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100 posts categorized "Anglo-Saxon"

04 February 2016

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Now Online

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We are pleased to announce that four of the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Chronicle manuscripts have been digitised in full as part of our Anglo-Saxon manuscripts digitisation project and are now available on our Digitised Manuscripts website:

 

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'Always after that it grew much worse': end of the entry for 1066, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D-text, England, mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, f. 80v 

The term ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ refers to a series of annalistic chronicles, arranged by year, which were written primarily in Old English between the 9th and 12th centuries. These annals record information on a huge variety of subjects from major battles and Viking invasions to famines and agricultural issues, from ecclesiastical restructurings to notes on the death of notable people from across Britain. Some annals even include poems about kings and battles. Although all the annals share some core text—the so-called ‘common stock’, which seems to have been compiled at some point during the reign of Alfred the Great— each text of the Chronicle has its own variations, omissions, and additions. It is therefore perhaps more correct to speak of ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicles’, as Simon Keynes has suggested.

The manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are still known by the letters assigned to them in the 19th century. They are:

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle A: the earliest surviving copy, now Cambridge, Corpus Christ College, MS 173, contains entries written at different times between the 9th and early 11th centuries, with a 12th century continuation. It is sometimes known as the ‘Parker Chronicle’, after Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave large parts of his collection of manuscripts to the University of Cambridge and particularly to Corpus Christi College, whose Parker Library is named after him.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle B: Cotton MS Tiberius A VI, copied in the late 10th century. This chronicle covers the period between 60 BC and 977 AD. It is sometimes called the ‘Abingdon Chronicle’ or ‘Abingdon Chronicle I’ because one of its last entries refers to Abingdon. Along with the C- and D-texts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it also contains a series of annals known as the ‘Mercian Register’, which recount the activities of Æthelflaed, lady of the Mercians, in the early 10th century. The Mercian Register provides an important contrast to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle itself, which focuses on the exploits of West Saxon kings, at the expense of other perspectives.

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Page with the start of the Mercian Register, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle B-text , England, c.977-1000, Cotton MS Tiberius A VI, f. 30r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C: Cotton MS Tiberius B I, copied in the eleventh century and related to the B-text.

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Page from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C-text, England, 11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B I, f. 125r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D: Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, copied in the mid-late eleventh century. The added information it contains about Worcester and York has led some scholars to suggest it was written in the North or based on a ‘Northern Recension.’

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Page with the start of the entry for 1016, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D-text, England, mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, f. 66r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle E: copied and compiled in the twelfth century at Peterborough Abbey, and sometimes known as the ‘Peterborough Chronicle’. It is currently in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc 636.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle F: Cotton MS Domitian A VIII, written in the late 11th century at Christ Church, Canterbury. This is notable for being a bilingual version of the chronicle, with Latin versions of each annal following the Old English versions.

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Page from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle F-text, England (Canterbury), late 11th century, Cotton MS Domitian A VIII, f. 32r

Additionally, several fragments of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle survive, which are kept at the British Library. These include the G fragment (in Cotton MS Otho B IX and Cotton MS Otho B X), which seems to contain early entries but was burnt in the Ashburnham House fire of 1731. Additionally, H, also known as the Cottonian Fragments, is contained in Cotton MS Domitian A IX.

The British Library has also recently digitised a separate series of Easter table annals that were kept and compiled at Canterbury in the mid-and late-11th century. These annals notably did not mention the Norman Conquest, although a later hand added ‘Her co[m] Willelm’ to the annal for 1066.

