Medieval manuscripts blog

333 posts categorized "Featured manuscripts"

08 March 2014

The Books of Remarkable Women

In 2011, when we blogged about the Shaftesbury Psalter (which may have belonged to Adeliza of Louvain; see below), we wrote that medieval manuscripts which had belonged to women were relatively rare survivals.  This still remains true, but as we have reviewed our blog over the past few years, it has become clear that we must emphasize the relative nature of the rarity – we have posted literally dozens of times about manuscripts that were produced for, owned, or created by a number of medieval women.

A page from the Shaftesbury Psalter, showing an illustration of the book's owner kneeling before the Virgin and Child.
Full-page miniature of the manuscript’s female owner kneeling as a supplicant before the Virgin and Child, from the Shaftesbury Psalter, England, 2nd quarter of the 12th century, Lansdowne MS 383, f. 165v [for more on this manuscript, read our blogpost  A Prayerbook Fit for a Queen?]

In honour of International Women’s Day, we would like to have a look back at a few of these manuscripts, and the remarkable women who owned them.  

A page from the Melisende Psalter, showing an illustration of Christ's Ascension.
Miniature of the Ascension of Christ, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139, f. 11r

The Melisende Psalter, owned by Melisende, the Queen of Jerusalem (1105-1161), this Psalter was possibly created for her by her husband, Fulk V, Count of Anjou and Maine

A page from the Queen Mary Psalter, showing an illustration of the Crucifixion.
Miniature of the Crucifixion, with eight niches occupied by male figures, with an historiated initial 'A'(d), with a pope, king, bishop and two others kneeling before an altar, with a bas-de-page scene of Christina cast into the sea and rescued by angels, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 256v

The Queen Mary Psalter, a remarkable manuscript produced in England between 1310 and 1320.  It takes its name from its later owner, Queen Mary Tudor (1516-1558), daughter of Henry VIII, but possibly originally produced for Isabella of France (1295-1358), queen of England and consort of Edward II.  More about the Psalter’s history can be found in the earlier link, or in this post Rival Queens, Precious Books, which also describes the digitisation of the Prayer Book of Lady Jane Grey (1536/7-1554), Harley MS 2342.

A page from the Taymouth Hours, showing an illustration of a crowned woman and a priest, with a marginal illustration of St Jerome.
Miniature prefacing the prayers to be said at Mass, with a crowned woman (probably the first owner of the manuscript) kneeling underneath a canopy while a priest raises the host, and a bas-de-page scene of Jerome writing, from the Taymouth Hours, England (London?), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 7r

The Taymouth Hours, a Book of Hours containing a spectacular programme of bas-de-page paintings, this manuscript was created in England in the 2nd quarter of the 14th century.  Its patron was certainly an aristocratic, and possibly royal, woman.  Scholars have variously argued that the original patron may have been Joan of the Tower, the daughter of Edward II and later wife of David II of Scotland (1321-1362), Isabella of France (1295-1358, see above), or Philippa of Hainault (1312-1369), the queen of Edward III.  Recent scholarship hypothesizes that the book was commissioned for Eleanor of Woodstock, elder daughter of Edward II (1318-1355), on the occasion of the princess’s betrothal.  A closely related manuscript, is of course, the famous Unicorn Cookbook.

A detail from Christine de Pizan's Book of the Queen, showing an illustration of the author in her study.
Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan working in her study, accompanied by her small dog, at the beginning of the ‘Cent balades’, from the Book of the Queen, France (Paris), c. 1410 – c. 1414, Harley MS 4431, f. 4r

Christine de Pizan’s Book of the Queen, the extraordinary manuscript created c. 1410 – c. 1414 by Christine de Pizan (1364- c. 1430), widely regarded as one of Europe’s earliest female professional authors.  The Book of the Queen contains the largest extant collection of Christine’s writing, and was written and decorated under her supervision, commissioned for Isabeau of Bavaria, the queen consort to Charles VI of France.

