THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

10 posts categorized "International"

06 May 2020

The legend of Alexander in late Antique and medieval literary culture: PhD studentship at the British Library

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The British Library is collaborating with Durham University to offer a fully-funded full-time or part-time PhD studentship via the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme. The student’s research will focus on the legend of Alexander the Great, and the successful applicant will be supervised by Dr Venetia Bridges (Durham) and Dr Peter Toth (British Library).

Detail of a miniature of Alexander and the Wheel of Fortune

Alexander the Great on Fortune’s Wheel, in a French chronicle of the ancient world (France, 3rd quarter of the 15th century): Harley MS 4376, f. 271r (detail)

Alexander the Great is one of the most fascinating figures of the ancient world. He conquered the world from Greece to India in less than 10 years. Although he died in 323 BC when he was only 33, Alexander's legacy continues to influence European, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures.

A drawing of Alexander the Great holding an orb and sceptre, with Philosophy holding a pot and brush

Alexander the Great, anointed by the personification of Philosophy, in a Latin version of the Alexander Romance (England, last quarter of the 11th century): Royal MS 13 A I, f. 1v

In the last two millennia, Alexander the Great has been represented as a magician, a scientist, a statesman, a philosopher and as one of the greatest explorers of humankind. The British Library’s collection of materials relating to the legend of Alexander provides an exceptional opportunity for PhD research into his immense impact on European literary culture from a transnational and multilingual perspective. As a student at Durham but working on the British Library’s collections, the successful applicant will have a unique opportunity to study the fascinating Alexander legends in their primary sources. This studentship will coincide with an exhibition about the legends of Alexander to be held at the British Library in late 2022. 

Miniatures of Alexander the Great and his army fighting blemmyae

Alexander the Great fighting the headless blemmyae in a French version of the Alexander Romance (Flanders 1st quarter of the 14th century): Harley MS 4979, f. 72v (detail)

Legends of Alexander’s life and conquests were combined into a narrative, known as the Alexander Romance, soon after his death. This compilation quickly became a ‘best-seller’, with translations in almost every language of the medieval Mediterranean, including Latin, Armenian, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, Persian, English, French and German. Moreover, many of these texts are lavishly decorated with fascinating combinations of ancient and medieval imagery.

Applicants are invited to propose a multilingual and comparative project on Alexander’s reception from Late Antiquity to the close of the Middle Ages in European contexts, with a particular focus on the Alexander Romance. The proposal should focus on texts in more than one language, and include manuscripts in the Library’s collections. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • the Alexander Romance’s influence upon high medieval literature (11th-13th centuries);
  • the Alexander Romance’s influence on travel and scientific literature and geographical exploration;
  • the Alexander Romance’s dissemination in the later Middle Ages (14th-15th centuries) in translations, adaptations and material witnesses;
  • a comparative study of the Alexander Romance in Western (European) and Eastern (Byzantine and Slavonic) versions;
  • the role of Alexander in royal and religious propaganda, including ‘nationalist’ historiographies and Crusader literature;
  • a study of key medieval manuscripts and/or texts related to the Alexander Romance that demonstrate aspects of Alexander’s appropriation in different cultures;
  • the Late Antique beginnings of the Alexander Romance’s textual histories.

Applicants

The successful applicant will have multilingual interests in medieval and/or late Antique literature and culture with reading fluency in at least two European languages. Applicants should have received a first or high upper-second class honours degree and a master’s either achieved or completed by the time of taking up the doctoral study, both in a relevant discipline. Applicants must satisfy the standard UKRI eligibility criteria.

Stipend

For the academic year 2020-21 the student stipend will be £16,885, consisting of £15,285 basic stipend, a maintenance payment of £600 and an additional allowance of £1,000. The British Library will also provide a research allowance to the student for agreed research-related costs of up to £1,000 a year.

Duration

The studentship is fully funded for 3 years and 9 months full-time or part-time equivalent, with the potential to be extended by a further 3 months to provide additional professional development opportunities.

For full details and how to apply, please visit https://www.dur.ac.uk/english.studies/postgrad/support/

The deadline for applications, including references, is 5pm on 29 May 2020.

 

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26 March 2020

Humfrey Wanley, Library-Keeper of the Harleian Library

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One of the many gems of the British Library is the Harleian collection, founded by Robert Harley, Lord High Treasurer and 1st Earl of Oxford, and his son, Edward (1689–1741), 2nd Earl of Oxford. It's the largest intact 18th-century manuscript collection in the world, containing more than 7,000 manuscripts, 14,000 charters and 500 rolls. While we are re-cataloguing the manuscripts, we thought we'd take the opportunity to pay tribute to the collection's early Library-Keeper, Humfrey Wanley (1672–1726).

Wanley was appointed as Library-Keeper for the Harleian Library in 1705 after he successfully negotiated the acquisition for Robert Harley of the 660 manuscripts of the late antiquary Sir Simonds D’Ewes (1602–1650). Wanley — who had previously been employed as Assistant at the Bodleian Library, cataloguer of the library of Hans Sloane (his catalogue survives in Sloane MS 3972 B), and inspector of the library of Robert Cotton (1586–1631) — continued to expand the Harleian Library with thousands of manuscripts.

