Medieval manuscripts blog

187 posts categorized "Royal"

01 January 2022

Celebrating the New Year Elizabethan style

For many of us, New Year is a time to celebrate with friends and family, enjoy extravagant firework displays, and sing Auld Lang Syne. At the Tudor court, in contrast, the monarch and other courtiers participated in a ritual New Year’s gift-giving ceremony. This process of gift exchange was recorded in a New Year gift-roll.

New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1584

New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1584: Egerton MS 3052, f. 3r (detail)

Elizabeth I presided over 45 New Year gift-giving ceremonies and a remarkable 24 gift-rolls survive from her reign, several of which are held at the British Library. Typically, the Elizabethan New Year gift-rolls consist of 4 or 5 parchment membranes sewn end to end and measure 3 to 4 metres in length. On one side they list the names of donors — in order of social rank and official status — with a description of their gifts to Elizabeth. The reverse contains a corresponding list of those who received gifts (usually gilt plate) from the Queen.

Visitors to our exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens will be able to see the 1567 New Year’s gift-roll, displayed to show the entry for a gold font, weighing 333 ounces, which Elizabeth sent to Mary, Queen of Scots, for the baptism of Prince James in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle on 17 December 1566. As this gift was given outside of the New Year gift-giving ceremony, it is listed under ‘Sundry Gifts’ at the end of the roll.

Detail from New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1567

Detail from New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1567: Add MS 9772, f. 10v

The surviving gift-rolls provide a fascinating insight into the variety of gifts presented to Elizabeth over the course of her reign, from elaborate jewellery, gold plate and luxury clothing to finely embroidered cushions, handkerchiefs, gloves, slippers and confectionary. For example, the 1562 New Year’s gift-roll records that Kat Ashley, who was Elizabeth’s governess and Lady of the Bedchamber, gave her 12 handkerchiefs edged in gold and silver. In 1576, Lady Mary Gray, the Queen’s first cousin once removed, gifted a cushion of purple and crimson velvet, embellished with pearls, spangles and 4 tassels. Sir Philip Sidney, the soldier and poet, presented the Queen in 1584 with a pair of black slippers embroidered with Venice gold, pearls, and small garnets.

In 1562, Sir William Cecil, Principal Secretary and Elizabeth’s most trusted and influential councillor, gave her a silver ink well and stand, with a set of matching silver gilt weights and measures, a pen knife and seal. The gift-roll records that the Queen gifted Cecil and his wife Lady Mildred Cecil a gilt cup and cover at the baptism of his son William Cecil, who, like his elder brother and namesake, died young.

Detail from New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1562

Detail from New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1562: Harley Roll V 18, f. 10v 

The 1588 gift-roll records that the Queen’s great favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, gave her an elaborate gold carcenet (richly bejewelled necklace) of letters and his emblem of ragged staves, as well as a sun design set with Elizabeth’s picture and garnished with diamonds and a large ruby. This was Leicester’s last New Year’s gift to Elizabeth. 

In the same year, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, gave Elizabeth a gold bodkin, with a gold flower hanging from it covered in diamonds, 2 pendants of diamonds and 1 pearl pendant. Charles, 2nd Lord Howard of Effingham and Lord High Admiral, gave a black velvet sea cap embroidered with ships and anchors in ragged pearl, with an agate, diamonds and a ruby.

The gift-rolls also reveal that the Queen received many gifts of confectionary, designed to appeal to her sweet tooth. The sergeant of the pastry John Bettes gave her a quince pie in 1562 and in 1588 Mr Morgan, the queen’s apothecary, presented his traditional gift of candied sugar and dried plums, while John Dudley, sergeant of the pastry, baked an ‘oringed pie’.

The New Year’s Gift Rolls are a major source for the history of royal culture, gift-exchange, the court and its personnel, as well as Tudor costume and jewellery. We hope you will enjoy looking at them in more detail using the links below:

  • New Year's gift-roll of Mary I, 1 January 1557: Add MS 62525
  • New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1562: Harley Roll V 18
  • New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1567: Add MS 9772 
  • New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1576: Add MS 4827
  • New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1584: Egerton MS 3052
  • New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1588: Add MS 8159 
  • New Year's gift-roll of Elizabeth I, 1 January 1589: Lansdowne Roll 17 

Our major exhibition, Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, is on at the British Library in London until 20 February 2022. Tickets can be bought in advance or on the day, subject to availability.

 

Anna Turnham and Andrea Clarke

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

20 December 2021

A gift fit for a king

This week, many of us will be searching for the perfect gifts to give to friends, family and the person who seems to have everything. As a 12-year-old, Princess Elizabeth came up with the perfect present for her father, King Henry VIII. Visitors to Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens can see the prayer book that she gave to him as a New Year’s gift on 1 January 1546. 

A portrait of Portrait of the young Elizabeth, with a book on her lap

Portrait of the young Elizabeth, by an unknown artist after William Scrots, 16th century: Private collection

Elizabeth had received an excellent humanist education and her present showcased the fruits of her learning. The small volume’s 117 pages contain the young princess’s trilingual translation of her step-mother Katherine Parr’s published Prayer and Meditations from English into Latin, French and Italian, all written out in her beautifully neat italic handwriting.

