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100 posts categorized "Early modern"

17 September 2020

Heritage Made Digital: Tudor and Stuart manuscripts go online

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The British Library is home to a world-class collection of manuscripts dating from the time of the Tudors and Stuarts. Over the past few years, we have been undertaking a major programme, known as Heritage Made Digital, with the intention of publishing online more of the Library's treasures from the Library's collections. This includes approximately 600 of these Tudor and Stuart manuscripts. Today, we're very pleased to let you know that the first batch are available to view on our Digitised Manuscripts site — a list is published below. We hope that this will help to promote new research into this invaluable resource, especially at a time when it hasn't been easy to access the original items in person.

A page from an Early Modern friendship album, featuring a painted portrait of Prince Charles alongside his coat of arms.

The portrait and arms of Prince Charles (later King Charles I), from the Friendship Album of Sir Thomas Cuming of Scotland: Add MS 17083, f. 4v

Publishing these manuscripts is the culmination of a huge amount of work by many teams across the Library. Each item has been assessed and prepared by our conservators prior to its digitisation. Our Imaging Studio has taken high-resolution photographs of every page, creating thousands of images in the process. The cataloguers (Amy, Jessica and Tim, with the assistance of other colleagues) have created new descriptions of each manuscript, and have made some intriguing discoveries and identifications along the way. The Heritage Made Digital team have overseen the whole process, and have been responsible in particular for checking the quality of the images and publishing them online.

The reverse of a letter from Elizabeth I to James VI, featuring the queen’s signature.

A letter from Elizabeth I to James VI of Scotland, dated May 1590 and bearing her signature: Add MS 23240, f. 90

A quick glance at the list of the first twenty manuscripts that have gone online indicates the importance of this material. There are original letters of Queen Elizabeth I, King Charles I and James VI of Scotland, alongside the literary works of Robert Southwell and Sir John Harington, and Edmund Spenser's A View of the Present State of Ireland. One manuscript contains the plots of five Elizabethan plays; another is the friendship album of Sir Thomas Cuming. Their contents relate to state affairs in England, Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands, and to numerous aspects of political and social history.

A page from a collection of stage plots for 5 Early Modern plays, showing the directions for ‘The Dead Man’s Fortune’.

The stage plot for the late 16th-century play, ‘The Dead Man’s Fortune’, possibly performed by the Admiral’s Men: Add MS 10449, f. 1r

In 2021, some of these newly-digitised manuscripts will also feature in a major exhibition at the British Library, devoted to Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. This exhibition will focus on the intertwined relationship between these two queens, viewed through the manuscripts and printed books that are associated with them. More information about this exhibition will be announced in due course.

The opening page from a 15th-century manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, featuring a decorated border and initial with a coat of arms in the lower margin.

The prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: Add MS 5140, f. 2r

More updates about this digitisation project will be published at regular intervals on this Blog, as well as the Library's Untold Lives and English and Drama Blogs. We hope that you enjoy exploring this initial selection of our Tudor and Stuart manuscripts, and that this whets your appetite for future additions. Please let us know via Twitter (@BLMedieval) how this impacts upon your own research, and whether it leads to new discoveries of your own.

The opening page from a manuscript featuring a compilation of extracts from the household accounts of King Henry VIII, arranged in a table.

The opening of a compilation of extracts from the household accounts of King Henry VII: Add MS 7099, f. 2r

 

Add MS 4107: State papers, 1598–1745

Add MS 4155: Political and diplomatic papers, 1587-1689

Add MS 5140: Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

Add MS 7099: Extracts from household books of Henry VII

Add MS 10422: Robert Southwell's poetry and prose

Add MS 10449: Stage plots of five Elizabethan plays

Add MS 11252: Letters of King Charles I etc

Add MS 12049: Sir John Harington's poetry and prose

Add MS 14028: Robert Beale's diplomatic papers

Add MS 15225: Religious poems and songs

Add MS 15891: Letters received by Sir Christopher Hatton

Add MS 17083: Friendship album of Sir Thomas Cuming

Add MS 18920: Sir John Harington's translation of Orlando Furioso

Add MS 19969: Letters and papers relating to Ferdinand of Boisschot

Add MS 21432: George Peele, Anglorum Feriæ

Add MS 22022: Edmund Spenser, A View of the Present State of Ireland

Add MS 22924: Household accounts of Queen Elizabeth I, 1590–92

Add MS 23240: Letters of Elizabeth I to James VI of Scotland

Add MS 23241: Letter of King James VI of Scotland and others

Add MS 29431: State letters. 1472–1538

 

Andrea Clarke & Sandra Tuppen

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30 August 2020

Elizabeth Elstob, Old English scholar, and the Harleian Library

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Elizabeth Elstob (1683–1758) is considered to be the first female scholar of Old English and one of the earliest advocates of women’s education. She was supported in her scholarly pursuits by Robert Harley (1661–1724), 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, the founder of the Harley collection, and his Library-Keeper Humfrey Wanley (1672–1726), another renowned scholar of Old English. 

The youngest of eight siblings born to a merchant family in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Elizabeth initially received private education under her mother’s tutelage. When her mother died in 1691, she was sent to her uncle Charles Elstob, Prebendary of Canterbury, who was opposed to the education of women. Despite his disapproval, Elizabeth began studying ancient and modern languages. She subsequently moved in with her brother William, a clergyman and scholar in Oxford, who introduced her to the leading Old English scholars of their day. In 1702, they moved to London where she began publishing major works on the Old English language.

An engraving of a woman’s portrait representing Elizabeth Elstob

An engraved portrait of Elizabeth Elstob: Add MS 29300, f. 39r

Among Elizabeth’s publications were an edition of the Latin Athanasian Creed with an Old English interlinear gloss (1708); an edition and translation of the Old English Life of Pope Gregory the Great by the Benedictine monk Ælfric of Eynsham (1709); and The Rudiments of Grammar for the English-Saxon Tongue (1715). The latter was the first grammar of Old English published in modern English. Up to that point, scholarship on Old English had been mostly in Latin, so this was an important publication for making the study of Old English more accessible to students and amateur female scholars alike. While preparing a complete edition of Ælfric’s Homilies, she worked with her brother William on his editions of the Old English adaptation of Orosius’s History of the World and Old English legal texts.  