A portrait of Humfrey Wanley holding in his hands a Greek gospel-book

Thomas Hill, portrait of Humfrey Wanley in the Harleian Library holding his notebook open at his own facsimile copy of the 10th-century Greek Covel Gospels, and with the so-called Guthlac Roll of about the year 1200 on his desk (1711): courtesy of the Society of Antiquaries of London

Among Wanley’s most significant acquisitions for the Harleian Library are the more than 300 manuscripts of Edward Stillingfleet (d. 1699), late Bishop of Worcester; over 200 heraldic manuscripts from the Randle Holme arms-painters of Chester; and about 125 manuscripts of the clergyman Robert Burscough (1650/51–1709). Simultaneously, he used Continental agents to purchase manuscripts from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and monasteries in the Levant. He also sold his own collection of manuscripts to the Library. A 14th-century French Psalter in the Harleian collection (Harley MS 3978), for example, bears his ownership inscription: ‘Liber Humfredi Wanley’.  

Image in a Psalter of the Adoration of the Magi

An ownership inscription of Wanley

The Adoration of the Magi in a Psalter (above) and the ownership inscription of Humfrey Wanley (below), North-Eastern France, 2nd half of the 14th century: Harley MS 3978, f. 15v and f. 1*recto

The Harleian Library also acquired manuscripts composed and copied by Wanley himself. It features a parchment volume with facsimile copies of medieval charters (Harley MS 7505) that a young Wanley made around 1689–1691 from local archives in Warwickshire. These reveal his skills as both a palaeographer and calligrapher.

A copy of a charter, written by Humfrey Wanley

Humfrey Wanley’s copy of a mid-14th-century charter of Richard Fitzalan (c. 1313–1376), 3rd Earl of Arundel: Harley MS 7505, f. 2r

Wanley meticulously recorded his acquisition activities in his diary (Lansdowne MSS 1716-1718), but also kept a notebook (Lansdowne MS 677) with a ‘wish-list’ of manuscripts owned by other collectors he hoped to acquire for the Harleian Library (‘Things proper for the Library in the Hands of Particular Persons’). It includes both the Warwickshire charters and the manuscripts of Hans Sloane with which he had previously worked.

A reward offered for the return of Wanley's notebook

Humfrey Wanley offering a reward for returning his notebook to him: ‘Whoever brings this Book to Mr Humfrey Wanley at the Right Honourable the Earl of Oxford’s [Lord Harley’s House] in Dover-street, Westminster; shall receive one Guinea Reward’: Lansdowne MS 677, f. 1v

In acquiring manuscripts, Wanley showed a level of integrity that was unusual for his time. When a bookseller of a 9th-century manuscript containing the four Gospels written in gold ink (Harley MS 2797) insisted that Wanley should erase a 17th-century ownership inscription of the abbey of Sainte Geneviève in Paris because it was bought through a ‘private seller’, Wanley refused to do so, stating that ‘I do not love to putt a pen-knife upon an old Book in order to erase’ (The Diary of Humfrey Wanley (1996), vol. 2, pp. 359–60).

Wanley's 'Golden Gospels'

The un-erased ownership inscription of the abbey of Sainte Geneviève in Paris: ‘Ex Libris S. Genovefae Parisiensis’ (Northern France, 3rd quarter of the 9th century): Harley MS 2797, f. 1r

Wanley considered ownership inscriptions as one of the most important features that should be mentioned in manuscript catalogues. He gave much thought to manuscript cataloguing, since he considered it to be one of his principal tasks at the Harleian Library. In a letter he wrote following his inspection of the Cottonian library in 1703, he recommended that the textual and artistic contents of manuscripts be catalogued to a high level of detail:

‘That every Book & Tract be particularly described [...] whether it [be] written upon Parchment or Paper; whether the Language be English, Saxon, Latin, French etcaetera. Particular Notice also might be taken of such books as are remarkable for their Beauty, for being written Correctly, or in very Good or very Bad Hands; [or] remarkable for their Antiquity. And when the Age of the Book or Tract or Name of the Scribe that wrote it, of any Eminent Person that owned it; or old Library to which it did formerly belong does appear; it should be carefully noted, because by these Marks Posterity will be sure that these are the individual Books now described; and no Original or Antient Copie can be changed for a New one, but the Cheat may be discovered’ (Harley MS 7055, f. 19r).

Wanley first demonstrated his meticulousness in cataloguing Hans Sloane’s manuscripts and in producing a monumental catalogue of Old English manuscripts in 1705. Subsequently, he wrote catalogue entries for over 2,400 Harleian manuscripts in a ‘Catalogus Brevior’ (Additional MSS 45701–45707) — completed and published by the British Museum almost a hundred years later — and hundreds of records for a ‘Catalogus Maior’ (Additional MSS 45699–45700). In addition, he began a subject catalogue for the entire collection (Lansdowne MS 815), wrote an index to the Harleian charters (Add MS 45711), and a catalogue of heraldic manuscripts in the Harleian Library (Add MS 6052).

Wanley's catalogue of Old English manuscripts

The frontispiece of Humfrey Wanley’s catalogue of Old English manuscripts, printed at Oxford at the Sheldonian Theatre in 1705

Wanley is an example to modern cataloguers. We certainly hope to follow in his footsteps as we re-catalogue the Harleian collection to modern standards and make records of the Harley manuscripts accessible in our online manuscripts catalogue

You can read more about Humfrey Wanley here:

The Diary of Humfrey Wanley 1715-1726, ed. by Cyril Ernest Wright and Ruth C. Wright, 2 vols (London: Bibliographical Society, 1966).

