THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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204 posts categorized "Anglo-Saxon"

21 June 2018

A midsummer milestone

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To mark midsummer, that most magical of days, we have another exciting update from The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project. In a ground-breaking collaboration, the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France have now digitised and published online 600 out of the selected 800 manuscripts. The remaining 200 manuscripts will be made available later this year. To get an idea of the range of manuscripts included so far, we have compiled a list (available in PDF and Excel formats) containing shelfmarks and titles, along with links to view the manuscripts in either Digitised Manuscripts at the BL or Archives et manuscrits at the BnF.

PDF format: Download BL_BnF_600_PolonskyPre1200Project_MSS

Excel format: Download BL_BnF_600_Project_MSS

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St Benedict and monks, in the Eadui Psalter: Arundel MS 155, f. 133r

 

Coming soon:

Our project explores five hundred years of intellectual activity and manuscript production in both France and England. As we move rapidly towards the grand finale in November, here’s a brief recap of what is still to come. In November we launch:

A new joint project viewer to all 800 manuscripts: The project manuscripts will be presented in a new Mirador based viewer being developed by the BnF. The images will be presented in an internationally agreed standard format known as IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework-format). This means that it will be easier to view and share images from different collections. In the new viewer, you will be able to view multiple manuscripts from either library side by side and therefore virtually unite manuscripts from the collections of the two libraries. You will also be able to download an individual image or a pdf of an entire manuscript. 

A new interpretative website, Medieval England and France, 700-1200: We are also developing a new website, hosted by the British Library, which will feature articles and short films about the manuscripts. These will focus on a wide range of themes, such as history, medicine, music and art. We’ll include interviews with leading experts and several short clips on the various stages of illumination, commissioned from a modern artist and calligrapher. This website will be a virtual exhibition area to explore a selection of our collections, and everything will be presented in both English and French.

Medieval Illumination: Manuscript Art from England and France 700-1200: In addition, we are preparing a book that will present some of the most impressive illuminated manuscripts in the project, illustrated with over 70 full-page colour illustrations. In Medieval Illumination we will alternate between manuscripts made in England and in France in order to present the similarities and differences between the art produced in each country. This book too will be translated and published in French. Both versions will be available by the opening of the Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition on 19 October (see below), as a number of project manuscripts will be featured in both the book and the exhibition.

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Rabanus Maurus, De Laudibus sancte crucis: BnF MS latin 11685, f. 5v

 

Other Upcoming Events:

International Medieval Congress 2018, 2–5 July, Leeds: We will be presenting a live update of the project at the Leeds IMC 2018. On Tuesday, 3 July, members of the project teams from both libraries (Laura Albiero, Cristian Ispir and Francesco Siri) will present new research on selected project manuscripts (session 638 at 11:15am). In the evening round table session (with Tuija Ainonen, Alison Ray and Francesco Siri) we will discuss the project itself, the work we do and the different resources we are in the process of creating. This will also be a great opportunity to ask questions or offer comments on this historical collaborative venture (session 938 at 7pm).

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Our readers will also have an opportunity to view some of the original manuscripts in person as a number of them will feature in the upcoming Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. The exhibition will be open from 19 October 2018 to 19 February 2019 in the PACCAR gallery at the British Library (tickets are available here).

France et Angleterre: manuscrits médiévaux entre 700 et 1200 conference: We’ll also be holding a three-day conference in Paris to celebrate the project launch, and to present more new research on manuscripts included in the project. Mark your calendars for 21–23 November 2018 in Paris at the Auditorium Colbert (2 Rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris). Free but mandatory registration will be available here.

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The entry into Jerusalem and the Last Supper: Arundel MS 157, f. 8v

 

Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms conference, London: To coincide with the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, on 13–14 December 2018, the Library is holding a two-day international conference with papers by leading scholars in the fields of history, literature and art history. This will be followed by a one-day symposium for early career researchers on 15 December 2018. Several of the manuscripts digitised as part of the project will be featured in the conference and symposium papers. Delegates are invited to a reception and private view of the exhibition on 13 December. Registration is available here.

