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01 December 2014

A Calendar Page for December 2014

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For more information about the Huth Hours, please see our post A Calendar Page for January 2014.

The slaughtering of animals and preparing of meat for the winter are the labours highlighted in these final calendar pages of the year.   On the opening folio can be found the beginning of the saints’ days for December.  Below, a roundel miniature shows two men in a barn; one has his hands firmly on the horns of a bull, holding him steady, while the other man is preparing to deliver the coup de grâce with a wooden mallet.   In the facing folio, another man is butchering a hog outdoors, wielding a long, sharp knife.  A bucket of blood is beneath the slaughtering table, and above, we can see a wooly ram (perhaps aghast at the carnage), for the zodiac sign Capricorn.  Surrounding this scene is another golden architectural frame, populated with angels playing musical instruments, and a kneeling monk above, perhaps in honour of the feast of the Nativity.

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Calendar page for December, with a roundel miniature of two men slaughtering a bull, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 12v

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Calendar page for December, with a roundel miniature of a man butchering a hog, with the zodiac sign Capricorn, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 13r

- Sarah J Biggs

27 November 2014

Worn Around the Edges: More on the Phillipps Lectionary

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The Phillipps Lectionary must once have been – and to some extent still is – a very beautiful manuscript. As Tuesday’s post detailed, it is full of richly decorated headpieces, glimmering gold headings, and ornate zoomorphic initials. The manuscript’s condition reveals, however, a story of centuries of use, misuse and neglect that seem at odds with the precious contents. 

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Leaf containing a decorated headpiece and titles written in gold, which displays severe cockling, multiple tears and losses at the leaf edge and upper corner, and the smudging and loss of text, from the Phillipps Lectionary,
Add MS 82957, f. 137r 

Christopher de Hamel’s recent Panizzi lectures showed inordinately expensive and elaborately ornamented giant bibles being used amid the smoke, grease and grime of the monastic refectory. We should therefore avoid the assumption that medieval people treated their books – even luxury ones – with the same care as modern-day curators. In the Phillipps Lectionary, there is damage literally at every turn; no corner of the manuscript has been unaffected by the way the manuscript has been handled and mishandled, stored and ignored, and – most recently – salvaged and painstakingly repaired. 

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A mutilated leaf; the black backdrop highlights how the moisture damage has made the edges fragile and liable to tear and flake away,
Add MS 82957, f. 119r 

The physical condition of this manuscript presents many problems to the curator: how best to balance the need to conserve and protect it with the needs of readers to view and study it; and how to manage the digitisation process. Every manuscript that we plan to digitise is first examined, assessed, and, if necessary, treated by one of our in-house conservators (an earlier post by Ann Tomalak describes this process in more detail). The manuscript you see today on Digitised Manuscripts has been the subject of hours of work and many careful interventions in order to make it fit for digitisation. These repairs will be the subject of a future blog post. Here, our focus will be upon the damage the manuscript has sustained. 

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The fore-edge of the manuscript, illustrating the areas damaged by rodents,
Add MS 82957 

Most obviously, the manuscript has suffered from rodent damage. The edges of the manuscript, in particular the upper left-hand corner, have been nibbled. Prior to conservation, these thin, shredded strips of parchment would fall off every time the manuscript was opened. Worse still, the discolouration of the parchment in these locations may have been caused in part by the rodents’ urine. Rest assured we washed our hands very thoroughly after handling the manuscript! 

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Detail of a leaf showing moisture staining and severe cockling, with part of the text now concealed under a stiff fold in the parchment,
Add MS 82957, f. 252r 

Damp and mould have also taken their toll on the parchment leaves. The moisture has caused the leaves to swell and cockle. This must have taken place while the manuscript was closed. Adjoining leaves have crinkled together and, though they can be separated, continue to ‘lock’ together when the pages are turned. The mould has eaten away at the parchment, weakening it and making it more likely to split and tear. Rodents also seem to prefer damp and mouldy parchment, because it is softer (and perhaps partially pre-digested!). 