Deirdre Jackson, 'Humfrey Wanley and the Harley Collection', Electronic British Library Journal (2011), article 2 [pp. 1–20].

Michael Murphy, 'Humfrey Wanley on How to Run a Scholarly Library', The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 52:2 (1982), 145–55.

Cyril Ernest Wright, ‘Humfrey Wanley: Saxonist and Library-Keeper’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 46 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960), pp. 99–129.

 

Clarck Drieshen

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12 February 2019

Picture this: portraits of Anglo-Saxon rulers

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Only five contemporary manuscript portraits of identifiable Anglo-Saxon rulers survive. Recent visitors to the British Library or to this Blog are probably already familiar with one of them. This is the illuminated miniature featuring King Edgar (959–975) which forms the frontispiece of the New Minster Charter (Cotton MS Vespasian A VIII), confirming the rights of the reformed church at Winchester. It is the 'frontispiece' of our sold-out exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, adorning the posters as well as the entrance to the Library.

In this blogpost, we look at some of these Anglo-Saxon ruler portraits, alongside contemporary European examples.

Portrait of King Edgar with the Virgin Mary, St Peter, Christ in Majesty and angels in the New Minster Charter

King Edgar with the Virgin Mary, St Peter, Christ in Majesty and angels (New Minster, Winchester, c. 966): Cotton MS Vespasian A VIII, f. 2v

In the New Minster Charter, made in around 966, King Edgar, facing towards the heavens, presents a golden copy of the document to Christ. The Virgin Mary and St Peter look on approvingly. The fact that he is surrounded by saints and handing the charter straight to Christ reminds the viewer of his status as a pious, Christian king, ruling with divine blessing. These themes were all central to the idealised representations of the royal office in the early medieval Christian West.

Depicting the king holding a politically important document, in the shape of a book, is more remarkable in the context of early medieval ruler portraits. This emphasised Edgar as a learned king, to whom the written word was significant, but also visually confirmed his politically motivated patronage of the New Minster. It exemplified the key motifs of the specifically Anglo-Saxon image of kingship and queenship, in which the ruler was shown to be actively involved with learning, patronage of the Church, and the production or use of texts and books. These motifs set the Anglo-Saxon ruler portraits apart from those of their early medieval contemporaries.

The Continental approach to portraying rulers makes this contrast clear. Throughout their mutual history the Anglo-Saxons and their neighbours across the Channel, the Carolingians, were in close contact. The most famous and influential ruler of the Carolingian dynasty (c. 714–877), whose empire covered most of western Continental Europe, was Charlemagne (768–814).

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Portrait of Emperor Lothar I in the Lothar Psalter

Emperor Lothar I enthroned (the court of the Emperor Lothar, ?Aachen, c. 840–855): Add MS 37768, f. 4r

No contemporary illustrations of Charlemagne have survived, but there is a striking depiction of his oldest legitimate grandson, Lothar I (817–855), in the manuscript known as the Lothar Psalter (Add MS 37768).

Roman imperial portraits were the main source for early medieval ruler portraits. This link became even more important to the Carolingians when Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope in 800. The resulting emphasis on imperial majestic splendour and military authority is clearly seen in Lothar’s portrait. His golden and jewel-encrusted crown is matched by an extravagant cloak of gold, covered in gems. The entire backdrop is a deep purple — the colour associated specifically with emperors since Antiquity because of the exceedingly high value of the pigment. In his hands he holds a long sceptre, recalling the sceptrum Augusti (sceptre of imperial majesty) of the Roman emperors, and the hilt of a sword, drawing visual comparisons to the military status of the imperial role.

The Anglo-Saxon ruler portrait closest in time to that of Lothar is also the earliest surviving. In a manuscript containing Bede's Lives of St Cuthbert, King Æthelstan is depicted presenting the book itself to St Cuthbert (d. 687). Cuthbert was a monk and bishop of Lindisfarne, whose cult became increasingly popular across northern England. The image commemorates Æthelstan’s gift of the manuscript to St Cuthbert’s community, while also associating the king with the patronage of a politically significant religious centre, and the production of a book containing works by an eminent Anglo-Saxon author.

Portrait of King Æthelstan presenting St Cuthbert with the book in the Durham Life of Cuthbert

King Æthelstan presenting St Cuthbert with the book (South England, c. 934–939): Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 183, f. 1v

Despite Æthelstan’s many diplomatic connections with Continental rulers (not least exemplified by his gifts of books), the Continental focus on the extravagant stateliness and military might of the monarch has not influenced this portrait. He humbly bows his head to the saint; only his crown betrays his grand status.

The surviving Anglo-Saxon ruler portraits also stand apart when it comes to the depiction of queens. Hardly any portraits of Carolingian queens survive, but during the Ottonian dynasty (c. 919–1024) double-ruler portraits of the queens alongside their husbands or sons became popular.