Blogs: We will be continuing to blog about interesting manuscripts in the project on both the Medieval Manuscripts Blog, and on ManuscriptaFor inspiring glimpses of individual manuscripts check out the Project on Twitter (using the hashtag #PolonskyPre1200).

 

The Polonsky Pre-1200 Project Team

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

In collaboration with

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16 June 2018

Cotton manuscripts quiz

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Last week we announced that the manuscript collection of Sir Robert Cotton, held at the British Library, has been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register. To celebrate, we've decided to test our readers' knowledge of the Cotton library. Some of these questions are easier than others, we hope. There are no prizes up for grabs but please let us know how you get on via Twitter, @BLMedieval, using the hashtag #cottonquiz, or by the comments field below. Good luck!

The answers are now given below (no peeking!).

1. On which manuscript does Sir Robert Cotton rest his hands in this portrait?

Cotton

2. From whom did Cotton reportedly acquire his two copies of the 1215 Magna Carta?

3. The diary of which English king is found in the Cotton library?

4. Which Roman emperor connects Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Lindisfarne Gospels?

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5. How old was Sir Robert Cotton when he acquired his first manuscript? (And for a bonus point, what was the manuscript in question?)

6. In 1602–03, Robert Cotton presented a dozen manuscripts to whom, one of the earliest donations for which other great collection?

7. The Reculver charter is written in what script?

8. Name the English monarch for whom this map was made.

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9. How many volumes were destroyed in their entirety in the 1731 fire?

10. The plan for which famous battle was identified in a fire-damaged Cotton manuscript?

 

***

Here are the answers:

 

The Cotton Genesis (Cotton Otho MS B VI)

Sir Edward Dering (Cotton Charter XIII 31A, sent to Cotton in June 1630) and Humphrey Wyems of the Middle Temple (Cotton MS Augustus II 106, presented to him on New Year's Day 1629)

King Edward VI (Cotton MS Nero C X)

Nero (they are named Cotton MS Nero A X/2 and Cotton Nero MS D IV respectively)

Seventeen (Cotton MS Vespasian D XV is inscribed on f. 83v, 'Robertus Cotton 1588 Æ 17')

Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of the Bodleian Library in Oxford

Uncial (Cotton MS Augustus II 2)

King Henry VIII (Cotton MS Augustus I i 9)

Thirteen, plus three more in the 1865 British Museum bindery fire (as noted by Andrew Prescott, ‘“Their present miserable state of cremation”: the restoration of the Cotton library’, in C. J. Wright (ed.), Sir Robert Cotton as Collector: Essays on an Early Stuart Courtier and his Legacy (London, 1997), pp. 391–454, at pp. 392, 421)

Agincourt (the French battle-plan is found in Cotton MS Caligula D V, ff. 43v–44r)

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09 June 2018

Sir Robert Cotton's manuscripts added to Memory of the World register

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We are delighted that Sir Robert Cotton's collection of manuscripts, held at the British Library, has been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register. Cotton's library contains many historical and literary treasures of national and international significance, such as Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the only surviving copies of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the autograph papers of a number of British monarchs. Collectively they form a key part of the intellectual heritage of the nation. 

Vespasian Psalter (Cotton MS Vespasian A I  f31r)

A page from the Vespasian Psalter, known as Cotton MS Vespasian A I following Robert Cotton's system of arranging his manuscripts in presses named after Roman emperors and imperial ladies. This manuscript, made in Kent in the 8th century, contains an interlinear Old English gloss of the Psalter text: Cotton MS Vespasian A I, f. 31r

Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631) was a politician and antiquarian scholar, who began to assemble his collection of manuscripts as early as 1588, aged just seventeen. Cotton's collecting interests focused on works central to the study of British history, such as chronicles, cartularies, maps and state papers.