Elizabeth’s translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations

Elizabeth’s translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations

Elizabeth’s translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations, 1545: Royal MS 7 D X, ff. 5v–6r

The prayer book’s dedicatory epistle, dated 30 December 1545 and addressed from Hertford, where Elizabeth and her half-brother Prince Edward Tudor were probably then living, is the princess’s only surviving letter to her father. In it Elizabeth wisely praised Henry, referring to him as ‘a king whom philosophers regard as a god on earth’ and acknowledged his ‘fatherly goodness’ and ‘royal prudence’. But just one year after her restoration to the succession, Elizabeth also took the opportunity to draw attention to her royal descent and status as the king’s daughter. She explained that ‘it was thought by me a most suitable thing that this work … an assemblage by a queen as subject matter for her king, be translated into other languages by me, your daughter, who by this means would be indebted to you not only as an imitator of your virtues but also as an inheritor of them’.

The epistolary preface to Elizabeth’s translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations

Epistolary preface to Elizabeth’s translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations, 1545: Royal MS 7 D X, f. 2r

The elaborate embroidered cover is also thought to be Elizabeth’s own handiwork. It incorporates Henry and Katherine’s entwined monograms sewn in silver and gold threads, with a white rose, the emblem of the princess’s namesake and paternal grandmother, Elizabeth of York, stitched in each corner.  

The binding of the prayerbook, probably embroidered by Princess Elizabeth

Binding probably embroidered by Elizabeth as a cover for her trilingual translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations, 1545: Royal MS 7 D X, right cover

In the exhibition the prayer book is displayed open to showcase Elizabeth’s proficiency in foreign languages, but the British Library imaging team has worked with Cyreal, a 3D technical company, to capture the prayer book in 3D in order to enable visitors to view the binding in virtual reality. Using a process called photogrammetry, a large number of photographs of the prayer book were taken from multiple angles.

The prayerbook being photographed at the British Library

Imaging set-up at the British Library

This image shows the prayer book and the position of each of the photographs. The photographs were then analysed by a computer programme using a software that is able to identify key features and then match them across all the images. Using complex mathematics, the software works out where in space the feature is and then marks the point in digital space. It does this many millions of times, building up a picture of the prayer book’s structure. It then joins these points together using lines to create a polygon mesh. 

Computer generated point-cloud

Computer generated point-cloud.

Polygon mesh creating the digital structure

Polygon mesh creating the digital structure.

The software creates a mosaic of the photographs and wraps the mosaic with the digital mesh

The software creates a mosaic of the photographs and wraps the mosaic with the digital mesh.

The final 3D digital model can be viewed from any angle.

We hope that you enjoy watching the 3D animation of the binding.

Our major exhibition, Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, is on at the British Library in London until 20 February 2022. Tickets can be bought in advance or on the day, subject to availability.

 

Andrea Clarke

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

06 December 2021

Proclaiming Mary’s conviction in London

Proclamations were printed royal directives. Their reading was a public and ritualized business, attended by local officials, held at prominent sites and often heralded by trumpets. Royal policy and royal authority were declared, ending with the exhortation to ‘God save the Queen’ (or King). Proclamations could also present the rationale of royal policy — or at least the rationale thought fit for public consumption. They were occasions of civic ritual, both to declare royal power and to present news and policy in ways persuasive to the public.

a portrait miniature of Mary, Queen of Scots, set in an oval gold frame

The Blairs Reliquary, containing a portrait miniature of Mary, Queen of Scots (1586, framed 1610–22) © The Scottish Catholic Heritage Collections Trust (Blairs Museum)

The proclamation read in the City of London on 6 December 1586 is a powerful example of this at a particularly charged moment: A true Copie of the Proclamation lately published by the Queenes Maiestie, vnder the great Seale of England, for the declaring of the Sentence, lately giuen against the Queene of Scottes, in fourme following, dated as at the manor of Richmond on 4 December, and printed in London by the Queen’s printer, Christopher Barker. The copy currently on display in our major exhibition, Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, belonged to Robert Beale, Clerk of the Privy Council. Beale had long been concerned with the fate of Mary, Queen of Scots — he had been on four missions to the imprisoned Queen and was regarded as an expert on the case against her by his superiors. He had been present at her trial (drawing a sketch of the court) and in February 1587 would deliver the commission for her death to Fotheringhay Castle and read it at her execution. He would also provide another drawing of her execution (also displayed in the exhibition). The public proclamation of Mary’s trial and conviction was an important stage in the process of moving towards her execution. Beale was aware of the importance and solemnity of the proclamation, and recorded its reading in the City of London: ‘Looke ye howe solemnly this was proclaymed in the presenc[e] of the L[ord] Mayor and divers of his brethern’.

