On September 21, 19 BC, Publius Vergilius Maro died of a fever at Brundisium. Though Virgil's birthday, on the Ides of October, is more traditionally the day on which the poet is remembered, we at Medieval Manuscripts can never pass up the opportunity to talk about the man from Mantua.
The finest and most influential of all the Latin poets, it should come as no surprise that his works are well represented in the collections of the British Library. His works are preserved in some eighty-three manuscripts and a single papyrus (Papyrus 2723) – not to mention the many manuscripts containing works about Virgil or translations of his verse.
With such a large collection to choose from, there is a limit to what we can reasonably cover in a single blog post! Many of the Library’s manuscripts of the Eclogues (a collection of pastoral poems) and the Georgics (a didactic poem on farming) are adorned with depictions of country life. An excellent example is Burney 272, created in Germany or Austria c 1473. It opens with a very fine pair of miniatures of Virgil (in the historiated initial ‘T’) and a shepherd (Tityrus?) in the border, at the beginning of the first Eclogue:
Opening of Virgil's Eclogues, detail of Burney MS 272, f 4r.
In this manuscript, the illuminator seems particularly to have been taken by the opportunity to adorn the Georgics: here is an image of a man picking grapes, accompanying the Second Georgic:
Detail of Burney MS 272, f 26r.
And here is a very modern-looking beehive, on f 43v, accompanying the Fourth Georgic:
Detail of Burney MS 272, f 43v.
Unsurprisingly, the beginning of the Eclogues tends to get a lot of attention. Here is an ink drawing from the mid-14th century of two shepherds, at the beginning of the First Eclogue: the ink has faded so that it is rather difficult to make thm out:
Detail of Harley MS 3754, f 1r.
Compare this to the majestic ‘King’s Virgil’, Kings MS 24, created in Rome between 1483 and 1485:
Kings MS 24, f 1r.
Once again, the bee-keeping section of the Georgics is the occasion for a fine illumination:
Detail of Kings MS 24, f 47v.
Even initials provide an opportunity for some thematic illumination: in this early 15th-century Italian manuscript, the opening Q of the Georgics contains a man entangled in some vines:
Detail of Harley MS 3963, f 16v.
We end with another portrait of the author, hidden in another Q at the beginning of the Georgics:
We are proud to announce that the CatholiconAnglicum is now being exhibited in our Treasures Gallery. The British Library acquired the manuscript, the only complete copy of the text in existence, in February this year, for £92,500, following the temporary deferral of an export licence. It had lain hidden for over a century in the Monson family collection in Lincolnshire.
Opening of the section for words beginning with M, from the ‘Catholicon Anglicum’, England (Yorkshire), 1483, Add MS 89074, f. 102v
Since its arrival at the British Library, it has been catalogued in detail (along with other late medieval dictionaries in our collection), photographed in full and uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts, and now forms the centrepiece of a display of manuscripts about the variety of languages that were spoken and written in medieval Britain. This is your chance to see this rare and precious manuscript face-to-face!
End of the section for words beginning with Ȝ, and the compiler’s epilogue, Add MS 89074, f. 185v
The Catholicon was the first such dictionary to have all of its entries arranged in alphabetical order. The positioning of vernacular words first, with Latin equivalents following, shows that it was intended to be used for Latin composition not translation. It would have been of particular utility in the grammar schools that were being founded in large numbers during the 15th century.
Alphabetical glossary of rare Latin words, with glosses in Latin and Old English, England (?Worcester), 4th quarter of the 10th century or 1st half of the 11th century, Harley MS 3376, f. 1v
An early predecessor of the Catholicon is the first exhibit in the display: an alphabetical glossary of rare Latin words that was made in the 10th or 11th centuries, perhaps in Worcester. It may have been made for someone familiar with only basic Latin vocabulary, or as an aid to developing a more advanced command of the language. The headwords are glossed with more simplistic Latin equivalents or, sometimes, Old English words.
Following the Norman Conquest, Old English was supplanted by French as the language of the ruling elites. The next item on display in the Treasures Gallery is a 14th-century copy of a treatise written by Walter of Bibbesworth a century earlier, the Tretize de Langage. It was designed to be used by a mother to teach her two young children, and uses descriptions of everyday life and work, rhymes and riddles – even animal sounds – both to entertain and educate.
