THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

Introduction

What do Magna Carta, Beowulf and the world's oldest Bibles have in common? They are all cared for by the British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Section. This blog publicises our digitisation projects and other activities. Follow us on Twitter: @blmedieval. Read more

01 August 2015

A Calendar Page for August 2015

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To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

Add_ms_35313_f005r
Calendar page for August, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 5r 

It’s harvest time on this month’s calendar page: two male peasants are reaping fully-grown wheat with sickles, while a female peasant is binding it together in sheaves. A cart drawn by two horses is passing by in the background. August’s religious festivals are gruesomely illustrated in a series of roundels to the right: in the second, fourth and fifth roundels, we see St Laurence being roasted alive (note the figure to the right, fanning the flames with a pair of bellows), St Bartholomew being flayed alive, and St John the Baptist about to be beheaded (with a female attendant waiting nearby with a platter).  For more on the depiction of these saints’ martyrdom, check out our earlier blog posts: Happy St Laurence’s Day, St Bartholomew and Bookbindings, and Don’t Lose Your Head. Other feast days illustrated this month are St Peter in Chains (celebrating his liberation from captivity by an angel) and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Zodiac symbol for this month – Virgo the Virgin – is at the top of the page. 

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Detail of peasants reaping and binding wheat,
Add MS 35313, f. 5r 

Add_ms_35313_f005r_roundels
Detail of roundels depicting St Peter in Chains (above) and the Martyrdom of St Laurence (below),
Add MS 35313, f. 5r 

- James Freeman

31 July 2015

Happy Uncommon Musical Instrument Appreciation Day!

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As we are sure you are all aware, today is Uncommon Musical Instrument Appreciation Day, the day on which we are urged to take time to think about the rare and unusual instruments that have gone obsolete, or are otherwise beyond our ken.  We would like to offer a number of examples in the spirit of this momentous occasion - the familiar, the forgotten and the simply odd.  Please be sure to send any other gems you might encounter to us on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Without any further ado:

Add MS 47683 f. 1v G70059-77
Folio with musical instruments, from a leaf from a giant Bible, Italy, 11th-12th century, Add MS 47683, f. 1v

Harley MS 4951, f. 299v E123871
Detail of a man with bells among musical neumes, from the Gradual of Saint-Etienne of Toulouse, France (Toulouse), last quarter of the 11th-first quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 4951, f. 299v

Harley MS 2804 f. 3vE102183c
Detail of two musicians playing the rebec and cithar, from the Worms
Bible, Germany (Frankenthal), 2nd-3rd quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 2804, f. 3v

Add MS 62925 f. 54r copy copy
Detail of a miniature of a rabbit playing a bell-like instrument, from the Rutland Psalter, England (London?), c. 1260, Add MS 62925, f. 54r

Stowe_ms_17_f061v copy
Detail of two monkeys playing trumpets in an unusual manner, from the Maastricht Hours, Liège, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 61v

Add_ms_49622_f106v copy
Detail of a marginal painting of a rabbit and a dog playing a hurdy-gurdy (?), from the Gorleston Psalter, England (Suffolk?), 1310-1324, Add MS 49622, f. 106v

Royal MS 14 E III f. 89r c13827-54c
Detail of a marginal painting of a man playing a rabbit-trumpet (despite distractions), from La Queste del Saint Graal, France, c. 1315 - c. 1325, Royal MS 14 E III, f. 89r

 Harley MS 6563 f. 40r E123884
Detail of a cat playing a rebec, from a fragmentary Book of Hours, England (London), c. 1320 - c. 1330, Harley MS 6563, f. 40r

Add_ms_18851_f419v copy
Detail of a marginal painting of a monkey playing bagpipes, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Bruges, c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 419v

Add MS 18852, f. 98r copy copy
Detail of a marginal painting of bagpipes (?), from the Hours of Joanna the Mad, Bruges, 1486-1506, Add MS 18852, f. 98r

Arundel_ms_263_f136r and f. 137v
Leonardo da Vinci's drawings, including a mechanical organ and timpani/drums, from the Codex Arundel, Italy (Florence, Milan, and Rome), 1478-1518, Arundel MS 263, f. 136r and 137v

- Sarah J Biggs

29 July 2015

What's Your Favourite Magna Carta Item?

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A group of us were recently discussing what is our favourite item in the British Library's Magna Carta exhibition. Mine changes every day, but I had recently plumped in a Twitter Q&A for the John Wilkes teapot, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Meanwhile, Alex Lock, our researcher on the post-medieval legacy of Magna Carta, finally had to admit that the Middle Ages is the best after all, when he chose the seal matrix of Robert fitz Walter, loaned to the British Library by our friends at the British Museum.

Wedgewood-teapot-thomas-billinge-john-wilkes-41411091885

The John Wilkes teapot (image courtesy of the V&A)

Seal-matrix-BM-seal-robert-fitz-walter

The seal matrix of Robert fitz Walter (image courtesy of the British Museum)

Our followers on Twitter soon sprung into action. Dr Sophie Ambler, Research Associate on the Magna Carta Project, nominated the Statute of Pamiers. Other votes went for the Hexateuch, the painting of Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Shakespeare's King John (nominated by Marc Morris), King John's teeth and thumb-bone, 1066 And All That, and Matthew Paris's map of Britain.

Statute-of-pamiers

The Statute of Pamiers (image courtesy of the Archives nationales)

Painting-herbert-beerbohm-tree-S-332-1989

Portrait of Herbert Beerbohm Tree as King John (image courtesy of the V&A)

Matthew-paris-map-C02049-04

Map of Britain by Matthew Paris (image courtesy of the British Library)

This got us thinking. Is there something that has escaped the above list, or a little-known gem in the exhibition that everyone's overlooked? We'd love to hear from you. Tweet us @BLMedieval, or add a comment at the end of this blogpost, and we'll publish/retweet the best. Anyone for King John's will or the account of William Penn's trial?

You can either see the exhibition in person, until 1 September (tickets can be booked here), or you can view the exhibits in our catalogue or on our dedicated website. Which are your favourites?

Julian Harrison (@julianpharrison, co-curator of Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy)