THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

544 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

09 January 2017

Medieval Spin-Offs of the Roman de la Rose

Add comment Comments (1)

Over the past year, many critics have noted the dominance of 'spin-offs', new releases which are sequels to or take place in the same imaginary worlds as already-popular blockbusters. But popular spin-offs are not a modern phenomenon. Take the example of 'satellite texts' of the Roman de la Roseone of the most famous poems in the French language. The medieval equivalent of a best-seller, it survives in more than 300 manuscript copies, and was composed in two sections, written decades apart: the first part was written by Guillaume de Lorris (c. 1230) and it was continued by Jean de Meun 40 years later. In many manuscripts, the Roman de la Rose was copied with other texts attributed to Jean de Meun, which are often described as 'satellite' or spin-off texts. Although the Roman de la Rose tends to overshadow some of these other texts, they were nevertheless popular in the Middle Ages.

Royal 20 A XVII   f. 35v
Image of Jean de Meun, from a copy of the Roman de la Rose,  Northern France (Artois or Picardy), c. 1340–1350: Royal MS 20 A XVII, f. 35v.

The Testament

In many manuscripts, the Roman de la Rose is followed by a text entitled the Testament de maistre Jehan de Meun. It acts as a morally edifying conclusion to the famous allegorical poem, opening with the lines:

‘'Li peres et li filz et li sains esperis/ Un dieu en trois personnes adoures et cheris'.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit/God in three persons, loved and adored

Attributed to Jean de Meun, the Testament was composed at the end of the 13th century and comprises 544 alexandrine quatrains. The author explains to the reader that he wants to apologize for the works he wrote during his youth just to achieve success: is this remorse a reference to Meun’s work on the Roman de la Rose? Some of Jean de Meun’s leitmotivs are present in this poem, especially his criticism of women and mendicants.

Yates Thompson 21   f. 143
A miniature in grisaille of the Trinity with a finely-worked coloured background, from the Testament, 1380–1390: Yates Thompson MS 21, f. 143r.

The Testament is described by its author as a moral treatise inspired by God and charity. It was elaborated as a spiritual journey for the discovery of Truth and Good in which the author confesses to the reader his awareness of the vanity and finite nature of human life. The poem focuses on the themes of death and on the utility of prayers to the dead as well as the living.

The construction of the poem is inspired by disputation, the exercise commonly practised in medieval universities. The author combines the rigour of university culture with the traditions of vernacular literature. The success of the Testament was significant, probably due to its attribution to de Meun. It was widely disseminated throughout the late Middle Ages, though rarely alone: its transmission was closely linked to that of the Roman de la Rose, especially during the 14th century.

Add_ms_42133_f145r
The Trinity with a full bar border with zoomorphic decoration, the Testament attributed to Jean de Meun, last quarter of the 14th century: Additional MS 42133, f. 145r.

The Codicille

The Testament is often accompanied by two other texts attributed to Jean de Meun: the Codicille or ‘petit Codicille’ and the ‘Grant Codicille’, also known as the Sept articles de foi. The ‘petit Codicille’ is sometimes considered to be an appendix to the Testament and is sometimes even entitled ‘petit Testament’. It includes 88 lines of eight syllables per line. Composed at the end of the 13th century, it takes the form of a prayer, beginning:

‘Dieux ait l’ame des trespasses/ Car des biens qu’ilz ont amasses/ Dont ils norent oncques assez’.  

God keep the Soul of the dead/ because of the goods they amassed/ they did not get never enough of these.

Add_ms_42133_f143v
Framed initial in colours on gold and blue grounds with partial foliate border with rinceaux,  the Codicille, last quarter of the 14th century: Additional MS 42133, f. 143v.

The Sept articles de foi

The final bestseller attributed to Jean de Meun is the Sept articles de foi, also called Trésor de la foy or, confusingly, just Codicille (see, for example, ’Cy commence le codicille maistre Jehan de Meun': Royal MS 19 B XII, f. 181r). However, although for a long time this work was attributed to Jean de Meun, it has now been established that it was composed by Jean Chapuis around 1300.

Royal_ms_19_b_xii_f181r
Tinted drawing in colours showing the Trinity, 1st half of the 15th century, the Sept articles de foi: Royal MS 19 B XII, f. 181r.

This is a devotional and eschatological poem advocating contempt for the world and the necessity to praise God, Christ and the Virgin Mary for the salvation of the soul. It deals with the symbolic number seven such as the seven virtues and the seven liberal arts in opposition to the seven deadly sins.

