14 October 2023
A new project is underway to examine one of the British Library’s oldest and most important collections. The Cotton charters and rolls are being catalogued as part of the Library’s Hidden Collections initiative. Begun by the antiquarian and politician Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631), and augmented by his son and grandson, the Cotton collection was the first library to be presented to the nation, in 1702, and it has been part of the British Library and its predecessor, the British Museum Library, since the latter’s foundation in 1753. The Cotton manuscripts, which include some of the most famous volumes to survive from medieval Britain, from Beowulf to the Lindisfarne Gospels, are described already on the British Library’s Archives and Manuscripts online catalogue. The whole collection was entered on the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register in 2018.
A portrait of Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631), 1st baronet, commissioned in 1626 and attributed to Cornelius Johnson: courtesy of a private collection
But it's probably fair to say that the 1,500 Cotton charters and rolls, aside from a handful of items such as an original exemplification of the 1215 Magna Carta, one of just four in existence, have been much less studied. The vast majority of them are not yet part of the online catalogue, which this new project sets out to remedy. A handwritten list from the 19th century is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room at the Library, but this is inadequate for modern needs.
The handwritten 19th-century catalogue entry for Cotton Ch IV 9
To give one example. Cotton Ch IV 9 is described in the handwritten register as a receipt for delivering robes to the Tower of London for the coronation of King Edward III (1327). This is not in fact correct: the document in question is not a receipt for coronation robes at all but rather for a cup enamelled with the king's arms, a ewer encrusted with pearls, and a golden brooch with pearls and sapphires, each to be used in Edward's coronation.
A receipt that Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford (1317–1327), has had valuables delivered to the Tower of London for the coronation of Edward III: Cotton Ch IV 9
This project is the first in well over a century to catalogue the entire collection of Cotton charters, rolls and seals to modern standards. It has already uncovered many documents whose significance may have been overlooked. For instance, Cotton Roll IV 61, described in the handwritten register as a historical account of the difficulties faced by Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI, has been identified as a previously-unknown copy of the manifesto of Warwick the Kingmaker and others in their rebellion against Edward IV in 1469.
The manifesto of Richard Neville, 16th earl of Warwick, and others, issued during their rebellion against Edward IV in 1469: Cotton Roll IV 61
Other charters and rolls catalogued for the new project include a set of rules for living in a medieval hospital (Cotton Ch IV 28); a draft set of instructions from Elizabeth I to Sir Francis Drake for his raid upon the Spanish Americas in 1585 (Cotton Ch IV 25); and a seal of William the Conqueror from 1067 (Cotton Ch VI 3/1). There are many discoveries to be made, which we hope will in turn support research into medieval and early modern culture, history, politics and literature. As the project progresses, we will highlight other interesting documents from the collection on this Blog.
Seal of William the Conqueror, once attached to a 12th-century copy of a 1067 charter: Cotton Ch VI 3/1
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15 July 2023
If you have been following the news recently, you may have seen that we've been doing specialist imaging on the draft manuscripts of William Camden's Annals of the Reign of Elizabeth I, with sensational results. This research has been undertaken by Helena Rutkowska, a collaborative DPhil student in partnership between the University of Oxford, Open University and the British Library, with the imaging generously funded by the British Library Collections Trust, carried out by Eugenio Falcioni, and co-ordinated by Calum Cockburn.
The specialist imaging of Camden's Annals, using transmitted light, being carried out at the British Library
Camden's Annals has long been regarded as one of the most important, contemporary accounts of the reign of this famous Tudor queen. The work was originally requested by William Cecil, Lord Burghley (d. 1598), and was then completed by command of King James I of England and VI of Scotland (d. 1625). William Camden (d. 1623), an antiquarian scholar and Clarenceux King of Arms, is credited with authorship of the work, but he was probably writing in collaboration with others, including Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), founder of the famous Cotton library. The first three books, covering the period to 1587, were published in Latin in 1615, with the remainder of the work published after Camden had died, in 1625.
Helena's research has focused on the ten volumes of manuscript drafts of the Annals (Cotton MS Faustina F I–X). These manuscripts reveal a continuous process of revision of the text prior to publication, with multiple crossings out, amendments and additions. Most notably, there are dozens of pages on which the original text has been pasted over, with new wording written on top. By using transmitted light, the Library has now been able to reveal what is under those pastedowns, and to read the original text of Camden's Annals for the first time in 400 years.
