Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

Introduction

What do Magna Carta, Beowulf and the world's oldest Bibles have in common? They are all cared for by the British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Section. This blog publicises our digitisation projects and other activities. Follow us on Twitter: @blmedieval. Read more

05 August 2015

The Peasants Are Revolting: The Coronation Charter of Henry I

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When the charter of liberties we now know as Magna Carta was drawn up at Runnymede in 1215, it tapped into a long tradition of English kings making promises to uphold good laws and repudiate past oppressions. One of the most significant early written examples of such promises can be found in the coronation charter issued by King Henry I (r. 1100–1135) on this day, 5 August, in 1100.

Henry was the third and youngest surviving son of William the Conqueror (r. 1066–1087). His brother William Rufus (r. 1087–1100), who had succeeded their father as king of England, died in suspicious circumstances — an arrow through the lung while hunting in the New Forest. Reportedly Rufus's body was abandoned where it fell and later discovered by a peasant.

Royal_ms_20_a_ii_f006r

King William Rufus in an early 14th-century English manuscript (British Library Royal MS 20 A II, f. 6r)

Henry moved rapidly to secure his own interests and prevent any possible rivals from seizing the crown, especially Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (d. 1134), the eldest of the three surviving brothers and a more likely claimant to the throne. Robert was in Apulia at the time on his way home from the First Crusade. Haste could also help avoid the disorder that regularly threatened when the throne lay vacant for long. Henry first made his way to Winchester where he secured the royal treasury and was ‘elected’ king by a group of barons, before proceeding swiftly to his coronation at Westminster Abbey only days after the death of William Rufus.

To secure his precarious hold on the throne, a charter announcing that Henry had been crowned and putting into writing his coronation promises was drawn up, sealed and circulated to every shire. The charter announced his intention to correct the wrongs of his brother, declaring:

‘I restore to you the law of King Edward together with the improvements by which my father improved it by the counsel of his barons.’

MS1212ff97v-98r

The coronation charter of Henry I, in a 13th-century copy made for Canterbury Cathedral Priory (London, Lambeth Palace, MS 1212, ff. 97v-98r)

This document enshrined in writing the traditional promises Henry had made at his coronation — to keep the peace, forbid all iniquities, and to maintain justice and mercy — alongside further concessions to his barons and pledges to redress specific complaints. It is the first surviving English coronation charter, thanks to its wide distribution and a contemporary interest in legal literature that saw scribes copying the text into law compilations. Later, it was even translated into French, as can be seen in a bilingual bifolium in our collections (Harley MS 458), made in the early 13th century, perhaps for the barons opposed to John.

Modern historians have noted that Henry’s charter was not necessarily the first of its kind. William Rufus issued written promises in 1088 and 1093, and some of the promises made by Henry I can be traced back to before the Norman Conquest, such as in concessions made by Æthelred II (r. 978–1016) and Cnut (r. 1016–1035), or to Edward the Confessor’s oath in 1041 to uphold the laws of Cnut and his sons. However, its detailed list of concessions made this document particularly important a century later when it was known to King John’s barons, and it served as a precedent for Magna Carta. In our exhibition, you can see the version of the coronation charter copied at Canterbury Cathedral Priory around the time that Magna Carta itself was first issued.

Henry’s reign was remembered particularly for the law and order that had prevailed. In the popular Prophecies of Merlin written at the end of Henry’s reign, Geoffrey of Monmouth gave Henry the epithet of ‘the Lion of Justice’ whose roar ‘the towers of Gaul shall shake and the island Dragons tremble’. Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois (r. 1135–1141), and his grandson, Henry II (r. 1154–1189), evoked this legacy in their own shorter coronation charters which promised to uphold the laws of Henry I and of Edward the Confessor.

