THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

322 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

01 July 2012

A Calendar Page for July 2012

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For more details on calendar pages or the Hours of Joanna of Castile, please see the entry for January 2012.

Add 18852 ff. 7v-8

Calendar pages for July, from the Hours of Joanna of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), between 1496 and 1506, Additional 18852, ff. 7v-8

The strenuous work of summer continues in these two miniatures from the calendar for July, which focuses on the yearly harvest of wheat.  On the left folio four men are at work in a field, in what must be very warm weather; the men have all rolled up their sleeves, and two seem to have divested themselves of their trousers as well.  On the right, beneath a small and rather scowly lion (for the zodiac sign Leo) another group of men are bringing their harvest to a timbered barn.

27 June 2012

Books of History, War and Mystery: More Royal Manuscripts Go Online

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Royal_ms_1_d_ix_f045r
<span style="font-size: 8pt;" _mce_style="font-size: 8pt;">Initial 'I'(nitium) with interlace decoration and display script in gold, framed by a 'Winchester style' foliate border with two medalliions with saints holding books (Evangelists?) at the beginning of Mark, England (Christ Church, Canterbury), c. 1020,&nbsp; <a href="http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?index=0&amp;ref=Royal_MS_1_d_ix" _mce_href="http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?index=0&amp;ref=Royal_MS_1_d_ix" target="_blank" title="Royal MS 1 D. ix">Royal 1 D. ix</a><em>&nbsp;</em>, f. 45r</span>

We have been pleased to hear from so many scholars and manuscript aficionados regarding our Royal digitisation project, and our work to make these treasures available online continues apace.  We've finished another upload to the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site, with a (we hope) charmingly diverse group of Royals.  These manuscripts range in date from c. 1020 to c. 1517, and include an early English Gospel book, a number of works on Greek and Roman history, a treatise on how to be a prince, a humanistic masterpiece, and the intriguingly arcane Hieroglyphica

The manuscripts are as follows:

Royal 1 C. vii        The Rochester Bible, England (Rochester), second quarter of the 12th century

Royal 1 D. ix         The Cnut Gospels, England (Christ Church, Canterbury), c. 1020 (please see an earlier post on this manuscript here)                     

Royal 12 C. iii        Filippo Alberici, Hieroglyphica and Emblematic Inscriptions, France (Paris), c. 1507

 

Royal_ms_12_c_iii_f022r
<span style="font-size: 8pt;" _mce_style="font-size: 8pt;">Full-page miniature of various emblems, including a sword, a crown, a wheel, and a serpent, from Filippo Alberici's Hierogyphica and Emblematic Inscriptions, France (Paris), c. 1507, <a href="http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Royal_MS_12_c_iii" _mce_href="http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Royal_MS_12_c_iii" target="_blank" title="Royal MS 12 C. iii">Royal 12 C. iii</a>, f. 22r</span>

 

Royal 12 C. viii      Pandolfo Collenuccio, Apologues, Italy (Rome and Florence), c. 1509 - c. 1517

Royal 15 D. i         Bible Historiale, part 4 (Bible Historiale of Edward IV), Netherlands (Bruges), 1470 and c. 1479

Royal 16 G. viii      Bellum Gallicum (Les Commentaires de Cesar), France (Lille) and Netherlands (Bruges), 1473 - 1476

Royal 17 D. vi        Thomas Hoccleve, The Regement of Princes, England, second quarter of the 15th century

Royal 18 D. ii        John Lydgate, Troy Book and Siege of Thebes, England (London?), c. 1457 - 1460

Royal 19 C. iv       Le Songe du Vergier, France (Paris), 1378

 

Royal_ms_12_c_viii_f004r
<span style="font-size: 8pt;" _mce_style="font-size: 8pt;">Frontispiece with a full border in colours and gold, an historiated initial with a portrait of Pandolfo Collenuccio, and the arms of Henry VIII, from Pandolfo Collenuccio's Apologues, Italy (Rome and Florence), c. 1509 - c. 1517, <a href="http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?index=0&amp;ref=Royal_MS_12_c_viii" _mce_href="http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?index=0&amp;ref=Royal_MS_12_c_viii" target="_blank" title="Royal MS 12 C. viii">Royal 12 C. viii</a>, f. 4r</span>