Descriptions of diseases and their symptoms, treatments and cures, from the ‘Lilium medicinae’, Ireland (County Clare), 1482, Egerton MS 89, f. 93v
The other two exhibits showcase languages that were spoken elsewhere in the British Isles. The Lilium medicinae, a guide to the treatment of illnesses, was written in 1303 by Bernard de Gordon, a famous physician at the University of Montpellier in France. Bernard was one of the medical authorities named by the Doctor of Physick in the General Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This Irish translation of the Lilium was written by the scribe Domhnall Albanach Ó Troighthigh of County Clare in 1482. The Latin headings name various illnesses; the subheadings ‘Signa’, ‘Curacio’ and ‘Clarificacio’ describe their symptoms, treatment and cure.
Tinted woodcut of the Flagellation of Christ at the beginning of a poem by Walter Kennedy, from a collection of Scottish poetry, ?Scotland, 1st half of the 16th century, Arundel MS 285, ff. 5v-6r
A collection of Scottish poetry illustrates the cross-over between manuscript and print in the early 16th century. It contains seventeen 15th-century printed woodcuts, which have been pasted into reserved spaces in the book, often at the beginning of the texts. The source of the woodcuts is not known. They may have been recycled from a previous book, or gathered from a selection of devotional handbills or flyleaves. A poem about the Passion of Christ by Walter Kennedy begins, appropriately, with a scene of the Flagellation of Christ, an elaborate rubric in red ink and the opening words in an imposing display script.
A page from ‘The Book of Cyfnerth’, Wales (?Neath), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Harley MS 4353, f. 12r
There were, of course, other languages spoken in medieval Britain besides these. The British Library holds manuscripts of medieval Welsh, such as this legal text known as ‘The Book of Cyfnerth’. It contains the Gwentian code of Welsh law – a witness to a legal system distinct from that of England – and was written in south-west Wales, perhaps in Neath, early in the 14th century. The scribe who made this book was also responsible for another in the British Library, Cotton MS Cleopatra A XIV, which also contains Welsh laws and a copy of the Cosmographia of Bernardus Silvestris.
Bas-de-page scene of Christ carrying the Cross, from a manuscript of a Passion poem in Cornish, England (Cornwall), 15th century, Harley MS 1782, f. 14v
Harley MS 1782 further illustrates the flowering of regional forms of Christianity during the medieval period that we saw in the Scottish poetry book. This manuscript is a 15th-century copy of a poem about Christ’s passion written in Cornish. The text is illustrated with a series of scenes from the Passion – here, Christ carrying the Cross – akin to those that marked the Stations of the Cross in medieval churches.
Why – and how – were very large, elaborately decorated, multi-volume bibles made during the twelfth-century in England? We are very excited that Dr Christopher de Hamel will be coming to the British Library to consider these and many other questions in the 2014 Panizzi Lectures. The lectures will take place in the Conference Centre on Monday 27th and Thursday 30th October and Monday 3rd November, 6.15pm-7.30pm. Entry is free, but the event is not ticketed, and seats will be allocated on a first come, first served basis – so keep the dates free and get here early!
In each lecture, Dr de Hamel will be taking a closer look at three outstanding examples of this kind of manuscript – the Bury Bible, the Winchester Bible and the Lambeth Bible – using evidence of their decoration, codicology and provenance to explore why these large and incredibly expensive books came into and fell out of fashion within a single century. Further details about the lectures may be found on the British Library website and on the above leaflet.
An inhabited initial ‘P’ at the beginning of Judges, from the Rochester Bible, England (Rochester), 2nd quarter of the 12th century, Royal MS 1 C VII, f. 27v
The British Library possesses several examples of giant twelfth-century bibles. Here are a few to whet your appetite for the forthcoming lectures. An outstanding example from England is the Rochester Bible.
