Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

30 posts categorized "Women's histories"

26 September 2023

PhD Studentship opportunity: Medieval Women's Religious Communities

The British Library is collaborating with the University of Cambridge to offer a fully-funded PhD studentship on the subject of ‘Reading and Writing in Medieval Women's Religious Communities’. The successful applicant will be supervised by Dr Jessica Berenbeim (Cambridge) and Dr Eleanor Jackson (British Library), and start in October 2024. 

Manuscript illustration of nuns attending Mass inside a church. On the right, a priest and deacons are at the altar. Behind them stands an abbess with book and crozier, and other nuns including the sacristan pulling the bell ropes.
Nuns attending Mass inside a church: Yates Thompson MS 11, f. 6v

The student will have the opportunity to investigate the culture of female religious communities in the Middle Ages through a study of their surviving manuscripts. Medieval women living together in monasteries and other kinds of convent communities owned or produced an astonishing number and variety of manuscripts. These include literary works in poetry and prose, archive and record books, music manuscripts, financial and administrative accounts, maps, books for religious services, paintings in the form of manuscript illumination, documents such as charters, and sculpture in the form of seal impressions.

We are inviting applicants to propose a project that explores any aspect of women’s conventual life, with the specific aim of bringing together kinds of sources that have rarely been discussed in combination. The themes and structure of the project are entirely open, provided the proposal is interdisciplinary and combines different types of manuscripts—broadly defined, as above—in novel, creative, and productive ways. At least some element of your research should concern institutions in the British Isles, but the project as a whole may be comparative. In your proposal, you would aim to draw principally on the British Library’s collections (although we understand that some research in other collections will almost certainly be inevitable). Some indication of the BL’s holdings can be found on these sites:

Medieval charter with a wax seal
Foundation charter of Flixton Priory of Augustinian nuns by Margery de Crek: Stowe Ch 291

The British Library has one of the world’s most extensive and diverse collections of manuscripts from medieval women’s communities. In your research for this project, you would work on these collections alongside the BL’s curatorial staff, and undertake specialised training at both the BL and at Cambridge, where you would be part of a large and collegial community of medievalists in a wide range of fields. The British Library is currently developing a major exhibition on Medieval Women, which is due to open in October 2024. Starting your doctoral research just as the exhibition is opening, you will be able to develop a close familiarity with the display, support the programme of private views and visits to the exhibition, and build on its research findings.

The studentship is fully funded via the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Applications are now open on their website, where you can view the full Collaborative Doctoral Award advert and find details of how to apply. The closing date for applications is 4 January 2024. 

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11 May 2023

Medieval and Renaissance Women: full list of the charters and rolls

We always say, never start a blogpost with the words, 'We are delighted to announce that'.

So, in true time-honoured fashion, we are thrilled to release a list of all the rolls and charters digitised as part of our Medieval and Renaissance Women project. There are 25 rolls and 219 charters in total, in addition to the 93 manuscript volumes that we announced in a previous blogpost. The Medieval and Renaissance Women project has been made possible thanks to generous funding by Joanna and Graham Barker.

The seal of the Empress Matilda

The seal of the Empress Matilda, between 1141 and 1142: Add Ch 75724

Here begins the list. This may take some time, but it's worth it, we promise. From the top... The will of Sibylla Frances of Dunwich. A confirmation by Sybilla of Kaversfeld, widow of Hugh Gargate, to Bicester Priory of land in Stratton. An acknowledgement by Marie, abbess of St Stephen’s Abbey, Soissons, to the Knights Templar of Mont-de-Soissons. A sale by Katherine von Solmesse and Salentin, lord of Isenburg, her husband, to Baldwin, archbishop of Trier. A letter of attorney from Ismania, widow of Laurence Berkerolles. A certificate for the safe delivery of Margaret of Anjou to Louis XI of France. A chirograph of Fredescendis, abbess of Maubeuge, granting land to Guarin, abbot of Vicogne…

Actually, why don't you simply peruse the list for yourself? It's great fun, we promise (again)!

A confirmation by Sybillia of Kaverfield, featuring her seal.

Confirmation by Sybilla of Kaversfeld, widow of Hugh Gargate, to Bicester Priory of land in Stratton, early 13th century: Add Ch 10608

You can download the full list of charters and rolls here, with links to the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site and the Universal Viewer. There, you'll be able to read these manuscripts in full and for free from the comfort of your own living room. 

PDF: Download Medieval_and_renaissance_women_digitised_charters_rolls_may_2023

Excel: Download Medieval_and_renaissance_women_digitised_charters_rolls_may_2023 (this format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers)

A mortmain license by Joan, Princess of Wales, featuring her seal.

Mortmain licence by Joan of Kent, princess of Wales, for Michael de la Pole, Lord Chancellor, to grant property to the Maison Dieu of Myton, 1383: Egerton Ch 2130

An acquittance by Abbess Tomasina.