Although it is now accepted that Meun did not write this poem, in 1401 this poem was at the centre of an attempt to clear Jean de Meun’s reputation in a tumultuous debate involving Christine de Pizan. One of Jean de Meun’s defenders, Gontier Col, secretary to Charles VI, sent her a copy of the Sept articles de foi to try to persuade her to renounce her condemnation of Jean de Meun. In response, Christine de Pizan, with irony, denounced people who attributed any works to Jean de Meun. Her answer shows that the poem’s attribution to Meun was already disputed at the beginning of the 15th century.

Yates_thompson_ms_21_f069v
Detail of Jean de Meun writing the opening words of this poem:
Yates Thompson MS 21, f. 69v.

The above three texts gained popular success during the 14th and 15th centuries, partly because of their close association with the Roman de la Rose and Jean de Meun, and because they seemed to show the presumed author’s repentance. It is tempting to draw parallels with modern spin-offs, which are often framed as responses to earlier criticisms of franchises and whose popularity is sometimes attributed to their association with other well-known subjects and creators. But the satellites of the Roman de la Rose are also worth analysing as examples of the popularity of devotional literature aimed mainly at lay people.

Laure Miolo

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

01 January 2017

A Calendar for January 2017

Add comment Comments (1)

Every year we feature a different calendar on the Medieval Manuscripts Blog. This year is no exception: the seventh calendar in our series is the fabulous Additional MS 36684, a Book of Hours of the Use of Saint-Omer. This Book of Hours is a delightfully unique manuscript (as explored in our previous blogposts: Apes Pulling Shapes and Something for Everyone), sure to see us through 2017 in style.  It is quite different to last year’s Bedford Hours and we’re looking forward to highlighting the amusingly idiosyncratic decorative elements in the calendar. You can read more about calendars in general in our introduction to our first calendar of the year, back in 2011.

Fig 1_add ms 36684 ff 1v_2r

Calendar pages for January, Additional MS 36684, ff. 1v–2r

Additional MS 36684 was created in approximately 1320 in north west France, most likely in Saint-Omer or Thérouanne. We know that the manuscript was probably made in this area because of entries in the calendar, which often included the feast days of local saints. In this case, the calendar displays the dedication of St Omer (‘Sancti audomari') on his feast day, 17 October.

Fig 2_add_ms_36684_f011r St Omer dedication

Dedication of St Omer, detail of calendar page for October, Additional MS 36684, f. 11r

This Book of Hours is distinctive for its imaginative decoration, which is extremely diverse; there are hardly any repeated figures, and hybrid animal-humans and fantastic beasts adorn the decorative borders on each folio. The human figures are particularly distinctive for the bright orangey-pink painted circles on their cheeks and marking their mouths.

Fig 3_add_ms_36684_f001v base de page detail

Hybrid beasts, detail of January calendar page, Additional MS 36684, f. 1v

The calendar is placed at the beginning of the manuscript, taking up the first thirteen folios. Each month is given two folios: the verso of one and the recto of the next. Both are highly decorated, with a border incorporating creative beasts and creatures and two different miniatures, one displaying the zodiac sign and the other the labour of the month, which is the seasonal activity associated with that month. Every month begins with a large gilded double-initial ‘KL’, for ‘Kalendarius’.

The folios for January, which fall on f. 1 verso and f. 2 recto, begin with the entries of saints, and there are even small faces drawn into the gilded letters at the start of some of the names.

Fig 4_add_ms_36684_f001v faces

Faces in initials, detail of January calendar page, Additional MS 36684, f. 1v

The illustration of January’s labour of the month depicts the typical activity of feasting, but with the addition of the two-faced Roman god Janus. Janus was traditionally thought to be the namesake of the month, although it is more likely it was named for the goddess Juno instead. He is pictured inside a tiny castle against a gold backdrop.

Fig 5_Add MS 36684_f001v_Janus detail

Janus feasting, detail of January Calendar page, Additional MS 36684, f. 1v

The miniature on the facing folio is the zodiac sign associated with January, Aquarius, drawn as a nude male figure holding a jug of water. Aquarius is usually pouring the water out from the jug (compare it to the Bedford Hours version) but has here apparently already emptied it. An architectural border frames the outdoor scene (notice the green grass!), but with the addition of two hybrid creatures – human heads topped by tall hats perched on the legs of what appears to be a large cat, tails curling through the legs to extend out into the margin.