Detail of a historiated initial ‘E’ showing Moses giving the book of the law to Joshua, at the beginning of Joshua, Royal MS 1 C VII, f. 2v
It is remarkable for containing the earliest English Romanesque examples of historiated initials (large letters that incorporate narrative scenes relating to the text), including this rather odd example where the scene has been orientated sideways in order to be accommodated within the letter E. The manuscript was almost certainly made for Rochester Cathedral during the second quarter of the twelfth century, and it matches the description of a five-volume Bible given in a catalogue of Rochester’s books made in 1202. One other volume is known to have survived and is now Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, MS W.18.
Large historiated initial ‘I’ showing scenes from Creation, from the Montpellier Bible, S. France (Languedoc), 1st quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 4772, f. 5r
Our collections also incorporate giant bibles from around Europe; clearly, this was not a phenomenon confined to England. The two-volume Montpellier Bible (Harley MS 4772 and Harley MS 4773) is an early example, made during the first quarter of the twelfth century in southern France. Its medieval provenance is unknown, but the manuscript is so named because it was given to the Capuchin monastery at Montpellier in 1621, by François Ranchin (b. 1564, d. 1641), the chancellor of the university there.
Detail of a historiated initial ‘I’ showing St John the Evangelist, from the Arnstein Bible, W. Germany (Arnstein), c. 1172, Harley MS 2799, f. 185v
An example from Germany comes in the form of the Arnstein Bible, made for the monastery of St Mary and St Nicholas, Arnstein, in two volumes, now Harley MS 2798 and Harley MS 2799. It was copied by a scribe named Lunandus, probably around 1172.
As well as the ornate, curling, foliate and zoomorphic initials typical of Romanesque illumination, the manuscript also contains some interesting additions on the endleaves, such as maps and diagrams, as well as sketches of ‘monstrous races’ thought at the time to live in faraway lands.
Detail of a miniature in two registers showing the Crucifixion and an animal sacrifice, from the Floreffe Bible, Belgium (Floreffe), c. 1170, Add MS 17738, f. 187r
The Floreffe Bible was made around the same time, for the Premonstratensian monastery of Floreffe, near Namur in modern-day Belgium. In the second part of this two-volume manuscript (Add MS 17737 and Add MS 17738), each of the Gospels is preceded by a miniature in two registers that draws allegorical comparisons between events in the Old and New Testaments.
Back in March this year, we announced that we had saved an important fifteenth-century manuscript from export: the only complete copy of the Catholicon Anglicum, one of the earliest Middle English-Latin dictionaries. Inspired by this fascinating linguistic and lexicographical source, in the intervening months we have been cataloguing other late medieval dictionaries in our collection.
Entries beginning with the letter ‘G’, from the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England (Norfolk), 15th century, Add MS 22556, f. 47r
The Promptorium parvulorum (‘The Students’ Storehouse’), like the Catholicon, had its Middle English entries arranged alphabetically, but in two sections: 'nomina' (nouns, but also adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections) coming first, followed by 'verba' (verbs). The British Library has four copies of this text in the collection: Add MS 22556, Harley MS 221, Harley MS 2274 (a fragment) and Add MS 37789.
The prologue (‘preambulum’) to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England (Norfolk), late 15th century, Add MS 37789, f. 1r
The prologue to the Promptorium tells us that its compiler lived as a Dominican friar in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, in 1440. Two of our copies – Add MS 22556 and Add MS 37789 – can be localised to Norfolk on the basis of linguistic evidence. The compiler described himself as a recluse, and perhaps lived in an anchorage attached to the order’s house. Although his name is unknown, the Promptorium is commonly assigned to ‘Geoffrey the Grammarian’ on the basis of an annotation in a printed edition of 1499.
The explicit to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’ and incipit to the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, with scribal colophon of John Broke, Add MS 37789, f. 84r
In the sixteenth century, John Bale attributed the authorship of another late medieval dictionary to Geoffrey: the Medulla grammaticae. The two texts had a close relationship in both manuscript and print. In Add MS 37789, they are bound together within the same manuscript. The title ‘Medulla grammaticae’ is sometimes attached as an alternative in early printed editions of the Promptorium parvulorum. However, there is ultimately no evidence to support Bale’s attribution, which has proven more confusing than helpful to scholars.
