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277 posts categorized "Anglo-Saxons"

09 February 2019

Easy as ABC?

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Do you know your ABC? How about your ᚠ ᚢ ᚦ ᚱ ᚳ ? Or your ᚁ ᚂ ᚃ ?

The inhabitants of the British Isles in the first millennium spoke many different languages and wrote in several alphabets. Variant writing systems identified from early Anglo-Saxon England — some of which can be viewed in our stellar Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition — include runes, ogham and Greek, and even attempts at replicating Hebrew and Arabic letters.

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The back of the Harford Farm Brooch includes a runic inscription which says ‘Luda repaired [or makes reparations by] this brooch’ (England, c. 610–650): Norwich Castle Museum 1994.5.78

Runes were used to represent the earliest Germanic languages, including early forms of Old English and the Scandinavian languages. The earliest surviving examples of these angular letters were incised into metal, stone, wood or ceramics. We know that each of these runes had a name, taken from a noun that started with that rune: for example, (n) was called nyd (need), while (th) was called thorn (thorn), perhaps because the symbol itself looks slightly like a branch with thorn. In the 10th century, someone added the names to a runic alphabet on the back of a copy of the Old English version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

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Runes copied in the 10th century, with their names added in the 11th century: Cotton MS Domitian A IX, f. 11v

Even though the Latin alphabet was eventually adapted to write English, runes did not cease to be used in Anglo-Saxon England. Several objects from the 7th to the 11th centuries feature runic inscriptions. Some surviving blades and scabbards feature the names of their early owners in runes or cryptic, talismanic inscriptions.

The Ruthwell Cross features the ‘Dream of the Rood’ poem inscribed in runes around its sides. Even when writing in Latin letters, the Anglo-Saxons used runes to represent sounds in their language which were not present in the Roman alphabet, such as æ, th (represented by þ or the adapted Latin letters Ð, ð), and w (Ƿ). Some of these letters are still used in Icelandic and Faroese spelling to this day.

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A scribe from 10th-century England practised his alphabet in the margins of this 9th-century copy of Alcuin’s letters: Harley MS 208, f. 117v 

Another non-Latin alphabet known in England in the first millennium was ogham. This writing system is formed of lines carved at different angles around a central line. Examples of ogham inscriptions have been found in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and beyond. On display in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition is a knife inscribed with ogham that was found in South-West Norfolk.

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A knife with an ogham inscription, from Norwich Castle Museum

Ogham script was certainly known to Byrhtferth of Ramsey in the late 10th or early 11th century, and by the scribes who copied his work in the 12th century. Ogham occurs in a 12th-century copy of his diagram (in Oxford, St John’s College, MS 17), although not in the version in Harley MS 3667. Perhaps the scribe of the Harley manuscript omitted the symbols because he did not understand them.

Alphabets from other parts of the world were known to certain Anglo-Saxons. Greek letters appear in some early medieval English manuscripts. Knowledge of Greek in Anglo-Saxon England may be associated with the school run by Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Hadrian in Canterbury in the late 7th and early 8th century. Theodore was from the Greek-speaking part of the Mediterranean and became archbishop of Canterbury in 668. Bede used the Greek alphabet in mathematical calculations and recommended it for creating codes. Some early medieval scribes also tried to imitate Hebrew letters, with somewhat less success. 

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Greek letters, in red, spelling the Latin phrase ‘Deo Gratias’: Harley MS 5431, f. 106v

One incredible survival featured in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms is a coin of King Offa (d. 796) that imitates the Arabic script on a dinar of Abbasid caliph al-Mansur (AH 136–58/ AD 754–75). The Mercian moneyer who made the coin did not copy the letters correctly and clearly could not read Arabic.

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Gold dinar of Offa of Mercia: British Museum, CM 1913,1213.1

You can see many of these alphabets for yourself in the British Library's Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, which is open until 19 February. We recommend that you check availability before you travel as many time-slots are already full.