Christ in Majesty crowning Henry II and his wife Kunigunde in the Evangelistary of Henry II

Christ in Majesty crowning Henry II and his wife Kunigunde, with St Peter on the left and St Paul on the right. Below is the female personification of Rome, with female personifications of Gallia and Germania on either side (Reichenau, c. 1007–1012): Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek, Clm 4452, f. 2r

For instance, the Evangelistary of Henry II (Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek, Clm 4452) contains an extravagant image of the future coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry II (1014–1024), and his wife, Empress Kunigunde of Luxembourg (d. 1040). Christ crowns both Henry and Kunigunde, while St Peter supports Henry on the left, and St Paul supports Kunigunde on the right. Kunigunde is depicted as equal in size to her husband, but it is Henry who stands on the right of Christ, symbolically the place of honour.

In the lower register stands the female personification of Rome, holding a sceptre. Beside her are female personifications of the territories of Gallia and Germania (the primary territories of the king and queen, respectively). Undoubtedly, this represents the joining together of Henry and Kunigunde’s territories into one Holy Roman Empire, underlining the political importance of their union.

Queen Emma, one of the most important political figures in 11th-century England, is depicted in two of the five surviving Anglo-Saxon portraits. In one, the New Minster Liber Vitae, she is depicted next to her second husband, King Cnut, in a manner similar to the double-coronation portrait of Henry and Kunigunde. But in a slightly later manuscript (Add MS 33241) there is a decidedly different portrait of her.

A portrait of Queen Emma enthroned, with two of her sons in the background, receiving a copy of the Encomium Emmae reginae

Queen Emma enthroned, with two of her sons in the background, receiving the Encomium Emmae reginae (northern France or England, mid-11th century): Add MS 33241, f. 1v

Emma alone is enthroned and centrally placed in this image, whereas her two sons (both of whom became king) peer slightly awkwardly from behind a pillar. Moreover, she is shown receiving a copy of the manuscript, which contains the Encomium Emmae reginae ('In Praise of Queen Emma'). This is a highly political work, commissioned to portray Emma's past actions in a more favourable light, while smoothing over the current, turbulent political situation. It is entirely appropriate for her to be portrayed as the central character and as a queen in her own right and with her own independent agency.

You can read more about some of the manuscripts featured in this blogpost on the British Library's Anglo-Saxons webspace. Due to incredible demand, all tickets to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition have now been sold.

 

                                                                                     Emilia Henderson

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05 January 2019

Round up of our Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms conference

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On 13 and 14 December 2018, twenty-two world-leading experts on Anglo-Saxon manuscripts gathered at the British Library to present their research to an international audience of over 250 academics, postgraduate students, library professionals and members of the public. This major conference on Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms was held in conjunction with the British Library’s landmark exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War.

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A full house on the first morning of the conference. Photo taken by Dr Alixe Bovey

Professor Lawrence Nees opened the conference with a keynote lecture on ‘The European Context of Manuscript Illumination in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, 600-900’. Nees explored how certain styles of early medieval manuscript illumination demonstrate frequent connections between scriptoria on both sides of the Channel. The close connections between Anglo-Saxon England, parts of Ireland and Britain, and the European Continent were a recurring theme throughout the two days.

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Attendees enjoyed a wine reception at the end of the first day of the conference.

Professor Julia Crick gave the second keynote lecture of the conference on ‘English Scribal Culture in an Age of Conquest, 900–1100’. Professor Crick marvelled that visitors to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition could see a once-in-a-generation collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, and then turn the pages of many of those manuscripts on their smart phones and laptops.

Many other speakers praised the benefits of recent digitisation projects and new digital technologies. Dr Tessa Webber commented that this was the first time she had been able to browse digital versions of all manuscripts in her paper from her office. Many speakers used images of medieval manuscripts made available through digitisation projects at the British Library, most notably the recently digitised collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and charters, and 800 manuscripts digitised as part of The Polonsky Foundation Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200.

Anglo-saxons-conference (26 of 26)

Dr Alan Thacker chairs the questions after Dr Tessa Webber’s paper.

In recent years, scholars have begun to use the latest imaging technologies to make new discoveries on the pages of medieval manuscripts. Many papers at the conference drew on the multispectral imaging work of imaging scientist at the British Library, Dr Christina Duffy. Gasps of surprise and delight rippled through the audience as speakers revealed the ‘before and after’ shots generated by Dr Duffy’s imaging.

Other speakers used traditional technologies to support innovative arguments. For example, Professor Susan Rankin was joined on stage by two of her doctoral students who performed different types of singing known at Winchester in this period. Additionally, in a paper on the diffusion of insular art and script in Carolingian Francia, Professor Joanna Story used tidal patterns to argue that it would have been relatively easy to travel between Canterbury and north-western France. Story noted that tidal patterns are often consulted by archaeologists and military historians, but not by scholars of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts.

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Chloe Allison and Adam Mathias demonstrate two styles of singing during Professor Susan Rankin’s paper

The conference concluded with speakers and attendees musing on the future of palaeography and codicology. The final keynote lecture and the questions that followed acknowledged the challenges faced by the next generation of scholars, but also highlighted the hope and excitement for future research made possible by recent advances in technology and through the application of scientific techniques.