The end of the list of entries beginning with ‘H’ and beginning of the list of entries beginning with ‘I’, with a pen-flourished initial, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, mid-15th century, Harley MS 2257, f. 65r
Front endleaf (the former pastedown) bearing ownership inscriptions (Edward Lyster, Thomas Gayner), with pink-stained leather covering of the medieval binding visible at the edges, from the Medulla grammaticae, England (?Nottingham), Add MS 62080, f. 1v
The manuscripts of these dictionaries are functional, unelaborate objects – written for the most part in cursive scripts, usually on paper, with decoration rarely extending beyond plain coloured initials – but they are intriguing nonetheless. Add MS 62080 (a Medulla), which retains its medieval binding, appears to have passed through several hands in the Nottingham area.
Detail of the opening of the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, with a grotesque figure chewing on the cadels of the intertwined letters ‘H’ and ‘A’, Add MS 62080, f. 2r
This copy of the Medulla also has some amusing grotesques in its initials.
Prognostication calendar relating to ‘metalles, quoynes and apparel and other necessaries’, from a composite miscellany containing a fragment of the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England, 2nd half of the 15th century, Harley MS 2274, f. 61v
The fragment of the Promptorium at the end of Harley MS 2274 is accompanied by an array of liturgical, devotional, medical and prognostication texts: including a curious zodiac calendar that advised when would be a good or bad time to ‘begynne all fyry workis’ (i.e. involving furnaces), ‘to lende mony to have it a gayne’, ‘to bye woll or woolyn clothe’, or ‘to put on nwe apparel’.
Detail of a list of ‘holsome herbes for the potte in tempore pestilenciali’, ‘a soverayne medicynne for the swetyng sekenesse’ from Master Walter Hyllum, and another ‘for the frenche pockis’, from an endleaf to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England, 15th century, Harley MS 221, f. 206r
Harley MS 221 (a Promptorium) was one of the manuscripts acquired by Robert Harley from Sir Symonds d’Ewes on 4th October 1705, in the first of several ‘block purchases’ from other manuscript collectors. It is one of the few dictionary manuscripts on parchment, and is written in a fine Textura script. The last leaf contains a number of medical recipes for dealing with pestilence, sweating sickness and ‘the french pocks’ (i.e. syphilis).
Detail of a scribal colophon, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, late 15th century, Harley MS 1738, f. 81v
Some evidence of the production and early provenance of Harley MS 1738 (a Medulla) survives. It may have been written by a scribe called William Harper, who wrote his name and the following verse upside-down at the bottom of the last page: ‘Si mean penna valet, melior mea littera fiet’ (‘If my pen is strong, my letter will be better’) (f. 81v).
Detail of an inscription relating to the ordering of paper, Harley MS 1738, f. 1r
It seems that at same point in the late fifteenth century someone wished to make a copy of this manuscript, and asked their brother Thomas to acquire the materials for them to do so: ‘Thomas brother I pray yow of halgentylnesse that yow wyl do the labor for to by me ii bokys in lyn papir for wrytyng [...] ad verssus the pralaying bokys and wel that ys callyd Medulla gramatice’ (f. 1r). It is of particular interest to our study of book production that it was possible in the fifteenth century to purchase not just plain paper, but quires that had been already ruled and lined for writing.
Detail of an inscription relating to the binding of the manuscript, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, mid-15th century, Add MS 33534, f. 1r
A similar instruction survives in another Medulla manuscript: Add MS 33534. This is another copy with a medieval binding, probably of the mid-fifteenth century, that once featured straps and labels on the exterior. An inscription on f. 1r reads: ‘Brothur William Barkere I pray youe lett thys booke be bound at the utmost by myddyll Lent and my brother shall pay for the byndyng’. The wording appears to indicate that William Barker was a monk, who perhaps was being given the book by a layman, whose brother in turn would foot the bill for its binding.
Detail of the head of a woman within a pen-flourished initial ‘C’, Add MS 62080, f. 31v
These dictionaries are an important reminder that Latin learning was not confined the cloister, cathedral or church. Laymen too required a functional command of the language in order to conduct business, to read and understand legal documents such as charters and wills. There is growing evidence as well – that the Catholicon Anglicum, Promptorium parvulorum and Medulla grammaticae together reinforce – that to understand lay reading habits we must go beyond vernacular texts. The laity did not content themselves with reading in the vernacular, but sought out and consumed popular and broadly circulating historical, literary, and religious texts in Latin for their own entertainment and edification.