Fig 6_add_ms_36684_f002r Aquarius

Aquarius, detail of January calendar page, Additional MS 36684, f. 2r

We could go on about the different faces in these pages, but we’ll leave it to you – how many animals/hybrid figures can you spot?

Additional MS 36684 can be viewed online in its entirety on Digitised Manuscripts. The second half of the manuscript is in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City, as MS M. 754, which you can see here. Check back on 1 February for the next calendar page!

Taylor McCall
Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

24 December 2016

Christmas Coronations

Add comment Comments (0)

Throughout the Middle Ages, Christmas was a season of festivities and celebrations, just as it is today. 25 December was certainly a high point of this festive season, beginning the twelve days of Christmas which would last until Epiphany. On three occasions in the early medieval period, the Christmas Day celebrations may have been more extravagant than usual: on Christmas Day in 800, 855 and 1066, merrymakers also celebrated the coronations of the very first Holy Roman Emperor and two English kings with interesting legacies.

011ADD000057337U00104000[SVC2]

Blessing for Christmas Day in the 'Anderson Pontifical': British Library Additional MS 57337, f. 104r.

On Christmas Day in the year 800, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in the city of Rome. This was a momentous occasion in the Christian West, where Imperial authority had ceased to be acknowledged after the fall of the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476. By the end of the 8th century, Charlemagne’s military success had left in him control of a large part of medieval Europe and he had acquired a special relationship with the Pope. By crowning Charlemagne as the first Holy Roman Emperor, Pope Leo III was acknowledging Charlemagne’s secular authority and his role as defender of the Christian faith throughout Western Christendom.

E060882

Detail of a miniature of Charlemagne being crowned emperor, in the second book of Charlemagne's life in Les Grandes Chroniques de France: British Library Royal MS 16 G VI, f. 141v.

Another early medieval king to have supposedly been crowned on Christmas day is King Edmund of East Anglia, who reigned from 855 until his death in 869. Very little is known about Edmund'ss early life, as no contemporary written records survive from his reign. The first-known record focuses more on the circumstances of Edmund's death than his achievements in life. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ described how Edmund was killed by the Great Heathen Army of Danes which had recently attacked other parts of Anglo-Saxon England. This is the same Great Heathen Army which was fought off by Alfred the Great of Wessex over the next decade.

Harley_ms_4826_f004r

Miniature of Edmund tied to a tree and being shot full of arrows by two Scandinavians: British Library Harley MS 4826, f. 4r.

According to tradition, Edmund died during battle with the Danes after he refused their demands to renounce his Christian faith. This refusal transformed Edmund into a martyr. Over the following two centuries, a popular cult developed around his memory and was centred on the church where his remains were buried. The town which grew around this church was so associated with the cult of St Edmund that it took on his name, becoming the modern-day  Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. In the 10th century, the monks of Ramsey Abbey commissioned Abbo of Fleury to write a Latin account of the saint’s life and early cult. This text was later translated into Old English by the Anglo-Saxon, Ælfric of Eynsham, a well-known writer of many old English saint’s Lives, homilies and biblical commentaries. Much of what is now known about Edmund's early life, including his coronation on Christmas Day, comes from these texts written up to 200 years after his death. It is therefore uncertain where Edmund was indeed crowned on Christmas Day, or whether his later hagiographers deemed this an appropriate date for the coronation of a king who would later be canonised.

Cotton_ms_julius_e_vii_f203r

Beginning of the Life of Edmund the Martyr in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints: British Library Cotton MS Julius E VII, f. 203r.

The crowning glory in our series of early medieval Christmas coronations is that of William the Conqueror, who was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day in 1066. William’s coronation marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in England, and the beginning of the Norman dynasty.

Royal 14 B VI

Detail of a roundel of William the Conqueror ('William Bastard'), from a genealogical chronicle of the kings of England, England (East Anglia?), c. 1340–1342: British Library Royal MS 14 B VI, membrane 5.

After his coronation, William set about establishing his authority in his new kingdom. As part of this process, he commissioned an abbey to be built upon the site of the Battle of Hastings. According to 12th-century sources, before the battle, William had sworn to build the abbey in order to commemorate and pray for those who died in combat. A detailed account of this foundation story was written at Battle in the 12th century. The page below is the beginning of an account of the life of William the Conqueror, and depicts William enthroned.

