Medieval manuscripts blog

110 posts categorized "Early modern"

24 August 2021

Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens

Tickets are now on sale for the British Library’s major exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens (8 October 2021–20 February 2022). This will be the first exhibition to consider Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots together, putting both women centre stage and giving them equal billing.

Using original documents and contemporary published sources, the exhibition will take a fresh and revealing look at the extraordinary story of two powerful women, bound together by their shared Tudor heritage and experience as fellow sovereign queens, but divided by their opposing Protestant and Catholic faiths and their rivalry for the English and Irish thrones.

Elizabeth I’s signature
Detail showing Elizabeth I’s signature: British Library, Cotton MS Caligula C I, f. 367r
Mary, Queen of Scots’ signature
Detail showing Mary, Queen of Scots’ signature: British Library, Cotton MS Caligula C I, f. 94v

Despite their fates being intertwined, the two queens never met in person. Instead, their relationship was played out at a distance, much of it by letter. These thrilling documents, written in their own hands and recording their speeches, lie at the heart of the exhibition and will enable visitors to step back into their world and understand how, from amicable beginnings, Elizabeth and Mary's relationship turned to suspicion, distrust and betrayal. 

The exhibition will demonstrate how the queens’ relationship also reflected a much broader story. It will explore the context of the religious reformation that divided Europe between Catholics and Protestants, revealing how Elizabeth and Mary’s battle, first for dynastic pre-eminence within the British Isles, and then for survival, became inseparable from the national religious struggles of their respective kingdoms. The exhibition will further show how the queens’ rivalry over the throne profoundly shaped England and Scotland’s relations, both with each other, and with France and Spain.

Elizabeth and Mary will highlight the rise of state surveillance and the development of a sophisticated intelligence network during a time of plots, treason and rebellion, and the ever-present fear of international conspiracy and foreign invasion.

At the core of the exhibition will be highlights from the British Library’s outstanding collection of 16th-century royal autograph manuscripts, historical documents, printed items, maps and drawings. These will be accompanied by a number of exceptional paintings, objects, jewellery and textiles borrowed from collections across the UK.

To whet your appetite, here is a small selection of some of the items that will be on display: 

• Elizabeth’s handwritten trilingual translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations (1545), which was a gift for her father Henry VIII: British Library, Royal MS 7 D X

Elizabeth’s handwritten trilingual translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations (1545)

• Elizabeth I’s mother of pearl locket ring (c. 1575), which opens to display miniature portraits of herself and her mother Anne Boleyn: ©The Chequers Trust

Queen Elizabeth’s locket ring  c.1575 (c) The Chequers Trust

• Bird’s-eye view map of London, Westminster in Middlesex, and Southwark in Surrey, by William Smith, 1588: British Library, Sloane MS 2596, f. 52*r

Bird’s-eye view map of London, Westminster in Middlesex, and Southwark in Surrey, by William Smith, 1588

• Richard Lee, bird’s-eye view of Edinburgh (May 1544): British Library, Cotton MS Augustus I II 56

Richard Lee, bird’s-eye view of Edinburgh (May 1544)

• Letter written by Mary, Queen of Scots, to Elizabeth I to announce her arrival on English soil (1568): British Library, Cotton MS Caligula C I, f. 94v

Letter written by Mary, Queen of Scots, to Elizabeth I to announce her arrival on English soil (1568)

• Portrait of Elizabeth I, attributed to George Gower, 1567: © Private collection

Elizabeth I attributed to George Gower  c.1567  on loan to the exhibition from a Private Collection

• Elizabeth I’s speech dissolving parliament in 1567, in which she attacked MPs' questions about the succession as ‘lip-laboured orations out of such jangling subjects’ mouths’: British Library, Cotton Ch IV 38 (2)

Elizabeth I’s speech dissolving parliament in 1567

• Rare printed copy of the papal bull known as Regnans in Excelsis, issued in Latin in 1570, announcing Elizabeth I’s excommunication on grounds of heresy: British Library, 18.e.2.(114*)

Rare print survival of the papal bull known as Regnans in Excelsis, issued in Latin in 1570

• Ciphered letter from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (1570): British Library, Cotton MS Caligula C II, f. 74r

Ciphered letter from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (1570)

• Mary, Queen of Scots’ longest letter, sent to Elizabeth I to complain about her sufferings in prison (1582): British Library, Cotton MS Caligula C VII, f. 81v

Mary, Queen of Scots’ longest letter, sent to Elizabeth I to complain about her sufferings in prison (1582)

• Cipher used by Mary, Queen of Scots, to communicate with Anthony Babington (1586): ©The National Archives, Kew, SP 12/193/54, f. 123r

Cipher used by Mary, Queen of Scots, to communicate with Anthony Babington (1586)

• The Blairs Reliquary, containing a portrait miniature of Mary, Queen of Scots (1586, framed 1610–22) © The Scottish Catholic Heritage Collections Trust (Blairs Museum)

The Blairs Reliquary (front), containing a portrait miniature of Mary, Queen of Scots

• Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing of Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution (1587), depicting her entering the hall, disrobing, and placing her head on the block: British Library, Add MS 48027, f. 650*r

Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing of Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution (1587)

• Drawing of Elizabeth’s funeral procession (early 17th century): British Library, Add MS 35324, f. 37v

Drawing of Elizabeth’s funeral procession (early 17th century)

• James VI, Basilikon doron (1599), written for Prince Henry, on successful kingship and printed in Edinburgh: British Library, G.4993., sig. [A]3v–[A]4r

James VI, Basilikon doron (1599)

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly-illustrated catalogue, edited by Professor Sue Doran, and available for purchase from the Library’s online shop from 8 October.