A detail from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing an illustration of John Talbot presenting the book to Queen Margaret.
Detail of a miniature of John Talbot presenting the book to Queen Margaret of Anjou, seated in a palace beside King Henry VI of England, and surrounded by their court, from the Talbot Shrewsbury book, France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 2v

The Talbot Shrewsbury Book, produced as a wedding gift for the young Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482), the future wife of Henry VI of England (and for more details on the texts of this manuscript, read out blogpost The Art of Chivalry)

A page from the Isabella Breviary, showing a number of coats of arms relating to Ferdinand and Isabella and their families.
The arms of Ferdinand and Isabella with the arms of Infante John and Margaret of Austria (left) and the arms of Philip of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, and Infanta Joanna, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 436v

The Isabella Breviary, produced for Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) and illustrated by the preeminent Flemish artists of the period, this breviary was the subject of our first calendar series back in 2011, as well as a later post on the charming prevalence of monkeys in its margins.

A page from the Hours of Joanna the Mad, showing an illustration of Joanna praying alongside the Evangelist St John.
Full-page miniature of Joanna the Mad praying, accompanied by John the Evangelist, from the Hours of Joanna of Castile, Bruges, between 1496 and 1506, Add MS 18852, f. 288r

The Hours of Joanna the Mad, created for Joanna the Mad (1479-1555), the daughter of Isabella I of Castile, and carefully customised under Joanna’s direction.  These magnificent Hours have been the subject of a number of our posts, including one on the plethora of marginal animals in the manuscript, and our series on the calendar pages (see as well this post on the mystery of another Book of Hours that may have belonged to Joanna).

There are of course many other examples of medieval women as patrons and artists within our collections and elsewhere.  We hope you enjoy paging through some of these remarkable books, and that you have a very happy International Women’s Day!

Sarah J Biggs

06 March 2014

Medieval Drama Acquired by the British Library

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We are extremely pleased to be able to tell you that the British Library has acquired an exceptional manuscript of a medieval drama, made for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (d. 1467). The manuscript in question was accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, and contains the Mystère de la Vengeance, a play in French verse by the Benedictine monk Eustache Marcadé (d. 1440). Duke Philip’s copy is one of the finest surviving illuminated manuscripts of any medieval theatrical text, and is now in two volumes: it includes 20 large miniatures painted by Loyset Liédet (d. 1479), illustrating the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. This manuscript is of outstanding significance as a unique copy of the complete version of a theatrical text illustrated in a completely original way, and as an example of a securely dated and documented work made for one of the greatest patrons of the 15th century.

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Detail of a miniature showing Vespasian suffering from leprosy and being examined in bed by two doctors, from the Mystère de la Vengeance by Eustache Marcadé, Bruges, c. 1465 (London, British Library, MS Additional 89066/1, f. 61v).

Philip the Good's manuscript is now British Library, Additional MSS 89066/1 and 89066/2. From Saturday, 8 March, the manuscript will be on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, and full digital images are also available on our Digitised Manuscripts site (Add MS 89066/1 and Add MS 89066/2).

The newly-acquired manuscript was commissioned for Philip the Good in around 1465. Philip was the most powerful ruler in Europe at that time, and one of the great collectors of the 15th century. The British Library's copy is the only known surviving complete manuscript of Marcadé’s text of the mystery play, in a version that took four days to perform. Another copy is in Arras, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 697, but that is a three-day version of the play, and contains around 1,000 fewer verses than Philip’s copy. Nor is the Arras copy illustrated with paintings, but rather with pen and ink drawings, and it is written on paper rather than on parchment. The play was performed in Abbeville, around 30 miles south-west of Hesdin, in 1463, and in Mechelen in 1494. It has been speculated that the Duke of Burgundy was present for the Abbeville performance, and that this deluxe manuscript was made in response to that event.

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Detail of a miniature showing the appearance in the sky of portents of Jerusalem’s destruction, from the Mystère de la Vengeance (London, British Library, MS Additional 89066/2, f. 38r).

