07 October 2013
As promised back in July, we have an updated list of digitised manuscripts to offer you, our loyal readers. This master list contains details of everything that has so far been uploaded by the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts department, complete with hyperlinks to each individual record on our Digitised Manuscripts site. You can download the Excel spreadsheet here: Download BL Medieval and Earlier Digitised Manuscripts Master List 07.10.13
Miniature of King Alfonso V praising our spreadsheet as Bishop Juan de Casanova looks on, from the Prayerbook of Alfonso V of Aragon - a new arrival to our list! produced in Spain (Valencia), 1436-1443, Add MS 28962, f. 14v
We should have another new list for you in 3 months - happy hyperlink clicking!
- Sarah J Biggs
03 October 2013
Those who are familiar with Royal MS 14 E iii, the gorgeous Arthurian manuscript which was in our Royal Exhibition last year and is now fully digitised on our Digitised Manuscripts site, will know that it contains The Estoire del Saint Graal, La Queste del Saint Graal, and Morte Artu, which tell the religious and mystical sections of the legends of King Arthur.
Detail of a miniature of Arthur and Merlin at dinner at Pentecost, northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10292, f. 91r
In our collections we have another manuscript made at the same time by the same workshop in northern France, which contains the entire French prose ‘Vulgate Cycle’, as it is often called, and is now divided into 3 volumes: Additional MSS 10292, 10293 and 10294. Our virtual exhibition on Arthurian manuscripts on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts puts these manuscripts into context.
In addition to the texts in the Royal manuscript, these three volumes also contain the Histoire de Merlin, about Merlin’s early involvement in the story, and the Lancelot du Lac, the original stories of Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table and their chivalric exploits, including the love story of Lancelot and Guinevere.
There are catalogue entries and a selection of images already online in our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, but these manuscripts contain over 600 of these colourful, imaginative images, which are soon to be available online, as we are currently preparing them for digitisation. Here is a selection of the delights in store:
Detail of a miniature of King Celidoine at sea in a small boat, with a lion, northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10292, f. 41v Quiz question: who is King Celidoine and why is he having a 'Life of Pi' experience? (A tip: see H. Oskar Sommer, The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances (Washington, 1909-1916), a 7 volume edition based on the Additional Manuscripts. It is available online here; happy searching!
Detail of a miniature of Lancelot, fully armed, joining knights and ladies in an enchanted dance in a forest, northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10293, f. 292v
Detail of a miniature of Lancelot and Guinevere, northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10293, f. 325v
Detail of a miniature of Hector and Gawain meeting in a forest, northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10294, f. 29v
Miniatures of a lady being wounded by a sword while she mourns for Gawain, and of King Arthur ont the Wheel of Fortune with a blindfolded Lady Fortuna, northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), c. 1316, Add MS 10294, f. 89r
Watch this space and be the first to know when the full digitisation of these gorgeous manuscripts appear online! Or follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval.
- Chantry Westwell
24 August 2013
The British Library is delighted to have loaned a number of important historical documents to the excellent Mary, Queen of Scots exhibition at National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. Our loans are displayed alongside jewellery, textiles, furniture, paintings, maps and manuscripts, all of which are used to re-examine the life and legacy of Scotland’s most famous Queen.
On 16 May 1568, Mary fled to England after being forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her one-year-old son, the future James I of England. As Elizabeth I’s cousin, Mary fully expected to be invited to court, but her Catholic faith and claim to the English throne made her a natural focus for discontented Catholics who refused to conform to Elizabeth's Protestant faith. For reasons of security, therefore, Mary was placed under house arrest and for the next nineteen years would be moved with her household from one secure location to another.
Sketch of Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire: London, British Library, MS Additional 33594, f. 174
One of the British Library loans currently on display in Edinburgh is this sketch of Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire, in which Mary was first imprisoned in 1569 and again in 1584. Mary complained that ‘I am in a walled enclosure, on the top of a hill exposed to the winds and inclemencies of heaven’, and that her own apartments were ‘two little miserable rooms, so excessively cold, especially at night’. The castle bridge and gate-house are visible bottom-right and on the left the Queen’s presence chamber and bedchamber have been identified along with rooms for her gentlewomen of the chamber, surgeon, ‘poticary’ and her secretary, Claude Nau.