 

21 June 2012

Chaste, Obedient and Humble: Hidden Inscriptions in Arundel 155

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Among the many great Anglo-Saxon treasures in the British Library is Arundel MS 155, written by a scribe named Eadui Basan at Christ Church, Canterbury, probably between 1012 and 1023. It contains the 150 psalms and other texts used by medieval Benedictine monks, but what makes the book remarkable is its sumptuous decoration. This includes a number of initials lavishly executed in gold and in rich pigments of blue, green, red and pink. On folios 12, 53 and 93, these initials for the beginning of Psalms 1, 51 and 101 are situated within full-page frames with exquisite acanthus decoration in delicately coloured leaves that intertwine around the golden borders.

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The opening of Psalm 1 in London, British Library, MS Arundel 155, f. 12r.

Many medieval Psalters from the British Isles also included full-page pictures before the major divisions of the Psalms, and Arundel 155 may once have had such illustrations. Now there is only a single full-page illumination in the manuscript, which appears at the end of the psalms on folio 133 recto. This image has attracted the attention of many scholars because it contains a depiction of St Benedict, considered the founder of medieval monasticism. The saint (labelled ‘St Benedict  Father and Leader of Monks’ on his halo) sits enthroned under an arch at the left while a group of monks under a second arch approach him from the right. The monk closest to the saint holds—indeed, seems to be struggling under the weight of—a large book that is open to reveal the beginning of the Rule written by Benedict as a guide for every aspect of a monk’s life. Similarly, a figure at the bottom of the page kneels before Benedict and grasps his feet in a dramatic gesture of humility and obedience.

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Miniature of St Benedict in London, British Library, MS Arundel 155, f. 133r.

Numerous details throughout the image communicate the status of Benedict, his relationship to God (indicated by the Hand of God emerging from the clouds above) and his relationship to the monks.  Many of these were explicated by the late Robert Deshman in an essay that explored how Benedict also was conceived as a king (notice his diadem and gold clothes) and, by extension, how such Anglo-Saxon kings as Edgar were thought of as monastic leaders like Benedict (see Deshman, ‘Benedictus Monarcha et Monachus: Early Medieval Ruler Theology and the Anglo-Saxon Reform’ in Eye and Mind: Collected Essays in Anglo-Saxon and Early Medieval Art, ed. Adam S. Cohen [Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2010], pp. 104–36).

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Detail of London, British Library, MS Arundel 155, f. 133r.

During a research trip in 2011 to investigate further the art of the Anglo-Saxon monastic movement, I realized that examining the image very closely and in just the right light revealed a set of previously unnoticed inscriptions on the page. Words are written on three of the four golden lobes on Benedict’s tunic in very pale pink ink. Thanks to the efforts of the British Library’s Conservation Scientists, a multispectral photograph can make visible what previous reproductions could not.

When I showed this picture during a lecture at the recent International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, there were audible gasps from the crowd. ‘Castus’, ‘Obediens’ and ‘Humilis’ can be translated as ‘Chaste’, ‘Obedient’ and ‘Humble’ and represent three core monastic virtues. What is most remarkable, however, is the way the labels correspond to Benedict’s body: ‘chaste’ is on the lobe above his groin, while ‘obedient’ and ‘humble’ are on his knees, a graphic reminder of the kneeling performed daily by monks and modelled by the figure at the bottom of the page (probably the abbot). Many questions still remain—Why do these lobes take the form they do? Why is the fourth one blank?—but with this discovery we can better appreciate how Anglo-Saxon images not only could communicate complex theological iconography, but also evoke the bodily aspects of monastic practice.

Arundel 155 copy

Multi-spectral image of London, British Library, MS Arundel 155, f. 133r.

Adam S. Cohen, Associate Professor, Department of Art, University of Toronto

19 June 2012

Crowns, Romances, and Chronicles Aplenty: New Royal Manuscripts Online

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  Royal 11 E. xi f. 1 c13493-31 

Allegorical miniature of the Tudor rose, incorporating various emblems associated with Henry VIII, from Motets for Henry VIII, Netherlands (Antwerp?), 1516, Royal 11 E. xi, f. 2r

 

We are very happy to announce that the first batch of fully-digitised Royal manuscript has gone live on the Digitised Manuscripts site.  This group includes a number of the best-known - and certainly best-loved - manuscripts in the British Library's collections (and a few of them are so justly famous that we've already highlighted them on this blog; please see the list below for links to these specific posts).