However, the flip side to the rigorousness of Henry’s reign is that some of Henry’s contemporaries levied accusations of avarice, cruelty and severity against him. Seeing Henry as having failed to honour his oath to maintain good laws and to abolish all iniquities throughout his kingdom, the chronicler John of Worcester recounted a series of dreams Henry experienced in 1130. The three broad classes of society (peasants, knights and clerics) visited Henry successively. Each group in turn threatened Henry with weapons appropriate to their position, the peasants with their scythes and spades, the knights armed with their swords and shields, and the clerics with their croziers. Shortly after these terrifying nightmares, Henry was caught in a storm at sea which only abated once he made three promises: not to collect the Danish tax for 7 years, to go on pilgrimage to Bury St Edmunds, and always to preserve justice throughout England.

CCC_MS_157_p_382

CCC_MS_157_p_383

The Nightmares of Henry I (Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 157, pp. 382-83)

Henry’s sequence of nightmares and the subsequent stormy cross-Channel journey that inspired him to seek redemption for his sins are vividly illustrated as a series of miniatures in John of Worcester’s own manuscript of his Chronicle. It’s quite likely that this is also one of the earliest representations in western art of ‘revolting peasants’!

We're extremely grateful to the librarians of Lambeth Palace Library and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, for lending to our exhibition the coronation charter and nightmares of Henry I respectively. Both of these items can be seen in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy at the British Library until 1 September 2015.

Katherine Har

04 August 2015

'The French Language Runs Throughout The World’

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Today we feature a guest-post by members of the AHRC-sponsored project, Medieval Francophone Literary Culture Outside France, a partnership between King's College London, University College London and the University of Cambridge, working with the British Library. Several of the project's manuscripts are housed at the British Library, and we're pleased to say that they have been newly digitised and added to our Digitised Manuscripts site. We're delighted to be able to support research of this kind, and hope that it encourages further investigation into the origins, dissemination and uses of these fascinating texts.

‘Lengue franceise cort parmi le monde’ (‘the French language runs throughout the world’, wrote the 13th-century Venetian chronicler Martin da Canale (d. 1275) at the start of his history of Venice, which he chose to write in French. This echoes another 13th-century Italian writer, Brunetto Latini (d.1295-96), who wrote in his very popular encyclopedia, the Tresor, that French was ‘la parleure […] plus delitable et plus comune a touz languages’ (‘the most delightful and popular of all languages’). French language texts were composed and copied in many parts of Europe outside (and even a little beyond) present day France in the Middle Ages, most notably in the British Isles, Flanders and the Low Countries, the Rhineland, Italy, Catalonia, Cyprus, Greece and Palestine. Whereas traditionally this has been seen mainly as a sign of the prestige of French culture, recent research shows that the reasons for the use of French in such a diverse range of places were more complex, often pragmatic, and also that many parts of medieval Europe were profoundly multilingual. French was in fact a supralocal language in much of medieval Europe alongside Latin (and in some places where French was used alongside Greek, Hebrew and even Arabic).

This mobile use of French is nowhere more graphically illustrated than in Matthew Paris’s famous maps showing the route from England to the Holy Land, one copy of which is to be found in Royal MS 14 C VII (ff. 2r-5r). This manuscript was made in the 1250s, almost certainly at St Albans. The language used for the text of these maps is French (with just a bit of Latin). Thus on ff. 4v-5r we see a map of the Holy Land, focusing on the City of Acre (which was to fall in 1291) with explanations almost entirely in French (the flaps on f. 4v relate to Rome and Sicily, which are on f. 4r).

Royal_ms_14_c_vii_f004v
A section of Matthew Paris’s illustrated itinerary to Jerusalem, showing the cities of Damascus, Antioch and Acre. Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 4v, England, S. (St Albans), 1250-1259
 
 
 
Royal_ms_14_c_vii_f005r
A section of Matthew Paris’s illustrated itinerary to Jerusalem, showing the destination, Jerusalem. Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 5r, England, S. (St Albans), 1250-1259

As French is also used in the descriptions of Italy, France and England, French quite literally ‘runs throughout the world’ in this manuscript.