Sketch of the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots: London, British Library, MS Additional 48027, f. 569*
In 1586, Mary was brought to trial for complicity in the Babington plot. The hearing took place on 14–15 October 1586 in the Great Chamber at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, and is illustrated in this pen-and-ink sketch from the papers of Robert Beale, Clerk of the Privy Council. Mary is shown twice: aided by two gentlewomen as she enters the court room (top-right), and sitting in a high-backed chair (upper-right, marked ‘A’). Elizabeth did not attend the trial and therefore her chair of state on the dais is empty (top-centre). The trial commissioners are identified by numbers. Elizabeth’s chief advisor, Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, shown seated opposite Mary, is ‘2’, and Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s principal secretary, shown opposite the vacant chair of state, is ‘28’. The commission of thirty-six peers, privy councillors and judges found Mary guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth.
Letter from James VI to Elizabeth I, 26, January 1587: London, British Library, MS Cotton Caligula C IX, f. 192
On 26 January 1587, in a final attempt to save the life of the mother he barely knew, James VI of Scotland wrote to his ‘dearest sister’, Elizabeth I. Beginning two lines from the bottom of this page he asks, ‘Quhat thing, Madame, can greatlier touche me in honoure that is a king and a sonne than that my nearest neihboure, being in straittest [friend]shipp with me, shall rigouruslie putt to death a free souveraigne prince and my natural mother, alyke in estaite and sexe to hir that so uses her … to a harder fortune, and touching hir nearlie in proximitie of bloode?’
Sketch of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots: London, British Library, MS Additional 48027, f. 650*
Although Elizabeth signed Mary’s death warrant on 1 February 1587, she remained extremely reluctant to execute an anointed sovereign and instructed her secretary, William Davison, not to send it. Lord Burghley, however, acted quickly and had the death warrant carried to Fotheringhay by Robert Beale, who read it aloud to Mary on 7 February, the evening before her execution. This drawing shows Mary three times: entering the hall; being attended by her gentlewomen on the scaffold; and, finally, lying at the block with the executioner's axe raised ready to strike. The Earls of Shrewsbury and Kent are seated to the left (1 & 2) and Sir Amias Paulet, one of Mary’s guards, is seated behind the scaffold (3).
Letter from James VI to Elizabeth I, March 1587: London, British Library, MS Additional 23240, f. 65
When Elizabeth found out that Mary had been executed, she was furious and wrote to James VI apologising for ‘that miserable accident’ and protesting her innocence. This is James’s unsigned draft reply to Elizabeth, dated March 1587, in which he assures her that given ‘youre many & solemne attestationis of youre innocentie I darr not wronge you so farre as not to judge honorablie of youre unspotted pairt thairin …’ Then, seizing the opportunity to press his case to be named as Elizabeth’s heir, he added ‘I looke that ye will geve me at this tyme suche a full satisfaction in all respectis as sall be a meane to strenthin & unite this yle, establishe & maintaine the trew religion’.
The Mary, Queen of Scots exhibition is on at National Museums Scotland until 17 November 2013.
21 August 2013
Are you tired of the Anglo-Saxons yet? No, we're not either! Those of you who have been engrossed by Michael Wood's recent series, King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons, may have seen the beautiful Athelstan Psalter in last night's programme. We featured this manuscript in a previous blogpost; but it's worth looking at again, and you may like to know that the entire Psalter is available to view on our Digitised Manuscripts site.
The Athelstan Psalter (London, British Library, MS Cotton Galba A XVIII, f. 21r).
The Athelstan Psalter is a curious little book, just large enough to fit into an adult male's hand. The script of the original portion indicates that the manuscript was made in North-East France, in the 9th century; but by the middle of the 10th century the Psalter was in England, where it received a number of accretions, including a metrical calendar and some computistical texts.
The association of this manuscript with King Athelstan, the first king of England (reigned 924–939), is unproved. A note by a later owner, Thomas Dakcombe (d. c. 1572), describes the book as "Psaltirum Regis Ethelstani"; and this is echoed in the list of contents made for Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631). As Professor Simon Keynes has commented, "the claim of the so-called Athelstan Psalter once to have belonged to the king is based on the slenderest of evidence". Michael Wood himself spoke on the Athelstan Psalter at the British Library's Royal manuscripts conference in 2011, the proceedings of which are shortly to be published by the British Library.
It's amazing how such a little book has survived the ravages of time (it escaped destruction by fire in 1731) to become a modern star in the age of television! Episode 3 of Michael Wood's King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons, entitled Aethelstan: The First King of England, can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.
