Medieval manuscripts blog

1102 posts categorized "Medieval"

05 July 2022

Virtual private view of Gold on the British Library Player

Many thanks to all of our readers who have visited the Gold exhibition of illuminated manuscripts at the Library; we’ve had some great feedback from you.

A cutting from a Gradual, illuminated in gold

Cutting from a Gradual (Florence, 2nd half of the 14th century): Add MS 35254C

For those who aren’t in London and may not be able to make the trip to the Library to see the exhibition in person, you can now watch two videos about the exhibition: (1) a highlights video outlining the exhibition and featuring curators discussing seven manuscripts in detail as a virtual private view; and (2) a film of a live question and answer session with the curators, chaired by Professor Alixe Bovey, Dean and Deputy Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art. Both videos can be viewed on the British Library Player.

A page from a Book of Hours, showing the scribe or artist at work, sitting before a lectern with a pen in their right hand

Jean Bourdichon, Book of Hours (Tours, 1510–25): Add MS 18855, f. 13v

The virtual private view includes much more detailed information about the featured manuscripts than available on the labels, or in the exhibition book, so do have a look for a focus on the Tree of Jesse and the Holy Kinship in the Queen Mary Psalter, for a detailed description of the techniques of using gold leaf in a cutting from an Italian gradual and of shell gold in a Jean Bourdichon Book of Hours, of gold tooling on a French Art Deco book binding, and for the process of extracting gold as seen in an 18th-century Japanese scroll of gold mining. 

The Tree of Jesse in the Queen Mary Psalter

The Queen Mary Psalter (London, early 14th century): Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 67v

Gold in on display at the British Library in London until 2 October 2022. Tickets can be purchased on the day or in advance from the online ticket office.


Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

Supported by:

BullionVault logo

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.

30 June 2022

Golden Books

Lecture on Tuesday, 12 July, 7:00 pm in the British Library main entrance hall and online

You won’t want to miss this lecture focusing on the illumination in Western manuscripts, given both in person and online by Professor Lucy Freeman Sandler, the Helen Gould Sheppard Professor Emerita, New York University. Professor Sandler has been researching illuminated manuscripts for over seventy years through her long, productive and distinguished career, and has published widely, particularly on English 14th-century illumination, including her indispensable volume in the Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles

The upper golden binding on the Psalter of Anne Boleyn

The gold binding on the Psalter of 'Anne Boleyn', c. 1540: Stowe MS 956

As many will know, Lucy is a wonderful speaker, and she will be sharing her reflections on the British Library's Gold exhibition, and more broadly on the function and use of illumination in books. Her lecture will be drawn in part from her most recent book, Penned and Painted: The Art and Meaning of Books in Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, researched during lockdown, which includes fascinating new insights into some of the Library’s best-known manuscripts. 

Here is a sneak preview of two of the images that Lucy will be discussing in her lecture. If you who have been to the exhibition, you may recognise them:

A Chi-rho monogram in the New Minster charter, written in gold ink

King Edgar’s New Minster Charter, 966: Cotton MS Vespasian A VIII, f. 4r

St John standing on the right, dictating his Gospel to a scribe seated on the left, on a golden background

John dictating his Gospel, in the Burney Gospels, 2nd half of the 10th century: Burney MS 19, f. 165r

For some manuscripts featured in Gold, Lucy will be discussing a different image from that shown in the exhibition, such as the image of Christ with a golden book, in the spectacular Benedictional of St Æthelwold, open in the exhibition to the image of St Æthelthryth, founder and abbess of Ely Abbey. 

Christ with a golden book

Christ with a golden book, in the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, 2nd half of the 10th century: Add MS 49598, f. 70r

She’ll include a discussion of the use of gold on figures, like that of the Bourdichon Annunciation featured in the exhibition, to golden bindings and the representation of books as golden.

The exhibition continues to receive rave four and five star reviews, most recently from Time Out, adding to those of the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard. Book your tickets to see the exhibition and to attend the lecture.

You may also wish to order Professor Sandler’s wonderful new book, Penned and Painted: The Art and Meaning of Books in Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, available from the Library's online shop. Lucy will also be signing copies of the book after her lecture.

Gold is on display at St Pancras until Sunday, 2 October.


Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

Supported by:

BullionVault logo

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.