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Detail of text that has lifted off and transferred onto the facing leaf,
Add MS 82957, ff. 126v and 127r 

It is fortunate that, in most instances, the margins are so wide that the damp has not reached the text block and caused the ink to bleed. Here, however, the ink has lifted off and transferred onto the facing leaf, damage most likely caused by a combination of moisture damage and friction between the two leaves. 

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The upper edge of the manuscript, illustrating the swelling caused by moisture damage,
Add MS 82957 

The water/urine damage has affected the shape of the book by making one corner into an uneven wedge shape. 

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Detail of wax droplets,
Add MS 82957, f. 152v 

Humans too have left their mark. In several locations, small red dots are found on the parchment: this is candle wax, which you can feel as a slightly raised spot on the surface. You can see that as the wax has cooled and contracted, it has pulled on the parchment, causing small radiating wrinkles to appear. 

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Detail of a small hole burned into the parchment,
Add MS 82957, f. 197v 

Elsewhere, the damage is more serious, with falling cinders from a candle having burnt small holes into the parchment. In this instance, the cinder burnt a hole through one of the adjoining leaves. 

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Detail of an initial ‘Θ (theta) that has been torn out and the corresponding off-print, Add MS 82957, ff. 2v and 3r
 

The manuscript has also been mutilated, with several initials roughly torn out. All that remains of these are ghostly off-prints on facing pages. 

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Neo-Gothic-influenced blind-tooled binding, probably 19th century,
Add MS 82957, front binding 

The manuscript was rebound, probably in the nineteenth century. The binding features recessed boards, most likely to help to protect the edges from further damage. The blind tooling is unusual – showing neo-Gothic influences that perhaps echoes William Morris bindings from Kelmscott – as is the covering. 

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Detail of the binding, shot under raking light, revealing the wild boar follicle pattern,
Add MS 82957, front binding 

Close inspection has revealed that the manuscript is bound in wild boar skin. The above image was taken under raking light, a technique where light is shone at an angle from the side, making surface texture more clearly visible. One can see the triangular follicle pattern typical of common pig skin, which was widely used for this purpose. However, the presence of additional bristles – amounting in the live animal to an extra layer of hair – confirms the source as a wild rather than domesticated swine. The circumstances in which the skin was acquired – perhaps a genteel hunting-party? – remains a mystery. 

Stay tuned for the next instalment on the Phillipps Lectionary, when we will describe the conservation and digitisation process in more detail. 

- James Freeman

25 November 2014

The Phillipps Lectionary: a window into 11th-century Byzantine illumination

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In 2006 and 2007, the British Library acquired five Greek manuscripts that had formerly been on long-term deposit as Loan 36. These manuscripts all once belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps, the noted manuscript collector of the 19th century. All but one (now Add MS 82951) also belonged to Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford, much of whose manuscript collection is now in the British Library. The story of the provenance of these manuscripts will be the subject of a future blog post, when the remaining four manuscripts have also been digitised. Today, however, our focus is on the standout item in the group, Additional MS 82957, a very fine 11th-century Gospel Lectionary from Constantinople.

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Add MS 82957, f 59r. Decorated headpiece with two peacocks, one drinking from a fountain, on top, and two rams on pedestals on either side

The lectionary is extremely fragile and required extensive, painstaking conservation work for over a year before it was fit for digitisation. Future blog posts will outline the damage that the manuscript has sustained, and the particular difficulties of digitising and conserving this item.

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Add MS 82957, f 1r. Decorated headpiece with numerous animals, birds and other decorations.

The manuscript itself is spectacular. It goes beyond the usual levels of ornamentation for Greek lectionaries of the period to incorporate richly-decorated initials and headpieces. In fact, it is closer in style to some of the great psalters of the eleventh century: including the Theodore Psalter and the Bristol Psalter, both now kept at the British Library. Indeed, the similarities between  some of the decorated initials in this manuscript and that of the Theodore Psalter led to the hypothesis that both were produced at the Stoudios Monastery in Constantinople. More recently, however, a detailed study of a wide range of eleventh-century manuscripts led Irmgard Hutter to suggest that the manuscript should be placed in the circle of the so-called ‘copiste du Métaphraste’, a scribe whose hand can be detected in a number of manuscripts of Symeon Metaphrastes (for bibliographical details, please consult Digitised Manuscripts).