The initials ‘W. E.’ and ‘E. E.’ drawn in and decorated with penwork in red ink

The initials of William Elstob and Elizabeth Elstob from a transcript of Textus Roffensis which they collated with the original manuscript in 1712: Stowe MS 960, f. 3r

During her career, Elizabeth received the support of Robert Harley at a time when he practically was Prime Minister and enjoyed great proximity to Queen Anne (1665–1714). On two occasions, she petitioned Harley for financial support from Queen Anne in order to publishing her edition of Ælfric’s Homilies. She was successful in her second attempt, as evidenced from a letter in which she thanked him ‘for so great a Favour’.

A letter written in brown ink in the hand of Elizabeth Elstob

Elizabeth Elstob’s letter to Robert Harley: Harley MS 7524, f. 30r

During her career, Elizabeth was in close contact with Humfrey Wanley, Library-Keeper of the Harleian collection. Aside from consulting manuscripts herself at the Bodleian Library and the Cottonian Library, she made ample use of Wanley’s catalogue of Old English manuscripts that he had published in 1705 with the support of Robert Harley. Her respect for his work is clear from a letter dated 1709, in which she explained that she abandoned her plan to make an edition of the Psalms in Old English after learning that Wanley was already working on an edition of the Bible in Old English:

‘I had a design upon the Psalms, but since that, Mr. Wanley tells me he is preparing the whole Bible: of which the Psalms make a part, I cannot allow myself to interfere with so excellent a person, tho’ he has been so generous as to offer me, all the assistance he can give’

A letter written in brown ink in the hand of Elizabeth Elstob

Elizabeth Elstob on Humfrey Wanley: Add MS 29300, f. 40r

Wanley also greatly valued Elizabeth’s scholarly work. He transcribed a manuscript at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, for her publication on the Old English Life of St Gregory, and he incorporated a number of her works into the Harleian Library. Elizabeth sent him a genealogy of the Elstob family to the year 1710, and a separate descent of her mother’s family, which traced her ancestry back to Brochwel Ysgithrog, a 6th-century king of Powys. Wanley was clearly impressed with the genealogies that she had expanded by researching and citing Old English and Latin sources. He inserted them into a 17th-century manuscript with pedigrees from the Palatinate of Durham; in cataloguing the manuscript, he attributed them to ‘that ingenious virgin gentlewoman Mrs Elstob’ (A Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum, London, 1808–12), II, p. 29).

A drawing of a Roman pillar, including roundels with the names of Elizabeth Elstob’s mother’s ancestors. Next to the pillar are citations from historical sources in Latin and Old English, and a coat of arms in colours

The ancestry of Elizabeth Elstob’s mother Jane Hall, drawn up by her for Humfrey Wanley: Harley MS 1397, f. 238r

Wanley also expressed his appreciation when, in 1712, Elizabeth presented him a facsimile reproduction on parchment of an early 12th-century manuscript containing the 'Annals of Rochester' (Textus Roffensis), an important source for the study of law in early medieval England. Wanley paid her five guineas and catalogued the manuscript, noting that 'Mrs Elstob hath finely imitated the Hand-writing of the [...] Textus Roffensis' (Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts, II, p. 272).

A page with a medieval script copied by Elizabeth Elstob, featuring an introduction in red, initials in green and red, and a decorated initial featuring Christ and a dragon in green, purple, and red against a yellow background.

Elizabeth Elstob’s facsimile of Textus Roffensis, featuring an initial decorated with Christ and a dragon: Harley MS 1866, f. 9r

The Harleian Library also obtained a second parchment manuscript with a facsimile of Textus Roffensis written and decorated by Elizabeth Elstob.

Elizabeth Elstob’s reproduction of King Alfred’s law texts, written in minuscule script, organised in two columns, and featuring numerals in red ink, and initials in red and purple

Elizabeth Elstob’s facsimile of King Alfred’s laws: Harley MS 6523, f. 9r

In 1715, Elizabeth’s scholarly career came to an abrupt end when her brother died suddenly. She was left with financial debts from their joint publishing projects and without any support, since Queen Anne had died before sending her the funding secured by Robert Harley. Perhaps in an attempt to flee her creditors, Elizabeth left London for Evesham (Worcestershire) where she lived in relative anonymity as a teacher at an elementary school for girls. She never returned to her scholarship and left her magnum opus, the complete edition of Ælfric’s Homilies, unfinished: her manuscript volumes survive at the British Library as Lansdowne MSS 370–374 and Egerton MS 838. However, Elizabeth Elstob did remain attached to the Harley collection in some small way. From 1739 until her death in 1758, she was governess to the children of Margaret Cavendish Bentinck (1715–1785), duchess of Portland, who, as granddaughter of Robert Harley, had inherited the Harley collection. Perhaps Elizabeth felt some comfort in returning to the family who had supported her scholarly pursuits, and whose collection, formed under her friend Wanley's direction, preserved her work.

 

Mechtild Gretsch, 'Elizabeth Elstob: A Scholar's Fight for Anglo-Saxon Studies', Anglia, 117 (199), 163–300, 481–524.

Jacqueline Way, '"Our Mother-Tongue": The Politics of Elizabeth Elstob's Antiquarian Scholarship', Huntington Library Quarterly, 78:3 (2015), 417-440.

 

Clarck Drieshen

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18 August 2020

How did the Cotton library grow?

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How, when and from whom did Sir Robert Cotton acquire his manuscripts? These are questions which, in some cases, remain unanswered. But there is a substantial body of material which provides clues to the growth of the Cotton collection. Some of that evidence can now be viewed online on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site.

