THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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119 posts categorized "Latin"

20 November 2014

Magna Carta Ballot: A Huge Thank You

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We'd like to thank everyone who entered our recent ballot to see the four original 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts, when they are brought together next February for the first time in 800 years. We were overwhelmed by the response: just under 45,000 people entered online, and we received in addition more than 100 postal entries. Everybody at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral really appreciates the efforts made by members of the public to view our precious Magna Cartas.

The ballot is now closed, and the winning entrants are in the process of being selected. You may recall that we were offering 1,215 people the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the four documents side-by-side. Winners will be contacted between now and 12 December, so please hold tight if you haven't heard from us yet: there's a chance that you may actually be one of the chosen ones!

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Lincoln Cathedral (left), Salisbury Cathedral (middle) and the British Library (right), home to the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

A reminder that the winners will view the four 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts at the British Library in London on Tuesday, 3 February 2015. The winners will be given a special introduction to the history and legacy of Magna Carta from historian and TV presenter Dan Jones. They will also each receive a special edition Magna Carta gift bag containing free passes to each of the upcoming exhibitions at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, plus a Certificate of Attendance, inscribed with the winner’s name and sealed in wax with a special stamp created to mark the day. The event is being sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm, and we are very grateful for their support.

For anyone who does miss out on this one-off event, remember that all four Magna Carta manuscripts will be on display individually as part of major exhibitions in 2015 at their respective institutions -  the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral. See this webpage for more information.

The 800th anniversary of the granting of Magna Carta by King John will be marked worldwide by numerous events and exhibitions, which will be publicised on this blog and via our Twitter account, @BLMedieval. In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about the history of Magna Carta, please see the British Library's dedicated webpages. It's going to be a very exciting year for all of us!

08 November 2014

The Harley Psalter: Devils in the Details

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 103 (Vulgate numbering): The creations of the Lord: valleys and mountains (left) with springs where beasts and birds are drinking, a man ploughing with oxen, a sea with ships on it and beasts in the water (centre); lions and other beasts among the rocks (right), from the Harley Psalter, S.E. England (Canterbury), 1st half of the 11th century, Harley MS 603, f. 51v

The Harley Psalter is one of three manuscripts copied from the very well-travelled Utrecht Psalter, a Carolingian masterpiece made around 825 at the Benedictine monastery of Hautvilliers near Rheims in Northern France. Now MS 32 at the Universiteitsbibliotheek in Utrecht, the Utrecht Psalter spent at least two hundred years in Canterbury from about 1000 AD, where it was the inspiration for our very own Harley Psalter, Harley MS 603. Dating from the first half of the 11th century, the Harley Psalter has a very similar arrangement and many near-identical images to those of the Utrecht Psalter, though the version of the Psalms is different. In each one of the large pen drawings, the artist has attempted to represent the words of the Psalms in pictorial form - not always an easy task. The images often include four or five episodes from the text of the Psalm that follows, depicted in a vibrant yet intimate style. They are extraordinarily detailed, filled with tiny people and animals and many details, some amusing, and some bizarre.  This is the medieval ‘Where’s Wally?’: the reward for hours of searching is an unexpected delight from time to time.

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 5: The psalmist entering a sanctuary (left), from which a winged demon is fleeing (centre), and above him an angel placing a wreath on a martyr's head; on the right, demons are prodding the wicked in a pit of fire, Harley MS 603, f. 3r

There are, of course, the standard variations on the theme of the righteous and unrighteous, such as holy tabernacles and fiery pits, the psalmist appealing to God and his angels for help against foes and demons.  

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 134
: The Lord unleashing the fury of the wind and rain and his angels with spears slaying kings and their armies, Harley MS 603, f. 69r

God’s vengeance is portrayed repeatedly and with relish, as are the agitated gestures of the figures who suffer the consequences, particularly kings and judges.

So much for the standard fare. Here are a few unusual and interesting details we found to enjoy (apart from a medieval umbrella!). Please look for your own favourites in the online images and share them with us via Twitter: unlike the ‘Where’s Wally?’ books, Digitised Manuscripts allows you to zoom in for added searchability.

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Detail from a miniature illustrating Psalm 7: a female demon with quadruplets (below right), Harley MS 603, f. 4r

Here is a female demon with her brood of quadruplets. She seems to have her hands full!