Acquittance by Tomasina de Damis, abbess of the monastery of Santa Giulia, Brescia, to Mafeus de Monte, 1409: Stowe Ch 565

The documents included in the project represent women from all levels of medieval society, from merchants and landowners to nuns and abbesses, from nurses and shopkeepers to noblewomen and queens. They also span a huge variety of different types of documents including grants and confirmations, chirographs and letters with original signatures, leases and genealogies, indentures and religious statutes, licenses for marriages and acknowledgments of divorce, and wills in which women passed on their property and determined their legacy after their deaths. Most importantly, all these manuscripts show medieval and early modern women exerting their own agency and making decisions that influenced not only their own day-to-day lives but also the communities to which they belonged.  

The opening membrane of the will of Margaret Paston.

The opening of the will of Margaret Paston, 1482: Add Roll 17253

A portrait of Helena Snackenborg, enclosed in a roundel, from her genealogy.

A portrait of Helena Snackenborg, Marchioness of Northampton, from her genealogy, c. 1640: Lansdowne Roll 9

A petition by Joan Astley written on a small piece of parchment.

Petition by Joan Astley, nurse of Henry VI, for an increase in salary, 1424: Stowe Ch 643

Over 100 of the documents contain seals that belonged to women or women-run institutions, with many featuring portraits or emblematic images relating to their owners. Some, such as the foundation charter of Bordesley Abbey by Empress Matilda (Add Ch 75724) have even survived with their own seal bags, delicately woven in different coloured silks.

A composite image showing over one hundred seals belonging to women and women-run institutions.

The seals of over 100 women and women-run institutions digitised as part of the Medieval and Renaissance Women project 

The seal bag of Empress Matilda, woven in blue and yellow silk threads.

Seal bag enclosing the seal of Empress Matilda, between 1141 and 1142: Add Ch 75724

Our senior imaging technicians photographed all the seals in the project using an imaging technique called raking light (where light is directed at an object from an angle parallel to the surface) to ensure that all their fine details, legends and sculptural reliefs could be captured.

The green oval seal of Liece of Rouen.

Seal of Liece, daughter of Ralph of Rouen, 2nd half of the 12th century: Harley Ch 50 B 23

The brown seal of Idonia of Hurst.

Seal of Idonia of Hurst, 4th quarter of 12th century to 1st quarter of 13th century: LFC Ch XXV 20

We hope you enjoy reading about the stories and lives of the women featured in these incredible items.

 

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25 April 2023

Inventing a royal past

Greenwich Palace was a favourite of England’s Tudor monarchs. Beside the palace stood the church of the Observant Friars, founded in 1482. Being so close to a royal residence, the church played a regular part in royal ceremonies — Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I were all baptised there. This church had political and religious importance, which is reinforced by two manuscripts digitised for the Library’s Medieval and Renaissance Women project. Egerton MS 2341/1 and Egerton MS 2341/2 contain instructions for the glaziers creating the stained glass for the church’s East window. These instructions demonstrate how that window was designed to strengthen the new Tudor dynasty.

Probably originally a single roll, the two manuscripts are undated. They must have been written after 1489, when Margaret Tudor was born, as she is one of the individuals to be depicted in the window. In turn, they presumably pre-date the death of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s queen, in February 1503, as the text refers to her in the present tense. They may have been made in the early 1490s, and before the church was consecrated by April 1494.

Instructions for the design of the images of Henry VII and his queen, Elizabeth of York, with their drawings of their coats of arms in colour

Part of the roll describing the images of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York: Egerton MS 2341/2, membrane 2

The window was to depict Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, his wife, each holding the other’s hand. It would also feature Margaret, their daughter, and Margaret Beaufort, Henry’s mother. Next, there would be several figures widely revered in late medieval England, including Charlemagne, the mythical Constantine (father of the historical Constantine the Great), St Thomas de Cantilupe, and the Saxon saints Edward the Confessor, Edmund the Martyr and Oswald. The choice of these figures is not surprising. What is unusual is the choice of the women to feature on the window.

The window was to include nine saintly women, each of royal blood. The most famous of these was St Helena, who discovered the True Cross and many other relics in Palestine and was the mother of Emperor Constantine. While not a princess, the manuscript describes Helena as ‘daughter to Coyle Kyng of Britaigne’, the Old King Cole of the nursery rhyme, repeating a mythical ancestry popularised by the medieval chroniclers Henry of Huntingdon and Geoffrey of Monmouth.

A manuscript illumination of St Helena revealing the True Cross to four robed men

St Helena’s discovery of the True Cross: Add MS 17275, f. 290v

Another famous saint to be featured in the window was Margaret of Scotland, the granddaughter of Edmund Ironside and wife of Malcolm III, king of Scots. Their daughter, Maud (or Matilda), married Henry I of England, while Margaret’s great-grandson himself became king as Henry II. In an interesting historical parallel, Margaret, Henry VII’s daughter, who was to appear in the pane below St Margaret, would marry a Scottish king, like her saintly namesake, and have a great-grandson who would become king of England: James VI and I.

The next well-known figure was St Winifred. She was descended from a Welsh princely family and became an important saint in Wales and Shropshire, with cult sites at Holywell and Shrewsbury.

