THE BRITISH LIBRARY 

Medieval manuscripts blog

547 posts categorized "Medieval"

04 February 2016

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Now Online

Add comment Comments (0)

We are pleased to announce that four of the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Chronicle manuscripts have been digitised in full as part of our Anglo-Saxon manuscripts digitisation project and are now available on our Digitised Manuscripts website:

 

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_iv_f080v
'Always after that it grew much worse': end of the entry for 1066, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D-text, England, mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, f. 80v 

The term ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ refers to a series of annalistic chronicles, arranged by year, which were written primarily in Old English between the 9th and 12th centuries. These annals record information on a huge variety of subjects from major battles and Viking invasions to famines and agricultural issues, from ecclesiastical restructurings to notes on the death of notable people from across Britain. Some annals even include poems about kings and battles. Although all the annals share some core text—the so-called ‘common stock’, which seems to have been compiled at some point during the reign of Alfred the Great— each text of the Chronicle has its own variations, omissions, and additions. It is therefore perhaps more correct to speak of ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicles’, as Simon Keynes has suggested.

The manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are still known by the letters assigned to them in the 19th century. They are:

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle A: the earliest surviving copy, now Cambridge, Corpus Christ College, MS 173, contains entries written at different times between the 9th and early 11th centuries, with a 12th century continuation. It is sometimes known as the ‘Parker Chronicle’, after Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave large parts of his collection of manuscripts to the University of Cambridge and particularly to Corpus Christi College, whose Parker Library is named after him.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle B: Cotton MS Tiberius A VI, copied in the late 10th century. This chronicle covers the period between 60 BC and 977 AD. It is sometimes called the ‘Abingdon Chronicle’ or ‘Abingdon Chronicle I’ because one of its last entries refers to Abingdon. Along with the C- and D-texts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it also contains a series of annals known as the ‘Mercian Register’, which recount the activities of Æthelflaed, lady of the Mercians, in the early 10th century. The Mercian Register provides an important contrast to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle itself, which focuses on the exploits of West Saxon kings, at the expense of other perspectives.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_vi_f030r
Page with the start of the Mercian Register, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle B-text , England, c.977-1000, Cotton MS Tiberius A VI, f. 30r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C: Cotton MS Tiberius B I, copied in the eleventh century and related to the B-text.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_i_f125r
Page from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C-text, England, 11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B I, f. 125r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D: Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, copied in the mid-late eleventh century. The added information it contains about Worcester and York has led some scholars to suggest it was written in the North or based on a ‘Northern Recension.’

  Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_iv_f066r
Page with the start of the entry for 1016, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D-text, England, mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, f. 66r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle E: copied and compiled in the twelfth century at Peterborough Abbey, and sometimes known as the ‘Peterborough Chronicle’. It is currently in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc 636.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle F: Cotton MS Domitian A VIII, written in the late 11th century at Christ Church, Canterbury. This is notable for being a bilingual version of the chronicle, with Latin versions of each annal following the Old English versions.

  Cotton_ms_domitian_a_viii_f032r
Page from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle F-text, England (Canterbury), late 11th century, Cotton MS Domitian A VIII, f. 32r

Additionally, several fragments of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle survive, which are kept at the British Library. These include the G fragment (in Cotton MS Otho B IX and Cotton MS Otho B X), which seems to contain early entries but was burnt in the Ashburnham House fire of 1731. Additionally, H, also known as the Cottonian Fragments, is contained in Cotton MS Domitian A IX.

The British Library has also recently digitised a separate series of Easter table annals that were kept and compiled at Canterbury in the mid-and late-11th century. These annals notably did not mention the Norman Conquest, although a later hand added ‘Her co[m] Willelm’ to the annal for 1066.

