27 October 2023
We are pleased to announce that the British Library has acquired a 15th-century cartulary from Garendon Abbey in Leicestershire.
The cartulary of Garendon Abbey, made around 1450, and purchased by the British Library in September 2023
Garendon was founded for Cistercian monks in 1133, and was dissolved by the commissioners of King Henry VIII in 1536. The cartulary was described first by J.G. Nichols, in The History of the County and Antiquities of Leicester (1804), when it was in the hands of the antiquary Craven Ord (d. 1832). It passed eventually into the collection of the bookseller W.A. Foyle (d. 1963), and was sold at the recent auction of the library of his grandson, Christopher Foyle (d. 2022), held at Dominic Winter Auctioneers on 27 September.
The opening page of the Garendon cartulary
The next step is for this cartulary to be assessed and treated by our conservation team, since it has been exposed to damp over the years. As you will see from these photos, many of its pages are creased, and there is some loss of leaves at the very end of the volume. The cartulary will then be digitised before it can be made available in the Library's Manuscripts Reading Room at St Pancras. We will make a separate announcement when it can be consulted by readers in person.
The cartulary of Garendon Abbey
The British Library already holds an earlier cartulary from Garendon Abbey (Lansdowne MS 415), compiled at various stages from the late 1100s onwards. The Garendon cartulary also complements other monastic records acquired by the Library in recent years, including the cartulary of Otterton Priory (Add MS 81278), the rental of Worcester Cathedral Priory (Add MS 89137), the Burton cartulary (Add MS 89169), and two cartularies from Lacock Abbey (Add MS 88973. Add MS 88974).
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14 October 2023
A new project is underway to examine one of the British Library’s oldest and most important collections. The Cotton charters and rolls are being catalogued as part of the Library’s Hidden Collections initiative. Begun by the antiquarian and politician Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631), and augmented by his son and grandson, the Cotton collection was the first library to be presented to the nation, in 1702, and it has been part of the British Library and its predecessor, the British Museum Library, since the latter’s foundation in 1753. The Cotton manuscripts, which include some of the most famous volumes to survive from medieval Britain, from Beowulf to the Lindisfarne Gospels, are described already on the British Library’s Archives and Manuscripts online catalogue. The whole collection was entered on the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register in 2018.
A portrait of Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631), 1st baronet, commissioned in 1626 and attributed to Cornelius Johnson: courtesy of a private collection
But it's probably fair to say that the 1,500 Cotton charters and rolls, aside from a handful of items such as an original exemplification of the 1215 Magna Carta, one of just four in existence, have been much less studied. The vast majority of them are not yet part of the online catalogue, which this new project sets out to remedy. A handwritten list from the 19th century is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room at the Library, but this is inadequate for modern needs.
The handwritten 19th-century catalogue entry for Cotton Ch IV 9
To give one example. Cotton Ch IV 9 is described in the handwritten register as a receipt for delivering robes to the Tower of London for the coronation of King Edward III (1327). This is not in fact correct: the document in question is not a receipt for coronation robes at all but rather for a cup enamelled with the king's arms, a ewer encrusted with pearls, and a golden brooch with pearls and sapphires, each to be used in Edward's coronation.
A receipt that Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford (1317–1327), has had valuables delivered to the Tower of London for the coronation of Edward III: Cotton Ch IV 9
This project is the first in well over a century to catalogue the entire collection of Cotton charters, rolls and seals to modern standards. It has already uncovered many documents whose significance may have been overlooked. For instance, Cotton Roll IV 61, described in the handwritten register as a historical account of the difficulties faced by Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI, has been identified as a previously-unknown copy of the manifesto of Warwick the Kingmaker and others in their rebellion against Edward IV in 1469.