The cover of the illustrated catalogue, edited by Professor Sue Doran

A full programme of public lectures, talks, panel discussions and cultural events will also accompany the exhibition.  Tickets for the first three events are now on sale:

Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens will be on show at the British Library from 8 October 2021 to 20 February 2022. For more information and tickets, visit


Andrea Clarke

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

05 August 2021

A mariner's handbook from the library of Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh (b. 1552, d. 1618) was a pivotal figure in the history of Elizabethan England. A spy, a soldier and an infamous favourite of the Tudor queen, he is perhaps best known as an explorer who founded colonies in the New World and who supposedly brought back tobacco to England. But Raleigh was also a prolific poet and writer, who collected hundreds of books and manuscripts in his lifetime. We have now digitised one of his prized possessions, a rare finely illuminated mariner’s handbook, originally made in Portugal in the 16th century.

A 16th-century portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh, wearing a fur-lined cloak, decorated with pearls, with a crescent moon in the top left-hand corner.
Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh) by an unknown English artist; oil on panel, 1588; NPG 7 (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

The manuscript (now Cotton MS Tiberius D IX) is known as the Roteiro do Mar Roxo, literally meaning ‘Rutter of the Red Sea’ in Portuguese. A rutter is a type of nautical handbook that gives guidance about various aspects of the art of sailing. Navigators from across Europe compiled their own versions of these handbooks throughout the 16th century.

The contents of surviving rutters vary considerably. Many are devoted to collections of maps, naval charts, and astronomical and mathematical tables that were used to plot a course or calculate the relative position of a ship at sea. Others contain information relating to the movement of the tides, instructions on how to use navigational instruments, and how to repair damaged ships, as well as logbooks and itineraries of notable journeys made to the far side of the world. Some even include suggestions on how to avoid dangerous coral reefs, and lists of cures for diseases caught by crewmembers during a voyage. In essence, these books had everything you might have needed to navigate the oceans successfully: an invaluable resource for any sailor or explorer.

The title page of the Roteiro do Mar Roxo, with headings and initials in red ink, partially damaged by fire.
The title page of De Castro’s Roteiro do Mar Rozo: Cotton MS Tiberius D IX, f. 5v

The Roteiro do Mar Roxo was made by the Portuguese nobleman João de Castro (b. 1500, d. 1548) during his 1541 expedition to Suez under Estêvão da Gama (b. c. 1505, d. 1576). By the 16th century, this region had long been established as the site of a major trade route between Europe and the Middle East, which the Portuguese and other European powers sought to control. De Castro’s work is principally devoted to an account of his voyage, supplemented with a wealth of nautical and geographical information, including observations of the islands and surrounding landscape he and his companions discovered, and notes and descriptions of coastlines, ports, and bays found along the Sinai Peninsula.

One of the highlights of de Castro’s account is a series of finely painted watercolour illustrations and charts (known as tabuas) that accompany the text, which are thought to have been originally drawn by the Portuguese nobleman while on-board his flagship.

An opening from the Roteiro do Mar Roxo, showing a view of an island, with a fleet of ships in the foreground and by the shore.
A view of an unidentified coast of Socotra Island, near the Arabian Sea, from the Roteiro do Mar Roxo: Cotton MS Tiberius D IX, ff. 11v-12r

Many of the illustrations are meticulously observed, recording not only the various topographic features of the islands and landscapes the fleet passed but also views of ports and cities on their journey. In the chart below, De Castro includes a depiction of the port of Suakin in Sudan, showing his fleet moored around it.

Text: A detail from the Roteiro do Maro Roxo, showing a watercolour illustration of a port city, with various fleets moored around it.
A depiction of the port of Suakin in Sudan, from the Roteiro do Mar Roxo: Cotton MS Tiberius D IX, f. 36v

The Portuguese expedition fleet was comprised of 12 large galleons and carracks and at least 60 galleys, many of which are featured in De Castro’s illustrations. The ships are painted in minute detail, providing us with an invaluable insight into early modern naval design, with De Castro accounting for everything, from their sails, oars, and rigging, to the banners and heraldry flying from their masts, while tiny figures of sailors are shown clambering over the decks.

A detail from the Roteiro do Mar Roxo, showing a Portuguese galleon, with sailors climbing on the decks and rigging, and furled sails.
A galleon in the Portuguese fleet, depicted in the Roteiro do Mar Roxo: Cotton MS Tiberius D IX, f. 11v
A detail from the Roterio do Mar Roxo, showing three galleys, their oars in the water, and two with their sails aloft.
Galleys depicted by De Castro in his Roteiro do mar Roxo: Cotton MS Tiberius D IX, f. 14v

De Castro also included depictions of other ships and fleets the company encountered during their voyage, most notably those belonging to the Ottoman Empire, a major rival for Portuguese power in the Mediterranean. Here, the Portuguese fleet is shown encountering the Ottoman forces around the Strait of Suez, with a land battle ensuing soon after.