Matthew Paris Map of Britain (Cotton MS Claudius D VI 1)

A map of Britain by Matthew Paris, monk and chronicler of St Albans (d. 1259). Scotland is joined to the mainland by a bridge at Stirling, while Kent is located due South of London: Cotton MS Claudius D VI/1

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The Cotton library contains a nationally significant collection of medieval chronicles. The manuscript of the Chronicle of Melrose Abbey, shown here recording (in red ink) the foundation of the monasteries of Rievaulx in 1132 and Melrose in 1136, is the oldest surviving annalistic chronicle from Scotland: Cotton MS Faustina B IX, f. 18r

The importance of these manuscripts for our knowledge of the past cannot be overstated. For example, Robert Cotton brought together the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the world, including two early copies of Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum and five manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, as well as the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon charter, dating from AD 679. Many of these manuscripts will be on display later this year in the Library's major Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (19 October 2018–19 February 2019).

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The earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon charter, a grant of land by King Hlothhere of Kent to Abbot Beorhtwald and his monastery, dated 679. This document is also sometimes known as the 'Reculver charter' after the place where it was issued: Cotton MS Augustus II 2

After Robert Cotton's death, the library passed in turn to his son, Sir Thomas Cotton (d. 1662), and grandson, Sir John Cotton (d. 1702). In 1702, the Cotton library was acquired by the British government, the first occasion that any library passed into national ownership in Britain – an important step in the creation of a national, public library.

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Some of the greatest works of medieval English literature are preserved uniquely in the Cotton library, among them the only surviving copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Cotton MS Nero A X/2, ff. 94v–95r

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The Cotton library is integral to our knowledge of early modern British history. This document, written by King Edward VI of England in January 1551/2, is headed 'Certein pointes of weighty matters to be immediatly concluded on by my counsell': Cotton MS Vespasian F XIII, f. 273r. Edward's diary is also held in the Cotton collection: Cotton MS Nero C X, ff. 10–83

Most of the collection survived a major fire in 1731, which formed part of the impetus for the creation of the British Museum in 1753. Some of the manuscripts were damaged significantly in that fire, with a small number being completely destroyed. The volumes in question were restored in the 19th century and they continue to support scientific research into the preservation and digitisation of fire-damaged artefacts.

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In October 1731, the Cotton library narrowly escaped near-total destruction when a fire broke out at Ashburnham House in London. In the 19th century, it was discovered that the fire-damaged parchment leaves could be inlaid in modern paper mounts, as shown here in a page from Bede's Ecclesiastical History: Cotton MS Tiberius A XIV, f. 39r

Ever since the library's formation, the Cotton manuscripts have been made available for consultation by scholars worldwide. You can read more about the Cotton manuscripts in our collection guide here.

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The Cotton library is particularly rich in illuminated manuscripts from Britain and beyond. Here is the opening page of the Coronation Book of King Charles V of France, commissioned in 1365: Cotton MS Tiberius B VIII/2, f. 35r 

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Many of the manuscripts are written in Latin or in English (including Old English, Middle English and Scots English). Other European languages represented in the collection include Cornish, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Welsh. Non-European languages include Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Inuit, Persian and Turkish. Here is page from a Latin-Old Cornish glossary, copied in South-East Wales in the 12th century: Cotton MS Vespasian A XIV, f. 8v

You can view many of the Cotton manuscripts on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site. We recommend that, on the homepage, you type into the Manuscripts search box 'Cotton MS' or 'Cotton Ch' in order to see those currently available; more are being added all the time.

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Sir Robert Cotton was closely acquainted with many of the leading scholars and collectors of his day. In this letter, Sir Edward Dering (d. 1644) sent him the charter of King John dated at Runnymede, now known as Magna Carta, and preserved as Cotton Charter XIII 31A: Cotton MS Julius C III, f. 143r

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Cotton was renowned for rearranging his manuscripts and for preserving pages from other books and documents. Prefacing a gospelbook is this cutting from the Breviary of Margaret of York, which in turn incorporates a mounted papyrus fragment of Gregory the Great, Homiliae XL in Evangelia, dating from the late 6th or 7th century: Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 1r

The British Library's two manuscripts of Magna Carta, issued by King John in 1215 and both forming part of Sir Robert Cotton's library, were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World International Register in 2009. We are thrilled that this whole manuscript collection of national and international importance has now been recognised by UNESCO. We hope that the Cotton library will continue to inspire research into the rich cultural and historical heritage of the British Isles. The full list of inscriptions on the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register can be accessed here.

