29 January 2023
Where exactly was the Garden of Eden? Does it still exist? These are questions medieval scholars tried to answer by attempting to map Eden as a physical place on earth. In the Book of Genesis, the Garden of Eden (also known as the ‘earthly paradise’) is a place in which God creates the first humans, Adam and Eve. Their stay in Eden is short-lived, since Adam and Eve fled from the earthly paradise after they yielded to the serpent’s temptation to eat the forbidden fruit, and hid themselves in shame after their fall from grace.
Miniature of the Fall, with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Southern Netherlands, 1486–1506): Add MS 18852, f.14v
As well as being a popular subject for illuminations in medieval Biblical manuscripts, the Garden of Eden also appears in medieval Alexander romances, Dante’s Purgatorio, and in medieval maps of the world known as mappae mundi. On maps, the Garden of Eden is usually represented by figures of Adam and Eve, the Tree of Knowledge, and the four rivers at the top of the world, as shown in the ‘Map Psalter’.
Detail of Adam and Eve and the four rivers (England, 1262–1300): Add MS 28681 (‘The Map Psalter’), f. 9r
The upper part of medieval world maps typically represents Asia or the ‘East’, whereas Europe is drawn on the lower left and Africa on the lower right. This is part of a stylistic convention known as the ‘T-O map’. Isidore of Seville, an influential early medieval theologian, affirmed in his Etymologies that the earthly paradise could be located in Asia.
Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies (Canterbury, 4th quarter of the 11th century): Royal MS 6 C I, f. 108v
Certain medieval texts claimed that some individuals had even managed to rediscover the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s expulsion. According to some of the romance legends of Alexander the Great’s world conquest, which contain interpolations of Alexandri Magni iter ad paradisum and the Voyage au paradis terrestre, the Macedonian king eventually reached the gates of the earthly paradise, near India, arriving by boat at the furthest point of his world conquest. However, when Alexander got to the gates of paradise, an angel forbade him from entering there. An old man is said to have appeared, giving the Macedonian conqueror a special item as a tribute. This episode is illustrated in a beautifully-decorated manuscript in our Alexander exhibition, on loan from the Bodleian Library.
Alexander visits paradise and is given an apple (Flanders, 1338–1344): Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264, f. 186r
According to these medieval legends, the tribute Alexander received (sometimes an apple, a pearl or a polished stone) usually has a strange property. If you put it on a scale, it is always heavier than anything else you weigh, but if you cover it with soil, the scale's balance is restored. When Alexander asked the significance of this tribute, the old man would explain that the stone (or apple) represents Alexander himself: as long as Alexander is alive, no one can equal his power, but when he dies, and is therefore covered in soil, he will lose his power. This is a premonition of Alexander’s approaching death at Babylon, where he was tragically poisoned at his own coronation feast, according to the romance legends based on the Greek Alexander Romance by Pseudo-Callisthenes.
An extended version of this episode is also found in Gilbert the Hay’s The Buike off King Allexander the Conqueroure, written in medieval Scots in the 15th century. In this version, an angel gives Alexander an apple:
‘With that ane angell to the wall couth cum,
Said, “Alexander, here art þow richt welcum –
For thai tribute ane apill here I the gif’
(ll.16296-8, edited by John Cartwright, 1990)
Detail from The Buike off King Allexander the Conqueroure (Scotland, early 16th century): Add MS 40732, f. 228r
Dante was another famous traveller to the earthly paradise during the Middle Ages, appearing as his own protagonist in La Divina Commedia as a pilgrim of the Christian realms of the afterlife. Dante ascended Mount Purgatory with his mentor, Virgil, and encountered the earthly paradise at the top of the mountain in Canto XXVIII of Purgatorio, before travelling to Heaven guided by Beatrice. Dante witnessed the lush landscape as he wandered around Eden for the first time. He described the beauty of ‘that forest—dense, alive with green, divine— / which tempered the new day before my eyes’ (‘la divina foresta spessa e viva, / ch’a li occhi temperava il novo giorno’) (Purgatorio 28.2-3, translated by Allen Mandelbaum, Digital Dante).
Dante and Virgil with others within the forest of the earthly paradise (Tuscany, 1444– c. 1450): Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 116v
Although Dante may have surpassed Alexander’s unsuccessful attempt at entering gates the verdant Garden of Eden, both texts have undoubtedly inspired beautiful and imaginative illuminations of the earthly paradise.