A portrait of Sir Robert Cotton

A portait of Sir Robert Cotton attributed to Cornelius Janssen (1626)

One important resource for understanding the evolution of the Cotton library is supplied by the correspondence bound in Cotton MS Julius C III. This volume contains around 360 original letters addressed to Robert Cotton (1571–1631), dating from 1592 onwards. Many of these letters relate to the acquisition of manuscripts or to loans from the library; the correspondents read like a roll-call of the famous men of the day. Among them are the poet John Donne (d. 1631) — who thanked Cotton for lending him books during his imprisonment for his secret marriage — the playwright Ben Jonson (d. 1637), the historian William Camden (d. 1623), and the astrologer John Dee (d. 1609). Many of the letters were written in England, but we have also identified correspondence sent to Cotton in French, Italian, Hebrew and Greek, and from destinations in Europe (Amiens, Antwerp, Bremen, Cambrai, Delft, Douai, Dublin, Florence, Paris and Venice) and in northern Africa (Algiers and Tunis). If it was not already appreciated, here is indication that Cotton's manuscript-collecting and sphere of influence was international in its scope.

So what do the letters tell us? Much remains to be done in identifying the books to which they refer, but here is one well-known example. On 10 May 1630, Sir Edward Dering (d. 1644), lieutenant of Dover Castle, wrote to Robert Cotton as follows:

'I have sent up two of your books, which have much pleasured me: I have here the charter of K. John dated att Running Meade: by the first safe and sure messenger it is your’s. So are the Saxon charters, as fast as I can coppy them: but in the meane time I will close K. John in a boxe and send him.'

A letter written by Edward Dering to Robert Cotton, dated 10 May 1630

Dering's letter sending Magna Carta to Robert Cotton: Cotton MS Julius C III, f. 143r

The charter of King John was none other than an original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta, which is now Cotton Ch XIII 31A (sadly, it was badly damaged by fire in 1731 and is now mostly illegible). We should note that Dering, one of the leading antiquarian scholars of the day, described himself as Cotton's ‘affectionate freind and servant’. Clearly, he considered the Cotton library as a suitable home for a document which now has such global appeal.

The first page of the catalogue of Cotton charters

The first catalogue of the Cotton manuscripts: Harley MS 6018, f. 3r

What other evidence can tell us when Sir Robert Cotton acquired his manuscripts? Important in this context is his first handwritten catalogue, Harley MS 6018, which has also been recently digitised. A significant amount of research into this catalogue was conducted by the late Colin Tite, and is published in his book The Early Records of Sir Robert Cotton's Library (London, 2003). The first portion of Harley MS 6018 (ff. 3r–146r) contains the catalogue of Cotton's manuscripts, dated 1621 but with subsequent additions; the heading and a number of later entries are in Robert Cotton's own hand. A further section of this volume (ff. 147r–151v, 152v–190r) contains notes on printed books and manuscripts that had been loaned to others by Sir Robert and his son, Sir Thomas Cotton (1594–1662), sometimes with confirmations of receipt, and dated between 1606 and 1653. Tite used this evidence to piece together who was consulting works in the Cotton library in the 17th century (his edition of the loan lists is found on pp. 31–73 of The Early Records).

A page from the Cotton catalogue recording Asser's Life of King Alfred

 

A page from the Cotton catalogue, with Asser's Life of Alfred the Great (Otho MS A XII) recorded under no. 29: Harley MS 6018, f. 21r

In time, we hope that Tite's work is built upon in order to establish further who was using the Cotton library, and which manuscripts were in circulation. Sir Robert Cotton had been one of the petitioners to Queen Elizabeth I in 1602, requesting permission to form an 'Academy for the study of Antiquity and History', which would establish a library containing 'ancient books and rare monuments of antiquity, which otherwise might perish' (Cotton MS Faustina E V, f. 89). The queen did not grant their request, but Cotton himself made much of his collection available to other scholars, to the extent that certain manuscripts were loaned and never returned, such as the Utrecht Psalter (Cotton MS Claudius C VII, now Utrecht, Universiteitsbiliothek, MS 32), or were not returned until after Robert's death in 1631, such as the Cotton Genesis (Cotton MS Otho B VI).

What is equally interesting is that this catalogue of the manuscripts was itself alienated from the Cotton library. It somehow made its way into the collection of Robert Harley (1661–1724), 1st earl of Oxford and Mortimer, and Edward Harley (1689–1741), the 2nd earl, and thence into the collections of the British Museum Library in 1753. This shows that the Harleys would have had good understanding of what the Cotton library once contained, and may have been able to instruct their own librarian, Humfrey Wanley (d. 1726), to track down any manuscripts that had gone missing.

The opening page of Humfrey Wanley's catalogue of the Cotton charters

Humfrey Wanley's catalogue of the Cotton charters (1703): Harley MS 7647, f. 2r 

The name of Wanley is also significant for the third original resource for the Cotton collection that has now been digitised. This one is much less known, but has equally great potential for learning more about the contents of that library. It contains two catalogues of the Cotton charters, one in Latin made by Humfrey Wanley in 1703 (ff. 2r–12v), and the other in English made by Richard Widmore (d. 1764) sometime after 1750 (ff. 13r–52r). Although now classified as part of the Harley collection, Harley MS 7647, the volume in question was formerly known as Add MS 4998, and it is not listed in the printed catalogue of the Harley manuscripts (published in 1808). Colin Tite makes mention of it in The Early Records (p. 102), observing that Wanley's listing in this manuscript is near-identical to that recorded in his 1703 Report on the contents of the Cotton library, on the occasion of its passing into the hands of the nation.