24 June 2022


Some of you may have seen the exciting news that Trinity College Dublin has digitised its manuscript of the Book of St Albans by Matthew Paris. Initiatives of this kind whet the appetites of scholarly researchers and members of the public alike. We may not all have the opportunity to handle medieval manuscripts at first hand, but we always welcome the chance to see them up close in virtual form. Matthew Paris (d. around 1259) would have been proud as punch to see his work shared with so many people.

To celebrate this achievement, we thought we'd share with you another three manuscripts that were written and illustrated by Matthew Paris himself, all of which are held by the British Library (we're going to call them the MP3). We start by letting his elephant take a bow, which is found in the work known as 'Liber Additamentorum' (The Book of Additions), Cotton MS Nero D I. (All of the manuscripts we mention are available in full and for free online; no manuscripts were hurt in the writing of this blogpost.) We have written about this pachyderm before in our blogpost The Elephant at the Tower. The elephant was a gift to King Henry III of England (reigned 1216–1272) from Louis IX of France. Matthew had seen the animal in person, writing:

'About this time, an elephant was sent to England by the French king as a present to the king of the English. We believe that this was the only elephant ever seen in England, or even in the countries this side of the Alps; thus people flocked together to see the novel sight.'

The unnamed creature was said to be 10 years old, 10 feet high, grey-ish black with a tough hide, and it used its trunk to obtain food and drink. It lived in a specially-constructed house at the Tower of London, 40 feet long by 20 feet wide, and its keeper was named Henry de Flor. Matthew Paris's Liber Additamentorum contains this full-page illustration of the elephant, another version of which is found in a manuscript at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. This begs the question, 'one trunk or two?'

Drawing of the elephant at the Tower of London by Matthew Paris

The elephant kept at the Tower of London, described and illustrated by Matthew Paris: Cotton MS Nero D I, f. 169v

Number 2 in our list of the famous MP3 is a map of Britain, drawn by Matthew Paris himself. It belongs with his Abbereviatio chronicorum, but was removed and bound separately in 1929 (Cotton MS Claudius D VI/1). This map is effectively a gazetteer of 13th-century England, Wales and Scotland, drawn by someone who spent most of their life in St Albans and had no access to satellite mapping. Most notably to the modern eye, northern Scotland is joined to the mainland by a bridge at Stirling, Canterbury is located due South of London (and can be traced in a straight line via Newark, Doncaster and Durham to Newcastle, along the route of the East Coast mainline), and Mount Snowdon is represented by a sandcastle.

A map of Britain by Matthew Paris

Map of Britain by Matthew Paris: Cotton MS Claudius D VI/1

And last, but not least, we have the autograph manuscript that contains Matthew's itinerary to Jerusalem and other maps, his Historia Anglorum, and the third part of his greatest historical work, the Chronica maiora (Royal MS 14 C VII). It's only by looking at this manuscript in the round that you get some sense of Matthew's wide range of interests, of his detailed chronicling activity, and of his artistic achievement. It's difficult to pick out any particular page for special attention — the candidates include his portraits of the kings of England and another map of Britain — but we have decided to go with the self-portrait of Matthew himself, portrayed kneeling before the Virgin and Child. Matthew Paris was not the most modest of men, to judge by his many writings. In this illustration he captures himself in a more suppliant pose, lying prostrate on the floor, but with his name picked out in blue and red capitals for the readers' attention. It's to this monk that we owe so many marvellous medieval manuscripts.

Miniature of the Virgin holding the birthday Jesus  with Matthew Paris lying at their feet

Miniature of the Virgin and Child, with a self-portrait by Matthew Paris: Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 6r


Julian Harrison

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22 June 2022

The Law Code of Alfonso X

Alfonso X, King of Castile, Leon and Galicia from 1252 and 1284, was so renowned for his interest in books and scholarship that he was nicknamed ‘El Sabio’ (the Wise or Learned). He promoted and consolidated Spanish language in the kingdom, having astronomical, medical and scientific documents translated into the vernacular.

King Alfonso enthroned, holding a sword and a book surrounded by his seated subjects, with buildings in the background
King Alfonso enthroned, from the Law Codes of Alfonso X (Castile or Leon, 1250-1300): Add MS 20787, f. 1r

When he came to the throne in 1252 Alfonso found that much of the legislation in his newly-unified kingdom was from varied traditions, making it contradictory and sometimes unjust. He set to work to codify it in three major legal works. Alfonso’s Law Codes, laying out traditional laws and rights, pertaining to both the Church and State, had a profound influence on Spanish literature and culture from the earliest surviving Spanish chivalric tale, El Cavallero Cifar (c. 1300), to numerous plays of the Golden Age (16th-17th centuries).

