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29 March 2014

The Enemy of All Marriage

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Last week, we announced that two important manuscripts had been saved for the nation by the British Library.  One of these – a printed book filled with the manuscript notes of the religious reformer John Ponet (b. c. 1514, d. 1556) – has been digitised in its entirety, and is now available for all to study and enjoy through Digitised Manuscripts (the book is Add MS 89067).  It joins another book annotated by Ponet in the British Library collections: a copy of the 1534 edition of the Historia Danorum Libri XVI (590.k.10).

John Ponet began his career at Queen’s College in Cambridge, where he graduated as Master of Arts in 1535.  Yet no quiet life of scholarship awaited Ponet.  A highly articulate advocate of reformed religion, and an inveterate controversialist to boot, Ponet placed himself at the centre of contemporary doctrinal debates, including the question of whether priests should be permitted to marry.  Like Thomas Cranmer and Matthew Parker, Ponet took a wife well before clerical celibacy was swept away.  He was later arraigned on charges of bigamy, his wife being already betrothed to a Nottingham butcher; he eventually divorced her and married another woman.

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Frontispiece to John Ponet’s copy of Thomas Martin’s ‘Traictise’, containing Ponet’s annotations and an old library stamp from the Law Society’s Mendham Collection, printed in London, 1554, Add MS 89067, f. 1r

This book, published in 1554, is entitled A Traictise declaryng and plainly prouyng that the pretensed marriage of Priestes and professed persones is no marriage, but altogether unlawful, and in all ages, and al countreies of Christendome bothe forbidden and also punyshed.  Written by Thomas Martin, a civil lawyer of conservative religious standing, this book represents an attempt by the regime of Mary Tudor to give intellectual justification to the undoing of doctrinal changes effected during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI.  Five years earlier, in the year that clerical celibacy had been abolished by act of parliament, Ponet had published A Defence for Mariage of Priestes, by Scripture and aunciente wryters.  Already married himself for at least a year, Ponet set out why ‘marriage and priesthood may stand together’ and how ‘marriage is no hindrance to a godly life’, drawing heavily on St Paul’s advice to the Corinthians to marry in order to avoid the sin of fornication.

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Opening of the first chapter, with Ponet’s annotations in English and Latin in the margins, Add MS 89067, f. 11r

It is Ponet’s extensive manuscript notes alongside the Traictise – in the margins and on blank leaves specially inserted into the book – that transform this book into a witness of the personal battles taking place within religious controversies of the mid-sixteenth century.  Ponet’s rise to the bishopric of Winchester in 1551 had been at the expense of its former bishop Stephen Gardiner.  It is probably no coincidence that the author of the Traictise was employed by Gardiner in his new role as Mary I’s Lord Chancellor.

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Detail of an interleaved page containing Ponet’s annotations in English, Add MS 89067, f. 2r

Declaring on the title-page ‘Martin made me an enemy of all marriage’, Ponet left few leaves unmarked, writing notes in English, Latin and Greek that comprise a blow-by-blow response to the Traictise.  Ponet was evidently keen to garner scurrilous gossip to pepper his response with some ad hominem remarks: ‘Martin played always the fool in Christmas in New College, Oxford’, he noted (see above). 

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Detail of an interleaved page containing Ponet’s annotations in English, Add MS 89067, f. 4r

He often directly addressed Martin in his annotations: ‘Your intent, as appearing by this title of your book, is to prove that the marriage of priests and professed persons is not marriage...you think you have made so profound a resolution in this matter by your canonical wisdom and sophistical cunning...ye may dedicate the first fruits of your fancy as...to a queen...not doubting belike that her grace’s ears will not be offended with your unchaste terms of filthy whoredom, your shameless shifts, [...] lechery et cetera, your ruffian-like talk and loud lies...’. 

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Detail of an interleaved page, containing Ponet’s annotations in English, Add MS 89067, f. 4r

Warming to his theme, Ponet continued, ‘Though the queen be contented with whatsoever you say, yet will learned men overlook you and judge what you ought to say, it is not your net that can hide your nakedness when you dance now as it was when you used to play in New College in Oxford the lords minion fool in Christmas.  Belike there you learned your boldness and lost your wit and did then put off shame and put on impudency...’. 