A detail from the Roteiro do Mar Roxo, showing a fleet moored at a port, the Portuguese army engaged with the forces of the Ottoman Empire.
The Portugueuse company in battle with the army of the Ottoman Empire, from a view of part of the Strait of Suez: Cotton MS Tiberius D IX, f. 76r

The Cotton volume is one of only two manuscripts of the Roteiro to survive from the 16th century (the other is now housed at the James Ford Bell Library, at the University of Minnesota). Its layout, illustrations, and delicately written script all suggest that it served as the presentation copy of the work, gifted by de Castro to the Infante Luis (b. 1506, d. 1555), younger brother of the Portuguese king, to whom he also dedicated the text.

The story of the manuscript’s subsequent journey from Portugal to England remains a mystery, though some have speculated that it was seized from a Portuguese ship during a battle with English privateers towards the end of the 16th century. At the very least, we know that by the early 1600s it had come into the possession of Sir Walter Raleigh, who apparently bought it in London for £60, a small fortune at that time.

A page from the Roteiro do Mar Roxo, showing De Castro’s dedication to Infante Luis, with headings in red ink and an initial in gold.
De Castro’s dedication of the work to Infante Luis: Cotton MS Tiberius D IX, f. 3r

That Raleigh was willing to spend so much on the volume is unsurprising, as he was an avid collector of manuscripts, printed books, maps, and sea charts. His notebook (now Add MS 57555), written when he was put in the Tower of London by King James I in 1606, contains an alphabetised shelf-list and inventory of the hundreds of volumes that made up his library, many of which accompanied him during his imprisonment. It also includes a series of comprehensive notes and hand-drawn maps that he used to write his History of the World, in Five Books, first published in London in 1614. There is even an annotated sketch of the Red Sea itself, its inclusion perhaps inspired by the Portuguese Roteiro Raleigh had purchased for his collection.

A page from the notebook of Sir Walter Raleigh, with a map of the Red Sea, painted in watercolour.
A page from the notebook of Sir Walter Raleigh, showing a map of the Red Sea and the surrounding Sinai Peninsula: Add MS 57555, f. 23v

Raleigh actually makes a reference to his copy of De Castro’s Roteiro in his History of the World, and this lends us an important clue as what happened to the volume in the years that followed. The explorer states that he had given the rutter to Richard Hackluyt (b. 1553, d. 1616), apparently with an instruction to adapt and publish an English paraphrase of the text. At the time, Hackluyt was an editor, translator, and travel writer, whose works were well-known for promoting the English colonisation of America.

However, Hackluyt did not complete Raleigh’s project and it seems that the Roteiro never returned to the library of its former owner. After Hackluyt's death in 1616 and Raleigh’s execution on the order of James I in 1618, Hackluyt’s son Edmond inherited the manuscript and he subsequently gave it into the keeping of the antiquary Sir Robert Cotton. Unfortunately, the Roteiro suffered the fate of many of the manuscripts in Cotton’s collection and was heavily burned in the Ashburnham House Fire in 1731, though thankfully much of the text and many of De Castro’s watercolour illustrations did survive intact. The volume can now be read in full on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

Calum Cockburn

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

19 July 2021

Dürer in the Low Countries

Five hundred years after the artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) travelled through the Low Countries, the exhibition “Dürer was here. A journey becomes legend” has opened at the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen, Germany. Drawing on the detailed travel journal that Dürer kept, the exhibition reconstructs the artist’s journey, with a particular focus on the time he spent in Aachen in 1520 when he attended the coronation of Emperor Charles V.

The British Library is delighted to have loaned the only surviving page-fragments from Dürer’s original journal to the exhibition, where they are displayed with an early copy of the complete text, loaned by the Staatsbibliothek in Bamberg. The first British Library fragment shows two sketches of a piece of folded cloth with instructions on how to make a type of woman’s cloak worn in the Low Countries.

Page from Dürer's original diary showing two patterns for a type of woman’s cloak worn in the Low Countries, 1520

Page from Dürer's original journal, 1520: Add MS 5229, f. 50r

The second fragment contains two sketches of the Coat-of-Arms of Lorenz Staiber (1485/6–1539), writer, orator and patrician of Nuremberg, and mentioned by Dürer in his journal. The sketches are thought to have been made in preparation for a woodcut.  

Page from Dürer's original diary showing two sketches of the Coat-of-Arms of Lorenz Staiber, 1520-21

Page from Dürer's original journal, 1520-21: Add MS 5229, f. 59r

Dürer used his journal to document his itinerary, diet, expenses and earnings, and to record noteworthy sights, encounters with fellow artists, and meetings with influential individuals and patrons. The journal also mentions around 120 portrait drawings and a small number of paintings that Dürer produced and either sold or gifted during his travels. Now widely dispersed, the exhibition brings together many of these masterpieces, as well as works by some of the artists whom Dürer met and inspired on the way.

In addition to his extraordinary artistic abilities, Albrecht Dürer possessed a lifelong fascination with artistic theory. From about 1500 he became increasingly absorbed by his studies on the techniques and underlying principles of art and in particular on the correct depiction of the human body. The British Library holds four volumes of Dürer’s research notes, which relate overwhelmingly to his studies on human proportion. They contain numerous mathematically constructed drawings of men, women and children, accompanied by precise measurements and detailed notes in German on the correct construction of the human figure.

The sheet below is dated 1513 and bears Dürer’s characteristic ‘AD’ monogram. It shows a proportion drawing of a male nude with detailed measurements. Dürer has used a framework of vertical and horizontal lines to calculate the dimensions of different sections of the body as fractions of the total height of the figure.