King Alfonso in a curtained room dictates to three seated figures, one of whom, a scribe, is writing in a book
King Alfonso dictates to a scribe, from the Law Codes of Alfonso X: Add MS 20787, f. 1v

The king also promoted the study of law at the University of Salamanca, granting two new prestigious positions for professors of law, who were to be given the title Cavallero and Señor de Leyes, along with special privileges including being allowed to enter the presence of emperors, kings and princes at any time. One section of the law code was devoted to the educational ethos and curriculum of universities.

The king stands with courtiers, instructing workmen with tools who are building a church
The king instructs workmen who are building a church, from the Law Codes of Alfonso X: Add MS 20787, f. 75r

During Alfonso’s reign a workshop under his patronage produced a number of highly illuminated manuscripts, the most famous being the Cantigas de Santa Maria which contain 400 songs about the miracles of the Virgin Mary in Galician-Portuguese with musical annotation. Four copies survive, now located in libraries in Spain and Italy. In the same workshop a manuscript of the Primera Partida, the first book of Alfonso's most famous law codes known as the Siete Partidas, was produced. It is the earliest known copy, dated to second half of the 13th century, and is now in the British Library (Add MS 20787).

Initial ‘A’ with King Alfonso kneeling before an altar and presenting a book to God, whose face appears above
Initial ‘A’ with King Alfonso presenting a book to God, from the Law Codes of Alfonso X: Add MS 20787, f. 1v

Each of the seven books of the code begins with a letter in the name ‘ALFONSO’, so the Primera Partida begins ‘A servicio de Dios’ (In the service of God). It deals with the relationship between the lawmaker and God. And in this manuscript there are miniatures or pictorial initials at the beginning of each section, depicting the functions of the contemporary church and the clergy in Alfonso’s kingdom.

The letter ‘P’ with a child in a carved font being baptised by a bishop, who raises his hand in blessing; a priest and men and women stand round the font
The letter ‘P’ with a child being baptised by a bishop, from the Law Codes of Alfonso X: Add MS 20787 f. 4r


The letter ‘D’ with a bishop holding a book while performing an exorcism; a devil emerges from the mouth of a writhing figure, while others pray and assist
The letter ‘D’ with a bishop performing an exorcism, from the Law Codes of Alfonso X: Add MS 20787 f. 37r

You can admire all the pages of the British Library's copy of the Law Code of Alfonso X on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and read more about medieval legal manuscripts in our article on the The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project website.

Chantry Westwell

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

07 June 2022

Golden scenes from the Life of Christ

Eight leaves with narrative scenes from the Life of Christ on gold grounds feature in our Gold exhibition. They are now separated from any text, but it is very likely that originally they formed part of a prefatory cycle of images appearing before the book of Psalms. Because they have been de-contextualised, the leaves’ origin is uncertain and has been much debated. Suggestions range from centres in Denmark, Germany, northern France and Flanders, around 1200. The figures are rendered in bold primary colours, with thick black lines creating their features and outlining their clothing, made more vivid by the contrasting incised gold surface on which they are placed.

Miniature showing the Nativity of Christ, with Mary in bed holding the baby, and Joseph seated nearby. In smaller scenes below, two maids bathe the Christ Child, and the ox and ass watch over him as he sleeps
The Nativity: Cotton MS Caligula A VII/1, f. 5r

All of the figures appear on burnished gold grounds, which have been incised with different patterns, including diamonds and swirling foliage. Hints of how the paintings were made are apparent in the glimpses of the reddish gesso, the base on which the gold leaf was laid, in the Annunciation to the Shepherds image. The gesso has been exposed in places due to damage of the gold. This aspect of their production is explored in more detail in the Library’s Gold exhibition, where these two leaves are featured in a section focused on technique.

The Annunciation to the shepherds, with a large angel gesturing to a group of shepherds, and a row of angels in the sky
The Annunciation to the Shepherds: Cotton MS Caligula A VII/1, f. 6v

The leaves are now kept separately, but until the 1930s they were bound together with a rare copy of the Heliand, a 9th-century poem in which the Four Gospels are combined into a single narrative account in Old Saxon (Cotton MS Caligula A vii). They were probably bound together by Robert Cotton (b. 1571, d. 1631), whose vast collection of manuscripts was one of the foundation collections of the British Library.