The project Medieval Francophone Literary Culture Outside France aimed to gauge the under-researched phenomenon of the production and circulation of French language manuscripts outside France, since traditional scholarship has often focused on manuscripts that were made in France: One immediate consequence of paying more attention to French language manuscripts that were made outside France is that a rather different view of the literary canon emerges. For example, the vast Arthurian prose cycle, Guiron le Courtois, little known today compared to the other two prose Arthurian cycles the Lancelot en prose and Tristan en prose, is remarkable for its European trajectory. The oldest parts of Guiron were probably written in northern France or francophone Flanders, c. 1230-1240. About 40 manuscripts of Guiron survive, dating from the end of the 13th to the beginning of the 16th century. Direct and indirect attestations are found from Sicily to Britain and from Catalonia to Venice. Unlike Lancelot and Tristan, which were translated and re-written in all the major European languages, as far as we know parts of Guiron were only translated or re-written in Italian. Indeed the cycle had special ties with Italy. Its first attestation is probably in a letter from Frederick II's chancery in Foligno, near Perugia. The letter is dated 1240, and makes reference to 54 quires sent, or about to be sent, to Frederick from Messina after the death of one 'Johannes Romanzor'.

Add_ms_12228_f004r
Page from the Roman de Méliadus with the coat of arms of Louis de Tarente (1320-1362), incorporating emblems of the 'Ordre du Nœud', Add MS 12228, f. 4r, Naples, c.1352-1362

Some important Italian witnesses are held in the British Library collections. For example Add MS 12228 (Naples, c. 1352-1362), despite its relatively late date, goes back to an early source and transmits the Roman de Méliadus, the oldest part of the cycle, in a pre-cyclic form. It was commissioned in the context of the Ordre du Nœud, a chivalric order founded by Louis of Taranto, the Capetian and francophone King of Naples on his coronation in 1352 with a view to giving his somewhat discredited court some courtly and chivalric gloss. The hand and some of the illustration appear to be close to Paris BnF ms fr. 4274, which is a presentation copy of the Order's statutes.

Add_ms_12228_f004r DETAIL
Detail of the coat of arms of Louis de Tarente (1320-1362), showing emblems of the 'Ordre du Nœud', Add MS 12228, f. 4r, Naples, c.1352-1362

Guiron le Courtois was composed after Lancelot and Tristan as a sprawling prequel, telling the story of the older generation of knights: Méliadus de Leonois, Tristan's father; le Bon Chevalier sans Peur, father of Dinadan and Brunor le Noir; Lac, Erec's father; and so forth. It is a world without Merlin and without the Graal, muscular and misogynist, in which most of the strongest warriors belong to Guiron's family, the Bruns. They appear larger than life, incredibly strong, isolated – loners who spend their time wandering far from court. They periodically disappear below the surface of the plot, but resurface later in a complex web of intertwined stories. In Old French, Brun recalls the taboo name of the bear. The Bruns’ ancestor, Fébus le Brun, renounced the crown of France: though he was the legitimate heir, he preferred to go seek adventure in England.

In another remarkable Italian witness, Add MS 23930 (Bologna-Padua, before 1369), the beginning of the story of Fébus has a typical northern Italian frontispiece, with bright colours and large motifs, proof of the text’s status among Italian manuscript producers and readers. In several Italian copies, this episode circulated independently from the main narrative, was successful, and underwent many adaptations.

Add_ms_23930_f027r
Frontispiece marking the beginning of the narrative sequence telling the adventures of Fébus le Brun in the Roman de Guiron, with the coat of arms of Guido Gonzaga (d. 1369). Add MS 23930, f. 27r, Italy, Bologna-Padua, before 1369

Add MS 23930 once belonged to the Gonzaga family: the coat of arms on f. 1r and f. 27r are identical for instance to those at f. 2r of Venice, Biblioteca Marciana, MS fr. Z. XVIII, another of our project manuscripts, transmitting the Roman de Troie. Both manuscripts are part of a rich group of medium sized manuscripts, copied in a southern Textualis, some of which are wonderfully illustrated in the bas de page, that circulated in northern Italian courts – where Guiron was appreciated well into the 16th century.