Our major exhibition, Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth, is on show at the British Library until 19 February 2023. Tickets can be bought in advance or on the day, subject to availability.
We are indebted to the Kusuma Trust, the Patricia G. and Jonathan S. England – British Library Innovation Fund and Ubisoft for their support towards the exhibition, as well as other trusts and private donors.
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14 July 2022
One of the questions that we consider in our current Gold exhibition is ‘where did the gold come from?’ In medieval Europe, natural deposits of gold were limited so most gold had to be either recycled by melting down older objects or imported by long-distance trade. From the 8th to 16th centuries, the kingdoms of West Africa were major suppliers and traders of gold, which was carried by camel caravans across the Sahara Desert to North Africa. From there, the gold travelled with merchants into the Middle East and Europe. Some of it ended up illuminating manuscripts thousands of miles away.
Medieval Europeans had little reliable information about West Africa, but they did know that it was an abundant source of gold. One account that made it all the way to medieval Europe was of the phenomenally wealthy Mansa Musa (r. 1312 to 1337), emperor of Mali, whose empire covered an area larger than Western Europe. In 1324 Mansa Musa made a pilgrimage to Mecca, bringing so much gold with him that it devalued the price of gold in Egypt, where he stopped on the way, for years afterwards. He is sometimes said to have been the richest person in history. In Europe, tales of this gold-drenched ruler made such an impression that he was portrayed on luxurious illustrated maps from the 14th to 16th centuries.
The earliest surviving map to depict Mansa Musa is the famous Catalan Atlas of 1375 (Paris, BnF, MS. Espagnol 30). This manuscript is attributed to Abraham Cresques, a 14th-century Jewish cartographer from Majorca. It includes a picture of Mansa Musa seated on a throne, wearing a gold crown and holding a sceptre and a round gold object, perhaps an orb, coin or nugget of gold. An accompanying caption in Catalan explains:
‘This Black ruler is named Musse Melly (Musa of Mali), lord of Guinea. This king is the richest and noblest ruler of this whole region because of the abundance of gold that is found in his lands’.
From then on, the figure of Mansa Musa sometimes appears on luxurious illustrated maps, always with emphasis on his vast riches of gold. In the Gold exhibition, you can see an example from the Queen Mary Atlas. This impressive volume, probably made for Queen Mary I of England and her husband Philip II of Spain, was completed by Portuguese cartographer Diogo Homem in 1558. You can read more about it in a previous blogpost.
While the detailed outlines and place names along the coasts reveal the extent of Portuguese exploration of Africa by sea, the interior of the continent is depicted more vaguely. Some of the information is based on centuries-old traditions, including the pictures of African rulers, labelled in Latin: ‘Emperor of Mali’, ‘King of Nubia’ and ‘Manicongo’ (ruler of the kingdom of Kongo). Although not specifically named, the ‘Emperor of Mali’ is probably intended as Mansa Musa, given the long tradition of portraying him on illustrated maps. The depictions emphasise the wealth and power of the African rulers, with their prominent golden crowns, sceptres and jewellery.
Another example is on a map showing Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, made around 1529 by cartographer Conte di Ottomanno Freducci, who was based in Ancona, Italy (active 1497-1539). Unusually Mansa Musa is represented with white skin, wearing European-style clothing and playing a stringed musical instrument.
The image of Mansa Musa on this map is accompanied by a caption in Latin which praises him as a ruler and emphasises his great wealth in gold:
‘This king Mansa Musa rules the province of Guinea and is no less prudent and knowledgeable than powerful. He has with him excellent mathematicians and men versed in the liberal arts, and he has great riches, as he is near the branch of the Nile which is called the Gulf of Gold. From this is brought a great quantity of gold dust or tibr, and this is a passage through his kingdom, and these regions abound in all the things that there are above the ground, particularly in dates and manna, and the best of all other things that can be had — they only lack salt’.
(Translation from Chet Van Duzer, 'Nautical Charts, Texts, and Transmission', eBLJ 2017, p. 32, available online)
Despite the whitewashing of the image of Mansa Musa on this map, the caption does seem to contain some authentic information about the trans-Saharan trade in gold. It refers to the Arabic word for gold dust ‘tibr’, and correctly identifies salt as one of the major commodities exchanged for gold in West Africa.