Cotton_ms_caligula_a_xv_f135r
Detail from Easter Table Annals, England (Canterbury), late 11th century-12th century, Cotton MS Caligula A XV, f. 135r

All these manuscripts have had varied and colourful histories, which are reflected in the medieval additions and early modern annotations scattered throughout, and in the modern period some of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle manuscripts have been bound with other interesting texts which we have now digitised as well. These include the 11th-century copies of the Old English version of Orosius’s Historia adversus paganos and the poems Maxims II and the Menologium (in Cotton Tiberius B I); the earliest surviving fragments of the early twelfth-century Latin legal compilation Quadripartitus and a list of Welsh cantrefi (in Cotton Domitian A VIII); cartularies from Ely and Gloucester (in Cotton Tiberius A VI and Cotton Domitian A VIII, respectively); and a variety of anonymous late medieval and Anglo-Norman chronicles, all now available online.

Cotton_ms_domitian_a_viii_f162r
Scutum Dei Triangulum, England, mid-15th century, Cotton Domitian A VIII, f. 162r

~ Alison Hudson

01 February 2016

Exploding Eyes, Beer from Bath-Water and Butter from Nettles: the Extraordinary Life of Brigid of Kildare

Add comment Comments (1)

 

Today, February 1st, is the feast day of saint Brigid of Kildare (d. c. 524).  Brigid or ‘Brigit’ or ‘Bride’ was a virgin and abbess, and is the patron saint of dairymaids, poets, blacksmiths and healers. She is one of the most popular medieval Irish saints, with numerous churches and shrines dedicated to her both in Ireland and elsewhere. Her iconographical emblem is the cow.

There are multiple versions of the life of Brigid in both Old Irish and Latin. The earliest, written in Latin, dates from around a century after her death. All the versions are hazy in their biographical detail, but what they lack in biography, they more than make up for with colourful miracle stories.

A lot of the stories about Brigid, in each of the versions of her life, or ‘hagiography’, revolve around food – we find miracles associated with milk, butter, bacon and also beer. The library holds a very early manuscript of one of the Latin versions of Brigid’s life, Additional MS 34124. It dates from 850 and comes from Benediktbeuren in Germany. There is a story in this manuscript about how one night Brigid was expecting guests and realised she was short of food. Fearing that the evening’s feast would be ruined, she was able to change nettles into butter and tree bark into ‘the richest and most delicious bacon’. (Chapter 119)

Many of these miracle stories mirror stories from the Gospels. In John 2:2-12, we find the story of how Christ turns water into wine at the Supper at Cana. In the earliest Latin life of Brigid, by Cogitosus, we find a similar story in which Brigid realises she has no beer to give to her guests, whereupon ‘with the power of her faith’ was able to turn bath-water into beer. (Chapter 8)

Alongside the miracles associated with food and beer, there are also miracles involving amorous misadventures. A story from the earliest Irish life, from a manuscript in the Bodleian library in Oxford (MS Rawlinson B. 512) describes how a man came to Brigid’s house and asked for her hand in marriage. Having sworn a vow of virginity, Brigid was not taken with the idea. She declined the offer, but - ever magnanimous – offered her suitor an alternative. The text relates how she instructed him to go to a wood to the west of his house. In the wood, she tells him, he will find a house in which there is a beautiful maiden – he will know her because she will be washing her father’s head. Perhaps fearing that the suitor’s charms might be lost on this maiden, Brigid tells him ‘I shall bless your face and your speech so that they shall take pleasure in whatever you will say’. (Chapter 15) Brigid might make a suitable patron saint for first dates as well.

One of the Latin lives has a different version of this story. In this version Brigid is encouraged to take the hand of her suitor by her father and brothers. Reluctant to do this, she prays to God to be afflicted with a bodily deformity, whereupon, the life describes how ‘one of her eyes burst and liquefied in her head’. (Chapter 19)

A much later writer, Gerald of Wales (d. c. 1220) in his topographical guide to Ireland, dedicated to Henry II, has extensive descriptions of Brigid’s abbey and shrine. He describes a fire kept burning at the shrine, which is tended by a small group of nuns. The fire never goes out, and despite burning for centuries, it never produces any ash. It is surrounded by a hedge, which no man is allowed to enter. Only women are allowed to tend to the fire and to blow on it. Gerald relates a story about how an archer lept over the hedge and blew on the fire. On jumping back over the hedge, the archer began to lose his senses and blow into the faces of everyone he met. Then, consumed by thirst, he begged his friends to take him to some nearby water, where he drank so much that he burst. (Chapter 77)

You can see an image of Brigid’s fire, from a manuscript of Gerald of Wales’ Topographia Hiberniae (Royal MS 13 B VIII, f.23v) held at the library here. In the right of the image we can see the archer ill-advisedly blowing on the fire and then subsequently attempting to sate his thirst at a river.