Simon Keynes, ‘King Athelstan’s books’, in Michael Lapidge & Helmut Gneuss (eds.), Learning and Literature in Anglo-Saxon England: Studies presented to Peter Clemoes on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 143–201, at pp. 193–96
Robert Deshman, ‘The Galba Psalter: pictures, texts and context in an early medieval prayerbook’, Anglo-Saxon England, 26 (1997), 109–38
13 August 2013
Some of you may already have watched the first episode of Michael Wood's new series, King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons, which is still available on the BBC iPlayer. (We're very hopeful that the whole series will eventually be broadcast worldwide.)
Detail of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, from a 13th-century genealogical chronicle (London, British Library, MS Royal 14 B V).
King Alfred and his daughter Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians (London, British Library, MS Royal 14 B V).
Episode two will be shown tonight on BBC Four (21.00–22.00), and is entitled "The Lady of the Mercians". Æthelflæd (d. 918) was the daughter of Alfred of Wessex, and the wife of Æthelred, ealdorman of Mercia. Having become sole ruler of the Mercians following her husband's death in 911, Æthelflæd is credited with helping to reconquer the Danelaw (the English lands under Viking rule) in tandem with her younger brother Edward the Elder, king of Wessex (reigned 899–924). As Michael Wood concludes, without her "England might never have happened".
Roundels depicting Alfred, Æthelflæd and Edward the Elder, from a 14th-century genealogical chronicle (London, British Library, MS Royal 14 B VI).
Episode three of Michaels Wood's King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons will be shown next week. Many of the manuscripts featured in the series are held at the British Library, and some of them can be explored in more detail on our Digitised Manuscripts site or the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.
This manuscript of Aldhelm's De laudibus virginitatis was made around AD 900, possibly in Mercia, and later belonged to Worcester Cathedral Priory (London, British Library, MS Royal 5 F III, f. 35r).
06 August 2013
The opening words of King Alfred's will, beginning "Ic Ælfred cinge", in an 11th-century copy: London, British Library, MS Stowe 944, f. 29v.
Earlier this year, Michael Wood, the historian and broadcaster, came to film some of the British Library's Anglo-Saxon manuscripts for his new television series, King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons. Some of you may know Michael's previous books and programmes, such as The Story of England, The Story of India, Conquistadors, and In Search of the Dark Ages; and he is a familiar face at the British Library (for instance, he chaired a discussion with Seamus Heaney, Michael Morpurgo and Benjamin Bagby at our Beowulf festival in 2009, and he was a speaker at our Royal manuscripts conference in 2011).
Two of our curators, one conservator and several British Library manuscripts feature in episode one of the new series, to be broadcast tonight on BBC Four (21.00–22.00). It's always a pleasure to work with Michael Wood, who is a trained Anglo-Saxonist, and we look forward (like everyone else!) to watching his new programme, entitled "Alfred of Wessex". As ever, it will be available subsequently on the BBC iPlayer (United Kingdom viewers only).
02 August 2013
A major television series featuring some of the British Library's Anglo-Saxon manuscripts is to air soon on BBC Four. Presented by Michael Wood, King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons examines the careers of King Alfred the Great, the Lady Æthelflæd and King Athelstan respectively. Episode one, entitled "King Alfred", will be broadcast on Tuesday 6 August (21.00–22.00), and will then be available on the BBC iPlayer.
The beginning of King Alfred's will (London, British Library, MS Stowe 944, f. 29v).
Alfred the Great (reigned 871–899) is perhaps the best-known Anglo-Saxon king. The son of King Æthelwulf of Wessex, Alfred succeeded his three older brothers to the throne in 871. At that time, Viking invaders had conquered much of England, and Alfred struggled to prevent Wessex from succumbing to the same fate, until his victory over the Vikings at Edington in 878. Alfred's reign is also marked by the revival of learning – for example, he instructed that certain works be translated from Latin into English – and by the reform of the coinage, the issuing of new laws, and the creation of fortified towns (or "burghs"). Alfred's defence of Wessex, combined with his administrative reforms, ultimately paved the way for the formation of the kingdom of England during the 10th century.
A page from Bald's Leechbook (London, British Library, MS Royal 12 D XVII, f. 71r).
Much of Michael Wood's television series was filmed on location at the British Library. The first episode promises to include Bald's Leechbook (BL MS Royal 12 D XVII) and the copy of Alfred's will found in the New Minster Liber Vitae (BL MS Stowe 944), the second of which can be seen in full on our Digitised Manuscripts site. (You may also recall that we featured the other medieval copy of King Alfred's will in a recent blogpost.)
Episode one of King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons is broadcast on BBC Four on 6 August (21:00–22:00). Episodes two and three will be screened on 13 August and 20 August.