A leaf of a manuscript showing the start of a Latin prayer to St Winifred

A prayer to St Winifred in a 15th-century devotional: Harley MS 955, f. 67v

The remaining six female saints were all Saxon royal women and ranged from the lesser known to the outright obscure: Æthelthryth or Audrey, daughter of King Anna of East Anglia; Edith, daughter of King Edgar of England; Æthelburh, daughter of King Æthelberht of Kent; Eormenhild, daughter of King Eorcenberht of Kent; Blitha, a relative of Æthelred the Unready and Edmund Ironside; and Mildrith, daughter of King Merewalh of Magonsæte, a Mercian sub-king.

Why was the window to include such individuals? Henry VII’s claim to the throne was not especially strong. Although he was a descendant of Edward III, his royal ties were through an unlicensed marriage on his father’s side and illegitimacy on his mother’s. There were other nobles in England who had stronger claim to be king, like the children of George, duke of Clarence, or the Stafford dukes of Buckingham, both families descended legitimately from Edward III. In these two rolls we can see an attempt to bypass this issue by going far back into England’s past to create legitimacy for the fragile new Tudor dynasty.

By focusing on royal women from before the Norman Conquest, the window placed Henry, his queen and his daughter among a cohort of royal women stretching back over a thousand years. He could claim direct descent from St Margaret, the ancestor of every English king from Henry II onwards. She, in turn, was linked to several of these Saxon saints. This window presented a Tudor history that looked beyond the dynastic squabbles of the 15th century, using these women to emphasise Henry VII’s link to a more distant and less contentious Anglo-Saxon past.

We are extremely grateful to Joanna and Graham Barker for their generous funding of Medieval and Renaissance Women.

 

Rory MacLellan

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

20 April 2023

Lady Lumley’s literary endeavours

Over the past year, we’ve been digitising manuscripts that reflect the lives and achievements of medieval and early modern women. This blogpost looks at four surviving volumes that belonged to Jane Lumley (b. 1537, d. 1578), an English noblewoman, Renaissance scholar and translator. All four manuscripts have been digitised thanks to generous funding from Joanna and Graham Barker, and can now be read online for the first time.

Jane Lumley was the eldest child of Henry Fitzalan (b. 1512, d. 1580), 12th Earl of Arundel. FitzAlan was a prominent member of the Tudor court, serving under Henry VIII and all three of his children and successors. Fitzalan was especially interested in learning, and during his life collected one of largest libraries in Tudor England, housed at Nonsuch Palace in Surrey. He also invested considerably in the education of all his children, including his two daughters. Most notably, Jane and her younger sister, Mary, were both taught Latin and Greek and were able to make use of their father’s extensive collection. Jane produced her own original translations of Classical texts that still survive.

A portrait of Jane Lumley by the Flemish artist Steven van der Meulen

A portrait of Jane Lumley by the Flemish artist Steven van der Meulen made in 1563 (Wikimedia Commons)

Jane’s literary endeavours were also supported by her husband, John Lumley (b. c. 1533, d. 1609), 1st Baron Lumley, whom she married at some point between 1550 and 1553. Lumley was a friend of Jane’s brother and a book collector and bibliophile like her father. Together, the Lumleys amassed a collection of over 320 manuscripts and 2,400 printed books, which also incorporated the library at Nonsuch Palace following the death of Jane’s father in 1580. Upon his own death in 1609, John Lumley willed their library to Prince Henry Frederick (b. 1594, d. 1612), eldest son of James VI and I (r. 1603–1625), King of England and Scotland. It was subsequently added to the Old Royal Library, and centuries later became one of the British Museum Library’s foundation collections.

The Lumley Library housed at least three surviving works by Jane, made after she had married John Lumley. They include Jane’s commonplace book (Royal MS 15 A IX), written in her own hand and containing her own translations of a number of Classical works from their original Greek into Latin and English. The most notable of these is her English translation of Iphigenia at Aulis, the last of the surviving tragedies of the Greek playwright Euripides. The play focuses on the decision of the Greek general Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the goddess Artemis and allow the Greeks to set sail for Troy and begin the Trojan War. This is the first known translation of one of Euripides’ plays into English by any hand, and it is also the first known dramatic work in English to be written by a named woman.

The opening of an English translation of Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, from Jane Lumley's commonplace book.

The opening of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, translated by Jane Lumley: Royal MS 15 A IX, f. 66r

Jane also used her commonplace book to write drafts of translations that she intended as gifts for her father. The first half of the volume focuses on her translations of the Orationes (Speeches) of the Ancient Greek rhetorician Isocrates (b. 436 BC, d. 338 BC), from Greek into Latin. Several of these texts feature dedicatory letters addressed to Jane’s father, which she signed, ‘filia tua tibi deditisimma Joanna Lumleya’ (your most dedicated daughter Jane Lumley).

