Medieval manuscripts blog

40 posts categorized "Animals"

10 April 2014

My Kingdom for a Horse

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Recently we had an enquiry about an unusual image that appears in the Rochester Bestiary.  This famous English book of beasts, which dates to the mid-13th century, has featured quite prominently in our ongoing series about medieval animals; have a look at our posts about lions, beavers, dogs, wolves, elephants, and hedgehogs, for example. 

The particular miniature in question can be seen below.  ‘Why,’ asks our slightly tongue-in-cheek correspondent, ‘are those horses having a cuddle?’.

Detail of a miniature of two horses and two men, from the Rochester Bestiary, England (Rochester?), c. 1230, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 42v

At first glance, it certainly does appear that this is what’s going on here.  We are sad to report, however, that the truth is not quite so full of squee – rather than cuddling, these horses are in fact fighting one another.   An inscription in French intended to guide the illuminator can be found beside the miniature, telling us that it is meant to represent two knights and two horses engaged in combat (see below for a detail of this inscription).

Royal_ms_12_f_xiii_f042v copy
Detail of an inscription beside the miniature of the two horses and two men, altered to increase legibility, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 42v

This is a fascinating scene, and as far as we can tell, a unique one among bestiary images.  The Rochester Bestiary is notable in that the miniatures illustrating each animal appear at the end of the relevant section, rather than at the beginning (for an example of the latter, see the Royal Bestiary:  Royal MS 12 C XIX).  The Royal Bestiary gives us a much more typical example of the kind of horse to be found in the book of beasts:

Detail of a miniature of a horse at the beginning of the text about that animal, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 34r

A horse (of course) was an animal that every medieval reader would have been familiar with, and so most bestiaries depict the animal just as they are, with little in the way of drama or exposition in the scene.  The Rochester miniature, of course, is different.  However, there are a few clues – albeit indirect ones – in the text preceding this fascinating scene.

Horses in the early medieval period were largely the possessions of the aristocracy and warrior classes, and the bestiary text reflects their crucial role in battle.  Horses, we are told, rejoice in winning and are disheartened by defeat, and some can become so carried away that they will bite their enemies whilst fighting.  But most importantly, a ‘noble’ horse is loyal to his noble master, will ‘suffer no one except their master to ride them’, and will weep upon the death of its owner.  Amongst many examples of loyal horses, the bestiary text provides us with the story of the horse belonging to the king of the Scythians.  This king was killed in single combat, and when his opponent tried to divest him of his armour, the king’s horse attacked, biting and kicking until he was killed himself.

This is not exactly what is going on in the Rochester scene, but it’s as close as we can come.  We can see here a depiction of a story that is not reflected in any of the canonical bestiary texts – nor any others that we have yet uncovered.  We see here two horses so faithful to their masters that when the warriors are fighting, the horses mirror their aggression and attack one another.  Whether this scene is reflective of a parallel narrative tradition lost to us today or simply an artist’s unique interpretation of the instructions left for him remains to be determined.

- Sarah J Biggs

01 April 2014

A Calendar Page for April 2014

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Happy April everybody! And what better way to start the month than with some more sensational pages from the stupendous Huth Hours? If you have already been following our blog – and who hasn’t? – you’ll know that our calendar of the year is taken from this beautiful 15th-century manuscript (for more information, please see our post A Calendar Page for January 2014).

Calendar page for April, with a roundel miniature of an aristocratic couple courting, followed by a small child, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 4v

So what delights does April bring us? The promise of early spring often yields images of very pleasant labours indeed for this month, and these calendar pages from the Huth Hours are no exception. Our first folio gives us a roundel miniature of a well-dressed couple courting while walking along a garden path. The themes of fertility, birth, and rebirth are emphasised by the flowering branch being carried by the ardent young man, and by the small child following the couple (whether he is acting as chaperone or as a sign of things to come remains a bit of a mystery). The saints' days and feasts for April are continued on the following folio, along with a small painting of a bull for the zodiac sign Taurus. In the roundel below is a charming scene of a shepherd surrounded by his flock, playing a recorder for his appreciative dog. A similar musical shepherd can be found on the calendar page for April of 2013; we'll let you know if we encounter any other examples!