19 July 2013
With all of the excitement surrounding the impending arrival of Britain's newest Royal baby, it seems like a good opportunity to have a look at the medieval representations of birth - that blessed, everyday event.
Miniature of the Nativity of Christ, from the The Hours of René d'Anjou, France (Paris), c. 1410, Egerton MS 1070, f. 24v
The most frequently depicted newborn in medieval art is, of course, the infant Christ, who is usually shown in the manger, surrounded by the Virgin Mary, Joseph, a curious ox and ass, and occasionally choirs of angels (see above and below). One imagines that the future king or queen of England will be born in a cozier setting, although perhaps with slightly less celestial fanfare.
Miniature of the Nativity of Christ, from a book of prayers and Gospel lessons, Netherlands or England, c. 1490 - c. 1510, Harley MS 1892, f. 8v
The births of saints and kings were also a popular subject for medieval illuminators. The miniature of the birth of Alexander the Great below is a typical example, albeit one in a particularly luxurious setting.
Detail of a miniature of the birth of Alexander the Great, from Historia Alexandri Magni, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1485 - 1490, Royal MS 20 C III, f. 15r
An image of another well-appointed birthing suite can be found in Harley MS 2278, a manuscript containing Lydgate's lives of SS Edmund and Fremund. In the miniature on f. 13v (below), the new mother is being attended by a group of ladies, while another looks after the newborn, complete with tiny halo, before a roaring fire.
Detail of a miniature of the birth of St Edmund, from Lydgate's Lives of SS Edmund and Fremund, England, 1434 - 1439, Harley MS 2278, f. 13v
The 14th century Queen Mary Psalter was most likely produced for a royal woman, and includes quite a few bas-de-page paintings of nativities (with a small ‘n’). A particularly charming example is that of St Nicholas, who can be seen lying swaddled in his cot, watched over by his tired mother and a busy servant.
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of the birth of St Nicholas, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, 1310 - 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 314v
These scenes are overwhelmingly female ones, populated almost entirely by women (and of course their babies). Men, when they are present, are most often onlookers, claiming an active role only when medical intervention seems to have been necessary. The most common depiction of this type of exigency is with the birth of Julius Caesar, who according to legend, had to be cut from his mother’s womb (hence our current term ‘caesarian’). This operation has been captured in medias res in Royal MS 16 G VIII, where the future emperor can be seen emerging from his otherwise fully-dressed mother, surrounded by medical men. Caesar’s mother seems relatively calm in this miniature, but is slightly less so in another Royal manuscript, which shows us the immediate aftermath (both below).
Detail of a miniature of the birth of Julius Caesar, from Bellum Gallicum, illuminated in the Netherlands (Bruges), 1473 - 1476, Royal MS 16 G VIII, f. 32r
Detail of a miniature of the birth of Caesar, from La Grande histoire César, Netherlands (Bruges), 1479, Royal MS 17 F II, f. 9r
Not all the medieval depictions of childbirth and infancy fit into these familiar patterns, however. A copy of the Roman de la Rose dating from c. 1490 – c. 1500 includes a miniature of the personification of Nature literally forging a baby, hammering his shape on an anvil while discarded attempts lie on the floor nearby.
Detail of a miniature of Nature forging a baby, from Roman de la Rose, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1490 - c. 1500, Harley MS 4425, f. 140r
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a lion suckling an infant, from the Smithfield Decretals, France (probably Toulouse), with marginal illustrations added in England (London), c. 1300 - c. 1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 121r
A bas-de-page scene in the Smithfield Decretals (above) shows a rather unusual caretaker for a newborn; illustrating a popular legend, a series of marginal miniatures show a lion suckling and tending to a baby. And Boccaccio’s De claris mulieribus includes a well-known episode in the (almost certainly apocryphal) life of Pope Joan, who was said to have masqueraded so successfully as a male pontiff that her true gender was only revealed when she gave birth in the middle of a religious procession (below).
Detail of a miniature of Pope Joan giving birth, from Giovanni Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus, France (Rouen), c. 1440, Royal MS 16 G V, f. 120r
By and large, however, most medieval births were seen as occasions of great joy, as they still are today. It seems fitting to conclude with this miniature of the birth of St Fremund from Harley MS 2278, which shows the celebration of both men and nature at the blessed event.
Detail of a miniature of a rainbow after the birth of St Fremund, from Lydgate's Lives of SS Edmund and Fremund, England, 1434 - 1439, Harley MS 2278, f. 72v
- Sarah J Biggs