The manifesto of Richard Neville, 16th earl of Warwick, and others, issued during their rebellion against Edward IV in 1469: Cotton Roll IV 61
Other charters and rolls catalogued for the new project include a set of rules for living in a medieval hospital (Cotton Ch IV 28); a draft set of instructions from Elizabeth I to Sir Francis Drake for his raid upon the Spanish Americas in 1585 (Cotton Ch IV 25); and a seal of William the Conqueror from 1067 (Cotton Ch VI 3/1). There are many discoveries to be made, which we hope will in turn support research into medieval and early modern culture, history, politics and literature. As the project progresses, we will highlight other interesting documents from the collection on this Blog.
Seal of William the Conqueror, once attached to a 12th-century copy of a 1067 charter: Cotton Ch VI 3/1
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26 September 2023
The British Library is collaborating with the University of Cambridge to offer a fully-funded PhD studentship on the subject of ‘Reading and Writing in Medieval Women's Religious Communities’. The successful applicant will be supervised by Dr Jessica Berenbeim (Cambridge) and Dr Eleanor Jackson (British Library), and start in October 2024.
The student will have the opportunity to investigate the culture of female religious communities in the Middle Ages through a study of their surviving manuscripts. Medieval women living together in monasteries and other kinds of convent communities owned or produced an astonishing number and variety of manuscripts. These include literary works in poetry and prose, archive and record books, music manuscripts, financial and administrative accounts, maps, books for religious services, paintings in the form of manuscript illumination, documents such as charters, and sculpture in the form of seal impressions.
We are inviting applicants to propose a project that explores any aspect of women’s conventual life, with the specific aim of bringing together kinds of sources that have rarely been discussed in combination. The themes and structure of the project are entirely open, provided the proposal is interdisciplinary and combines different types of manuscripts—broadly defined, as above—in novel, creative, and productive ways. At least some element of your research should concern institutions in the British Isles, but the project as a whole may be comparative. In your proposal, you would aim to draw principally on the British Library’s collections (although we understand that some research in other collections will almost certainly be inevitable). Some indication of the BL’s holdings can be found on these sites:
- Manuscripts and Archives Collections Guides
- Digitised Manuscripts
- Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts
- Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue
The British Library has one of the world’s most extensive and diverse collections of manuscripts from medieval women’s communities. In your research for this project, you would work on these collections alongside the BL’s curatorial staff, and undertake specialised training at both the BL and at Cambridge, where you would be part of a large and collegial community of medievalists in a wide range of fields. The British Library is currently developing a major exhibition on Medieval Women, which is due to open in October 2024. Starting your doctoral research just as the exhibition is opening, you will be able to develop a close familiarity with the display, support the programme of private views and visits to the exhibition, and build on its research findings.
The studentship is fully funded via the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Applications are now open on their website, where you can view the full Collaborative Doctoral Award advert and find details of how to apply. The closing date for applications is 4 January 2024.
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15 July 2023
If you have been following the news recently, you may have seen that we've been doing specialist imaging on the draft manuscripts of William Camden's Annals of the Reign of Elizabeth I, with sensational results. This research has been undertaken by Helena Rutkowska, a collaborative DPhil student in partnership between the University of Oxford, Open University and the British Library, with the imaging generously funded by the British Library Collections Trust, carried out by Eugenio Falcioni, and co-ordinated by Calum Cockburn.
The specialist imaging of Camden's Annals, using transmitted light, being carried out at the British Library
Camden's Annals has long been regarded as one of the most important, contemporary accounts of the reign of this famous Tudor queen. The work was originally requested by William Cecil, Lord Burghley (d. 1598), and was then completed by command of King James I of England and VI of Scotland (d. 1625). William Camden (d. 1623), an antiquarian scholar and Clarenceux King of Arms, is credited with authorship of the work, but he was probably writing in collaboration with others, including Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), founder of the famous Cotton library. The first three books, covering the period to 1587, were published in Latin in 1615, with the remainder of the work published after Camden had died, in 1625.
Helena's research has focused on the ten volumes of manuscript drafts of the Annals (Cotton MS Faustina F I–X). These manuscripts reveal a continuous process of revision of the text prior to publication, with multiple crossings out, amendments and additions. Most notably, there are dozens of pages on which the original text has been pasted over, with new wording written on top. By using transmitted light, the Library has now been able to reveal what is under those pastedowns, and to read the original text of Camden's Annals for the first time in 400 years.