Add_ms_23930_f001r
Frontispiece from the Roman de Guiron, with the coat of arms of Guido Gonzaga (d. 1369). Add MS 23930, f. 1r, Italy, Bologna-Padua, before 1369

- Simon Gaunt (King’s College London)

- Nicola Morato (University of Cambridge and Université de Liège)

03 August 2015

Help Us Decipher This Inscription

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Last week (3 August) we blogged about the medieval sword on display in the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition. We have been thrilled by the number of enthusiastic comments and suggestions we have received about this sword. Due to the phenomenal range of suggestions, it’s unlikely that we will be able to decipher the mysterious inscription before Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy closes on 1 September — indeed, it could be a mystery that may never be solved! — but we would like to offer huge thanks for all your thoughts and ideas, which have come from all corners of the globe.

The message board on this blog post has now closed, but we encourage you to continue sharing ideas about what the code might mean on Twitter. Please follow our Medieval Manuscripts Blog and @BLMedieval Twitter feed for more news and views from the team.

*         *         *

Visitors to Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy may have noticed that we have one or two objects on display, in addition to the many manuscripts and documents telling Magna Carta's 800-year-old story. One of those objects is a double-edged sword, found in the first section of the exhibition, on loan to the British Library from our friends at the British Museum. The item in question was found in the River Witham, Lincolnshire, in July 1825, and was presented to the Royal Archaeological Institute by the registrar to the Bishop of Lincoln. It weighs 1.2 kg (2 lb 10 oz) and measures 964 mm (38 in.) in length and 165 mm (6½ in.) across the hilt; if struck with sufficient force, it could easily have sliced a man’s head in two. 

A double-edged sword made in the 13th century.

A double-edged sword, 13th century, possibly of German manufacture but discovered in England in the 19th century (British Museum 1858,1116.5): image courtesy of the British Museum

An intriguing feature of this sword is an as yet indecipherable inscription, found along one of its edges and inlaid in gold wire. It has been speculated that this is a religious invocation, since the language is unknown. Here's what the inscription seems to read:

+NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI+

 

A detail of an inscription on a double-edged sword.

Detail of the inscription of the sword

At our exhibition this sword is displayed alongside a 14th-century manuscript of the Grandes chroniques de France, open at a page showing the French invasion of Normandy in 1203. The men-at-arms in that manuscript are wielding swords very similar to the one with the strange inscription.

A detail from a manuscript of the Grandes chroniques de France, showing an illustration of the French invasion of Normandy.

The French invasion of Normandy in a manuscript of the Grandes chroniques de France (British Library Royal MS 16 G VI, f. 365v, detail)

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, is on display at the British Library until 1 September 2015, see our exhibition website for ticketing details. All the items can also be seen on our Learning site, and in the catalogue, edited by Claire Breay and Julian Harrison, that accompanies the exhibition (now on special offer at £15).

Postscript (7 August, updated 10 August)

Thank you to everyone who has read and shared this blogpost, and for those who have left their enthusiastic comments and suggestions. We're very grateful for your assistance in helping us to decipher this mysterious inscription. We have received several pages of comments -- to view them all, please use the forward/backward button at the foot of this post. Please note that comments on this post have now closed. 

The following note has been kindly added by Marc van Hasselt (Utrecht University, Hastatus Heritage Consultancy).

 

The River Witham Sword in its European Context

Inscribed swords were all the rage in Europe around the year 1200. Dozens of them have been found, from England to Poland, from Sweden to France. While researching a specific sword-blade found in Alphen aan den Rijn, the Netherlands, I found around a dozen other swords which had striking similarities. One of those swords was the River Witham sword, making it part of a large international family. Using the excellent research by Thomas Wagner and John Worley, an image of a hugely successful medieval workshop was created, making ‘magical’ swords for the elite. The swords themselves are of a high quality, but what most catches the eye are the inscriptions. Both their mysterious contents and the similarities in the lettering are striking. A sword from Sweden might use the same slightly curved X as the River Witham sword. A sword currently in Berlin has an I-S contraction also used on a sword found in the Netherlands. These similarities go so far as to suggest the same hand in making the inscriptions. However, their contents are still a mystery, regardless of their origins.