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Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín joked that he likes to refer to this Durham Gospel book as a ‘3 D’ manuscript: Durham, Cathedral Library, MS A.II.10 f.3

On the next day, Saturday 15th December, over 100 attendees of the conference returned for an Early Career Researchers’ symposium. The cross-cutting themes of this symposium mirrored those of the main conference by highlighting cross-Channel connections, the complexities of scribal culture, and utilising digital or scientific technologies. Speakers presented interdisciplinary research, combining history with chemistry and bioarchaeology. Louise Garner explained the use of chemical analysis to identify the composition of pigments in the York Gospels. Jiří Vnouček drew upon his background as a conservator and recent bioarchaeological research to identify the type of animal used to prepare the parchment of the Codex Amiatinus. Vnouček commented that, in his opinion, the future of manuscript studies lies in the use of interdisciplinary approaches to utilise advances in scientific technology.

The final paper of the symposium was given by Dr Simon Thomson, who discussed manuscripts that were community projects, built from complex layers of scribal interaction over time. When we study the digital facsimiles of these manuscripts for research, share images on social media, or turn their pages in a reading room, we too become part of that community and are woven into the story of these manuscripts.

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In the Durham Liber Vitae, the original list of names was copied in the 9th century, but more names were added for centuries after: British Library, Cotton MS Domitian A VII, f. 15v

We would like to thank all the speakers, chairs and attendees for an educational and enjoyable conference. Tweets relating to the conference can be found by searching the conference hashtag #MSSinASK. Dr Colleen Curran has made a useful Wakelet thread of all tweets that used this hashtag and she recently wrote a summary of 10 things we learned at the conference for BBC History Magazine.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms is on display in London until 19 February 2019. You can buy your tickets here.

Becky Lawton 

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21 November 2018

Launch of The Polonsky Foundation Pre-1200 Project

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Today we are celebrating with our esteemed colleagues from the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Together we have digitised and re-catalogued 800 medieval manuscripts from England and France. We have also created two bilingual web resources making these manuscripts available freely and interpreting their significance.

The Adoration of the Magi from an illuminated Psalter

The Adoration of the Magi from an illuminated Psalter, London, 1220s: British Library Lansdowne MS 420, f. 8v.

In the summer of 2016 we began the The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200. The project was funded by The Polonsky Foundation, which is committed to promoting access to and dissemination of cultural heritage.  

This project brings together riches of these great institutions and makes them available to researchers and the wider public in innovative and attractive ways, benefiting from the extraordinary opportunities opened up by the technological advances of digitisation.

Our Foundation promotes the preservation and transmission of cultural heritage, and is proud to support this collaboration, which continues the cultural exchange and profound mutual influence that have characterised the history of these two nations over many centuries.”

Dr Leonard S. Polonsky CBE, Founding Chairman, The Polonsky Foundation

 

The collections of medieval manuscripts in the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France rank amongst the finest and most important in the world. Together we have particularly strong holdings of manuscripts made in France and England before 1200. From these we chose 400 manuscripts from each Library in order to transform the availability of these primary sources. The manuscripts comprise a wide range of texts, including biblical, liturgical and theological works, reflecting the interest of monks, abbots and clerics, who were responsible for much of book production in the period before 1200. Other topics include science, music and medicine, Classical and contemporary literature and works on history and law.

Screen shot of themes n the Project website

Themes in the curated website Medieval England and France, 700-1200, made in The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200.

 

Two web resources

All 800 manuscripts are now available on an innovative website hosted by the BnF: France et Angleterre : manuscrits médiévaux entre 700 et 1200 / France and England: medieval manuscripts between 700 and 1200. The website allows users to search manuscripts in English, French and Italian, and to view and compare manuscripts side-by-side using International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) technology. Images may also be annotated or shared on social media, and may be downloaded either as an individual image or as a PDF of an entire manuscript. Searches by author, date and place of origin may also be made.

Screenshot of the new BnF Website

New website developed by the BnF to present the 800 manuscripts digitised in The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200.

The British Library-hosted website presents a curated selection of these manuscripts highlighting various topics and manuscripts. Readers may explore themes, such as history, illumination, science and manuscript making. There are over twenty articles written by experts presenting and interpreting these manuscripts, in both English and French, together with individual descriptions and images of over 100 manuscripts. The website also features several videos exploring the context for these manuscripts and describing in detail how they were made. The site is an online exhibition to some of the amazing legacy that survives in hand-written medieval books.

Screenshot of the new British Library website

New curated website developed by the British Library to explore the illuminated manuscripts digitised in The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700–1200.

Professor Julia Crick from King’s College London remarks that, “Yet again, we are indebted to The Polonsky Foundation for an act of generosity which allows scholars, students and the general public at large to encounter new aspects of the world of medieval manuscripts. This project spans crucial centuries of cultural contact and political rivalry between England and the European continent. The manuscripts in this collection display the aspirations of the elite, the glitter of and competition for the classical past and, most excitingly, the material remains of a burgeoning culture of books and learning which was multilingual, culturally variegated and which is still open to exploration and discovery. The two new websites significantly widen and enhance access to these manuscripts and will inspire future research and learning.

We have also produced a short film highlighting the background for the project and its achievements.

 

Cataloguing, Exhibition and a Book

All of the manuscripts have been re-catalogued to include up-to-date bibliography, identification of texts and descriptions of the artwork. These descriptions can be viewed on Explore our Archives and Manuscripts for British Library manuscripts; and on Archives et manuscrits for Bibliothèque nationale de France manuscripts.