The draft manuscripts of Camden's Annals contain numerous revisions, with many parts of the original text pasted over and over-written
The new discoveries will be outlined in Helena's doctorate, and we also plan to make the images available online. Early analysis has made some startling revelations, including earlier accounts of Elizabeth's excommunication by Pope Pius V in 1570, the death of King Philip II of Spain in 1598, and the implied involvement of James VI in a plot to assassinate the English queen. There are also subtle changes in the manuscript drafts which suggest that Elizabeth did not nominate James on her deathbed as her successor, unlike the version that made its way into print. Helena suggests that this all indicates that Camden was self-censoring his work, for fear of upsetting his patron, King James, and to paint him (and his mother, Mary Queen of Scots) in a more flattering light.
The British Library is delighted to have been able to support this groundbreaking research, and we look forward to discovering what else has been covered up in the manuscripts of Camden's Annals.
We are very grateful to the British Library's Collections Trust for supporting this project. You can read more about Helena Rutkowska's research in this article by Dalya Alberge, published in The Guardian on 14 July.
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11 May 2023
We always say, never start a blogpost with the words, 'We are delighted to announce that'.
So, in true time-honoured fashion, we are thrilled to release a list of all the rolls and charters digitised as part of our Medieval and Renaissance Women project. There are 25 rolls and 219 charters in total, in addition to the 93 manuscript volumes that we announced in a previous blogpost. The Medieval and Renaissance Women project has been made possible thanks to generous funding by Joanna and Graham Barker.
The seal of the Empress Matilda, between 1141 and 1142: Add Ch 75724
Here begins the list. This may take some time, but it's worth it, we promise. From the top... The will of Sibylla Frances of Dunwich. A confirmation by Sybilla of Kaversfeld, widow of Hugh Gargate, to Bicester Priory of land in Stratton. An acknowledgement by Marie, abbess of St Stephen’s Abbey, Soissons, to the Knights Templar of Mont-de-Soissons. A sale by Katherine von Solmesse and Salentin, lord of Isenburg, her husband, to Baldwin, archbishop of Trier. A letter of attorney from Ismania, widow of Laurence Berkerolles. A certificate for the safe delivery of Margaret of Anjou to Louis XI of France. A chirograph of Fredescendis, abbess of Maubeuge, granting land to Guarin, abbot of Vicogne…
Actually, why don't you simply peruse the list for yourself? It's great fun, we promise (again)!
Confirmation by Sybilla of Kaversfeld, widow of Hugh Gargate, to Bicester Priory of land in Stratton, early 13th century: Add Ch 10608
You can download the full list of charters and rolls here, with links to the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site and the Universal Viewer. There, you'll be able to read these manuscripts in full and for free from the comfort of your own living room.
Excel: Download Medieval_and_renaissance_women_digitised_charters_rolls_may_2023 (this format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers)
Mortmain licence by Joan of Kent, princess of Wales, for Michael de la Pole, Lord Chancellor, to grant property to the Maison Dieu of Myton, 1383: Egerton Ch 2130
Acquittance by Tomasina de Damis, abbess of the monastery of Santa Giulia, Brescia, to Mafeus de Monte, 1409: Stowe Ch 565
The documents included in the project represent women from all levels of medieval society, from merchants and landowners to nuns and abbesses, from nurses and shopkeepers to noblewomen and queens. They also span a huge variety of different types of documents including grants and confirmations, chirographs and letters with original signatures, leases and genealogies, indentures and religious statutes, licenses for marriages and acknowledgments of divorce, and wills in which women passed on their property and determined their legacy after their deaths. Most importantly, all these manuscripts show medieval and early modern women exerting their own agency and making decisions that influenced not only their own day-to-day lives but also the communities to which they belonged.
The opening of the will of Margaret Paston, 1482: Add Roll 17253
A portrait of Helena Snackenborg, Marchioness of Northampton, from her genealogy, c. 1640: Lansdowne Roll 9
Petition by Joan Astley, nurse of Henry VI, for an increase in salary, 1424: Stowe Ch 643
Over 100 of the documents contain seals that belonged to women or women-run institutions, with many featuring portraits or emblematic images relating to their owners. Some, such as the foundation charter of Bordesley Abbey by Empress Matilda (Add Ch 75724) have even survived with their own seal bags, delicately woven in different coloured silks.
The seals of over 100 women and women-run institutions digitised as part of the Medieval and Renaissance Women project
Seal bag enclosing the seal of Empress Matilda, between 1141 and 1142: Add Ch 75724
Our senior imaging technicians photographed all the seals in the project using an imaging technique called raking light (where light is directed at an object from an angle parallel to the surface) to ensure that all their fine details, legends and sculptural reliefs could be captured.