A dedicatory letter to Henry Fitzalan, signed by Jane Lumley

A dedicatory letter to Henry Fitzalan, 14th Earl of Arundel, signed by Jane Lumley: Royal MS 15 A IX, f. 4v

Two presentation copies of Jane’s translations also survived as part of the Lumley Library (now Royal MS 15 A I and Royal MS 15 A II). Like the drafts found in her commonplace book, Jane probably intended these as gifts to be presented to her father on New Year’s Day, a period often associated with gift-giving. The first of these volumes contains her translation of Isocrates’ Archidamus; the other is a translation of his Evagoras, written in her own hand.

The opening of Jane Lumley's English translation of Isocrates' Archidamus

The opening of Jane Lumley’s translation of Archidamus: Royal MS 15 A I, f. 3r

The opening of Jane Lumley's English translation of Isocrates' Evagoras

The opening of Jane Lumley’s translation of Evagoras: Royal MS 15 A II, f. 4r

Two of the three surviving volumes containing Jane’s work also feature added inscriptions by her husband, John Lumley, who marks them explicitly as ‘The doinge of my Lady Lumley dowghter to my L. Therle of Arundell', a reflection of his own respect for and acknowledgement of his wife’s work and achievement.

The opening page of one of Jane's book of translation, inscribed by her husband John Lumley.

The inscription of John Lumley, Jane’s husband, in a copy of one of her translations: Royal MS 15 A I, f. 1A-r

In addition to writing her own translations of Classical texts, Jane also collected manuscripts in her own right. One item that she commissioned is a roll of English maxims on the subject of pride (Royal MS 14 B III), made during the third quarter of the 16th century. The roll is illuminated in colours and gold and features a monogram of her name JOANNA LVMLEIA at the beginning of its second membrane.

The second membrane of a roll of maxims on the subject of pride, made for Jane Lumley.

A roll of maxims on the subject of pride, including the monogram of Jane Lumley: Royal MS 14 B III, membrane 2

We hope you enjoy reading these manuscripts from the library of Jane Lumley and rediscovering her work as an important Renaissance scholar and early Humanist.

Calum Cockburn

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14 April 2023

Managing a medieval household

How much did a medieval noblewoman pay to feed her staff and the members of her inner circle? What was the price of honouring the memory of a deceased member of the family? And how much did a queen spend on buying spices every year? You can find the answers to all these questions in a set of household rolls digitised as part of our Medieval and Renaissance Women project, thanks to generous funding by Joanna and Graham Barker.

Household rolls are a particular type of financial account that record the expenses, income, and other elements relating to the management of a household or medieval domestic establishment. Here is a list of all the household rolls that have been recently digitised and are now available to view online:

Add MS 7966 B

Roll of expenses in wax and spices by the royal households, 1300-1301

Add MS 8877

The household roll of Eleanor de Montfort, Countess of Leicester and Pembroke, 1265 

Add Roll 63207

The household roll of Katherine de Norwich, September 1336 to September 1337

Add Roll 75855

Fragmentary roll of household expenses of Queen Philippa of Hainault 

Royal MS 14 B XIX

Expenses of Princess Mary’s Household, from 1 July 1525 to 31 December 1526

Royal MS 14 B XXVI

Expenses of Princess Mary’s household in her household departments, comparing the expenditure from 1525 and 1526

A collection of medieval household rolls

The newly digitised household rolls: Add MS 8877, Add Roll 63207, Add Roll 75855, Add MS 7966 B, Royal MS 14 B XXVI

One of the most common types of household roll was the ‘diet account’, which recorded the day-to-day location of the household and its expenses on food and provisions. A fascinating example is the household roll of Eleanor de Montfort (b. 1215, d. 1275), Countess of Leicester and Pembroke (now Add MS 8877). Eleanor was one of the most influential women in 13th-century England, the sister of King Henry III (r. 1216-1272) and wife to Simon de Montfort (b. c. 1208, d. 1265), one of the leaders of the rebellion in the Second Barons’ War. Eleanor’s household roll covers a particularly turbulent period in her life, immediately before and after the Battle of Evesham (4 August 1265), one of two major battles that took place during the war, in which both Eleanor’s husband and her son, Henry, were killed.

A portrait of Eleanor de Montfort, enclosed within a roundel in colours and gold.

Portrait of Eleanor de Montfort from a Genealogical Roll of the Kings of England: Royal MS 14 B VI, Membrane 6

Entries in Eleanor’s household roll record the location of her household, the presence of the Countess, her close kin and the names of prominent visitors she hosted, as well as details of her various household departments, and the types and quantities of food and drink that were consumed. This entry, for example, shows that on an average day Eleanor paid a total of 10s. 10 ½d. on feeding herself and her staff, with purchases including grain, wine, and fish, among other items:

Die Veneris sequenti, pro comitissa et predictis; panis, ij. Quarteria, ij. Busseli, de Abindon’, Panis, ex emptione, vj.d. Vinum, iiij. Sixtaria; missis Domingo W. de Bathon’, dimidium sextarium; missis Domine Agnete, j. sextarium et  domidium. [Coquina.] Alleces, vij., de instaro. Piscis (de mari), ix.s. vj d. [Mareschalcia.] Fenum, ad lviij. Equos. Avena, iij. Quareria, v. busselli. Pro busca, iij.d. Proo gagiis B. Juvenis, vij.d.ob. Summa, x.s. x.d. ob.