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 21: The themes include: (1) the lamentation of the psalmist, who is shown holding two vials, and is attacked by bulls, dogs and lions, with a unicorn below (lower right); (2) prophetic images of Christ’s passion including an empty cross and two men dividing a garment in front of a lot machine (centre); and (3) praise to heaven, represented by the tabernacle with the meek eating at a circular table and seven women seated with babies (the seed of Israel), Harley MS 603, f. 12r

As those of you who follow this blog will know, we have a soft spot for unicorns. Here is one that seems to be facing up to two men with scythes. One has to wonder what the outcome of that contest will be. Our money is on the unicorn, naturally.

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Detail of a miniature illustrating Psalm 30: People watching acrobats and a dancing bear
, Harley MS 603, f. 17r

Continuing with the animal theme, this image includes a dancing bear and acrobats, presumably as a condemnation of frivolous pastimes.

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 108: Below Christ in a mandorla with angels, a wicked man is seized by a demon (left) and the psalmist with a locust, standing in oil from an oil-horn (right); the sinner is punished (lower left), his wife and children abandoned and his treasures taken from his chest, Harley MS 603, f. 56r

And here a locust is an onlooker to the punishment of a sinful man. The sinner’s treasure is looted, his wife tears her hair out and his children are abandoned, naked.  

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Added miniature illustrating Psalm 59: The Lord in a mandorla handing a pair of shoes to an angel; the defenders of the city of Edom(?) are facing the attacking soldiers
, Harley MS 603, f. 32v

Finally, did you know that angels wore shoes? No, nor did we, but in the picture the Lord is handing a pair to an angel (illustrating the line, ‘Over Edom will I cast out my shoe’). The style of this image is different: it is one of the drawings added to the Psalter in the 12th century. 

There are 112 of these fascinating and skilful illustrations in the Harley Psalter, an impressive achievement by any standard. The artistic style, originally from Reims, was influential in the development of late Anglo-Saxon book decoration and the coloured line drawings that became especially popular in England at the time. For further examples of this style, check out the Tiberius Psalter (Cotton MS Tiberius C VI), which dates to the third quarter of the 11th century. Two copies of the Psychomachia at the British Library also contain similar decoration: Cotton MS Cleopatra C VIII and Additional MS 24199 (the latter will soon make an appearance on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts).

- Chantry Westwell

01 November 2014

A Calendar Page for November 2014

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

These two calendar pages for the month of November show a typical labour for this part of the agricultural season – the fattening of pigs for autumn.  On the opening folio, beneath the beginning of the saints’ days for the month, is a roundel of a peasant in the woods.  He is armed with a long stick, and is engaged in knocking acorns from oak trees to feed the pigs that are rooting around near his feet.   On the following folio, we can see a small miniature of a centaur with a bow and arrow, for the zodiac sign Sagittarius.  Beneath him is another peasant, heading home after a day of feeding pigs.  He looks fairly miserable – understandably enough, as he is walking through a heavy rainstorm.  Surrounding this roundel and the continuation of the saints’ days is a frame made up of golden columns, circled by banners with the initials ‘MY’ and ‘YM’.  These initials might be clues to the original owner of the manuscript, whose identity/identities are still unknown.  For more on this mystery, see here.

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Calendar page for November, with a roundel miniature of a man feeding pigs in the woods, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 11v

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Calendar page for November, with a roundel miniature of a man heading home in a rainstorm, with the zodiac sign Sagittarius, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 12r

- Sarah J Biggs

25 October 2014

Lindisfarne Gospels in our Treasures Gallery

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The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the greatest treasures in the British Library’s collections, is now back on display in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery. This Latin Gospel-book is thought to be the work of one remarkably gifted scribe and artist, who created it around 700 on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumbria. Its importance lies not only in the beauty of its carpet-pages and its miniatures of the four Evangelists, but also in the tenth-century gloss of its text that is the earliest example of the Gospels in the English language.

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Colophon added by Aldred, the translator of the Old English gloss, in the Lindisfarne Gospels, England, c. 700,
Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 259r 

According to the colophon added by this translator, Aldred (fl. c. 970), who was provost of the community at Chester-le-Street near Durham, the artist-scribe was a monk called Eadfrith, who was Bishop of Lindisfarne from 698 to 721. The inscription records that Eadfrith ‘wrote this book for God and St Cuthbert and also for all the Saints whose relics are on the island’. It also describes the binding made by Billfrith the anchorite, which included a cover adorned with gold, silver and precious gems.