The Mystère de la Vengeance contains 14,972 lines of French verse, which is set over four days of performances. Its subject is the Roman destruction of Jerusalem after the Crucifixion. The first day’s drama is a debate between the personifications of the Four Virtues, Justice, Mercy, Peace and Truth over whether God should take revenge on Jerusalem for the Crucifixion. The result is a promise from God that any destruction would be preceded by many warnings. On the second day the Emperor Tiberius hears a letter read from Pontius Pilate concerning Christ’s miracles. Concurrently, Vespasian, suffering from leprosy in Spain, is cured by the Vera Icon, or Saint Veronica’s veil. Events in Rome on the third day of the performance include Nero sending Vespasian and his son Titus to Jerusalem to put down a revolt. The ‘year of the four emperors’, 69, is the subject of the last day’s performance, in which Vespasian orders the destruction of Jerusalem. 

The manuscript was accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, and allocated to the British Library in 2014. Its acquisition was also made possible thanks to generous donations from the Art Fund, the Friends of the British Library, International Partners in memory of Melvin R. Seiden, the Breslauer Bequest, and other anonymous donors.

For more information about the artist and scribe of this manuscript, see our blogpost Magical Mystery Tour.

04 March 2014

Guess the Manuscript XII

It's been a while since we've offered up another installment in our award-winning Guess the Manuscript series.  So long, in fact, that the origin of the image below is now a mystery even to us.  Embarrassing though it is to admit, we have forgotten where we found this.  How exciting!

Can you do any better?  By now you are familiar with the rules of the game; this image is from a manuscript somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and is part of our medieval collections.  You can either leave your guesses below in the comments, or get in touch with us on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Good luck!

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01 March 2014

A Calendar Page for March 2014

For more information about the Huth Hours, please see our post A Calendar Page for January 2014.

The agricultural labours of the year are shown beginning in earnest in these calendar pages for the month of March.  On the first folio, two men and a woman are continuing the work of vine-trimming that was begun in February, while one man pauses for much-needed refreshment.  On the following folio, the listing of March's saints' days and feasts continues.  In the roundel below can be found a ram (inexplicably lacking his horns) for the zodiac sign Aries.  Beneath him is another well-bundled labourer turning the earth in a field in preparation for planting.

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Calendar page for March, with a roundel miniature of two men and a woman at work trimming vines, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 3v

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Calendar page for March, with a roundel miniature of a man turning earth below the zodiac sign Aries, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 4r

- Sarah J Biggs

27 February 2014

Slavery and Sainthood in Cornwall

Copied in a scriptorium in Brittany in the early 9th century, this Gospel Book, new to our Digitised Manuscripts site, is referred to as the Bodmin Gospels, or the St Petroc Gospels.  Both these names are references to its place of origin; it was originally used for the swearing of oaths upon the altar of the Priory of St Petroc in Bodmin, Cornwall.  Within these Gospels are recorded 51 grants of manumission (records of the freeing of slaves) which occurred between 950 and 1025.  It is one of the most important records of early Cornish Christianity, and the written records are of great interest to paleographers and students of the Cornish language.  Though they are written in Latin and Old English, many of the names mentioned within them are Celtic, such as Wurci (from Welsh Gwrgi, meaning ‘man-dog’) and Modred (after that well-known villain, King Arthur’s nephew).

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Decorated initials 'IN(ITIUM)' with 'I' forming interlace pattern border at the beginning of Mark's gospel, France (Brittany), early 9th century; annotations: Cornwall, 2nd half of the 9th centur, Add MS 9381, f. 50r

The Priory of St Petroc, Cornwall, was founded by Celtic monks some decades before St Augustine came to England in 593.  According to his legend, Petroc, a Welshman of noble birth, having completed his education in Ireland, set out in a small boat with a few followers towards the middle of the 6th century.  Though filled with zeal, they were an indecisive bunch, as they seem to have had no destination in mind, and so asked God to set their course.  The winds and tides brought them by pure chance (or divine will?) to the Padstow estuary, where Petroc founded his first monastery.  Again, he seems to have had some difficulty in making up his mind, as a short time later he packed up and moved everyone to Bodmin, where he remained until his death at a very great age.  The monastery at Bodmin was recorded in Domesday Book and later became an Augustinian priory.

