THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

365 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

10 August 2014

Happy St Lawrence's Day!

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Today is the feast day of St Lawrence of Rome, an early Christian martyr who suffered a grisly death (we are aware that we highlight these types of saints quite frequently here on the blog; see here for St Apollonia, St Catherine, St Margaret, and St George).  The church which was built on the site of St Lawrence’s tomb became one of the principal churches in Rome, and a popular site of pilgrimage.  He features extensively in medieval art, and is often shown carrying his attribute, the gridiron on which he was martyred.

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Detail of a miniature of St Lawrence holding a book and a gridiron, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 431r

Not much is known of St Lawrence’s early life, but he was believed to have been born in Spain, and to have studied under future pontiff Sixtus in Zaragoza, which was then a renowned centre of learning in the Roman empire.  When Sixtus became pope, he appointed Lawrence as a deacon despite his young age.  Lawrence’s responsibilities included the maintenance of the treasuries of the church as well as the giving of alms to the poor, and he took the latter charge in particular very seriously, as we will soon see. 

Add MS 18197 f. H K90054-08
Detail of a miniature of St Lawrence holding a book and standing near a gridiron, cutting from a choirbook, Italy (Lombardy) 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Add MS 18197, f. H

In 258 the Roman Emperor Valerian commenced a persecution of the church, and ordered that all bishops, priests, and deacons should be put to death.  Pope Sixtus was seized while celebrating the liturgy and was immediately executed.  Seeing that his death was also imminent, Lawrence, according to his legend, worked as quickly as he could to distribute all the wealth of the church to the poor, crippled, and suffering people of Rome.  When he was ordered by the prefect of Rome to turn over the riches in his care, Lawrence gathered up these unfortunates and presented them to the prefect, telling him that these were the true treasures of the church. 

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 260v G70033-94a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Lawrence being brought before the Roman prefect, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London?), 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 260v

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 261r G70032-70a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Lawrence being martyred on the gridiron, from the Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 261r [more on this gorgeous manuscript can be found in our post Beautiful Contraband: The Queen Mary Psalter]

The prefect was enraged by this act of holy defiance and ordered that Lawrence should die a horrible death; the future saint was sentenced to be burnt alive on a gridiron.  Lawrence did not lose his faith (or his sense of humour) even while in the midst of this torture, however; after several hours he is said to have quipped to his executioners, ‘Turn me over; I’m done on this side!’.

Yates_thompson_ms_3_f273v detail
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Lawrence being martyred on the gridiron, watched by a sympathetic marginal character, from the Dunois Hours, France (Paris), c. 1339 – c. 1450, Yates Thompson MS 3, f. 273v

St Lawrence is one of the most beloved saints in the calendar – perhaps owing in some small sense to this humour in the face of adversity, but also because of his love of the suffering and downtrodden of society.  He is the patron saint of the poor, and, rather insensitively, of cooks.  We hope you have a very happy St Lawrence’s Day!

Add_ms_35313_f217v
Miniature of St Lawrence at the beginning of his suffrage, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1500, Add MS 35313, f. 217v

Stowe_ms_12_f292r detail
Detail of an historiated initial of St Lawrence being martyred on the gridiron, from the Stowe Breviary, England (Norwich), 1322 – 1325 and c. 1350 – 1380, Stowe MS 12, f. 292r

Yates Thompson MS 49, f. 39v c1311-05a
Detail of an unfinished miniature of St Lawrence being martyred on the gridiron, from Jacobus de Voragine’s La légende dorée, France (Paris and Rouen), c. 1470, Yates Thompson MS 49, vol. 2, f. 39v

Yates_thompson_ms_29_f008r_detail
Detail of a young St Lawrence with his gridiron, at the bottom of a calendar page for August, which contains his feast day, from the Hours of Bonaparte Ghislieri, Italy (Bologna), c. 1500, Yates Thompson MS 29, f. 8r

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f085r detail
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Lawrence being martyred on the gridiron, from the Taymouth Hours, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 85r [for more on this fabulous manuscript, please see our post The Taymouth Hours.  And the sharp-eyed among you may have noticed here certain odd similarities to the work of the artist of the Unicorn Cookbook!).