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A Canon table
from Cotton Nero D IV, f. 12v

On display for the next three months are two pages from the canon tables that preface the Lindisfarne Gospels (ff. 12v-13r). These provide readers with a concordance to the Four Gospels, allowing them to locate episodes described by more than one Evangelist. A mistake has been made in Canon 2 (shown), where the name titles at the heads of the three columns have been confused with those of Canon 3 on the facing page. The headings which read ‘Luke’ and ‘John’ have been corrected by a near-contemporary hand to read ‘Mark’ and ‘Luke’. Interlace birds fill the columns and the arch, while a ribbon knotwork design is used for the bases and capitals.

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Detail of masons building the canon table in the Echternach Gospels, from the monastery of St Willibrord, Echternach (now Luxembourg), 11th century,
Harley MS 2821, f. 9r

Visitors to the Gallery will be able to compare the canon tables in the Lindisfarne Gospels with those in the Echternach Gospels, made in the monastery of St Willibrord (in modern day Luxembourg) in the eleventh century. The two tables on display (ff. 8v-9r) show elaborate ornamental pillars upon which masons are still working with hammers and chisels.

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Detail of a remarkably naturalistic bird and fish from the ‘Golden Canon Tables’, Eastern Mediterranean, 6th or 7th century,
Additional MS 5111, f. 11r

In another case nearby there is also the much earlier ‘Golden Canon Tables’ from the Eastern Mediterranean. Written over gold leaf, these tables are set within elaborately adorned architectural frames, including some finely executed birds and fish. These pages were later trimmed to fit a smaller twelfth-century manuscript of the Gospels, causing the loss of some of these details.

The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library is open seven days a week, and is free to visit. If you would like to see the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Echternach Gospels or the Golden Canon Tables in their entirety, please see the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site. 

- Holly James-Maddocks

18 October 2014

The Death of King John

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King John of England (1199–1216), of Magna Carta fame, was by all accounts a particularly unpleasant ruler. The charges levelled against him, many of them during his own lifetime, included the murder of his nephew, the sexual predation of the wives and daughters of his nobles, and the starving to death of the wife and children of one of his former companions. So unpopular was John that his barons finally rose up in rebellion against his arbitrary rule, and against the severe punishments often inflicted upon them, until they eventually forced the king to grant them the Charter of Liberties, also known as Magna Carta, at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. Few can have lamented King John's eventual demise at Newark Castle — most probably following an attack of dysentery —in October 1216. Writing some forty years later, Matthew Paris (d. 1259), monk and historian of St Albans Abbey, delivered the ultimate condemnation: 'Foul as it is, Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John'.

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King John in happier times, hunting on horseback according to this illustration in a 14th-century manuscript (London, British Library, Cotton MS Claudius D II, f. 116r).

Today may, or may not, be the anniversary of King John's death. The medieval chroniclers could not reach consensus on the exact date that John died. Matthew Paris and his St Albans' predecessor, Roger of Wendover (d. 1236), plumped for 17 October. Ralph (d. 1226), abbot of the Cistercian monastery at Coggeshall (Essex), stated instead that King John had succumbed to his illness on 18 October. A number of monastic chroniclers, writing at Tewkesbury, Winchester, Worcester and elsewhere, favoured 19 October as the day in question. Of these various witnesses, we should perhaps give greatest credence to the anonymous chroniclers writing at Waverley Abbey (Surrey) and Southwark Priory (Surrey), both of whom asserted that the death of King John took place on 19 October. The manuscripts of these two chronicles (Waverley, British Library Cotton MS Vespasian A XVI; Southwark, British Library Cotton MS Faustina A VIII) were both being written in the year 1216, as evidenced by their numerous changes of scribe at this period. The same is also true, however, of Ralph of Coggeshall's Chronicon Anglicanum (the autograph manuscript of which is British Library Cotton MS Vespasian D X). Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris, in contrast, were writing many years after the events being described, and so their testimony — albeit possibly derived from an authentic St Albans tradition — is more open to question.

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Is this how King John met his fate? As early as the 13th century, it was alleged that he had been poisoned by a monk of Swineshead Abbey (Lincolnshire), seen here offering him a poisoned chalice (London, British Library, Cotton MS Vitellius A XIII, f. 5v).