 

Alison Hudson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

08 February 2019

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms and the BnF

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One of the many wonderful things about our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition is that roughly half of the manuscripts and objects on display are on loan from other institutions. Six fascinating manuscripts in the show have kindly been loaned by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. This varied group includes a 7th-century calendar, an unusually shaped psalter, and a pontifical that features musical notation …

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The Echternach  Gospels: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 9389, f. 76r

One of these six manuscripts is a beautifully decorated insular gospel book, known as the Echternach Gospels. We know that this gospel book was in Echternach, modern-day Luxembourg, by the first half of the 8th century, but scholars have debated whether the manuscript was produced in Echternach, in Ireland or in Northumbria. Some people have compared its script to the Durham Gospels, which are thought to have been produced in Northumbria. On the other hand, some think the Echternach Gospels were produced in Ireland because the text is close to the 9th-century MacDurnan Gospels from Armagh. The founder of Echternach, a Northumbrian monk Willibrord, is known to have had connections to Ireland. His mission set out from Rath Melsigi, Co. Carlow, in the 690s, and Irish books and scribes likely played an important role in the early development of Echternach.

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The Calendar of Willibrord: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 10837, f. 39v

The founder of Echternach, Willibrord, was one of many Anglo-Saxon missionaries who travelled to the Continent to convert the pagans to Christianity. Manuscripts would have travelled to the Continent along with these missionaries. A manuscript that reflects this movement is the Calendar of Willibrord, also on loan from the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Entries in this calendar reflect Willibrord’s Northumbrian origins and Irish training, as well as additions made during his time on the Continent. This page, for the month of November, has notes in the margin referring to Willibrord’s life, including his journey in 690 ‘across the sea to Francia’.

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A collection of saints' Lives: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 10861, f. 2r

Another manuscript on loan from the Bibliothèque nationale de France is a 9th-century collection of saints' Lives, which contains accounts of the lives of two saints and narrative descriptions of the lives of sixteen early Christian martyrs. The enlarged, decorated ‘P’ on this folio begins Philippus apostolus, which introduces the account of the life of the Apostle Philip. Although the script of this manuscript suggests that it was copied in Canterbury, the parchment appears to have been prepared and arranged in a Continental style. This testifies to the close connections between Canterbury and Continental scriptoria in the early 9th century.

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The Paris Psalter: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 8824, ff. 3v–4r

The Bibliothèque nationale de France has also loaned the Paris Psalter to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. The psalms had a central role in liturgy and personal devotion, and were widely known and studied in Anglo-Saxon England. However, the Paris Psalter is unusually tall and thin compared to other, contemporary psalters.

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Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 6401, f. 13v

Also on loan is a copy of works by Boethius that illustrates the close links between England the monastery of Fleury (near Orléans, France). The style of script suggests that work began on the manuscript in England in the late 10th century, but the manuscript had reached Fleury by the early 11th century. One text in this manuscript is Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. The full-page painting above is of French workmanship, and shows the seated female figure of Philosophy, holding a snake, surrounded by birds and armed soldiers. The style of armour of these soldiers bears strong similarities to that of the Bayeux Tapestry.

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The Sherborne Pontifical: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 943, f. 10r

Another manuscript loaned by the Bibliothèque nationale de France provides an important insight into the performance of music in Anglo-Saxon England. This manuscript was likely made at Canterbury, but had come to Sherborne by the 990s and is now known as the Sherborne Pontifical. A bishop would read from a pontifical during ceremonies such as the consecration of kings, bishops, churches or relics. Instructions regarding the movement for the ceremony are written in larger black letters, whereas the chants are written in smaller black text, with musical notation added above. 

We are delighted to have been able to partner with the Bibliothèque nationale de France in The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700–1200In turn, we are extremely grateful to the Bibliothèque nationale de France for lending these fascinating manuscripts to our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, where they will be on display until 19 February 2019. Tickets to the exhibition are selling fast, buy them here.

 

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05 February 2019

Sutton Hoo and Anglo-Saxon East Anglia

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The British Library’s landmark exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, is open until 19 February 2019. Alongside some of the most significant manuscripts from our own collections, and important loans from other institutions, are a number of outstanding archaeological finds. Among them are artefacts from Sutton Hoo.

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The Sutton Hoo belt buckle: British Museum BEP 1939,1010.1

Sutton Hoo is one of the most famous excavations in British archaeological history. In 1939, the owner of the site, Edith Pretty, asked her gardener to investigate the curious mounds on her land. After some initial digging, it was thought prudent to involve the experts at the British Museum, and over the coming weeks they revealed a ship burial and many precious objects. We are delighted that a selection of these treasures are on display in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms.