Seal of Liece, daughter of Ralph of Rouen, 2nd half of the 12th century: Harley Ch 50 B 23
Seal of Idonia of Hurst, 4th quarter of 12th century to 1st quarter of 13th century: LFC Ch XXV 20
We hope you enjoy reading about the stories and lives of the women featured in these incredible items.
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29 April 2023
We recently blogged about our exciting project to bring the burnt volumes of the Cotton collection back to life, following the extensive damage they sustained in the Ashburnham House fire of 1731. Thanks to generous funding from the Goldhammer Foundation, the British Library has used multi-spectral imaging to photograph a selection of the damaged manuscripts, making them available to our readers online for the first time.
One major benefit of multi-spectral imaging is that it has allowed us to read and identify many of the fire-damaged texts, making some incredible discoveries in the process. One of these discoveries is a Latin praise work (or ‘panegyric) addressed by John Leland (b. c. 1503, d. 1552) to his patron, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (b. 1470/71, d. 1530). We can now reveal that this text known as the ‘Panegyricon ad Cardinalem Eboracensem’, and for centuries believed to have been completely lost, has survived in Cotton MS Fragments XXIII.
Portrait of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey: courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge
Perhaps best known as the mastermind behind the restoration of Hampton Court Palace, Wolsey rose from the son of a butcher’s boy to become Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England. In 1515, he was appointed Cardinal by Pope Leo X (r. 1513–1521), giving him pre-eminence over the rest of the English clergy. He was a major figure in European political and religious life for much of the early decades of the 16th century, until his failure to secure the divorce of Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547) from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (b. 1485, d. 1536) in 1529, caused his downfall. Wolsey was subsequently arrested by the King for treason and travelled to London to await trial, but famously died on route, avoiding the more violent fates of other figures at Henry’s court, such as Thomas More, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell.
Fundamental to Wolsey’s power and influence during his career was his role as a patron of culture and education. Wolsey was responsible for the patronage of many artists and writers at the Tudor court. One of these figures was John Leland, a poet and Humanist scholar, and one of the very first early modern antiquarians, an advocate for the gathering of knowledge. Leland is best known for his extensive travels around England in the 1530s, when he toured and examined the libraries of many of the country’s religious houses in the years leading up to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. During this time, he compiled numerous lists of significant or unusual books, many of which would subsequently become part of the Royal library. Unfortunately, his life ultimately ended in tragedy: Leland went mad following the death of Henry VIII in 1547 and never recovered.
A list of the religious houses of Wales, written in Leland’s hand: Add MS 38132, f. 39r
Leland was a prolific writer. In his early career, he cultivated a strong circle of literary friends, patrons, and sponsors throughout England and Renaissance Europe, with whom he frequently corresponded and for whom he would write Latin praise works as gifts. As one of his patrons, Wolsey was a particularly strong advocate for Leland at the Tudor Court, securing him a number of positions during this time. This support would continue until the Cardinal’s fall from favour in 1529, at which point Leland gained the patronage of Thomas Cromwell (b. 1485, d. 1540), Wolsey’s successor.
Leland’s work in praise of Wolsey is attested in an important volume of English literary history known as the Illustrium majoris Britanniae scriptorum. This text is a chronological catalogue of British authors, compiled by John Bale (b. 1495, d. 1563), a contemporary and correspondent of Leland. Leland is one of the authors represented in the second edition of the text, published in 1557-1558. Under a list of his recorded writings, Bale includes the following title and Latin incipit (the opening line of a particular work), as well as a note indicating that his source for this information was a copy of the text consulted in Leland’s own library:
Panegyricon ad Cardinalem, Lib. 1. Dicturo de tuis laudibus ampliss.
The entry for John Leland and his ‘Panegyricon ad Cardinalem’ in John Bale’s Illustrium majoris Britanniae scriptorium, published in 1557-1558: C.28.m.6, p. 671
Another important piece of evidence for the text’s existence is presented by the 1542 inventory of the Royal Library at Westminster Palace. This inventory records a work known as the ‘Panegyricon ad Cardinalem’, which was identified by James Carley as a possible copy of Leland’s lost work in his edition and study of the inventory (H2. 243; The Libraries of Henry VIII (2000), p. 92). However, while many of Leland’s other recorded works have survived in numerous manuscripts and printed editions, until now, no copies of Leland’s panegyric to Cardinal Wolsey have ever been found.