Proportion drawing of a male nude with a framework of horizontal and vertical lines and detailed measurements

Proportion drawing of a male nude with detailed measurements: Add MS 5230, f. 93r

Proportion drawing of a ‘stout woman’ accompanied by measurements

Proportion drawing of a ‘stout woman’ accompanied by measurements and step-by-step instructions in German on the correct construction of the figure: Add MS 5231, f. 5r

Proportion drawing of a male nude seen from the front and in profile
Proportion drawing of a male nude seen from the front and in profile: Add MS 5228, f. 124r 

Proportion drawing of an infant, before 1513

Proportion drawing of an infant: Add MS 5228, f. 186v

Drawing showing the construction of a male head in profile

Drawing showing the construction of a male head in profile: Add MS 5230, f. 10r

As Dürer’s sketches of fencers in combat illustrate, he was also interested in the theory of movement and how to capture the appearance and form of the body in motion. The inscriptions accompanying the rapidly executed drawings explain that they show the positions for the blades and for counter-blows or parries.

Drawing of fencing positions, 1512

Drawing of fencing positions, 1512: Add MS 5229, f. 67v

Albrecht Dürer’s extensive research, conducted over 30 years, culminated in the illustrated treatise Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion or ‘Four Books on Human Proportion’ which was posthumously published by his wife Agnes in Nuremberg in 1528.

“Dürer was here. A journey becomes legend” runs in Aachen from 18 July until 24 October 2021.


Andrea Clarke

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

22 May 2021

Gold and Glory at Hampton Court

The exhibition Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King opens this week at Hampton Court Palace. It celebrates the ‘Field of Cloth of Gold’, one of history’s most famous and spectacular peace summits at which rival Renaissance rulers Henry VIII of England (1509–1547) and Francis I of France (1515–1547) met in person. The British Library is delighted to have loaned a number of manuscripts to be displayed alongside an array of treasures from 1520, including works of art, gold, weapons and textiles. Together they tell the story of a dazzling spectacle of diplomacy, pageantry and magnificence.

A detail of a coloured manuscript drawing showing an armoured knight holding a lance and sitting on a horse

Detail of a figure wearing armour, perhaps King Henry VIII, at the Field of Cloth of Gold: Cotton MS Augustus III/1, f. 35r

Henry and Francis’s legendary encounter inaugurated a new Anglo-French alliance that was signed in 1518 as part of a European-wide Treaty of Universal Peace. The treaty was negotiated by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s brilliant administrator and trusted adviser, in response to Pope Leo X’s call for universal peace the previous year. As a result, Wolsey succeeded in reasserting his master’s status as a powerful European prince through peaceful means rather than warfare.

In the wake of the Treaty of Universal Peace, preparations got underway for the kings to meet in person.  Initially planned for 1519, the peace summit was postponed following the death of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Henry expressed his disappointment by gallantly promising not to shave his beard until he and Francis were able to meet face to face and the French king agreed to do the same. One of the British Library loans, a letter sent by Sir Thomas Boleyn to Cardinal Wolsey in November 1519, records that Henry later reneged on his vow because Queen Katherine ‘desired hym to putt yt of for her sake’. The French delegation was appeased by Thomas Boleyn’s assurance that Henry felt more affection for Francis than for any other king or prince and agreed that ‘their love is nat in the berdes but in the hartes’.

A manuscript page containing a letter in English from Sir Thomas Boleyn to Cardinal Wolsey. The edges of the paper page have been burned and remounted in paper frames.

Letter from Sir Thomas Boleyn to Cardinal Wolsey, recording how Henry VIII had reneged on his earlier promise not to shave off his beard until his meeting with Francis I (16 November 1519): Cotton MS Caligula D VII, f. 164r

Henry departed for France on 31 May 1520, accompanied by Queen Katherine, his sister Mary Tudor, dowager Queen of France, Cardinal Wolsey, and some 6,000 subjects, courtiers and English nobility. The two kings met on 7 June 1520 in the Val Doré, a small valley equidistant between the French town of Ardres and the English headquarters at Guînes in the Pale of Calais, a territory held since 1347 by the kings of England as part of their claim to the kingdom of France. Another British Library loan provides visitors with a contemporary view of the English castle of Guînes, where Henry lodged for the duration of the peace conference.

A pen-and-ink drawing of the castle at Guînes, showing its towers and ramparts

View of the keep and part of the walls of the English castle at Guînes (2nd quarter of the 16th century): Cotton MS Augustus I II 12

Both kings viewed the summit as an opportunity to impress those in attendance with magnificent displays of their wealth and culture; everything was done on a grand scale. A temporary town of tented pavilions that replicated royal palaces was built to accommodate their vast entourages. Constructed of canvas, the tents were dressed in rich fabrics, including cloth of gold, which gave the event its name: the Field of Cloth of Gold or ‘Camp du Drap d’Or’. A stunning tent design on loan from the British Library illustrates the size and splendour of the accommodation erected for Henry’s court.

A design for the red tents erected for King Henry VIII at the Field of Cloth of Gold

Manuscript tent design for the Field of Cloth of Gold, showing red tents with gold detail and crowned with fleur-de-lis, Tudor roses and heraldic beasts: Cotton MS Augustus III/1, f. 18r

After their initial meeting on 7 June, Henry and Francis demonstrated their princely power and military prowess in a daily round of tournaments involving jousting, mock battles, archery, wrestling matches and other feats of arms lasting more than two weeks. Both kings participated in the jousting competitions. Henry VIII in particular was renowned as a skilled jouster, and it is possible that in one drawing loaned by the British Library, the figure shown on horseback with a broken jousting lance is Henry himself.