A further example is on a map attributed to Jacobo Russo, a cartographer who was active from 1520 to 1588 in Messina, Sicily. On this map, the rulers are not captioned but their identities are implied by the cities they are pictured beside. The figure of a Black ruler holding two large gold rings next to a city labelled ‘Guinea’ is most likely intended as Mansa Musa. The large gold rings suggest his wealth in gold, while the camels and camel-riders pictured nearby hint at the importance of this region for trading caravans.
These 16th-century maps stand at a turning point in the history of relations between Europe and West Africa. On the one hand, they illustrate the trans-Saharan trade in gold which had flourished for centuries. On the other, they show that Europeans had already managed to bypass the caravan routes by establishing direct overseas trade with West Africa. Initially their main goal was to obtain gold, but increasingly also people to enslave. In the following centuries, West African gold would become marginalised and the region devastated by the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yet these depictions of medieval African rulers are a vivid reminder of an earlier time when West Africa was a centre of wealth, power and global connections, celebrated the world over for its glorious gold.
If you would like to find out more about medieval West Africa, we recommend the article Building West Africa on the British Library’s West Africa webspace, and the companion website for the past exhibition Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time by the Block Museum of Art.
The British Library’s Gold exhibition runs from 20 May to 2 October 2022 and you can book your tickets online now. An accompanying book Gold: Spectacular Manuscripts from Around the World is available from the British Library shop.
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The exhibition is supported by the Goldhammer Foundation and the American Trust for the British Library, with thanks to The John S Cohen Foundation, The Finnis Scott Foundation, the Owen Family Trust and all supporters who wish to remain anonymous.
20 February 2022
The earliest surviving detailed map of Scotland is now on display at the Wardlaw Museum in St Andrews, as part of the British Library’s Treasures on Tour programme. The map was compiled by John Hardyng, who was born in 1377 or 1378, probably in Northumberland, and lived most of his life during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. He joined the household of Henry Percy (‘Hotspur’) when he was 12 years old, and fought for the Percys in Anglo-Scottish border battles. He also served in France during the reign of Henry V, who sent him on a spying mission to Scotland in 1418. Hardyng is best known for his verse Chronicle of the history of Britain, in which he set out his fervent belief in the right of English kings to rule over Scotland. He was so determined to prove his case that he forged a series of documents purporting to provide corroborating historical evidence.
John Hardyng’s map of Scotland: Lansdowne MS 204, ff. 226v–227r
In 1457, Hardyng presented the first version of his Chronicle to King Henry VI of England, as part of his failed attempt to instigate an invasion of Scotland. The Chronicle is accompanied by this colourful map, spread across two pages, which depicts a very rectangular Scotland with west at the top. Hardyng doubtless drew on his earlier years of reconnaissance in Scotland in compiling his map. It includes much more topographical information and many more towns right across Scotland than in earlier surviving maps. The castles and walls of the towns are remarkably varied, while at Glasgow and Dunfermline the churches are drawn instead. The rivers are very clearly marked, with the River Forth, bridged at Stirling, running from top to bottom, and almost cutting the kingdom in two.
Detail of John Hardyng’s map of Scotland, showing Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dunfermline and St Andrews: Lansdowne MS 204, f. 226v
The level of detail, which Hardyng hoped would help an invading army, is strikingly different from earlier maps of Scotland. There is very little detail relating to Scotland in the small map of the world that was copied in 11th-century England and preserved in the collection of Sir Robert Cotton. East is at the top in this map, and the prominent islands to the north (on the left) are labelled ‘Orkney islands’ in Latin.
Detail of the 11th-century map of the world showing Britain and Ireland: Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 56v
Matthew Paris (d. 1259) produced several maps of Britain from his monastery at St Albans in Hertfordshire. In this map, included in his Abbreviatio Chronicorum, Scotland is shown in two parts, joined by a bridge at Stirling. Rivers are prominent and many places are labelled, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Dundee, Arbroath and Aberdeen, as well as Galloway, Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney.
Detail of a map of Britain by Matthew Paris showing Scotland: Cotton MS Claudius D VI/1, f. 12v
In the mid-1560s, just over a century after John Hardyng compiled his map, the antiquary Laurence Nowell was producing new maps of Scotland. Like Hardyng, Nowell put west at the top in this small map, but he included far more detailed information, making this the most accurate map of Scotland at that time. It has recently been on display at the British Library in the exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens.