September marks the beginning of the wine-making season in the northern hemisphere, and this is as true today as it was on the pages of our medieval calendar. In the opening folio, the process is beginning in earnest, as three women are busy picking grapes in a vineyard, loading them into the basket of a waiting man. Behind them are several grand buildings, while the oenophilic theme of the month is mirrored by the acanthus vines circling round the page. The labour continues on the facing folio. Below the saints’ days for September and a woman holding a balance (for the zodiac sign Libra), a man is bringing a full basket of grapes into a barn. He is greeted by a fellow worker, who stands in a tub full of grapes, crushing them beneath his feet.
Calendar page for September, with a roundel miniature of people harvesting grapes, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 9v
Calendar page for September, with a roundel miniature of a men making wine, with the zodiac sign Libra, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 10r
Even the most cursory glance over the pages of medieval manuscripts will reveal a plethora of insects. Bugs are everywhere – although we hasten to add that we are extremely vigilant about avoiding the presence of any actual living insects within the pages of our books. But there has been little comprehensive scholarship about the appearance of such creatures in medieval manuscripts. Insects usually live literally in the margins, often not even appearing in catalogue entries despite their profusion.
Detail of a border including flowers, moths, and flies, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Netherlands (Ghent?), c. 1500, Additional MS 35313, f. 64v
Whilst undertaking this very short exploration of the subject, therefore, we would do well to remember the words of one of the earliest writers about these minute creatures. As Pliny the Elder reminds us in the introduction to his book about insects: ‘Nature is nowhere to be seen in greater perfection than in the very smallest of her works. For this reason then, I must beg of my readers, notwithstanding the contempt they feel for many of these objects, not to feel a similar disdain for the information I am about to give relative thereto, seeing that, in the study of Nature, there are none of her works that are unworthy of our consideration.’
Detail of a folio from a prose treatise on the Seven Vices, with marginal spiders and a praying mantis, Italy (Genoa), c. 1330 – c. 1340, Additional MS 28841, f. 6r
We’ll begin, as we almost always do, with the bestiary, that essential book of medieval beasts. The early medieval bestiary includes amongst its pages only two species of what we would consider insects today – ants and bees.
Detail of a miniature of ants in their anthill, from a bestiary, England (Salisbury?), 2nd quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 4751, f. 32r
The humble ant is given quite extensive treatment in the bestiary. Echoing Isidore of Seville’s somewhat fanciful etymology, the text tells us that the ant is called ‘formica’ because it carries pieces of grain (‘ferat micas’). It goes on to describe much recognisable ant behaviour, detailing how ants walk in lines to gather food, store it for the winter, carry loads far in excess of their own size, and work together for the good of the group.
Detail of a miniature of ants on their anthill, from a theological miscellany including a bestiary, England, 1236 – c. 1250, Harley MS 3244, f. 50r
A parallel tradition to that of the bestiary is the Physiologus, one of the precursors to the Marvels of the East. In the Physiologus, a subspecies of ant, as large as dogs, is said to live in Ethiopia and to be adept at digging up gold. Such skill can be exploited by human beings, but only very carefully, as these ants will try to chase down and kill anyone who attempts to steal from them.
Detail of a miniature of dog-like gold-digging ants attacking a camel, while a man loads another camel with gold and escapes, from the Marvels of the East, England, 4th quarter of the 10th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 101r
Detail of a miniature of dog-like gold-digging ants attacking a group of men who have come to steal their gold, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 96r
The concept of insects as a distinct class of animals was one that didn’t exist in this period. Bees, for example, are characterised as the ‘smallest of birds’, and accordingly, often come at the end of the bestiary's section on winged animals. They are described as industrious creatures, living in community under a chosen king. Born in the decaying bodies of oxen or slaughtered calves, it is said, bees build their homes with ‘indescribable skill’, make honey, and then guard it fiercely against all potential invaders. Much like ants, bees were praised over the centuries by various authors who considered them humble and loyal animals, ‘wonderfully noble', and worthy of emulation by human beings.