A coloured drawing of a man wearing armour and carrying a lance, sitting upon a horse

Drawing of a figure on horseback, possibly of Henry VIII, with a broken jousting lance: Cotton MS Augustus III/1, f. 35r

The Field of Cloth of Gold was also a spectacular festival of entertainments. Henry and Francis hosted sumptuous feasts and banquets and laid on lavish entertainments with music, singing, dancing and masques. Choristers from the English Chapel Royal were in attendance and performed at the great liturgical feasts and the public Mass led by Cardinal Wolsey on the summit's final day. Shown below is a beautiful choirbook from the British Library on display in the exhibition. It was produced sometime between 1513 and 1525 for Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon in the workshop of Petrus Alamire, contains 28 motets, and is magnificently decorated with Tudor heraldic emblems and Katherine of Aragon’s pomegranate.

An opening of a manuscript choirbook, with decorated initials on each page and the staves laid out for the music

A book of choral music made for Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, decorated with the Tudor royal arms and heraldic emblems: Royal MS 8 G VII, ff. 2v–3r


Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King runs at Hampton Court from 20 May to 5 September 2021. 


Andrea Clarke

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

01 April 2021

Alas, poor Hamlet

How well do you know your Hamlet?

We're not talking about the tragic Prince of Denmark, of course. We're referring to Hamlet Anderson, who owned a manuscript of the Wycliffite New Testament in the 16th century.

His name was noticed by Clarck Drieshen, who is currently cataloguing the Harley collection at the British Library. In three places at the end of Harley MS 4027, Hamlet inscribed his name, as you can see in this image of f. 184r. Clarck speculates that the former owner of this manuscript may be identified as 'Hamlet Anderton, tailour' of King’s Lynn, who is recorded in A Calendar of the Freemen of Lynn, 1292–1836 (Norwich: Archaeological Society, 1913), p. 106.

A page of a manuscript showing the signature of Hamlet Anderson in two separate places

Hamlet Anderson's name is inscribed twice on a page at the end of Harley MS 4027 (f. 184r)

It may not be unreasonable to suppose that a tailor would have owned a copy of the New Testament in English, albeit a manuscript version made in the first half of the 15th century. Also on f. 184r is a list of purchased items, including shears (wool), perhaps relevant to his occupation.

A detail of the two signatures of Hamlet Anderson

A detail of Hamlet Anderson's signatures: Harley MS 4027, f. 184r

Among the other owners of this manuscript were:

  • Baudet Anderton in the 15th century (his name is inscribed on f. 140v);
  • Thomas Bloye in the 16th century (f. 102r);
  • William Peirson in the early 17th century (f. 9r);
  • Thomas Johnson in 1670 (f. 181v);
  • Thomas Peirson in 1678 (f. 181v).

The names of Baudet Anderton, Hamlet Anderson and Thomas Johnson were all recognised for the first time by Clarck while he was cataloguing Harley MS 4027.

A manuscript page of the New Testament, written in Middle English, in 2 columns, and with decorated initials

The opening page of the Wycliffite New Testament, in Middle English (England, 15th century): Harley MS 4027, f. 1r

We have now added descriptions of more than 3,000 manuscripts in the Harley collection to the British Library's online catalogue. We'd love you to explore them for yourselves. Maybe you will encounter more familiar names or discover unfamiliar manuscripts for the first time.

Julian Harrison

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20 February 2021

Lady Jane Grey’s letters from the Tower of London

On 12 February 1554, the 16-year-old Lady Jane Grey (1537–1554) approached the scaffold at the Tower of London, to be beheaded for committing high treason against Mary I of England. According to a contemporary diary, known as the Chronicle of Queen Jane, she held ‘a boke in hir hande, wheron she praied all the way till she cam to the saide scaffolde’. Containing prayers that should be read for ‘adversity and grievous distress’ and ‘strength of mind’, this manuscript, identifiable as the pocket-sized prayer book Harley MS 2342, may have comforted her in her final hours. But Jane also used it to comfort others. In its empty margins she had scribbled farewell messages to her father, also imprisoned at the Tower, and to Sir John Brydges, Lieutenant of the Tower of London, who may have passed it on after her death.

A portrait of Lady Jane Grey wearing a red dress and various jewels and holding a small book in her left hand.

Lady Jane Grey by an unknown artist (c. 1590–1600) © National Portrait Gallery, London; reproduced under a Creative Commons image licence

Some abrupt events took place in the final year of Jane’s short life. In 1553, a dying King Edward VI, aged just 15, removed his Catholic half-sister Mary Tudor, his legitimate successor, from the line to the throne. Instead, he instructed that Jane, his Protestant cousin, should inherit the crown. On 10 July, she was proclaimed Queen of England, but only nine days later, Mary seized the throne with the aid of her supporters. Although Jane’s life was cut short, her messages in Harley MS 2342 and other writings associated with her imprisonment at the Tower of London helped create a long-lasting legacy.

The opening page of the Chronicle of Queen Jane, entitled ‘An Annale of Queen Marie her Raigne or a great part of it ab Anonymo’, written in brown ink.