Brigid's fire

Here you can see two of calendar pages from Books of Hours (prayer-books) for the month of February. In them, you can see saint Brigid’s name at the start, next to February 1st. This one (Additional MS 21114, f. 1v), produced in Northern France in the thirteenth century, shows a man cutting branches. The word ‘brigide’ is visible in the third line.  

Brigid calendar

In this one (Egerton MS 2076, f. 2r) produced in Germany in the early sixteenth century, the words ‘Brigide virginis’ are visible in the second line.   

Calendar page brigid

 

Mary Wellesley, Feast of Saint Brigid, 2016.

Further Reading:

For a translation of the earliest life of Brigid in Latin, by Cogitosus, see S. Connolly and J.M. Picard, ‘Cogitosus: Life of Saint Brigit’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 117 (1987), 5-27.

A translation of the earliest Old Irish life of Brigid can be found in M. A. O’Brien, ‘The Old Irish Life of Saint Brigit’, Irish Historical Studies, I (1938-9), 121-34.

A translation of another version of the Latin life, from a manuscript found in the library’s collection can be read in S. Connolly, ‘Vita Sanctae Brigitae: Background and Historical Value’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 118 (1988), 5-49.

A translation of Gerald of Wales’ Topographia Hibernica can be read in Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, ed. and trans. by John J. O’Meara (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982).

A Calendar Post for February 2016

Add comment Comments (0)

For more information about the Bedford Hours, please see our post for January 2016; for more on medieval calendars in general, our original calendar post is an excellent guide.

Add_ms_18850_f002r
Calendar page for February from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

The calendar pages for February are just as lavishly decorated as those for January, filled with coloured initials and gold foliage.  At the bottom of the first folio is a miniature of another pleasant winter labour, that of warming oneself before a fire.  The gentleman in this scene has just removed one of his boots and is extending his foot towards a roaring fire, presumably after coming in from the cold.

Add_ms_18850_f002r_detail2
Detail of the miniatures for warming oneself and the zodiac sign Pisces, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

Alongside is a miniature of two fish connected by a single line, hovering above an ocean and below a star-studded sky – this for the zodiac sign, Pisces.

Add_ms_18850_f002r_detail1
Detail of a marginal roundel with Februa and flowers, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

Above in a roundel is an elegantly-dressed lady in a red dress trimmed with ermine; she is holding a bunch of flowers close to her face.  This unusual scene is explained by the rubrics at the bottom of the folio, which describe how this month is named after a woman called ‘Februa’, who ‘according to the poets’ was the mother of Mars, the god of war.  Rather unusually, she is said to have conceived her son by ‘kissing and adoring a flower’.

Add_ms_18850_f002v
Calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2v

The remaining saints’ days are laid out in the following folio, with a bit of space left blank because of the shortness of the month.  The roundels once again illustrate the bottom verses, which describe a procession around the city and the annual February Festival of Fools.

Add_ms_18850_f002v_detail1
Add_ms_18850_f002v_detail2
Detail of a marginal roundels of a city procession and the Festival of Fools, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2v

-  Sarah J Biggs

29 January 2016

Caption Competition Number 4

Add comment Comments (7)

Sometimes we come across images that are just perfect for creative captions.  Here is one from an Apocalypse manuscript which has recently been fully digitised, Harley MS 4972.  It is filled with great images, including some weird hybrid concoctions.  So, over to you, dear, witty readers: how would you caption this image? The winner will be announced on the blog early next week.