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Pi in the shape of two hands holding palm leaves. (L) Add MS 82957, f 154v. (R) Add MS 19352, f 100r.
Epsilons 2
Epsilon in the shape of two birds. (L) Add MS 82957, f 113v. (R) Add MS 19352, f 148v.
Omicrons
Illuminated initial omicron. (L) Add MS 82957, f 10r. (R) Add MS 19352, f 74v.

Particularly noteworthy are two anthropomorphic initials found at the beginning of the first two sections, below the adorned headpieces:

Anthropomorphic initials
(L) Add MS 82957, f 1r, detail of St John the Evangelist in the form of an epsilon. (R) Add MS 82957, f 59r, detail of a man feeding a bird in the form of an epsilon.

Sadly, the fragility of the manuscript means that there is some loss into the gutter in the case of these two initials, but the level of artistic skill is clear nonetheless.

We finish with a lost initial. f 280 was damaged at some point in the manuscript’s history:

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Add MS 82957, f 280v.

However, the imprint made by a decorated initial on the portion of the page now lost can still be seen on the facing page. It is the letter tau (T) with a bird at the base. The imprint is a little difficult to make out, but is perhaps clearer when put alongside a similar tau from earlier in the manuscript:

Taus
(L) Add MS 82957, imprint of initial tau on f 281r. (R) Add MS 82957, f 3v, bird carrying the letter tau on its shoulder.

There is much more to be discovered in this manuscript, and surely a great deal more to be said about its place in the wider context of 11th-century illumination. The digitisation of this fragile item makes it available to a wide audience, and we invite you to explore its riches.

- Cillian O'Hogan

13 November 2014

Fire and Brimstone: Another Apocalypse Manuscript Goes Live

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Just in case you’ve been living in a cave on the island of Patmos, here’s a reminder about the forthcoming illuminated manuscripts conference at the British Library! It will be taking place on Monday 1st December, 10.45am-5.15pm. It is being held in honour of Lucy Freeman Sandler, who has published extensively on British Library manuscripts. The speakers are each leading lights in the field of art history and manuscript studies: Nigel Morgan, Kathryn Smith, Julian Luxford, Alixe Bovey and Paul Binski. Lucy Freeman Sandler will also be giving a paper on Egerton MS 3277, the Bohun Psalter. This is an unmissable opportunity to hear them talk about their most recent research.

150 people have registered to attend so far. If you haven’t reserved your place yet, don’t delay! E-mail James Freeman (james.freeman@bl.uk) to bag a seat, and check out our earlier blog post for further details of the programme.

As a taster of what we have to look forward to next month, let’s take a closer look at the manuscript that will be the subject of Nigel Morgan’s paper: Add MS 38842, an English apocalypse fragment, which has recently been published on Digitised Manuscripts

Sadly, only 8 folios are known to survive, but they contain wonderful illuminations on every page, including these of the Woman and the Beast. 

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The Woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and the Beast with seven heads, from an Apocalypse fragment with a commentary in French prose, England, early 14th century,
Add MS 38842, ff. 3v-4r 

A fierce red dragon with seven heads attacks the woman, but she looks back at him defiantly while passing her child up to God in heaven. Below, a host of angels come to her aid with spears, fighting off the beast and his army of club-wielding creatures, which represent vice. They are soon dispatched into a waiting hell-mouth, into which they dive headlong with evil grins. The woman grows wings and escapes from the beast; here she represents the Church, as the French commentary explains, escaping from the evil on earth. 

On either side of the final folio of the British Library fragment is the episode of the angels and the seven vials (Revelation 16). First, the angels, clothed in pure white gowns with golden girdles, receive their vials at the temple door. Although the text states that the vials, containing the wrath of God, are given to the angels by one of the four beasts of the Apocalypse, the image shows an angel giving out the last vial. 