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Detail from Easter Table Annals, England (Canterbury), late 11th century-12th century, Cotton MS Caligula A XV, f. 135r

All these manuscripts have had varied and colourful histories, which are reflected in the medieval additions and early modern annotations scattered throughout, and in the modern period some of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle manuscripts have been bound with other interesting texts which we have now digitised as well. These include the 11th-century copies of the Old English version of Orosius’s Historia adversus paganos and the poems Maxims II and the Menologium (in Cotton Tiberius B I); the earliest surviving fragments of the early twelfth-century Latin legal compilation Quadripartitus and a list of Welsh cantrefi (in Cotton Domitian A VIII); cartularies from Ely and Gloucester (in Cotton Tiberius A VI and Cotton Domitian A VIII, respectively); and a variety of anonymous late medieval and Anglo-Norman chronicles, all now available online.

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Scutum Dei Triangulum, England, mid-15th century, Cotton Domitian A VIII, f. 162r

~ Alison Hudson

18 January 2016

Elves and Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

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Recently, three beautiful Mercian prayerbooks from the late 8th and early 9th century have been uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts as part of our Anglo-Saxon manuscripts digitisation project. These manuscripts, which  were probably made somewhere in what is now western England, are notable for a variety of reasons: the distinctive initials, the earliest known copy of a Lorican prayer (a prayer of protection developed in Ireland), and the use of female pronouns in some prayers, suggesting they may have been made or owned by women.

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Initial with a biting beast from the Royal Prayerbook, England (Kingdom of Mercia), late 8th- early 9th century, Royal MS 2 A XX, f. 17r

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Initial from the Book of Nunnaminster, England (Kingdom of Mercia), late 8th- early 9th century, Harley MS 2965, f. 4v

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Detail of a Latin prayer with female forms (‘ut pro me d[e]i famula oretis’), from the Harley Prayerbook, England (Kingdom of Mercia), late 8th- early 9th century, Harley MS 7653, f. 1r

One of these prayerbooks-- the Royal Prayerbook, Royal MS 2 A XX-- is also notable for containing one of the earliest known written reference to an elf (ælf or ylfe in Old English).  Unlike the heroic and otherworldly beings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga or Santa’s jolly assistants in American literature, the elf in this text seems to be rather sinister. The prayer in which the elf is mentioned seems to be an exorcism: ‘I conjure you, devil of Satan, of (an/the) elf, through the living and true God...that he is put to flight from that person’ (translated from the original Latin by Alaric Hall, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2007), p. 72).

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Detail of a prayer mentioning an ‘ælf’, from the Royal Prayerbook, Royal MS 2 A XX, f. 45v

The association of Satan with an elf or someone called ‘Elf’ may reflect pre-Christian beliefs in Anglo-Saxon society. We have no direct written evidence for pre-Christian society or even later popular beliefs amongst the Anglo-Saxons; however, belief in elves features in later medieval accounts of Norse paganism, which may have shared some elements of its mythology with Anglo-Saxon paganism. The author of this prayer may have compared Satan to an elf to help his or her Anglo-Saxon audience understand who Satan was and what his powers were.

Elves also have negative connotations in Bald’s Leechbook, a collection of Anglo-Saxon medical remedies and diagnostic guides which has also now been digitised and put online (for more information about this manuscript, see our post Bald’s Leechbook Now Online). On the page shown below, there are charms which suggest elves could cause pain in domestic animals. Elves are also associated with diseases of the head and with mental illness in the leechbooks.

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Charms mentioning elves, Bald’s Leechbook, England (Winchester?), 1st half of 10th century, Royal MS 12 D XVII, f. 106r

Likewise, in Beowulf, elves (spelt ylfe) were included amongst the races of monsters. They are mentioned in a passage which, translated from the Old English by Seamus Heaney, claims:

‘...out of his (Cain’s) exile there sprang
ogres and elves and evil phantoms
and the giants too who strove with God’

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A passage mentioning elves, from Beowulf, England, 1st quarter of 11th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 134r

However, elves may not always have entirely negative connotations in Anglo-Saxon lore. In the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries, many members of the West Saxon nobility gave their children names that included the element ‘ælf’: perhaps the most notable example is Alfred, or Ælfræd, the Great. Charters list many Ælfstans, Ælfgifus, and Ælfrics, although it is unclear if Anglo-Saxons chose names because they sounded like the supernatural beings called 'elves' or just as part of longstanding naming traditions. (See, for example, Fran Colman’s The Grammar of Names in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)).  