The opening of Psalm 51 from the Bosworth Psalter

The opening of Psalm 51 from the Bosworth Psalter, Canterbury or Westminster, Southern England, 3rd quarter of the 10th century: British Library Add MS 37517, f. 33r.

If online access to this amazing selection does not satisfy a desire for stunning images, there are also other ways in which to get guided access to the highlights. Several of the project manuscripts can be seen in person in the British Library’s exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War (until 19 February 2019).

We have also brought together some of the project highlights in a book by Kathleen Doyle and Charlotte Denoël, Medieval Illumination: Manuscript Art in England and France 700-1200 (London: British Library, 2018), also published in French as Enluminures Médiévales: Chefs-d'oeuvre de la Bibliothèque nationale de France et de la British Library, 700-1200 (Paris: BnF Éditions, 2018).

Medieval Illuminations Book Cover

Medieval Illumination: Manuscript Art in England and France 700-1200, Kathleen Doyle and Charlotte Denoël (Front Cover).

We hope that the easy and convenient availability of this material will inspire researchers, teachers, students, artists and others to explore our shared history and heritage. We invite all our readers to immerse themselves in the stories these manuscripts tell and browse through the online articles and collection items. We are delighted to have opened digitally 800 medieval books for you to discover, research and enjoy.

 

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#PolonskyPre1200

 

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16 October 2018

A missal not to be missed

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One of the British Library's illuminated manuscripts is now on display, with a selection of other stunning objects, at a new exhibition exploring the life and times of the powerful bibliophile duchess, Mary of Guelders (1378–1427). You can visit the exhibition, I, Mary of Guelders: The Duchess and her extraordinary prayer book, at the Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen, from now until 6 January 2019. Our manuscript, Egerton MS 3018, reveals the cosmopolitan connections and rich book culture of the Lower Rhine area in Mary’s day.

An opening from a 14th-century Missal, showing the Canon of the Mass and a portrait of the Virgin and the Child.

The opening of the Canon of the Mass, facing a miniature of the Virgin and Child with a patron portrait: Egerton MS 3018, ff. 23v–24r

The manuscript on loan from the Library is a missal, a service book containing the texts needed for the performance of the Mass. A close look through its pages reveals a fascinating meeting of scribal cultures. The main part of the manuscript was written and illustrated in the late 14th century by a scribe working in an Italian style, using the rounded script and smooth white parchment that were common in Italian manuscripts. It could have been made in Italy, or by Italian artisans working in the Lower Rhine area.

In the year 1400, a different scribe added a calendar focusing on saints related to Cologne, featuring ‘red letter days’ for the Three Kings (their deaths on 11 January and their translation on 23 July), the 11,000 Virgins (21 October), and St Severin, archbishop of Cologne (23 October), all of whom had their major shrines in Cologne. They also added an office for St Severin and a Mass dedicated to all angels. This scribe used thicker parchment, wrote in a pointed gothic script typical of northern Europe, and decorated their initial letters with a Dutch type of penwork.

At a similar time or perhaps slightly later, an artist added seven Rhenish-style full-page miniatures depicting various saints. With their full-length figures, flat backgrounds and minimal narrative, these miniatures closely resemble the types of devotional panel paintings commonly displayed in churches at this time. They were probably added at the request of a new owner, probably the man pictured in the image above, praying before the Virgin and Child at the opening of the Canon of the Mass.

A page from a 14th-century Missal, showing an illustration of a saint, probably St Severin of Cologne.

Probably St Severin of Cologne: Egerton MS 3018, f. 7r

Some of the saints included were widely venerated while others were local to the Lower Rhine area. This miniature shows a saint holding a church, identified as a bishop by his mitre and crosier. He is probably intended to represent St Severin, the 4th-century bishop of Cologne whose feast day is prominently marked in the manuscript’s calendar and commemorated with an office in the manuscript’s sanctorale section. The church he carries most likely represents his foundation and shrine site, the Basilica of St Severin in Cologne. It was the city’s second major cult focus after the Shrine of the Three Kings at the Cathedral.

A page from a 14th-century Missal, showing an illustration of St Cornelius and St Cyprian.

St Cornelius and St Cyprian: Egerton MS 3018, f. 92r

The saints portrayed in this miniature also point to a connection with the Basilica of St Severin in Cologne. They are St Cornelius and St Cyprian, a pope and a bishop who were martyred together in the 3rd century. St Cornelius is identified by his papal tiara and horn, while St Cyprian wears a bishop’s mitre and carries a crosier and book. When St Severin first founded his Basilica, he dedicated it to Cornelius and Cyprian. Severin was later added to the dedication and the Basilica was re-named in his honour. Nevertheless, devotion to Cornelius and Cyprian continued, and a relic known as the Horn of St Cornelius has been one of the principal treasures housed at the Basilica since c. 1500. The miniatures of Saints Severin, Cornelius and Cyprian, three unusual subjects who were all patron saints of the Basilica of St Severin in Cologne, suggests that the manuscript’s owner had close ties with this church.

A page from a 14th-century Missal, showing an illustration of the Ten Thousand Martyrs.