Map of Scotland by Laurence Nowell: Cotton MS Domitian A XVIII, ff. 98v–99r
John Hardyng’s map is on display at the Wardlaw Museum in St Andrews from 20 February until 3 July 2022. The museum is open seven days a week and entry is free. You can find out more about Hardyng’s life, his Chronicle and his map in James Simpson and Sarah Peverley’s book.
The Treasures on Tour programme is generously supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust. The British Library is working with other libraries, museums and galleries to share our collections across the UK. Last year we loaned the Gospels of Máel Brigte to the Ulster Museum, as well as the Bodmin Gospels and Pascon Agan Arluth (a Cornish Passion poem) to Kresen Kernow in Redruth, Cornwall, as part of this programme, and we will be announcing additional loans as part of ‘Treasures on Tour’ over the coming months.
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05 May 2020
The Tudor period saw Britain transform into a major maritime power, boasting a formidable navy and sending ships on voyages of exploration around the world. With this transformation came a surge of interest in maps and map-making at the Tudor Court.
A few weeks ago, we announced that we had digitised the Burghley Atlas (Royal MS 18 D III), an important Early Modern collection of maps made for Elizabeth I’s principal minister Sir William Cecil. Today, we are highlighting another newly digitised item, widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of 16th-century cartography: The Queen Mary Atlas (Add MS 5415 A).
The Queen Mary Atlas was made by a Portuguese map-maker called Diogo Homem (b. 1521, d. 1576). After being exiled from Portugal in 1544 following a murder accusation, Diogo stayed in England and then in Venice. He made the Queen Mary Atlas between 1555 and 1558, most likely while he was still living in England.
The Atlas takes its name from Queen Mary I (r. 1553–1558), who is thought to have commissioned it as a gift for her husband Philip II of Spain (r. 1556–1598). However, it was not completed until after Mary’s death and was instead given to her sister Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603). One of the maps in the manuscript shows the arms of Spain, joined with England, resting over the British Isles. The arms of Spain have been visibly defaced. According to one tradition, the erasure of the Spanish arms may have been done by Elizabeth herself, whose navy famously defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588.
The Atlas consists of a total of nine maps. The first represents the extent of the whole world that was known in the mid-16th century. A Latin inscription within its decorative border reads: 'Form of the whole world and survey of the navigation of the lands of the Earth' (Universalis mundi figura atque navigationum orbis terrarium scitus). You can see that the Australian continent is completely missing and much of northwestern America is still uncertain.
Another inscription in the lower right-hand corner of the map features Diogo’s signature, indicating that he completed it in 1558, the year Elizabeth came to the throne.
The remaining eight maps focus on specific regions or continents. Diogo highlights the coastlines of each country in these charts, outlining them in different colours: red, blue, green, orange, and in some cases gold. He also prioritises the locations of ports and islands over mainland cities and other topographical features, meticulously inscribing their names on the chart in minute lettering.
What marks the Queen Mary Atlas as one of the finest examples of cartography from this period is the richness of its illustrative details and embellishments. The seas, for example, feature numerous ships of various designs and sizes, from Spanish galleons to Ottoman barges. Some are even engaged in naval battles with each other.
Likewise, animals make frequent appearances, particularly in the maps of Africa and the Middle East. Northern Africa is home to a pride of lions and a pair of grazing camels. The lands around the Persian Gulf (modern-day Iran) include a tusked elephant walking through a landscape. Ethiopia features a black rhinoceros, whose distinctive skin has been represented as plated armour.
Then there are the sea monsters: scaled serpents, whales, sharks, and gigantic leviathans emerge from the waters and oceans. Perhaps they warn the viewer of the perils that might await a ship’s crew on the other side of the world.
Diogo includes detailed illustrations of some of the most prominent towns and cities, particularly those concentrated around the Mediterranean. They are represented with turrets and ramparts, and the domes and spires of churches and cathedrals, as well as the minarets of mosques in Arabia. In addition, each city is topped with the banner or heraldic arms of their ruling families and monarchs. The city of Rome (top right) with its seven hills, is decorated with the arms of the Papacy: the keys of St Peter below the papal tiara.
In addition to the maps, there are three double-page openings at the beginning of the manuscript devoted to tables and prefatory material. A large cosmographical wheel combines solar and lunar calendars. Tables of solar declination, which were used by navigators to establish the latitude of a ship at sea, appear as well. Finally, there is a particularly fine zonal map of the world, surrounded by ruddy-faced representations of the different classical winds blowing upon the globe.