The beginning of the Heliand, a text page with a decorated initial letter
Beginning of the poem Heliand, an account of the life of Jesus in Old Saxon epic verse: Cotton MS Caligula A VII, f. 11r

These leaves were digitised as part of the Polonsky Medieval England and France 700-1200 project. For another example of a prefatory cycle in a Psalter digitised as part of the same project, see our previous blogpost on Prefacing the Psalms.

The Library’s Gold exhibition is a feast for the eyes, with 50 manuscripts and books from many different cultures, languages and time periods, all illuminated or bound in gold. It runs from Friday 20 May - Sunday 2 October 2022, and you can book tickets online now. An accompanying book Gold: Spectacular Manuscripts from Around the World is available from the British Library shop.

Kathleen Doyle

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

Supported by:

BullionVault logo

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.

26 May 2022

A marvel in gold and ivory: Queen Melisende’s Psalter

Every manuscript in our current Gold Exhibition is a sublime work of art, so it is hard to choose a ‘star of the show’. But surely one of the most fascinating items on display must be the exquisitely-made Psalter of Queen Melisende, a miraculous survival from the war-torn Crusader kingdoms in the 12th century. It is thought to have been the personal prayer book of the enigmatic Queen Melisende, who ruled the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem jointly with her husband Fulk of Anjou from 1131, and then with her son Baldwin until 1152. Some say it was a gift from Fulk to his wife when they were reconciled following a serious rift over power-sharing.

An illuminated page from the Melisende Psalter, photographed at an angle to show the light glancing off the gold
Page on display in GOLD: Initial 'B'(eatus) of King David playing the harp, in The Psalter of Queen Melisende (Jerusalem, 1131–1143) Egerton MS 1139, f. 23v

The opening pages consist of 24 miniatures of scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary with inscriptions in Greek. The artists, working in the monastery of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, were probably westerners, but were strongly influenced by contemporary Byzantine art, as seen in the style of the figures. One of the artists signs himself ‘Basilius’ (Basil) on the last image of the series.

A child on an altar with two women and two men in robes. A dome behind.
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Egerton MS 1139, f. 3r

These images are followed by a calendar with the signs of the Zodiac in roundels. The deaths of Melisende’s parents, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem (d. 1131), and Queen Morphia (d. 1 October, 1126/1127), daughter of an Armenian prince, are recorded in the calendar. On first day of October in the calendar are the words, written in gold ink: ‘Obiit E morphia jer[usa]l[e]m regina’ (The death of Morphia queen of Jerusalem).

Text page with gold writing and a roundel with a scorpion8r
Calendar page for October with a roundel containing the symbol of Scorpio, and the death of Queen Morphia (line 4), Egerton MS 1139 f. 18r

Next are the Psalms, beginning with the magnificent decorated pages on display in the exhibition (ff. 23v-24r). On the left-hand page, the giant letter ‘B’ for ‘Beatus’ is richly filled with interlace, vines, real and imaginary animals, and the figure of King David playing a harp. The design is drawn in black ink and instead of being coloured, it is entirely illuminated in gold. On the right-hand page, the words of Psalm 1 are written in gold capital letters on purple, with bars of gold between the lines of text and a gold border surrounding the page.

Gold panels with a letter B containing a king playing a harp; facing page has text in gold on red.
Pages on display in GOLD: Spectacular manuscripts from around the World: Initial 'B'(eatus) of King David playing the harp opposite a panel with display capitals containing the beginning of Psalm 1, in The Psalter of Queen Melisende (Jerusalem, 1131 – 1143) Egerton MS 1139, f. 23v-24r

The Canticles, the Our Father and the Creeds are followed by a Litany and prayers to the Virgin, the Trinity and various saints, some of whom are pictured.

A Female figure in a hooded red cloak and blue robe with her hands raised; patterned panels on either side
St Agnes at the beginning of a prayer for her to intercede with God, Egerton MS 1139, f. 211r

Only about the size of a modern paperback, this gold-filled treasure-book was once enclosed in an exquisitely carved binding of two ivory panels embellished with turquoises and garnets. These panels still survive, although they are now separated from the manuscript.

The scenes from the life of David on the upper cover are interspersed with cruel battles between the virtues and vices, accompanied by inscriptions in Latin.