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Detail of an interleaved page, containing Ponet’s annotations in English, Add MS 89067, f. 5r

Referring to the sacking under Mary of clerics who had legally married under Edward, Ponet wrote, with some sarcasm, ‘Now Mr Doctor ye must make some foul shift for your clients which be put in the possession of such men’s benefices as be deprived without a cause if your sayings be true...’. 

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Detail of an interleaved page, containing Ponet’s annotations in English, Add MS 89067, f. 5r

Ponet predicted that unrest would follow these changes, with attacks made both against priests’ replacements and those responsible, not least because of perceived foreign influence through Mary’s marriage to Philip II: ‘...if now you and your Spanions help not at a pinch, all such new beneficed shavelings [i.e. inexperienced young men] shall be thought to live in open extortion and wrongfully to withhold other men’s goods, for the which great damage is like to ensue not only to them but also to all such as have put out the one without a cause.’

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Page of text, underlined and containing Ponet’s annotations in English and Latin, Add MS 89067, f. 46r
 

Ponet evidently saw the hand of his old adversary Gardiner at work in Martin’s Traictise.  His notes in Add MS 89067 formed the basis of his response, published in 1556, An Apologie fully answeringe by Scriptures and aunceant Doctors, a blasphemose Book gathered by D. Steph. Gardiner...and other Papists...as by ther books appeareth and of late set furth under the name of T. Martin Doctor of the Civile lawes...against the godly mariadge of priests.  Yet this new acquisition contains many other annotations by Ponet that were never printed and remain to be studied in detail.  It thus offers fresh insights into a disputatious and very personal exchange during a febrile period in England’s religious history.

27 March 2014

Say Your Prayers

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A new addition to Digitised Manuscripts comes in the form of Add MS 50005, a Book of Hours in Dutch, which the British Library acquired from the Dyson Perrins collection in the 1950s.  The core of the book was written by one hand, c. 1410-c. 1420, perhaps in Utrecht or Delft.  It contains devotional texts such as the Hours of the Virgin and the Little Hours of the Cross, as well as prayers to the Virgin Mary and Christ, the Crucifix and God.  Whereas Books of Hours made in England or France would have been written in Latin, this example is written entirely in Middle Dutch.  Nor is it unusual; most Books of Hours from the Netherlands are written in the vernacular.

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Historiated initial incorporating the Nursing Madonna (‘Maria Lactans’) at the opening of the Hours of the Virgin, from a Book of Hours in Middle Dutch, Netherlands (?Utrecht or ?Delft), c. 1410-c. 1420, Add MS 50005, f. 8r

The use of Dutch in this way was the outcome of a religious movement known as the Devotio Moderna, which sought to encourage a personal, emotional style of devotion that was accessible to all literate people.  This Book of Hours is decorated with a series of 66 miniatures illustrating scenes from the lives of Joachim and Anna, their daughter the Virgin Mary, and her son Jesus Christ.  The miniatures are lively and expressive: the characters are shown moving, gesturing or performing ceremonial duties.  Being unframed, this sense of activity spills out into the margins, drawing the scenes and the text closer together.

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Miniature of the Disputation in the Temple, Add MS 50005, f. 60v

The miniatures can also be visceral and unsettling.  On f. 59v, under the orders of Herod, and unmoved by the pleas of its mother, a soldier is stamping on an infant and impaling it with his sword; the child’s blood is shown spilling over his boot and onto the grass.  On f. 106v, Christ is tied to a pillar; his torturers are captured mid-swing, one lifting his whip above his head, the other poised to strike a sideways blow on Christ’s already lacerated body, while Pilate is standing in the background, looking on impassively.  The captions directly address the reader and employ the dramatic present tense to pull them into the action: ‘Here does Herod kill the innocent children’; ‘Here they scourge Jesus’. 