The Ten Thousand Martyrs: Egerton MS 3018, f. 43r

Another unusual image in this manuscript depicts the Ten Thousand Martyrs, said to have been a group of Roman soldiers led by St Achatius, and who were impaled to death by a pagan army. This relatively obscure cult is particularly associated with Switzerland and Germany, and relics were claimed by Cologne, Prague and other towns. According to legend, whoever venerated their memory would enjoy health of mind and body. Perhaps to emphasise their powers over bodily health, this gruesome miniature focuses on the martyrs’ bodily suffering, showing them as a mass of contorted naked bodies, violently impaled and pouring with blood.

We are delighted to be a lender to the Mary of Guelders exhibition, which is on in Nijmegen from 13 October 2018 to 6 January 2019. 

 

Eleanor Jackson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

05 July 2018

Three lions

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Football is an ancient sport. It is not clear when or where it was first played, but we do know that football was banned twice in England during the 14th century. On 13 April 1314, King Edward II forbade 'hustling over large balls' (‘rageries de grosses pelotes’) at the behest of some disgruntled London merchants (who clearly didn't realise the sport's potential for selling flags, alcohol and other merchandise). Then, in 1349, Edward III ordered that archery practice should supersede the playing of football ("Arrows coming home," anyone?). Later that century, the controversial churchman John Wyclif (d. 1384) cited in one of his sermons, suggesting it was a common sight: ‘Christian people have been kicked around, now by popes, now by bishops … as they would kick a football’ (‘Cristene men ben chullid, now wiþ popis, and now wiþ bishopis … as who shulde chulle a foot-balle’).

Medieval imagery continues to permeate ‘the beautiful game'. For example, the kit worn by the England team uses medieval symbolism, which is the subject of this blogpost.

A page from Sir Thomas Holme's Book of Arms, showing an illustration of Richard the Lionheart.

Image of Richard the Lionheart from Sir Thomas Holme's Book of Arms, made in England, c. 1445–1524, Harley MS 4205, f. 3v

The nickname of the England football team is the ‘Three Lions’. This refers to the team’s crest, which is in turn based on the royal arms of England. Originally, the kings’ coats of arms had a variable number of lions, usually one or two, in different poses. After Henry II married Eleanor of Acquitaine — whose coat of arms also involved a lion — three lions appeared on some English royal symbols. The three lions are particularly associated with Henry’s and Eleanor’s son, Richard the Lionheart. His Great Seal is the first seal of an English monarch in which the coat of arms, including the three lions, can clearly be seen.

The second Great Seal of Richard the Lionheart, showing the king in armour and on horseback.
Detail of Richard the Lionheart’s second Great Seal, 1198, Cotton Ch XVI 1

Richard the Lionheart’s association with the three lions was remembered decades after his death. When Matthew Paris abbreviated his accounts of the reigns of the English kings in the middle of the 13th century, he depicted Richard holding a shield with a three lions as his defining feature.

A detail from a manuscript of Matthew Paris' Abbreviated Chronicles of England, showing an illustration of Richard the Lionheart.

Image of Richard the Lionheart carrying a shield with three roughly drawn lions, from Matthew Paris's Abbreviated Chronicles of England, made in St Albans c. 1255–1259, Cotton MS Claudius D VI, f. 9v

Today, the three lions are joined by another royal heraldic symbol: ten Tudor roses, symbolising the different divisions of the English Football Association. These roses are red and white, combining symbols of the two opposing sides from the Wars of the Roses.

A page from a 16th-century manuscript, showing an illustration of the Tudor rose entwined with the pomegranate motif of Katherine of Aragon.
The Tudor rose entwined with the pomegranate motif of Katherine of Aragon, from Thomas More's Coronation Suite, Cotton MS Titus D IV, f. 12v

Nor is England the only team in the World Cup with medieval or even older iconography emblazoned on their kits. The Japan side’s symbol is the three-legged crow Yatagarasu. The three-legged bird is a figure in many East Asian mythologies, stretching back perhaps thousands of years BCE. When Sweden play England on Saturday, their players will be wearing blue and yellow: these colours have been associated with Sweden perhaps since the late 13th century, when King Magnus III used them on his coat of arms.

Now, if only we could persuade the England football team to actually play like lions ...

 

Alison Hudson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

09 June 2018

Sir Robert Cotton's manuscripts added to Memory of the World register

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We are delighted that Sir Robert Cotton's collection of manuscripts, held at the British Library, has been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register. Cotton's library contains many historical and literary treasures of national and international significance, such as Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the only surviving copies of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the autograph papers of a number of British monarchs. Collectively they form a key part of the intellectual heritage of the nation. 

A page from the Vespasian Psalter, showing a historiated initial containing a representation of David and Jonathan.

A page from the Vespasian Psalter, known as Cotton MS Vespasian A I following Robert Cotton's system of arranging his manuscripts in presses named after Roman emperors and imperial ladies. This manuscript, made in Kent in the 8th century, contains an interlinear Old English gloss of the Psalter text: Cotton MS Vespasian A I, f. 31r

Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631) was a politician and antiquarian scholar, who began to assemble his collection of manuscripts as early as 1588, aged just seventeen. Cotton's collecting interests focused on works central to the study of British history, such as chronicles, cartularies, maps and state papers.

A map of Britain by Matthew Paris.