The opening page of the Chronicle of Queen Jane (England, July 1553 to October 1554): Harley MS 194, f. 1r

Most of Jane’s surviving writings from the Tower concern spiritual advice. In her message to John Brydges, she encouraged him to live in stillness (without succumbing to the temptations of the world) by reminding him of the much greater spiritual joy that can be gained in the afterlife:

‘I shalle as a frende desyre you, and as a Christian require you, to call uppon God, to encline youre harte to his lawes, to quicken you in his waye, and not to take the worde of trewethe utterlye oute of youre mouthe. Lyve styll to dye, that by deathe you may purchase eternall life [...] for as the Precher sayethe there is a tyme to be borne and a tyme to dye and the daye of deathe is better then the daye of oure byrthe - youres as the lord knowethe, as a frende Jane Duddeley’

Jane’s signature below her message to Sir John Brydges written in brown ink that has now faded in the lower margin of a page of her prayer book.

Jane’s signature below her message to Sir John Brydges in her prayer book (England, 1539–1554): Harley MS 2342, f. 77r

A Latin poem that Jane is said to have scratched with a pin into the wall of her cell at the Tower of London contains further advice. One manuscript version of the poem, which adds an English translation and opens with an English verse from one of her letters, claims that she wrote it for her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley (c. 1535–1554), who had been awaiting execution elsewhere in the castle. Her purported message offers words of advice, consolation and a caution against the vicissitudes of life that seem appropriate for a wider audience:

‘Certen verses written by the said Lady Jane before hir deathe unto the Lorde Guylford Dudley hir husband who was executed apon the Scaffold at Tower hill [...] a litle before the death of the said Lady Jane:

Bee constant, bee constant, feare not for payne,

Christe hath redeamed thee, and heaven is thy gayn.

Non aliena putes homini, qui obtingere possunt,

Sors hodierna mihi, tunc erit illa tibi.

Do never thincke it straunge,

Though nowe I have misfortune

ffor if that fortune chaunge:

The same to the may happen.

Post tenebras spero lucem

Deo Juvante, nil nocet Livor malus.

Et non Juvante, nil invat Labor gravis.

Yf God do helpe thee: Hate shall not hurte thee,

Yf god do fayle thee: Then shall not Labor prevayle thee’

A poem that Jane purportedly inscribed in her cell at the Tower of London written in black ink with punctuation highlighted in red ink.

A poem that Jane purportedly inscribed in her cell at the Tower of London (Cheshire, late 16th- and early 17th-century): Egerton MS 2642, f. 213v

Although these writings may have been relatively unknown in the 16th century, several of Jane’s prison letters were published in print shortly after death. One is a letter to her younger sister Lady Katherine Grey (1540–1568), written on the night before her execution on the pages of a New Testament in Greek. A copy of this printed letter was subsequently entered onto the empty leaves of a 15th-century English manuscript (Harley 2370) containing a treatise known as the Ars moriendi (‘Art of dying’). Like the latter work, Jane’s letter reminds the reader of the importance of leading a virtuous life while hoping for salvation in death:

‘Lyve styll to dey, that you by deth may purchas eternal lyfe [...] And trust not that the tendernes of your age shall lengthen your liffe; for as sone (if God call) goith the yowng as the old: and laborre alway to lerne to dey, deney the world, defey the devell, and disspyse the flesh, delite yourselfe onely in the lord.’

Jane’s letter to her sister Katherine written in blue ink below the Latin text Ars moriendi, which is written in brown ink

Jane’s letter (‘exhortacyon’) to her sister Katherine on ‘the night bef[ore] she suffred’ (England, 16th century): Harley MS 2370, f. 39v

But Jane did not only write spiritual advice. In two other letters published together with that to her sister, she eloquently defended the Protestant faith against the Catholic Church. One of these is a letter addressed to an anonymous man who had recently converted from Protestantism to Catholicism. A handwritten copy of it can be found in one of the volumes of the Protestant historian John Foxe (1516/1517–1587) that he used for his account of the persecution of Protestants under the Catholic Church, entitled Actes and Monuments and known as his Book of Martyrs, published in 1563.

The title of Jane’s letter to a Protestant who has converted to Catholicism, written in brown ink.

An Epistle of the Lady Iane, a righte vertuwes woman, to a lerned man of late fallen from the truth of Gods word for feare off the worlde (England, c. 1560): Harley MS 416, f. 25r

In the other letter, Jane recounted her debate with John Feckenham (c. 1515–1584), a Benedictine monk sent by Mary Tudor a few days before the execution in order to convert her to Catholicism. In it, Jane details how she remained unmoved by and refuted Feckenham’s attacks on her Protestant ideas. For example, she retorted to him, ‘I grounde my faith uppon goddes word and not uppon the Churche for if the Churche be a good Churche the faith of the Churche must be tried by goddes worde and not goddes worde by the Churche’. The dialogue was published in pamphlet form as early as 1554, but gained further circulation by its inclusion in Foxe’s Actes and Monuments.

Jane’s debate with John Feckenham written in brown ink.

Jane’s debate with John Feckenham, entitled ‘Perswasyons of Fecknam to turne the Lady Jane Dudley agaynst she shulde suffer deathe’ (England, c. 1570) Harley MS 425, f. 83r

When Jane was writing, she cannot have expected her letters to reach an audience beyond their intended recipients. However, during Mary Tudor’s restoration of Catholicism and persecution of Protestants, her letters found a different audience among printers and readers. These publications made her the first female author whose spiritual letters were printed in England, and ensured that her letters survived into modern times.