There is some debate on the language used in the inscriptions. But looking at the other European finds, it seems most likely that this language is Latin. This makes sense in the context of 13th-century Europe, as Latin was the international language of choice (like English is today). To elaborate, let's compare the River Witham sword to the sword from Alphen: both start with some sort of invocation. On the River Witham sword, it is NDXOX, possibly standing for Nostrum Dominus (our Lord) or Nomine Domini (name of the Lord) followed by XOX. On the sword from Alphen, the starting letters read BENEDOXO. Quite likely, this reads as Benedicat (A blessing), followed by OXO. Perhaps these letter combinations – XOX and OXO – refer to the Holy Trinity. On the sword from Alphen, one letter combination is then repeated three times: MTINIUSCS, which I interpret as Martinius Sanctus – Saint Martin. Perhaps a saint is being invoked on the River Witham sword as well?

By putting together pieces of the puzzle from all over Europe, we might come a little bit closer to solving the mystery. And even if we cannot decipher the inscriptions completely, they might bring us a little closer to understanding our ancestors.

Further reading:

http://www.gustavianum.uu.se/digitalAssets/203/203037_3medieval-christian-invocation-inscriptions-on-sword-blades.pdf

http://www.gustavianum.uu.se/digitalAssets/196/196842_how-to-make-swords-talk---an-interdisciplinary-approach-to-understanding-medieval-swords-and-their-inscriptions.pdf

Inscription on the Sword from Alphen:

+BENEDOXOFTISSCSDRRISCDICECMTINIUSCSDNI+

+DIOXMTINIUSESDIOMTINIUSCSDICCCMTDICIIZISI+

 

Visit our Medieval England and France website to discover how to make a medieval manuscript, to read beastly tales from the medieval bestiary, and to learn about medieval science, medicine and monastic libraries.

01 August 2015

A Calendar Page for August 2015

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To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

Add_ms_35313_f005r
Calendar page for August, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 5r 

It’s harvest time on this month’s calendar page: two male peasants are reaping fully-grown wheat with sickles, while a female peasant is binding it together in sheaves. A cart drawn by two horses is passing by in the background. August’s religious festivals are gruesomely illustrated in a series of roundels to the right: in the second, fourth and fifth roundels, we see St Laurence being roasted alive (note the figure to the right, fanning the flames with a pair of bellows), St Bartholomew being flayed alive, and St John the Baptist about to be beheaded (with a female attendant waiting nearby with a platter).  For more on the depiction of these saints’ martyrdom, check out our earlier blog posts: Happy St Laurence’s Day, St Bartholomew and Bookbindings, and Don’t Lose Your Head. Other feast days illustrated this month are St Peter in Chains (celebrating his liberation from captivity by an angel) and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Zodiac symbol for this month – Virgo the Virgin – is at the top of the page. 

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Detail of peasants reaping and binding wheat,
Add MS 35313, f. 5r 

Add_ms_35313_f005r_roundels
Detail of roundels depicting St Peter in Chains (above) and the Martyrdom of St Laurence (below),
Add MS 35313, f. 5r 

- James Freeman

31 July 2015

Happy Uncommon Musical Instrument Appreciation Day!

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As we are sure you are all aware, today is Uncommon Musical Instrument Appreciation Day, the day on which we are urged to take time to think about the rare and unusual instruments that have gone obsolete, or are otherwise beyond our ken.  We would like to offer a number of examples in the spirit of this momentous occasion - the familiar, the forgotten and the simply odd.  Please be sure to send any other gems you might encounter to us on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Without any further ado:

Add MS 47683 f. 1v G70059-77
Folio with musical instruments, from a leaf from a giant Bible, Italy, 11th-12th century, Add MS 47683, f. 1v

Harley MS 4951, f. 299v E123871
Detail of a man with bells among musical neumes, from the Gradual of Saint-Etienne of Toulouse, France (Toulouse), last quarter of the 11th-first quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 4951, f. 299v

Harley MS 2804 f. 3vE102183c
Detail of two musicians playing the vielle and a harp or psaltery, from the Worms
Bible, Germany (Frankenthal), 2nd-3rd quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 2804, f. 3v