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The seven angels with golden vials,
Add MS 38842, f. 8r 

The commentary in Anglo-Norman French tells us that the angels represent ‘li precheur de la foi’ (the preachers of the faith), ‘ki dampnerunt ceux ki ne la voudrent receuvre’ (who will damn those who do not want to receive it).

On the following page is a scene of high drama: six of the angels pour out God’s wrath on the earth, the sea, the rivers, the sun, the beast’s kingdom and the air. Some people lie sleeping or dead on the left, while in the foreground three figures writhe in terror, at the same time attacking each other violently. 

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The first six angels pour out their vials (right),
Add MS 38842, f. 8v 

This Apocalypse is believed to have been illuminated by the English court artist who worked on the ‘Treatise on Good Government’, given by Walter of Milemete to Edward III (Oxford, Christ Church MS 92). Milemete also presented a copy of the Secretum Secretorum to Edward III as companion volume to his treatise: Add MS 47680, one of the manuscripts displayed in our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination.  

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Three men worshipping the beast out of the earth, with the dragon on a hill;  fire descends from heaven and four men lie dead,
Add MS 38842, f. 5v 

- Chantry Westwell

11 November 2014

The Codex Crippsianus: A Byzantine Manuscript of the Attic Orators

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Of all the manuscripts collected by the schoolmaster and bibliophile Charles Burney (d. 1817), two stand out for their significance for the transmission of classical texts. One is the Townley Homer (Burney MS 86), an important witness to the text of the Iliad and the key source for the exegetical scholia on that text. (You can read more about the Townley Homer in this blog post from last summer.) The other is the Codex Crippsianus (Burney MS 95), recently added to Digitised Manuscripts. It is the most important witness to the text of the minor Attic Orators, containing the speeches of Andocides, Isaeus, Dinarchus, Antiphon and Lycurgus, as well as works by Gorgias, Alcidamas, Lesbonax and a work attributed to Herodes Atticus.

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Zoomorphic initial of a bird, from the Codex Crippsianus, Eastern Mediterranean (Constantinople), 1st half of the 14th century, Burney MS 95, f. 34v

The hand of the manuscript caused some confusion about how best to date it, in the absence of a scribal colophon, and most attempts to date it placed it in the thirteenth or even the twelfth century. In 1960, however, Nigel Wilson noted the similarities between the script and that of chancery script in two early 14th-century manuscripts on Athos, and he suggested that the manuscript had been written by a chancery scribe commissioned to write a book. Certainly, the script differs greatly from a typical contemporary book-hand such as that found in Arundel MS 523, copied by the priest Michael Lulludes in Crete, in 1312-13:

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Detail of the hand of Michael Lulludes, from a copy of the Chronicle of Constantine Manasses, 1312-13, Arundel MS 523, f. 143v

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Detail of the hand of the Codex Crippsianus, Burney MS 95, f. 16v

On the other hand, Burney MS 95 is much closer to the hand of Romanus Chartophylax, in Harley MS 5579, copied in 1320-21. This script is the form known as “notarial” Cypriot script.

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Detail of the hand of Romanus Chartophylax, from the Codex Goblerianus, Cyprus, 1320-21, Harley MS 5579, f. 98r

Finally, in the 1990s, the scribe was identified by Erich Lamberz as Michael Klostomalles, a notary also known as the “Metochitesschreiber”. It is heartening to think that such a famous manuscript can now be associated with a known person, and is also a good reminder of the vast amounts of work remaining to be done on Greek manuscripts.

It remains to say a few words about how the manuscript ended up in Burney’s possession. The manuscript contains an early pressmark identifying it as belonging to the monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos, and it may well have been part of the gift of the Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus (r. 1347-54). Like many public figures during the Byzantine age, John planned to retire to a monastery, and prepared for his retirement by having many of his books sent in advance. The manuscript contains annotations in the hand of Prince Alexander Bano Hantzerli, and from him it passed into the possession of Edward Daniel Clarke, who procured it for John Marten Cripps, from whom the manuscript gets its name. There was great excitement when the manuscript went up for auction in 1808, as can be seen from the printed sale notice now preserved as ff. 171r-172v, and Burney acquired it for the not insignificant sum of £372 15s. Now, along with Burney MS 96, a descendant of the Codex Crippsianus, the manuscript and its riches can be viewed by all online.