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Miniature of the Massacre of the Innocents, Add MS 50005, f. 59v

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Miniature of Christ’s scourging, Add MS 50005, f. 106v

The artist responsible for these miniatures has been identified by James Marrow as ‘The Master of the Morgan Infancy Cycle’.  He is named after his work in M. 866 at the Pierpont Morgan Library, and he is known only through other decorated Books of Hours: Liège, Bibliothèque de l’Université, MS Wittert 35; Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliothek, MS 5.J.26; Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, MS Germ. oct. 680; and Berlin, Kupferstichkabinet, no. 2302 (a single detached miniature). 

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Miniature of soldiers casting lots for Christ’s garments, Add MS 50005, f. 119v

The insertion of other texts by other hands in this book presents not only a challenge to the boldest manuscript cataloguer, but also insights into how medieval Books of Hours could be customised and augmented.  The book was added to in two stages during the fifteenth century.  The first additions were made around the mid-fifteenth century, almost entirely on the blank recto sides of leaves containing miniatures on the verso.  The interspersing of new texts among the old seems confusing to modern eyes, but it reflects the emendator’s thoughtful approach to what would be appropriate in the book. 

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A note on three things necessary for salvation, the first page of additions made by ‘Hand 2’ in the mid-fifteenth century, Add MS 50005, f. 83r.

Placing some of the inserted prayers on blank leaves at the front of the volume would have avoided the chopping and changing between texts from f. 95r to 138r, but it would have upset the textual hierarchy by moving the Hours of the Virgin to second place in the volume.  The emendator began his or her additions immediately after this most important text in the volume, slotting them among the Little Hours of the Cross so that the new prayers were grouped with those originally placed in the volume.

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A prayer to St Erasmus (‘O heilighe martelaer Christi sinte erasme’), the first page of additions made by ‘Hand 3’ in the second half of the fifteenth century, Add MS 50005, f. 159v.

The second additions were made later in the fifteenth century, more straightforwardly to blank leaves and possibly inserted quires at the end of the volume.  Whereas prayers found earlier in the volume are directed to God, Christ, or the Virgin Mary, these address a variety of saints – St Erasmus, St Katherine, St Agatha, St Stephen, St Agnes and St Francis – that might reflect the particular devotional interests of the book’s owner.  

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Miniature of a laywoman kneeling in prayer before the Virgin and Child, Add MS 50005, f. 155v.

There is no firm evidence of provenance in the manuscript.  The final miniature depicts a laywoman – perhaps the original owner of the book – kneeling in prayer before the Virgin and Child.  A similarly dressed figure is shown attending upon Anna at the birth of Mary (f. 5v), and upon Mary at the birth of Jesus (f. 22v), sitting with the shepherds at the Annunciation (f. 36v), greeting the Magi at the Adoration (f. 45v), and holding a bell-rope at the Purification (f. 46v). 

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Miniature of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, Add MS 50005, f. 5v.

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Miniature of the Adoration of the Magi, Add MS 50005, f. 45v.

The book seems to have remained in female possession, perhaps belonging a Sister of the Common Life, one of the pious lay groups associated with the Devotio Moderna.  An exhortation on the Passion is addressed specifically to a sister – ‘O mijn gheminde suster’ (‘O my beloved sister’, f. 162r) – and includes the phrase ‘soe moecht ghi een ghewarich dienster Christi worden’ (‘may you become a true servant of Christ’, ff. 164r-164v).  It was with this goal in mind that the many owners of this and other Books of Hours pored over their precious manuscripts, reciting the prayers and meditating upon the suffering of their Saviour.

- James Freeman

20 March 2014

Update to the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

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Here in the British Library’s department of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts, we work tirelessly to make our collections accessible and better known among scholars and the public.  While much attention focuses on our Digitised Manuscripts resource, let’s not forget about the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

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Text page fragments in uncial script, from Cyprian’s Epistles, North Africa (Carthage?), 4th – 5th centuries, Add MS 40165A, f. 1r

Recently updated, CIM (as we like to call it) now boasts a total of 4,277 manuscripts and some 36,163 images.  These range from a 4th/5th-century copy of Cyprian’s Epistles, perhaps brought to England by Theodore of Tarsus and Hadrian of Canterbury (Add MS 40165A), to a collection of facsimile manuscript pages produced in 1873 by John Obadiah Westwood, a palaeographer and entomologist (Egerton MS 2263) – with a lot in between.