Battleabbey-tl

Historiated initial with William the Conqueror: British Library Cotton MS Domitian A II, f. 22v.

It is extremely likely that these kings, or the people who wrote their legends, consciously chose to the crowned on Christmas Day. Those who celebrated their coronations on 25 December would also be celebrating the birth of Christ, the saviour and King of Kings. This would have added a sense of Divine favour to their rule, and secured their claim to that particular title. The sacred significance of this would not have been lost on the audience of these ceremonies, those who recorded them, and those who read about them throughout history.

Becky Lawton

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

22 December 2016

A Reindeer Farmer at King Alfred's Court

Add comment Comments (0)

This is a story about a gift-giving man, who lived in the ‘north-most’ place and owned 600 reindeer. Sounds like anyone familiar? Well, he wasn't Santa, if that was what you were thinking. The man in question was Ohthere, an intrepid explorer from medieval Scandinavia, who visited the court of King Alfred the Great in the late 9th century and told the king about his travels. We know Ohthere's story from a 10th-century manuscript held at the British Library, recently added to our Digitised Manuscripts site (Add MS 47967).

Reindeer

Detail of a deer from an Old English translation of Medicina de quadrupedibus (England, 11th century): Cotton MS Vitellius C III, f. 76r.

Ohthere was a wealthy explorer from the area that is now Norway. He travelled around Scandinavia, including areas that today comprise parts of Denmark and Finland, and he sailed ‘as far north as whale-hunters ever go’. He later visited the court of King Alfred of Wessex (871–899), where scholars were keen to learn about his travels. One of these scholars added an account of Ohthere's travels to the Old English translation of Orosius's Historia adversus paganos (History against the pagans). According to this account, Ohthere told Alfred about his travels, explaining that he was curious to see the extreme north, and that he wanted to hunt ‘horse-whales’, or walruses. Walrus ivory was a valuable trading commodity in this period, and Ohthere presented King Alfred with some walrus tusks when they met.   

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_v!1_f057v north sea
Detail of the North Sea from a world map, England, c. 1000-1050, Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 56v 

Whoever preserved this story was also curious about Ohthere’s descriptions of where the Angles had lived ‘before they came into this land’ (England). Members of Alfred's court remembered that their ancestors came from mainland Europe, and they wanted to learn more about the lands which they identified as their own places of origin.

As well as describing Ohthere’s travels, the author of this account also described whale-hunting, uninhabited polar ‘deserts’ and different Scandinavian languages. For example, according to Ohthere, the Finnas and the Beormas both spoke basically the same language. The Old English account also described Ohthere’s economic resources, including a herd of 600 ‘tame deer’ called hranas, or reindeer. In particular, Ohthere owned 6 prized ‘decoy deer’, which the Finnas used to lure wild reindeer into captivity. The account also reported that Ohthere was ‘one of the first men on the land’ near his home, and that he received a tribute of animal products from the Finnas.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_i_f012v
Description of reindeer in the Old English translation of Orosius’s Historia adversus paganos (England, c. 1000–1050): Cotton MS Tiberius B I, f. 12v.

Our only written source about Ohthere is contained in an Old English translation of Orosius’s History, whose compiler edited and augmented his source-material. Orosius began with an account of the geography of the known world, which the Old English translator supplemented with extra information about Britain and Scandinavia, including reports by explorers including Ohthere and another seafarer, Wulfstan. This translation may have been composed in the late 9th century, and it survives in copies from the early 10th and 11th centuries.

Add_ms_47967_f005v
Beginning of the description of world geography, from the Tollemache Orosius (England (Winchester?), c. 900–950): Add MS 47967, f. 5v.

Although he may sound like a figure from modern folktales, Ohthere was, in many ways, a myth-buster. While King Alfred is remembered today for fighting Scandinavians (thanks to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Asser’s Life of Alfred, and other texts produced at his court), the story of Ohthere shows a different side of Anglo-Scandinavian relations in the late 9th century. At least one Scandinavian traded with the English and brought gifts to Alfred, and his knowledge was recorded and respected by scholars at Alfred’s court.

Alison Hudson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

15 December 2016

New Developments in Manuscript Viewers

Add comment Comments (0)

As regular readers of this blog will know, we recently announced an exciting new project with the Bibliothèque nationale de France to digitise 400 pre-1200 manuscripts at each institution, generously supported by The Polonsky Foundation.