With its nautical focus, marine monsters and topographical wonders, the Queen Mary Atlas shows us a world in which geographical knowledge was rapidly advancing and in which two Tudor queens sought to put Britain on the map. You can now explore the manuscript in full on our Digitised Manuscripts site.
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23 March 2020
Map-making, according to the 16th-century cosmographer William Cunningham, is ‘a treasure worthy to be had in estimation’. In the early modern period, maps and atlases were central to the business of government, as cartographers and surveyors devised new ways of charting Britain’s land, as well as the rest of the globe. Twenty years after Cunningham emphasised the importance of mapping in his 1559 book The Cosmographical Glasse, the period’s cartographic innovations culminated in an ambitious English atlas, now held in the British Library.
By the 1560s, Queen Elizabeth I’s principal minister Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, was on the lookout for a cartographer to make a detailed map of the country. A survey was proposed by the antiquarian Laurence Nowell, who produced a pocket map of England and Ireland (now Add MS 62540) as a specimen. Burghley decided against Nowell’s proposals, and the plan appears to have been shelved. However, it wasn’t long before a full-scale mapping project came to fruition. Christopher Saxton, a map-maker from Yorkshire, produced a complete atlas of England, under the patronage of Thomas Seckford, a lawyer and administrator.
A coloured map of the counties of England, 1579: Royal MS 18 D III, f. 6r
Sir William Cecil’s manuscript copy is now Royal MS 18 D III, and contains printed and coloured maps from drawings by Saxton, dated between 1576 and 1577. The atlas contains information on distances, as well as relevant information for each county covered, including lists of local Justices of Peace and noblemen. As well as maps of the English counties, Burghley’s atlas also covers Wales and Scotland, and even contains a coloured map of the coasts of Norway, Lapland and North West Russia.
A coloured manuscript map of the coasts of Norway, Lapland and North West Russia, by William Borough (bap. 1536, d. 1598), explorer and naval administrator: Royal MS 18 D III, f. 124r
The volume also shows signs of Burghley’s extensive use. His historical and topographical notes begin in ‘Anno Mundi 2390, when Brutus came to Britain’, and pepper the margins and spare pages. Burghley’s maps are assembled in a different order to Saxton’s printed copies, indicating that the statesman rearranged the prints with his other maps and notes into an atlas for his personal examination. His jottings on the central fold of the map suggest that Burghley carried the volume for regular perusal.
A coloured manuscript map of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, with annotations in Burghley’s hand: Royal MS 18 D III, f. 90r
In his 1592 list of the duties of a Secretary of State, the administrator and diplomat Robert Beale observed that, ‘A Secretary must likewise have […] a book of the Maps of England, with a particular note of the division of the shires into Hundreds, Lathes, Wapenta[k]es, and what Nobleman, Gentleman, and others be residing in […] them’. Burghley’s cartographic commonplace book would have been essential for the statesman’s responses to foreign and domestic troubles, for military direction, and for decisions on law, trade and defence. Some of Burghley’s notes also show a more light-hearted use of the volume. On the map of Essex, the minister has recorded his opinions of different areas: ‘Heyghfeld fayre and fatt, Barndon park better than that, Coppledon beares a Crown, Copthall best of all’.
A coloured map of Essex, 1576, with annotations in Burghley’s hand: Royal MS 18 D III, f. 36r
Although Saxton’s atlas was full of detailed information, and served as a valuable reference book for the royal minister, the fast-paced world of Elizabethan map-making meant that it was soon surpassed by a series of county topographies developed by John Norden. However, Royal MS 18 D III remained in use. As late as 1603, five years after the death of Burghley himself, new information was still being added to his manuscript, including a list of knights from the coronation of King James I. Fortunately, the atlas is now available for all cartographers and explorers to consult, and can be found on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website.
Here is a selection of some of the other fabulous maps from the Burghley Atlas.