Add MS 62925 f. 54r copy copy
Detail of a miniature of a rabbit playing a bell-like instrument, from the Rutland Psalter, England (London?), c. 1260, Add MS 62925, f. 54r

Stowe_ms_17_f061v copy
Detail of two monkeys playing trumpets in an unusual manner, from the Maastricht Hours, Liège, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 61v

Add_ms_49622_f106v copy
Detail of a marginal painting of a rabbit and a dog playing a portative organ, from the Gorleston Psalter, England (Suffolk?), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 106v

Royal MS 14 E III f. 89r c13827-54c
Detail of a marginal painting of a man playing a rabbit-trumpet (despite distractions), from La Queste del Saint Graal, France, c. 1315 - c. 1325, Royal MS 14 E III, f. 89r

 Harley MS 6563 f. 40r E123884
Detail of a cat playing a vielle, from a fragmentary Book of Hours, England (London), c. 1320 - c. 1330, Harley MS 6563, f. 40r

Add_ms_18851_f419v copy
Detail of a marginal painting of a monkey playing bagpipes, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Bruges, c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 419v

Add MS 18852, f. 98r copy copy
Detail of a marginal painting of bagpipes (?), from the Hours of Joanna the Mad, Bruges, 1486-1506, Add MS 18852, f. 98r

Arundel_ms_263_f136r and f. 137v
Leonardo da Vinci's drawings, including a mechanical organ and timpani/drums, from the Codex Arundel, Italy (Florence, Milan, and Rome), 1478-1518, Arundel MS 263, f. 136r and 137v

- Sarah J Biggs

29 July 2015

What's Your Favourite Magna Carta Item?

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A group of us were recently discussing what is our favourite item in the British Library's Magna Carta exhibition. Mine changes every day, but I had recently plumped in a Twitter Q&A for the John Wilkes teapot, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Meanwhile, Alex Lock, our researcher on the post-medieval legacy of Magna Carta, finally had to admit that the Middle Ages is the best after all, when he chose the seal matrix of Robert fitz Walter, loaned to the British Library by our friends at the British Museum.

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The John Wilkes teapot (image courtesy of the V&A)

Seal-matrix-BM-seal-robert-fitz-walter

The seal matrix of Robert fitz Walter (image courtesy of the British Museum)

Our followers on Twitter soon sprung into action. Dr Sophie Ambler, Research Associate on the Magna Carta Project, nominated the Statute of Pamiers. Other votes went for the Hexateuch, the painting of Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Shakespeare's King John (nominated by Marc Morris), King John's teeth and thumb-bone, 1066 And All That, and Matthew Paris's map of Britain.

Statute-of-pamiers

The Statute of Pamiers (image courtesy of the Archives nationales)

Painting-herbert-beerbohm-tree-S-332-1989

Portrait of Herbert Beerbohm Tree as King John (image courtesy of the V&A)

Matthew-paris-map-C02049-04

Map of Britain by Matthew Paris (image courtesy of the British Library)

This got us thinking. Is there something that has escaped the above list, or a little-known gem in the exhibition that everyone's overlooked? We'd love to hear from you. Tweet us @BLMedieval, or add a comment at the end of this blogpost, and we'll publish/retweet the best. Anyone for King John's will or the account of William Penn's trial?

You can either see the exhibition in person, until 1 September (tickets can be booked here), or you can view the exhibits in our catalogue or on our dedicated website. Which are your favourites?

Julian Harrison (@julianpharrison, co-curator of Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy)

27 July 2015

Equality, Huh? Who Would Have Thought It?

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Our current major show, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, is about to enter its final weeks. The exhibition closes on 1 September, so hurry to see it while you still have the chance. If you're not aware, the reviews have been excellent (blush) and it's been the highest attended British Library exhibition to date.

There are all sorts of weird and wonderful objects in the show, ranging from King John's teeth to an executioner's axe. Here, researcher Alex Lock describes two of our favourite items in the exhibition, made at the time of the French revolution.