Very beautiful women were sometimes also compared to elves, although these texts suggest that such elfin beauty could lead to trouble. In the Anglo-Saxon poem about Judith, the Biblical heroine is described as ælfscinu, or beautiful like an elf.

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Judith described as an elfin beauty, from Judith,
Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 202r

Thus, Anglo-Saxons imaginings of elves may also have been more complicated than our limited sources can reveal. Indeed, an early 10th-century glossary distinguished between different types of elves, such as mountain elves (dunelfen) and wood elves (wuduelfe), and used them to translate different types of nymphs from classical mythology.

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Detail of a glossary comparing nymphs to different types of elves, from a fragment of a schoolbook, England (Abingdon?), 1st quarter of 11th century, Additional MS 32246, f. 21r.

These are just a few of the references to elves in Old English literature. These references have sometimes been used to portray the Anglo-Saxons as superstitious and even credulous, but they appear in texts that exhibit complicated theological ideas, advanced linguistics, and even powerful medical remedies that have been verified using modern scientific techniques. And the idea of elves continues to fascinate many people to this day. So please click over to Digitised Manuscripts to explore these manuscripts and their elves.

-   Alison Hudson, Project Curator: Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

14 January 2016

A Belated Holiday Gift from Us: a Giant List of Digitised Manuscript Hyperlinks!

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It's that time of year again, friends, and we're pleased to (belatedly) celebrate the holidays by giving you a magnificent gift.  This gift is certainly worth the wait, though - a massive list of Digitised Manuscripts hyperlinks!  We're mixing it up a little bit this time, though, as the list is now a PDF, but fully searchable and with working hyperlinks.  You can download it here:  Download BL AMEM Digitised Manuscripts Master List.  There are 1429 manuscripts on this list now, we are staggered to report.

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Illuminated frontispiece of the marital arms of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford (created 1st Duke of Somerset, and Lord Protector in 1547) and his second wife, Lady Anne Stanhope, with the Seymour family motto ‘Foy pour Devoir’, from the Taverner Prayer Book, England (London), c. 1540, Add MS 88991, f. 2v

In honour of our biggest ever list of hyperlinks, we're pleased to share one of our smallest manuscripts, the Taverner Prayer Book (see above), which recently went online.  We've also added quite a few manuscripts from our Anglo-Saxon project, along with many from the illuminated collections in general.  We have some big plans for the coming year and many more manuscripts to share with you, so watch this space!

-   Sarah J Biggs

05 January 2016

Bald's Leechbook Now Online

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The current Anglo-Saxon Digitisation project covers a wide range of manuscripts, from Psalters to letters to lawcodes to schoolbooks to medical remedies. We are pleased to announce that, for the first time, Bald’s Leechbook—a collection of medical remedies, recipes, diagnostic guides, and charms, copied in the mid-10th century—is now available online.  Bald’s Leechbook has long fascinated scholars, and it recently made headlines after a team in Nottingham discovered that one of its recipes—for a poultice for an infected eye— can combat the superbug MRSA. For more information on this discovery, see A Medieval Medical Marvel.

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Recipe for an eye salve, from Bald’s Leechbook, England (Winchester?), mid-10th century, Royal MS 12 D XVII, f. 12v

Bald’s Leechbook is also interesting for its references to elves (about which more later), its prognostic about the ‘Dog Days’, and its compiler[s] use of Greek medical sources and more local medical sources, among other things.  It even includes a discussion of an early plastic surgery to fix a cleft palate, as well as cures for both impotence and lustfulness – very useful, indeed.