Detail of a miniature of bees guarding their hives against a marauding bear, from Flore de virtu e de costumi (Flowers of Virtue and of Custom), Italy (Padua?), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 3448, f. 10v
Detail of a miniature of bees collecting nectar and returning to their hive, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 45v
That said, bees could sometimes be used as weapons. A mid-13th century copy of William of Tyre’s Histoire d’Outremer contains a miniature of the Patriarch of Antioch who was bound to a tower and smeared with honey in a gruesome attempt to end his life.
Miniature of the Patriarch of Antioch being attacked by bees, from William of Tyre’s Histoire d’Outremer, France (Picardy?), 1232-1261, Yates Thompson MS 12, f. 120r
It is not clear why the early bestiaries omitted so many of the species of insects that people must surely have been familiar with – in many cases, perhaps, far too familiar. Flies, spiders, moths, and butterflies do not put in appearances in texts until later. The British Library is lucky enough, however, to possess a mid-16th century Greek copy of Manuel Philes’ De animalium proprietate which includes a cicada (f. 13r), a locust-like insect (f. 19r), and three species of spider – two of which are poisonous (and one of which is apparently six-legged).
Detail of a painting of three spiders, including a malmignatte, from a Greek copy of Manuel Philes’ De animalium proprietate, 2nd – 3rd quarter of the 16th century, Burney MS 97, f. 29r
Six-legged spiders are not unusual to find in medieval art, and neither are their ten-legged cousins, as the examples below will show:
Detail of a six-legged spider in its web, from an herbal, Italy (Lombardy), c. 1440, Sloane MS 4016, f. 6r
Detail of a marginal ten-legged spider, from Gerald of Wales’ Topographic Hiberniae, England (Lincoln?), c. 1196 – 1223, Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 11r
Most insects in medieval art, however, were not designed to illustrate any accompanying text, or at least, not literally. This is particularly the case for manuscripts from the later medieval era. The vast majority of insect examples we have found are decorative ones, taking their place amongst the flowers, fruit, and jewels that adorn these pages. Some are occasionally used for humorous purposes, or may have been intended to underscore the message of the text. An extremely small selection of these sorts of images is below; if we have omitted any gems, please do let us know in the comments or on Twitter: @BLMedieval. Happy bug hunting!
Detail of a marginal painting of flies surrounding a dog, from the Maastricht Hours, Netherlands (Liège), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 48r
Detail of a marginal dragonfly and dragon, from the Lovell Lectionary, England (probably Glastonbury), c. 1400 – c. 1410, Harley MS 7026, f. 13r
Selection of cuttings of border illuminations, featuring flowers, birds, moths, butterflies, and other insects, Italy (Rome), c. 1572 – c. 1585, Additional MS 35254, f. N
Detail of a folio from a prose treatise on the Seven Vices, with a caterpillar and a spider catching a fly, Additional MS 28841, f. 7v
Detail of a grasshopper, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, Additional MS 18851, f. 30r
In one of our blog posts last week, we featured the Wardington Hours, a relative newcomer to our collections. Three other Books of Hours have been acquired by the British Library since 2000, each of particular interest to art historians and scholars.
Add MS 74754: ‘The Small Bedford hours’
In the last blog post we mentioned the Bedford Hours (Add MS 18850), since it was made by the same group of Bruges artists as the Wardington Hours. It has been in our collections for more than 150 years, having been bought by the British Museum in 1852. In 2000, we acquired a manuscript known as the ‘Small Bedford Hours’, also probably made for John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford (b. 1389, d.1435). The evidence linking it to this famous patron is the following: the tree-stock, which appears on ff. 51r, 201r and 392r, was one of his badges.
Full page illumination with Historiated initial 'D' of David at prayer and tree stock, from ‘The Small Bedford Hours’, Paris, c. 1430, Add MS 74754, f. 201r
The two partially erased initials on ff. 369r and 385v probably contained the arms of England and France.