Detail of a calendar page for April, with a roundel miniature of an aristocratic couple courting, followed by a small child, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 4v

In the background is one of the earliest representations of the infamous Leaning Tower of Utrecht. Utrecht has often been called the “Pisa of the North”, and historians have long debated how the steeple of the church of St Ignatius the Cripple came to acquire its distinctive kink. Some have attributed the lean to a lightning strike, to subsidence, or to a giant ape climbing the tower. But the image shown here is equally plausible, and seems to confirm the testimony of Lionel the Imbecile, who reported seeing mysterious lights in the sky in 1483. (Lionel was subsequently burnt at the stake by order of the anti-Pope Anacletus III, following a show trial at the Fourth Council of Constance.)

And below is our second scene, featuring the shepherd and his musical dog. Look very closely, and you can also see a startled sheep, caught in the beam of a passing spaceship, and being transported to an uncertain fate. During the 15th century, alien abductions frequently took place during the month of April; and the Huth Hours provides splendid corroboration of that fact. The artist has drawn the alien craft hovering above the trees, with the sheep being captured in a red beam arcing through the sky.

Calendar page for April, with a roundel miniature of a shepherd playing music for his flock and his dog, with the zodiac sign Taurus, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 5r

Many critics have poured scorn on the veracity of such pictures (you can read a summary in the forthcoming festschrift for Prof. Wim van der Wende, No Pain, No Gain: Controversy and Subversion in Late Medieval Art). But we at the British Library have utter faith in their validity, and are on the hunt for other examples: let us know what you think @BLMedieval.

Detail of a calendar page for April, with a roundel miniature of a shepherd playing music for his flock and his dog, with the zodiac sign Taurus, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 5r

- Sarah J Biggs & Julian Harrison

08 March 2014

The Books of Remarkable Women

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In 2011, when we blogged about the Shaftesbury Psalter (which may have belonged to Adeliza of Louvain; see below), we wrote that medieval manuscripts which had belonged to women were relatively rare survivals.  This still remains true, but as we have reviewed our blog over the past few years, it has become clear that we must emphasize the relative nature of the rarity – we have posted literally dozens of times about manuscripts that were produced for, owned, or created by a number of medieval women.

Full-page miniature of the manuscript’s female owner kneeling as a supplicant before the Virgin and Child, from the Shaftesbury Psalter, England, 2nd quarter of the 12th century,
Lansdowne MS 383, f. 165v [for more on this manuscript, see:  A Prayerbook Fit for a Queen?]

In honour of International Women’s Day, we would like to have a look back at a few of these manuscripts, and the remarkable women who owned them.  

Miniature of the Ascension of Christ, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139, f. 11r

The Melisende Psalter, owned by Melisende, the Queen of Jerusalem (1105-1161), this Psalter was possibly created for her by her husband, Fulk V, Count of Anjou and Maine

Miniature of the Crucifixion, with eight niches occupied by male figures, with an historiated initial 'A'(d), with a pope, king, bishop and two others kneeling before an altar, with a bas-de-page scene of Christina cast into the sea and rescued by angels, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 256v

The Queen Mary Psalter, a remarkable manuscript produced in England between 1310 and 1320.  It takes its name from its later owner, Queen Mary Tudor (1516-1558), daughter of Henry VIII, but possibly originally produced for Isabella of France (1295-1358), queen of England and consort of Edward II.  More about the Psalter’s history can be found in the earlier link, or in this post Rival Queens, Precious Books, which also describes the digitisation of the Prayer Book of Lady Jane Grey (1536/7-1554), Harley MS 2342.

Miniature prefacing the prayers to be said at Mass, with a crowned woman (probably the first owner of the manuscript) kneeling underneath a canopy while a priest raises the host, and a bas-de-page scene of Jerome writing, from the Taymouth Hours, England (London?), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 7r

The Taymouth Hours, a Book of Hours containing a spectacular programme of bas-de-page paintings, this manuscript was created in England in the 2nd quarter of the 14th century.  Its patron was certainly an aristocratic, and possibly royal, woman.  Scholars have variously argued that the original patron may have been Joan of the Tower, the daughter of Edward II and later wife of David II of Scotland (1321-1362), Isabella of France (1295-1358, see above), or Philippa of Hainault (1312-1369), the queen of Edward III.  Recent scholarship hypothesizes that the book was commissioned for Eleanor of Woodstock, elder daughter of Edward II (1318-1355), on the occasion of the princess’s betrothal.  A closely related manuscript, is of course, the famous Unicorn Cookbook.

Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan working in her study, accompanied by her small dog, at the beginning of the ‘Cent balades’, from the Book of the Queen, France (Paris), c. 1410 – c. 1414, Harley MS 4431, f. 4r

Christine de Pizan’s Book of the Queen, the extraordinary manuscript created c. 1410 – c. 1414 by Christine de Pizan (1364- c. 1430), widely regarded as one of Europe’s earliest female professional authors.  The Book of the Queen contains the largest extant collection of Christine’s writing, and was written and decorated under her supervision, commissioned for Isabeau of Bavaria, the queen consort to Charles VI of France.

Detail of a miniature of John Talbot presenting the book to Queen Margaret of Anjou, seated in a palace beside King Henry VI of England, and surrounded by their court, from the Talbot Shrewsbury book, France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 2v

The Talbot Shrewsbury Book, produced as a wedding gift for the young Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482), the future wife of Henry VI of England (and for more details on the texts of this manuscript, see The Art of Chivalry)

The arms of Ferdinand and Isabella with the arms of Infante John and Margaret of Austria (left) and the arms of Philip of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, and Infanta Joanna, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 436v

The Isabella Breviary, produced for Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) and illustrated by the preeminent Flemish artists of the period, this breviary was the subject of our first calendar series back in 2011, as well as a later post on the charming prevalence of monkeys in its margins.

Full-page miniature of Joanna the Mad praying, accompanied by John the Evangelist, from the Hours of Joanna of Castile, Bruges, between 1496 and 1506, Add MS 18852, f. 288r

The Hours of Joanna the Mad, created for Joanna the Mad (1479-1555), the daughter of Isabella I of Castile, and carefully customised under Joanna’s direction.  These magnificent Hours have been the subject of a number of our posts, including one on the plethora of marginal animals in the manuscript, and our series on the calendar pages (see as well this post on the mystery of another Book of Hours that may have belonged to Joanna).

There are of course many other examples of medieval women as patrons and artists within our collections and elsewhere.  We hope you enjoy paging through some of these remarkable books, and that you have a very happy International Women’s Day!

- Sarah J Biggs

14 February 2014

An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love

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Oh, Valentine’s Day: romance is in the air, passions are running high, the sense of anticipation and excitement is building…but – alas! – you are alone.  How do you catch that man/woman/animal of your dreams?

Despair not, oh singletons!  The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is coming to your rescue.  We have combed our books to compile a handy illustrated guide to love, complete with some do’s and don’ts for both genders on their quest for true love:

1. Ladies: do not befriend men with dismembered arms: they are without chivalry (and probably have ‘wandering hands’ as well).

Royal MS 19 C VIII f. 32v E124202a
Detail of a miniature of Imagination showing the Knight a man with dismembered arms, from the ‘Imaginacion de vraye noblesse’, England/Netherlands (Sheen/Bruges), 1496-1497,
Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 32v

2. Gentlemen: do seek out opportunities to defend your lady’s honour, preferably with a violent display of martial skill:

Detail of a miniature of Sir Lancelot fighting Sir Mados to defend the honour of Guinevere, from the ‘Morte Artu’, France (Tournai/Saint-Omer?), c. 1315-1325,
Royal MS 14 E III, f. 156v

Extra marks if you present the head of your vanquished opponent as proof of your love.