- Cillian O'Hogan

08 November 2014

The Harley Psalter: Devils in the Details

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 103 (Vulgate numbering): The creations of the Lord: valleys and mountains (left) with springs where beasts and birds are drinking, a man ploughing with oxen, a sea with ships on it and beasts in the water (centre); lions and other beasts among the rocks (right), from the Harley Psalter, S.E. England (Canterbury), 1st half of the 11th century, Harley MS 603, f. 51v

The Harley Psalter is one of three manuscripts copied from the very well-travelled Utrecht Psalter, a Carolingian masterpiece made around 825 at the Benedictine monastery of Hautvilliers near Rheims in Northern France. Now MS 32 at the Universiteitsbibliotheek in Utrecht, the Utrecht Psalter spent at least two hundred years in Canterbury from about 1000 AD, where it was the inspiration for our very own Harley Psalter, Harley MS 603. Dating from the first half of the 11th century, the Harley Psalter has a very similar arrangement and many near-identical images to those of the Utrecht Psalter, though the version of the Psalms is different. In each one of the large pen drawings, the artist has attempted to represent the words of the Psalms in pictorial form - not always an easy task. The images often include four or five episodes from the text of the Psalm that follows, depicted in a vibrant yet intimate style. They are extraordinarily detailed, filled with tiny people and animals and many details, some amusing, and some bizarre.  This is the medieval ‘Where’s Wally?’: the reward for hours of searching is an unexpected delight from time to time.

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 5: The psalmist entering a sanctuary (left), from which a winged demon is fleeing (centre), and above him an angel placing a wreath on a martyr's head; on the right, demons are prodding the wicked in a pit of fire, Harley MS 603, f. 3r

There are, of course, the standard variations on the theme of the righteous and unrighteous, such as holy tabernacles and fiery pits, the psalmist appealing to God and his angels for help against foes and demons.  

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 134
: The Lord unleashing the fury of the wind and rain and his angels with spears slaying kings and their armies, Harley MS 603, f. 69r

God’s vengeance is portrayed repeatedly and with relish, as are the agitated gestures of the figures who suffer the consequences, particularly kings and judges.

So much for the standard fare. Here are a few unusual and interesting details we found to enjoy (apart from a medieval umbrella!). Please look for your own favourites in the online images and share them with us via Twitter: unlike the ‘Where’s Wally?’ books, Digitised Manuscripts allows you to zoom in for added searchability.

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Detail from a miniature illustrating Psalm 7: a female demon with quadruplets (below right), Harley MS 603, f. 4r

Here is a female demon with her brood of quadruplets. She seems to have her hands full!

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 21: The themes include: (1) the lamentation of the psalmist, who is shown holding two vials, and is attacked by bulls, dogs and lions, with a unicorn below (lower right); (2) prophetic images of Christ’s passion including an empty cross and two men dividing a garment in front of a lot machine (centre); and (3) praise to heaven, represented by the tabernacle with the meek eating at a circular table and seven women seated with babies (the seed of Israel), Harley MS 603, f. 12r

As those of you who follow this blog will know, we have a soft spot for unicorns. Here is one that seems to be facing up to two men with scythes. One has to wonder what the outcome of that contest will be. Our money is on the unicorn, naturally.

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Detail of a miniature illustrating Psalm 30: People watching acrobats and a dancing bear
, Harley MS 603, f. 17r

Continuing with the animal theme, this image includes a dancing bear and acrobats, presumably as a condemnation of frivolous pastimes.

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 108: Below Christ in a mandorla with angels, a wicked man is seized by a demon (left) and the psalmist with a locust, standing in oil from an oil-horn (right); the sinner is punished (lower left), his wife and children abandoned and his treasures taken from his chest, Harley MS 603, f. 56r

And here a locust is an onlooker to the punishment of a sinful man. The sinner’s treasure is looted, his wife tears her hair out and his children are abandoned, naked.  