Partially erased initial ‘O’(mnipotens), which probably contained the arms of England and France, from Add MS 74754, f. 385v
Finally, the special prayers include these words: ‘et in domo regia servorum tuorum me nasci fecisti ac populum magnum michi commisisti regendum’, which seems to indicate that the owner was of royal blood, and ‘Semper vero in tu gratia me et ancillam tuam annam thori unius vinculo in nomine tuo michi coniunctam fovere digneris […]’, which indicates that the owner had a consort named Anne. Bedford was married to Anne of Burgundy in 1423, and she died in 1432.
There is no calendar and the Hours of the Virgin at the beginning are of the Use of Sarum, which was the most popular rite in England in this period. Prayers or suffrages to St George, St Thomas Becket (scratched out) and St Catherine are included after Lauds. The last part contains the usual psalms, prayers and litany.
This Book of Hours, by contrast, contains three calendars. First, a calendar of Sarum use (ff. 4r-8r) followed by two York calendars, the second (ff. 15r-31r) with facing astronomical tables by Richard de Thorpe, friar of York (b. c. 1339). The Sarum calendar seems to originate in Northern France, as it includes the feasts of the Norman saints Michel and Eloi. This part of the manuscript, with the accompanying Hours (ff. 32r-78v), was made in Bruges, as the illuminated initials and borders are in the same style as a manuscript made there in 1409 (now Durham, Ushaw College, MS 10).
Sarum Calendar from a Book of Hours previously in the Pincus Collection, Bruges, c. 1410, Add MS 82946, f. 8v
The two York calendars and scientific material (including figure drawings and tables), were added to the manuscript in the 1420s, as indications in the calendars suggest. They are by a single hand and in a uniform decorative style, believed to be of York Augustinian origin but made for an outside patron rather than the Austin Friars themselves, as the feast of Saint Augustine in August is not in red or blue to mark a major feast. Another interesting feature is the use of green ink, which is unusual in England at this time.
York Calendar added to a Book of Hours, York, c. 1420, Add MS 82946, f. 15v
On f. 30v there is an astrological calendar in the form of a wheel with an enlarged centre hole, which indicates that it probably had a movable pointer like the hand of a clock.
There are two full page images of naked men on folios 31r and 31v, following the second calendar. Zodiac man on folio 31 is shown with the zodiac symbols clustered over him indicating the parts of the body they govern. He stands in the large pool that seems to be the result of Aquarius hanging around his lower legs emptying his water-pots. The image is boldly painted with unusual green borders and an orange patterned background, which perhaps show Bohemian influence. The second diagram shows the phlebotomy points and is rougher in execution.
For much of the above, and for further information on this manuscript, see an article by John B Friedman, 'Richard de Thorpe's Astronomical Kalendar and the Luxury Book Trade at York', Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 7 (1985), 137-60.
Egerton MS 3883
This Book of Hours was also made in the southern Netherlands, probably in Bruges, with some material being added in England in the fifteenth century: a treatise on the fifteen joys of the Virgin, and three short poems in Middle English addressed to the Virgin, God and Christ, by Lydgate among others. The scribe of these additions signs his name ‘Chetwyn’ and there are four devotional diagrams including the following, entitled 'The iiii Cardinal vertuws’.
Devotional diagram and decorated page from a Book of Hours, Netherlands, S. and England, 15th century, Egerton MS 3883, ff. 43v-44r
The circular marks on ff. 124v, 133r-34v, 142v and 158v-59v are all that remain of pilgrim badges – medieval souvenirs of journeys to holy sites – that had once been affixed there.
Erased prayer to St Thomas Becket and off-set from a pilgrim badge, Egerton MS 3883, f. 142v
On this page a prayer to St Thomas Becket has been erased. Perhaps the owner had been on pilgrimage to Canterbury – possibly taking this book with them – and had placed his or her badge there to commemorate it whenever they recited the prayer.
A cartulary or chartulary (derived from the Latin chartularium) is a collection of charters, title-deeds and other documents relating to a specific, most often religious, institution. They survive in the form of books and, less commonly, rolls. Some are finely copied and decorated, but the majority are plain productions. This reflects their functional purpose as repositories of records that were essential then – and highly useful now – for understanding the administration of the land, property and finances of a cathedral, monastery, parish church, hospital, or fraternity. The British Library possesses around five hundred cartularies or similar gatherings of documents, including the earliest example from a religious house: Cotton MS Tiberius A XIII, from Worcester Cathedral Priory, made in the first half of the eleventh century. A large proportion of these were part of the ‘foundation’ collections of Robert Cotton and Robert Harley and his son Edward that were brought together with the creation of the British Museum in 1753.