‘On Friday following, for the countess and the above-mentioned; grain, 2 quarters, 2 bushels, from Abingdon. Grain, by purchase, 6d. Wine, 4 sesters; half a sester having been sent to Sir Walter of Bath; 1 ½ sesters having been sent to Lady Agnes. [Kitchen] Herrings, 700, from the stock. Fish from the sea, 9s 6d. [Marshalesea] Hay, for 68 horses. Oats, 3 quarters, 5 bushels. For brushwood, 3d. For the wages of B. Juvenis,7 ½ d. Sum, 10 s. 10 ½ d.’

        (see ed. and trans. L. J. Wilkinson, The Household Roll (2020), pp. 1-2).

A detail from the first membrane of the household roll of Eleanor de Montfort

An entry from the household roll of Eleanor de Montfort: Add MS 8877, Membrane 1

As well as the more everyday entries in household rolls, it is also possible to find records of extravagant expenditures, made for important occasions. That is the case for one entry in the household roll of the noblewoman Dame Katherine de Norwich (Add Roll 63207). Katherine de Norwich was the daughter of Sir John de Hethersett, and the widow of Piers Braunche (d. 1296) and later Walter de Norwich (d. 1329) and owned a number of manorial estates and residences throughout England. On 20 January 1337, Katherine spent a total of £10 18s 8d, a sixth of her annual expenditure on an anniversary feast held to commemorate the death of her second husband. Katherine hosted over ninety people for the event. Among the items bought for the feast, we find beer, hogs, mallards, a heron, chicken, partridge and wine.

The first membrane of the household roll of Katherine de Norwich

The household roll of Katherine de Norwich: Add Roll 63207, Membrane 1

Some household rolls were also made to record the expenditure from purchases of a particular type of item. For example, one surviving roll made between 1300-1301 (now Add MS 7966 B) details expenses for wax and spices, bought for members of the English royal family, including King Edward I (r. 1272-1307), Queen Margaret of France (b. c. 1279, d. 1318), the future Edward II (r. 1307-1327),and Thomas (b. 1300, d. 1338), eldest son of King Edward I and Margaret. The roll records over twenty different spices, which would have been used to enrich the flavour of meals prepared for the royal household, from ginger and pepper, to galangal, cumin, cinnamon and saffron, among others.

A membrane from a household roll, containing expenditure on cinnamon, pepper and other spices.

Records of expenditure on cinnamon, pepper, and other spices, from a household roll made for the English royal family: Add MS 7966 B, Membrane 2

Household rolls provide a window into the day-to-day lives of medieval women, their expenses and income, the food they ate and the visitors they hosted, as well as the ways in which they managed their estates and resources. We hope you enjoy exploring these fascinating items! 

Paula Del Val Vales

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

05 April 2023

Inside a Tudor woman's home

Have you ever wondered how a woman’s home in 16th-century England would be decorated? What rooms, furniture and furnishings might it have had? Two manuscripts digitised for the British Library’s Medieval and Renaissance Women project reveal just that.

Egerton Roll 8797 and a contemporary copy, Egerton Roll 8798, are inventories of the London house of Alice Smythe, drawn up soon after her death in 1593. Alice came from an important merchant family. Her father was Sir Andrew Judde (c. 1492–1555), mayor of London in 1550 and a master of the Skinners Company. In 1555, she married another Skinner, Thomas Smythe (1522–1591), an MP and a successful merchant himself. Three years later, Thomas became the customs collector for the port of London, a government role that brought him vast riches and the nickname Customer Smythe. We can easily see the couple’s wealth in this inventory of their home, drawn up after Alice died, two years after Thomas’ own death.

A portrait of a middle-aged Elizabethan woman in dark clothing and a ruff, with a long gold necklace.

Portrait of Alice Smythe by Cornelius Ketel, c. 1580: Private Collection

On 30 June that year, Richard Rogers, a goldsmith, Richard Osborne, a draper, and two merchant tailors, William Greenway and Hugh Sherriot, citizens of London, appraised Alice’s house and its contents. The inventory they created goes room by room through her house in Fenchurch Street, London, beginning with the entrance hall. This had a couple of long tables, two candlesticks, and a picture of the coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth (2 shillings). Next were two parlours: the folks’ parlour, for everyday use, had a fireplace, chairs and a Bible, but the ‘best’ parlour had more elaborate decor. As well as leather chairs and green curtains, the room also had three ‘Turkey carpets’ (£2 16s 8d). Textiles like this from Turkey and elsewhere in the Islamic world were a sign of wealth and could be found in many prosperous Tudor homes.

The beginning of the inventory of Alice’s house.

The beginning of the inventory of Alice’s house: Egerton Roll 8797

The bedroom above the best parlour was decorated with tapestries and a painting of Moses meeting with Pharaoh (10 shillings). In the next room, which had a matted floor, was a painting of Henry VIII and one of Cupid and Venus (6 shillings each). Beside this was a painted bedroom with a featherbed, green rugs and curtains, and a virginal, a type of small harpsichord.