Tickets for the British Library's Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, featuring a number of the Cotton manuscripts, can be purchased online.

 

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08 June 2018

Registration now open for our ‘Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms’ conference

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On 13–14 December 2018, the British Library will be hosting an international conference to coincide with the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition which runs from 19 October 2018 to 19 February 2019. Registration for the conference is now open.


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A calendar page for December, from a geographical and scientific collection made in England in the mid-11th century: Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 8v

The programme comprises twenty-two of the leading experts in the study of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. They were invited on the basis of their long-established study of these manuscripts, their senior professional standing and the high calibre of their contributions to the field. The speakers were selected, with the advice of the exhibition’s advisory group, to ensure that the conference covers the full time-period, geographical range and themes reflected in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.

The conference will open and close with keynote lectures by Professor Lawrence Nees of the University of Delaware and Professor Julia Crick of King’s College London.

Other confirmed speakers are Sue Brunning, Richard Gameson, Helen Gittos, Michael Gullick, David Johnson, Catherine Karkov, Simon Keynes, Rosalind Love, Rosamond McKitterick, Bernard Meehan, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Andy Orchard, Susan Rankin, Winfried Rudolf, Joanna Story, Francesca Tinti, Elaine Treharne, Immo Warntjes, Tessa Webber and Jonathan Wilcox. The conference will include an evening private view of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.

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Opening page of the Gospel of St Mark featuring a border and an initial in gold and colours with animal head decorations, from the Bury Gospels, England (Canterbury?), c. 1020–1030: Harley MS 76, f. 45r

The conference will be followed on 15 December 2018 by a symposium in which early career researchers will discuss their new work on manuscripts from Anglo-Saxon England. The speakers were selected following an open call for papers held last year.

Cotton MS Cleopatra C VIII  f. 4r
Patientia talking to other virtues, from the Psychomachia, England, early 11th century,
Cotton MS Cleopatra C VIII, f. 4r

As the Old English poem Maxims I urges, ‘Gleawe men sceolon gieddum wrixlan’ (‘Wise people ought to exchange learned speeches’). We hope you will be able to join us in December.  

Register for the International Conference only (13 and 14 December)

Register for the International Conference and Early Career Symposium (13, 14 and 15 December)

 

We are very grateful to the donors who are generously supporting the conference and symposium:

The Polonsky Foundation

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Patrick Donovan 

The Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections

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Past & Present Postgraduate Fund

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04 June 2018

The first voyage of Codex Amiatinus

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One Thursday in June over 1300 years ago, a group of monks stood on the banks of the River Wear, weeping. In the distance, a boat was sailing away across the river. Over the water, the sound of the monks’ singing and sobs reached the elderly man in the boat, who was himself in tears. This was Ceolfrith, their abbot. He was leaving, never to return. Among the things he took with him was an enormous book, a gift he intended to deliver at his earthly destination. That book has never returned to the British Isles … until now.

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Codex Amiatinus, written at Wearmouth-Jarrow before 716: Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana
, MS Amiatino 1 (© Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence)

The dramatic description of Abbot Ceolfrith’s departure is set out in The Life of Ceolfrith, written shortly after those events by an anonymous author. Ceolfrith's departure also features in another contemporaneous work, the History of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, which was written by another of Ceolfrith’s monks: the Venerable Bede. Wearmouth and Jarrow were two sites of the same monastery. Together, they formed one of the major intellectual centres in Europe in the 8th century, and these works are key sources for the monastery’s early history. They also provide useful information about the production of that giant book Ceolfrith took with him, now known as Codex Amiatinus. Today, Codex Amiatinus is the oldest surviving, complete Latin Bible in the world. The manuscript that contains the earliest surviving copies of both the Anonymous Life of Ceolfrith and Bede’s History of the Abbots has recently been digitised, thanks to The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200.  