Cotton MS Fragments XXIII
We can now turn our attention to Cotton MS Fragments XXIII, a small volume that consists of twelve fragmentary parchment leaves. Like many of the volumes that were heavily burnt in the Ashburnham House fire, these leaves were subsequently mounted on paper guards and rebound.
The opening of Leland’s Panegyricon ad Cardinalem, burnt in 1731: Cotton MS Fragments XXIII, f. 2r
The main text in the manuscript is a Latin prose work, written in a neat italic hand, which begins on f. 2r and ends on f. 12v. The opening of the text features the title ‘PANEGYRICVS’, enclosed within a decorative red border. A blank space within a red frame has been left by the scribe, or potentially created because of the fire damage sustained by the manuscript, and would presumably have held a decorated initial. Much of the rest of the first line remains visible. Its opening words read ‘[D]icturo mihi de laudibus tuis…’ (I am about to speak your praises…), unmistakeably a variant closely resembling the opening line that Bale quotes in his catalogue of Leland’s writings.
The opening of the ‘Panegyricus’, photographed with multi-spectral imaging: Cotton MS Fragments XXIII, f. 2r
Additional evidence that this work was addressed to Cardinal Wolsey appears on the first leaf of the volume. The verso features a short Latin dedicatory poem, only nine lines long, written beneath a coat of arms decorated in colours and gold. The coat of arms has been heavily warped because of the damage sustained in the 1731 fire, and is now barely visible to the naked eye. However, thanks to the multi-spectral imaging, the arms can now be identified as belonging to Wolsey himself.
The coat of arms of Cardinal Wolsey above a Latin dedicatory poem: Cotton MS Fragments XXIII, f. 1v
Notably, the arms in the burnt manuscript show a number of similarities with a contemporary image of Wolsey’s arms painted at the beginning of a Latin encomium (another type of praise work), which is also dedicated to him (Harley MS 1197, ff. 402–413). In Cotton MS Fragments XXIII, most of the embellishments and decorative elements on this heraldic device have burned away, but the central features remain: red tassels descending from a cardinal’s hat now obscured at the top; a golden ‘chief’ (or band) below it; and the ends of two cross-staves emerging from a black shield. In the centre, the shield’s silver cross is still visible, with the faintest impression of the red lion and four blue leopard faces it once held.
The burnt arms of Cardinal Wolsey: Cotton MS Fragments XXIII, f. 1v
The arms of Cardinal Wolsey, painted at the beginning of an Encomium dedicated to him: Harley MS 1197, f. 402r
The discovery of Leland’s lost praise poem for Wolsey highlights the tremendous power that the Cardinal wielded in England and across the Continent during this period. Most importantly, it reinforces how art and literary patronage was a significant part of his influence. By supporting and surrounding himself with a coterie of artists, writers, and scholars, he was reinforcing his position, controlling the dissemination of his image and ensuring his own legacy. The centrality of his role at the Tudor Court was reflected in the paintings, literary compositions, and (in the case of Hampton Court Palace) buildings created in his name. Although that legacy was ultimately tarnished by his fall from favour, his impact on the cultural life of England persisted.
There are many more questions to be asked about Cotton MS Fragments XXIII, its origins, the circumstances around its production and its text of Leland’s panegyric, but multi-spectral imaging means that for the first time in 500 years, we are in a position to uncover the answers.
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25 April 2023
Greenwich Palace was a favourite of England’s Tudor monarchs. Beside the palace stood the church of the Observant Friars, founded in 1482. Being so close to a royal residence, the church played a regular part in royal ceremonies — Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I were all baptised there. This church had political and religious importance, which is reinforced by two manuscripts digitised for the Library’s Medieval and Renaissance Women project. Egerton MS 2341/1 and Egerton MS 2341/2 contain instructions for the glaziers creating the stained glass for the church’s East window. These instructions demonstrate how that window was designed to strengthen the new Tudor dynasty.
Probably originally a single roll, the two manuscripts are undated. They must have been written after 1489, when Margaret Tudor was born, as she is one of the individuals to be depicted in the window. In turn, they presumably pre-date the death of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s queen, in February 1503, as the text refers to her in the present tense. They may have been made in the early 1490s, and before the church was consecrated by April 1494.
Part of the roll describing the images of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York: Egerton MS 2341/2, membrane 2
The window was to depict Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, his wife, each holding the other’s hand. It would also feature Margaret, their daughter, and Margaret Beaufort, Henry’s mother. Next, there would be several figures widely revered in late medieval England, including Charlemagne, the mythical Constantine (father of the historical Constantine the Great), St Thomas de Cantilupe, and the Saxon saints Edward the Confessor, Edmund the Martyr and Oswald. The choice of these figures is not surprising. What is unusual is the choice of the women to feature on the window.