A coloured manuscript map of the coasts of Devon and Dorset from Dartmouth to Weymouth: Royal MS 18 D III, f. 10r
A coloured manuscript map of the Humber river, and the seacoast from Hull to Scarborough, with particulars of the tide, and a list of ‘Havens and Crickes’ on the North side of the Humber, pertaining to the Custom house of Hull: Royal MS 18 D III, f. 63r
A coloured map of Northumberland, with marginal notes in Burghley’s hand, listing the names of the principal Lords and Lordships in the Middle March: Royal MS 18 D III, f. 72r
A coloured map of Wales: Royal MS 18 D III, f. 99r
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20 September 2019
It is unfortunate, but not necessarily surprising, that the earliest surviving topographical map of Scotland should be one designed for invasion. Some of the most accurate maps of pre-modern Europe were made in the context of trade or war, profit or conflict, two operations that required considerable precision. In this particular case, the conflict was the Anglo-Scottish Wars of the 15th century, with the map sitting at the very centre of the long-standing tensions between the two kingdoms. Its maker was a soldier-spy named John Hardyng (1378–1465), who was sent by King Henry V to Scotland on a reconnaissance mission. His primary goal was to collect tactical information about the country in order to plan an attack.
The first version of Hardyng’s chronicle is preserved only in this manuscript, which contains a full-colour map of Scotland; West is at the top: Lansdowne MS 204, ff. 226v–227r.
The outcome of Hardyng’s mission was a chronicle in Middle English verse, completed in 1457. It extended from the mythical foundations of Britain to 1437, and included a detailed map of southern and northern Scotland. There had been other maps which included Scotland, but Hardyng’s were unique. What is remarkable about them is that they focus on Scotland. This might seem insignificant, but in the medieval period it was not at all common to zoom in on a given area. While most other maps show Scotland as the northern part of Britain, Hardyng’s map turned a macro lens on the territory of the Scottish kingdom.
A close-up of the first version of Hardyng's map reveals the amazing detail of his cartographic representation: Lansdowne MS 204, ff. 226v–227r.
Having incorporated the results of his espionage in the chronicle, he presented its first version in turn to Kings Henry VI and Edward IV. Hardyng wanted these maps to provide visual support for the strategic planning outlined in the chronicle. As Sarah Peverley has argued, they are more symbolic than tactical, since they offer information about the general state of the country.
Hardyng’s chronicle survives in two versions, an earlier and a later one, each with its own map of Scotland. The two versions of the chronicle are noticeably different. The later version is shorter, more political, but also more popular and more influential than its predecessor. It was this version that was consulted by Shakespeare and John Milton.
The second version of Hardyng's Chronicle is preserved in 12 manuscripts and traces the history of Britain back to an imagined past: Harley MS 661, f. 1r.
The Scottish map of the second version of the chronicle is more diagrammatic and more intriguing. Like the earlier version, it represents Scottish topography in remarkable detail, with towns, castles, churches and natural features like rivers and marshes. However, it also inter-weaves the text and diagrams in order to explain the significance of many Scottish localities.
This map shows a high variety of southern Scottish castles, churches, walled cities and other fortifications.
This three-page map includes both southern and northern Scotland. While the southern part is packed with towns and fortifications, the northern parts are represented differently. The region between the mormaerdoms (medieval Scottish counties) of Strathern and Ros, the larger part of the Scottish Highlands, is represented using text and diagrams. The Highlands are referred to as the lands inhabited by the ‘wilde Scottes’. The map depicts the various mormaerdoms as protected by river courses and flanked by two seas, the Mare Orientale (North Sea) and the Mare Occidentale (the Atlantic). For example, ‘the shires of Marre (Mar) and of Carriocth (Carioch) aff this cuntrey stondeth between two waters'.
This map of the Highlands of Scotland has South at the top. It provides an overview of the locations of all the major Scottish shires: Harley MS 661, f. 187v.
But there is something rotten in the North of Scotland. At the far end of Britain, beyond the Orkney Islands, Hardyng located Satan’s infernal abode, the palace of doom. According to the English spy-soldier, the more one moved away from England, the more savage and devilish the inhabitants became, culminating in the source of all evil, at the ends of the Earth, under Scotland’s (and Satan’s) dominion.
This diagram of Northern Scotland explains that 'the wilde Scotrie have their propre mancion' in Pluto (or Satan's) palace: Harley MS 661, f. 188r.
Surrounded by the four infernal rivers (Styx, Phlegethon, Cocytus and Acheron), Satan’s diagrammatic seat of power was a metaphor for Hardyng’s view that the 'wickedness' of the Scots was attributable to Satanic influence.