Since the last update in August 2013, we have been cataloguing Anglo-Norman manuscripts from the Additional collection.  Although some of them only contain only decorated initials, the contents are wide-ranging and filled with surprises.

Here are a few favourites (with more to come, so stay tuned!):

 

The earliest English cookbooks? (Add MS 32085 and Royal MS 12 C XII)

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Puzzle initial, from the legal text 'Sentencia Super Easdem Cartas', England, late 13th or early 14th century,
Add MS 32085, f. 11r.

Both manuscripts contain a varied collection of miscellaneous texts – from prophecies to arithmetical puzzles, from charters to a lapidary – bound together after they were copied.  They have one ingredient in common: collections of recipes in Anglo-Norman French, believed to be the earliest surviving examples of English cuisine.  If you fancy trying your hand at medieval cookery, check out Constance B. Hieatt and Robin F. Jones’s edition and translation.

Some of the recipes are mouth-watering (but no roasted unicorn, sadly), and the names are especially appetising:

Teste de Tourk (Turk’s Head): a type of quiche filled with rabbits and poultry; add eels to ‘enhance’ the flavour!

Nag’s tail: the ingredients include pigs’ trotters and ears, grease and wine.

Sang Dragoun: dragon’s blood is a colourful name for what appears to be rice pudding.

Tardpolene: alas, no tadpoles, but just soft cheese, dates and almonds.

 

Scientific and chiromantic texts (Add MS 18210)

This scientific compilation contains Latin texts by Galen, the ‘Dragmaticon’ of William of Conches (tutor to Henry II), as well as some texts on telling the future.  Two are unique to this manuscript: one on spatulomancy/scapulamancy (divination through the use of a shoulder-bone), and another on haematoscopy (prognostication through the examination of blood).  A less visceral means of forecasting is recorded in a treatise on geomancy, where one must interpret the patterns formed by tossing handfuls of rocks on the ground.  A handy table is provided as a guide:

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Table of patterns, from a treatise on geomancy, England or N. France, c. 1275- c. 1325,
Add MS 18210, f. 93r.

Who wouldn’t want the stones to predict ‘proesces ioie et leesce et richesces et si signifie grant profit’ (nobility, joy, gladness, riches and great profit)?

We have also continued to update and augment entries with further details on the contents, provenance and bibliographies relating to illuminated manuscripts.  Tune in for some further highlights later on.

Don’t forget that it’s possible to find manuscripts in the Catalogue by means other than their shelfmarks.  One can conduct advanced searches by keyword, date range, language, provenance, scribe, artist – and so on!  You can bring together manuscripts of the same period in order to compare decorative styles, or see examples of a specific artist’s work at a glance.  One of the best features is that you can search for keywords within the images (try searching for ‘snail’ and see what comes up!).

The Catalogue also includes virtual exhibitions of British Library manuscripts, and an illustrated glossary (most useful for getting to grips with tricky terminology).  Enjoy!

                                                                                               -  James Freeman and Chantry Westwell

15 March 2014

The Life of a Mystic

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Perhaps the first autobiography ever written in English, this book contains the incredible life story of the female mystic, Margery Kempe, who lived in what is now Kings Lynn, Norfolk from c. 1373 to c. 1440.  The work survives in only one known manuscript, British Library Add MS 61823, written at about the time of her death.  The manuscript’s survival story is nearly as eccentric and action-packed as that of its heroine (on which, see below).  It was owned by the Butler Bowden family and the story goes that when Colonel W. Butler Bowden was looking for a ping-pong bat in a cupboard at his family home near Chesterfield in the early 1930s he came across a pile of old books.  Frustrated at the disorder, he threatened to put the whole lot on the bonfire the next day so that bats and balls would be easier to find in future.  Luckily a friend advised him to have the books checked by an expert and shortly afterwards Hope Emily Allen identified one as the ‘Book of Margery Kempe’, which was previously known only from excerpts printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1501, and by Henry Pepwell in 1521 (where the author is described as ‘a devoute ancres’).  A true miracle!