The window was to include nine saintly women, each of royal blood. The most famous of these was St Helena, who discovered the True Cross and many other relics in Palestine and was the mother of Emperor Constantine. While not a princess, the manuscript describes Helena as ‘daughter to Coyle Kyng of Britaigne’, the Old King Cole of the nursery rhyme, repeating a mythical ancestry popularised by the medieval chroniclers Henry of Huntingdon and Geoffrey of Monmouth.
St Helena’s discovery of the True Cross: Add MS 17275, f. 290v
Another famous saint to be featured in the window was Margaret of Scotland, the granddaughter of Edmund Ironside and wife of Malcolm III, king of Scots. Their daughter, Maud (or Matilda), married Henry I of England, while Margaret’s great-grandson himself became king as Henry II. In an interesting historical parallel, Margaret, Henry VII’s daughter, who was to appear in the pane below St Margaret, would marry a Scottish king, like her saintly namesake, and have a great-grandson who would become king of England: James VI and I.
The next well-known figure was St Winifred. She was descended from a Welsh princely family and became an important saint in Wales and Shropshire, with cult sites at Holywell and Shrewsbury.
A prayer to St Winifred in a 15th-century devotional: Harley MS 955, f. 67v
The remaining six female saints were all Saxon royal women and ranged from the lesser known to the outright obscure: Æthelthryth or Audrey, daughter of King Anna of East Anglia; Edith, daughter of King Edgar of England; Æthelburh, daughter of King Æthelberht of Kent; Eormenhild, daughter of King Eorcenberht of Kent; Blitha, a relative of Æthelred the Unready and Edmund Ironside; and Mildrith, daughter of King Merewalh of Magonsæte, a Mercian sub-king.
Why was the window to include such individuals? Henry VII’s claim to the throne was not especially strong. Although he was a descendant of Edward III, his royal ties were through an unlicensed marriage on his father’s side and illegitimacy on his mother’s. There were other nobles in England who had stronger claim to be king, like the children of George, duke of Clarence, or the Stafford dukes of Buckingham, both families descended legitimately from Edward III. In these two rolls we can see an attempt to bypass this issue by going far back into England’s past to create legitimacy for the fragile new Tudor dynasty.
By focusing on royal women from before the Norman Conquest, the window placed Henry, his queen and his daughter among a cohort of royal women stretching back over a thousand years. He could claim direct descent from St Margaret, the ancestor of every English king from Henry II onwards. She, in turn, was linked to several of these Saxon saints. This window presented a Tudor history that looked beyond the dynastic squabbles of the 15th century, using these women to emphasise Henry VII’s link to a more distant and less contentious Anglo-Saxon past.
We are extremely grateful to Joanna and Graham Barker for their generous funding of Medieval and Renaissance Women.
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20 April 2023
Over the past year, we’ve been digitising manuscripts that reflect the lives and achievements of medieval and early modern women. This blogpost looks at four surviving volumes that belonged to Jane Lumley (b. 1537, d. 1578), an English noblewoman, Renaissance scholar and translator. All four manuscripts have been digitised thanks to generous funding from Joanna and Graham Barker, and can now be read online for the first time.
Jane Lumley was the eldest child of Henry Fitzalan (b. 1512, d. 1580), 12th Earl of Arundel. FitzAlan was a prominent member of the Tudor court, serving under Henry VIII and all three of his children and successors. Fitzalan was especially interested in learning, and during his life collected one of largest libraries in Tudor England, housed at Nonsuch Palace in Surrey. He also invested considerably in the education of all his children, including his two daughters. Most notably, Jane and her younger sister, Mary, were both taught Latin and Greek and were able to make use of their father’s extensive collection. Jane produced her own original translations of Classical texts that still survive.
A portrait of Jane Lumley by the Flemish artist Steven van der Meulen made in 1563 (Wikimedia Commons)
Jane’s literary endeavours were also supported by her husband, John Lumley (b. c. 1533, d. 1609), 1st Baron Lumley, whom she married at some point between 1550 and 1553. Lumley was a friend of Jane’s brother and a book collector and bibliophile like her father. Together, the Lumleys amassed a collection of over 320 manuscripts and 2,400 printed books, which also incorporated the library at Nonsuch Palace following the death of Jane’s father in 1580. Upon his own death in 1609, John Lumley willed their library to Prince Henry Frederick (b. 1594, d. 1612), eldest son of James VI and I (r. 1603–1625), King of England and Scotland. It was subsequently added to the Old Royal Library, and centuries later became one of the British Museum Library’s foundation collections.