Detail of a miniature from the ‘Meliadus’, Italy (Naples?), 1352-1362,
Add. MS 12228, f. 101r

3.  Ladies: do ensure that you go to bed with the right man; beware of shape-shifting wizards in particular.

Detail of a miniature of Nectanebus appearing as a dragon and sleeping with Olympias, from the ‘Roman d’Alexandre’, France (Rouen), 1444-1445,
Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 6r

4. Gentlemen: do not go to bed with someone else’s wife!

Egerton MS 881, f. 141v K061043
Detail of a miniature of Mars and Venus being discovered in bed by Vulcan, from the ‘Roman de la Rose’, France (Paris?), c. 1380,
Egerton MS 881, f. 126r

5. Ladies: do not go to bed with someone else’s husband!

Royal MS 6 E VI f. 61r E108627
Detail of a miniature representing ‘Adulterium’ (adultery), from the ‘Omne Bonum’, England (London), c. 1360- c. 1375,
Royal MS 6 E VI, f. 61r

6. Gentlemen: do not leave the house without first checking your clothes; wardrobe malfunctions may result from ill-fitting codpieces…

Detail of a miniature of the Lover addressing three women outside the Castle of Love, from ‘Les Demands en Amours’, Netherlands/England? (Bruges/London?), c. 1483-c. 1500,
Royal MS 16 F II, f. 188r

7. Ladies: do not encourage the affections of lions; it is not seemly.

Detail of a miniature of Josiane with two lions, from the Taymouth Hours, England? (London?), c. 1325-c. 1350,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 8v

Detail of a miniature of Joanna of Paris embracing a lion, from the ‘Topographia Hiberniae’ of Gerald of Wales, England (Lincoln?), c. 1196-1223,
Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 19v

8. Gentlemen: do rescue women from attack by wild-men.

Detail of a miniature from the Smithfield Decretals, France (Toulouse?), c. 1300-c. 1340,
Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 101r

9. Ladies: do not reject your rescuer in favour of another; you will be eaten by bears.

Detail of a miniature from the Smithfield Decretals,
Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 102r

Detail of a miniature from the Smithfield Decretals,
Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 106v

10. Gentlemen: do not wear a suggestively shaped sword; it is unlikely to convince a lady of your honourable intentions.

Royal MS 6 E VIII f. 150r K028631
Detail of a miniature from the ‘Omne Bonum’,
Royal MS 6 E VII, f. 150r

Happy Valentine's Day!

 - James Freeman

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

07 February 2014

Saints' Lives... and Deaths

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With the twin goals of our readers’ edification and entertainment forever at the forefront of our minds, we at the BL Medieval Manuscripts Blog have hatched a plan for a series of posts on saints over the coming weeks and months, timed to coincide with their individual feast days.

In devotional compilations such as Books of Hours, miniatures of saints were a common presence alongside biographies of their lives or other texts to be read during private prayer or reflection.  The choice of which saints to include in one’s book could be a very personal one.  For example, the decoration in the magnificent Bedford Hours (Add MS 18850) was adapted following the marriage of John, duke of Bedford, to Anne of Burgundy. 

Prefacing the portion of the manuscript containing suffrages to the saints is a large miniature showing Anne of Burgundy kneeling in veneration before her namesake and patron, St Anne, who is accompanied by her daughter the Virgin Mary, and her grandson, Jesus Christ. 

Miniature of Anne of Burgundy, venerating St Anne, St Mary and the Infant Jesus, from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-c.1430, Add MS 18850, f. 257v

The association of saint and book-owner is continued in the border, for example with Joachim and Clopas, each of whom is identified by different interpretations of the Bible as the father of St Anne.

Miniatures of St Joachim and St Clopas, Add MS 18850, f. 257v

Saints could be depicted in a variety of contexts in manuscript miniatures.  On this page of the Bedford Hours, we see them thinking, reading, writing and discussing, enclosed in private alcoves or chambers that evoke the architecture of the medieval palace. 

Miniatures of St ‘Salome’, St Alpheus and St ‘Maria Yaque’, and St Zebedee and St Mary Salome, Add MS 18850, f. 257v

By reflecting the reader’s own behaviour and environment as she studied her Book of Hours, these miniatures complemented the text by cultivating her identification with a saint’s life.  Enhancing the exemplary of these lives in this way further encouraged the reader to emulate a saint’s virtues or good works, to shape her behaviour according to the saintly mould she held before her.

First, though, a little taster of what is to come of our series of saints.  Certain objects or animals became associated with a saint as a consequence of the events of his or her life or the manner of his or her death.  These attributes made depictions of saints in stained glass, stone statuary or manuscript books readily identifiable to anyone familiar with their stories.

In Harley MS 2332, we see saints’ attributes being used as a visual shorthand for the dates of their feast days during the calendar year.  This physicians’ almanac has appeared a couple of times on this blog before: when we solicited help assigning a date of production on the basis of a series of pictograms and dates attached to them; and when the volvelle on f. 23v appeared in Guess the Manuscript

The book is small; measuring only 140mm x 100mm, it was designed to be portable.  It was made using a less expensive grade of dark and thick parchment, and was quite possibly written and even illustrated by the person who owned it.  It was produced perhaps around 1412.  It is of English origin, but the selection of certain saints for the calendar at the beginning of the book strongly suggests a connection or at least familiarity with eastern England: East Anglia and Lincolnshire (Sts Guthlac and Edmund), Yorkshire (Sts John of Beverley and William of York) or Northumberland (Sts Cuthbert, Oswald and Wilfrid).

Calendar pages for February, with tinted pen-drawings of the Labour of the Month, zodiac symbol and religious feast days, from an illustrated physician’s almanac, E. England, c. 1411-12,
Harley MS 2332, ff. 2v-3r

Each month in this calendar occupies an opening, with the traditional activity of the month and the relevant zodiac symbol on the left.  Along the top, symbols provide a quick visual guide to significant dates within the month, with lines directing the reader to when these feasts should be celebrated. 

There are the well-known evangelist symbols:  Matthew (21st September, f. 10r), Mark (25th April, f. 5r, see below), Luke (18th October, f. 11r) and John (27th December, f. 13r). 

Evangelist symbol of Mark,
Harley MS 2332, f. 5r

There are also symbols relating to saintly miracles or acts. 

Three candles in a chalice, attributes of St Blaise,
Harley MS 2332, f. 2v.

St Blaise’s day (3rd February) is represented by candles used in the Blessing of the Throats ceremony, which commemorates his curing of a boy choking on a fishbone. 

Hammer and horseshoe, attributes of St Eligius,
Harley MS 2332, f. 7r.

The hammer and horseshoe recall the legend that St Eligius (25th June) shod a skittish horse through the novel practice of first cutting off its leg, attaching the shoe, then miraculously reattaching the leg.

St Edmund, king and martyr, holding a ring,
Harley MS 2332, f. 4r.

Here the creator of the tinted drawings has conflated two different St Edwards.  On the feast day of St. Edward, king and martyr (18th March), he has drawn Edward holding a ring.  This refers to a story from the life of St Edward the Confessor, whose feast day is 13th October.  A beggar requested alms from Edward the Confessor in the name of St John.  Having no money on his person, the king instead gave the beggar a ring from one of his fingers.  Certain legends have St John guiding some Englishmen to safety during their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and handing them the ring to give to the king; others record the saint appearing before the king and returning the ring personally.

Shoe and crozier, attributes of St. Botulph,
Harley MS 2332, f. 7r.

Other symbols evoke the subsequent patronage of saints.  For instance, St Botulph (17th June), patron saint of travellers, to whom churches at town gates were often dedicated, is represented by a shoe (the crozier poking out of it refers to the fact that he was sometimes referred to as ‘bishop’). 

St Jacob/James, dressed as a pilgrim,
Harley MS 2332, f. 8r.

St Jacob/James, whose shrine at Compostela was and remains a major pilgrimage destination, is shown as a pilgrim with a walking staff and scallop badge (25th July). 

A ship, attribute of St Simon,
Harley MS 2332, f. 11r.

St Simon, patron of sailors, and St Jude, patron of last causes, share a feast day (28th October) and are represented by a ship. 

And finally (what you’ve obviously been patiently waiting for), some symbols represent the ways in which particular saints were martyred. 

Instruments of the martyrdom of St Vincent and St Paul,
Harley MS 2332, f. 2r.

St Vincent and St Paul (22nd and 25th January) each hold tools used to kill them: a saw, representing St Vincent’s torture; and a sword, representing the beheading of St Paul. 

St Agatha being mutilated,
Harley MS 2332, f. 2v.

On the 5th of February, the gruesome mutilation of St Agatha is illustrated. 

Instrument of the martyrdom of St Bartholomew,
Harley MS 2332, f. 9r.