  A pen-and-ink drawing by Robert Beale of the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, with Mary sitting on a chair in the upper right-hand corner

Drawing of the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, by Robert Beale: Add MS 48027/1, f. 569*

An eye-witness drawing of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

Eye-witness drawing of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots: Add MS 48027/1, f. 650*

A contemporary account expands on the reading of the proclamation as an act of publicity and civic ritual (The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, ed. by John Nichols, 3 vols, London: John Nichols and Son, 1823, II, 497). ‘The Lord Mayor, assisted with divers Earles, Barons, the Aldermen in their scarlet, the principall officers of the citty, the greatest number of the gentlemen of the best account in and about the citty, with the number of eighty of the gravest and worshipfullest cittizens in coates of velvet, and chaines of gould, all on horsebacke in most solemne and stately manner, by sound of foure trumpets, and ten of the clock in the forenoone, made open and publique proclamation and declaration’ of Mary’s sentence. The Town Clerk openly read the proclamation, whilst the Serjeant-at-Arms ‘with loud voyce solemnly proclaimed’ it at four places in the City. At the same time, the proclamation was read by the Sheriffs of Middlesex in Westminster and London outside the City. The proclamation was met with ‘the greate and wonderful rejoycing of the people of all sorts, as manifestly appeared by the ringing of bels, making of bonfires, and singing of psalmes, in every of the streets and lanes of the Citty’. 

The proclamation laid out at length — over three sheets (pasted together by Beale) — the legal and political basis for Mary’s trial and conviction. It declared Elizabeth’s ‘great griefe’ at Mary’s involvement in conspiracy, ‘tending directly to the hurt and destruction of our royal Person, and to the subversion of the Estate of our Realme, by forrein invasions, & rebellions at home’; that she had agreed to the trial demanded ‘by sundrie Lordes of our Nobilitie, and others our loving subjectes’; and that she had let her desire for clemency be overborne by the advice and requests of her subjects in Parliament. She was overcome by her grief at Mary’s conspiracy against her life, ‘but also overcome with the earnest requests, declarations and important reasons of all of our said Subjectes, the Nobles and Commons of our Realme, whose judgement, knowledge and naturall care of us and the whole Realme. wee knoweth dothe farre surmount all others being not interessed therein, and so justly to bee esteemed’. The measured tones of the proclamation, presenting a story of a reluctant Queen bowing to the demands of her loyal and loving subjects, downplayed the anger in Parliament and the depth of Elizabeth's resistance. Her prevarication over actually executing Mary would continue for another two months.

The printed proclamation of the death sentence against Mary, Queen of Scots

The printed proclamation of the death sentence against Mary, Queen of Scots

The printed proclamation of the death sentence against Mary, Queen of Scots

The Proclamation lately published declaring the Sentence, lately giuen against the Queene of Scottes (London, 1586): Add MS 48027, ff. 448r, 449r, 450r

The text also downplayed another aspect of the proclamation. In the ‘Act for the Queen’s Safety’ of 1585 (under which Mary had been tried), Elizabeth had inserted a proviso: that publication of the proclamation enabled anyone to kill Mary, without the Queen’s execution warrant. This is perhaps hinted at — no more — in the passage describing her acquiescence to the execution for the sake of the Realm and her subjects, where she states ‘howe desirous we were to have some other meanes devised by [our subjects] in their several places of Parlament, to withstand these mischiefes intended against our selfe and the publique quiet state of our Realme, & suretie of our good subjects, then by execution of the aforesayde sentence, as was required’. Assassination by a loyal subject would remain an option Elizabeth preferred even as she signed the death warrant.

Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens is on at the British Library in London until 20 February 2022. Tickets can be bought in advance or on the day, subject to availability.

 

Tim Wales

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

04 November 2021

'Not lawful nor tolerable'

1567 was an unlucky year for Mary, Queen of Scots. February saw the dramatic end of her second husband Lord Darnley at Kirk o’ Field, when a group of Scottish nobles murdered him and his servant (either by suffocation or strangulation), before blowing up the house where they had been staying and leaving their bodies for discovery in an orchard nearby. In April, Mary was abducted by the chief suspect in Darnley’s murder, Lord Bothwell, who became her third husband in May. After a clash at Carberry Hill between her supporters and the lords clamouring for the punishment of Darnley’s killers, Mary was captured and imprisoned at Lochleven Castle on 17 June. Finally, on 24 July, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, Prince James.

Visitors to the British Library's major new exhibition, Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, can see the detailed drawing of the Darnley murder scene, made for Sir William Cecil, together with a bird’s-eye view of the Battle of Carberry Hill in 1567. Both are display in the exhibition thanks to a generous loan from The National Archives.

A bird’s-eye view showing the murder scene of Lord Darnley

Bird’s-eye view of the murder scene of Lord Darnley, February 1567: reproduced with the permission of The National Archives, MPF 1/366/1

A bird’s-eye view showing the Battle of Carberry Hill, 1567

Bird’s-eye view of the Battle of Carberry Hill, 1567: reproduced with the permission of The National Archives, MPF 1/366/2

In the midst of this upheaval, Mary’s sister queen, Elizabeth I, took up her pen to offer some ‘plain reprehension of that which we find therein amiss’. Add MS 88966 is the original letter of instructions sent to her ambassador Sir Nicholas Throckmorton on 27 July, and is on public display for the first time in the exhibition. It is a remarkable statement of Elizabeth’s vision of monarchy as well as her views on Scottish politics.

The first page of Elizabeth I's letter to Nicholas Throckmorton

Letter from Elizabeth I to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Windsor Castle, 27 July 1567: British Library, Add MS 88966, f. 1r

Elizabeth had already instructed Throckmorton to gain an audience with Mary, to advise a separation from Bothwell, something she regarded as ‘most to the safety of her honour and quietness of her realm’. The Scottish lords, however, had no intention of allowing Throckmorton to see Mary.

