THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

84 posts categorized "English"

04 February 2016

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Now Online

Add comment Comments (0)

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:

 

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_iv_f080v
'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.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_vi_f030r
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.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_i_f125r
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.’

  Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_iv_f066r
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.

  Cotton_ms_domitian_a_viii_f032r
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.

Cotton_ms_caligula_a_xv_f135r
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.

Cotton_ms_domitian_a_viii_f162r
Scutum Dei Triangulum, England, mid-15th century, Cotton Domitian A VIII, f. 162r

~ Alison Hudson

18 January 2016

Elves and Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

Add comment Comments (1)

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.

Royal_ms_2_a_xx_f017r
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

Harley_ms_2965_f004v
Initial from the Book of Nunnaminster, England (Kingdom of Mercia), late 8th- early 9th century, Harley MS 2965, f. 4v

Harley_ms_7653_f001r
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).

Royal_ms_2_a_xx_f045v
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.

Royal_ms_12_d_xvii_f106r
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’

Cotton_ms_vitellius_a_xv_f134r
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.

Cotton_ms_vitellius_a_xv_f202r
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.

Add_ms_32246_f021r
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

05 January 2016

Bald's Leechbook Now Online

Add comment Comments (0)

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.

Royal_ms_12_d_xvii_f012v
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.

Royal_ms_12_d_xvii_f020v
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

Royal_ms_12_d_xvii_f054v
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!

22 December 2015

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

Add comment Comments (1)

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

  Add_ms_49598_f015v
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.

Cotton_ms_julius_e_vii_f005v
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.

Royal_ms_7_c_xii_f009v
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).

Royal_ms_7_c_xii_f064r
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.

Cotton_ms_julius_e_vii_f003v
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

Add comment Comments (0)

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.

  Harley_ms_4425_f137v
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.

Add_ms_18850_f075r
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!

Royal 20 A XVII Pygmalion
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.

Royal 6 E VII K042592
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).

Royal_ms_12_d_xvii_f111r
Remedies of headaches, from Bald’s Leechbook, England (Winchester?), mid-10th century, Royal MS 12 D XVII, f. 111r
.

7. Enjoy Christmas dinner.

Add 15268 Feasting c13842-19a
Detail of feasting from Histoire Universelle, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Acre), c. 1275-91, Add MS 15268, f. 242v

8. Enjoy some seasonal music.

  Harley_ms_2961_f012v
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.

Margaret of York dog
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

21 November 2015

New to the Treasures Gallery

Add comment Comments (0)

As frequent visitors to the British Library will know, we regularly make changes to the items displayed to the public in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, also known as our Treasures Gallery.  We are pleased to announce that the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section has placed a number of new manuscripts on display.  Most of these manuscripts are fully digitised and can be found online at Digitised Manuscripts, so if you’re not able to make it to the Gallery here in London, there’ s no need for you to miss out!

Add_ms_10289_f045v
Painting of Mont Saint Michel burning,
from 'Li Romanz du Mont Saint-Michel', France (Normandy), 1375-1400, Add MS 10289, f. 45v

The ‘Literature’ section sees the addition of Add MS 10289, 'Li Romanz du Mont Saint-Michel' (the Romance of Mont Saint-Michel), a late 13th century miscellany of romances, moralistic and religious texts, and medical recipes written in Anglo-Norman.   The folio displayed shows the burning of the monastery in the year 922; much more about this fabulous manuscript can be found in our post The Romance of Mont Saint-Michel.

Harley_ms_4866_f088r
Miniature of Geoffrey Chaucer, from Thomas Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes, England (London or Westminster), c. 1411 – c. 1420, Harley MS 4866, f. 88r

Also in this section is one of the earliest copies of Thomas Hoccleve’s The Regiment of Princes, which was created c. 1411 – c. 1420, possibly under the supervision of Hoccleve himself.  This manuscript (Harley MS 4866) includes the famous portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer, holding a rosary and wearing a pen-case on a string around his neck

Harley_ms_5600_f015v
Miniature of Homer in a landscape listening to his Muse, from a copy of Homer’s Iliad, Italy (Florence), 1466, Harley MS 5600, f. 15v

Three manuscripts featuring the works of classical authors have been added to the ‘Art of the Book’ section.  A 15th century Greek manuscript, copied in Florence in 1466 by Ioannes Rhosos of Crete, contains a gorgeous miniature of Homer surrounded by Muses, in a typical Florentine style (Harley MS 5600).  This Homer is joined by the works of two more Roman authors who were also hugely popular in Renaissance Italy: a late 15th century copy of the works of Cicero (Burney MS 157), and a Virgil copied in Rome between 1483 and 1485 (Kings MS 24).

Add_ms_5231_f005r
Drawing of a ‘stout woman’ from a notebook by Albrecht
Dürer, Germany, c. 1500, Add MS 5231, f. 5r

Manuscripts in another section contain material from two of the great artists of the Renaissance: Albrecht Dürer and Michaelangelo.  Dürer’s interest in anatomy are reflected in four sketchbooks now owned by the British Library, one of which includes a sketch of a ‘stout woman’ accompanied by detailed notes on how to correctly construct a human figure (Add MS 5231).  Alongside Dürer’s volume is one composed of a series of letters exchanged by Michaelangelo Buonarroti and his family.  On display is a letter Michaelangelo wrote to his nephew from Rome in 1550, offering some genial advice on the best way to select a wife (Add MS 23142).