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Cure for a harelip (haer-sceard), or cleft palate, involving a description of early plastic surgery, from Bald's Leechbook, Royal MS 12 D XVII, f. 20v

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Cures for an overly lustful (wraene) man and for an impotent man, from Bald's Leechbook, Royal MS 12 D XVII,, f. 54v

An expanded discussion of the subject can be found in our post Anglo-Saxon Medicine, and please click over to Digitised Manuscripts to have a closer look at Bald’s Leechbook!

31 December 2015

Party Like It's AD 999 (or 980)

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This week, many people are planning parties. In the late 10th century, some reforming monks took their cues from the Romans when it came to partying. In a dedicatory letter to his bishop, Ælfheah, the writer and poet Wulfstan the Cantor remembered the party that the monks of the Old Minster, Winchester, had held after the rededication of their church on 20 October 980. The sole copy of this letter is preserved in a nearly contemporary manuscript, which has just been uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts. Translated from the original Latin, the account of the party reads:

‘There were many other bishops… nobles and ealdormen, as well as the great majority of the English royal thegns… [T]hey rejoice in the sumptuous delights which the bishop [Æthelwold of Winchester] decided to lay on for everyone. Course is joined to course, every sort of food abounds: no one is sad, all are joyful. There is no hunger here, where food is in all abundance, and the table stands piled high with a variety of victuals. Circulating wine-stewards delve into the cellars and urge the revellers to begin drinking. They set up great drinking bowls and spice the wine, pouring out innumerable cups of the beverage. And abundant are the cups when the thirsty boor has drained the frothing bowl, honey-sweet in its stream! – in the end he soaks himself from the full drinking bowl itself, jamming it against his bristly chin.’ [Wulfstan of Winchester, Narratio metrica de Sancto Swithuno, in The Cult of St Swithun, trans. and ed. by Michael Lapidge (Oxford, 2003), pp. 378-79.]

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Passage describing the festivities after the rededication of the Old Minster, from a dossier of materials pertaining to the cult of St Swithun, England (Winchester), c. 1000, Royal MS 15 C VII, f. 52 v

Admittedly, Wulfstan’s account is not a straightforward description of the event: rather, he modelled the section about the wine stewards on the Latin poet Virgil’s account of Dido’s feast in the Æneid (Virgil, Æneid, i.723-47). Wulfstan may have been quoting Virgil to show off his learning. Nevertheless, it is interesting that Wulfstan thought that the party Virgil described was a suitable point of reference to describe a celebration at a reformed monastery led by his beloved teacher, St Æthelwold, whom Wulfstan was urging Bishop Ælfheah to emulate.

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Miniature of a dedication of a church, from the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, England, c. 963-984, Add. MS 49598, f. 118v

Additionally, there is other evidence for an abundance of alcohol at monasteries refounded by Æthelwold. At Abingdon Abbey, where Æthelwold had been abbot between about 954 and 963, 12th- and 13th-century chroniclers claimed Æthelwold had permitted a generous daily allowance of beer, known as Æthelwold’s bowl, which was supplemented with mead on feast days. Both manuscripts of the Abingdon Chronicle are held at the British Library as Cotton MS Claudius C IX and Cotton MS Claudius B VI.

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Detail of a steward pouring drinks and drinkers, from a calendar, England, second quarter of the 10th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B V, f. 4v

Wishing you equally memorable festivities wherever you are!

 Alison Hudson, Project Curator, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

22 December 2015

Bins, Books and Bodian (Preaching): Ælfric and Christmas

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For reformed Anglo-Saxon monks, the year began with Advent and Christmas.

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The Nativity, from the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, England, c. 963-984, Add MS 49598, f. 15v.