Their intransigence and flimsy excuses prompted a stern response from Elizabeth. Throckmorton was now tasked with rebuking the lords for their illegal and irreligious conduct in imprisoning Mary and addressing their claims that she had been a poor ally to them. Should the Scottish Lords depose Mary, she and other Christian monarchs would make themselves ‘a plain party against them … for example to all posterity’. God would undoubtedly support such an action: indeed, St Paul had commanded the Romans to be obedient to secular and religious authorities. Similarly, Christian law condemned rather than empowered subjects to depose their ruler. Any possible examples they might find in support of their actions, as they had published in ‘seditious ballads’, were none other than acts of rebellion.

Although Elizabeth detested Darnley’s murder and the Bothwell marriage just as much as the lords, it was ‘not lawful nor tolerable’ for inferiors to call their superiors to account by force, since it was not ‘consonant in nature that the head should be subject to the foot’. She countered the claims of some of the Lords that she had supported them without enthusiasm or only for self-interested reasons. Had the Earl of Morton forgotten that she had allowed him to take refuge in England during his political exile in the mid-1560s, when she could easily have delivered him to his death? With all this in mind, Throckmorton was forbidden to attend Prince James’s coronation.

A manuscript of Elizabeth I's letter to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton

A detail of Elizabeth I's letter to Nicholas Throckmorton

Elizabeth I’s letter to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, with a detail showing the words ‘for we do not think it consonant in nature that the head should be subject to the foot’: Add MS 88966, f. 2v

Elizabeth’s powerful rhetoric had little effect. Throckmorton remained unable to see Mary, and two days after Elizabeth’s letter was sent the one-year old James was crowned. The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth was far from harmonious, but this letter shows that Elizabeth always respected Mary’s divinely ordained position, so much so that she was willing to go to war with Scotland to defend it. These sentiments were not shared by her leading councillors, who had begun to see Mary as a dangerous threat. When they brought about her execution in 1587, they tarnished these ideals forever.

 

Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens 

The British Library, London

8 October 2021–20 February 2022

 

Jessica Crown

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

08 October 2021

Elizabeth and Mary, Royal Cousins, Rival Queens: Curators’ Picks

Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, the first major exhibition to consider Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, together, is now open at the British Library. After the delays, challenges and uncertainties of the last 18 months, the curatorial team is delighted to see the exhibition finally come to fruition and to welcome the public to it! To mark this event, Alan, Anna, Karen and Andrea have each selected a personal highlight from the show.

Alan writes, 'One of the most unprepossessing objects on display in the exhibition is a small letter. You might walk past it, having given it barely a glance. However, it is among four letters recently discovered in the British Library, all written by Elizabeth before she became queen. Such letters are comparatively rare. And this one, written from Enfield on 31 December 1547, to ‘M[aste]r Cycell attendinge vpon the Lorde Protector’, is more important than it at first might appear. In her letter Elizabeth petitioned one of the rising stars in government, William Cecil, to ‘commend’ her servant Hugh Goodacre to Edward Seymour, who was the lord protector during the minority reign of Edward VI. Cecil would become Elizabeth’s most trusted minister as queen. This letter is their first known contact, written when she was 14. Significantly, it shows how they were already bound together by their shared Protestant faith. It is also one of the earliest examples of Elizabeth’s famous italic signature.'

A letter written by Princess Elizabeth to Robert Cecil, with her signature in the upper left-hand corner

Letter addressed by Princess Elizabeth to William Cecil, 31 December 1547: Add MS 70518, f. 11r

Anna has selected as her favourite item the 1558 ‘false arms’ of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her husband, the French dauphin François. 'Not only is it visually stunning, with bold colours that will catch the eye of any passing visitor, but it also illustrates the issue of the English succession that underpinned the personal and political rivalry between Mary and Elizabeth for almost three decades. As a great granddaughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Mary had a strong claim to the English and Irish thrones. Following Elizabeth’s accession in 1558, François and Mary began quartering the arms of England with their own and styling themselves ‘King and Queen Dauphins of Scotland, England and Ireland’. This act of provocation originated the distrust between Elizabeth and Mary that would culminate in Mary’s execution in 1587 for plotting Elizabeth’s death in order to seize the throne.'

A manuscript illustration of the coat of arms of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her husband, coloured in red, yellow and blue

The arms of Mary, Queen of Scots and the French dauphin, and of Scotland, France and England, sent from France, July 1559: Cotton MS Caligula B X/1, ff. 17v–18r

Karen has chosen the papal bull, known as Regnans in Excelsis, which was issued by Pope Pius V and printed in Latin in February 1570. 'Written in support of the Northern Rebellion, it proved too late to affect its outcome. The decree, calling Elizabeth ‘the pretended Queen of England’, excommunicated her from the Catholic Church and threatened her Catholic subjects with the same fate should they disobey the pope. This created a problem for English Catholics: should they be loyal to the queen or to the pope? The papal bull is one of a number of books and broadsides displayed in the exhibition to show the importance of printing at the time and its ability to spread information far and wide. It is not clear how far the bull circulated in England, but it is possible that Mary, who had been in captivity in England for about two years by this point, saw a copy of it.'

A page from a printed item issued by Pope Pius V in 1570

S.D.N. Pii Papæ V. Sententia declaratoria contra Elisabeth prætensam Angliæ Reginam, Rome?, 1570: C.18.e.2.(114*).