The draft manuscripts of Camden's Annals contain numerous revisions, with many parts of the original text pasted over and over-written
The new discoveries will be outlined in Helena's doctorate, and we also plan to make the images available online. Early analysis has made some startling revelations, including earlier accounts of Elizabeth's excommunication by Elizabeth I in 1570, the death of King Philip II of Spain in 1598, and the implied involvement of James VI in a plot to assassinate the English queen. There are also subtle changes in the manuscript drafts which suggest that Elizabeth did not nominate James on her deathbed as her successor, unlike the version that made its way into print. Helena suggests that this all indicates that Camden was self-censoring his work, for fear of upsetting his patron, King James, and to paint him (and his mother, Mary Queen of Scots) in a more flattering light.
The British Library is delighted to have been able to support this groundbreaking research, and we look forward to discovering what else has been covered up in the manuscripts of Camden's Annals.
We are very grateful to the British Library's Collections Trust for supporting this project. You can read more about Helena Rutkowska's research in this article by Dalya Alberge, published in The Guardian on 14 July.
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29 May 2023
This year marks the 570th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, on 29 May 1453. The city at the Bosporus, on the border between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, bridging Europe, Asia Minor and the Balkans, was originally called Byzantium. The exact date of its foundation is unknown, but according to legend it was founded in 667 BC.
Constantine the Great from the Synopsis of Histories (Eastern Mediterranean, 1574): Harley MS 5632, f. 2v
The city was already an important trading and military centre, but its significance rose when, on 11 May, AD 324, Emperor Constantine the Great selected it to be the new capital of the reunited Roman Empire, and called it the New Rome. Six years later, to honour the emperor, it was renamed Constantinople after him. From the 5th century onwards, Constantinople was enriched with enormous fortifications, churches and monasteries, and the world-renowned imperial library.
A view of Constantinople from Mandeville’s Travels (Bohemia; 1st quarter of the 15th century): Add MS 24189, f. 9v
Despite the tumult after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476, Constantinople remained the seat of the Emperor of the East and the centre of the political, religious and intellectual life of the Byzantine Empire for many centuries. Admired and envied by the West, it was visited by travellers, kings and pilgrims. In 1204, the Crusader army, originally destined for Palestine, turned against the city, occupied and sacked it, and made it the capital of the Western Emperor of Constantinople for the next half century.
A golden bulla of Baldwin II, the last Western Emperor of Constantinople (Biervliet, 1269): Add Ch 14365, obverse
Although it was retaken by the Palaeologan dynasty in 1261, Constantinople never regained its previous status. From the 14th century, it faced the rising Ottoman Empire in an ever-weakening state. Sultan Mehmed II arrived at the gates of the city in April 1453 and started besieging the city.
The Emperor Constantine XI tried to secure help from the West, but the timing was very unfortunate. Europe was riven by warfare: the Hundred Year War was consuming France and England, Spain was involved in the last phase of the Reconquista, and the Holy Roman Empire was divided by internal wars. Apart from some volunteers and assistance from Venice, Genoa and the Pope, the Emperor was left on his own against the formidable army of the Sultan. The British Library holds eye-witness accounts of what happened next, one of which is inserted in a 16th-century chronicle now attributed to Macarius of Melissa.
A page from the chronicle of Macarius of Melissa preserving the final speech of Emperor Constantine XI (Venice, 16th century: Add MS 36539, f. 79r
This manuscript records the Emperor's final speech to his army on the night of the fateful battle. According to the author, who was present, Constantine declared:
‘My noble peers, illustrious generals, noble fellow-soldiers, you know well that the hour has come and that the enemy of our faith wishes to hem us in more cruelly with every means … Into your hands I give this most illustrious and renowned city, the Queen of Cities and your homeland … There is no time to say more to you. I only entrust my humble sceptre to your hands. Brothers and fellow-soldiers, be prepared for battle in the morning with grace and courage …'
The battle started around midnight on 29 May. The defenders were able to hold the walls for a while but when the general of the Genoan troops was wounded by an arrow, its defence was shaken. Parts of the army started to flee and the emperor was apparently left on his own. Chronicles from both East and West all agree that Constantine fought hard in the battle.