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Account of Ceolfrith's departure in the earliest copy of the Anonymous Vita Ceolfridi, made in England in the 10th century: Harley MS 3020, f. 29r 

According to Bede, Ceolfrith was the sort of ‘man who worked hard at everything’ (‘industrius per omnia vir’). Ceolfrith was particularly energetic at expanding the libraries at Jarrow and Wearmouth that his predecessor, Benedict Biscop, had set up. According to Bede, he doubled the size of those libraries. He also ordered that three giant Bibles be made, using the new Latin translation of the Bible (Jerome’s Vulgate translation). One of the Bibles was to go to Wearmouth, the other Jarrow and the third Ceolfrith took as a gift for St Peter’s shrine in Rome.

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Late 12th-century image of a scribe that may depict Bede, from the Lives of St Cuthbert, Durham, 4th quarter of the 12th century: Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 2r 

Both Bede and the anonymous author state that Ceolfrith decided to go on a final pilgrimage to Rome because he felt he was becoming too old to set a good example to his pupils. Both accounts claim this was something of a surprise to his monks: Bede claims they were only given two days’ notice. This seems dubious, given the elaborate preparations necessary for the journey, that included not only Ceolfrith but dozens of other travelling companions. Nevertheless, using both accounts, we can reconstruct some of his route. 

Reconstruction of Ceolfrith's journey, based on the Anonymous Life, Bede's History of the Abbots, later pilgrim itineraries and the analysis of Grocock, Wood and Morris and comparisons with Archbishop Sigeric's later itinerary; with the Nodegoat visualisation environment

‘Now Ceolfrith set out from his monastery on 4 June, a Thursday …’ according to the Anonymous Life. Ceolfrith sailed across the River Wear in a boat, then rode south on horseback:

he got out of the boat ... and got on a horse, speeding away from the land of the Angles to the lands where, with a freer and purer spirit for contemplating angels, he might be delivered to Heaven.

Sometime between 4 June and 4 July, the Anonymous Life claims that Ceolfrith was in ‘Ælberht’s monastery, at a place called Horn Vale’. Scholars have suggested that this place was Kirkdale, in Yorkshire. Ceolfrith then boarded a boat for the Continent at the mouth of the River Humber on 4 July. It was not smooth sailing: the boat was apparently blown off course three times. Nevertheless, on 12 August Ceolfrith ‘reached the lands of Gaul’ (Galliae terras), where he was received with honour by King Chilperic himself. The party then travelled over land: Bede claims Ceolfrith went part of the way on horseback and part of the way being carried on a litter, as he was becoming ill. Ceolfrith reached Langres around 9am on 25 September. He died there on 29 September 716.

Codex Amiatinus’s journey did not stop there. According to the Anonymous Life, a group of monks continued on and delivered Ceolfrith’s gift to the Pope. The Anonymous Life also preserves the Pope’s thank you letter to the monks of Wearmouth-Jarrow, which mentions a fine gift he had received — probably Codex Amiatinus.

Codex Amiatinus dedication page
The dedication page of Codex Amiatinus as it now looks; the alterations use a brown ink, in contrast to the main text (© Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence)

In later centuries, Codex Amiatinus moved again, this time to the abbey of San Salvatore in Amiata, Tuscany. Peter the Lombard (fl. late 9th century) partially erased an inscription in the front the book, recording how it was a gift from Ceolfrith to St Peter’s, and replaced Ceolfrith’s name with his own. The altered inscription also records that he gave the book to the monastery at Amiata. However, later scholars have been able to prove this volume is the one that travelled with Ceolfrith, because a copy of its original dedicatory page is preserved in the Anonymous Life, and it matches the page in Codex Amiatinus, apart from the erasures.