Although Easter was considered the more important holiday by Anglo-Saxon churchmen, Christmas and Advent liturgies feature at the start of the year in liturgical manuscripts produced by the monks in the late 10th century in England, as elsewhere. Many of these manuscripts are now preserved at the British Library. For example, in two series of Old English sermons, written by Ælfric of Eynsham, the first sermons were devoted to Christmas. A sermon for December 25th is the first sermon in his Lives of the Saints (Cotton MS Julius E VII), and the second sermon in his first series of the Catholic Homilies (Royal MS 7 C XII). Both these manuscripts are now available online, via Digitised Manuscripts.

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The beginning of the sermon for Christmas, Ælfric’s Lives of the Saints, Southern England, 1st half of the 11th century, Cotton MS Julius E VII, f. 5v

In the sermon in the Catholic Homilies, Ælfric summarizes the story of Christ’s birth as it is found in the Gospels for his Old English-speaking audience, describing how Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem, how they had to stay in a stables, and how Christ was born in a stable and placed in a binn (the Old English word for a manger or basket which is the root of the modern English word ‘bin’). He then provides context for his listeners by discussing some Roman history, the etymology of the name ‘Bethlehem’, the different ways angels appeared to humans in the Old and New Testaments, and compared the shepherds of the Biblical story to contemporary teachers and preachers.

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The beginning of the sermon for Christmas, the First Series of Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies, Cerne, 990s, Royal MS 7 C XII, f. 9v

Ælfric was a monk and the most prolific Old English author whose works still survive. He lived in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. As a boy, he had been trained at Winchester in the school of Bishop Æthelwold, the church reformer whose Benedictional appears above. By about 987, Ælfric had come to the attention of the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of the literati, because he was sent to the church which the thegn (important layman) Æthelmaer had founded or refounded at Cerne. There, around 990, Ælfric wrote a series of sermons for two whole liturgical years: the first and second series of the Catholic Homilies. The manuscript which has just been put online is believed to have been written at Cerne: in fact, some of the marginal notes might even be in Ælfric’s own handwriting, as he apparently edits the text and tries to avoid repeating himself. For example, in the image below, Ælfric appears to have put a box around the text he would like to be deleted from future copies of this sermon. A note at the side explains that this information is repeated, in more detail, in the ‘other book’ (presumably his second series of the Catholic Homilies).

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Annotations on a sermon, possibly by Ælfric, Royal MS 7 C XII, f. 64r

Ælfric’s career was only just taking off at that point. The Catholic Homilies were copied and distributed with the help of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigeric. Later in the 990s, Æthlmaer and his father, Ealdorman (senior government official) Æthelweard asked Ælfric to write a further series of homilies about the lives of various saints. The earliest manuscript of this series, Cotton Julius E VII, is now also available on Digitised Manuscripts.

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Ælfric’s name begins with a colourful initial in this preface to his Lives of the Saints, Cotton MS Julius E VII, f. 3v

The quality of the colourful and ornate initials in this, slightly later manuscript shows how Ælfric had attracted the attention of patrons and scriptoria with better resources than the scriptoria at Cerne, where the earliest surviving manuscript of the Catholic Homilies is believed to have been written.

In addition to his sermon series, Ælfric wrote several instructional works, including a grammar and a colloquy (an imaginary dialogue between men of different professions, designed to teach young monks Latin). Even judging from the number of surviving copies, Ælfric’s Grammar was a popular work in late Anglo-Saxon England, even a bestseller. Eventually, Ælfric became abbot of Eynsham, just outside of Oxford.

So, whether you are looking for a sermon for Christmas, for key texts by the most prolific Old English author, or simply the root of the word ‘bin’, you can click over Digitised Manuscripts to see all these works in more detail.