A page from the chronicle of Macarius of Melissa preserving the last words of the Venetian soldiers witnessing the fall of Constantinople (Venice, 16th century): Add MS 36539, f. 85r
Some hours later the defence collapsed completely. Macarius noted the last words of the Venetian soldiers upon seeing the fall of the city: ‘Shudder Sun and groan Earth, the city is taken’. The Sultan then entered the city and a desperate search to find the emperor began. Eventually Constantine who identified under a heap of corpses by the imperial eagle embroidered on his shoes.
Detail of a grant by Sultan Mehmed II to the Genoese inhabitants of Galata, with the sultan’s monogram and the beginning of the Greek text (1 June 1435): Egerton MS 2817
A few days later, Sultan Mehmed II was in Constantinople when he issued one of his first edicts from his new capital, ensuring the trading rights of the Genoa merchants of Galata. The siege put an end to a long period in the history of this great city. No longer Byzantium or Constantinople, it started a new life as Istanbul.
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28 May 2023
Exactly a thousand years ago, on 28 May 1023, Lupus – ‘The Wolf’ – died in York. Lupus was the punning Latin name used by the prolific writer, cleric and royal adviser, Archbishop Wulfstan.
At the end of his entry on Wulfstan in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Patrick Wormald wrote that research on Wulfstan’s manuscripts in the twentieth century had transformed him ‘from just another doubtless worthy Anglo-Saxon prelate into one of the half dozen most significant figures even in the crowded and dramatic history of eleventh-century England’. Settling on a list of the other five most significant figures is a distracting little game.
Wulfstan called himself Lupus (‘The Wolf’): Cotton MS Vespasian A XIV, f. 110r
Wulfstan, who had been bishop of London from 996 to 1002, became bishop of Worcester from 1002 to 1016 and archbishop of York from 1002 until his death in 1023. He had been a leading religious and political figure in the turbulent reign of King Æthelred the Unready (r. 978–1016). Although the Danish conquest of England by Cnut in 1016 saw a turnover in the English nobility, Wulfstan remained both a key royal adviser and archbishop of York under the new regime. He drafted laws for Cnut, as he had for Æthelred, and introduced reforms of both church and lay society.
Wulfstan’s own handwriting survives in a number of manuscripts, and a Latin poem praising him in one such volume (Cotton MS Vespasian A XIV), is thought to be in his own hand. The poem mentions Wulfstan’s name admiringly in each verse. It includes the line, Est laus wulfstano mea pulchritudo benigno pontifici cui sit dominus sine fine serenus ([This poem’s] beauty is praise for the kind Bishop Wulfstan, my Lord be endlessly merciful to him).
A poem praising Wulfstan, apparently written in his own hand: Cotton MS Vespasian A XIV, f. 148v
While no contemporary biographical account of Wulfstan’s life survives to set alongside the poem, we can reconstruct his life and career from his other works and from the manuscripts that he annotated. They show him to be a busy, restless figure, collecting legal, liturgical and instructional texts for use in the many crises of his day.
Wulfstan’s ‘letter-book’ (also Cotton MS Vespasian A XIV), compiled when he was Archbishop of York, includes a collection of letters written around two hundred years previously by the royal adviser and abbot, Alcuin (d. 804). Alcuin had sent advice to the English archbishops and to King Æthelred of Northumbria (r. 774–779, 789–796). He warned of the perils of sin, which he believed had led to Viking raids as divine punishment for the wickedness of the English. As Wulfstan was adviser to his own King Æthelred during another period of Danish invasion, he doubtless recognised the analogies between Alcuin’s times and his own.