The Sutton Hoo treasures included weapons, such as a sword, a set of spears and a famous helmet, and items associated with Anglo-Saxon dress, such as the great buckle and two shoulder-clasps. In our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition are displayed the sword-belt, complete with scabbard slider and strap distributor, and the gold belt buckle. These stunning objects have been generously loaned to the British Library by the British Museum.

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The scabbard slider and strap distributor from the Sutton Hoo sword-belt: British Museum BEP 1939,1010.10

The Sutton Hoo burial site lies within the territory of the former Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia. Some people have argued that the man in the main ship-burial was the 7th-century King Rædwald, who is described in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. According to Bede, Rædwald was a pagan when he came to the throne, before converting to Christianity later in his reign. Rædwald does not appear to have entirely given up his pagan ways. In Bede's words, 'he seemed to be serving both Christ and the gods who he had previously served; in the same temple he had one altar for the Christian sacrifice and another altar on which to offer victims of the devils'.

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Bede describes Rædwald’s pagan practices in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People: Cotton MS Tiberius C II, f. 54v

In our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, these treasures from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial are displayed alongside other archaeological discoveries found in the kingdom of East Anglia or the neighbouring kingdom of Kent. Many of these items are on loan from Norwich Castle Museum.

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Pendant from Winfarthing, Norfolk: Norwich Castle Museum 2017,519.6

On display in the exhibition is a gold and garnet pendant, found in the grave of a woman at Winfarthing, south Norfolk. This elaborately decorated pendant rivals the jewellery from Sutton Hoo. The woman who was buried with it seems to have been a Christian, as she was also buried with another gold pendant that features a cruciform design.

The decoration on the Sutton Hoo gold buckle features an intricate web of thirteen snakes, predatory birds and long-limbed beasts, delineated by alternating gold and niello backgrounds that give their bodies contrasting texture. The exhibition provides an unrivalled opportunity to compare their design with the decoration of contemporary manuscripts. For example, very similar insular interlace can be found on the pages of late 7th-century gospel books, such as the Book of Durrow, on loan to the exhibition from Trinity College Dublin.

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The Book of Durrow: Dublin, Trinity College, MS 57, f. 85v

The sources and inspiration for the artwork in the Book of Durrow stretch from Ireland to Anglo-Saxon England and from Pictland to the Mediterranean. The items found at Sutton Hoo in turn show connections between East Anglia and other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Francia and Byzantium. These treasures bear witness not only to Anglo-Saxon ambition and workmanship, but they also demonstrate their relationships with the wider world.

The spectacular treasures from Sutton Hoo are on show in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library until 19 February. Many session have already sold out, so to avoid disappointment we suggest that you book your tickets in advance

Becky Lawton

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

31 January 2019

The Ascension in Anglo-Saxon England

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Many fine examples of medieval art can be found in the pages of manuscripts. These illuminated books reflect the huge variety of artistic expression present in England and France during the early Middle Ages, as discussed in more detail on our new Medieval England and France, 700-1200 website. Biblical events provided the inspiration for many illustrations in these manuscripts, but medieval artists often interpreted these scenes in different ways. The Ascension of Christ was one biblical event whose representation changed in the course of the Middle Ages.

According to biblical accounts, Christ ascended to Heaven 40 days after his resurrection, leaving his disciples to continue his work on Earth (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-11). The event was frequently discussed in the writings of the Church Fathers, most notably St Augustine of Hippo (354–430), St Jerome (347–420) and other early Christian authors. It quickly became a significant feature in the Christian calendar, as one of the major feast-days celebrated in the course of the year, alongside Pentecost, Easter and Christmas. 

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The Ascension of Christ, on an added leaf in the Galba Psalter, Reims (France), 1st quarter of the 9th century (additions England, 1st half of the 10th century): Cotton MS Galba A XVIII, f. 120v

Christ’s Ascension was a popular subject in early medieval art. There were at least three different ways of representing the scene in English manuscript illumination by the 11th century. One was to depict Christ in an almond-shaped frame in the sky (also known as a mandorla or aureola), supported by angels who carried him to Heaven. One illustrator adopted this design in an added page in the Galba Psalter, a book of Psalms reputedly given to the Anglo-Saxon King Æthelstan (reigned 924–939). Christ appears with a halo, enthroned in majesty, with angels on either side. He holds a book in one hand, while the other faces outwards to display his open palm and the wound left by the nail of the Crucifixion. The actual moment of Ascension has already taken place. Christ gazes at his disciples on earth, and appears much as in contemporary and later medieval images of the Last Judgement, where the focus is on the glory of his divinity.