Many of the other rooms upstairs were equally well decorated, with more ‘Turkey’ carpets, featherbeds, and green or red curtains. There was a gallery filled with paintings and stained glass. In the room within the gallery was another sitting room with fourteen paintings of Alice and Thomas and their children, suggesting the importance she placed upon her family. Alongside these was a painting of the Roman heroine Lucretia, chests, and velvet and taffeta chairs.

Other artworks in the house were an Arras tapestry of Joseph, and paintings of Death and Pride, Christ as a shepherd, and the Last Supper. The great chamber had an embroidered coat of arms and portraits of Queen Elizabeth, William Cecil, Lord Treasurer, the Virgin Mary on stained glass, and Holofernes. Alice’s home, with its collection of paintings depicting Biblical figures, Classical myths and Tudor monarchs, is typical of a prosperous English house in this period. The great chamber’s contents came to £14 16s 10d. In contrast, the bedrooms of the three maids totalled just £4 19s 2d. Alice had at least seven other servants each with their own room. Outside the main house was a tennis court, a stable, a wash house and a still house. In the yard were a few weapons: two billhooks and three pikes.

Among Alice’s valuables were £23 10s 8d of rings including one with a diamond and twenty-two rubies. Her other jewellery and plate came to £183 14s 7d. One of these was diamond jewellery in the shape of an ‘A’, probably used by Alice herself. Alongside this was £177 9s in ready money.

The title page of volume one of The Monument of Matrones, framed with scenes from biblical stories and the royal crest above.

Title page of Thomas Bentley’s The Monument of Matrones, 1582: British Library G.12047-49.

Alice also gives the impression of having been a literate woman. She had 35s 8d of books, including two chronicles, a few Bibles, the Book of Common Prayer, and Thomas Bentley’s The Monument of Matrones. Published in 1582, this volume contained prayers written by and for women, including Queen Elizabeth. While the other books may have been shared by Alice with her husband, this one would almost certainly have been her own.

In all, Alice’s possessions came to £1084 17s 1d, plus £1248 that was received from the executors of her husband’s will. The total would be worth almost £700,000 today and this didn’t include the value of the house itself or any other property she owned elsewhere. She owed debts of £76 14s to various individuals, mostly wages for her servants, the fee for having her will written, and money for her doctor. Alice left £438 17s 5d in funeral expenses.

This inventory takes us inside the house of a wealthy Elizabethan widow, giving us an insight into her interests, lifestyle and beliefs. The imported ‘Turkey’ rugs and Arras tapestries hint at London’s international ties in the late 1500s, while the copy of Bentley’s Monument of Matrones tells us about Alice’s personal spirituality; her paintings of classical figures and stories suggest an interest in the Greek and Roman past. It helps us recover the story of a woman who has often been overshadowed by her husband and who did not leave us many documents in her own voice.

We are extremely grateful to Joanna and Graham Barker for their generous funding of Medieval and Renaissance Women.

 

Rory MacLellan

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

31 March 2023

A Tudor autograph book

The British Library is home to hundreds of beautiful illuminated Books of Hours, prayerbooks that were hugely popular during the medieval and early modern eras, as they allowed lay people to develop and observe their own routines of personal devotion. These Books of Hours also provide us with significant insights into the lives of their patrons and owners, who often inscribed these manuscripts with their own beliefs, thoughts and recollections, details of significant events in their lives, and interactions with their most intimate circles of friends and family.

One such Book of Hours (Add MS 17012) stands out for the additions made for one of its female owners. Originally written and illuminated in Antwerp around the year 1500, it subsequently came to London, where it belonged to a prominent woman at the early Tudor court. The volume’s female owner used it not simply as her own personal prayerbook and set of devotions, but also as an autograph book, in which she collected signatures and expressions of favour from numerous members of the court, and even the Tudor royal family. The manuscript has recently been digitised as part of our Medieval and Renaissance Women project and is now available online, thanks to generous funding from Joanna and Graham Barker.

A portrait of Mary Magdalene from a Book of Hours

A portrait of Mary Magdalene: Add MS 17012, f. 36v

The female owner of this Book of Hours has been identified as Lady Joan Vaux (b. c. 1463, d. 1538), also known as Mother Guilford. Her identity was determined by Mary Erler in a number of extended studies of the volume and its numerous inscriptions (see Erler, 'Widows in Retirement’, Religion and Literature, 37 (2005), 51–75; Erler, ‘The Book of Hours as album amicorum: Jane Guildford’s Book’, in The Social Life of Illumination: Manuscripts, Images, and Communities in the Late Middle Ages, ed. by Joyce Coleman, Mark Cruse, and Kathryn Smith (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013), pp. 505–36). Vaux was an English courtier who served as lady-in-waiting to four Queens, as well as Lady Governess to the Princesses Margaret and Mary Tudor, the daughters of Henry VII and later Queens of Scotland and France. She continued to play an important role at court for much of her life — she was even known to the Dutch philosopher and humanist Erasmus — and seems to have been well respected and admired there, receiving a healthy pension and lavish gifts from the King when she retired.