If you would like to read more about Hardyng’s Chronicle, we would highly recommend these by Sarah Peverley:
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29 July 2018
In Chaucer’s famous opening line to the Canterbury Tales, ‘Aprille with his shoures soote’ (April with its sweet showers) was the time when people longed to set off on their travels. Of course, holidays as we know them were not enjoyed by medieval folk. The word itself comes from ‘Holy Days’ in the Church calendar, when a break from daily routine usually involved praying and fasting, not sunbathing and drinking cocktails on the beach. But people have always enjoyed visiting new places, and so pilgrimages were a popular way of taking a break at the same time as showing piety and atoning for one’s sins — a great all-inclusive package!
One medieval pilgrim was St Roch, who tended plague victims. He is usually pictured in typical pilgrim’s garb, with the staff, scrip or bag and shell (the symbol of Santiago and all pilgrims) on his hat. When he caught the plague himself, he was healed by a hunting dog who licked his wounds and brought him bread.
Miniature of Roch, showing a plague-spot on his thigh, with an angel and a dog holding a loaf, from the Prayer-book of Joanna of Ghistelles, Ghent, c. 1516: Egerton MS 2125, f. 209v
Instead of backpacking in Thailand, booking a package holiday to the Costa Brava or braving the traffic jams to the English seaside, medieval pilgrims headed for Palestine, northern Spain or Kent. Some of the leading destinations for English pilgrims were Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and Canterbury.
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
The holy places in Palestine were the ultimate destination for medieval Christian pilgrims, although the journey could be arduous. Margery Kempe, the famous English mystic, travelled from Norfolk to Jerusalem and Rome in 1413–15, as recounted in her autobiography. Even kings could be pilgrims, including Louis IX of France: when on crusade to the Holy Land in 1251, he went on a pilgrimage from Acre to Nazareth on the Feast of the Annunciation.
Travellers to distant places needed maps. This plan of Jerusalem is found in a book of maps and sea charts, produced in Venice. It shows the holy sites including David's Tower, the Holy Sepulchre, Calvary, Pilate's house, St Anne's house and the Temple of Solomon.
Plan of Jerusalem in Pietro Vesconte’s book of charts, maps and plans, Venice, c. 1331: Add MS 27376*
Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela
This city in northern Spain is believed to be the resting place of St James, one of the twelve apostles. According to legend, James went to Spain to spread the Gospel before returning to Jerusalem, where he was beheaded. His friends placed his head and body in a boat, which miraculously carried them to the Galician coast. After suffering trials and persecutions at the hands of local pagans, they finally buried his remains on a hill (now the site of the famous cathedral of Santiago), where they lay forgotten for many centuries. The cult of St James was revived in the 7th and 8th centuries when Christianity in Spain was under threat from Muslim expansion. St James allegedly appeared in a dream to Charlemagne, urging him to liberate his tomb from the Moors and showing him the direction to follow by the Milky Way: the name Compostela is believed to derive from the Latin campus stellae (field of stars).
Charlemagne pointing the way to Spain, from the Chroniques de France, Paris, 1st half of the 14th century: Royal MS 16 G VI, f. 166r
The first known pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela was Gotescalc, bishop of Puy in France, who visited the shrine in 950. The Empress Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror, went on pilgrimage there in 1097. By the 12th century, half a million pilgrims were travelling from as far as Scandinavia, England and southern Italy, and hospitals, hostels, roads and bridges had been built to accommodate them. A pilgrims’ guide, the Liber Sancti Iacobi, was produced, listing the towns along the way, providing useful phrases in Basque to use when travelling through that region, and warning pilgrims against certain local foods and customs.
St James, in the Liber Sancti Jacobi, Santiago?, 1st half of the 14th century: Add MS 12213, f. 3v
The Camino de Santiago is now a very popular pilgrimage route, with many walking from St Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenées, a journey of six weeks. Getting there and back is much easier than in the Middle Ages, when most people walked or rode on horseback. The ‘Camino Ingles’ (English Way) has starting points at the ports of La Coruña and Ferrol, where medieval pilgrims arrived by boat from Britain.
Pilgrimage to Canterbury
Pilgrims came from all corners of Europe to worship at Canterbury Cathedral, where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered by four knights on the evening of 29 December 1170. In this compilation of Becket’s letters, accompanied by John of Salisbury's account of his life and death, is an image showing the martyrdom in four narrative scenes. The upper two depict Becket at table, being told of the knights' arrival. The lower sections show Becket’s martyrdom in the church and the later veneration of his shrine by four kneeling figures.