 

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Detail of a miniature of Clovis defeating the Alemanni, after praying to Christ for vixtory, from the Grandes Chroniques de France, France (Paris), between 1332 - 1350, Royal 16 G. vi, f. 15r

 

The manuscripts are as follows:

Cotton Tiberius B. viii, ff. 35-80

Coronation Book of Charles V, France (Paris), 1365

(for more details, please see our recent 'Documentary' of a Royal Coronation)

Harley 1498

Quadripartite Indenture for Henry VIII’s Chapel (The Harley Indenture), England (London), 1504

(also this post about the Indenture)

Royal 11 E. xi

Motets for Henry VIII, Netherlands (Antwerp?), 1516

Royal 13 B. viii

Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hiberniae, England (Lincoln?), c. 1196 - c. 1223

(and our recent Marvels of the West)

Royal 14 B. v

Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings, England, last quarter of the 13th century

Royal 14 B. vi

Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings, England, c. 1300

(this roll featured in Genealogy of a Royal Bastard)

Royal 14 E. iii

Estoire del Saint Graal, France (Saint-Omer or Tournai?), first quarter of the 14th century

(yet another highlighted manuscript; see Lancelot and the Quest for the Holy Grail)

Royal 14 E. iv

Jean de Wavrin, Anciennes et nouvelles chroniques d’Angleterre, France (Lille) and Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1470 – c. 1480

Royal 16 G. vi

Grandes Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, France (Paris), between 1332 – 1350

Royal 18 E. ii

Jean Froissart, Chroniques, Netherlands (Bruges), last quarter of the 15th century (before 1483)

Royal 19 B. xiii

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Roman de la Rose, France (Paris), c. 1320 – c. 1340


More Royal manuscripts are going online all the time; we will continue to update you on this blog, and as always, your comments are most welcome.


Royal_ms_18_e_ii_f024v 

Detail of a miniature of two knights (Peter Courtenay and de Clary) jousting on horseback, from Jean Froissart's Chroniques, Netherlands (Bruges), last quarter of the 15th century (before 1483), Royal 18 E. ii, f. 24v


Royal_ms_14_e_iv_f299r_detail2

Detail from the full foliate border of a bird pecking the eyes of a man dressed as a fool, by the Master of the White Inscriptions, from Jean de Wavrin, Anciennes et nouvelles chroniques d’Angleterre, France (Lille) and Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1470 – c.1480, Royal 14 E. iv, f. 299r

12 June 2012

Royal Workshop Judged "A Royal Success"

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Many thanks to those who joined us for our Royal Manuscripts Workshop on 6 June, hosted by the University of Durham. It was not only an enjoyable event but also a productive one, and we are especially grateful to Professor Richard Gameson for working with us to make it all happen.

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During the first part of the workshop, Dr Joanna Fronska gave everyone a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process of digitising an entire manuscript here at the British Library. While leading us through all the stages involved, Dr Fronska highlighted both the benefits of and the areas for potential improvement to our Digitised Manuscripts site. We are going to write a separate post about the feedback we received after Joanna’s talk.

During the second part of our workshop, we were very fortunate to hear fine papers by a number of students who addressed the theme of ‘use’ and the royal manuscript. Roseanne Henderson and Jessica Lenihan tackled the somewhat unloved (but newly dubbed!) ‘Royal Aethelstan Gospels’. Both speakers drew our attention to the practical value of this manuscript for religious study, citing its highly accurate canon tables. In addition, they made the provocative point that, because such quotidian manuscripts survive in smaller numbers (though they once outnumbered the more glamorous examples preserved today), they are that much more precious for their rarity.

In the second paper, presented jointly by Clea Hodgson and Natalie Rimmer, the speakers discussed the New Minster Charter as an object intended to confirm religious reform and to promote the ideals that such reforms implemented. In a similar vein, Sarah Carter addressed the ways in which the Grimbald Gospels exemplify the aims of educational reforms made in the time of its production.