Joan married twice. Her first husband was Sir Richard Guilford (b. c. 1450, d. 1506), an explorer and naval commander who died on pilgrimage to the Holy Land; her second was the English diplomat Sir Anthony Poyntz (b. c. 1480, d. 1533/35). Among the added inscriptions throughout Joan’s Book of Hours are messages and inscriptions by members of the Poyntz family. Her brother-in-laws John Poyntz (b. c. 1485, d. 1544) and Francis Poyntz (d. 1528) inscribed their Latin mottos and monograms at one of the volume’s blank openings, and Francis also added his own message, which reads, ‘Madame when ye most devoutyst be have yn remembreance f and p’. Their inscriptions appear beside that of another member of the Tudor court, Thomas Manners (b. c. 1497, d. 1543), Lord Roos and 1st Earl of Rutland, who says to her, ‘Madam wan you ar dysposyd to pray remember your assured sarvant always, T Roos’.

An opening from a 16th-century Book of Hours, showing added inscriptions

An opening from a Book of Hours, showing inscriptions from John and Francis Poyntz, and Thomas Manners: Add MS 17012, ff. 179v–180r

A detail showing a heart-shaped monogram and an inscription in English

A heart-shaped monogram and added inscription: Add MS 17012, f. 180r

In addition to these personal inscriptions from her family and fellow courtiers, Joan also received expressions of favour from no less than six members of the Tudor royal family. These appear most prominently on a single opening at the very beginning of the Book of the Hours, before its main collection of prayers.

An opening showing signatures and inscriptions from the Tudor Royal family

Inscriptions from members of the Tudor royal family added to the Book of Hours: Add MS 17012, ff. 20v–21r

Here, the left-hand page of the opening is given over to inscriptions by King Henry VIII (r. 1509–1547), who signs his name at the end of one set of prayers, followed by his first wife Catherine of Aragon (b. 1485, d. 1536), who writes her own message, calling the book’s owner a friend and asking for her prayers.

Henry VIII

The signature of Henry VIII

The signed name of Henry VIII: Add MS 17012, f. 20v

Catherine of Aragon

The added inscription and signature of Catherine of Aragon

The added inscription of Catherine of Aragon: Add MS 17012, f. 20v

        I thinke the prayers of a frend the
        most acceptable unto God and
        because I take you for one of myn
        assured I pray you remembre me
        in yours.

        Katherine the queen

On the facing page, we find added messages from King Henry VII (r. 1485–1509), his Queen consort Elizabeth of York (b. 1466, d. 1503), and their daughter Princess Margaret (b. 1489, d. 1541). The King and Queen wrote in English and the Princess in French.

Henry VII

The added inscription and signature of Henry VII

The added inscription of Henry VII: Add MS 17012, f. 21r

        Madame I pray you re
        membre me your louyng
        maistre.

        Henry R[ex]

Elizabeth of York

The added inscription and signature of Elizabeth of York

The added inscription of Elizabeth of York: Add MS 17012, f. 21r

        Madame I pray you forget
        not me to pray to god
        I may haue part of
        your prayers.

        Elysabeth the quene

Princess Margaret

The added inscription of Princess Margaret and the same shot under ultraviolet light

The added inscription of Princess Margaret, shot under ultraviolet light: Add MS 17012, f. 21r

        et moy je vous prie que maintietenes
        tourjours en sa bonne grace

        cest m[argueri]te

        and myself, I pray that you remain
        always in his good grace

        this is Margaret

Remarkably, these inscriptions are not the only additions to this Book of Hours made by members of the Tudor royal family. At the end of the volume, another text has been added, an English translation of a Latin prayer (‘Concede mihi, misericors Deus’) attributed to the Italian theologian Thomas Aquinas. The prayer’s introduction indicates that this translation was made by Princess Mary, later Queen Mary I (r. 1553–1558), in 1527, when she was only 11 years old:

The prayor of Saynt Thomas of Aquyne, translatyd oute of Latyn unto Englyshe by the moste exselent Prynses Mary, doughter to the moste hygh and myghty Prynce and Prynces kyng Henry the viij. and Quene Kateryne hys wyfe in the yere of our Lorde God m'.ccccc.xxvij [1527]. and the xj yere of here age

A page from a Book of Hours, showing an added inscription by Princess Mary

The beginning of an added English translation of a Latin prayer by Thomas Aquinas, made by Princess Mary: Add MS 17012, f. 192v

In the margin beneath this text, Mary added her own message and dedication to the book’s owner, mirroring the sentiments of other members of her family in asking Joan to remember her in her prayers:

        I have red that no body lyvethe as
        he shulde doo but he that foloweth
        verrtu and y reckenynge you to be one of
        them I pray you to remembre me
        yn your devocyons.