- Sarah J Biggs

07 August 2014

Parallel Lines

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During our work here at the British Library, we have been struck recently by the different arrangement of the text in Psalter manuscripts – especially where the Psalms are written in more than one language. 

Cotton_ms_vespasian_a_i_f053r
Detail of a historiated initial depicting David as a shepherd, with an illuminated word panel, and the text of Psalm 14 in Latin (‘Dixit insipiens’) with an interlinear Old English gloss, from the Vespasian Psalter, England (?Canterbury), 2nd quarter of the 8th century, Cotton MS Vespasian A I, f. 53r
 

Interlinear glosses were a common way of providing a commentary upon a text.  In the Vespasian Psalter, the Psalms were written out in Insular uncial script during the second quarter of the 8th century.  A century later, a scribe translated many of the words into Old English, writing them between the lines in Insular cursive minuscule.  The wide spacing of the Latin text meant that an almost continuous gloss could be accommodated with ease.  This ‘gloss’ is the oldest surviving translation into English of any Biblical text.  It reconfigured the manuscript into one that could be used to aid comprehension of the Latin text through a vernacular translation. 

Harley MS 5786 f 73r
Detail of the opening of Psalm 51 (‘Miserere mei’) in Greek, Latin and Arabic, from a trilingual Psalter, S. Italy (Palermo), 1130x1153, Harley MS 5786, f. 73r
 

Other Psalters were specifically designed to accommodate a translation.  Harley MS 5786 is a trilingual Psalter, with three parallel vertical columns containing the Psalms in Greek, Latin and Arabic.  The manuscript was made at Palermo, within the court circle of King Roger II, between 1130 and 1153.  The Psalter reflects the multilingual culture of twelfth-century Sicily, which was inhabited by both Arabs and Greeks.  It may have been intended as a homage to Roger’s dominion over southern Italy and parts of northern Africa and Byzantium. 

Add MS 47674 f 58v
The opening of Psalm 69 (‘Salvum me fac’) in Greek and Latin, with a foliate scroll initial C and a historiated initial S of Christ Pantocrator and David in waters, from a bilingual Psalter, France (Paris), c. 1220-c. 1230, Add MS 47674, f. 58v
 

Trilingual psalters are very unusual; it is more common to find bilingual versions.  This example was made around 1220-1230 in Paris – the most important centre for the production of Bible manuscripts in the thirteenth century.  The appeal of a bilingual Psalter in Paris is obvious: a major preoccupation of university study was the understanding of the original meaning of the words of the Bible.  The Latin Vulgate in the right-hand column is accompanied in the left-hand column by the Greek Septuagint (itself a translation from the Hebrew Old Testament).  A reader could thus trace the translation of the Bible text back to an earlier version, and understand how Greek words had been rendered in Latin.  Some university scholars, such as Hugh of St Victor, advocated the study of Hebrew in order to obtain the original and literal meaning of the Bible.   

Harley MS 1770 f 77v
Detail of the opening of Psalm 81 (‘Exultate Deo’), in Latin and Middle French, with puzzle initials, from a bilingual Psalter, England, 1st half of the fourteenth century, Harley MS 1770, f. 77v
 

The translation of the Psalms into vernacular languages reflects the desire for a different kind of comprehension on the part of the reader: not of its ancient, ‘original’ meaning, but of its meaning in his or her own language.  Harley MS 1770 belonged to the Augustinian Priory at Kirkham in Yorkshire.  It is a sort of trilingual Psalter.  The first part of the manuscript contains the Psalms in Latin and French, again in parallel columns.  