Add_ms_30845_f013r
Text page with musical neumes, Spain (Silos), c. 1050, Add MS 30845, f. 13r

We have also updated the ‘Early Music’ section with two of our best-known musical manuscripts.  Dating from c. 1050, Add MS 30845 is a liturgical manuscript with musical notation, created in the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos in northern Spain.  This notation consists of graphic signs that indicate the direction of the melody; as the pitch is lacking, however, the original melody is now impossible to recover.  Accompanying the Silos manuscript is one containing perhaps the most famous piece of English secular medieval music, ‘Sumer is Icumen in’, which is known only from this manuscript. 

Harley_ms_978_f011v
Page with ‘Sumer is Icumen in’, from a miscellany, England (Reading Abbey), c. 1260, Harley MS 978, f. 11v

If you’re interested in more information on this wonderful piece of music (from Harley MS 978), please see our post Sumer is Icumen In.  And whether your visit is in person here in St Pancras, or virtual amongst our digitised manuscripts, we hope you enjoy yourselves!

-  Sarah J Biggs

19 November 2015

Anglo-Saxon Digitisation Project Now Underway

Add comment Comments (0)

The British Library possesses the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the world. Many of these manuscripts are already available via our Digitised Manuscripts website, and we are delighted to announce that dozens more will be added in the coming months as part of a new digitisation project.  These manuscripts will include the B, D, and F versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, manuscripts with early musical notation, Archbishop Wulfstan’s letter book, laws, saints’ lives, early manuscripts of Ælfric’s writings, charms, and medical recipes.  This digitisation has been generously funded by a donation made in memory of Melvin R Seiden.

Add_ms_47967_f048v
Zoomorphic pen-drawn initial from the beginning of a book in an Old English translation and compilation of Orosius, from the Tollemache Orosius, Add MS 47967, f. 48v

The first five manuscripts have gone already gone online.  These include the earliest copy of the Old English version of Orosius’s Historia adversus paganos, an early eleventh-century schoolbook, and two manuscripts associated with Bishop Leofric of Exeter.  So click over to Digitised Manuscripts for images of fantastical creatures in interlace initials, an imaginary dialogue between a monk, a cook, and a baker, and early musical notation! 

Harley_ms_110_f003r
Zoomorphic initial ‘H’ at the beginning of a text, Harley MS 110, f. 3r

Add MS 28188:  Pontifical with litanies and benedictional (imperfect), England (Exeter), 3rd quarter of the 11th century

Add MS 32246:  Fragment of Excerptiones de Prisciano with the 'Elegy of Herbert and Wulfgar', glossaries, and Ælfric's Colloquy, England (Berkshire?), 1st half of the 11th century

Add MS 47967:  Orosius, Historia adversus paganos ('The Old English Orosius' or 'The Tollemache Orosius' ), England (Winchester), 900-1000

Harley MS 110:  Glossed copy of Prosper, Epigrammata ex sententiis S. Augustini, Versus ad coniugem, Isidore, Synonyma de lamentatione animae peccatricis; two leaves from a gradual, England, 975-1060

Harley MS 2961:  Leofric Collectar, England (Exeter Cathedral), 1050-1072

Harley_ms_2961_f010r
Text page with musical neumes, from the Leofric Collectar, Harley MS 2961, f. 10r

Additionally, as this project continues, some manuscripts may be unavailable as they are being digitised.  Readers intending to consult Anglo-Saxon manuscripts that have not already been made available on Digitised Manuscripts should therefore please contact the British Library's Manuscripts Reference Team (mss@bl.uk) before planning a visit.

Add_ms_47967_f062v_detail
Detail of a text page with a sheep drawn around a hole in the parchment, from the Tollemache Orosius,
Add MS 47967, f. 62v

-  Alison Hudson, Project Curator, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

14 October 2015

The Unicorn Lives On

Add comment Comments (0)

On 20 September of this year our eagle-eyed friend and former colleague Dr Alixe Bovey drew our attention to that day’s edition of The Sunday Times.  In that issue was an article about the latest work by the artist Sir Peter Blake, who is perhaps best known for designing the iconic album cover for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Sir Peter had created a mural to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Lord Mayor’s Parade, compiling dozens of images to capture the spirit of the parade across the centuries.

Peter Blake mural

In the earliest years of the parade can be found the familiar figure of our ‘unicorn lady’; can you spot her amongst the crowds?  She first made an appearance on 1 April 2012 in our post Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library, and now you can see her between the years 1315-1415 and 1514-1515 (click the above image for a larger version).  It is a testament to the power of medieval images that they can continue to be reused and remixed today in such interesting ways, and to such astounding effect.  We are absolutely thrilled. 

Unicorn Head
Bringing the unicorn to table, from the Unicorn Cookbook

We’ve found a number of other images from British Library manuscripts in Sir Peter’s work, including the dancing nun of the Maastricht Hours (for more on that manuscript, see Monkeying Around with the Maastricht Hours).  Please do let us know if you discover any others, either in the comments below or on Twitter @BLMedieval

-   Sarah J Biggs