The Contrast

The Contrast, 1793: British Liberty, French Liberty, Which is Best? (British Museum 1861,1012.47): reproduced by kind permission of the British Museum

Engraved by Thomas Rowlandson (d. 1827) in 1792, at the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars, this print entitled ‘The Contrast’ compares ‘British Liberty’ with ‘French Liberty’ following the revolution of 4 July 1789. Invoking Magna Carta, the print represents Britain as peculiarly blessed, prosperous, law-abiding and politically advanced, especially when compared with the ancien regimes of continental Europe or the anarchy of revolutionary France. The roundel on the left features Britannia holding ‘Magna Charta’ (symbolising law), with a lion sitting at her feet (symbolising loyalty and strength), and a ship sailing into the distance (symbolising prosperity, wealth and military might). In contrast, the cameo on the right depicts so-called French liberty in very unflattering terms: a gruesome French Medusa tramples a decapitated corpse and carries a trident impaled with hearts, while a corpse hangs from a lamp-post in the background.

Printed in the aftermath of the September Massacres – a wave of killings in France in late summer 1792 – and the arrest of King Louis XVI (who was soon to be executed), 'The Contrast' was designed to expose the dangers of Jacobin ‘French Liberty’, at the risk of revolutionary fervour spreading to Britain. This was exactly its purpose. Although etched by Rowlandson, the image was originally designed by Lord George Manning for the Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property, whose aim was to counteract Jacobin and reformist sentiments in Britain by circulating anti-French Revolution propaganda.

If the imagery is not clear enough, the words associated with each form of ‘liberty’ are listed underneath the roundels. The keywords for Britain – ‘Religion, Morality, Loyalty, Obedience to the Laws’ – are compared with those for revolutionary France – ‘Atheism, Perjury, Rebellion, Treason, Anarchy’ and worst of all ‘Equality’! The viewer must decide - ‘which is best’?

BM-Jug_English Liberty BM-Jug_French Liberty

An earthenware mug contrasting English and French Liberty, 1793 (British Museum 1982,1101.1): produced by kind permission of the British Museum

The image wasn't only disseminated in print form. We love the fact that it was also reproduced on a large earthenware mug, for those patriots who wished to compare British and French liberty with a cup of something nice!

Both the print and mug are currently on display in the British Library's Magna Carta exhibition, and we are extremely grateful to the British Museum for so generously lending them to us. You can buy tickets for the exhibition here (and remember, under 18s get in for free, the best deal in town!).

Alexander Lock

21 July 2015

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript

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We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book, Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript, edited by Scot McKendrick (Head of Western Heritage at the British Library), David Parker (Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham), Amy Myshrall (Research Fellow at the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham) and Cillian O’Hogan (Curator of Classical and Byzantine Studies at the British Library).

Cover

Codex Sinaiticus was produced in the middle of the fourth century, and is one of the two oldest Christian Bibles to survive largely intact from antiquity (the other being Codex Vaticanus in Rome). It is also the oldest complete copy of the New Testament in existence. Preserved for many centuries at St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, it is now dispersed between four institutions: St Catherine’s Monastery, the British Library, Leipzig University Library, and the National Library of Russia.

The book consists of the proceedings of a conference held in 2009 to mark the launch of the Codex Sinaiticus website, and its publication marks the culmination of the Codex Sinaiticus Project. It contains twenty-two articles, dealing with all aspects of the manuscript and its history, divided into five sections: Historical Setting, the Septuagint, Early Christian Writings, Modern Histories of Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Sinaiticus Today. Together with the extensive research to be found on the Codex Sinaiticus website, the book provides the most up-to-date information available about the manuscript. It includes a general index, an index of Biblical passages, a list of papyri and manuscripts, and numerous high-resolution images of Codex Sinaiticus.

Formally launched at an event at the British Library last night, the book is published by British Library Publishing in association with Hendrickson Publishers. It is available for purchase in the UK now from the British Library Shop, and will be available in the United States from Hendrickson this September.

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John 21:1-21:25. Codex Sinaiticus (Add MS 43725, f 260r), Eastern Mediterranean (?Palestine), mid-4th century.

- Cillian O’Hogan