The final page from Wanley's catalogue of the Cotton charters

 

The final page from the catalogue of Cotton charters, for the Faustina press: Harley MS 7647, f. 12r

Unlike today, the Cotton charters as noted by Wanley are classified by emperors rather than arranged in numerical series. Wanley's ordering is as follows:

  • Julius: 13 charters
  • Augustus: 18 boxes (capsae) of charters, plus coins and other royal charters
  • Tiberius: 42 charters
  • Caligula: 8 charters and 1 seal
  • Claudius: 32 charters
  • Nero: 21 charters
  • Galba: 33 charters
  • Otho: 9 papal bulls, 6 rolls, 1 letter and 'a small parcel of little loose papers' 
  • Vitellius: 53 charters, 2 seals and 3 rolls
  • Vespasian: a number of medallions, wax seals, metal antiquities and other items
  • Titus: 1 charter, 5 rolls, 4 brass seals, 1 wax seal 'with some other things of no value'
  • Cleopatra: 6 rolls etc
  • Faustina: 44 charters plus other maps and miscellaneous materials, including 'Dr Dees Conjuring Table', 'A Sword with Inscription HUGO COMES CESTRIÆ', 3 'small pikes or lances' and various pictures of Robert Cotton and others

It will take some time, inevitably, to identify everything in Wanley's catalogue of the charters and other antiquities, many of which remain at the British Museum. By digitising this manuscript, along with Robert Cotton's own catalogue of his manuscripts and the correspondence addressed to him, we nonetheless hope to have made it easier to understand how the great Cotton collection developed.

 

Julian Harrison

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11 August 2020

Jewels make the Virgin Queen

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Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603) amassed an extraordinary collection of objects made from and decorated with gold, silver and precious stones, as demonstrated by two inventories that were drawn up during her lifetime. Aside from the regalia that she inherited from her predecessors — such as the imperial crown, sceptre and orb — she received many personalised jewels from her courtiers at the customary presentation of gifts to the queen on New Year’s Day. Very few of these precious objects survive today: her successors James I and Charles I sold or donated her jewels, while the regalia were destroyed after the abolition of the monarchy in 1649.

Luckily, the inventories (Stowe MS 555 and Stowe MS 556) give us detailed descriptions of the more than 1.500 items that were kept in the Jewel House at the Tower of London. These suggest that Elizabeth surrounded herself with objects and imagery that celebrated female leadership and virtue, supporting her unusual position of being only England’s second ruling queen and the first who chose to remain unmarried: a controversial choice since queens were expected to marry in order to create political allegiances, to acquire a husband to handle military affairs, and to produce offspring.

A portrait of a woman, representing Queen Elizabeth I, wearing a yellow dress, and a golden crown and necklace with gemstones in different colours

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I wearing various jewels (northern England, 2nd half of the 16th century): Egerton MS 2572, f. 11r

One of the very few items from the inventories that survives today is the so-called ‘Royal Gold Cup’. The cup is covered in gold, adorned with pearls, and enamelled with scenes from the life of St Agnes, an early Christian who was martyred during the Roman persecution. It was made for the French royal family at the end of the 14th century, but was in the possession of the Tudor monarchy by 1521. As a Protestant, Elizabeth opposed the cult of saints, but the life of St Agnes may have resonated with her on a secular level: like Elizabeth, Agnes rejected a range of suitors and committed herself to a life of virginity.

An excerpt from the inventory of Queen Elizabeth’s jewels in 1596, featuring writing in a 16th-century cursive script written in brown ink

The Royal Gold Cup described in the Inventory of Jewels [‘a cuppe of golde with Imagerye’] (London, 1596): Stowe MS 556, f. 10r

A view of the cover of the Royal Gold Cup showing St Agnes in a red dress, accompanied by her foster-sister Saint Emerentiana in a blue dress, being offered a casket of jewels by her suitor Procopius in blue and red clothes

St Agnes, accompanied by her foster-sister St Emerentiana, rejecting a casket of jewels from her suitor Procopius on the cover of the Royal Gold Cup, London, British Museum (image by Fæ / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Elizabeth may have used jewels made from the horn of the unicorn (in reality, narwhal tusk or walrus ivory) to celebrate her unmarried status. The popular belief that the mythical creature could only be captured by a virgin may have made its horn a particularly useful symbol for Elizabeth to reinforce her status as ‘Virgin Queen’. We recently mentioned that she owned a drinking cup made from unicorn’s horn, but our inventories show that she possessed much greater quantities of it. They itemize an unadorned piece of unicorn’s horn (‘pece of unicornes horne not garnished’), a staff from unicorn’s horn featuring a silver-gilt cross with a round crystal (‘Staffe of unycornes horne with a Crosse garnished with silver guylte and a rounde Chyrstall’), and another staff that was made from unicorn’s horn (or bone), adorned with silver, and featuring Elizabeth’s coat of arms.

An excerpt from the inventory of Queen Elizabeth’s jewels in 1596, featuring writing in a 16th-century cursive script written in brown ink

A unicorn staff [‘one verge of bone or unycorne [...] with the Quenes Armes’] in the Inventory of Jewels (London, 1596): Stowe MS 556, f. 33v

Elizabeth’s jewels suggest that she associated herself with Lucretia, a noblewoman from ancient Rome who committed suicide after she had been raped by an Etruscan prince. During the Middle Ages, Lucretia was cited as a paragon of female virtue by authors such as Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) in his De claris mulieribus (Concerning Famous Women), Cristine de Pizan (1364– c.1430) in her Le Livre de la Cité des Dames (The Book of the City of Ladies), and Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400) in his Legend of Good Women. Elizabeth owned a ewer engraved with an image of ‘Lucrece kylling herself’, two gilt cups with her image, and a wooden cup which may have depicted her suicide, since it is described as having ‘a woman holding a dagger two edged in her handes’.