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Added miniature illustrating Psalm 59: The Lord in a mandorla handing a pair of shoes to an angel; the defenders of the city of Edom(?) are facing the attacking soldiers
, Harley MS 603, f. 32v

Finally, did you know that angels wore shoes? No, nor did we, but in the picture the Lord is handing a pair to an angel (illustrating the line, ‘Over Edom will I cast out my shoe’). The style of this image is different: it is one of the drawings added to the Psalter in the 12th century. 

There are 112 of these fascinating and skilful illustrations in the Harley Psalter, an impressive achievement by any standard. The artistic style, originally from Reims, was influential in the development of late Anglo-Saxon book decoration and the coloured line drawings that became especially popular in England at the time. For further examples of this style, check out the Tiberius Psalter (Cotton MS Tiberius C VI), which dates to the third quarter of the 11th century. Two copies of the Psychomachia at the British Library also contain similar decoration: Cotton MS Cleopatra C VIII and Additional MS 24199 (the latter will soon make an appearance on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts).

- Chantry Westwell

01 November 2014

A Calendar Page for November 2014

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For more information about the Huth Hours, please see our post A Calendar Page for January 2014.

These two calendar pages for the month of November show a typical labour for this part of the agricultural season – the fattening of pigs for autumn.  On the opening folio, beneath the beginning of the saints’ days for the month, is a roundel of a peasant in the woods.  He is armed with a long stick, and is engaged in knocking acorns from oak trees to feed the pigs that are rooting around near his feet.   On the following folio, we can see a small miniature of a centaur with a bow and arrow, for the zodiac sign Sagittarius.  Beneath him is another peasant, heading home after a day of feeding pigs.  He looks fairly miserable – understandably enough, as he is walking through a heavy rainstorm.  Surrounding this roundel and the continuation of the saints’ days is a frame made up of golden columns, circled by banners with the initials ‘MY’ and ‘YM’.  These initials might be clues to the original owner of the manuscript, whose identity/identities are still unknown.  For more on this mystery, see here.

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Calendar page for November, with a roundel miniature of a man feeding pigs in the woods, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 11v

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Calendar page for November, with a roundel miniature of a man heading home in a rainstorm, with the zodiac sign Sagittarius, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 12r

- Sarah J Biggs

11 October 2014

Heraldic Herrings, Hedgehogs and Hosiery

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Roll up and find your thirteenth-century ancestor in our latest addition to Digitised Manuscripts!  Heirs of knights or otherwise, you can now enjoy the 324 painted coat of arms on the ‘Dering Roll’ in minute detail. This beautiful roll of arms gains its name from its sixteenth-century owner, Sir Edward Dering, first baronet (b. 1598, d. 1644), antiquary and lieutenant of Dover Castle in Kent. 

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Detail of the 10th, 11th and 12th rows of arms, from the Dering Roll, England (?Dover), c. 1270 – c. 1280, Additional Roll 77720, membrane 1

Not only did Dering accumulate quite the collection of historical documents relating both to Kent and to his ancestors, but he also set up an association called ‘Antiquitas Rediviva’ to collect ‘all memorable notes for historicall illustration of this kingdome’. This impulse wasn’t always kept separate from what might be termed ‘historicall embellishment’, as witnessed by the odd occasion when Dering adjusted names on items in his collection in order to support his claims for the antiquity of his family. 

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Detail of shield no. 61, from
Add Roll 77720, membrane 1

A fine example of this occurs on shield no. 61 where both the original arms and name of ‘Nicole de Criel’ have been erased. Nicholas de Criol’s shield was divided horizontally with red paint applied to the lower half, some of which is still visible behind the saltire cross of Sir Edward’s ancestor ‘Ric fiz Dering’. The scribe making the adjustment (presumably Dering himself) has gone to some effort to maintain as much of the original lettering as possible: ‘Nic’ is easily transformed into ‘Ric’ with a cross stroke, ‘o’ is simply expunged, and the ‘l’ in ‘Nicole’ provides a ready-made ascender for the ‘f’ in ‘fiz’. Even the ‘ri’ are recycled from ‘Criel’ to ‘Dering’. Sadly for Sir Nicholas and his own historical record, his name provided a convenient target for Sir Edward who could incorporate six letters written by the original scribe with six new ones, in an attempt seamlessly to blend past and present concerns.  