Harley_ms_4972_f014r
Detail from Apocalypse in Prose, South-east France (Lorraine), 4th quarter of 13th century- 1st quarter of the 14th century, Harley MS 4972, f. 14r

28 January 2016

Tales of Half-Friends, Bedcovers and Sheep crossing streams: A parental lecture of the 13th century

Add comment Comments (0)

 Harley MS 527, a collection of romantic and didactic texts, mostly in Anglo-Norman French has recently been fully digitised. Of particular interest is a version of Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis in Anglo-Norman French verse. This popular text is of Eastern origin and consists of a series of moral tales or exempla used by a father to instruct his son; Ward includes it in his Catalogue of Romances in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum vol 2, (1893) under ‘Eastern Legends and Tales’.

Harley_ms_527_f032v
Prologue of the Chastoiement d'un Père à son fils, England (or France), 4th quarter of the 12th century to 1st half of the 13th century, Harley MS 527, f. 32v

Petrus Alfonsi, the author of the Latin text, was formerly known as Rabbi Moses Sephardi and was physician to Alfonso I of Aragon.  When he converted to Christianity, he took the name Alfonsi in honour of his patron, and his writings often deliberately reject the teachings of Judaism to demonstrate his loyalty to his new religion

 

K060808
Detail of Alfonso of Aragon, with a prisoner brought before him, France, Paris, 4th quarter of the 14th century, after 1380, Royal 20 C VII, f. 23v

First Alfonsi and then later the unknown French translator of this work added detail and dialogue to embellish the original Eastern version and, in the latter instance to enhance its appeal to the 13th century public; for example a fox appears in some versions and ‘Paris’ is substituted for ‘Pareis’ or ‘Parais’ (Old French for ‘paradise’). However, some references to Eastern culture are retained, such as the mention of a ‘prodom’ (gentleman) who goes on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

There are 6 surviving copies in the Anglo-Norman dialect, of which the British Library has two: Harley MS 527 and Harley 4388, another collection of tales and proverbs.

C13131-08
Text page with decorated initials, England or France, 1st quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 4388, f. 41v

Of the 6 known versions in Old French (as written in France during this period, as compared to the Anglo-Norman dialect of England), one is currently in the British Library. Additional MS 10289 is a manuscript from Mont Saint Michel that has featured in a number of blogposts as it also contains the legend of Titus and Vespasian and the Romance of Mont Saint Michel.

Add_ms_10289_f133r
Puzzle initial at the beginning of Le Chastoiement d'un Père à son fils, in Old French, from a St Michel manuscript, 4th quarter of the 13th century, France (Normandy), Add MS 10289, f. 133r

The Anglo-Norman text of Le Chastoiement in Harley MS 527 contains 26 tales by which a father instructs his son how to conduct his relationships with God and his fellow man, i.e. his friends, parents and spouse.  The father begins with an appeal for his son’s undivided attention. Does this sound familiar to fathers and sons who read our blog ?

 

 Beu fiz dist il a me entent                                            Good son, he said, listen to me

Ne lessez pas coler au vent                                         Do not let the wind blow away

Ceo ke tun pere te dirat                                                                What your father is going to tell you

Si ben le entendes il te vaudrat                                 He wants you to listen carefully.

 

The tales that follow are colourful, entertaining and sometimes gruesome.  Though Harley 527 is not illuminated, we have found images from other manuscripts to illustrate some of the tales. I include some of Ward’s quaint and amusing titles in English.

 

011ARU000000091U0018800a
Caesarius' body in a sack, from a Passionale,  England, S. E. (Canterbury), 1st quarter of the 12th century, Arundel MS 91, f. 188r

The Half-Friend or ‘Le Demi Ami’: a father asks his son how many friends he has made in his life to date, and the son answers 100.  The father on the other hand, says he has only half a friend, and is sceptical of his son’s claim.  To test the loyalty of the son’s friends, he tells him to place an animal carcass in a sack, pretend it is a human body and ask his friends to help him dispose of it.  In the end only the father’s ‘half-friend’ comes to his assistance. The father tells his son that only someone who will help when you are in need is a true friend and he follows with the second tale about ‘Two Merchants (‘Les Deux Amis’), one from Baghdad and one from Egypt, one of whom is prepared to sacrifice his true love and the other his life for his friend.