The opening of Wulfstan’s letter book: Cotton MS Vespasian A XIV, f. 114r
Wulfstan took these lessons to heart in his own time and drew upon Alcuin in his most famous work, Sermo Lupi ad Anglos quando Dani maxime persecuti sunt eos (The Sermon of the Wolf to the English when the Danes were persecuting them most). In this barnstorming speech, he warned the people that they could lose their kingdom unless they repented from sin:
Leofan men, gecnawað þæt soð is. Ðeos worold is on ofste, and hit nealæcð þam ende, and þy hit is on worolde aa swa leng swa wyrse. And swa hit sceal nyde for folces synnan ær antecristes tocyme yfelian swyþe, and huru hit wyrð þænne egeslic and grimlic wide on worolde.
Beloved men, recognise what is true: this world is in haste and approaches its end; and therefore, in this world things always worsen the longer they last. And so, it must by necessity deteriorate greatly before the coming of the Antichrist, because of the people sins, and indeed it will then be terrible and grim widely in the world.
The Sermo Lupi ad Anglos (Sermon of the Wolf to the English): Cotton MS Nero A I, f. 110r
This manuscript also contains law-codes, drafted by Wulfstan for Æthelred and Cnut. It includes the earliest surviving copy of laws (known as I–II Cnut) issued in Cnut’s name at a meeting at Winchester around 1020 or 1021. These laws are the most extensive record of law in England before the Norman Conquest. They drew on earlier English kings’ law-codes, and this copy, made in the third quarter of the 11th century, is now bound with copies of earlier law-codes that Wulfstan used and annotated.
A law-code of King Cnut drafted by Wulfstan: Cotton MS Nero A I, f. 16r
We can see other aspects of Wulfstan’s activities in one of his own liturgical books (Cotton MS Claudius A III). This is a pontifical, a service book for the rites performed by a bishop. Wulfstan included in it Latin and Old English versions of an Æthelred law code that he had drafted. He seems to have added in his own hand the names of King Æthelred and himself between the lines of the text.
A law-code of King Æthelred drafted by Wulfstan, with the added names of King Æthelred and Wulfstan: Cotton MS Claudius A III, f. 35r
In other manuscripts, Wulstan’s annotations show him minutely changing the wording of his own sermons, as well as correcting and supplementing the texts of others. He also oversaw the compilation of the first cartulary gathering together evidence of gifts of property to the cathedral priory of Worcester and leases of its land.
Copies of leases in the first cartulary of Worcester: Cotton MS Tiberius A XIII, f. 87v
The manuscripts linked to Wulfstan reveal the multifaceted role of an early medieval bishop, responsible for pastoral care in his diocese and for the education and disciplining of the clergy, managing property, participating on the national stage as a major voice at the royal council and advising on the spiritual welfare of the kingdom.
Although Wulfstan died in York on 28 May 1023, he was buried, in accordance with his wishes, in the fenland abbey at Ely.
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21 May 2023
The British Library's project devoted to Medieval and Renaissance Women has now reached its successful conclusion. Funded through the generosity of Joanna and Graham Barker, we have digitised a grand total of 93 volumes, 219 charters and 25 rolls that are connected with the lives of European women between the years 1100 and 1600.
A chirograph of Fredescendis, abbess of Maubeuge, granting land to Guarin, abbot of Vicogne (between 1129 and 1151): Add Ch 1390
All the items can now be viewed online. We hope that you enjoy exploring them, for your own research or pleasure, or simply to gain an insight into the daily lives, achievements and struggles of these women. The manuscripts that we have digitised cover topics such as female health, the education of women, their business dealings and female spirituality, including personal and communal religious experiences.
Hildegard von Bingen, Liber divinorum operum (late 15th century): Add MS 15418, f. 7r
The full lists of all the items in Medieval and Renaissance Women are available in two formats, as a PDF or as an Excel document. They can be downloaded from the following links: please note, the Excel format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers.