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Victorian glasswork of St Petroc of Cornwall, from his church in Bodmin, 19th century.  Image via Wikipedia Commons.

St Petroc is one of the patron saints of Cornwall, and though he may perhaps appear indecisive, his legend is in the swashbuckling tradition, including, at one point, travel to India and the taming of wolves.  He is usually pictured with a stag (not particularly imaginative for a British saint) and his feast day is June 4.  His relics, stolen and carried off to Brittany by a dastardly Breton in 1177, were restored to Cornwall by Henry II, but were then tossed in to the sea when the monastery was sacked in the Reformation.  The beautiful ivory casket in which they were kept survived and is still on display at St Petroc's church in Bodmin.

We know that this Gospel-book (Add MS 9381) was at St Petroc’s monastery from the 940s.  It does not contain elaborate decoration, and is obviously a ‘workaday’ copy; at the end of the manuscript there are tables of Gospel readings for use throughout the year.  There is an unfinished composition at the beginning of John’s Gospel and several large decorated initials in red and brown (see f. 50 above), but no Evangelist portraits. 

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A frame with five roundels and interlace panels, probably intended for a 'Christ in Majesty' miniature, Add MS 9381, f. 108v

The principal decoration is in the Canon tables (ff. 9r-13v), which have Celtic interlace and zoomorphic decoration; see the bird-like creature on the right in image below. A note inserted between the arches records the presence of the book at the altar of St Petroc’s and its use there:

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Canon tables with records added, Add MS 9381 f. 13r

The inscription reads:

Hoc est no[men] illius mulieris .i. medguistyl cum p[ro]genie sua .i. bleiduid, ylcerthon, byrchtylym; quos liberaverunt cleri s[an]c[t]i petroci sup[er] altare illius petroci, p[ro]
remedio eadryd rex, & p[ro] animab[us] illor[um]; coram istis testib[us] comayre p[re]spiter grifiud p[re]spit[er] etc..

(This is the name of the woman Medguistyl with her offspring Bleiduid, Ylcerthon and Byrchtylym who were freed by the clerics of Saint Petroc on the altar of this St Petroc’s for the souls of Eadred the King and for their souls, before these witnesses, Comuyre the priest etc…)

Of course we know nothing of this woman and her three children, but it does make you wonder what the lives of these slaves would have been like in the ninth century.  Where were they from, how did they come to be slaves, and why were they freed?  We have no answers to these questions.

Sometimes the stories revealed by the records in the margins are a little more detailed, as is the following one in Old English:

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Records of manumissions, Add MS 9381 f. 8r

Her kyð on þissere bec þæt Aelsig bohte anne wifmann Ongynedhel hatte & hire sunu Gyðhicael æt  þurcilde mid healfe punde æt thære cirican dure on Bodmine & sealed Aelsige portgereva & Maccosse hundredesmann iiii pengas to tolle.  Þa ferde Aelsig to þe þa men bohte ynd nam hig & freode uppan Petrocys weofede æfre saclesl On gewitnesse þissa godera manna þæt wæs Isaac messepreost & Bledculf m.p. & Wunning m.p. & Wulfger m.p. & Grifiuð m.p. & Noe m.p. & Wurþicið m.p. & Aelsig diacon & Maccos & Teðion & Modredis sunu & Kynilm & Beorlaf & Dirling & Gratcant & Talan & gif hwa þas freot abrece, hebbe him wið Criste gemene.  Amen.