Harley MS 1770 f 158r
Detail of the opening of Psalm 1 (‘Beatus vir’), in Middle English with a Latin title and marginal rubric, from a bilingual Psalter, England, 1st half of the fourteenth century, Harley MS 1770, f. 158r
 

In the second part of the manuscript, the Psalms have been translated into Middle English rhyming couplets.  The author used an earlier Middle English interlinear gloss on the Vulgate, which was itself a modernised version of an Old English glossed Psalter.  The opening line of each Psalm is given in Latin: the Psalms were not numbered in medieval Bibles, but were cited using their opening words, so these were essential for navigating the text.  Extracts from the Latin Psalms were written in the margins, showing the reader which verse was being translated into Middle English at that point.  A reader could also compare the two vernacular versions through the Latin text that accompanied both. 

Arundel MS 104 f 364v
Detail of the opening of Psalm 118 (‘Conftemini Domino’) in a Middle English Psalter, with a historiated initial C and marginal Latin rubric, N. England, 1st quarter of the 15th century, Arundel MS 104, f. 364v
 

The need for such Latin prompts is illustrated by Arundel MS 104, a copy of the Wycliffite version of the Psalms.  Its owner cut selected historiated initials from two other manuscripts (one a Psalter commentary of c. 1220, the other a Psalter of c. 1370) and pasted them into the margins.  The subject of an initial rarely corresponds to the content of the Psalm it accompanies.  The letter itself, however, always matches the opening letter of the Psalms in Latin – and the Middle English text is glossed in the margin with the opening words of the Psalm in Latin. 

Harley MS 1896 f 16r
Detail of the opening of Psalm 27 (‘Dominus illuminatio mea’), in Latin and Middle English, with a foliate initial D and border, from a bilingual Psalter, Harley MS 1896, England, mid-15th century, Harley MS 1896, f. 16r
 

An altogether different layout is adopted in this Wycliffite version of the Psalms.  The text is arranged in a single column and alternates between the Latin and the Middle English translation – with elements of presentation rather than layout used to differentiate the two.   The Latin verses are written in red ink, each prefaced by a small blue initial; the vernacular verses in brown ink, each prefaced by a small pink initial.  Incorporating the two versions within a single column meant that the Psalms could be read as a single continuous text.  The Latin and Middle English versions may have functioned as a kind of ‘call and response’, aiding the reader’s comprehension of the Latin through the vernacular, like in the Vespasian Psalter.  Alternatively, the different coloured inks and initials could also have enabled the reader to focus his or her eyes on one version in particular: to skip over the translated passages and concentrate on the Latin – or, more controversially, to do the reverse, and read the Psalms solely in Middle English.

- James Freeman

05 August 2014

Twenty-four More Greek Manuscripts Online

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Work continues on the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and others.  In July we uploaded 24 new manuscripts, adding to our previous totals.  We hope you enjoy paging through our newest manuscripts!  Details are of course below:

Add MS 26115, Philostratus, Imagines (TLG 1600.001), imperfect; Constantine Harmenopoulos, Lexicon arranged alphabetically, and some treatises on grammar.  1417? – 1426?.

Add_ms_29714_f004r
Decorated headpiece from a Lectionary of the Acts and the Epistles, Add MS 29714, f. 4r

Add MS 29714, Lectionary of the Acts and the Epistles (Gregory-Aland l 257, Scrivener apost. 69).  1306.

Add MS 31949, Gospel Lectionary, imperfect (Gregory-Aland l 337; Scrivener evst 285).  Mid 13th century.

Add MS 34107, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 1279; Scrivener evan. 321; von Soden ε 1178).  11th or 12th century.

Add_ms_36822_f003r
Fragment of a Gospel lectionary, 12th century, Add MS 36822, f. 3r

Add MS 36822, Fragments of two Gospel Lectionaries (Gregory-Aland l 237, l 2310; Scrivener evst. 237), and an extract from a service-book.  12th-13th century, the last leaf being added in the 17th century.

Add MS 37001, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2277 [=816]), with canon tables.  11th century, the last leaf having been replaced in the 14th century.

Add MS 37003, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 2279), with Euthalian apparatus and prefaces attributed to Theodoret (printed in von Soden 1902-1910, vol. 1, pp. 350-354), though the text is not that of the printed commentary in PG 82.  14th century, probably created in  Constantinople.

Add MS 37004, Gospel Lectionary with ekphonetic neumes (Gregory-Aland l 1492), imperfect.  Late 11th century.

Add MS 37006/1, Detached binding from Add MS 37006, of wooden boards covered with plain red leather.  16th century.

Add_ms_37007_f003ar
Evangelist miniature, from a Gospel Lectionary, Add MS 37007, f. 3r

Add MS 37007, Gospel Lectionary with ekphonetic neumes (Gregory-Aland l 1495=[l 459]=[l 1205]), with illuminations of the four Evangelists.  13th century, owned by and likely created at the Monastery of St Nicholas in Pentrochonte, north of Berat, Albania.

Portrait of St John the Evangelist, from a Gospel Lectionary, Add MS 37008, f. 1v

Add MS 37008, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 1496 =[l 461]=[ l 1206], with a coloured portrait of St John.  Created at the Monastery of St Marina in Berat, Albania, in 1413.

Add MS 37009, Nomocanon of Manuel Malaxos, compiled for Joasaph, Metropolitan of Boeotia, in 1562.

Add MS 37485, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2291), volume 1, containing Matthew and Mark.  Early 13th century.

Add_ms_37486_f097v
Evangelist miniature, from a Gospel Lectionary, Add MS 37486, f. 97v

Add MS 37486, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2291), volume 2, containing Luke and John, and additional texts.  Early 14th century.

Add_ms_39587_f001r
Decorated headpiece from a Psalter, Add MS 39587, f. 1r

Add MS 39587, Psalter (Rahlfs 1091). According to Rahlfs (1914), pp. 108-109, this manuscript and Add MS 39588 (Parham MS VI) were originally a single manuscript.  12th century.

Add MS 39592, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 549; Scrivener evan. 536; von Soden A 136), with marginal commentary.  11th century.

Add MS 39595, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 552, Scrivener evan. 539, von Soden ε 252).  2nd half of the 12th century.

Add_ms_39599_f002r
Decorated headpiece and text from a New Testament, Acts and Epistles, Add MS 39599, f. 2r

Add MS 39599, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 911 [formerly 227ac., 282p.]; Scrivener act. 217 and Paul. 235; von Soden ο29), with ekphonetic neums, lection notes, and a marginal commentary. The volume also contained Revelation, which was cut out by the Hegoumenos of the Karakallou Monastery, and which is now bound separately as Add MS 39601. The missing portion of the Catholic Epistles, now lost, may have been cut out at the same time.  11th century.

Add MS 39600, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 912 [formerly Gregory 228ac. and 283p.]; Scrivener act. 218, Paul. 236; von Soden α 366, with the prefaces of Euthalius and Theodoret.  13th century, probably created at Mount Athos.

Add MS 40656, Psalter with Canticles (Rahlfs 1650, Gregory-Aland l 932, Scrivener evan. 612).  13th century.

Add MS 40754, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 1743).  Written in 1256.

Add_ms_47674_f002r
Opening of the Psalter with parallel Latin text, Add MS 47674, f. 2r

Add MS 47674, Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1062), with parallel Latin text, and 8 pairs of illuminated initials (historiated at the beginning of the Latin text).  1220s, Paris.

Add_ms_47774_f001v
Portrait of the Evangelist John and his eagle, at the beginning of a Gospel lectionary, Add MS 47774, f. 1v

Add MS 47774, Gospel lectionary in Modern Greek in the translation of Maximos Kallioupolites (d.1633), whose New Testament was printed posthumously in 1638. Pen drawings of the four Evangelists, in its original binding.  17th century, possibly created in the Balkans.