For her curators' pick, Andrea has chosen a letter written by Mary to Elizabeth in May 1568 following her deposition as Queen of Scots, her escape from captivity and subsequent flight across the English border. 'Writing in her native French tongue, Mary describes the treasonable actions of her enemies, who ‘have robbed me of everything I had in the world’ and expresses her confidence in Elizabeth ‘not only for the safety of my life, but also to aid and assist me in my just quarrel’. Describing herself as Elizabeth’s ‘very faithful and affectionate good sister, cousin and escaped prisoner, Mary begs for an audience; ‘I entreat you to send to fetch me as soon as you possibly can’, for ‘I am’, she bemoans, ‘in a pitiable condition, not only for a queen, but for a gentlewoman, for I have nothing in the world but what I had on my person when I made my escape, travelling sixty miles across the country the first day, and not having since ever ventured to proceed except by night, as I hope to declare before you if it pleases you to have pity, as I trust you will, upon my extreme misfortune.’'

A handwritten letter of Mary, Queen of Scots, addressed to Queen Elizabeth I

Letter from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Elizabeth I, 17 May 1568, Workington, Cumberland: Cotton MS Caligula C I, f. 94v

The exhibition explores how Mary’s arrival on English soil plunged Elizabeth and her government into a political predicament that would not end until Mary’s execution in 1587. On display is a magnificent array of letters and papers, books, maps, paintings, sculptures, textiles and jewellery, creating a tangible connection to unfolding events and inviting visitors to step back into a world of religious turmoil, espionage, treason and war.

 

Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens 

The British Library, London

8 October 2021–20 February 2022

 

Alan Bryson, Andrea Clarke, Karen Limper-Herz and Anna Turnham

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval and @BLprintheritage

24 August 2021

Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens

Tickets are now on sale for the British Library’s major exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens (8 October 2021–20 February 2022). This will be the first exhibition to consider Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots together, putting both women centre stage and giving them equal billing.

Using original documents and contemporary published sources, the exhibition will take a fresh and revealing look at the extraordinary story of two powerful women, bound together by their shared Tudor heritage and experience as fellow sovereign queens, but divided by their opposing Protestant and Catholic faiths and their rivalry for the English and Irish thrones.

Elizabeth I’s signature
Detail showing Elizabeth I’s signature: British Library, Cotton MS Caligula C I, f. 367r
 
Mary, Queen of Scots’ signature
Detail showing Mary, Queen of Scots’ signature: British Library, Cotton MS Caligula C I, f. 94v

Despite their fates being intertwined, the two queens never met in person. Instead, their relationship was played out at a distance, much of it by letter. These thrilling documents, written in their own hands and recording their speeches, lie at the heart of the exhibition and will enable visitors to step back into their world and understand how, from amicable beginnings, Elizabeth and Mary's relationship turned to suspicion, distrust and betrayal. 

The exhibition will demonstrate how the queens’ relationship also reflected a much broader story. It will explore the context of the religious reformation that divided Europe between Catholics and Protestants, revealing how Elizabeth and Mary’s battle, first for dynastic pre-eminence within the British Isles, and then for survival, became inseparable from the national religious struggles of their respective kingdoms. The exhibition will further show how the queens’ rivalry over the throne profoundly shaped England and Scotland’s relations, both with each other, and with France and Spain.

Elizabeth and Mary will highlight the rise of state surveillance and the development of a sophisticated intelligence network during a time of plots, treason and rebellion, and the ever-present fear of international conspiracy and foreign invasion.

At the core of the exhibition will be highlights from the British Library’s outstanding collection of 16th-century royal autograph manuscripts, historical documents, printed items, maps and drawings. These will be accompanied by a number of exceptional paintings, objects, jewellery and textiles borrowed from collections across the UK.

To whet your appetite, here is a small selection of some of the items that will be on display: 

• Elizabeth’s handwritten trilingual translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations (1545), which was a gift for her father Henry VIII: British Library, Royal MS 7 D X

Elizabeth’s handwritten trilingual translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations (1545)

• Elizabeth I’s mother of pearl locket ring (c. 1575), which opens to display miniature portraits of herself and her mother Anne Boleyn: ©The Chequers Trust

Queen Elizabeth’s locket ring  c.1575 (c) The Chequers Trust

• Bird’s-eye view map of London, Westminster in Middlesex, and Southwark in Surrey, by William Smith, 1588: British Library, Sloane MS 2596, f. 52*r

Bird’s-eye view map of London, Westminster in Middlesex, and Southwark in Surrey, by William Smith, 1588

• Richard Lee, bird’s-eye view of Edinburgh (May 1544): British Library, Cotton MS Augustus I II 56

Richard Lee, bird’s-eye view of Edinburgh (May 1544)

• Letter written by Mary, Queen of Scots, to Elizabeth I to announce her arrival on English soil (1568): British Library, Cotton MS Caligula C I, f. 94v

Letter written by Mary, Queen of Scots, to Elizabeth I to announce her arrival on English soil (1568)

• Portrait of Elizabeth I, attributed to George Gower, 1567: © Private collection

Elizabeth I attributed to George Gower  c.1567  on loan to the exhibition from a Private Collection

• Elizabeth I’s speech dissolving parliament in 1567, in which she attacked MPs' questions about the succession as ‘lip-laboured orations out of such jangling subjects’ mouths’: British Library, Cotton Ch IV 38 (2)