Two panels showing scenes from the life of Lucretia. On the left, Lucretia lies in bed while her arm is being held by an Etruscan prince who raises a sword at her. On the right, Lucretia commits suicide with a sword in front of her husband and father

The rape and suicide of Lucretia (? Paris, 1473–c. 1480): Harley MS 4374/4, f. 210r

Other jewels supported Elizabeth’s status as England’s sole leader through images of virgin goddesses from Classical mythology. For example, the inventories describe a salt vessel (‘Saulte’) that was shaped like a golden globe and was held up by two figures representing the Roman god Jupiter and his daughter Minerva. Elizabeth received it on New Year's Day 1583/4 from Francis Drake (1540–1596), who presented her with many gifts he had raided from Spanish and Portuguese ships. While the globe symbolises England’s imperial aspirations, Minerva, Roman virgin goddess of warfare and defender of the state, was strongly associated with Elizabeth, who was likened by her contemporaries  to a ‘new Minerva’.

An excerpt from the inventory of Queen Elizabeth’s jewels in 1596, featuring writing in a 16th-century cursive script written in brown ink

Francis Drake’s ‘Saulte of golde like a Globe standinge uppon [...] Jupiter and Pallas’, in the inventory of Elizabeth’s jewels (London, 1596): Stowe MS 556, f. 23r

Among the inventories, we find one jewel that seems to reflect on Elizabeth’s leadership in a bold and humorous way. It is a dish described as having an engraving of a ‘woman syttinge uppon a man holdinge a whippe in her righte hande and holdinge his heade in her lefte hande’. This unmistakably represents the late medieval tale of Phyllis and Aristotle. The story tells that after Alexander the Great took Phyllis as his wife, he became distracted from state affairs. His mind was turned back to his kingdom and away from his wife when the Greek philosopher Aristotle remonstrated with him. When Phyllis learned the cause of her husband’s changed attitude, she decided to take revenge: she seduced Aristotle and, after he begged her to requite his love, she agreed to do so on condition that he first allowed her to ride upon his back like a horse. The story of Phyllis and Aristotle was part of a ‘Power of Women’ trope in late medieval and early modern art and literature that reflected anxieties over women’s dominance over men. But for Elizabeth it may have been an example of succesful female governance and therefore fitted in well with the rest of her collection.

A woman (Phyllis) in a red robe using a whip with her left hand and pulling reins with her right hand to control the movements of a bearded man in a grey robe and with a green hat, on whose back she is sitting

Phyllis sitting on Aristotle’s back (Metz, 1302–1303): Yates Thompson MS 8, f. 187r

Elizabeth’s jewels played an important role in how she represented herself to the outside world and was perceived by others. Our inventories suggest that her courtiers were aware of their function and carefully selected jewels or had ones made that emphasised her identification with illustrious women and virgin goddesses. These strategically designed jewels were powerful symbols that helped Elizabeth promote the idea of single leadership in England by an unmarried woman.

From golden toothpicks to drinking vessels made from griffin’s eggs, you can now study the newly digitised versions of Stowe MS 555 and Stowe MS 556 on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

21 July 2020

Defender of the Faith

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On 11 October 1521, Pope Leo X (b. 1475, d. 1521) conferred on King Henry VIII of England (r. 1509–1547) the title Fidei defensor or ‘Defender of the Faith’. Pope Leo made his declaration in a papal bull (a decree or charter issued by a pope), the original of which survives as Cotton MS Vitellius B IV/1. This important document has been recently digitised and it can now be viewed online on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

The papal bull of Pope Leo X conferring the title Fidei defensor on Henry VIII, significantly damaged in the Cotton Fire of 1731.

The papal bull of Pope Leo X conferring the title Fidei defensor (Defender of the Faith) on King Henry VIII: Cotton MS Vitellius B IV/1

 

Henry was given the title Defender of the Faith in recognition for his Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments). Possibly written in consultation with Thomas More (b. 1478, d. 1535) and Cardinal Wolsey (b. c. 1473, d. 1530), Henry’s principal statesmen at this point in his reign, this theological treatise acted as a response to the pronouncements of the German theologian Martin Luther (b. 1483, d. 1546), whose ideas helped to shape the Protestant Reformation movement during the 16th century.

Luther had authored three major reforming pamphlets in 1520, including one particularly incendiary text entitled De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiae (On the Babylon Captivity of the Church) which challenged some of the major doctrines of the Catholic Church and the authority of the Pope in Rome. The texts circulated widely, including at the English court, and played a significant role in Luther’s excommunication by Pope Leo in the following year.

An opening from a printed copy of a pamphlet by Martin Luther, featuring the beginning of the text of the treatise and a portrait of Luther in a monk’s habit.

The opening of a printed copy of Martin Luther’s pamphlet On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, facing a portrait of the German theologian: British Library, 697.h.21, sig aii.

 

Henry’s treatise was intended as a defence of the Church and the supremacy of the Papacy from Luther’s ideas and writings, and the English king did not hold back in his condemnation of the German theologian. In the course of the work, he called Luther a ‘serpens…venenatus’ (venomous serpent), a ‘pestis… perniciosa’ (pernicious disease), an ‘inferorum lupus’ (wolf of Hell), the ‘diaboli membrum’ (devil’s member), and a ‘detestabilis arrogantiae, contumeliae, ac schismatis buccinator’ (a detestable trumpeter of pride, abuses, and schism). Henry even compared Martin Luther to Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the Underworld in Classical mythology.

The Assertio was published in mid-July 1521, but was only made available and distributed after it had been first presented to the Pope by John Clerk (b. 1481/2, d. 1541), Bishop of Bath and Wells, in a ceremony on 2 October 1521. The text also contained a letter from Henry dedicating the work to the Pope. Following its presentation in Rome, it was circulated throughout Europe and went on to become a major best-seller, running to over a dozen editions in German and Latin by the end of 1524. It even earned the attention of Luther himself, who wrote a reply in the form of a book entitled Contra Henricum Regem Anglie (Against Henry, King of the English). The British Library is now home to a number of surviving editions of the printed text of Henry’s Assertio. The title-page of one of these copies features a decorative border based on a design by the portrait artist and printmaker Hans Holbein (b. c. 1497, d. 1543).