Other papers centred on the political or social uses of manuscripts. Emily Barrett, presenting a co-authored paper by herself and Verity Webster, focused on the New Minster Liber Vitae. This manuscript features a depiction of King Cnut and Queen Emma, intended to emphasise the close relationship between New Minster and its royal patrons. In another paper, Caitlin Johnson and Robert Smith examined the reconciliation between humble piety and self-promotion on display in the Bedford Hours.

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King Cnut and Queen Emma in the New Minster Liber Vitae (London, British Library, MS Stowe 944, f. 6r).

Two papers focused on the degree of personalisation in books of hours, often the most highly personalised books of the Middle Ages. Carla Haughey cast a sensitive eye over the Hours of Catherine of France, wondering the level of her involvement in its production: while the manuscript appears to have been in frequent use, the illuminations lack representations of Catherine herself or any perceptibly personal touches. In contrast, the Shaftesbury Psalter, as addressed by Holly Beckwith, places the female patron of the book in a prominent position, kneeling in prayer before the Virgin and Child. It is the oldest manuscript in the British Library identifiably made for a woman, and we are pleased to report that the recent research of Susan Peters has made a strong case for the identification of this woman as Emma, the Abbess of Shaftesbury during the middle of the 12th century.

Finally, Roger Middleton, Lecturer Emeritus from the Department of French Literature at the University of Nottingham, gave us a wonderful live display of the new research capabilities of Digitised Manuscripts. Zooming in on a page to an extremely high level of magnification, he demonstrated his fascinating findings relating to catchwords in the manuscript, trimmed away but for their ascenders. What once may have appeared mere squiggles on a manuscript page are now invaluable pieces of evidence of a manuscript’s production!

One of the attendees commented, "I came because I was interested in the topic and because I have seen the exhibit. This digitization project is a great idea ... thank you for coming to Durham, it was a fascinating workshop."

09 June 2012

Lancelot and the Quest for the Holy Grail

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The most beautiful Arthurian manuscript from the Royal collection, recently displayed in our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination, is now online on our Digitised Manuscripts site (click here for the fully digitised version of Royal 14 E. iii, and the entry in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts).

Royal_ms_14_e_iii_f133v detailDetail of a miniature of Sir Galahad and his companions on the Quest for the Holy Grail, approaching a castle which is destroyed by lightning (Part 2, Queste del Saint Graal): France, N. (Saint-Omer or Tournai?), c. 1315-1325 (London, British Library, MS Royal 14 E. iii, f. 133v).

All the manuscript's vibrant borders and its 116 gilded images can be viewed ‘up-close and personal’ on Digitised Manuscripts. The French text, written in a fine 14th-century Gothic bookscript, includes those parts of the Lancelot-Grail epic with predominantly Christian themes – the Holy Grail legend and the destruction of Arthur’s court by a combination of human frailty and evil. The more frivolous adventures of Lancelot and the story of Merlin are not included.

Royal 14 E. iii is a very large book, almost half a metre tall, with three columns of writing per page. It was produced in a workshop in the Franco-Flemish border region, possibly in Tournai or Saint-Omer, for an unknown aristocratic patron. The text and images are designed not only to educate the reader in chivalric and Christian values, but to make the lessons entertaining. The first page is dominated by two religious images with a backdrop of altars and spires. But a closer look at the borders reveals all manner of strange beings involved in a variety of distinctly non-religious activities: a knight jousting with a hybrid creature with a human head, dragon’s wings, hooves and a tail; two strange hairy creatures in capes locked in some kind of embrace; and rabbits and musicians capering along the edges of the text.

Royal_ms_14_e_iii_f003rMiniature of the author as a hermit prostrating himself before the altar with a chalice, the Manus Dei blessing him, a historiated initial 'C'(hil) of a young man with a dog, at the beginning of the text, and a miniature of a hermit speaking with God, following the rubric, 'Ensi que dieus eu une nue parole an hermite qui est devant son autel'; with a partial border containing two angels and the Virgin with Child, a tournament scene with knights and musicians, a hunting scene, animals and hybrids (Part 1: Estoire del Saint Graal): France, N. (Saint-Omer or Tournai?), c. 1315-1325 (London, British Library, MS Royal 14 E. iii, f. 3r).