Add MS 73525, Collection of fragments.

- Cillian O'Hogan

02 August 2014

Getting a bit fruity

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How much fruit and veg should we be eating?  Five portions a day, or seven?  How much is a portion, and what counts?  The Medieval Manuscripts Blog claims no authority on the matter, but seeks out the wisdom of the middle ages.  According to Dr Hartmann Schedel (b. 1440, d. 1514), author of the Nuremberg Chronicle, ‘five things dispose a man and make him prone to incurring the plague’: famine, women (sorry), exertion and remaining stationary (evidently conflicting dietary advice is no modern invention), and...fruit.

Add MS 18850 f14r detail 1
Detail of the story of Adam and Eve, from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-c. 1430, Add MS 18850, f. 14r

The first fruit-related health warning was issued by God, when he forbade Adam to partake of the Tree of Knowledge, under the threat of death.  Adam and Eve ignored this prominently displayed advice and went ahead and ate it anyway – an experience I think we all relive between the first and second pieces of cake. 

Add MS 18850 f 14r detail 2
Detail from the Bedford Hours, Add MS 18850, f. 14r

The consequences were disastrous, to say the least: expulsion from the Garden of Eden, a lifetime of toil and pain.

Egerton MS 943, f. 103v
Detail of a framed miniature illustrating Dante, Virgil and Statius and the Tree of the Gluttonous on the fifth terrace of Purgatory, from Dante Alighieri, ‘Divina Commedia’, N. Italy (Emilia/Padua), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 943, f. 103v

Fruit-trees make an appearance in Dante’s Divine Comedy: the gluttonous are tormented by the sight of the heavily laden boughs of this tree, the fruit forever just out of their reach.

 
Add_ms_48976_f002br - detail
Detail of a portrait of King John from the Rous Roll, England (?Warwickshire), c. 1483, Add MS 48976, Membrane 2

The over-eating of fruit has been recorded as the cause of death of several famous people.  Though current scholarship has tended to view such accounts as mere figments, nonetheless there was a close association between gluttony, fruit and sinfulness in the medieval imagination.  Rumours that a surfeit of peaches did for King John began to circulate shortly after his demise.  Contemporary monastic chroniclers were glad to see the man go – his reign had plumbed the depths of poor kingship and resulted in a papal interdict in 1208 – and seized reports of a gluttonous death as emblematic of his personal failings.

Spare a thought too for Pope Paul II, who fell victim to eating chilled melons.  Melons of the unrefrigerated variety were said to have prompted the death in 1493 of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor – but, on the scale of things, it was probably having his gangrenous leg amputated before adequate anaesthesia, disinfectant and antibiotics had been invented.

Royal MS 16 E XXXII, f. 2r
Scatter border containing fruit, flowers and insects, surrounding the beginning of a letter dedicated to Edward VI, concerning the recent peace with Henry II of France, France (Paris), after 1547, Royal MS 16 E XXXII, f. 2r

We hope, despite these grim tales, that you still find fruit appealing – not least because the pages of our medieval manuscripts are heavily laden with depictions of fruit of all kinds.  There is a particularly heavy crop of strawberries, especially in the ‘scatter borders’ common in fifteenth-century manuscripts.

Sloane_ms_4016_f030r
Detail from a herbal, N. Italy (Lombardy), c. 1440, Sloane MS 4016, f. 30r

We also find cherries, such as in the pages of this herbal.

Burney MS 292, f. 9r
Detail of a coat of arms in a border, from St Augustine, ‘De civitate Dei’, N. Italy (?Padua/?Verona), c. 1440-c. 1470, Burney MS 292, f. 9r

Pears are incorporated into a wreath surrounding the arms of the Donati family of Venice, in this copy of Augustine’s De civitate Dei.

Egerton MS 1146, f. 58r
A vine border containing grapes and an owl, from a Book of Hours, Use of Worms, S. Germany (?Worms), c. 1475-c. 1485, Egerton MS 1146, f. 58r.

