04 September 2015
As part of the 800th anniversary celebrations of Magna Carta, the county of Lincolnshire is currently hosting an exhibition that celebrates everything that makes this county great. One of the four original 1215 endorsements of Magna Carta is held at Lincoln Cathedral and it was this piece of parchment that Churchill promised to the Americans as an incentive to join WWII (revealed in these cabinet papers recently on display in the British Library's Magna Carta exhibition). But of course this is not Lincolnshire’s only claim to fame.
Lincolnshire’s Great Exhibition explores the key historical events, famous figures and artistic achievements of this influential English county. In partnership with the British Library, five manuscripts from our collection are being exhibited, including one of the most renowned English illuminated manuscripts, the Luttrell Psalter.
So what can we learn about Lincolnshire from these five books?
1. Following the earthquake of 1185, Lincoln Cathedral was rebuilt under the supervision of its new Bishop, St Hugh
Detail of the beginning of ‘The Metrical Life of St Hugh’, from a miscellany of theological, grammatical and historical texts, England, 1st half of the 13th century, Royal MS 13 A IV, f. 9r
Royal MS 13 A IV contains one of only two extant copies of The Metrical Life of St Hugh. In this account of the Bishop’s life, a significant passage is dedicated to his expansion and rebuilding of the cathedral, and the theological symbolism of its architectural design.
2. Lincolnshire is the birthplace of St Gilbert, founder of the only native English religious Order
Beginning of the Life of Gilbert of Sempringham, England, 1st half of the 13th century, Cotton MS Cleopatra B I, f. 32r
One of Lincolnshire’s most famous sons is Gilbert of Sempringham (b. c. 1083, d. 1189). Unsuited to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Norman knight and landholder, Gilbert was sent to be educated. On his return, while rector of the parish church of Sempringham, he became the spiritual director of a community of anchoresses residing in a cloister attached to the church. Over a number of years and despite Gilbert’s own intentions, the Gilbertine Order was gradually established.
3. Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, patron of the Luttrell Psalter, was involved in a dispute between his friend Roger de Birthorpe and the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham
Detail of a miniature of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, mounted, armed, and attended by his wife Agnes (d. 1340), daughter of Sir Richard de Sutton, and his daughter-in-law Beatrice, daughter of Sir Geoffrey Scrope of Masham, below the inscription 'D(ominus) Galfridus Louterell me fieri fecit' (Lord Geoffrey Luttrell caused me to be made), from the Luttrell Psalter, England, 1325-1340, Add MS 42130, f. 202v
Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (b. 1276, d. 1345) of Irnham, Lincolnshire, is most renowned for being the patron of the Luttrell Psalter. He was a knight of the realm and landowner, possessing a large number of estates across England, thanks both to fortunate conjugal alliances and his great-great-grandfather, also called Geoffrey, who was rewarded with many properties for his loyal service to King John. Around the year 1312, Geoffrey was involved in a dispute between a group of local gentry and the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham, situated seven miles to the north east of Irnham. In a royal order dated 27 July 1312, they are accused of breaking down the doors of the priory and making off with £500 worth of goods. Yet, in a review of the evidence, Joyce Coleman suggests that Geoffrey’s friend Roger de Birthorpe was in fact the instigator (‘New Evidence about Sir Geoffrey Luttrell's Raid on Sempringham Priory, 1312’, British Library Journal (1999), 103-28). Whilst this event appears to have caused no lasting damage to the patron of our famous manuscript, Roger ended up exiled as an outlaw in Ireland. By the time of his death, Geoffrey was on better terms with the priory; his daughter Isabella was residing there as a nun, which might explain why he bequeathed 20 shillings to the establishment in his will.
4. Eleanor of Castile’s entrails were interred in a tomb in Lincoln Cathedral
Tomb of Eleanor of Castile, from Dugdale's Book of Monuments, England, 1640-1641, Add MS 71474, f. 98v
To commemorate the death of Eleanor of Castile (b. 1241, d. 1290), Edward I commissioned the manufacture of three lavish tombs and twelve memorial crosses between Lincoln and London. Her embalmed body was interred in a tomb in Westminster Abbey, and an almost identical tomb was created for the Queen’s entrails in Lincoln Cathedral. The third tomb, containing her heart, was constructed in the Dominican church of the Blackfriars, London. The tombs at Lincoln and Westminster were the most elaborate, each surmounted by a gilt-bronze effigy, made by the goldsmith William Torel. Unfortunately, the Lincoln tomb was defaced during the English Civil Wars. However, thanks to this pen and colour wash illustration by William Sedgwick, in Sir William Dugdale's Book of Monuments, we have evidence of its original form and similarity to the Westminster tomb.
5. John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln and confessor to Henry VIII, was an unpopular figure during the Lincolnshire rising
Full-page miniature of a bishop, with Bishop Longland’s coat of arms and the red-and-white Tudor rose of Henry VIII in the border, from the Benedictional of John Longland, England, c. 1521, Add MS 21974, f. 21v
A great scholar and preacher, John Longland (b. 1520, d. 1547) became Bishop of Lincoln in May 1521, and was Henry VIII’s confessor by 1524. While in many ways a traditionalist, Bishop Longland supported the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the dissolution of the monasteries (indeed, he was particularly critical about the bad behaviour of monks). The residents of Lincolnshire, however, did not share his views. In October 1536, they mobilised in protest against the suppression of the monasteries and the establishment of the Church of England. The Bishop’s chancellor was even murdered by a mob in Horncastle. The movement gained momentum across the north of England and Longland was named on a list of heretics compiled by the rebels in York.
The British Library is proud to be a lender to Lincolnshire’s Great Exhibition, which runs until 27 September 2015.
- Hannah Morcos