Ivory panel with 6 scenes of David in roundels, including of him fighting animals, facing Goliath and playing the harp and scenes of battles between, and birds and foliage in the frame.
The Melisende Psalter, Upper cover with scenes from the life of David: Egerton MS 1139/1

The lower cover is based on the words in the Gospel of Matthew:

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

It shows emperors in different varieties of imperial Byzantine costumes performing acts of mercy. There is a bird labelled ‘Herodius’ (centre top), which is a possible reference to King Fulk, Melisende’s husband, since the biblical herodius was equated to the fulica, or coot, of the Bestiary tradition.

6 roundels with scenes of crowned figures performing deeds of mercy, with mythical beasts fighting in between.
The Melisende Psalter, lower cover with the six Corporal Works of Mercy: Egerton MS 1139/1

So what do we know of Queen Melisende? She was the eldest daughter and heir of King Baldwin II, and married the rich and powerful Count Fulk of Anjou in 1129. Though he tried to exclude her from the major decisions of the kingdom, she managed to retain the power bequeathed to her by her father and was an important patron of the Church, arts, and books in her kingdom. Later, she quarrelled with her son, Baldwin III, when she refused to hand over power to him entirely. They were later reconciled and Melisende continued to support him until her death in 1161.

A crowned man and a woman in gold cloaks joining hands before a bishop in a palace interior with a crowd of courtiers watching, one with a sword and a bird of prey.
The wedding of Fulk and Melisende in William of Tyre, Histoire d'Outremer (Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum in French), Royal MS 15 E I, f. 224v

William of Tyre, the contemporary historian, wrote this about the queen:

‘she was a very wise woman, fully experienced in almost all affairs of state business, who completely triumphed over the handicap of her sex so that she could take charge of important affairs’.

With its rich use of gold, the Psalter of Queen Melisende is a splendid expression of this incredible queen’s power.

Our Gold exhibition is open from Friday 20 May - Sunday 2 October 2022. You can read more about the exhibition in our previous blogpost and you can book tickets online now. An accompanying book Gold: Spectacular Manuscripts from Around the World is available from the British Library shop.

Chantry Westwell

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

Supported by:

BullionVault logo

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.

23 May 2022

Medieval and Renaissance Women: PhD placement

The British Library is currently digitising some of its manuscripts, rolls and charters connected with women from Britain and across Europe, from the period between 1100 and 1600. You can read more about the project on the Medieval Manuscripts Blog.

The opening page of the Book of Margery Kempe

The opening page of the Book of Margery Kempe, the oldest autobiography in English: Add MS 61823, f. 1r

As part of the Medieval and Renaissance Women project, the funders, Joanna and Graham Barker, are providing financial support for a six-month PhD placement, starting in summer 2022. The successful candidate will be based for the duration of the placement with the Library’s Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section at St Pancras, London. They will gain experience of cataloguing pre-1600 western manuscripts, and they will promote the Library’s collections by writing blogposts and text for the British Library website.

This placement will provide the successful candidate with a broader understanding of curatorial roles in a major research library, as well as experience of working with manuscripts (including rolls and charters) in a variety of genres and languages. They will gain insight into the Library’s digitisation processes, and they will benefit from day-to-day contact with the curators and hands-on access to the Library’s collection of pre-1600 manuscripts. During their time at the Library, the placement student will also have access to a wide range of workshops, talks and training.

The Medieval and Renaissance Women PhD placement is intended to support early career development and is suitable for students who may wish to pursue further academic research or are considering a career in a library, museum or similar heritage organisation. Students who have undertaken previous doctoral placements or internships with the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts team at the British Library have subsequently gone on to hold academic positions at universities in the UK and USA, to become curators, cataloguers and researchers in major libraries, or to work in heritage organisations.

Applicants for this position should be engaged in doctoral research at a university or higher education institution in the United Kingdom. International students are eligible to apply, subject to meeting any UK visa residency requirements. Their field of research should be in a discipline related to the study of medieval and early modern manuscripts, such as history of art, history, languages and literature. The ability to read Latin and other western languages is an advantage, as is knowledge of medieval and/or early modern palaeography and codicology. The Library will provide training in cataloguing western manuscripts, and in writing blogposts and other interpretative text. 