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Opening page of the Book of Margery Kempe, Add MS 61823, England (East Anglia), c. 1440, f. 1r

Margery Kempe was the daughter of a merchant named John Brunham and at about the age of twenty she married John Kempe, a brewer and chamberlain of Lynn.  After the birth of her first child, she suffered depression, from which she was cured by a vision of Christ.  She had another thirteen children before she finally persuaded her husband to agree that they should live chastely!  She then donned white robes and sought permission from her bishop, who sent her to see the Archbishop of Canterbury, but there is no record that she took formal vows.  In 1413 she left on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, living off charity along the way.  In Jerusalem, she visited Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre, where she was overtaken by a fit of uncontrollable crying , which, together with her roaring in church, brought her fame as a mystic, but also provoked hostility, especially in England on her return.  She was constantly in conflict with the establishment in her town, rejecting the conventional values and materialism of her fellow citizens and breaking her links with her family and society.

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Text page from the Book of Margery Kempe, Add MS 61823, England (East Anglia), c. 1440, f. 6r

As recorded in the book, she set off again on pilgrimage in 1417 to Santiago de Compostela.  On her return from Spain she was accused of heresy several times and imprisoned in Leicester on a charge of Lollardy, and was reportedly mistreated while in prison.  Having argued her innocence before the church authorities on several occasions, she finally was given a letter by the Archbishop of Canterbury, allowing her access to confession and communion.  She returned to Lynn, beset by physical hardships, and lived an intense spiritual life, filled with visions, conversations with Christ and noisy lamentation.  Her husband, perhaps wisely, stayed away, but when he suffered an injury, she nursed him until his death, after which she travelled to Germany with her daughter at the age of almost 60 to see the Holy Blood in Brandenburg and the relics in Aachen.  The last record we have of her is in 1438.  Her book was completed by this time and a ‘Margeria Kempe’, who may be its author, was admitted to the prestigious Trinity Guild of Lynn.  She is thought to have died shortly after this, but there is no record of her death.  The scribe who wrote down this version of Margery’s story identifies himself as Salthows, priest at Lynn in Norfolk and scholars believe this is not the original copy of the work, but was made a little later than the original, perhaps under the author’s supervision. 

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Detail of the Mount Grace Priory ownership inscription from The Book of Margery Kempe, Add MS 61823, f. iv verso

The verso of the first page of the manuscript contains the rubric, ‘Liber Montis Gracie. This boke is of Mountegrace’, and has been annotated by four scribes, probably monks associated with the   Carthusian priory of Mount Grace in Yorkshire.  Some of the notes in the margins give us an idea how the book was read by these monks and suggest why it was preserved by them.  One such note provides marginal headings, pointing to key passages in the text, such as ‘nota de clamore’ when Margery utters her first cry, and here a note with the word ‘mirabile’ (miracle):

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Marginal note in Latin marking a miraculous event in The Book of Margery Kempe, Add MS 61823, f. 40v.

In this passage, Margery is described as being at the Church of St John Lateran in Rome, where she meets a very learned priest, a ‘Dewcheman’ (German) who ‘undirstod non Englycsh ne wist not what sche seyd’, and she could  speak ‘non other language than Englysch’ so they had to speak to each other through an interpreter.  Then, on Margery’s advice, the priest prayed for 13 days, at the end of this ‘he undirstod what sche seyd in Englysch to hym and sche undirstod what that he
seyd. And yet he undirstod not Englisch that other men spokyn’ – a miracle indeed!  But for Margery this was not an occasion to celebrate:  ‘sche sobbyd boistowsly and cryed ful lowde and horybly’. One wonders what the learned priest’s reaction could have been.

Religious eccentric, feminist icon, literary genius, early social reformer – Margery Kempe has been described as all these things by critics approaching her text in different ways.  However we view her, there is no doubt that the work provides an invaluable insight into 15th century urban life and into the religious practices of the period. 

-  Chantry Westwell

10 March 2014

Magical Mystery Play

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As you may have heard, the British Library has recently acquired a unique and richly decorated copy of a medieval mystery play. We're delighted to tell you that the whole is now available, in two volumes, on our Digitised Manuscripts site, as Add MS 89066/1 and Add MS 89066/2. To whet your appetite, here are some more images from the manuscript, and the fascinating story of how it was made.