(Here is made known on this book that Aelsig had bought a woman Ongynedhel and her son Gyðhicael from þurcilde with half a pound at the church door at Bodmin, and paid to Aelsige the reeve and Maccos the hundredsman four pennies for toll.  Then Aelsig did what he had bought them for, and freed them on Petroc’s Altar, free of any liability.  On the witness of these good men: Isaac the mass-priest & Bledculf….. And if anyone should violate this freedom, may he lose Christ’s protection. Amen).

This shows that sometimes people bought slaves so that they could set them free and that in this case a toll was paid to the King or his representative for the pleasure of doing so – not terribly magnanimous on the part of His Majesty!

The names are also of interest.  Seven of them are Anglo-Saxon, including the freer of the slave, the reeve and hundredsman - in other words, those in authority, as you would expect.  Aelsige was a very popular name, as it is shared by three people (it does have more of a ring to it than John or David – perhaps it will make the list of the most popular names again one day!). Nine of the names, including the two slaves’, are Celtic and 2 are from the Old Testament - Isaac and Noe, or Noah.

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Chapter list of Matthew’s Gospel written in Caroline minuscule with added manumissions in Latin and Old English, Add MS 9381 f. 7v
                                                                                                   

Last but not least, the palaeography of this manuscript has long been of interest to scholars. The original gospels are written in a continental Caroline minuscule, the standard script used in France in this period.  Cornwall, however, was part of the Celtic world and so a form of Insular minuscule was used there in the ninth century.  The earliest manumissions are thought to date from the time of King Edmund (941-946), by which time Anglo-Saxon minuscule seems to have been widely adopted, though there is limited evidence and scripts varied considerably.  The additions in the Bodmin Gospels are mostly in Anglo-Saxon minuscule, but some of the later ones contain perhaps the earliest examples of Cornish Caroline script.  Notable are the Caroline ‘a’ and ‘g’, which are used even in the inscriptions in Old English. The contrast between the scripts is clearly visible in the above image, with additions by three different scribes. The full digital images now available online make this manuscript more accessible for palaeographical study.

- Chantry Westwell

22 February 2014

Prepare to Meet Your Doom

Followers of this blog may harbour a suspicion that we possess an unhealthy interest in scenes of violence and torture in medieval manuscripts.  The following should remove any doubt on the matter!

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Detail of a miniature showing the punishment of cardinal sinners in Hell, from the ‘Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri, Italy (Tuscany), 1444-c. 1450, 
Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 9r

Last week, the Getty Museum (@GettyMuseum) tweeted this image from our Digitised Manuscripts site to highlight that 13th February was marked in some medieval calendars as the day on which Hell was created (to which anyone who has forgotten to buy a Valentine’s Day present can surely attest).

This has inspired us at the British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog to explore depictions of Hell, past and present.

Aficionados of 1990s video games will likely have fond memories of Doom, id Software’s seminal first-person shooter.  The plot follows the typical ‘scientific experiment gone awry’ trajectory.  While experimenting with teleportation technology on Mars, some scientists inadvertently open a portal to Hell – whoops!  (Guess this is why we have risk assessments…).  You, the sole survivor, must fight your way back to Earth, with just an assorted array of guns and a chainsaw (yes, really) at your disposal to fight off the assembled hordes of demons.

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Full-page miniature showing the fall of the rebel angels, from the Old English Hexateuch, England, second quarter of the 11th century,
Cotton MS Claudius B IV, f. 2r

The portal to Hell in Doom has an obvious antecedent in medieval art: the Hell-mouth, a representation of Hell as a gaping, often flaming, animalistic maw.  The fall of the rebellious angels from Heaven, illustrated here in the Old English Hexateuch, foreshadows the later fall of man.  The unusual depiction of a Hell-mouth as a serpent reinforces this narrative connection as well as Lucifer’s agency in both events.