Elizabeth I’s speech dissolving parliament in 1567

• Rare printed copy of the papal bull known as Regnans in Excelsis, issued in Latin in 1570, announcing Elizabeth I’s excommunication on grounds of heresy: British Library, 18.e.2.(114*)

Rare print survival of the papal bull known as Regnans in Excelsis, issued in Latin in 1570

• Ciphered letter from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (1570): British Library, Cotton MS Caligula C II, f. 74r

Ciphered letter from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (1570)

• Mary, Queen of Scots’ longest letter, sent to Elizabeth I to complain about her sufferings in prison (1582): British Library, Cotton MS Caligula C VII, f. 81v

Mary, Queen of Scots’ longest letter, sent to Elizabeth I to complain about her sufferings in prison (1582)

• Cipher used by Mary, Queen of Scots, to communicate with Anthony Babington (1586): ©The National Archives, Kew, SP 12/193/54, f. 123r

Cipher used by Mary, Queen of Scots, to communicate with Anthony Babington (1586)

• The Blairs Reliquary, containing a portrait miniature of Mary, Queen of Scots (1586, framed 1610–22) © The Scottish Catholic Heritage Collections Trust (Blairs Museum)

The Blairs Reliquary (front), containing a portrait miniature of Mary, Queen of Scots

• Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing of Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution (1587), depicting her entering the hall, disrobing, and placing her head on the block: British Library, Add MS 48027, f. 650*r

Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing of Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution (1587)

• Drawing of Elizabeth’s funeral procession (early 17th century): British Library, Add MS 35324, f. 37v

Drawing of Elizabeth’s funeral procession (early 17th century)

• James VI, Basilikon doron (1599), written for Prince Henry, on successful kingship and printed in Edinburgh: British Library, G.4993., sig. [A]3v–[A]4r

James VI, Basilikon doron (1599)

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly-illustrated catalogue, edited by Professor Sue Doran, and available for purchase from the Library’s online shop from 8 October.

The cover of the illustrated catalogue, edited by Professor Sue Doran

A full programme of public lectures, talks, panel discussions and cultural events will also accompany the exhibition.  Tickets for the first three events are now on sale:

Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens will be on show at the British Library from 8 October 2021 to 20 February 2022. For more information and tickets, visit https://www.bl.uk/events/elizabeth-and-mary.

 

Andrea Clarke

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

22 August 2021

Richard III: fact and fiction

On 22 August 1485, the last English king to be killed in combat died at the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was none other than Richard III, a monarch whose reputation is still debated, known variously as the King under the Carpark, Shakespeare's hunchback ruler, and the (alleged) murderer of his young nephews, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. In this blogpost, we set out some of the manuscript evidence for the reign of this controversial sovereign.

One of the earliest notices of the Battle of Bosworth is found in the calendar of an early 15th-century Book of Hours known as the 'Beaufort/Beauchamp Hours'. This calendar contains a number of added notices of births, deaths and other notable occurrences, extending as far as the deaths of Queen Jane Seymour in 1536 and Elizabeth Lucar in 1537. In the margin of the calendar page for August, the same scribe has made retrospective notes of two significant events:

7 August: 'This day landed King Harry the viith at Milfoord Haven, the yere of our Lord m.cccc.lxxxv.'

22 August: 'This day King Harri the viith wan the feeld wher was slayn King Richard the third. Anno domini 1485.' 

A calendar page in a Book of Hours, with added notices in the left-hand margin

The calendar page for August in the 'Beaufort/Beauchamp Hours', with added notices of the landing of Henry Tudor at Milford Haven and the death of Richard III at Bosworth: Royal MS 2 A XVIII, f. 31v

We can tell immediately that these notes were made after the Battle of Bosworth Field, since Henry Tudor is described prematurely at his landing as 'King Harry the 7th'. Richard is styled 'king' in the notice of his death, which does at least acknowledge the legitimacy of his rule. The lack of space in the margins of this calendar doubtless prevented the annotator from recording a more detailed description of Richard's personality and achievements.

Another posthumous report of Richard III's reign is found in an early 16th-century chronicle that extended originally as far as the rule of Henry VII. This chronicle supplies a dispassionate account of Richard's life, set out as part of a genealogical tree of the English rulers:

'Richard that was sonne to Richard Dewke of Yorke and brother unto Kyng Edward the iiiith was Kyng after hys brother and raynyd .ii. yeres and lyth buryd at Lecitor.'

A page from a geneaological chronicle, with coloured roundels containing illustrations of members of the English royal family

A genealogical chronicle of the rulers of England, including an account of the reign of Richard III: King's MS 395, f. 33r

Richard is also illustrated in a roundel that accompanies the text, wearing a crown and carrying a sceptre in his right hand. This cannot be considered a realistic likeness, since all the portraits in this manuscript are similar in style and have the same palette of colours. But it is an antidote to the conventional image of King Richard, represented in the more famous painting held at the National Portrait Gallery. What is also noteworthy in the same manuscript is that no mention is made of the succession and brief reign of Edward V, Richard's nephew, or of the mysterious disappearance of the young princes.