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Copy of the dedication page of Codex Amiatinus, from the Anonymous Life of Ceolfrith: Harley MS 3020, f. 33r 

Codex Amiatinus is now preserved in the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence. It will be returning for the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (19 October 2018–19 February 2019). You can book your tickets to see this remarkable manuscript here.

Alison Hudson

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01 June 2018

A calendar page for June 2018

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June is busting out all over: it's time to prune back. An 11th-century calendar page for this month depicts a group of men chopping down branches. We are exploring this calendar every month this year: click here for the first post in the series.

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A calendar page for June, from a calendar made in southern England, mid-11th century: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 5v

The illustration at the bottom of the page for June shows two men cutting down branches of some very curvy plants, while a man on the left loads a large log into a two-wheeled cart. A pair of oxen, wearing a yoke, enter from the right. This calendar is one of only two to survive from England before the Norman Conquest that are illustrated with ‘labours of the month’, scenes of agricultural work and recreation. The other calendar can be found in Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1. For the previous two months, these calendars were illustrated with very similar scenes, but in June they diverge: the Tiberius Calendar shows men with sickles harvesting plants, while men pruning branches appear above the calendar page for July. 

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Detail of men pruning plants and collecting wood, from a calendar page for June: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 5v

The axes in the drawing in the Julius Calendar resemble 9th to 11th-century implements found in England, although some of these may have been used for warfare rather than farming. But this image may have had symbolic meaning, as much as being a representation of day-to-day life. Many of the tasks depicted in this calendar — from ploughing in the page for January, and shepherding in the page for May were used as metaphors in the Bible. Similarly, the Bible compares God to the owner of a vineyard who prunes or cuts down those plants and trees that do not bear fruit.

Elsewhere on the page, more specific information is included for each day of the month. This includes mathematical quantities and symbols used to calculate the days of the week and lunar cycles, listed in columns to the left of the date. Extra information also takes the form of a poem with a verse for each day.

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Detail of a gold cross next to a verse for the feast of St Peter and St Paul: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 5v

An early user of the calendar marked out two days with gold crosses: the feast celebrating the birth of St John the Baptist, on 24 June; and the feast of the martyrdoms of St Peter and St Paul, on 29 June. Both of these remained important feast days celebrated throughout Europe in the medieval period, particularly since the feast of St John the Baptist coincided with Midsummer’s Day, or the Summer Solstice. Under the current calendrical system the summer solstice usually falls around 21 June, but in medieval Europe Midsummer was celebrated on 24 June.

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Detail of a gold cross next to a verse for a feast of St John the Baptist: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 5v

After the gold crosses, another layer of marginal information was added in the form of notes in red. They record events such as the vigil of the feast of St John the Baptist on 23 June (Midsummer’s Eve) and the summer solstice (Midsummer) on 24 June. We can tell that the red notes were added after the gold crosses because the word ‘solstitiu[m]’ is split in two to fit around the cross.

This calendar page also includes the zodiac sign associated with much of the month of June: Gemini, or the twins, apparently deep in conversation.

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Detail of a roundel depicting the constellation Gemini, associated in astrology with the month of June: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 5v

It’s only five months until you will be able see this calendar in person at the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. In the meantime, enjoy the month of June.

Alison Hudson 

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31 May 2018

London in medieval manuscripts

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The British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts team comes from all over the world, but we have one place in common: the city of London, where we work at St Pancras. Today is London History Day, and here are some of our favourite medieval depictions of that city, at once distant yet somehow still recognizable.

 

An early map of the world

London is one of the oldest capital cities, which has survived the fall of the Roman Empire, viking attacks, fires and more. Let's start our survey with the earliest surviving detailed map of the British Isles. This map was made in southern England in the mid-11th century, but it may have been based on earlier models, possibly including maps made under the Roman Empire. The British Isles is shown in the lower left corner, with Lundona being one of the places named.