The Lumley Library housed at least three surviving works by Jane, made after she had married John Lumley. They include Jane’s commonplace book (Royal MS 15 A IX), written in her own hand and containing her own translations of a number of Classical works from their original Greek into Latin and English. The most notable of these is her English translation of Iphigenia at Aulis, the last of the surviving tragedies of the Greek playwright Euripides. The play focuses on the decision of the Greek general Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the goddess Artemis and allow the Greeks to set sail for Troy and begin the Trojan War. This is the first known translation of one of Euripides’ plays into English by any hand, and it is also the first known dramatic work in English to be written by a named woman.
The opening of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, translated by Jane Lumley: Royal MS 15 A IX, f. 66r
Jane also used her commonplace book to write drafts of translations that she intended as gifts for her father. The first half of the volume focuses on her translations of the Orationes (Speeches) of the Ancient Greek rhetorician Isocrates (b. 436 BC, d. 338 BC), from Greek into Latin. Several of these texts feature dedicatory letters addressed to Jane’s father, which she signed, ‘filia tua tibi deditisimma Joanna Lumleya’ (your most dedicated daughter Jane Lumley).
A dedicatory letter to Henry Fitzalan, 14th Earl of Arundel, signed by Jane Lumley: Royal MS 15 A IX, f. 4v
Two presentation copies of Jane’s translations also survived as part of the Lumley Library (now Royal MS 15 A I and Royal MS 15 A II). Like the drafts found in her commonplace book, Jane probably intended these as gifts to be presented to her father on New Year’s Day, a period often associated with gift-giving. The first of these volumes contains her translation of Isocrates’ Archidamus; the other is a translation of his Evagoras, written in her own hand.
The opening of Jane Lumley’s translation of Archidamus: Royal MS 15 A I, f. 3r
The opening of Jane Lumley’s translation of Evagoras: Royal MS 15 A II, f. 4r
Two of the three surviving volumes containing Jane’s work also feature added inscriptions by her husband, John Lumley, who marks them explicitly as ‘The doinge of my Lady Lumley dowghter to my L. Therle of Arundell', a reflection of his own respect for and acknowledgement of his wife’s work and achievement.
The inscription of John Lumley, Jane’s husband, in a copy of one of her translations: Royal MS 15 A I, f. 1A-r
In addition to writing her own translations of Classical texts, Jane also collected manuscripts in her own right. One item that she commissioned is a roll of English maxims on the subject of pride (Royal MS 14 B III), made during the third quarter of the 16th century. The roll is illuminated in colours and gold and features a monogram of her name JOANNA LVMLEIA at the beginning of its second membrane.
A roll of maxims on the subject of pride, including the monogram of Jane Lumley: Royal MS 14 B III, membrane 2
We hope you enjoy reading these manuscripts from the library of Jane Lumley and rediscovering her work as an important Renaissance scholar and early Humanist.
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14 April 2023
How much did a medieval noblewoman pay to feed her staff and the members of her inner circle? What was the price of honouring the memory of a deceased member of the family? And how much did a queen spend on buying spices every year? You can find the answers to all these questions in a set of household rolls digitised as part of our Medieval and Renaissance Women project, thanks to generous funding by Joanna and Graham Barker.
Household rolls are a particular type of financial account that record the expenses, income, and other elements relating to the management of a household or medieval domestic establishment. Here is a list of all the household rolls that have been recently digitised and are now available to view online:
Roll of expenses in wax and spices by the royal households, 1300-1301
The household roll of Eleanor de Montfort, Countess of Leicester and Pembroke, 1265
The household roll of Katherine de Norwich, September 1336 to September 1337
Fragmentary roll of household expenses of Queen Philippa of Hainault
Expenses of Princess Mary’s Household, from 1 July 1525 to 31 December 1526
Expenses of Princess Mary’s household in her household departments, comparing the expenditure from 1525 and 1526
The newly digitised household rolls: Add MS 8877, Add Roll 63207, Add Roll 75855, Add MS 7966 B, Royal MS 14 B XXVI
One of the most common types of household roll was the ‘diet account’, which recorded the day-to-day location of the household and its expenses on food and provisions. A fascinating example is the household roll of Eleanor de Montfort (b. 1215, d. 1275), Countess of Leicester and Pembroke (now Add MS 8877). Eleanor was one of the most influential women in 13th-century England, the sister of King Henry III (r. 1216-1272) and wife to Simon de Montfort (b. c. 1208, d. 1265), one of the leaders of the rebellion in the Second Barons’ War. Eleanor’s household roll covers a particularly turbulent period in her life, immediately before and after the Battle of Evesham (4 August 1265), one of two major battles that took place during the war, in which both Eleanor’s husband and her son, Henry, were killed.