The rather horrifying motif of the Hell-mouth was not confined to medieval manuscripts.  It appears – most commonly as a hairy, fanged beast – in stained glass windows and wall- and panel-paintings as well.  It was therefore visible to ordinary medieval people, for whom owning an illuminated manuscript was an unimaginable luxury, and the prospect of suffering an eternity in Hell an imminent possibility.  St John’s visions of the end of the world and the Last Judgement were frequently depicted in ‘Doom paintings’ on the walls and rood-screens of medieval churches.  Though mostly destroyed at the Reformation, examples have survived, particularly in East Anglia, some of them ironically protected and preserved by the very whitewash that was meant to obliterate them.

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Detail of a miniature showing the Last Judgment, from the ‘Abingdon Apocalypse’, England, third quarter of the 13th century,
Add MS 42555, f. 77v.

Hell-mouths were commonly depicted in illuminated Apocalypse manuscripts, swallowing up the souls of the damned, while God, the angels and the souls of the saved look on from the safety of Heaven.

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Detail of a miniature showing the Last Judgement, from the ‘Queen Mary Apocalypse’, England (London or East Anglia), first quarter of the 14th century,
Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 40r

A personal favourite of ours comes not from an Apocalypse manuscript but from a Book of Hours.  Along the bottom of the pages, a procession of demons escorts the souls of the sinful to Hell.

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing a demon carrying souls to Hell in a wheelbarrow, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’, England (London?), second quarter of the 14th century,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 139v.

Demons are showing carrying souls in shoulder-baskets and other contrivances, or just dragging them along the floor with a rope.

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing a lecherous woman, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 141v.

In this example, demons torment the soul of a lecherous woman as punishment for her sins: she is being ridden by one demon while the other prods her in the buttocks with a grapple and shouts ‘Avaunt, leccheur, avant’ (‘Forward, lecher, forward!’).

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing the casting of souls into Hell, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 142r.

The procession culminates in the demons slinging the souls into the flames, to a little trumpet-fanfare provided by a demon perched on the Hell-mouth’s snout.

Contemporary critics of Doom’s violence, gore and satanic iconography (which still give us the shivers) ultimately missed the point that the storyline was inspired by Christian mythology.  After the eponymous character ‘Doomguy’ defeated the demons on Mars, he ventured into Hell itself to quash them on their home turf, and thereby re-enacted Christ’s Harrowing of Hell.

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Detail showing Christ spearing and trampling a demon and rescuing souls in the Harrowing of Hell, from the Monte Cassino Exultet Roll, southern Italy (Monte Cassino), c. 1075-c. 1080,
Add MS 30337, membrane 7 (inverted)

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Detail showing Christ rescuing souls in the Harrowing of Hell, with demons with trumpets and grapples and another rendering souls in a cauldron above a Hell-mouth, from the ‘Holkham Bible Picture Book’,
Add MS 47682, f. 34r

Alas, this was ultimately unsuccessful: upon Doomguy’s return to Earth, he finds that the hordes of Hell have overrun the planet (which rather neatly lay the ground for a sequel, Doom II: Hell on Earth).

Let us know if you have any favourite video games that deserve special treatment by the Medieval Manuscripts Blog!  Tweet us on @BLMedieval.

- James Freeman

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

18 February 2014

Hidden Away

One of the most exciting things about working in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section here in the British Library is the possibility of making – or witnessing – a new discovery about one of our manuscripts.  We’ve written before about a number of these discoveries, including those about pigments and underdrawings, a newly-found seal matrix, hidden inscriptions, a letter of Robert the Bruce, and even the magnificent Unicorn Cookbook

Recently we undertook some conservation work on two autograph volumes from the Evelyn papers (Add MS 78328 and Add MS 78329).  These volumes are commonplace books (essentially scrapbooks), maintained by Sir John Evelyn (1602–1706) between the 1650s and 1680s to keep track of ideas that he encountered during his travels and studies.  Evelyn was a noted author on a variety of subjects, including history, sculpture, navigation, and gardening, and was also a diarist largely contemporary with Pepys.  The British Library holds a number of items from Evelyn’s library, including the commonplace books.