Cotton MS Tiberius B V!1 London

Cotton MS Tiberius B V!1  f. 56v British Isles

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An early map of the world, dating from the 11th century: Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 56v

 

London landmarks

The itinerary of Matthew Paris (d. 1259), a monk of St Albans Abbey, is a linear map that allowed the reader to travel to Jerusalem in his or her mind. Matthew described London as the chief city of England and claimed that it was founded originally by Brutus as ‘New Troy’. Matthew also picked out several landmarks, all of which still exist in some form or another today. These included the River Thames, Lambeth, Westminster, St Martin-in-the-Fields, the bridge, and the Tower of London. At the bottom of the map, Matthew Paris listed several of the gates of London. (Click here to see Edward Mills’s fantastic reconstruction of Matthew’s view of London.)

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Matthew Paris’s depiction of London: Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 2r

 

The Tower of London

The earliest topographically accurate depiction of London is found in a collection of the poems of Charles, Duke of Orléans, made in Bruges around 1483. Charles had been captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and he was held in England for the next twenty-five years. At the centre of the image is the Tower of London, where Charles was imprisoned during some of this time in England and where he composed his poems.

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A view of London with the Tower of London, and Duke Charles d’Orléans writing in the Tower: Royal MS 16 F II, f. 73r

Another early resident of the Tower was King Richard II. He was held in captivity there shortly after being deposed in 1399. Things didn't end well for Richard, as he subsequently died at Pontefract Castle (perhaps being starved to death).

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Richard II in the Tower: Harley MS 4380, f. 181v

One thing is certain. There are now fewer elephants in residence at the Tower than there were in the time of Matthew Paris!

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Matthew Paris’s drawing of the elephant that lived in the Tower of London: Cotton MS Nero D I, f. 169v

 

St Paul's Cathedral

At the centre of the image in his Itinerary, Matthew Paris drew St Paul’s Church. His building is unfamiliar to modern eyes, since he depicted it with a steeple and not with the iconic dome designed by Christopher Wren (d. 1723), following the destruction of the medieval cathedral in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

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St Paul's Cathedral in the time of Matthew Paris: Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 2r

 

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey today is probably not much different from the time of Matthew Paris. In the same manuscript as the Itinerary, Matthew Paris drew depictions of kings holding objects with which they are particularly identified. He depicted King Henry III (r. 1216–1272) holding Westminster Abbey, which he had rebuilt over the structure commissioned by Edward the Confessor. The Abbey today is still largely the same design as that commissioned by Henry.

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Matthew Paris’s depiction of Henry III holding Westminster Abbey: Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 9r 

 

London Bridge

Other London landmarks looked very different. The city's bridges are not lined today with houses, as London Bridge was in the medieval period. The population of London was also substantially smaller: around 60,000 people lived there by 1500. But ‘rush hour’ could still be perilous. John Lydgate recounted how, at 4pm on 20 November 1441, the young son of a butcher was pushed by an ox and fell off London Bridge. Thanks to the help of St Edmund, a passing boatman rescued the child and returned him, safe and sound, to his mother. The whole sequence is illustrated vividly in a 15th-century copy of Lydgate’s Lives of SS Edmund and Fremund.

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A boy falling off London Bridge and being returned by a boatman to his mother: Yates Thompson MS 47, ff. 94v, 97r

 

Alison Hudson and Julian Harrison

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26 May 2018

Will the real Venerable Bede please stand up?

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26 May is the heavenly birthday of the Venerable Bede, as he would have put it: that is, it's the anniversary of Bede’s death of 735. Bede is one of the most important figures in early English history, because most of what we know about the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms up to the 8th century comes from his writings. Modern historians rely on Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, but during his lifetime his theological and scientific writings were equally popular and were studied for centuries to come. So who was Bede as a person? Fortunately, his own writings provide some clues, as do those of people who knew him.


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Late 12th-century image of a scribe that may have been intended to depict Bede, from the Lives of St Cuthbert, Durham, 4th quarter of the 12th century: 
Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 2r. It's probably not what Bede looked like, though.