In addition to digitising all of these manuscripts, rolls and charters, we have taken the opportunity to enhance our catalogue records. We were also joined on a six-month placement by Paula Del Val Vales, a PhD student at the University of Lincoln, who shared with us her expertise, and in return she gained experience of cataloguing, promoting and researching our collections. As part of our project, Paula has created new people pages and collection items for the British Library's webspaces, as listed here:
Cicero, De senectute, written by Ippolita Maria Sforza (1458): Add MS 21984, f. 3r
So, to conclude our project, let's remember the names of some of the women we've encountered during Medieval and Renaissance Women. Some of them are relatively well-known, while in other cases their names are preserved only in a single, ephemeral document or a chance inscription. Their fates and fortunes may be imperfectly understood, but at least their names are preserved for posterity.
Anne de Bretagne; Beatrice Malherbe; Catherine of Siena; Dorothy, abbess of the Poor Clares without Aldgate; Elizabeth of Katzenelenbogen; Fredescendis, abbess of Maubeuge; Gunnilda atte Denne; Hildegard von Bingen; Ismania, widow of Laurence Berkerolles; Julian of Norwich; Kunegunde; Jane Lumley; Margaret, Archduchess of Austria; Nicolosa Sanuta; Odelina de Trachy; Petronilla of Nereford; Margaret de Quincy; Rohais, countess of Lincoln; Sibylla Frances of Dunwich; Tomasina de Damis; Violante of Aragon; Ela, countess of Warwick; Alix, countess of Eu; Ymelda; Zuliana, nun of Santa Caterina, Brescia
The will of Gunnilda atte Denne (1318): Add Ch 17295
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05 May 2023
What was the food like at a medieval coronation banquet? As the coronation of King Charles III approaches, we look back over 500 years to an account of the coronation banquet served before the young Henry VI (r. 1422-1461, 1470-1471) on 5 November 1429 when he was only 7 years old.
The account is featured in an episode of The Food Programme that will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 7 May 2023 at 12.30pm, in which Jaega Wise and Head of the Eccles Centre and food historian Dr Polly Russell explore the history of coronation eating from the 1400s to the present day.
The coronation of the child Henry VI as King of England at Westminster, from the Pageants of Richard Beauchamp: Cotton MS Julius E IV/3, f. 23v
The details of Henry’s coronation banquet are recorded in a work by John Lydgate (d. c. 1451), a prolific writer of Middle English verse often seen as a successor to Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400). Lydgate was well connected at the royal court throughout his literary career, and in 1429 he was commissioned to write a number of works to mark the coronation of Henry VI, including a text now known as the ‘Soteltes for the coronation banquet of Henry VI’.
The text is a Middle English poem in three stanzas, designed to accompany each of the banquet’s courses as they arrived into the hall (probably Westminster Hall, the traditional venue for such occasions during this period). One surviving manuscript at the British Library (Egerton MS 1995) incorporates the poem as part of a medieval chronicle of the city of London. Most notably, the chronicle also preserves notes about the dishes served at the banquet itself.
The first and second courses of the coronation banquet feast of Henry VI, recorded in a medieval chronicle of London: Egerton MS 1995, ff. 176v-177r
The banquet was lavish in both its scale and the sheer variety of dishes served across its three courses. The dishes included:
- All kinds of meat and fish, including roasted beef, mutton, pigs, rabbits, chickens, swan, heron stuffed with capons, quails, curlew, larks, partridge, carp, crab, chopped eels, pike.
- Boars heads encased in pastry castles decorated with gold.
- Slices of red jelly carved with white lions.
- A ‘custade rooial’ (a type of pastry) enclosing a golden leopard.
- A fritter shaped like a sun with a fleur-de-lis.
- A fritter shaped like a leopard’s head with ostrich feathers.
- A jelly sculpture containing a red antelope, wearing a crown around its neck with a golden chain.
- A roasted peacock served in its plumage.
- A ‘flampayne’, a pork pie ornamented with leopards and gold fleur-de-lis.
- A cold ‘bakemete’, a meat pie shaped like the royal coat of arms.