Anyone who has attempted to read the entire Lancelot-Grail epic with its complex structure of interwoven episodes will be able to sympathise with the medieval audience who needed light relief from time to time!

The three parts of the Lancelot-Grail legend in this manuscript are:

Estoire del Saint Graal (The Story of the Holy Grail): the chalice in which Joseph of Arimathea collected Christ’s blood, how it was brought to England by his descendants, and the origin of the Round Table.

Royal_ms_14_e_iii_f086r detailDetail of a miniature of Joseph of Arimathea on his deathbed, entrusting the Grail to Alain, (Part 1: Estoire del Saint Graal): France, N. (Saint-Omer or Tournai?), c. 1315-1325 (London, British Library, MS Royal 14 E. iii, f. 86r).

Queste del Saint Graal (The Quest for the Holy Grail): the adventures of Perceval, Galahad and the knights of the Round Table as they seek the Holy Grail. The quest is completed by Galahad, the purest knight, son of Lancelot.

Mort Artu (The Death of Arthur): this part tells of Lancelot’s love for Guinevere and his willingness to risk everything in her defence. This manuscript breaks off just as the armies of Lancelot and King Arthur are preparing for the final battle, which will result in Arthur’s death and the destruction of the court at Camelot.

Royal_ms_14_e_iii_f156v detailDetail of a miniature of Sir Lancelot fighting Sir Mados to defend the honour of Guinevere, watched by Arthur, Guinevere, and the court, France, N. (Saint-Omer or Tournai?), c. 1315-1325 (London, British Library, MS Royal 14 E. iii, f. 156v).

For information on other Arthurian manuscripts held in the British Library collections, including a full set of the entire Lancelot-Grail legend produced in the same workshop as this one (Additional MSS 10292, 10293 and 10294), see the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts and associated virtual exhibition.

Royal 20 D. iv, another exceptional manuscript from the Royal collection, also containing the Lancelot du Lac, will be digitised later this year.

- Chantry Westwell

05 June 2012

'Documentary' of a Royal Coronation

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One of the most extraordinary Royal manuscripts, the Coronation Book of Charles V, is now available online on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site.

This extensively illustrated record of the coronation ceremonies of King Charles V and his Queen, Jeanne de Bourbon, was ‘arranged, written, corrected and illustrated’ at the special instigation of King Charles within a year of his accession to the throne.

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Detail of Charles V's autograph colophon, with the King's personal signature included at the end of the coronation order, stating that the volume was created for him in 1365, from the Coronation Book of Charles V, France (Paris), 1365, Cotton Tiberius B. VIII, f. 74v

The manuscript contains a directory (description and instructions for a coronation) in French and a Latin coronation order which was expanded especially for Charles’s ceremony. The most striking innovation, however, was the inclusion of the unprecedented set of illustrations. Almost forty images record virtually each step of the coronation, as though for a documentary film. The story begins at the gate of Reims Cathedral, the traditional place of the French royal coronation, with the Archbishop of Reims, Jean de Craon, blessing the King when he arrives for the evening prayer (f. 43r).

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Detail of a miniature of Charles V being blessed with holy water and incense by the Archbishop of Reims and his retinue, from the Coronation Book of Charles V, France (Paris), 1365, Cotton Tiberius B. VIII, f. 43r

Seven miniatures (two additional images were excised in the 17th century) were initially planned to mark the beginning of the orders (the French translation of the directory of the ‘Ordo of Reims’, the order of Charles V, and the order for the coronation of the queen) and the most important moments of the rite. Below is the King seated on the throne holding the sceptre of Charlemagne (which you can still see displayed at the Louvre) and the ‘Main de Justice’, with the peers of France sustaining his crown, each identified by his heraldic colours.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_viii_f059v_detail

Detail of a miniature of the peers sustaining the crown and the enthronement of the king, from the Coronation Book of Charles V, France (Paris), 1365, Cotton Tiberius B. VIII, f. 59v

When work on the book was still at an early stage, the programme of illumination was considerably expanded, and more than thirty further images found their place in the lower margins of the pages. This is when the order for the Queen's coronation received an unusually lengthy cycle of illustrations. The image below (from f. 68r) shows the anointing of the Queen’s breast. The women assisting Queen Jeanne help to unfasten her dress, ensuring that no witness be allowed to see too much of the royal body.