Other depictions of the Ascension from the Anglo-Saxon period show a more active Christ, who climbs unaided across the clouds to reach Heaven. An illustration in the lavishly decorated Benedictional of St Æthelwold represents a bearded and radiant Christ in profile, walking through the air. His arm reaches up to the extended hand of the Father that descends from the frame above. The artist even managed to capture the movement in Christ’s clothes as he ascends, his robes fluttering, almost ruffled by the wind.

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The Ascension of Christ from the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, Winchester, c. 971–984: Add MS 49598, f. 64v

Around the turn of the first millennium, a new type of Ascension image developed from these artistic traditions, becoming a standard iconography in the decoration of liturgical and devotional manuscripts in England. Such images attempted to depict the exact moment that Christ vanished from the Earthly realm into the presence of God and to represent only the lower half of his ascending body, at the last moment of his human incarnation. This iconography is sometimes referred to as the ‘Disappearing Christ’.

One example is found in the 11th-century Caligula Troper, recently digitised for the British Library by The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project. The Troper is a liturgical manuscript that contains the text and notation for chants added to the mass on feast days (for the manuscript’s use and unusual provenance, see this earlier blogpost). It also includes a series of illustrations of English saints and the Apostles, and biblical stories such as the naming of John the Baptist and the Ascension itself. In its representation of the Ascension, Christ’s upper body disappears into the clouds and the frame of the image itself. His arms, head and face are hidden from our sight and the gaze of the disciples, with only his legs and bare feet visible.

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The Disappearing Christ from the Caligula Troper, England (Worcester?), 2nd half of the 11th century: Cotton MS Caligula A XIV, f. 18r

The iconography of the ‘Disappearing Christ’ may have been linked to an earlier exegetical tradition that maintained that Christ did not need help from Heaven in his ascent, but used his own divine power (Gregory the Great, Homilia 29; Bede, Homilia II.15). We notice that the celestial beings that appear on either side of the scene in the Caligula Troper do not carry Christ’s body. Instead, they raise their hands in adoration at his return, their heads craned upwards in much the same way as the watching disciples. The clouds offer Christ no support in his climb. They appear above his feet and he rises through them to Heaven.

The ‘Disappearing Christ’ motif also appears in the Tiberius Psalter, a late Anglo-Saxon manuscript that contains a series of illustrations from the Old and New Testament. In the Psalter’s representation of the Ascension, a notably independent Christ rises to Heaven. The artist has chosen to omit the company of angels, as well as the Hand of God and the mandorla, so that the focus is on Christ and his disciples. The caption at the top of the page is barely legible because of the damage the manuscript sustained in the Cotton library fire in 1731. The Latin reads Hic ascendit Christus ad caelos (Here Christ ascended to Heaven). Meanwhile in the centre, the artist introduces a new detail to the scene: Christ leaves behind a crown and an open book in the hands of his disciples, a signal to them to carry on his work and spread his teachings on earth.

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The Disappearing Christ from the Tiberius Psalter, Winchester, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 11th century: Cotton MS Tiberius C VI, f. 15r

You can see all four of these manuscripts in person at the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (on until 19 February 2019). Demand is high so we strongly recommend that you book your tickets in advance.

 

Calum Cockburn

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval #PolonskyPre1200

 

 

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29 January 2019

Queen Emma: wife of two kings, mother of two more

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Emma of Normandy was one of the most significant figures in the turbulent politics of 11th-century England. She was queen to two kings of the English (Æthelred the Unready and Cnut), and mother to two more (Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor) as well as being an influential figure in her own right. We know more about her than other women in Anglo-Saxon England thanks to a variety of charters, illuminated manuscripts and a biography written during Emma's own lifetime.

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Detail of Emma from the New Minster Liber Vitae (Winchester, c. 1031): Stowe MS 944, f. 6r

Emma was born in Normandy in the early 980s. Her brother, Richard II, duke of Normandy (d. 1026), sent her to marry the English king, Æthelred the Unready, following a dispute regarding Viking forces that were attacking England and Normandy. When in England, Emma was sometimes known by the English name Ælfgifu. With Æthelred, she had at least three children: Edward the Confessor (who ruled England from 1042 to 1066); Alfred; and Godgifu.

When King Æthelred died in 1016, he was succeeded by Cnut, bringing England into an empire that stretched to Denmark, Norway and into the Baltic. Emma married King Cnut sometime in 1017, and they had at least two children: a son, Harthacnut; and a daughter, Gunnhild. The children from her first marriage (Edward, Alfred and Godgifu) went into exile in mainland Europe.

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Emma persuades Cnut to give land to Archbishop Lyfing (Canterbury, 1018): Stowe Ch 38

Emma seems to have been a crucial figure in Cnut’s government, with surviving documents showing her advising the king. A charter on display in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (at the British Library until 19 February) emphasises that Cnut gave land to the archbishop of Canterbury at Emma’s request. In the early days of Cnut’s reign, Emma may have helped him establish alliances with important English institutions, such as the church at Canterbury.

It is quite fitting that the only surviving manuscript portrait of Cnut also features Emma at his side. This portrait can be found in the Book of Life of the New Minster, Winchester. The couple are shown standing on either side of the altar at that monastery, where they were remembered as major benefactors.

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Emma and Cnut from the New Minster Liber Vitae: Stowe MS 944, f. 6r

After Cnut’s death in 1035, Harald Harefoot, his son by a previous wife, succeeded to the English throne. In 1036, Emma’s sons from her first marriage, Edward and Alfred, invaded England to challenge Harald, believing that they had their mother's support. Their coup was unsuccessful, and although Edward escaped, Alfred was captured, blinded and killed. Edward never seems to have completely forgiven his mother for what he perceived as her role in Alfred’s death.

When Harald Harefoot died in 1040, Harthacnut, Emma’s son by Cnut, became king of England. However, in 1041, Harthacnut’s half-brother, Edward, became joint ruler of England, perhaps facilitated by Emma.  

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Opening miniature from the Encomium Emmae reginae: Add MS 33241, f. 1v

Around this time was written the text known as Encomium Emmae reginae (‘In Praise of Queen Emma’). This is the earliest surviving account dedicated to a female political figure from England (excluding saints’ Lives). This work was probably composed for Emma by a monk of Saint-Bertin, in Flanders, who appears to have re-framed history to justify Emma’s actions. Emma’s first husband, Æthelred, is not mentioned in this work, with Cnut being portrayed as the rightful ruler of England.

Emma may have used the Encomium to shape both the present and the future. The earliest surviving manuscript (Add MS 33241) ends with an account of Edward and Harthacnut ruling jointly: ‘here the bond of motherly love and brotherly love is of strength indestructible’. In 1042, Harthacnut died and Edward the Confessor became the sole king of England. At this stage, the author re-wrote the final part of the text. 

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Ending of the earliest surviving copy of the Encomium Emmae reginae: Add MS 33241, f. 67r

In 2008, a later medieval copy of the Encomium emerged at auction. This copy is now held at the Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen. The ending in this manuscript praised King Edward, and suggests that it was written when Edward had become sole king after Harthacnut’s death in 1042. Although Edward’s father, Æthelred the Unready, was not mentioned at all in the earlier version of the text, Edward and his lineage were praised in the new ending.

Edward’s relationship with his mother did not necessarily improve. At the beginning of his reign, Edward deprived Emma of much of her wealth and banished her for a period from his court. She died in 1052 and was buried at Winchester.

Emma’s political influence had far-reaching consequences. She both stabilised Cnut's Anglo-Danish dynasty and provided the man who supplanted it, Edward the Confessor. Later chroniclers even suggested that Emma’s marriage to King Æthelred the Unready led to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, since it gave her great-nephew, William of Normandy, a claim to the English throne.

You can view several of the manuscripts connected with Queen Emma, including the New Minster Liber Vitae and the oldest version of the Encomium Emmae reginae, in the British Library's once-in-a-generation exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War. It's on in London until 19 February 2019, and we strongly advise (due to high demand) that you buy your tickets in advance.