Portrait of Eleanor de Montfort from a Genealogical Roll of the Kings of England: Royal MS 14 B VI, Membrane 6
Entries in Eleanor’s household roll record the location of her household, the presence of the Countess, her close kin and the names of prominent visitors she hosted, as well as details of her various household departments, and the types and quantities of food and drink that were consumed. This entry, for example, shows that on an average day Eleanor paid a total of 10s. 10 ½d. on feeding herself and her staff, with purchases including grain, wine, and fish, among other items:
Die Veneris sequenti, pro comitissa et predictis; panis, ij. Quarteria, ij. Busseli, de Abindon’, Panis, ex emptione, vj.d. Vinum, iiij. Sixtaria; missis Domingo W. de Bathon’, dimidium sextarium; missis Domine Agnete, j. sextarium et domidium. [Coquina.] Alleces, vij., de instaro. Piscis (de mari), ix.s. vj d. [Mareschalcia.] Fenum, ad lviij. Equos. Avena, iij. Quareria, v. busselli. Pro busca, iij.d. Proo gagiis B. Juvenis, vij.d.ob. Summa, x.s. x.d. ob.
‘On Friday following, for the countess and the above-mentioned; grain, 2 quarters, 2 bushels, from Abingdon. Grain, by purchase, 6d. Wine, 4 sesters; half a sester having been sent to Sir Walter of Bath; 1 ½ sesters having been sent to Lady Agnes. [Kitchen] Herrings, 700, from the stock. Fish from the sea, 9s 6d. [Marshalesea] Hay, for 68 horses. Oats, 3 quarters, 5 bushels. For brushwood, 3d. For the wages of B. Juvenis,7 ½ d. Sum, 10 s. 10 ½ d.’
(see ed. and trans. L. J. Wilkinson, The Household Roll (2020), pp. 1-2).
An entry from the household roll of Eleanor de Montfort: Add MS 8877, Membrane 1
As well as the more everyday entries in household rolls, it is also possible to find records of extravagant expenditures, made for important occasions. That is the case for one entry in the household roll of the noblewoman Dame Katherine de Norwich (Add Roll 63207). Katherine de Norwich was the daughter of Sir John de Hethersett, and the widow of Piers Braunche (d. 1296) and later Walter de Norwich (d. 1329) and owned a number of manorial estates and residences throughout England. On 20 January 1337, Katherine spent a total of £10 18s 8d, a sixth of her annual expenditure on an anniversary feast held to commemorate the death of her second husband. Katherine hosted over ninety people for the event. Among the items bought for the feast, we find beer, hogs, mallards, a heron, chicken, partridge and wine.
The household roll of Katherine de Norwich: Add Roll 63207, Membrane 1
Some household rolls were also made to record the expenditure from purchases of a particular type of item. For example, one surviving roll made between 1300-1301 (now Add MS 7966 B) details expenses for wax and spices, bought for members of the English royal family, including King Edward I (r. 1272-1307), Queen Margaret of France (b. c. 1279, d. 1318), the future Edward II (r. 1307-1327),and Thomas (b. 1300, d. 1338), eldest son of King Edward I and Margaret. The roll records over twenty different spices, which would have been used to enrich the flavour of meals prepared for the royal household, from ginger and pepper, to galangal, cumin, cinnamon and saffron, among others.
Records of expenditure on cinnamon, pepper, and other spices, from a household roll made for the English royal family: Add MS 7966 B, Membrane 2
Household rolls provide a window into the day-to-day lives of medieval women, their expenses and income, the food they ate and the visitors they hosted, as well as the ways in which they managed their estates and resources. We hope you enjoy exploring these fascinating items!
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05 April 2023
Have you ever wondered how a woman’s home in 16th-century England would be decorated? What rooms, furniture and furnishings might it have had? Two manuscripts digitised for the British Library’s Medieval and Renaissance Women project reveal just that.