Arundel_ms_60_f053r

Decorated initial ‘Q’(uid) in British Library, Arundel MS 60, f. 53r

IIIF and Search functionality

We thought that some of you might be interested in some of the more technical aspects of the viewer that will be developed by the project team. The teams at both libraries are meeting to develop the viewer, which will use the International Image Interoperability framework (IIIF). Both the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the British Library are founding members of the IIIF Consortium, established in 2015, and have been involved in developing the IIIF specifications in order to promote a standardised way of presenting digital material.

Detailed technical specifications are available here, and are refined continuously. The digitised collections will comply both with IIIF image API 2.0 and IIIF Presentation API 2.0. One of the main goals of the new viewer will be the ability to display manuscripts from either institution side by side. 

We also plan to include a search and browse function enabling users to search for various types of manuscripts. This may be based on the functionality available on Biblissima, described here. Also like Biblissima, it is intended that the website will be bilingual in French and English.

The manuscripts are being digitised now, and we expect to make this viewer available in September 2018. In the meantime, as they are digitised and catalogued, British Library manuscripts can be viewed initially on our Digitised Manuscripts website and later on its successor, and BnF manuscripts on Gallica. At the British Library, we are intending to put up the first batch of manuscripts in the New Year, and we’ll be letting you know further details about this.

Cotton_ms_caligula_a_vii!1_f003r

The Annunciation in British Library, Cotton MS Caligula A VII/1, f. 3r

Copyright and download

We plan to include download options for individual images or manuscripts, allowing images to be reused in the public domain without charge. Readers may be surprised to learn that most medieval manuscripts held at the British Library are still in copyright until 2039 under the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (as amended). However for unpublished material created many centuries ago and in the public domain in most other countries, the British Library believes making available digital copies of this material to be very unlikely to raise any objections. As an institution whose role it is to support access to knowledge, we have therefore taken the decision to release certain digitised images technically still in copyright in the UK under the Public Domain Mark on our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts website. Further details about this are here. We intend to make these images available on the same terms on the website to be developed by the project. 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

Supported by

Polonsky Credit

12 December 2016

Explore our Greek Manuscripts Online

Add comment Comments (0)

The British Library has now digitised and published online more than 900 Greek manuscripts. Alongside the digital collections of the Bibliotheca Vaticana and the Laurenziana in Florence, our online holding is one of the largest such repositories in the world. Available are high resolution colour images of each manuscript, including flyleaves and bindings, with an up-to-date description of its content and codicological features, and an extensive bibliography.

Add_ms_37007_fblefr

Embossed silver and gold plate, depicting Chirst flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, surrounded by symbols of the Evangelists, from the binding of a 13th-century Gospel book: Add MS 37007

The British Library's online collections of Greek manuscripts range from precious early manuscripts of Classical literature and science to Syriac-Greek palimpsests to the most precious monuments of Byzantine book illustrations and18th-century Greek translations of Moliere. This diverse content can now be explored online in three different ways.

Add_ms_19352_f027v

Depiction of the call of David to be a King by Samuel, in the Theodore Psalter, Constantinople, 1066: Add MS 19352, f. 27v

Using the Library's Explore the Archives and Manuscripts, you can search for any names, places and keywords — including authors, titles, scribes and owners — in the descriptions of hundreds of Greek manuscripts. Once an item has been identified, a link (“I want this”) enables the user to order the original manuscript to the Reading Room in London or to view its full digital version online.

Screenshot_Explore

Another way to explore our Greek manuscripts is via the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site, which is also searchable by using various keywords. After identifying the chosen manuscript, you can immediately start browsing the images of its pages, which once would only have been accessible to scholars visiting the Library in person.

Screenshot_DM

A third way to explore our digitised Greek manuscripts is by using the Library’s new Greek Manuscripts website, which offers a free guided tour throughout the collections. Let our experts guide you through their richly illustrated introductions to themes such as Art, Religion and Scholarship.