Alison Hudson, Project Curator, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

20 December 2015

Medieval Festive Survival Guide

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To help you negotiate the festive season, medieval writers, illustrators and patrons had some useful tips …

1. Ensure the prompt delivery of your Christmas greetings by hiring a messenger.

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Detail of a messenger from Guillaume de Lorris’s and Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, Low Countries (Bruges), c 1490-c 1500, Harley MS 4425, f. 137v

2. If you’re stuck for gift ideas, books always make great presents. The Bedford Hours was once a Christmas gift.

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The Wise Men offering Christ gifts, from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 75r

3. On the subject of gifts, if you can’t find a partridge for your pear tree, a king will do…

King Mark Pear Tree
Image of King Mark in a pear tree, from a series of drawings illustrating the Tristan romance, England (London?), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 11619, f. 8r

4. At Christmas parties, don’t get caught out under the mistletoe: timing is everything!

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Detail of Pygmalion kissing the statue, from Roman de la Rose, Northern France (Artois or Picardy), c. 1340, Royal MS 20 A XVII , f. 171r   

5. Know when you have had enough to drink.

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Ebrietas (Drunkenness) from Omne Bonum (Ebrietas-Humanus), England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375,
Royal MS 6 E VII , f. 1r

6. If you discover you have a headache, though, try tying some crosswort to your head with a red cloth or smearing your temples with pennyroyal boiled in oil or butter or placing ‘stones’ from three young sparrows on your head. This allegedly also works for nightmares, temptations and ‘evil enchantments by song’ (for an edition and translation, see Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England, ed. by T. O. Cockayne, Rolls Series, 3 vols (London: Longmans, 1864-66), vol II (1864), pp. 304-07).

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Remedies of headaches, from Bald’s Leechbook, England (Winchester?), mid-10th century, Royal MS 12 D XVII, f. 111r
.

7. Enjoy Christmas dinner.

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Detail of feasting from Histoire Universelle, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Acre), c. 1275-91, Add MS 15268, f. 242v

8. Enjoy some seasonal music.

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Part of the liturgy for Christmas, from the Leofric Collectar, England (Exeter), c. 1050-c. 1072, Harley MS 2961, f. 12v

9. And remember, a dog is for life not just for Christmas.

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Miniature of the resurrected Christ with Margaret of York and a dog, from
Nicolas Finet, Dialogue de la duchesse de Bourgogne, Low Countries (Brussels), c. 1468, Add MS 7970, f. 1v

Dogs Royal MS 20 A II, f 8v
Detail of King John with a hunting dog, from a collection of drawings with various inscriptions and poems, Northern England, c. 1307-1327, Royal MS 20 A II, f. 8v

15 December 2015

Help Us Choose our 2016 Calendar

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It has long been a tradition on our blog, hailing back to the distant days of 2011, to highlight pages from a medieval calendar throughout the year.  We have been privileged to bring you the Isabella Breviary, the Hours of Joanna of Castile (or if you prefer, the Hours of Joanna the Mad), the Golf Book, the Huth Hours, and most recently, the London Rothschild Hours

For 2016, we’d like to do something a little different – we’d like for you to help us decide which calendar to feature.  We have selected 4 potential manuscripts, all listed below.  Please let us know which one you’d like to see throughout 2016!  You can leave your favourite in the comments below, or tell us on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Without any further ado, here are the contenders:

Add MS 18850:  The Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410 – 1430 (this manuscript was also included in Turn the Pages)

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Calendar page for January from the Bedford Hours, Add MS 18850, f. 1r

Add MS 36684:  The St Omer Hours, France (Saint-Omer or Therouanne), c. 1320 (for more on this fabulous manuscript, see our posts Apes Pulling Shapes and Something for Everyone)

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Calendar page for February from the St Omer Hours, Add MS 36684, f. 2v

Egerton MS 1070: The Hours of René of Anjou, France (Paris), 15th century

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Calendar page for March from The Hours of René of Anjou, Egerton MS 1070, f. 8r

Cotton MS Galba A XVII:  The Athelstan Psalter (or Galba Psalter), northeast France, 1st half of the 9th century (more on this one: King Athelstan’s Books and Athelstan Psalter Online)

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Calendar page from the Athelstan Psalter, Cotton MS Galba A XVII, f. 3r

- Sarah J Biggs