Earlier in his reign, King John had determined that he should be buried at the Cistercian abbey he had founded at Beaulieu (Hampshire). In October 1216, Beaulieu lay in that part of England which was held by the rebel barons; and so John asked instead that he be buried at Worcester Cathedral, where his tomb can still be seen. In fact, the tomb was opened in 1797, in order to confirm whether it did contain John's body, and certain of the remains removed, which are also on view in Worcester. Mr Sandford, a local surgeon, inspected the skeleton, and reported that King John stood 5 ft 6½ in. (approximately 1.69 m) tall. Unlike one of his successors, Richard III, John was clearly not buried under a carpark.

Next February, the four surviving manuscripts of King John's Magna Carta will be brought together at the British Library for the first time in 800 years. A ballot is currently being held to give 1,215 lucky winners the chance to see all four manuscripts side-by-side. The ballot closes on 31 October: don't forget to enter for your chance to take part in this moment of history! If you do miss out, you'll still be able to see the British Library's two 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts at our own major exhibition later in 2015: tickets are already on sale. And if you'd like to know more about the history of Magna Carta, take the chance to visit our new Learning webpages, which will be updated with more information next year.

Strangely enough, we doubt that King John would have been particularly amused by the modern-day celebrations planned for Magna Carta in 2015. Less than ten weeks after that document had been granted in June 1215, Magna Carta was annulled by Pope Innocent III, at John's request, declaring it to be 'shameful and demeaning, illegal and unjust, and null and void of all validity for ever'. Just over a year later, a revised version of Magna Carta was issued in the name of John's son, King Henry III (1216–1272), and the rest is history. King John never did get the last laugh.

16 October 2014

Dedicated to You

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What do you get the person who has everything?  A manuscript book of poetry written in his or her honour, naturally!  

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Original binding of gold-tooled parchment with the royal coat of arms and initials ‘E R’ (‘Elizabeth Regina’), from a manuscript of complimentary verses to Elizabeth I, England (Eton), 1563,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, front cover 

A lesser known part of the Royal collection is a set of manuscripts of complimentary verses that were presented to royalty and aristocracy during the 16th and 17th centuries.  They are mostly catalogued under the ‘Royal MS 12 A’ range.  Eleven of these, containing verses or epigrams in Greek, have been digitised as part of our ongoing Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project (a list of these is provided below).  They are now available online, allowing us to take a closer look at these intriguing gifts. 

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Title page with coloured border featuring Tudor roses and coats of arms,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, f. 1r 

The focus of today’s blogpost is upon the earliest dated manuscript of this group: Royal MS 12 A XXX, presented to Elizabeth I when she travelled to Windsor in 1563.  The volume opens with a hand-drawn and coloured title page, the border of which contains Tudor roses and the coats of arms both of Elizabeth and Eton College. 

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Poems in Latin by Giles Fletcher, with an acrostic,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, f. 28v 

The Latin verses were composed by pupils of Eton College.  The most frequent contributor to the volume, with eleven poems, was ‘Fletcher’.  Giles Fletcher (bap. 1546, d. 1611) later served as one of Elizabeth’s diplomats, undertaking a perilous embassy to the court of Tsar Feodor I at Moscow between June 1588 and July/August 1589.  Like several of his fellow-pupils, Fletcher employed elaborate acrostics to encode Elizabeth’s name or encomia into his poems: the first and last letters of each line in the above poem read ‘Vivente te vivimus, te remota moriemur’ (‘We live while you live, we will die when you leave’). 

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Poems in Latin by ‘Frankline’ and ‘Flemmynge’, with acrostics,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, f. 56v 

‘Frankline’ and ‘Flemmynge’ (Samuel Flemming, later prebendary of Southwell) used the same device to bid their monarch ‘Farewell [and] prosper’ (‘Valeto, vivito’ and ‘Vive, Vale’).  ‘Hunt’ went one step further, using his acrostic to declare ‘Vestra secundet Christus Iesus’ (‘May Jesus Christ favour your endeavours’) (ff. 33r-33v). 