The martyrdom of Thomas Becket, England, 4th quarter of the 12th century: Cotton MS Claudius B II, f. 341r
Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled from Southwark in London to Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. The routes from London and Winchester remain popular with modern pilgrims, passing through the Sussex and Kent countryside.
Pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, from John Lydgate’s Prologue of the Siege of Thebes, London, c. 1457–1460: Royal MS 18 D II, f. 148r
Many people like to watch travel programmes on television, seeing places we may never visit. Some people were unable to go on pilgrimage, but they could make a spiritual journey using guides or maps. Numerous medieval versions of the allegorical pilgrimage were written for this purpose, where the pilgrim had to overcome various obstacles to reach the final goal of spiritual fulfilment. In this French text, the pilgrim is guided by the lady Grace-Dieu.
The pilgrim is given his bag by Grace-Dieu, from Guillaume Deguilleville, Les Trois Pèlerinages, France, c. 1400: Add MS 38120, f. 28r
Matthew Paris’s famous itinerary of the route to Jerusalem is considered to be a guide for a spiritual rather than a real journey from London to the Holy Land, as he does not provide distances or practical details. As far as we know, Matthew never made the journey himself, instead learning of the route from travellers who passed through St Albans Abbey in the 13th century. The first part of his plan shows the journey from London in the lower left-hand column to Dover and then, in the right-hand column, from Boulogne-sur-Mer on the French coast to Beauvais. Each place is one day’s journey from the preceding one.
Section of an illustrated itinerary to Jerusalem, from London to Beauvais, St Albans, 1250s: Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 2r
In the medieval world, animals also went on pilgrimage. Here is an example from the Smithfield Decretals.
A rabbit shooting at a dog who is dressed as a pilgrim, from the glossed Decretals of Gregory IX (the 'Smithfield Decretals'), Toulouse?, late 13th or early 14th century: Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 57v
In this collection of animal tales in German, a fox, having grown old and setting off on a pilgrimage, refuses the companionship of the watch-dog, wild ass, bear, lion, peacock, wolf, pig and mule. Instead, he chooses to travel with the panther, ape, lamb, hare, hedgehog, ox, the young hound and the ant (let’s hope someone offers the ant a ride!).
A fox choosing its companions for a pilgrimage, from Ulrich von Pottenstein, Spiegel der Weisheit, Salzburg, c. 1430: Egerton MS 1121, f. 36r
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16 June 2018
Last week we announced that the manuscript collection of Sir Robert Cotton, held at the British Library, has been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register. To celebrate, we've decided to test our readers' knowledge of the Cotton library. Some of these questions are easier than others, we hope. There are no prizes up for grabs but please let us know how you get on via Twitter, @BLMedieval, using the hashtag #cottonquiz, or by the comments field below. Good luck!
The answers are now given below (no peeking!).
1. On which manuscript does Sir Robert Cotton rest his hands in this portrait?
2. From whom did Cotton reportedly acquire his two copies of the 1215 Magna Carta?
3. The diary of which English king is found in the Cotton library?
4. Which Roman emperor connects Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Lindisfarne Gospels?
5. How old was Sir Robert Cotton when he acquired his first manuscript? (And for a bonus point, what was the manuscript in question?)
6. In 1602–03, Robert Cotton presented a dozen manuscripts to whom, one of the earliest donations for which other great collection?
7. The Reculver charter is written in what script?
8. Name the English monarch for whom this map was made.
9. How many volumes were destroyed in their entirety in the 1731 fire?
10. The plan for which famous battle was identified in a fire-damaged Cotton manuscript?
Here are the answers:
The Cotton Genesis (Cotton Otho MS B VI)
King Edward VI (Cotton MS Nero C X)
Seventeen (Cotton MS Vespasian D XV is inscribed on f. 83v, 'Robertus Cotton 1588 Æ 17')
Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of the Bodleian Library in Oxford
Uncial (Cotton MS Augustus II 2)
King Henry VIII (Cotton MS Augustus I i 9)
Thirteen, plus three more in the 1865 British Museum bindery fire (as noted by Andrew Prescott, ‘“Their present miserable state of cremation”: the restoration of the Cotton library’, in C. J. Wright (ed.), Sir Robert Cotton as Collector: Essays on an Early Stuart Courtier and his Legacy (London, 1997), pp. 391–454, at pp. 392, 421)
Agincourt (the French battle-plan is found in Cotton MS Caligula D V, ff. 43v–44r)
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