A manuscript portrait of King Richard III, wearing a crown and with the English coat of arms to his right

The portrait of Richard III in the genealogical chronicle: King's MS 395, f. 33r

So what can we glean about Richard III from other manuscript sources? Like his predecessors, Richard was renowned as a law-giver. In one English statute book made in 1488 or 1489, just a few years after his death, Richard is shown in an historiated initial crowned and robed, holding a sceptre and orb, and surrounded by leading clerics and other courtiers. There is nothing to suggest here that his rule was considered illegitimate in any way. Indeed, at the time that this manuscript was produced, Henry VII's position on the throne was still precarious, since he was being challenged first by Lambert Simnel and then, in the 1490s, by Perkin Warbeck. Henry is illustrated in the same volume in exactly the same way as Richard III (f. 339v). You could not tell from this book alone that one of these kings had overthrown the other in battle.

A page from an illuminated lawbook, with a decorated initial R enclosing Richard III surrounded by his courtiers, and a decorated border

The statutes issued by King Richard III in a legal manuscript made in London: Hargrave MS 274, f. 328v

A detail of the portrait of King Richard III, throned and crowned

Detail of the portrait of Richard III in this legal manuscript: Hargrave MS 274, f. 328v

Another visual statement of the legitimacy of Richard III's rule, this time dating from his own reign, is found in a manuscript of the English translation of De re militari by Vegetius. The decorated initial that opens this volume contains the royal coat of arms supported by two boars (Richard's emblem) and surmounted by a crown. At the foot of the same page is the griffin of Salisbury, perhaps to denote that the book was made for Edward of Middleham, prince of Wales and earl of Salisbury, Richard's son and heir apparent until his untimely death in 1484. On another page of the same manuscript is the coat of arms of Anne Neville, Richard's wife and queen of England (f. 49r).

A page from an illuminated manuscript, with a decorated initial H containing two boars and the English coat of arms, a griffin in the lower border, and a decorated border enclosing the text

The royal arms of King Richard III in a manuscript of De re militari: Royal MS 18 A XII, f. 1r

A final and contemporary indication of Richard's own personality is provided by books that belonged to him, including before he became king. One manuscript of the Romance of Tristan bears the inscription 'Iste liber constat Ricardo Duci Gloucestre'. After his death it passed into the hands of his niece, Elizabeth of York, who was married to Henry VII in order to unite the two dynasties. Her inscription, 'sans remevyr Elyzabeth', is found at the bottom of the page. This evidence reminds us that Richard was styled 'duke of Gloucester': in the wake of the discovery of his skeleton, York and Leicester waged claims to being the appropriate home for his reburial, while Gloucester was largely overlooked. It also suggests that he may have had an interest in courtly literature, some indication of the circles in which he moved and what was required of a Renaissance prince. This would also have extended to having knowledge of ancient and more recent history. Among the other manuscripts known to have been owned by Richard is a copy of the Chroniques de France, from 1270 to 1380, which is inscribed part-way down one page 'Richard Gloucestre'.

A manuscript page containing the ownership inscription of Richard, Duke of Gloucester

'This book belongs to Richard, duke of Gloucester', in a manuscript of Roman de Tristan: Harley MS 49, f. 155r

A page from an illuminated manuscript, in 2 columns, with a miniature of knights fighting in the right-hand column, and the name Richard Gloucester added part-way down the left-hand column

A manuscript of the Chroniques de France owned by 'Richard Gloucestre': Royal MS 20 C VII, f. 134r

The name 'Richard Gloucestre' added to a medieval manuscript

Detail of Richard's name in Royal MS 20 C VII, f. 134r

Of course, there are other aspects of Richard's rule that we have not considered here. One of these is the sinister removal from power of his nephew, King Edward V, and the subsequent (assumed) deaths of the two princes in the Tower. To be accused of regicide and infanticide, even in an era when rulers were prepared to do anything to secure their position, is a massive stain on Richard III's reputation. The fate of Edward and his younger brother must always be set against attempts to rehabilitate Richard, and cannot be easily argued away. Equally, we are lacking a full understanding of Bosworth Field itself, and of how Richard's fortunes swayed on the battlefield. It is sometimes difficult to dislodge Shakespeare's account of the battle, and of Richard himself, from the popular memory. But the surviving manuscripts from his lifetime do at least provide us with a much more rounded vision of this most disputed of English monarchs.

 

Julian Harrison

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

17 July 2021

A library under lockdown

How would you cope if your library was under lockdown? That is the situation Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631) found himself in late in his life. We can all probably sympathise — most of us would never have anticipated the events of the past year — but the treasures denied to Cotton, by order of King Charles I, were astonishing. They included the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and a copy of Magna Carta issued in 1215 with King John's seal intact; for Cotton had assembled one of the greatest private libraries ever known. At a time when the British Library's own Reading Rooms and galleries have now reopened, and remembering of course that we have always remained open online, we look back in this blogpost to the events of the 1620s–30s and consider what lessons can be learned from them. 

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.

The temporary closure of Cotton's library is summarised by Colin Tite in The Manuscript Library of Sir Robert Cotton (The British Library, 1994). Cotton, a Member of Parliament for Huntingdonshire and advisor to King James I (reigned 1603–1625), as well as a prominent antiquary and manuscript collector, had aroused suspicion over a number of years. Cotton's London residence was at Westminster — Members of the House of Lords had to pass through his garden in order to enter their chamber — and his habit of amassing state papers for antiquarian and political purposes (what we would now call 'preserving them for posterity') had earned the mistrust of the new king, Charles I (reigned 1625–1649), and his favourite, the Duke of Buckingham.