Grapes are often found dangling from the vines in elaborate foliate border decoration.

Add_ms_38126_f009v detail
Roundel of men and women harvesting grapes, from the Huth Hours, Flanders (Valenciennes, Bruges, Ghent), early 1480s, Add MS 38126, f. 9v

The harvesting of grapes, the pastoral activity for the month of September, is also commonly depicted in the calendars attached to books of hours.

Add MS 20916, f. 15r
Detail of the border from the Leaf of a Commission, N.E. Italy (Venice), c. 1570-c. 1577, Add MS 20916, f. 15r

There is a whole harvest-basket of fruit on this Leaf of a Commission from the Doge of Venice Alvise I Mocenigo to Marco Corner: grapes, apples, and something that looks like a bit like a quince.

Harley MS 3954, f. 64r
Detail of a man harvesting and eating fruit in an orchard, from ‘The Travels of Sir John Mandeville’, E. England (East Anglia), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 3954, f. 64r

By far the best to eat is the fruit that brings long life, from orchards recorded in Mandeville’s Travels.  Where these trees might be, or what the fruit is, remains sadly unknown.

This post does not count as one of your five a day. 

- James Freeman

01 August 2014

A Calendar Page for August 2014

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

Agricultural labours continue in these two calendar pages for the month of August.  On the first folio, among a scatter border of flowers and insects, we see a roundel of two peasants, inside a barn.  They are at work threshing the wheat that was harvested in July, while, through the window behind them, we can see a few birds circling.  On the facing folio, a barefoot peasant is shaking a shallow basket, literally separating the wheat from the chaff.  Above him is a seated woman with a palm for the zodiac sign Virgo.

Add_ms_38126_f008v
Calendar page for August, with a roundel miniature of two men threshing grain, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 8v

Add_ms_38126_f009r
Calendar page for August, with a roundel miniature of a man separating wheat from chaff, with the zodiac sign Virgo, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 9r

- Sarah J Biggs

24 July 2014

Choosing a Husband: Brains or Brawn, Money or Looks?

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Career options for medieval women were limited.  If they were lucky they could choose between getting married or entering a convent.  For some, the latter was preferable to becoming a wife, who was often treated as little more than one of her husband’s possessions.  The majority of women, of course, still chose marriage and family, and the important question was: what type of man made the best husband?  There is a tradition of love debates in courtly society in Anglo-Norman England, which can be found in La Geste de Blanchflour e de Florence and Melior e Ydoine, both based on Latin poems about the relative merits of knights or clerks as husbands.  In other words, should you go for brawn or brains?  Perhaps the first place to look for an answer to these questions is the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, where we searched under ‘clerk’ and ‘knight’ and found some interesting images on the subject.

The one below shows a man, described as a ‘devoted clerk from Pisa’ riding with his future wife to their wedding.  He appears a good husband, perhaps, if a tad boring (but maybe not  – keep reading!).

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f223v
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a clerk from Pisa and a woman, being led on horseback to their wedding ceremony, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London/Westminster or East Anglia?), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 223v

In the next image the clerk has deserted his wife - the Virgin Mary appeared at his wedding and reminded him of his promise to take holy orders!

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f224r
Detail of a bas-de-page of the devoted clerk of Pisa, having left his bride to become a monk, from the Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 224r

Below another clerk seems to be behaving badly. On the left hand side, he grabs a woman, who looks rather startled and on the right he attacks someone, perhaps a rival.

Royal MS 10 D VIII f. 176r
Detail of a miniature of a clerk and a woman, and the clerk committing a homicide, with a foliate initial 'Sacerdos', at the beginning of causa 15 of Gratian’s Decretum,  France (Paris?), 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Royal 10 D VIII, f. 176r

So let’s see what the knights were like…

This one is stabbing a unicorn; not a good start!