Clarck Drieshen

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21 December 2020

Great medieval bake off: Christmas edition

In the medieval and early modern periods, people celebrated Christmas with twelve days of extravagant feasting and merriment. Following the success of our Great medieval bake off in September, we’re getting into the spirit of the season by recreating some festive treats using authentic recipes from manuscripts held in the Library.

On your marks, get set, bake!

A scene from a medieval manuscript of people feasting at a table
A medieval feast, France, 1290-1300: Add MS 28162, f. 10v

Ellie’s recipe: a dish of snowe

A recipe for 'a dish of snowe' in an early 17th-century manuscript
Recipe for ‘a dish of snowe’, England, early 17th century: Add MS 28319, f. 17v (detail)

To make a dish of Snowe / Take a potte of sweete thicke creme and the white of eight egges and beate them altogether with a spoone then putte them into your creame with a dish full of Rose Water and a dishfull of Sugar withall then take a sticke and make it cleane and then cutt it in the ende fowre square and therewith beate all the aforesayd thinges together and ever as it ariseth take it of and putte it into a Cullander thys done take a platter and set an aple in the middest of it and sticke a thicke bush of Rosemarye in the apple then cast your snowe upon the rosemarye and fill your platter therewith and if you have wafers cast some withall and thus serve them forth

To make a dish of snow, take a pot of sweet thick cream and the whites of eight eggs and beat them together with a spoon, then put them into your cream with a dishful of rosewater and a dishful of sugar withal. Then take a stick and make it clean and then cut it in the end foursquare and therewith beat all the aforesaid things together and ever as it arises take it off and put it in a colander. This done, take a platter and set an apple in the middle of it and stick a thick bush of rosemary in the apple. Then cast your snow upon the rosemary and fill your platter therewith and if you have wafers cast some withal and thus serve them forth.

Some of the highlights of medieval and early modern feasts were novelty foods made to look like something else for the delight of the diners—the historical equivalents of an illusion bake. This recipe for ‘a dish of snowe’, made to resemble a snowy little tree on a hilltop, is a lovely example of this. This version of the recipe comes from an early 17th-century manuscript, but a similar version also appears in the printed book A proper newe booke of cokerye, which was published in several editions with the earliest dating from 1545. Modern editions of the recipe, which are based on these early printed editions, don’t explain that you should stick the rosemary into the apple, meaning that modern commentators have missed its identity as an illusion dessert. The extra detail provided in the manuscript version allows us to rediscover the original presentation of the dish. 

To make this recipe I mixed together a 300 ml pot of double cream, the whites of 2 eggs (the 8 eggs specified in the recipe would make enough snowe for a considerable feast!), 2 tablespoons of rosewater and 2 tablespoons of caster sugar, then whipped them together with a whisk until they formed a firm foamy consistency (about 15 minutes by hand). I love that this recipe gives you instructions to make your own whisk, but boringly I already had one. I placed a small apple in a bowl, made a hole in it with a skewer, and then stuck a sprig of rosemary into the hole so that it stood upright. With a spoon, I gently spread the snowe over the rosemary leaves and apple and put the rest in the bowl. Not having any wafers to hand, I decorated the dish with some cinnamon thins. The finished product looks more exciting than it tastes, which is pleasantly sweet and creamy but a little bland. I think it would work better as a topping, perhaps on something tart and fruity. But the recipe definitely succeeds in what was probably its main purpose, making an eye-catching winter wonderland of a centrepiece.

A photo of a modern recreation of 'a dish of snowe'
A dish of snowe, photo by Ellie Jackson

Calum’s recipe: gingerbread

A recipe for gingerbread in a 16th/17th-century manuscript
A recipe for gingerbread, England, late 16th-early 17th century: Add MS 46139, f. 48r (detail)

To make ginger breade / ffirste take fayre clarified honye, sinnamon, ginger, and a quantitie of pepper and graynes and a great quantitite of liccoras, anniseede, lett all theis seeth together, till they eate like ginger breade, as the taste pleaseth or offendeth you, so mende the aforesaid amixtures, and when you like yt well put in the breade and stirre yt well together, and worke yt forthwith, as hott as may be suffered

To make gingerbread, first take clarified honey, cinnamon, ginger, and a quantity of pepper and grains, and a large amount of liquorice and aniseed. Let all this sit together, until it tastes like gingerbread, as the taste pleases or offends you. Stir the previously mentioned mixtures, and when you like it well add the breadcrumbs and stir them together well, and then work the mixture, as hot as it can take.

Gingerbread is a common feature of surviving medieval cookbooks (this blog has previously featured a gingerbread recipe from an English cookery book made c. 1430). The example above can be found in an early modern collection of medical, alchemical and cookery recipes, partly written by Alexander Gill the Elder (b. 1565, d. 1635), the High Master of St Paul’s School in London, whose pupils notably included the famous English poet John Milton. Readers might have gathered that Gill’s recipe for gingerbread is unlike the biscuit or cookie we all know and love. In fact, this ‘gingerbread’ is not a biscuit at all. It is more similar to a piece of modern confectionary, a soft shaped sweet like marzipan or nougat, and ginger is only one of a number of spices that can be added to the mix.