A map of Britain by Matthew Paris, monk and chronicler of St Albans (d. 1259). Scotland is joined to the mainland by a bridge at Stirling, while Kent is located due South of London: Cotton MS Claudius D VI/1

A page from a medieval manuscript containing the Chronicle of Melrose Abbey. 

The Cotton library contains a nationally significant collection of medieval chronicles. The manuscript of the Chronicle of Melrose Abbey, shown here recording (in red ink) the foundation of the monasteries of Rievaulx in 1132 and Melrose in 1136, is the oldest surviving annalistic chronicle from Scotland: Cotton MS Faustina B IX, f. 18r

The importance of these manuscripts for our knowledge of the past cannot be overstated. For example, Robert Cotton brought together the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the world, including two early copies of Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum and five manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, as well as the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon charter, dating from AD 679. Many of these manuscripts will be on display later this year in the Library's major Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (19 October 2018–19 February 2019).

The earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon charter.

The earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon charter, a grant of land by King Hlothhere of Kent to Abbot Beorhtwald and his monastery, dated 679. This document is also sometimes known as the 'Reculver charter' after the place where it was issued: Cotton MS Augustus II 2

After Robert Cotton's death, the library passed in turn to his son, Sir Thomas Cotton (d. 1662), and grandson, Sir John Cotton (d. 1702). In 1702, the Cotton library was acquired by the British government, the first occasion that any library passed into national ownership in Britain – an important step in the creation of a national, public library.

A page from the Gawain Manuscript, showing an illustration of Sir Gawain beheading the Green Knight before the court at Camelot.

The opening of the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, from the Gawain Manuscript.

Some of the greatest works of medieval English literature are preserved uniquely in the Cotton library, among them the only surviving copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Cotton MS Nero A X/2, ff. 94v–95r

A page from a 16th-century manuscript, containing the text of a document written by King Edward VI.

The Cotton library is integral to our knowledge of early modern British history. This document, written by King Edward VI of England in January 1551/2, is headed 'Certein pointes of weighty matters to be immediatly concluded on by my counsell': Cotton MS Vespasian F XIII, f. 273r. Edward's diary is also held in the Cotton collection: Cotton MS Nero C X, ff. 10–83

Most of the collection survived a major fire in 1731, which formed part of the impetus for the creation of the British Museum in 1753. Some of the manuscripts were damaged significantly in that fire, with a small number being completely destroyed. The volumes in question were restored in the 19th century and they continue to support scientific research into the preservation and digitisation of fire-damaged artefacts.

A page from a manuscript of Bede's Ecclesiastical History, damaged in the Cotton Fire of 1731.

In October 1731, the Cotton library narrowly escaped near-total destruction when a fire broke out at Ashburnham House in London. In the 19th century, it was discovered that the fire-damaged parchment leaves could be inlaid in modern paper mounts, as shown here in a page from Bede's Ecclesiastical History: Cotton MS Tiberius A XIV, f. 39r

Ever since the library's formation, the Cotton manuscripts have been made available for consultation by scholars worldwide. Read more about the Cotton manuscripts in our collection guide.

The opening page of the Coronation Book of King Charles V, showing an illustration of the arrival of the French king at Reims Cathedral. 

The Cotton library is particularly rich in illuminated manuscripts from Britain and beyond. Here is the opening page of the Coronation Book of King Charles V of France, commissioned in 1365: Cotton MS Tiberius B VIII/2, f. 35r 

A page from a medieval manuscript, containing a Latin-Old Cornish glossary.

Many of the manuscripts are written in Latin or in English (including Old English, Middle English and Scots English). Other European languages represented in the collection include Cornish, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Welsh. Non-European languages include Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Inuit, Persian and Turkish. Here is page from a Latin-Old Cornish glossary, copied in South-East Wales in the 12th century: Cotton MS Vespasian A XIV, f. 8v

You can view many of the Cotton manuscripts on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site. We recommend that, on the homepage, you type into the Manuscripts search box 'Cotton MS' or 'Cotton Ch' in order to see those currently available; more are being added all the time.

A page from a manuscript, showing the text of a letter from Sir Edward Dering to Sir Robert Cotton.

Sir Robert Cotton was closely acquainted with many of the leading scholars and collectors of his day. In this letter, Sir Edward Dering (d. 1644) sent him the charter of King John dated at Runnymede, now known as Magna Carta, and preserved as Cotton Charter XIII 31A: Cotton MS Julius C III, f. 143r

A cutting from the Breviary of Margaret of York, incorporating a mounted papyrus fragment of a homily on the Four Gospels by Pope Gregory the Great.

Cotton was renowned for rearranging his manuscripts and for preserving pages from other books and documents. Prefacing a gospelbook is this cutting from the Breviary of Margaret of York, which in turn incorporates a mounted papyrus fragment of Gregory the Great, Homiliae XL in Evangelia, dating from the late 6th or 7th century: Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 1r

The British Library's two manuscripts of Magna Carta, issued by King John in 1215 and both forming part of Sir Robert Cotton's library, were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World International Register in 2009. We are thrilled that this whole manuscript collection of national and international importance has now been recognised by UNESCO. We hope that the Cotton library will continue to inspire research into the rich cultural and historical heritage of the British Isles. Access the full list of inscriptions on the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register.

Tickets for the British Library's Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, featuring a number of the Cotton manuscripts, can be purchased online.

 

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