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Vespasian’s miraculous recovery from leprosy upon being shown Christ’s face on the Holy Veil by Saint Veronica, from the Mystère de la Vengeance by Eustache Marcadé, Bruges, c. 1465 (London, British Library, MS Additional 89066/1, f. 111r).

The manuscript was illustrated by Loyset Liédet (b. c. 1420, d. 1479) from Hesdin, in northern France, who may have been a student of Simon Marmion there. In 1469 Liédet joined the book producer’s confraternity in Bruges. He was a favourite artist of the Dukes of Burgundy, and is known to have decorated at least 15 and possibly as many as 20 extant manuscripts, and probably many others besides that are either lost or as yet unidentified. He was a master of colour and narrative, particularly of secular scenes. Liédet’s painting in this book is important for its groundbreaking, inventive and imaginative interpretation of a play, rather than devotional text. Because he was illustrating a new contemporary text, Liédet had to create new scenes corresponding to the text. His creative and novel compositions narrate the text in original ways.

Liédet's work is a valuable record of contemporary fashion and textiles, of secular life and of the emerging interest in scenes of internal space combined with external city and landscapes, as evidenced in the cure of Vespasian, above (Additional MS 89066/1, f. 111r), and the arrest of Pilate (Additional MS 89066/1, f. 128v) pictured below.

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Detail of a miniature showing the violent arrest of Pontius Pilate by armed guards (Add MS 89066/1, f. 128v).

The complexity, innovation and use of colour in Liédet’s cycle of illustrations and his subtlety in the handling of the narrative have few parallels among contemporary manuscripts or panel paintings.

Liédet devised 20 large paintings to illustrate scenes in the play. These are incredibly detailed, and follow the text closely. For example, in the image of two doctors visiting Vespasian, the red spots of leprosy are visible on the patient’s body, and the artist has followed the stage direction Le [deuxième] medicin en regardant son visaige (the second doctor looks at his face) by depicting the doctor looking directly at Vespasian, and holding Vespasian’s hand, possibly to take his pulse (f. 61v, volume 1). These large and unique paintings therefore constitute an important witness of the artist’s skill at illustrating a new dramatic text.

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Detail of a miniature showing Vespasian suffering from leprosy and being examined in bed by two doctors (Add MS 89066/1, f. 61v).

Thanks to surviving ducal accounts made after Philip’s death in July 1468, we know exactly how much the manuscript cost, and the name of the scribe and artist. The text was written by the scribe Yvonnet le Jeune, who was paid 16 shillings for each of the 38 quires (£30). The artist, Loyset Liédet (the enlumineur) was paid 18 shillings for each miniature (£18). Each of the 24 large illuminated initials (grandes lettres a champaigne dor et vingnettes dedens) cost 12 pence, for a total of 24 shillings. The binding cost 31 shillings, and the metal fittings for the binding 14 shillings (The original binding and fittings are now lost). The expense to produce the whole book was 51 pounds and 19 shillings. This price can be compared to the cost of a panel painting: in 1464, Dirk Bouts received 200 Rhenish guilders (£33 6s. 8d.) from the confraternity of the Holy Sacrament in Louvain for the painting of a triptych of the Last Supper. In comparison, a senior military officer at Philip the Good’s court, the Master of the Cannon, was paid a salary of 6 pounds a year (although this may have been in addition to room and board at the court).

This manuscript fills a gap in the British Library’s collections of the work of this artist. We already held at least four manuscripts usually ascribed to a ‘follower of Liédet’ (Royal MS 15 D I, Royal MS 17 F VI, Royal MS 17 F VII and Royal MS 18 E V). The acquisition of a manuscript securely attributed to Liédet, and dated to an early period in his career, is an extremely valuable research resource and we very much hope that it will allow these other attributions to be reassessed.