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Detail of the fourth and fifth rows of arms on the second membrane, from
Add Roll 77720

In designing a new coat of arms, it was (and still is) necessary for it to be distinct from others already in existence, and it was especially useful if it brought to mind the name of the bearer. Puns provide a helping hand, especially if they are of a simple visual kind, and the Dering Roll can be seen to boast a fine line in pictograms. Shield no. 105 (Azure crusily and six herrings or) belonged to William Heringaud (d. 1326). The use of herrings (Ofr. harenc) is what is known as a ‘canting device’, where the word chosen enunciates the name.  Similarly, shield no. 112 shows three hands (Ofr. mains) and this design belonged to Nicholas Malmains (d. 1292). 

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Detail of the third to sixth rows of arms on the fourth membrane, from
Add Roll 77720

In this short section of roll we have the designs for Nicholas le Lou (Ofr. leu, lou ‘wolf’), Henry de Herice (Ofr. heriҫon ‘hedgehog’), Nicholas de la Heuse (Ofr. hose, huese, heuse ‘men’s hose’), and Henry de Cockington, each appropriately represented by two wolves, three hedgehogs, three stockings and nine cocks, respectively. 

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Detail of the arms of Fulk FitzWaryn (d. 1315) from
Add Roll 77720, membrane 4

Literary historians might be interested in shield no. 271, belonging to Fulk FitzWarin of Whittington (d. 1315). This name will be familiar to readers of the anonymous Anglo-Norman romance Fouke le Fitz Waryn, a fictionalised family history from the Conquest to this Fulk’s grandfather (d. c. 1256). The narrative is based on a verse original of c. 1280 but survives in an Anglo-Norman prose version  of c. 1330, now Royal MS 12 C XII, ff. 33–61. The fantastical elements in this family chronicle – Fouke’s fights with Swedish dragons and Irish giants – are balanced by the genealogical concerns of marriage and birth: the prestige of a folkloric heroism meets a more practical purpose in supporting the family’s claims to inherited lands. This impulse for validation recalls Edward Dering’s adjustments to the roll more than three centuries later.

Heraldic punning is not forgotten here either. The chronicle-romance provides a technical description of the FitzWarin coat as: un escu quartilee de goules e d’argent  endentee; the pun dentz aguz or ‘sharp teeth’ alludes to the indented line in these arms. This particular pun is rather subtle, relying on knowledge of heraldic designs and their associated terms. Much more common, in fact, are the simple pictograms such as the herrings, hedgehogs and hosiery shown above. 

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Detail of the first three rows of arms, from
Add Roll 77720, membrane 1

The reign of Edward I (1272–1307) is seen as the golden age for the production of rolls of arms in England and these documents were designed for the identification of knights in battle and in tournaments. The Dering Roll is the earliest extant roll of arms from this period, dating from c. 1270 – c. 1280, and it accounts for an astonishing one-quarter of the entire English baronage of this time. The 324 painted shields stretch over two and a half metres of vellum and this long list of England’s movers and shakers begins with King John’s illegitimate son, Richard FitzRoy of Kent (d. bef. 1253). More interesting, perhaps, is the prominence given to Stephen of Penchester (shield no. 6) who served as constable of Dover Castle from 1268 until his death in 1298. Indeed, knights of Kent and Sussex dominate and it has been argued that the Dering Roll was designed to supply a list of knights owing feudal service to the Constable of Dover Castle. This has led to the suggestion that Penchester commissioned the Dering Roll, given the coincidence of its dating with his tenure in office.

We hope to learn much more about this fascinating roll now that it is available for detailed scrutiny by scholars, genealogists and members of the public alike. Following its sale at Sotheby’s in late 2007, an export licence was blocked and a fundraising campaign led to its purchase by the British Library. We are grateful for the generous aid received from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund, Friends of the British Library, Friends of the National Libraries and from numerous individual supporters, all of whom helped to save this treasure for the nation.

- Holly James-Maddocks