The seal of the Empress Matilda

The seal of the Empress Matilda (1140s): Add Ch 75724

Prospective applicants should submit the attached form, in which they are asked to answer the following questions:

  1. Title of your PhD
  2. Please provide a brief summary of your research for a non-specialist audience (maximum 100 words)
  3. Please explain why you are interested in a placement at the British Library in particular (maximum (100 words)
  4. Please describe why this placement appeals to you, and what skills you will gain from it (maximum 400 words)
  5. Please outline any relevant skills, experience and interests you would bring to this placement (maximum 300 words)
  6. Please provide any additional information that you think would strengthen your application (maximum 200 words)

You should obtain approval from your PhD supervisor before submitting the application. The placement is for a maximum 6 months and should be undertaken before 31 March 2023. This is a funded placement (£1,600 per month, to a maximum £9,600).


How to apply

Please ensure that you have carefully read the Application Guidelines before completing and submitting the Application Form.

Download Medieval and Renaissance Women PhD Placement Application Guidelines (PDF)

Download Medieval and Renaissance Women PhD Placement Application Form (Word document)


The deadline for applications is 11.59pm on Monday 13 June 2022. Online interviews for the shortlisted candidates will take place in the second half of June.

11 May 2022

Collaborative doctoral studentship: The origins and development of the Cotton collection

We are pleased to announce the availability of a fully-funded collaborative doctoral studentship from October 2022, in partnership with the University of East Anglia (UEA), under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.

The library of Robert Cotton (1571–1631) has been described as 'the most important collection of manuscripts ever assembled in Britain by a private individual'. This CDP offers a unique opportunity to produce an original piece of research on the origins and/or 17th-century development of Cotton's extraordinary collection.

A portrait of Sir Robert Cotton with his hand resting on the Cotton Genesis

A portrait of Sir Robert Cotton, commissioned in 1626 and attributed to Cornelius Johnson, reproduced from the collection of The Rt. Hon. Lord Clinton, D.L.

This project will be supervised by Dr Thomas Roebuck and Dr Katherine Hunt, University of East Anglia, who are experts in early modern scholarship and collecting practices; and Julian Harrison and Dr Andrea Clarke, curators of Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library. The award holder will be based at UEA, and will also be based at the Library for a significant proportion of the studentship. At UEA, they will join a thriving Medieval and Early Modern research community and have access to a host of training opportunities, and at the British Library they will benefit from behind-the-scenes access, learning from other professionals across the Library, and an extensive internal training offer. They will also join the wider cohort of CDP-funded students across the UK, and will be eligible to participate in CDP Cohort Development Events. This studentship can be studied either full- or part-time.

The Cotton library contains more than 1,400 medieval and early modern manuscripts and over 1,500 charters, rolls and seals, among them items of international heritage significance, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and two engrossments of the 1215 Magna Carta. This collection was perhaps the most important single means by which pre-Reformation textual culture was preserved: it became a repository of memory and a site of nation-making. But the origins of the library — how and why it was assembled — remain tantalisingly obscure. Its development and usage over the course of the 17th century also offers huge opportunities for fresh research into the history of antiquarian scholarship and its religio-political ramifications. This CDP offers the successful applicant a unique opportunity to produce a ground-breaking piece of research into the origins or development of the Cotton collection which is rooted in close study of Cotton's manuscripts themselves.

Research questions might include:

  • Where, when, and how did Robert Cotton (and his descendants) acquire the manuscripts that make up the Cotton collection?
  • How did Robert Cotton shape his collection? How did the coins, stones and printed books he collected complement his manuscripts?
  • To what extent is the Cotton library distinctive, compared to other libraries assembled in Europe at the same time, and what characteristics does it share with similar contemporary collections?
  • Is there any evidence that women had access to the Cotton library or made donations to it?
  • How was the library used in Robert Cotton's lifetime, and how did its usage change and develop over the course of the 17th century? What kinds of scholarly projects did it inspire?
  • How was the library used to intervene in contemporary political debates? How was the library itself shaped by the political and religious controversies of the 17th century?
  • How did the collection come to be regarded as a national library?
  • What role did Cotton's library play in the development of the idea of Britain's 'middle ages' or its national identity?  

We encourage the widest range of potential students to study for this CDP studentship and are committed to welcoming students from different backgrounds to apply. We particularly welcome applications from Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds as they are currently underrepresented at this level in this area.

Applicants should ideally have or expect to receive a relevant Masters-level qualification, or be able to demonstrate equivalent experience in a professional setting. Suitable disciplines may include, but are not limited to, English Literature, History, Art History, Classics, Modern Languages, and Library and Information Science. All applicants must meet UKRI terms and conditions for funding.

The deadline for applications is 8 June 2022. More details can be found on the UEA website.

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