The front binding of the ‘older’ cartulary, wooden boards covered with white-tawed skin with a single clasp (now gone), England (Lacock), mid-13th century, Add MS 88973
The newest addition to our collection of cartularies was in 2011, with the accession of those of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. In two volumes that each retain a medieval binding, these are now Add MS 88973 and Add MS 88974. They have been fully digitised and have recently been loaded to our Digitised Manuscripts site.
Copy of a charter recording the grant by Ela of the manor of Lacock for the foundation of a nunnery, Add MS 88973, f. 7v
The first, ‘older’ cartulary contains copies of some of the earliest charters relating to the Abbey and its foundress and first abbess, Ela, countess of Salisbury (b. in or after 1190, d. 1261). Possessed of royal connections of a sort through her marriage to William Longespée, an illegitimate son of Henry II, Ela was also the sole heiress of William Fitzpatrick, 2nd earl of Salisbury. She thus commanded considerable wealth, which she used to found and endow a new abbey over several months in 1229/30. Her original plan was for a house of Cistercian nuns, but the decision in 1228 by the General Chapter at Cîteaux not to accept responsibility for any further female houses left Ela little choice but to accept the Bishop of Salisbury’s recommendation in April 1230 that the house follow the rule of St Augustine.
Detail of a list of the acquisitions made by Lacock Abbey during the abbacies of Ela and Beatrice, Add MS 88973, f. 57v
The manor and village of Lacock formed the nucleus of the Abbey’s possessions, which were augmented in stages by further benefactions not just from Ela, but from her son William Longespée (II).
Documents and notes in Latin and French, copied by several hands, Add MS 88973, f. 76v
The charters in the first volume are arranged in a very rough chronological order. The core part of the manuscript was copied in stages between the mid-13th and mid-14th centuries. The involvement of numerous scribal hands of different periods indicates that the volume was produced in fits and starts, an impression confirmed by the insertion or stitching in of loose sheets of parchment, or copying of additional charters in blank spaces at later junctures.
Detail of the opening of the section containing charters relating to Calne in the ‘Newer’ Cartulary, Add MS 88974, f. 91r
The second volume, ‘newer’ cartulary, by contrast, appears to have been copied by a single hand and is arranged in such a way as to suggest a concerted attempt to impose order on the abbey’s documents. They are sorted topographically into eighteen sections, providing a convenient geographical overview of the extent of the Abbey’s holdings: from Calne and Heddington to the east, Sherrington and Chitterne to the south, Winterbourne to the west and Chippenham to the north.
Detail of a confirmation of William (II) Longespée of a charter relating to Lacock Abbey originally issued by Ela in the ‘Old’ Cartulary, with a marginal cross-reference to the third charter in the Lacock section of the ‘New’ Cartulary, Add MS 88973, f. 8v
The second volume, though later and containing duplicate copies of many charters, was by no means intended to replace the first. That they were intended to function as a pair is suggested by their very similar binding – they may have been bound around same time, probably no later than the mid-fourteenth century – and confirmed by their contents. The first volume contains marginal cross-references to documents in the second, allowing the reader to gain a chronological and geographical overview of the abbey’s holdings.
Detail of the same confirmation, copied into the ‘New’ Cartulary, Add MS 88974, f. 2r
The Lacock cartularies join another manuscript relating to the history of the Abbey: Cotton MS Vitellius A VIII, which combines the Annals and the Book of Lacock. Unfortunately, it was badly burned in the fire in 1731 at the Ashburnham House, where the Cotton collection was kept prior to its deposit at the British Museum. Much of the Book of Lacock is entirely illegible, though luckily a copy made in the late 16th century survives as Harley MS 5019. The two cartularies acquired by the British Library are thus especially important for the study of the history of this Abbey, its endowments and administration.