For my version, I poured a jar of honey into a pan and brought it to a boil, skimmed the scum that formed on the surface and flavoured it with small amounts of cinnamon, ground ginger, white pepper and aniseed. To this, I added plain white breadcrumbs, incorporating them into the liquid a little at a time until the mixture began to grow firm and stick to the pan. I then turned it out on a parchment sheet, placed another parchment sheet on top and rolled it out thinly. Once the gingerbread had cooled, I cut it into squares. Some variants of this recipe mention that you can dye the gingerbread by adding sandalwood. In this case, I used a modern food colouring and shaped the resulting mixture into balls. The recipe resulted in a sweet, quite sickly treat, which tasted much like the filling in a treacle tart.

A photo of a modern recreation of gingerbread
A plate of gingerbread, based on the recipe in Add MS 46139, photo by Calum Cockburn

Clarck’s recipe: mulled wine

A recipe for mulled wine in a medieval manuscript
A recipe for mulled wine, England, 15th century: Harley MS 2868, f. 4v

Take an unce of gode treacle half an unce of tormentile rotes a sponfull of columbyn sedes vj nutkyrnels bray al þies sam except the treacle to þai be small þan putte iij sponefull of Juse of rewe and ij unce of sugar and medle all wele to gedder and put it into a closebox . and take of þat fastand þe quantite of an hesill nutt with a littill wyne or ayle warmyd

Take an ounce of good treacle, half an ounce of tormentil roots, a spoonful of ‘columbine’ [vervain] seeds, and six nut kernels. Grind all these together (except for the treacle) until they are a powder. Then add three spoonfuls of the juice of rue and two ounces of sugar, mix it well together, and put it in a jar. Then take of that solid matter the size of a hazelnut with a bit of warmed wine or ale.

Mulled or spiced wine was commonly consumed in the Middle Ages, but I was surprised to find a 15th-century Middle English recipe for this popular wintry drink in a Latin prayer book that is part of our ongoing cataloguing project on the Harley collection. An owner of the manuscript wrote the recipe below a prayer to St Giles, probably because they considered both the prayer and the recipe as forms of protection against plague: while the saint was often invoked against the disease, the recipe’s main ingredients (treacle, vervain, and tormentil) were considered highly potent plague remedies. Coincidentally, the saint’s feast day on 1 September also marks the beginning of the cold season—the time of the year which we nowadays associate with mulled wine.

I first simmered an ounce of lemon vervain (‘columbyn’ refers to verbena, not the poisonous columbine aquilegia!), common rue, and tormentil rhizome in a litre of water for half an hour. After sieving the resulting ‘herbal tea’, I added half an ounce of molasses (black treacle), two ounces of sugar, and a handful of finely crushed hazelnuts. I bottled the mixture, let it cool down, and then mixed half of it with 750 ml of warmed-up fruity red wine. The resulting flavour was tasty, but mostly dominated by the treacle. For those who want to try this for themselves, I would recommend adding traditional mulled wine spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

A photo of the ingredients for medicinal mulled wine
Ingredients for a medieval medicinal mulled wine, photo by Clarck Drieshen

We hope that our recipes can inspire your own culinary creations over this holiday season!

Ellie Jackson, Clarck Drieshen and Calum Cockburn
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***disclaimer: these recipes were made in the authors' own time and at their own expense. No Library resources were used in the making of these medieval treats! ***

21 November 2020

Camden's Annals PhD studentship

The First History of Elizabethan England: The Making of William Camden’s Annals

The British Library is pleased to invite applications for an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) PhD studentship, on the making of William Camden's Annals. The studentship will start in the academic year 2021/22 and is funded through the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. 

The successful applicant will be based at the University of Oxford, and will be supervised jointly by Dr Alexandra Gajda (Oxford), Dr Neil Younger (Open University) and Julian Harrison (The British Library). This doctoral project will be the first comprehensive study of the making of William Camden’s Annals, one of the most valuable sources on early modern Britain and the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. For more details, please see the advert on the Open-Oxford-Cambridge Doctoral Training Partnership website.

The opening page of Camden's Annals

The opening page of William Camden's Annals: Cotton MS Faustina F I, f. 3r

The thesis will focus initially on the drafts of Camden's Annals held in the Cotton collection here at the British Library. William Camden (d. 1623) had taught Robert Cotton (d. 1631) at Westminster School. They shared the same antiquarian interests, and Camden bequeathed his own manuscripts to Cotton, including the earliest full-scale history of Elizabeth I's reign, known as his Annales Rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum Regnante Elizabetha (abbreviated commonly to Camden's Annals). The Cotton library is now recognised as one of the most important collections in Britain, and was entered on the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register in 2018.

The award holder will carry out a thorough study of the manuscripts, with the intent of producing an assessment of the authorship of the Annals, looking at the drafting process and identifying the scribes involved and the corrections and additions made in other hands. The project will open up many avenues of research into the intellectual and political culture of the 16th century, including antiquarian and historical study, and the formation of the Cotton collection.

The student will be based at the British Library for a significant proportion of the studentship, where they will have a dedicated workspace, access to office equipment and services, and privileged staff-level access to the manuscripts collections, learning more about curatorial activities and the wider collection. The Library is actively involved in a range of collaborative doctoral research programmes across several disciplines and provides a broad range of professional development opportunities for doctoral students.

Applicants should have knowledge of Latin to A Level or above. Knowledge of early modern palaeography and history is desirable but not essential. Potential applicants are encouraged to contact Dr Alexandra Gajda with questions and for any guidance before submitting their application.

The deadline for applications is 12:00 (midday) on 8 January 2021. Please refer to the advert here for full details of how to apply.


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