        Mary the princesse

The multiple expressions of royal favour throughout the Book of Hours speak to the prominence and reputation of its owner, and they also provide a fascinating insight into the changing dynamics of the Tudor court itself. This is particularly apparent in the treatment of the inscriptions made by Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary. In all these cases, vigorous attempts at erasure have been made. Catherine’s title as ‘quene’ and ‘wife’ to Henry VIII, and Mary’s title as ‘princess’, have been scrubbed away and subsequently overwritten to prevent them from being read.

Three different erasures made to texts by Catherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor

Erasures made to inscriptions and texts by Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary: Add MS 17012, ff. 20v, 192v

Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon famously did not last, with the King annulling it in 1533, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. He subsequently banished Catherine from the royal court, stripping her of her title as Queen. Until the end of her life, she was known as the ‘Dowager Princess of Wales’, in light of her marriage to Henry’s older brother, Prince Arthur (d. 1502). Mary, meanwhile, was deemed illegitimate and styled ‘The Lady Mary’, the title Princess similarly taken away from her. Joan Vaux herself was notably called for a deposition during the divorce proceedings, where she was asked to testify whether or not Catherine’s marriage to Arthur had been consummated. It is unclear whether Joan was forced to undertake the removal of Catherine’s and Mary’s titles in her own Book of Hours, or whether this was the work of a later owner of the book.

A portrait of St Anne, with the Virgin Mary and Infant Christ, from a Book of Hours

A portrait of St Anne, with the Virgin Mary and Infant Christ: Add MS 17012, f. 34v

Joan’s book represents a tantalising witness to the life of a significant figure at the Tudor court, the affections of her family and friends, and to a fraught and changing political climate that dominated England in the early 1500s. We hope you enjoy exploring its pages online.

 

Calum Cockburn

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

29 March 2023

The bride's journey

How do you bring a soon-to-be queen to her new kingdom?

In November 1444, an expedition of over 300 people was sent to France with a specific mission: to bring Margaret of Anjou (b. 1430, d. 1482) to England for her marriage to King Henry VI (r. 1422–1461, 1470–1471). The receipts and expenses of the journey and of the preparations made for it were recorded in an account-book (Add MS 23938) which has been digitised for the British Library's Medieval and Renaissance Women project. The volume in question, covering the period from 17 July 1444 to 16 October 1445, was compiled by two royal clerks, John Breknoke and John Everdon.

The title page of an account book of Margaret of Anjou.

The first page of the account-book containing the receipts and expenses of the expedition to bring Margaret of Anjou to England: Add MS 23938. f. 1r

Margaret of Anjou was the daughter of René (r. 1435–1442), Duke of Anjou and King of Naples, and Isabella (b. 1400, d. 1453), Duchess of Lorraine. Her marriage to Henry VI had been negotiated by William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, as part of a truce in the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. Margaret was betrothed (that is, promised in marriage) to Henry when she was 15 years old, and her future husband was 23. She was originally married to Henry by proxy, before she left for England, with William de la Pole standing in for Henry. The accounts describe her from that point onwards as Queen of England, being titled in Latin, ‘Compotus Johannis Breknoke et Johannis Euerdon de expensis domine Margarete regine veniente in Angliam’.

A portrait of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, being presented with a book by John Talbot.

Queen Margaret of Anjou and King Henry VI in the ‘Talbot Shrewsbury Book': Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 2v

For the fifteen months covered by this account, a temporary household was created with the sole purpose of organising Margaret’s journey to England and accompanying her until she could be provided with a new permanent establishment upon her arrival. The expedition was led by William de la Pole himself. It was expected that the journey would only last three months, but in fact it lasted from November 1444 until April 1445. The cost of this enterprise was £5,563 17s. 5d., exceeding the funds that had been assigned to it by over £400.

The total amount covered by the account book of Margaret of Anjou.

The total expenditure covered by the accounts: Add MS 23938, f. 21r

The accounts contain an extraordinary list of people who accompanied the queen during the journey. As well as the Duke of Suffolk, it included the Marchioness of Suffolk and her ladies, 5 barons and 5 baronesses, 17 knights, 65 esquires and 204 valets. The queen’s own Angevin servants and entourage joined them on the way back to England, multiplying the number of people onboard. The journey also required the expertise of multiple sailors, who brought Margaret from France to England via the Cinque Ports (the five major ports in South-East England: Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, New Romney and Hastings).

A list of wages and members of the expedition, listed in the account book

A list of wages and people in the expedition: Add MS 23938, f. 13r

These accounts provide a fascinating insight into one of the most solemn and expensive such expeditions in medieval English history. Margaret remained married to Henry until he was murdered at the Tower of London in May 1471. She was subsequently placed into the custody of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk (Geoffrey Chaucer's grand-daughter), her former lady-in-waiting, before being ransomed by King Louis XI in 1475 and returning to France, where she lived the remainder of her life. Those events are reflected by another document digitised for our project (Add Ch 13293); but that's another story!

A single sheet charter, containing a certificate for the safe delivery of Margaret to France

A certificate for the safe delivery of Margaret of Anjou to Louis XI in 1476, photographed under ultraviolet light (Add Ch 13293)

We are extremely grateful to Joanna and Graham Barker for their generous funding of Medieval and Renaissance Women.

 

Paula Del Val Vales

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