We are extremely grateful to everyone who supported the acquisition of this beautiful manuscript, and we hope that you like it too! The manuscript was accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax before being allocated to the British Library in 2014. Its acquisition was also made possible thanks to generous donations from the Art Fund, the Friends of the British Library, International Partners in memory of Melvin R. Seiden, the Breslauer Bequest, and other anonymous donors. It can also now be seen in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library -- we hope that you like it as much as we do!

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.

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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.  

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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

06 March 2014

Medieval Drama Acquired by the British Library

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We are extremely pleased to be able to tell you that the British Library has acquired an exceptional manuscript of a medieval drama, made for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (d. 1467). The manuscript in question was accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, and contains the Mystère de la Vengeance, a play in French verse by the Benedictine monk Eustache Marcadé (d. 1440). Duke Philip’s copy is one of the finest surviving illuminated manuscripts of any medieval theatrical text, and is now in two volumes: it includes 20 large miniatures painted by Loyset Liédet (d. 1479), illustrating the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. This manuscript is of outstanding significance as a unique copy of the complete version of a theatrical text illustrated in a completely original way, and as an example of a securely dated and documented work made for one of the greatest patrons of the 15th century.

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Detail of a miniature showing Vespasian suffering from leprosy and being examined in bed by two doctors, from the Mystère de la Vengeance by Eustache Marcadé, Bruges, c. 1465 (London, British Library, MS Additional 89066/1, f. 61v).

Philip the Good's manuscript is now British Library, Additional MSS 89066/1 and 89066/2. From Saturday, 8 March, the manuscript will be on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, and full digital images are also available on our Digitised Manuscripts site (Add MS 89066/1 and Add MS 89066/2).

The newly-acquired manuscript was commissioned for Philip the Good in around 1465. Philip was the most powerful ruler in Europe at that time, and one of the great collectors of the 15th century. The British Library's copy is the only known surviving complete manuscript of Marcadé’s text of the mystery play, in a version that took four days to perform. Another copy is in Arras, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 697, but that is a three-day version of the play, and contains around 1,000 fewer verses than Philip’s copy. Nor is the Arras copy illustrated with paintings, but rather with pen and ink drawings, and it is written on paper rather than on parchment. The play was performed in Abbeville, around 30 miles south-west of Hesdin, in 1463, and in Mechelen in 1494. It has been speculated that the Duke of Burgundy was present for the Abbeville performance, and that this deluxe manuscript was made in response to that event.

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Detail of a miniature showing the appearance in the sky of portents of Jerusalem’s destruction, from the Mystère de la Vengeance (London, British Library, MS Additional 89066/2, f. 38r).

The Mystère de la Vengeance contains 14,972 lines of French verse, which is set over four days of performances. Its subject is the Roman destruction of Jerusalem after the Crucifixion. The first day’s drama is a debate between the personifications of the Four Virtues, Justice, Mercy, Peace and Truth over whether God should take revenge on Jerusalem for the Crucifixion. The result is a promise from God that any destruction would be preceded by many warnings. On the second day the Emperor Tiberius hears a letter read from Pontius Pilate concerning Christ’s miracles. Concurrently, Vespasian, suffering from leprosy in Spain, is cured by the Vera Icon, or Saint Veronica’s veil. Events in Rome on the third day of the performance include Nero sending Vespasian and his son Titus to Jerusalem to put down a revolt. The ‘year of the four emperors’, 69, is the subject of the last day’s performance, in which Vespasian orders the destruction of Jerusalem. 

The manuscript was accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, and allocated to the British Library in 2014. Its acquisition was also made possible thanks to generous donations from the Art Fund, the Friends of the British Library, International Partners in memory of Melvin R. Seiden, the Breslauer Bequest, and other anonymous donors.

For more information about the artist and scribe of this manuscript, see our blogpost Magical Mystery Tour.

04 March 2014

Guess the Manuscript XII

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It's been a while since we've offered up another installment in our award-winning Guess the Manuscript series.  So long, in fact, that the origin of the image below is now a mystery even to us.  Embarrassing though it is to admit, we have forgotten where we found this.  How exciting!

Can you do any better?  By now you are familiar with the rules of the game; this image is from a manuscript somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and is part of our medieval collections.  You can either leave your guesses below in the comments, or get in touch with us on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Good luck!

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