As early as 1616 Cotton had been suspected of communicating 'secretts of state' to the Spanish ambassador, for which he was threatened with the confiscation of his papers. Cotton frequently loaned his manuscripts or allowed others to consult them, what we may consider a charitable act but which curried disfavour in certain quarters. One of those borrowers was Francis Bacon (1561–1626), the Lord Chancellor of England, until he was impeached, barred from office, fined £40,000 and imprisoned for three days. (Bacon's disgrace, ostensibly for taking bribes, was ultimately the result of a scandal relating to monopolies and patents, for which he was made the scapegoat.) In 1621, as part of his extended punishment, Bacon was forbidden access to Cotton's library, but we know that the two men remained close. Two years later, in 1623, Bacon presented to Robert Cotton the benefactors' book of St Albans Abbey (Cotton MS Nero D VII), as is evidenced by an inscription on its opening page.

A page from the Benefactors Book of St Albans, with a decorated initial P, and at the foot an inscription recording that Francis Bacon gave the book to Robert Cotton

The Benefactors Book of St Albans, presented to Robert Cotton by Francis Bacon in 1623: Cotton MS Nero D VII, f. 1r

The year 1626 witnessed another two incidents that suggested all was not well between Sir Robert Cotton and the new king. First, at Charles's coronation in 1626, Cotton attempted to present him with a gospel-book on which the early kings of England had reputedly sworn their oaths (Cotton MS Tiberius A II). Charles refused the gift and ordered that the royal barge be rowed past Cotton House, where Sir Robert was waiting, book in hand, as a result of which the king had to wade onshore, hardly a good omen for his own rule. Around the same time, the Duke of Buckingham urged that the famous Cotton library be closed, most probably because it contained the historical precedents on which his Parliamentary critics often relied. The library, in other words, had become a battleground for political debate.

A page of the Coronation Gospels with a decorated initial B followd by display script and the signature of Robert Cotton

A page of the so-called Coronation Gospels, with the signature Ro: Cotton Bruceus: Cotton MS Tiberius A II, f. 3r

Buckingham may have been assassinated by a discontented soldier at Portsmouth in 1628, but his untimely demise did not remove the heat from Sir Robert Cotton. After an allegedly seditious tract was found among Cotton's papers in 1629, Sir Robert and his associates were arrested and his library was ordered to be closed, with a guard placed on its door. The full impact of its closure may never be known, but the denial of his books to Cotton and his fellow antiquaries cannot be underestimated. The Privy Council appointed commissioners to search the library for state papers and other records that Cotton was suspected of having appropriated, and they drew up a catalogue of its contents (now Add MS 36789) to aid them in that process. The catalogue reveals that the manuscripts were arranged in presses named after the Roman emperors, and also that many of the papers were unbound. Tite also surmised that some items may have been confiscated from the library at this very time, since they are named in that catalogue but no longer form part of the Cotton collection. An example is the 'Survey of the Anne Royall 1626', a reference to the naval ship the Ark Royal, named after Queen Anne of Denmark, that sank in the 1630s.

Sir Robert Cotton was granted only limited access to his own library for the remainder of his life. He died on 6 May 1631, and it remained for his son and successor, Sir Thomas Cotton (1594–1662), to petition the king for the library to be re-opened. But the Cotton collection did not remain dormant in its final years. We know that Robert Cotton continued to receive new acquisitions even after 1629 — one wonders where he kept them — among which was the copy of Magna Carta we cited at the beginning of this blogpost, sent to him by Sir Edward Dering from Dover Castle on 10 May 1630. So the Cotton library may have been physically closed, but it remained an intellectual entity, cherished by Sir Robert Cotton, his family and the leading scholars of his day. It had been Cotton's ambition, essentially, to create a national collection, and his wish was fulfilled when his library was bequeathed to the British nation in 1702 'for Publick Use and Advantage', as confirmed by Act of Parliament (12 and 13 William III, c. 7). The Cotton manuscripts formed one of the foundation collections of the British Museum in 1753, and more recently, in 2018, they were inscribed on the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register.

A letter addressed to Robert Cotton by Edward Dering, dated at Dover Castle, 10 May 1630

The letter of Edward Dering, informing Robert Cotton that he was sending him 'the charter of K. John dated att Running Meade', now Cotton Ch XIII 31 A: Cotton MS Julius C III, f. 143r

So what can we learn from this sorry episode? First of all, you should never give up, even if you lose access to your books due to circumstances beyond your control. We know that the last sixteen months and counting have been very difficult for so many of our readers, as well as the staff and supporters of the British Library, but we hope sincerely that with time we'll be able to recommence our studies with the benefit of the Library's collections and those of our sister-institutions around the world. Secondly, knowledge is precious. The attempts by the government of King Charles I to suppress the Cotton library were founded on jealousy, mistrust and abuse of process, but ultimately they proved unsuccessful. Finally, Sir Robert Cotton did not have the benefit of having digital surrogates made of his precious books, but today you can view some 312 of his manuscripts, 51 of his charters and 2 of his rolls on our Digitised Manuscripts site, with more items being added on a regular basis. Once again, we hope that Robert Cotton would have approved.

 

Julian Harrison

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