The third course of the coronation banquet of Henry VI: Egerton MS 1995, f. 177v
At the heart of the banquet were its ‘subtleties’. A subtlety was a special type of medieval dish that served as theatrical tableside entertainment. Subtleties typically took the form of lavish tableau, with scenes and models depicting emblematic subjects, often made entirely out of confectionary, such as marzipan or other foodstuffs.
The account of the coronation banquet of Henry VI records that each course had its own subtlety that was brought in with the dishes. The subtleties and the accompanying verses were highly symbolic, emphasising Henry’s dual role as King of England and of France and the unity between the two countries, and this message was of immense political import. At the time the young king was crowned, the Hundred Years War was raging between England and France, as the two countries made opposing claims to the French throne.
The subtlety for the first course depicted St Edward the Confessor and St Louis of France wearing their coats of arms with Henry VI between them. The accompanying stanza written by Lydgate emphasises Henry’s role as heir to these two saintly kings:
Loo here been ii kyngys right profytabylle and right goode
Holy Synt Edwarde and Synt Lowys
Also the braunche borne of hyr blode
Lyyvynge a monge Crystyn most soverayne of pryse
Enherytoure to the flowredelysse.
God graunte he may thoroughe grace of Cryste Jesu
The VIte Harry to raygne, and be as wyse
And hym resemble in kynghode and verte.
Look here are two kings beneficent and good
Holy St Edward and St Louis
As well as the descendants born of their blood
Living among Christendom most sovereign of princes
Inheritor of the fleur-de-lis.
God grant that he may through the grace of Jesus Christ
The sixth Harry to reign and be as wise
And resemble him in kinghood and virtue.
The subtlety for the second course depicted the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund and Henry V, King of England, together holding aloft Henry VI, with Lydgate’s second stanza focusing on the military achievements of the two kings against rebellious factions in their respective kingdoms. The final subtlety, meanwhile, depicted the Virgin Mary and infant Christ in her lap holding a crown, with St George and St Denis presenting Henry to her. Lydgate’s closing stanza links the two patron saints of England and France explicitly to the king’s right to rule both countries:
O blessyd lady, Crystys modyr dyre
And Syn Gorge called hyr owne knight;
Hooly Syn Denys, O martyr, moste entere,
To the here vi Harry we present to the in youre syghte.
Schechythe youre grace on hym,
Thys tendyr and whythe vertu hym avaunce,
Borne by dyscent and tytylle of right
Justely to raygne in Ingelonde and yn Fraunce.
O blessed lady, Christ’s dear mother
And St George, called her own knight;
Holy St Denis, O martyr, most perfect
To you here Harry VI we present to you in your sight.
Showing your grace on him,
This tender (youth) and with virtue him advance,
Born by descent title of right
Justly to reign in England and in France.
This was not the only time St George would make an appearance at the feast. The London chronicle records that the King’s Champion, a man called Sir Philip Dymoke, rode into the banqueting hall dressed in full armour as the English patron saint, declaring to the crowd that the king was rightful heir to the throne.
The description of the entrance of Sir Philip Dymoke to the banqueting hall: Egerton MS 1995, f. 176v
The effect of the entrance of these tableaus and performances must have been striking to the assembled onlookers. Not only would they have contributed to the visual extravagance of the occasion alongside the numerous tables of food on display, they would also have impressed upon the king’s subjects the strength of his claim to the thrones of England and France, even as the ensuing political strife and the ongoing war loomed large on the continent.
Henry VI enthroned in front of the joint arms of France and England, from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book: Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 405r
To learn more about Henry VI’s coronation feast, tune in to The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4, 7 May 2023 at 12.30pm, or listen on the BBC Sounds website afterwards!
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Medieval manuscripts blog recent posts
- Garendon cartulary acquired by the British Library
- Cataloguing the Cotton charters
- PhD Studentship opportunity: Medieval Women's Religious Communities
- Showing Elizabeth I in a new light
- The last day of Constantinople
- Death of the Wolf
- Medieval and Renaissance Women: remember their names
- The Coronation Banquet of Henry VI
- Lost and found: in praise of Cardinal Wolsey
- Inventing a royal past