 

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_viii_f068r_detail

Detail of a miniature of the anointing of the breast of Queen Jeanne, from the Coronation Book of Charles V, France (Paris), 1365, Cotton Tiberius B. VIII, f. 68r

Charles V clearly intended this book to be an official account of his coronation and a model for future ceremonies. Almost 15 years after its completion, he had his coronation oath altered, so that it forbade any alienation of territories and the rights of the French crown.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_viii_f046v_detail

Detail of a miniature of Charles V swearing his oath.  The altered text including the crucial words: ‘corone francie inviolabiliter custodiam et illa nec transportabo nec alienabo’ is visible above the miniature.  From the Coronation Book of Charles V, France (Paris), 1365, Cotton Tiberius B. VIII, f. 46v

Charles also ordered the book to be supplemented with a set of oaths that implied his suzerainty over Guyenne and the Norman possessions of the King of Navarre. In May 1380, just before his death, Charles deposited a copy of his Coronation Book at the royal abbey of St Denis to be stored with other French regalia. However, the book informed only one successive French coronation, the sacre of Charles’s son, the mad King Charles VI. After his death, the Louvre library was purchased by the Duke of Bedford, the English regent in France, and the Coronation Book eventually found its way to England.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_viii_f080r_detail

Detail of the oath of allegiance of a bishop to the king of England, added at the end of the volume c. 1450, from the Coronation Book of Charles V, France (Paris), 1365, Cotton Tiberius B. VIII, f. 80r.

More manuscripts from the former collection of Charles V will be made available on Digitised Manuscripts:

Royal 14 E. iiiEstoire del Saint Graal

Royal 17 E. vii:  Bible historiale in two volumes (coming soon; click here for the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts entry)

Royal 19 C. iv:  Songe de Vergier (coming soon; click here for the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts entry)

- Joanna Fronska

02 June 2012

God Save the Queen: Jubilees and Coronations

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The year 2012 marks the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne. Elizabeth succeeded her father, King George VI, on 6 February 1952, and was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953. In order to mark this momentous occasion, the British Library has put on display in its Treasures Gallery a number of items associated with the coronation of monarchs from Henry I to the present day.

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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the opening of the British Library's Royal exhibition in November 2011

The Coronation Gospels (Cotton MS Tiberius A. II): this gospel-book, once owned by King Æthelstan (924-939), was later assumed to have been the book on which Anglo-Saxon kings swore their coronation oaths. In February 1626, Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631) stood on the bank of the River Thames at Westminster, ready to present the manuscript to Charles I (1625-1649) en route to his coronation. Charles saw Cotton standing on the shore, and ordered the royal barge to land further upstream, snubbing Cotton in the process.

Cotton Tiberius A. II no. 2
The Coronation Gospels: London, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius A. II

The English Coronation Order (Cotton MS Claudius A. III): a 12th-century manuscript depicting the coronation of King Henry I (1100-1135) at Westminster Abbey on 5 August 1100. Henry's coronation charter, based on earlier royal oaths, was the first to be committed to writing; in it he promised to reform the abuses of the previous regime and to restore “the law of King Edward the Confessor”.

The Coronation of Henry III (Cotton MS Vitellius A. XIII): an account in verse of the kings of England, containing an illustration of the coronation of King Henry III (1216-1272). Henry succeeded to the throne aged just 9 years old, against a background of civil war and invasion by the French. His coronation took place at Gloucester Abbey on 28 October 1216, where he was anointed by the bishops of Winchester, Worcester and Exeter, and crowned with a lady’s chaplet (a circular wreath or garland).

Thomas More and Henry VIII (Cotton MS Titus D. IV): on 24 June 1509, the archbishop of Canterbury crowned Henry VIII (1491-1547) and his first wife, Katherine of Aragón (1485-1536), in Westminster Abbey. Expectations ran high: ‘this day’, wrote Thomas More, ‘is the end of our slavery, the fount of our liberty, the beginning of joy. Now the people, liberated, run before their king with bright faces.’  More also composed a ‘coronation suite’ of Latin poems for presentation to the newly-crowned king.