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Coat of arms of Eton College, with Latin verse,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, f. 72r

What spurred the composition of such a book?  William Malim (b. 1533, d. 1594), Headmaster of Eton College, prefaced the poems with a dedicatory Greek quatrain.  Perhaps he hoped his and his pupils’ praise would secure the patronage and favour of the new monarch (he may have been involved in producing a similar book – now Royal MS 12 A LXVII – when he became High Master of St Paul’s school ten years later).  The coat of arms of both of Elizabeth and the College were painted in at the end of the volume, and lavishly embellished with silver leaf (now oxidised into a dull grey), with verses on both, providing a reminder of the source of the gift. 

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Opening of a prayer in Latin prose against the plague,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, f. 62r 

Yet there was a serious side to all this flattery.  Elizabeth’s departure from London had been prompted by an outbreak of the plague in the city.  Only five years on the throne, and without either husband or heir, the Queen’s position and the stability of the nation as a whole seemed precarious.  After the political and religious upheavals of previous reigns, such anxieties were sharply felt by Elizabeth’s subjects.  After all the plaudits and praise, the elaborate exercises in Latin composition and inventive word-play, a prayer in Latin prose follows: ‘In order that the contagion of the ravaging plague may be diverted as long as possible from our most fair and noble Queen...’ 

- James Freeman

07 October 2014

Magna Carta: Be Part of History

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Would you like to be part of history? Next February, the four original Magna Carta manuscripts, granted by King John of England in 1215, will be united for the very first time at the British Library in London. Today, we're announcing the launch of a ballot, giving 1,215 winners the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see those four documents side-by-side.

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The British Library in London, home to two of the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

Magna Carta is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John as a practical solution to a political crisis, Magna Carta has subsequently become venerated as an international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of power, and as a guarantor of individual liberties. Magna Carta has influenced the drafters of many constitutional documents (including the United States Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and three of its clauses remain on the English statute book, including the most famous, which states that:

'No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.'

Once King John had agreed to the terms of Magna Carta in June 1215, copies were drawn up for distribution throughout England, most probably to be sent to the bishops for safe-keeping. Four of these original documents still survive, two of which are kept at the British Library, one at Lincoln Cathedral and one at Salisbury Cathedral.

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Salisbury Cathedral, home of one of the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. To kick-start that year of international celebrations, the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral are inviting 1,215 people to see these four Magna Carta manuscripts together for the very first time, for one day only (Tuesday, 3 February 2015).This will be part of a special event at the British Library, sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm, and including a separate opportunity for academics working on the Magna Carta Project (sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) to study the manuscripts in close detail.

So here's what you need to know. The ballot to win tickets to this event goes live today. It's free to enter, and the ballot will remain open until 31 October, after which the winners will be selected at random. In addition to being given this once-in-a-lifetime chance to view the four Magna Carta manuscripts in one place, the winners will be given a special introduction to the history and legacy of Magna Carta from historian and TV presenter Dan Jones. They will also each receive a special edition Magna Carta gift bag containing free passes to each of the upcoming exhibitions at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, plus a Certificate of Attendance, inscribed with the winner’s name and sealed in wax with a special stamp created to mark the day.

Following the unification, the four Magna Carta manuscripts will return to their home institutions to be displayed as part of the 800th anniversary celebrations. The British Library's own exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, runs from 13 March to 1 September 2015, and separate exhibitions will be held at Salisbury and Lincoln Cathedrals.

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Lincoln Cathedral, home of another of the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

If you want to learn more about the background to Magna Carta, you can now also visit the British Library's new Magna Carta webpages.

Good luck to everyone who enters the ballot. We look forward to meeting the lucky winners on 3 February, and if you're not lucky this time round, we'd be delighted to see you at our respective Magna Carta exhibitions in 2015.

01 October 2014

A Calendar Page for October 2014

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

While the summer growing season may be over, the agricultural labours are by no means at and end, as these calendar pages for the month of October display.  On the opening folio is a roundel miniature of a man scattering grain in a plowed field.  Behind him are some turreted buildings and a bridge, while above, some hopeful birds are circling.   On the facing folio is a small painting of an ominous-looking scorpion, for the zodiac sign Scorpio.  Below, a tired man is heading home from his labours in the field, carrying a bag on his shoulders.  His dog is bounding before him, and swans can be seen swimming in the river beside.

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Calendar page for October, with a roundel miniature of a man sowing grain, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 10v

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Calendar page for October, with a roundel miniature of a man heading home after his work is done, with the zodiac sign Scorpio, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 11r

- Sarah J Biggs