St Bartholomew, who was flayed alive then crucified, is drawn holding a knife (24th August), alongside the decapitated head of John the Baptist (29th). 

Instrument of the martyrdom of St Leodegar,
Harley MS 2332, f. 10v.

Leodegar had the misfortune to have his eyes put out with a drill, which instrument is shown next to his feast day on 1st October.

These are just a few examples; we’ll let you figure the rest out!  The manuscript is available in its entirety on Digitised Manuscripts.  There are still some unresolved puzzles in the manuscript: for instance, does anyone have idea what event was commemorated here? 

Erasures and checkerboard pattern,
Harley MS 2332, f. 1v.

The title has been erased, and the connecting line to the calendar is heavily smudged – but what is the meaning of the checkerboard pattern, and what might its connection be to the 13th of January?

Keep your eyes out (sorry St Leodegar!) for future posts on saints…

- James Freeman

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

07 January 2014

Welcome to the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

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Did you know that thousands of images from the British Library's collections are available on our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts?


Detail of a kneeling figure in a calendar for January (Germany, 13th century): London, British Library, MS Arundel 159, f. 1v

Our catalogue enables you to search by keyword or date, or by its reference (if known); and you can also perform an advanced search using such criteria as language and provenance. The site also contains a number of virtual exhibitions -- such as The Royal collection of manuscripts, Arthurian manuscripts in the British Library and French illuminated manuscripts -- and there's a helpful glossary to help you navigate your way round some of the terms used when describing medieval books. What's more, all images on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts are available for download and re-use under a Creative Commons licence, on the condition that you respect our terms and conditions. How fantastic is that?

And here, in true Blue Peter fashion, are the results of a search we did earlier for images of hedgehogs (don't ask). No fewer than 8 manuscripts featured in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts contain pictures of hedgehogs, 5 of which are illustrated here -- which are your favourites?


Hedgehog number 1, in an Italian gradual (15th century): London, British Library, MS Additional 39636, f. 13.



Hedgehog number 2, in a German manuscript (15th century): London, British Library, MS Egerton 1121, f. 44v.



Hedgehog number 3, in an English miscellany (13th century): London, British Library, MS Harley 3244, f. 49v.



Hedgehog number 4, in Jean de Wavrin's Chronicles (15th century): London, British Library, MS Royal 15 E IV, f. 180r.



Hedgehog number 5, in the Queen Mary Psalter(14th century): London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 97v.

A medieval hedgehog beauty contest, brought to you by courtesy of @BLMedieval -- what more could you want?!

Julian Harrison

23 December 2013

Medieval Top Ten

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It’s that time of the year when we all look back at what we have accomplished (and also when we so frequently resort to clichés like ‘it’s that time of year’).  It has been a fantastic 12 months for our blog, due in large part to our fabulous readers.  We thought we’d take this chance to highlight our ten most popular posts, which were chosen by you (or at least chosen by your clicks!).  In true countdown fashion, we’ll start with:

10.  Anglo-Saxon Treasures Online the announcement about our department’s very first uploads to Digitised Manuscripts (it seems so long ago!); we were off to an excellent start with the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Old English Hexateuch.

Beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, from the Lindisfarne Gospels, Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 27r

9.  Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts Online an exciting announcement about the inclusion of more than 100 Hebrew manuscripts to our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts site, with a full list of hyperlinks included!

Add MS 15282 f. 296v a80062-21a
Initial word panel Shir (‘song’ inhabited by a unicorn and a bear, from the Duke of Sussex’s German Pentateuch, Add MS 15282, f. 296v

8.  Robert the Bruce Letter Found at British Library a post highlighting the exciting discovery by Professor Dauvit Broun, University of Glasgow, of a previously-unknown letter from Robert the Bruce to Edward II.

Robert the Bruce letter
Detail of the letter from Robert the Bruce to Edward II, Cotton MS Titus A XIX, f. 87r

7.  St Cuthbert Gospel Saved for the Nation a celebration of the British Library’s acquisition of the late 7th century St Cuthbert Gospel after the most successful fundraising campaign in the Library’s history.  Now in our collections as Add MS 89000, you can now view the fully-digitised manuscript online.