In the final chapters of his magnum opus, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede included a short autobiographical note. He stated that he was in his 59th year, having been born in the territory of the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow, south of modern day Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and presented to the monastery at the age of seven. Bede spent the majority of his life as part of this monastic community, and developed a close relationship to its founders, Benedict Biscop and Abbot Ceolfrith. This autobiographical note also mentions that Bede had written over 38 books, on topics ranging from theology to the art of poetry to mathematics.

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Page including the list of Bede's works, from an early 9th-century copy of the Ecclesiastical History, Cotton MS Tiberius C II, f. 157v

Further glimpses of Bede’s life appear in his other books. They show that he was a patient teacher, keen singer, devout Biblical scholar and pioneering scientist, who made new discoveries about tides and helped develop a whole branch of mathematics known as computus. In some of these writings, Bede described his life and surroundings more directly. In his old age, Bede wrote an account of the lives of Benedict Biscop, Abbot Ceolfrith and the other abbots of his monastery. Bede described how Benedict Biscop sent for masons from France to build the monastery from stone ‘in the Roman style’, and described Ceolfrith’s departure for Rome with the great Codex Amiatinus in 716. This book will be returning to the United Kingdom for the first time in 1,302 years for the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (19 October 2018–19 February 2019).

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First page of the earliest copy of Bede’s History of the Abbots: Harley MS 3020, f. 7r

The British Library cares for two manuscripts that were produced at Wearmouth-Jarrow during Bede’s lifetime. These are books that Bede would have seen, and they help paint a picture of his home as a busy intellectual and cultural centre. One of these comprises some leaves that survive from one of the other two Bibles that Ceolfrith commissioned, in addition to Codex Amiatinus. The other is the earliest intact European book: the St Cuthbert Gospel (Add MS 89000), made at Wearmouth-Jarrow in the early 8th century.  

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Front cover of the St Cuthbert Gospel, made at Wearmouth-Jarrow in the early 8th century: Add MS 89000

Bede’s life had its rough patches. After Abbot Ceolfrith left in 716, Bede was so upset that it affected his writing, as he mentions in his commentary on 1 Samuel. In another incident, Bede was accused of heresy in the year 708. He wrote a letter to a monk named Plegwin in which he explains the reasons for this accusation. This letter was preserved in a manuscript copied in the 12th century. The letter implies that Bede had been accused of heresy in Plegwin’s presence, and Plegwin had described this incident to Bede in a previous letter. Bede’s reply expressed his outrage, and explained why the accusation was false. The accuser claimed that in Bede’s Chronica Minora, he denied that Christ had lived in the sixth age of the word, as was commonly believed. Instead, Bede argued that Christ had lived in the seventh age. In the letter to Plegwin, Bede wrote: ‘If I had denied that Christ had come, how could I be a priest in Christ’s Church?’ (translated by F. Wallis, Bede: The Reckoning of Time, p. 405).

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Bede's letter to Plegwin: Cotton MS Vitellius A XII, f. 83r

The most detailed contemporary account about Bede describes him dying. Not long after Bede’s death, a man named Cuthbert wrote a letter to a deacon named Cuthwin. This letter reveals key details about Bede’s activities on the eve of his death. It described how Bede had shared out his few possessions among his brothers at Wearmouth-Jarrow. Among these possessions were exotic items such as pepper and incense. According to Cuthbert, Bede also urged his brothers to finish a copy of the Gospel of St John, which he had been translating into Old English. He also translated some excerpts of the work of Isidore of Seville for the benefit of his students and recited Old English poetry about death to them.  

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Cuthbert’s letter on the death of Bede: Stowe MS 104, f. 112v

After Bede had dictated ‘the last sentence’ to his student Wilbert, he asked to be placed in the spot where he usually prayed. There, ‘on the floor of his little cell, while chanting “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit”, he breathed his last.’

Becky Lawton and Alison Hudson

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