The title page of a printed edition of Henry VIII’s Assertio septem sacramentum, featuring an elaborate decorative border based on a design by Hans Holbein.

The title page of a printed edition of Henry VIII’s Assertio septem sacramentum: British Library, 9.a.9.

 

Pope Leo was evidently pleased with the work. It was only a few weeks after its presentation that he issued the papal bull conferring on Henry the title Defender of the Faith. The language of the bull was particularly glowing in its praise of the English king, with the Pope declaring that:

Et profecto, huius tituli excellentia & dignitate ac singularibus meritis tuis diligenter perpensis & confideratis, nullum neque dignius neque Majestati tuae convenientius nomen excogitare potuissemus, quod quotiens audiens aut leges, totiens propriae virtutis optimique meriti tui recordaberis.

Having thus weighed and diligently considered your singular merits, we could not have devised a more suitable name, nor one more worthy of your Majesty than this most excellent title, which whenever you hear or read it, you shall remember your own virtues and highest merits.

The bull was then sent to the English court. By the 17th century, it had become part of the library of Sir Robert Cotton (b. 1570/1, d. 1631). Unfortunately, the parchment leaf suffered significant damage in the Ashburnham House fire of 1731, which accounts for its current fragmentary state. Nevertheless, much of its text remains visible, as well as the signatures of the Pope and his cardinals that appear at the foot of the document, each marked with a small cross.

Details from the papal bull of Pope Leo X conferring on King Henry VIII the title Defender of the Faith, damaged by fire in 1731, showing the signatures of the Pope and his cardinals.

The signatures of Pope Leo X and his cardinals inscribed on the papal bull conferring on King Henry VIII the title Defender of the Faith: Cotton MS Vitellius B IV/1, detail

 

Henry’s positive relationship with the Papacy did not last. Only a decade after Leo X issued the papal bull, Henry decided to break away from the Church of Rome, following Pope Clement VII’s refusal to annul his marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon (b. 1485, d. 1536). He also distanced himself from the Assertio, claiming that he had been manoeuvred into writing it by his bishops. His actions ultimately resulted in his own excommunication by Clement’s successor Paul III (b. 1468, d. 1549) in 1538 and he was stripped of the title Defender of the Faith.

However, towards the end of Henry’s reign, in 1543, the English Parliament passed an act that restored the title for him and his successors. Since then, it has continued to be used as part of the styling of British monarchs (including the reigning Elizabeth II) to indicate their role as Head of the Church of England. It even features on coins of the realm, with the Latin Fidei defensor appearing in its abbreviated form F.D beside the Queen’s portrait.

 

Calum Cockburn

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09 July 2020

Shakespeare's only surviving playscript now online

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One of the most iconic literary manuscripts by one of the world's most famous playwrights, William Shakespeare (1564–1616), can now be viewed in full online on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site.

The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore does not immediately spring to mind as among Shakespeare's masterpieces. This late 16th or early 17th-century play is not always included among the Shakespearean canon, and it was not until the 1800s that it was even associated with the Bard of Avon. So what is the connection with William Shakespeare, the author of the more distinguished Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet?

A page of The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore, arguably in Shakespeare's handwriting

In 1871, William Shakespeare's handwriting was identified on this page of The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore: Harley MS 7368, f. 9r

A clue is presented by the handwriting of the surviving manuscript (Harley MS 7368). There are 22 leaves in question, 13 of which are original, 7 are inserted leaves, and 2 are pasted slips. What is immediately apparent is that Thomas Moore was the work of several dramatists. The primary hand is that of Anthony Munday (d. 1633), and he was possibly assisted by the printer, Henry Chettle (d. 1603–07), with further contributions by Thomas Dekker (d. 1632), and perhaps by Thomas Heywood (d. 1641). The handwriting of yet another scribe in the manuscript, known by scholars as the unspectacularly named 'Hand D', is possibly none other than Shakespeare himself. Finally, the manuscript is known to have been censored in turn by Edmund Tilney (d. 1610), Master of the Revels.

The division of the handwriting can be set out as follows. 'Hand D' (probably Shakespeare) contributed an addition on ff. 8r–9v, supplying lines 1–165 of Scene 6. 

  • ‘Hand S’: Anthony Munday
  • ‘Hand A’: probably Henry Chettle
  • ‘Hand B’: probably Thomas Heywood
  • ‘Hand C’: an unidentified professional scribe
  • ‘Hand D’: probably William Shakespeare
  • ‘Hand E’: probably Thomas Dekker

It was not at all unusual for early modern dramatists to collaborate in this way. William Shakespeare is known to have written in partnership with John Fletcher (d. 1625) and others, and it would have been logical for Munday to have turned to his fellow playwrights to advise and assist him when revising his play about Sir Thomas More (1478–1535), the early Tudor Lord Chancellor, humanist and martyr. What is exceptional here, of course, is that Harley MS 7368 is the only identifiable example of Shakespeare's contribution to a playscript surviving in manuscript. None of his other plays have been transmitted to us in this way. What is more, in these pages we can perhaps see the master playwright at work, musing, composing and correcting his text: a window into Shakespeare's dramatic art, as it were. 

Shakespeares-handwriting-in-The- harley_ms_7368_f008v

Another page from Shakespeare's probable contribution to The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore: Harley MS 7368, f. 8v

There is a remarkable sub-text to William Shakespeare's contribution to Thomas Moore. Andrew Dickson, in an article ('Wretched Strangers') for the British Library's Discovering Literature site, has noted how William Shakespeare was presumably called upon by Munday to write the most emotional passage in the play, known as the 'insurrection scene'. Drawing upon events in 1517, when rioting Londoners demanded that immigrants be expelled from England, Shakespeare portrayed Sir Thomas More, as mayor of London, pleading with the crowd to accept the asylum seekers.

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,

Their babies at their backs, with their poor luggage,

Plodding to th’ ports and coasts for transportation,

And that you sit as kings in your desires,

Authority quite silenced by your brawl ... 