 

Alison Hudson 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

26 January 2019

Charteriffic

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The British Library holds the world’s largest collection of Anglo-Saxon charters, wills and letters, over 200 of which have recently been added to our Digitised Manuscripts site. An impressive selection of these charters are also currently on display in our landmark Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.

What makes these charters, letters and wills so fascinating?

(1) We sometimes know the dates when specific charters were issued

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The Hlothhere Charter: Cotton MS Augustus II 2

In general, charters are formulaic documents. The main portion of text outlines the transaction, often a grant of land, and then states when and where it was formalised. A list of witnesses might then be added at the bottom. This charter, issued in the name of King Hlothhere of Kent (d. 685), states that it was issued ‘in the city of Rochester in the month of May, the seventh indiction’. This refers to the Roman dating system, split into fifteen-year cycle, which equates to the year 679. 

(2) Charters were often created in response to a meeting or event

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Charter of Æthelwulf, king of the West Saxons and of Kent: Stowe Ch 17

This charter was issued in the name of King Æthelwulf (d. 858), who styled himself ‘king of the West Saxons and the men of Kent’; in it, he granted land in Chart, western Kent, to a nobleman called Æthelmod. The small piece of parchment stitched to the bottom reveals that this charter was made in a two-stage process. The main part of the document was drawn up in advance and used at the official ceremony. A note was then made of all the witnesses present, listing the king, his entourage, the archbishop and members of the Canterbury community. These names were copied onto the main document at a later date.

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3. Charters sometimes confirmed important changes in the Anglo-Saxon Church

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Decree of the church council at Clofesho abolishing the archbishopric of Lichfield: Cotton MS Augustus II 61

In 787, the bishopric of Lichfield was raised to an archbishopric, most likely at the request of King Offa of Mercia. For sixteen years, Lichfield was the third archbishopric in the English Church alongside Canterbury and York. However, in 803, a church council held at Clofesho confirmed that Lichfield should revert to a bishopric. The charter above confirmed the decision made at that council.

(4) Wills can provide valuable insights into the private lives of Anglo-Saxon noblemen and women

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Will of WynflĂŚd, late 10th or early 11th century: Cotton Ch VIII 38

Wynflæd was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who lived in south-western England in the first half of the 10th century. She left a will detailing what should happen to her possessions, which survives in a copy made in the early 11th century. Wynflæd’s will lists several estates, tamed and untamed horses, slaves, coins, livestock, items in gold and silver, and books. The will also stipulates what should happen to her clothing, including her engraved bracelets, linen gowns, caps and headbands. This fascinating document provides an insight into the estate of a wealthy woman in the 10th century in a level of detail rarely found in other sources.

(5) Charters could very occasionally be decorated

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Detail of King Edgar from a charter for the New Minster, Winchester, 966: Cotton MS Vespasian A VIII, f. 2v

In some very rare instances, Anglo-Saxon charters could be decorated. A stunning example of a decorated charter is King Edgar’s charter for the New Minster, Winchester, which depicts Edgar, flanked by St Peter and the Virgin Mary, presenting the charter to Christ.

(6) Charters were sometimes consulted several centuries after they were created

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King Æthelbald of the Mercians and of the South Angli grants ten hides at Ismere by the river Stour and land at Brochyl in Morfe forest, Worcestershire, to Cyneberht, comes, for the construction of a minster, dated 736: Cotton MS Augustus II 3

Inscriptions on the reverse of these charters can often reflect how they were archived. On the back of this charter issued in the name of King Æthelbald of Mercia in 736, it is still possible to see the impressions from where the document was folded for storage. A portion of parchment that would have been exposed is slightly discoloured and bears two inscriptions: ‘Norð stur’ is written twice in a 10th-century hand, and ‘Æþelbald rex’ in a 12th-century hand. These notes would have helped the archivist identify the charter's content without having to open it.

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Reverse of a charter issued in the name of King Æthelbald of the Mercians: Cotton MS Augustus II 3

You can explore these charterrific documents on our Digitised Manuscripts site. A full list of all digitised Anglo-Saxon charters from the British Library’s collection can be found here. And you can see a host of Anglo-Saxon charters, letters and wills for yourself in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (until 19 February 2019).

 

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23 January 2019

Cambridge loans in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms  

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What do the St Augustine Gospels, the Eadwine Psalter and the Moore Bede have in common? They have all been kindly loaned to our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition by institutions in Cambridge. On display in the exhibition are a host of manuscripts from Corpus Christi College, Trinity College and the University Library. Read on to find out more about some of these fantastic loans.