Harley MS 3244 f. 38r E043080
Detail of the lower miniature, depicting a knight spearing a unicorn as it rests in a maiden's lap, from a theological miscellany, England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th century, after c. 1236, Harley MS 3244, f. 38r

And this one seems to be offering the lady a lift on his horse, but is he planning to carry her off?

Royal_ms_10_e_iv_f086v
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a lady and a knight, who is pointing towards his waiting horse; two hounds stand nearby, from the Smithfield Decretals, France (Toulouse?), Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 86v

So, what was a poor girl to do?  The answer is, ask her mother for advice.

Fortunately, one of our manuscripts, Additional MS 46919, a well-known collection of texts in Anglo-Norman French and Middle English from the 14th century, contains a unique copy of a verse debate between a mother and daughter on choosing a husband.  The volume, which has (unfortunately) not been fully photographed yet, is known as the ‘William Herebert Collection’ after the Franciscan friar of Oxford, who compiled it and copied some of the texts, which include Bibbesworth’s Tretiz de langage.

Photo 1 detail
Detail of the beginning of a dialogue between mother and daughter, Add MS 46919, f. 59r

The short debate beginning on f. 59r of this manuscript consists of five 10-line verses alternating between mother and daughter.  In the first verse, the daughter asks her mother how she should choose between her two lovers: one is handsome, the other rich:

Jole mere ke frai? / de deus amanz su mis en plai

Li uns est beaus cu[m] fleur de maii / li autre est riches ben le sei

Or quei ke me seit a fere / pite del douce meyre

Dear mother what should I do? / I am torn between two lovers

The one is as beautiful as the mayflower / The other is rich as I well know

So what should I do? / Have pity on me, sweet mother.

 

The mother replies:

Fille fetes cu[m] les fiz  / kant ieo esteie jeovenette jadis

Volu[n]ters a douns me pris / jeu sanz pru nest ben asis

Daughter, do as girls did / back when I was young.

I soon learned / that a game without a prize is not a good bet

 

She goes on to say that those who let their emotions rule will repent later.  The daughter protests that her handsome lover’s kisses are so delightful and that ill-gotten spoils soon turn sour:

Meuz vaut joie orphanine / ke rischesce a marrement

Ky mel leche d’espine / cher l’achate et poi en prent.

Better to be happy in poverty / than to have wealth but a dreary life

He who licks honey from a thorn / pays dearly and gets little in return.

 

Of course the mother has the final say – she gets her two verses worth, first delivering a stern lesson on the ways of the world:

Le secle est or de tel manere / les riches avaunt les poveres arere

Poi engard hom en la chere / si le riche atorn n’i siet

Marchant a voide almonere / fet a feire poi de espleit.

Such is the way of the world that the rich are in front and the poor behind

And nobody pays any attention to a man’s beautiful face

If he does not have stylish attire and a full purse.

 

But then she tempers this with wisdom.  In the end, it is goodness and honour that count.

Aver est en aventure / Mut est fous ke trop l’aseure

Mes honur et bunte dure / Coment ke del aver alt:

Ke seit entendre mesure / Cil est riche ke moult vault.

Material possessions are transient / only a very foolish person trusts in them too much

But honour and goodness last / whatever happens to possessions.

He who knows moderation / he is rich, for this is valuable.

 

And if all ends well, the outcome will be a wedding - to the right man!

Add MS 24678, f. 22r .K90054-29
Miniature of a marriage, Italy (Bologna), last quarter of the 13th century or 1st quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 24678, f. 22r

-  Chantry Westwell

20 July 2014

Enter the Dragon: Happy St Margaret's Day!

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Today is the feast day of St Margaret of Antioch (not to be confused with St Margaret of Scotland or Hungary).  Although St Margaret was declared to be apocryphal in the year 494 by no less an authority than Pope Gelasius, and many people over many years have entertained doubts about her authenticity, she is still widely venerated as a saint today.