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Thomas More's Coronation Suite: London, British Library, MS Cotton Titus D. IV

Parliamentary procession roll (Additional MS 22306): a 17th-century copy of a contemporary roll, showing the new king Henry VIII on the way to open Parliament. The procession was led by the mitred abbots, followed by the bishops; next came Henry carrying a sceptre, under a canopy decorated with a Tudor rose, then the secular peers in their robes.

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The Parliamentary procession roll for Henry VIII: London, British Library, MS Additional 22306

Anne Boleyn's coronation (Royal MS 18 A. LXIV): in 1533, a visibly pregnant Anne Boleyn made her entry into the City of London in anticipation of her coronation. As the procession wound its way through the streets, Anne was entertained with a series of spectacular displays that had been prepared in her honour by the City Guilds. At Leaden Hall, in Gracechurch Street, Anne was addressed with the following verse: ‘Honour and grace bee to our queene Anne / ffor whose cause an anngell Celestiall / descendeth the ffalcon as white as swanne / to croun with a diademe Imperiall. / In hir honour reioyce wee all, / ffor it cummeth from God, and not of man. / Honour and grace bee to our Queene Anne!’

Anne Boleyn's coronation feast (Harley MS 41): Anne was crowned Queen of England on 1 June 1533, and that evening a grand feast was held in Westminster Hall. A sketch of the seating plan shows Anne at the high table with the archbishop of Canterbury seated on her right. On Anne’s right stood the Dowager Countess of Oxford and on her left the Countess of Worcester, whose task was to hold up a cloth to Anne’s face if she wished ‘to spit or do otherwise’. Henry VIII watched from the royal closet with the French and Venetian ambassadors.

Elizabeth I's coronation procession (Egerton MS 3320): Elizabeth I (1558-1603) ascended the throne on 17 November 1558. Her coronation took place just two months later, on 15 January 1559, an auspicious date chosen by the astrologer, Dr John Dee. This drawing shows part of the procession as Elizabeth rode through London on the day before the coronation, with Robert Dudley, as master of the horse, following immediately behind the queen.

‘Zadok the Priest’ (R.M.20.h.5): George Frideric Handel was appointed ‘Composer of Musick for the Chapel Royal’ in 1723, and composed the music for the coronation of George II on 11 October 1727. The words of the first anthem, ‘Zadok the Priest’, are taken from verses in the Bible (1 Kings 1: 38-40), which have have been included in the coronation service since the coronation of King Edgar in 973. Handel’s setting has been sung by the choir immediately before the anointing at every coronation since 1727.

The coronation of George III (Additional MS 42863): George III (1760-1820) became king at the age of 22 and would reign for 60 years, making him the 3rd-longest reigning monarch in British history after Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. Unlike his two predecessors of the House of Hanover, George spoke English as his first language. In his accession speech to Parliament, he declared: ‘Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Britain.’ On display is an admission ticket to the coronation of George III and Queen Charlotte, which took place at Westminster Abbey on 22 September 1761.

George III's coronation procession (Maps Crace 11.39): a plan showing the route of George’s coronation procession to Westminster Abbey. According to eye-witness accounts, so many carriages battled to reach Westminster Abbey that many of them collided in chaos. George and Charlotte were carried to Westminster Hall separately in sedan chairs and then escorted into the abbey on foot, each under a canopy.

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The coronation procession of King George III, with the route highlighted in green

The Delhi Durbar, 1911 (Photo 1/14 (28), MSS Eur G55/24): under The Royal Titles Act of 1876, Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India. The following year celebrations were held in Delhi, in what is known as the Delhi Durbar, at which Victoria was represented by the Viceroy of India. In December 1911, the Coronation Durbar of King George V and Queen Mary was held in the purpose-built Coronation Park in Delhi, and the sovereigns attended in person. As the law prohibited the removal of the British Crown Jewels from the United Kingdom, the Imperial Crown of India was created for George V to wear. On display is a photograph of George V and Queen Mary appearing in their coronation robes, and the address of welcome presented to King George.

The coronation of Elizabeth II (Additional MS 79866B): on 2 June 1953, Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ceylon and Pakistan, as well as taking on the role of Head of the Commonwealth. Approximately 8,000 guests from across the Commonwealth of Nations attended the service, which took 16 months to organise and was the first ever to be broadcast on television. In our exhibition is Sir Laurence Olivier’s presentation copy of the order of service.