Egerton Roll 8797 and a contemporary copy, Egerton Roll 8798, are inventories of the London house of Alice Smythe, drawn up soon after her death in 1593. Alice came from an important merchant family. Her father was Sir Andrew Judde (c. 1492–1555), mayor of London in 1550 and a master of the Skinners Company. In 1555, she married another Skinner, Thomas Smythe (1522–1591), an MP and a successful merchant himself. Three years later, Thomas became the customs collector for the port of London, a government role that brought him vast riches and the nickname Customer Smythe. We can easily see the couple’s wealth in this inventory of their home, drawn up after Alice died, two years after Thomas’ own death.
Portrait of Alice Smythe by Cornelius Ketel, c. 1580: Private Collection
On 30 June that year, Richard Rogers, a goldsmith, Richard Osborne, a draper, and two merchant tailors, William Greenway and Hugh Sherriot, citizens of London, appraised Alice’s house and its contents. The inventory they created goes room by room through her house in Fenchurch Street, London, beginning with the entrance hall. This had a couple of long tables, two candlesticks, and a picture of the coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth (2 shillings). Next were two parlours: the folks’ parlour, for everyday use, had a fireplace, chairs and a Bible, but the ‘best’ parlour had more elaborate decor. As well as leather chairs and green curtains, the room also had three ‘Turkey carpets’ (£2 16s 8d). Textiles like this from Turkey and elsewhere in the Islamic world were a sign of wealth and could be found in many prosperous Tudor homes.
The beginning of the inventory of Alice’s house: Egerton Roll 8797
The bedroom above the best parlour was decorated with tapestries and a painting of Moses meeting with Pharaoh (10 shillings). In the next room, which had a matted floor, was a painting of Henry VIII and one of Cupid and Venus (6 shillings each). Beside this was a painted bedroom with a featherbed, green rugs and curtains, and a virginal, a type of small harpsichord.
Many of the other rooms upstairs were equally well decorated, with more ‘Turkey’ carpets, featherbeds, and green or red curtains. There was a gallery filled with paintings and stained glass. In the room within the gallery was another sitting room with fourteen paintings of Alice and Thomas and their children, suggesting the importance she placed upon her family. Alongside these was a painting of the Roman heroine Lucretia, chests, and velvet and taffeta chairs.
Other artworks in the house were an Arras tapestry of Joseph, and paintings of Death and Pride, Christ as a shepherd, and the Last Supper. The great chamber had an embroidered coat of arms and portraits of Queen Elizabeth, William Cecil, Lord Treasurer, the Virgin Mary on stained glass, and Holofernes. Alice’s home, with its collection of paintings depicting Biblical figures, Classical myths and Tudor monarchs, is typical of a prosperous English house in this period. The great chamber’s contents came to £14 16s 10d. In contrast, the bedrooms of the three maids totalled just £4 19s 2d. Alice had at least seven other servants each with their own room. Outside the main house was a tennis court, a stable, a wash house and a still house. In the yard were a few weapons: two billhooks and three pikes.
Among Alice’s valuables were £23 10s 8d of rings including one with a diamond and twenty-two rubies. Her other jewellery and plate came to £183 14s 7d. One of these was diamond jewellery in the shape of an ‘A’, probably used by Alice herself. Alongside this was £177 9s in ready money.
Title page of Thomas Bentley’s The Monument of Matrones, 1582: British Library G.12047-49.
Alice also gives the impression of having been a literate woman. She had 35s 8d of books, including two chronicles, a few Bibles, the Book of Common Prayer, and Thomas Bentley’s The Monument of Matrones. Published in 1582, this volume contained prayers written by and for women, including Queen Elizabeth. While the other books may have been shared by Alice with her husband, this one would almost certainly have been her own.
In all, Alice’s possessions came to £1084 17s 1d, plus £1248 that was received from the executors of her husband’s will. The total would be worth almost £700,000 today and this didn’t include the value of the house itself or any other property she owned elsewhere. She owed debts of £76 14s to various individuals, mostly wages for her servants, the fee for having her will written, and money for her doctor. Alice left £438 17s 5d in funeral expenses.
This inventory takes us inside the house of a wealthy Elizabethan widow, giving us an insight into her interests, lifestyle and beliefs. The imported ‘Turkey’ rugs and Arras tapestries hint at London’s international ties in the late 1500s, while the copy of Bentley’s Monument of Matrones tells us about Alice’s personal spirituality; her paintings of classical figures and stories suggest an interest in the Greek and Roman past. It helps us recover the story of a woman who has often been overshadowed by her husband and who did not leave us many documents in her own voice.
We are extremely grateful to Joanna and Graham Barker for their generous funding of Medieval and Renaissance Women.
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