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine along the lower binding, Add MS 78329

The bindings of these volumes, which had been in place since Evelyn’s day, were in need of some restoration.  During the course of the repairs, we uncovered a number of fragments of earlier manuscripts hidden away beneath the leather covers, fragments which had been used as lining, binding stiffeners, and sewing guides. 

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with sewing holes and thread traces visible, Add MS 78328, fragment 16v

The use of such materials is not unusual in medieval manuscripts, and we have a number of other instances from our collections which can be viewed online (see, for example, the Rochester Bible). But this case is unusual in that these particular fragments have gone back into their bindings, and will no longer be visible to readers.  We have, however, taken photographs of all of them, and these photographs are available for consultation in our Manuscripts Reading Room – and, of course, a number of them are reproduced here.

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with a signature visible (‘Jaquet?’), Add MS 78329, fragment 7v

As far as we can tell, these fragments consist of pages from a printed Latin text and a number of scraps from French charters; charmingly, some of them still contain signatures.  But we don’t know much more about them, and would like to solicit your ideas.  Please do let us know what you think; you can always leave a comment below, or reach us on Twitter @BLMedieval

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with sewing holes visible, Add MS 78328, fragment 1r

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Fragment of a printed book used as a pastedown on the lower binding, Add MS 78329

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with sewing holes visible, Add MS 78328, fragment 8r

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine along the lower binding, Add MS 78328

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, Add MS 78329, fragment 3v

- Sarah J Biggs

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

12 February 2014

A Papyrus Puzzle and Some Purple Parchment

Among the many treasures in the Cotton collection of manuscripts, the contents of Cotton MS Titus C XV (new to Digitised Manuscripts) are particularly intriguing.  Consisting now of five folios, drawn from three different manuscripts, Cotton MS Titus C XV is good evidence of Sir Robert Cotton’s habits of collection and dismemberment.  Folios 2-5 are four leaves of the so-called Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus, a copy of the Four Gospels in Greek written on purple parchment in the sixth century (possibly at Antioch).  This manuscript, dismembered in the high Byzantine era, is now scattered across the world (the bulk of the leaves being in the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg, hence the manuscript’s name).

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Fragment of the Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus,  6th century, Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 4v

Perhaps even more intriguing is the first folio.  Mounted on a blank sheet of parchment is a border cut from the Breviary of Margaret of York, a 15th-century manuscript written in Ghent.  And inside the border is a small scrap of papyrus (125 x 60 mm), dating from the late 6th or early 7th century:

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Detail of a papyrus fragment surrounded by a border from the Breviary of Margaret of York, Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 1r

This may well be the first papyrus to enter the British Museum, given that the Cotton library formed one of the foundation collections of the Museum when it was established in 1753. Somewhat surprisingly, though, it was not until 2000 that this fragment was edited and published, by Robert Babcock, in an article in Scriptorium (54.2, pp. 280-88).  He identified it as a fragment from a papyrus codex of Pope Gregory the Great’s Forty Homiles on the Gospels.  Given the date suggested by the hand, it is very likely that this codex was copied in Gregory’s own lifetime.  The hand also suggests that the codex was written in France or Italy, raising the tantalising possibility that Gregory himself may have been responsible for its commissioning.

Cotton_ms_titus_c_xv_f001r_detail_2
Detail of the papyrus fragment, Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 1r

How did the papyrus end up in Cotton’s collection?  There are no records that might help us, here, unfortunately, but Babcock argues that it is most likely that the papyrus was already in England when Cotton acquired it – and if so, it may well have been in England for centuries.  At this point we are into the realm of educated guesswork and speculation.  But it is not impossible that the codex could have come over with early missionaries sent to England by Gregory.  It could even be the case that it was an early copy of the Homilies (completed in 592-3) brought over by Augustine of Canterbury when he arrived in Kent in 597.  But if nothing else, we have here the earliest attestation for Gregory’s Homilies on the Gospels, and a fascinating story about a very unusual papyrus.

-  Cillian O’Hogan

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