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Miniature of St Margaret, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile, southern Netherlands (Ghent?), c. 1500, Add MS 35313, f. 234v

St Margaret was particularly popular in the medieval period, and her cult and image spread widely.  No doubt this was aided by her inclusion in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend.  In this text, Margaret was said to have been born in Antioch in the closing years of the 3rd century.  Although she was the daughter of a pagan priest, Margaret converted to Christianity and vowed eternal chastity.  She moved to an area in what is now Turkey with her godmother, and there caught the attention of a Roman prefect or governor.  In a turn of events that echoes many of the other early female martyrs, the prefect proposed marriage to her, but Margaret chose to remain true to her vow and to Christianity. 

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 255v G70033-99a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Margaret being brought before the Roman prefect, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London?), 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 255v

Harley MS 5347 f. 26v c12046-06
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret in prison being visited by her godmother, from Tectino’s Life of St Margaret of Antioch in verse, northern Italy, first half of the 15th century, Harley MS 5347, f. 26v

In retaliation, the prefect ordered her to be tortured and thrown into prison.  Whilst there, according to the legend, she was visited by Satan in the shape of a dragon.  Resisting temptation yet again, Margaret was swallowed by the dragon, but emerged from his side unscathed and carrying a cross after praying for aid.  Giving up on the idea of dragon-based revenge, her captors eventually beheaded her.

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 256r G70032-65a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Margaret emerging from the belly of the dragon, and being beheaded, from the Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 256r

St Margaret is one of the most instantly recognisable saints in the medieval pantheon, because she is so frequently depicted emerging from the belly of a dragon (for more on the latter subject, see our post The Anatomy of a Dragon).  Her suffrage was widely included in medieval manuscripts, as were miniatures of her torture and death.  Below is a selection of some of our favourite images of St Margaret from throughout our collections; please do let us know if we’ve left out any of your favourites.  As always, you can reach us in the comments below, or on Twitter @BLMedieval.

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Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the dragon, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 406v

Egerton MS 2019 f. 216r K051116 copy
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the dragon, from a Book of Hours, France (Paris), c. 1440 – c. 1450, Egerton MS 2019, f. 216r

Harley MS 3000 f. 42v K051118
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret in prison, emerging from the dragon, from a Book of Hours (Use of Sarum), and Psalter, southern Netherlands, c. 1460 – c. 1470, Harley MS 3000, f. 42v

Harley MS 2974 f. 165v c6725-03
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the dragon, from a Book of Hours, France (Troyes?), c. 1460 – c. 1470, Harley MS 2974, f. 165v

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f086v_detail
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Margaret being thrown into prison, and escaping from the belly of the dragon, from the Taymouth Hours, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 86v

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Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the fire-breathing dragon, from the Dunois Hours, France (Paris), c. 1339 – c. 1450, Yates Thompson MS 3, f. 282v

Besides providing us with numerous dragon images St Margaret is the patron saint of pregnancy and expectant mothers (something that has particular relevance to me at the moment!).  Happy St Margaret’s Day, everyone!

-  Sarah J Biggs 

17 July 2014

This Year's Summer Blockbuster: A Giant List of Digitised Manuscript Hyperlinks!

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Here we go again with the giant list of digitised manuscript hyperlinks, friends!  For our new readers, this is a regular feature of the blog; on a quarterly basis we upload a massive spreadsheet for your persusal.  As always, this list contains all of the manuscripts to date that have been uploaded to our Digitised Manuscripts site by those of us in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section.  This does not include the work of our colleagues in other departments, of course - but we're pleased that this quarter's list does include the newest Greek manuscripts digitised as part of our ongoing project on these glorious texts.  And a few more, including the one below.  Happy clicking!  Here is the list: Download BL Medieval and Earlier Digitised Manuscripts Master List 17.07.13

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Decorated initial 'M' and historiated initial 'B'(eatus) with scenes from the life of King David, from a Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1062), with parallel Latin text, Add MS 47674, f. 2r

- Sarah J Biggs