Next the father warns his son that many women are deceitful and evil and that men need God’s help to protect them from their wiles. The exempla seem rather to show the extraordinary ingenuity of the women in question! In all three tales the husband returns home unexpectedly while the wife is entertaining her lover.

 

K061043
Vulcan finding Venus and Mars together, from The Roman de la Rose, France, Central? (Paris?), c. 1380, Egerton MS 881, f. 141v

In ‘Le Borgne’ or ‘The Man with the injured eye’ a man blinds himself in his one eye while dressing his vines and returns home for some tlc from his wife.  She is otherwise occupied and hides her lover in the bed, then tells her husband she will administer a charm to help him. She places her mouth over his good eye, blocking his vision while the lover escapes, telling him that her charm that will prevent him from injuring his other eye, and with that she sends him off to bed!  In the next tale, The Husband who had a bed-coverlet held before him or ‘La Toile tendue’, the wife and her mother hold up a new quilt or bed cover they have made for the husband to admire, while the lover escapes behind it.

C13344-52
Women washing clothes in wooden tubs, from the Splendor Solis, Germany, 1582, Harley MS 3469, f. 32v

Found in a unique Anglo-Norman version in Harley MS 527, ‘The Cuvier‘ or the Gallant hidden under the washing-tub  is a further variation on the above tales, with the lover in a similarly ridiculous position, the husband fooled, and the devious wife triumphant, though shown in a thoroughly bad light.

Harley_ms_527_f038r
Le
Cuvier, an exemplum from the Chastoiement d'un Père à son fils, Harley MS 527, f.38r

Unsurprisingly, the son seems to enjoy these tales and keeps asking for more.  After another such tale, he naturally decides he will not marry, and the father has to tell him the tale of a clever and virtuous woman. Of course the latter tale is rather boring so we will not go into details here !

In the time-honoured way of parents, the father cannot resist slipping in tales of respect for one’s elders and superiors, and then there is the story of a young clerk who is enticed into a tavern and who comes to a bad end.  One can imagine the son rolling his eyes at this obvious propaganda, nevertheless he keeps asking his father for more stories.

 

K90058-22a
Solomon instructing his son, from a Bible historiale, France, Central (Paris and Clairefontaine), 1411, Royal MS 19 D III, f. 289r

The tenth exemplum is a very clever tale of ingenuity and a riposte by the father to the son’s insatiable demands. In ‘Le Conteur’ or ‘The Storyteller, found in Add MS 10289 but not in the Harley manuscript, a king’s storyteller tells him five stories each night until, on one occasion, the king is not sleepy and demands more.  Unlike Scheherazade, who had to tell stories for 1001 nights, the clever storyteller invents the following ruse so that he can go to sleep without losing his head.  He begins a tale about a peasant returning from a fair where he has bought many sheep, and who needs to cross a stream with them to get home.  The only way across is with an old woman in a small boat that can only take two sheep at a time. After relating how the first two sheep cross, the storyteller falls asleep. When the king wakes him to demand that he continue, he says that it is going to take hours for the sheep to cross the wide river in the slow boat, so they may as well sleep in the meantime and resume the tale in the morning.  The king is pleased with his storyteller’s cleverness and he is allowed to go back to sleep.

~Chantry Westwell

Further Reading

H.L.D. Ward, Catalogue of Romances in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum, vol 2 (1893), pp. 253-58.

Le Chastoiement d'un père à son fils, a critical edition, ed. by Edward D Montgomery, Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures, 101 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971).

Ruth J. Dean, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1999), nos 184, 263.