CF034939 jpgcropped
Front binding of the St Cuthbert Gospel, Add MS 89000

6.  White Gloves or Not White Gloves not to wreck the surprise or anything, but the answer (almost always) is not.


5.  Loch Ness Monster Found at British Library another amazing discovery by our unstoppable research team! We’ll just leave it at that.

Project Y final desaturated 27.03.13
Image of the Loch Ness Monster, as recovered using RZS©

4.  Hwæt! Beowulf Online we were thrilled to publicise the digitization of one of the Library’s great treasures, the Beowulf manuscript (Cotton MS Vitellius A XV; click the link for the fully-digitised version).  And many of you seemed equally thrilled!

Cotton MS Vitellius A XV f. 132r
Detail of the opening words of Beowulf: ‘Hwæt!’ (‘Listen!’), Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 132r

3.  Lolcats of the Middle Ages far and away the most popular post from our on-going series on medieval animals – for obvious reasons, we think.

Harley MS 6563 f. 72r K048420
Detail of a miniature of mice laying siege to a castle defended by a cat, from a Book of Hours, Harley MS 6563, f. 72r

2.  Knight v Snail this piece on the prevalence of images of knights fighting snails in the margins of 13th and 14th century manuscripts was great fun to write, and it was even more enjoyable to see the fantastic response it received.  It set a British Library record for the most hits in a single day, was picked up by the Guardian, and most gratifying, many of you wrote in with some excellent thoughts on this mysterious marginalia; thank you so much! 

Detail of a knight battling a snail in the margins of a 14th century Psalter, Add MS 49622, f. 193v

So now, with no further ado, we come to…

1.  Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library:  the discovery of this gem of a manuscript, shrouded in secrecy for months, met with an amazing reaction when it was finally revealed on 1 April 2012, and it continues to be a perennial favourite.

Unicorn Grill detail
Detail of a unicorn on the grill in Geoffrey Fule’s cookbook, Additional MS 142012, f. 137r

Thanks from all of us in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section!  Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @BLMedieval.

- Sarah J Biggs

27 November 2013

Marginali-yeah: Take 2! The Incomparable Luttrell Psalter

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It is almost impossible to discuss the fabulous and incomparable Luttrell Psalter (Add MS 42130) without resorting to hyperbole.  Produced in Lincolnshire, England c. 1320-1340, for Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, its namesake and patron (please see our earlier blog post for more details), the manuscript is a glorious explosion of visual delights.  Besides the illuminated and historiated initials, the Psalter contains hundreds of marginal and bas-de-page images which display a staggering and creative diversity.  A very few (compared with the overwhelming numbers in the manuscript!) selected details are below; please have a look at the fully digitised manuscript here for much much more.

A lady with a pet squirrel, Add MS 42130, f. 33r

A monkey riding a goat whilst hawking (except with an owl, so not hawking), Add MS 42130, f. 38r

The martyrdom of Thomas Becket, with a grotesque nearby, and later 'x' marks effacing the painting, Add MS 42130, f. 51r

A dejected, nude, and tonsured man (a winning combination!) with an archer below, Add MS 42130, f. 54r

A man being bled into a bowl while an attentive bird looks on, Add MS 42130, f. 61r

A blue-skinned man (perhaps a Saracen or Ethiopian?) doing battle with a dragon (not a snail in sight), Add MS 42130, f. 83v

Medieval Angry Birds, Add MS 42130, f. 145r

Two grotesques fighting and fighting dirty, Add MS 42130, f. 153r

A monkey being extremely rude, as far as we can tell, Add MS 42130, f. 189v

A cat (of course!), Add MS 42130, f. 190r

Stealing fruit, Add MS 42130, f. 196v

A female grotesque riding, um, herself, Add MS 42130, f. 198v 

This grotesque is unimpressed, Add MS 42130, f. 202r

Eeyore-ish, Add MS 42130, f. 208v

Check me out, Add MS 42130, f. 210r

This won't end well, Add MS 42130, f. 211r

Please let us know if you have any other favourites; you can always leave us a note in the comments below, or get in touch with us on Twitter @BLMedieval.

- Sarah J Biggs