of a number of documents, including a charter of Alexander II, King of Scots (r. 1214–1249), and several of the Earls of Dunbar. A note at the end of the volume (f. 55v) reveals that the nuns asked John Laurence, a public notary, to make a transcript of their charters, because of their age and out of fear of English invasion, which meant they were more susceptible to burning or other accidents.

A page of the Coldingham cartulary with an inscription at the top, revealed under ultraviolet light

While we were cataloguing the manuscript, we noticed this late medieval note in the upper part of the page at the end, that someone has tried to erase, very effectively as it happens. But what does it say? We'd love your thoughts. Is it an ownership inscription of some kind, or does it give an insight into how the cartulary was made or used?

If you are able to read some or all of the words, please pop a comment into the box below or contact us on Twitter @BLMedieval. We'd be extremely grateful for your help. Here is a detail of the inscription, and you can see what it looks like with the naked eye here (Harley MS 6670, f. 57v).

Highlight of the inscription


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I think I can decipher individual letters more than words... just my best guess.

First word: The [thorn (y with a superscript e)]
Second word: not sure, but I think it starts with p
Third word: of
Fourth word: not sure, starts with y, could also be thorn
Last word: to

First word: last
Second word: yu
?? word: hand or hard
Last word/next to last word: starts with an l, d in the middle, ends with n (the n has a flourish)

First word: starts with m, could end in st or pt
Last word: the ending of it appears to be a scribal abbreviation similar to the final word on f.50v or the word in the middle of the second row of words on f.49v

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