This was all the more remarkable when one realises that similar xenophobic riots had occurred in London in the 1590s and 1600s. Was Shakespeare making a case in The Book of Thomas Moore for racial tolerance? By putting words into Thomas More's mouth, was he making a barbed attack upon the prejudice of his own day?

The Book of Thomas Moore was probably never performed in the time of its authors. The Elizabethan censor, Edmund Tilney, took serious dislike to the playscript, and it seems to have been banned from public performance. The manuscript instead passed into the Harley library and was then sold to the British nation in 1753; it might have remained in oblivion were it not that Shakespeare's style, and hence his own handwriting, was first recognised in the 'insurrection scene' in 1871. The playscript is now extraordinarily brittle, and it is difficult to put on display; but we are delighted to be able to make it available online for everyone to read and enjoy, and for you to determine for yourselves if was indeed William Shakespeare who wrote these lines, in his very own hand. You can gaze in wonder at it on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

 

Julian Harrison

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04 July 2020

Our latest list of digitised manuscripts

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Long-term readers of our Blog may know that we periodically publish lists of our digitised manuscripts, the last of which was published in January 2020. With the arrival of summer, we are releasing a new update to our lists of manuscript hyperlinks. We hope this makes it easier for you to explore our amazing digitised treasures online.

A detail from a 13th-century Book of Hours, showing an historiated initial of a man watching the sunrise from an open doorway.

An historiated initial 'D'(eus) with a man watching the sunrise, from a Book of Hours, c. 1260-70 (England, Oxford or West Midlands?): Egerton MS 1151, f. 38r (detail)

There are now over 3,600 Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern manuscripts on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website. Here is a full list of all the items currently available, as of July 2020:

PDF:  Download Full-list-digitised-mss-jun-2020

Excel: Download Full-list-digitised-mss-jun-2020 (this format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers).

A page from the Prayer-book of Archbishop Arnulph II of Milan, featuring an illustration of St Michael impaling a dragon and pulling a soul from its mouth.

St Michael the Archangel defeats the dragon and rescues a soul from its mouth, from the Prayer-book of Archbishop Arnulph II of Milan (998–1018): Egerton MS 3763, f. 104v

During this period of Covid-19 lockdown, the Library's Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern team has been busy as ever, working to make more manuscripts available online. All the images included in this blogpost are from manuscripts that we have digitised since January 2020. Here is a list of our most recent additions published over the last 6 months:

PDF: Download Digitised_mss_jan2020_june_2020

Excel: Download Digitised_mss_jan2020_june_2020

A fragment of a papyrus made in the 2nd century BC, featuring a petition in Ancient Greek from a group of soldiers complaining about low pay.

A petition of soldiers, complaining to their commander about pay (Diospolis Parva (Hiou), Egypt, 169–168 BC): Papyrus 638, f. 1r

A 16th-century print of the Colosseum in Rome, featuring a cross-section of the oval amphitheatre, with a winged figure in the clouds holding a banner with a Latin inscription.

A print of the Colosseum in Rome from the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae (Italy, 1538): Cotton MS Augustus III/2, f. 53r

You can also read about some of the most significant items that have been published online in the following blogposts:

Many images of our manuscripts are also available to download from our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts which is searchable by keywords, dates, scribes and languages.

A page from a 15th-century manuscript of Statius’ Thebais and Achilleis, featuring an illustration of the arrival of Ulysses and Diomedes at Scyros, with decorated borders and an initial with ivy leaves in gold, red and blue.

The arrival of Ulysses and Diomedes at Scyros, from an illustrated manuscript of Statius’ Thebais and Achilleis (Paris, 1st quarter of the 15th century): Burney MS 257, f. 239v

We hope you enjoy exploring our digitised manuscripts!

 

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11 June 2020

Did Henry VIII believe in unicorns?

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Did King Henry VIII believe in unicorns? That is perhaps the conclusion to be drawn from a manuscript that reveals intimate details of the final years of Henry's life (1481–1547). We also learn from the same manuscript that he was partial to dragon's blood, and that he prescribed a cure for his fourth wife's ‘colde and wyndie causses’.

Henry suffered from poor health in his later years. In 1536, in a jousting accident at Greenwich Palace, his legs were crushed under a fully-armoured horse, as a result of which he developed chronic ulcers. These were lanced by his physicians with red-hot pokers, but our manuscript shows that they also used more subtle methods and applied medicines made from natural ingredients. Made in the 1540s, Sloane MS 1047 contains a series of elaborate medical recipes, some of which were devised by Henry himself. It is interesting to observe in this particular manuscript the king's own endeavours as an amateur medical practitioner.

King Henry seated on a throne with, to his left, his physicians John Chambre and William Butts

Detail of King Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons, by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1543 (The Worshipful Company of Barbers)

Many of the treatments in this collection are attributed to his four principal royal physicians: Walter Cromer (d. c. 1547); the Venetian Augustin de Angustinius (fl. 1520s–1540s); William Butts (c. 1486–1545); and John Chambre (1470–1549). The latter two are famously depicted next to the king on Hans Holbein the Younger’s painting Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons. Henry’s physicians worked separately or collaboratively to create many of the more than 100 plasters, spasmadraps (dipped plasters), ointments, balms, waters, lotions, decoctions and cataplasms (poultices) that make up the contents of Sloane MS 1047. An account book for the years 1543–1544 indicates that they were rewarded well for their services.