Papyrus_137

The so-called Anonymus Londiniensis papyrus, dating from the 1st century CE, contains a selection of ancient medical texts and is the most important medical papyrus to survive from antiquity: Papyrus 137

Most importantly, for those who would like to know which Greek manuscripts have been digitised at the British Library, a comprehensive list with hyperlinks is available here: Download Digitised Greek manuscripts in the British Library

Peter Toth

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

10 December 2016

Ocean Explorers at the Institut du Monde Arabe

Add comment Comments (0)

Seemingly every day, new evidence comes to light of the extent of international connections in the Middle Ages. For example, the British Museum recently published the discovery of Middle Eastern bitumen used at the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo burial. How, then, did these movements occur, and what were their effects? The Institut du monde arabe in Paris is giving a unique opportunity to explore these questions with their exhibition entitled ‘Ocean Explorers from Sindbad to Marco Polo’ (‘Aventuriers des mers de Sindbad à Marco Polo’), running from 15 November 2016 until 26 February 2017. The British Library is delighted to have loaned two of our manuscripts for this exhibition.

Whale

Ship atop a whale: Harley MS 3244, f. 60v.

If there is anything that everyone understands about medieval sailing, it is that it was incredibly dangerous. The only means of navigation was the sky until the magnetic compass was imported from the Arabic world, which was first recorded in the West in the 1180s by Alexander Neckam, then a teacher in St Albans. Shipwrecks were inevitable. One of the popular methods of depicting of a whale, symbolizing the uncertainties of the sea, showed a ship that had accidentally landed on its back, with its crew lighting a fire. This story is most famously told in the Voyage of St Brendan. Every year over the course of their seven-year voyage, his crew moored on the back of a whale named Jasconius to celebrate Easter. The whale in Harley MS 3244, an English bestiary from the 13th century, is a particularly vivid example of this motif.

Also starring in the exhibit is Cotton MS Tiberius D IX, the Itinerary of the Red Sea (Roteiro do Mar Roxo) by João de Castro. It includes a beautiful series of coloured maps, notably showing ships with many different types of sails, underlining their varied origins. Our manuscripts are shown alongside many other artefacts showing the influence of travel on pre-modern culture, from both the Middle East and Europe. In case you need yet another excuse to travel to Paris, now you have it.

Ocean Explorers from Sindbad to Marco Polo is at the Institut du monde arabe from 15 November 2016 until 26 February 2017

Andrew Dunning

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

05 December 2016

Polonsky Digitisation Project: Last Call for Nominations

Add comment Comments (7)

Our latest digitisation project has begun as we work to digitise 400 pre-1200 manuscripts from the British Library holdings, with a generous support from The Polonsky Foundation. The joint project between the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France seeks to promote and explore the contacts between France and England from 700 to 1200, as witnessed in medieval manuscript culture. We have already started, and have compiled a list of around 250 manuscripts that are key to the project themes. However, we would welcome ideas from readers about illuminated manuscripts at the British Library that you would like to see digitised.

Harley MS 2719 f001

A glossed copy of De compendiosa doctrina by Nonius Marcellus (British Library, Harley MS 2719, f. 1r) originates from France, either Brittany or Loire, 3rd quarter of the 9th century.

With the wealth of manuscripts from two national libraries, how does one go about choosing the most interesting and vital manuscripts for digitisation? Library catalogues — both published and unpublished — and academic research and publications are a good start, and have yielded plenty of information on wonderful illumination and decoration. We have identified a core of manuscripts we wish to open up for our readers. These will reveal beautiful illuminations and colourful images, and will allow global access to significant medieval copies of interesting texts. 

Harley MS 3020 f113

Decorated initial ‘F’(actum) in British Library, Harley MS 3020, f. 113r, made in southern England in the 10th century, possibly Christ Church, Canterbury.

One of the goals of the digitisation project is to respond to the needs of scholarly research. Published research tells us what has been studied, but we also want to know what is going to be studied in the future! So we would like to turn to our readers and ask you for nominations — which manuscripts would you like to see digitised? What are the manuscripts that would most illuminate the cultural sphere of England and France between 700 and 1200? We can’t promise that your nominated manuscript will be included, as we will need to consider its condition, length and relationship with the other manuscripts to be digitised in each Library, but we will consider all of your submissions carefully. 

Cotton_ms_caligula_a_viii_f121r

The opening folio of the Life of Saint Birinus from British Library, Cotton MS Caligula A VIII, f. 121r. The text was copied in England during the 1st quarter of the 12th century, possibly in Winchester.

You can nominate a manuscript for selection by writing to England&France700-1200@bl.uk or by commenting on this post. Please suggest a British Library manuscript that was written either in England or France before 1200, and explain its importance to you in a few words. The deadline for nominations is Tuesday, 31 January. We will publish lists of digitised manuscripts on this blog once they become available online. 

Tuija Ainonen, Project Curator

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

Supported by

Polonsky Credit