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The St Augustine Gospels: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 286, f. 129v

The St Augustine Gospels is one of the great treasures on loan from Corpus Christi College. This gospel-book dates from the late-6th to the early-7th century and is thought to have been made in Italy, possibly at Rome. This manuscript likely came to England soon after its creation, perhaps with the mission of Augustine of Canterbury. The St Augustine Gospels is still used today at every inauguration of a new archbishop of Canterbury, travelling from Cambridge for the occasion. This splendid manuscript provides a tangible link to the very early days of the Anglo-Saxon Church.

Archbishop

The Dean of Canterbury holds the “Canterbury Gospels”, as Archbishop Rowan Williams kisses the ancient book (by permission of James Rosenthal/Anglican World)

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The Otho-Corpus Gospels: Cotton MS Otho C V, f. 27r

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The Cotton-Otho Gospels: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 197B, p. 245

In the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition are displayed two portions of the Otho-Corpus Gospels. One fragment is from the British Library’s own collections, and was badly damaged in the Cotton Library fire in 1731; the other part has been loaned by Corpus Christi College. This is a rare opportunity to view these two portions together and to compare the illustrations of John’s eagle and Mark’s lion.

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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, manuscript A: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 173, f. 13v

Another manuscripts on loan from Corpus Christi College is the A-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, otherwise known as the ‘Parker Chronicle’. This is a 9th-century copy of the original compilation of the Chronicle, one of the most important narrative sources for the Anglo-Saxon period, and the earliest surviving witness of this text. Later versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are also on display in the exhibition, namely manuscript B, manuscript C and manuscript D.

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Asser’s Life of King Alfred: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 100, p. 325

Corpus Christi has also loaned a 16th-century transcript of Asser’s Life of King Alfred. This is a biography of the 9th-century King Alfred the Great of Wessex, written during the king’s lifetime by the Welsh monk Asser. The only medieval manuscript of the ‘Life of King Alfred’ that survived into modern times was destroyed in the Cotton Library fire in October 1731. Although Alfred is commonly remembered as the Anglo-Saxon king who defeated the Vikings, Asser’s work barely mentions this, instead giving a more personal account of Alfred’s life.

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The Eadwine Psalter: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.17.1, f. 24r

The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition also features a selection of manuscripts on loan from Trinity College, Cambridge. Among them is the Eadwine Psalter, a mid-12th century manuscript made in England. This Psalter is the second copy made of the 9th-century Utrecht Psalter, which was revolutionary for its inclusion of drawings outside the confines of decorative initials and borders. The Eadwine Psalter is extraordinary because of its elaborate illustrations, and also its inclusion of all three of Jerome’s translations of the Psalms, an Anglo-Norman French translation and a translation into Old English.

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The Trinity Gospels: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.10.4, ff. 59v–60r

The Trinity Gospels, also on loan from Trinity College, is one of the most elaborately decorated of all surviving 11th-century gospel-books. This manuscript is notable for containing all four of the full-page decorated ‘incipit’ pages at the beginning of the gospels. They are decorated with gold and painted haloed figures holding books and scrolls.

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Hrabanus Maurus, De laudibus sanctae crucis: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.16.3, f. 30v

A copy of Hrabanus Maurus’s fascinating text, ‘In Praise of the Holy Cross’, is also on loan to the exhibition from Trinity College. This is one of only two copies of this text to be made in Anglo-Saxon England. Hrabanus Maurus was a renowned Carolingian scholar whose works were popular throughout medieval Europe. This particular work contains poems where both word and metre are embedded into a grid, with concealed phrases revealed only by superimposed images and shapes, in this instance a cross.

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The ‘Moore Bede’: Cambridge University Library MS Kk.5.16, f. 22r

One of the manuscripts on loan from Cambridge University Library is known as the ‘Moore Bede’. This is perhaps the earliest surviving copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731. This well-known text is the first narrative historical account of the origins of the English. The manuscript is copied in Insular minuscule, which was faster to write than the more elaborate uncial script, allowing scribes to meet the exceptional demand for Bede’s work.