Above: two payments to 'doctor Chambre servant' and 'doctor Augustyne servant'; Below: a payment to 'doctour Buttes phisicioun'

Henry VIII’s payments to ‘doctor’ John Chambre, Augustin de Angustinius, and William Butts ‘phisicioun’ (England, 1543–1544): Add MS 59900, ff. 70v and 92v

Remarkably, more than thirty of the treatments are attributed to Henry himself. His recipes identify several of his royal palaces, including Fotheringhay Castle, Greenwich Palace and Hampton Court, as well as Cawood Castle in North Yorkshire, as the locations where he wrote and tested his recipes, suggesting that he took his apothecary equipment on his travels. A typical introduction to his recipes reads as follows:

‘An Oyntement devised by the Kinges Maiestie made at Westminster and devised at Grenewich to take awaye Inflammations, and to cease payne, and heale ulcers, called the gray plaster’

The introduction to Henry VIII’s ‘Grey Plaster’, written in brown ink

Henry VIII’s ‘Grey Plaster’ for leg ulcers (England, c. 1540–c. 1545): Sloane MS 1047, f. 44r

Henry’s treatments use numerous plant-based ingredients: fruits and flowers for making pulp of apples (‘pulpe of appulls’), water of strawberries (‘water of Strawe beries’), wine of pomegranates (‘wyne of pomegranate’), oil of lilies (‘oyle of lyllies’), powder of red damask rose leaves (‘pouldre of redde damaske rose leaves’), and water of honeysuckle flowers (‘water of honye suckle flowres’); a wide range of plant leaves with sedative properties, such as henbane (‘henbayne’), mandragora (‘mandrake’), black poppy (‘blacke poppie’), and the poisonous nightshade; wood of guaiacum that was imported from the ‘New World’ (tropical America) and referred to as ‘wood of life’ (lignum vitae) for its purported healing properties, and the red resin of the dragon blood tree that was known as dragon’s blood (sanguis draconis).

Red dots representing the resin from the Dragon Blood Tree that was used for healing wounds

The Dragon Blood Tree in an Italian herbal (Salerno, c. 1280–c. 1310): Egerton 747, f. 89r

Henry and his physicians also made ample use of medicinal waters, metals, minerals and stones. Their recipes included aqua mirabilis (‘miracle water’), a water mixed with spirit-infused spices; ceruse, a mixture of white lead and vinegar that was a popular cosmetic skin whitener in 16th-century England; Armenian bole, a medicinal red clay from Armenia; terra sigillata, sealed cakes of mineral-rich earth associated with the Greek isle of Lemnos; and lapis lazuli, a blue stone that was highly sought after by illuminators and painters for making the pigment ultramarine, but that was also used for medicinal purposes and already recommended by the Greek physician Dioscorides (c. 49–90) for treating ulcers.

A drawing of the blue stone lapis lazuli

Lapis lazuli in an Italian herbal (Salerno, c. 1280–c. 1310): Egerton 747, f. 51v

Unicorn horn may be the most surprising ingredient in Henry’s treatments. The legendary animal’s single horn was ascribed great cleansing and healing powers in the late Middle Ages. The demand for it created a trade in which narwhal tusk and walrus ivory were sold off as unicorn horn. English kings and queens were regular buyers: Elizabeth I drank from a unicorn horn cup, and James I used a unicorn horn potion for his ailing son. No less than ten of Henry’s recipes require ‘cornu unicornu’ or ‘unicornis horne’. One of these is the ‘Plaster of Horns’.   

Plaster of Horns:

Take 4 ounces of finely powdered litharge of gold [a mineral mixed with lead oxide], 2 ounces of ceruse, unicorn’s horn, hartshorn, oyster shell, red coral, and burn them all up. Take half a pint of oil of roses, and 2 ounces of white vinegar of roses. Put them all in a clean pan on a gentle fire, boiling them while constantly stirring, until it is like a plaster, and then prepare rolls out of them and keep them for your use.

(‘Emplastrum de cornubus:

Take lytherge of golde fynely pouldered iiij unces, ceruse ij unces, unicornes horne, hartes horne, oyster shelles, redd corall, all thiese combusted, and well preparated of eche of them one unce, take half a pynte of oyle of rosys, and ij unces of white vineacre of roses. Putt them all in a fair basyn over a softe fyre, boyling and styrring them styll, tyll yt be plaster wyse, and then make it upp in rolles and kepe it to your use’)

A plaster with unicorn’s horn England, written in brown ink

A plaster with unicorn’s horn: Sloane MS 1047, f. 20v

A unicorn lying down before a virgin who holds his horn while sitting on the trunk of a tree, drawn in brown ink

The unicorn in the Historia Animalium (Italy, 1595): Add MS 82955, f. 191r

Henry also used his knowledge to provide medical advice to others. One recipe in Sloane MS 1047 is addressed to his fourth wife Anne of Cleves, queen consort from 6 January to 9 July 1540, and claims to ‘mollifie, and resolve, conforte and cease payne of colde and wyndie causses’.

The introduction to a plaster, presumably made by Henry VIII, for Anne of Cleves

‘A plaster for my ladye Anne of Cleve’: Sloane MS 1047, f. 30v

We do not know how successful Henry’s treatments were, but sources suggest that his medical advice was much valued. Sloane MS 4 contains a recipe for ‘A Medycyn for the pestylence’ that is attributed to Henry (‘Kyng Henry the Eight’) and claims that it ‘hath helpyd dyvers persons’. Moreover, in a letter to Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Brian Tuke (d. 1545), Henry’s secretary, stated that the king gave him ‘remedies as any learned physician in England could do’ [‘remedyes as any connyng phisician in England coude do'].

A passage from a letter by Sir Brian Tuke to Cardinal Wolsey in which he compares Henry VIII to a learned physician, written in brown ink

Sir Brian Tuke likens Henry VIII to a ‘connyng phisician’ (Hunsdon, 1528): Cotton MS Titus B I, f. 305v

In turning the pages of Sloane MS 1047, one can imagine Henry discussing new medical treatments with his royal physicians, learning from them and sharing his own experiences as both a practitioner and patient. Although Henry is often remembered for his tyranny, our manuscript reminds us that he was highly educated, greatly interested in medicine, and continued to learn and apply his knowledge until the end of his life. 

You can now explore Henry VIII’s treatments — and spot all his unicorn recipes — on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

 

Clarck Drieshen

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