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The Book of Cerne: Cambridge University Library MS Ll.1.10, f. 32r

Finally, Cambridge University Library has loaned us The Book of Cerne, a beautifully decorated 9th-century prayer-book. It contains extracts from the four Gospels, 74 prayers, a selection of Psalms and the earliest surviving liturgical drama in England, the Harrowing of Hell. The illustrations in this manuscript are very sophisticated, with each gospel proceeded by a portrait of the evangelist and his symbol.

We are incredibly grateful to our Cambridge friends for lending these manuscripts to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. The exhibition runs until Tuesday, 19 February. Tickets are available here. Hurry… they’re selling fast!

Eleanor Stinson

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19 January 2019

From Oxford to London

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The city of Oxford is home to a historic network of libraries and museums. Two of these institutions, the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian Library, have kindly loaned a selection of their treasures to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition here at the British Library.

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The Alfred Jewel: Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, AN1836 p.135.371

The Alfred Jewel has been loaned to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms by the Ashmolean Museum. This stunning object was discovered in Somerset in 1693, a few miles from a fortress of King Alfred the Great of Wessex (d. 899). Near to this location was the monastery at Athelney, where Alfred found shelter before fighting back against King Guthrum’s ‘Great Heathen Army’ in 878. The jewel owes its name to an inscription which surrounds the central figure, reading: +ÆLFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN (‘Alfred ordered me to be made’). The discovery of this jewel and its fascinating inscription has led scholars to suggest that the jewel may have been made by command of Alfred himself.

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King Alfred’s translation of the Pastoral Care: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Hatton 20, f. 1r

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms also features six manuscripts kindly loaned by the Bodleian Library. Among them is an Old English translation of Gregory the Great’s Cura Pastoralis (‘Pastoral Care’), which has also been attributed to Alfred the Great. In a letter which precedes the Pastoral Care, Alfred instructed his bishops to lead a programme of translation of texts from Latin to English, so as to make them more widely accessible. 

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Adam and Eve in Eden in the Junius Manuscript: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Junius 11, p. 34

The Bodleian Library has also loaned the Junius manuscript to the British Library, a crucial witness to the Anglo-Saxon poetic tradition, containing over 5,000 lines of verse in Old English. The first three Old English poems in the manuscript, Genesis, Exodus and Daniel, are accompanied by illustrations. The page shown here depicts Adam and Eve, both naked, after Satan had tricked them into disobeying God.  

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The MacRegol Gospels: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Auct. D. 2. 19, f. 92v

Also on loan from the Bodleian Library is the MacRegol Gospels. This gospel-book is named after MacRegol, whose name occurs in a contemporary inscription urging the readers to pray for him. Although made in Ireland, the manuscript had made its way to England by the second half of the 10th century, where an interlinear Old English translation of the gospels was added.

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Primasius’ Commentary on the Apocalypse: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 140, f. 4r 

Another manuscript with far-reaching connections is this 8th-century copy of Primasius’ Commentary on the Apocalypse. Primasius was bishop of Hadrumetum, in present-day Tunisia, but this manuscript was copied in an English context under continental influence. It provides important evidence of connections between Anglo-Saxon scholars and the Greek-speaking Mediterranean world. Two famous English churchmen are believed to have annotated this manuscript: Boniface, archbishop of Mainz (d. 754), is thought to be responsible for the notes in the margins; and Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury (959–988), for the interlinear additions.

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Dunstan’s Classbook: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Auct. F. 4. 32, f. 1r

One of the most famous manuscripts in the exhibition is 'Dunstan's Classbook'. Archbishop Dunstan was a well-read scholar, and his ‘Classbook’ contains homilies, grammatical texts and an extract of a poem by Ovid.

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The earliest copy of the Rule of St Benedict: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Hatton 48, f. 38v

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms has brought together an amazing array of manuscripts, some of which are the oldest examples in existence. This is typified by the final Bodleian loan, namely the earliest surviving copy of the Rule of St Benedict. The Benedictine Rule was written by Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–c. 547) as a series of instructions for communal life in a monastery. This manuscript was copied in England around the year 700, showing that Benedict’s principles for monastic life were known in the early English Church.

We are extremely grateful to the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian Library for lending these fascinating items to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. They can be viewed at the British Library until 19 February 2019, and tickets are available here

Becky Lawton 

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