20 January 2016

New Arrivals for the New Year on Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

Add comment Comments (0)

A new year brings a new update to the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts – a host of new images and new manuscripts are now available online.  As many users of this catalogue will know, it complements our Digitised Manuscripts website, where complete manuscripts are digitised. CIM (our pet name for it) focuses on the illuminations, providing a selection of images with each catalogue entry, and the in-depth image descriptions are designed to allow searches for details within the images. For instance, the Advanced Search allows users to search for an image of a horse in a French manuscript of the 14th century. 13 horses of all shapes and sizes appear, from manuscripts as diverse as the Roman de Brut and the Queen Mary Psalter, including this one from the Chroniques de France:

K137598
Detail of a miniature of Brunhilda being dragged by hands and hair behind a horse, France, Central (Paris), 1332-1350,  Royal 16 G VI, f. 87

All images in the catalogue are in the public domain, so they are free to download and use.  See http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/reuse.asp for guidelines. For this reason we continue to add manuscripts that are already fully digitised, in some cases.

Once again, we have mostly worked on French manuscripts in the Additionals collection. Here is a selection of new additions.

Illuminated Apocalypses: a gift from the team in Medieval manuscripts to cheer up a bleak January day (or not !): 9 new manuscripts have been added, including the usual weird/horrific images:

Add MS 19896

K138430
A two-part miniature of the Devil, the Beast the False Prophet and all the Wicked in the lake of fire and brimstone (above); God in a mandorla judging the Dead, with books opened (below), Germany, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Add MS 19896, f. 22

Add MS 17333

K151518
Half-page framed miniature of the angel showing John the heavenly city with a decorated initial and foliate partial border, France, N. W. (Normandy), c.1320-1330, Add MS 17333, f. 45v

Add MS 22493

059384
Framed miniature of the Rider on the Pale Horse, depicted as a skeleton with the two mouths of hell behind him, France, N.E. (Lorraine: Metz or Verdun), 4th quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 22493, f. 3v

Images from these three Apocalypses, together with Add MSS 17399, Add MS 19896, Add MS 38118 and Add MS 38121 appear online for the first time. Add MS 11695 (the amazing Silos Apocalypse), Add MS 35166 and Add MS 15243 are already in Digitised Manuscripts, but have been added to the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts with a selection of images and detailed descriptions.

Further horrors are on view in this manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy, added to the 7 already in the catalogue:

B20133-15
Bas-de page scene of the sowers of discord displaying their wounds (left); Bertrand de Born depicted twice, showing Dante and Virgil his severed head, from Canto 28 of the Inferno, Italy, S. (Naples), c. 1370, Add MS 19587, f. 47v

3 manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose have been added to the 11 already in the catalogue. Here are images from two of them:

Add MS 31840

B20153-25
Framed miniature of the Lover asleep at the beginning of the Roman de la Rose, with full foliate border and hounds chasing rabbits in the lower section, France, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 31840, f. 3

Add 42133

C02249-01
Framed miniature of the God of Love locking the Lover's heart with a large gold key, from the Roman de la Rose, France (Paris),  4th quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 42133, f. 15

 

A magnificent Bible Historiale in 2 volumes. Here is an image from volume 2:

A80139-84
The beginning of the Book of Matthew with a half-page framed miniature of the Trinity and the four Evangelists with the coat of arms of England and France, illuminated initial and a full foliate border, France, C. (Paris), c. 1420, Add MS 18857, f. 148

Add MS 10628

­The Kalendarium of John Somer.  The contents are related to the series of physicians’ folding almanacs we recently published in Digitised Manuscripts, as described in a recent blogpost, Almanacs Online

 011ADD000010628U00025000

Diagram of Zodiac Man with symbols and labels of the signs of the zodiac, England, S.W., c.1383-1384, Add MS 10628, f. 25

Montecassino Exultet Roll

Lastly a manuscript that is also available on Digitised Manuscripts but worth including in CIM for its unusual format and beautiful early images from Montecassino. It includes the Exultet, a hymn sung by a deacon during the consecration of the Paschal candle, during the Easter Vigil. See our blog post from 2013, which explains why the images are upside down!

 C0889-07

A miniature of the Crossing of the Red Sea and a miniature of the Harrowing of Hell, Italy, S. (Monte Cassino), c. 1075, Add MS 30337, membrane 7

Other new additions are

Add MS 16441, Roman d’Athis et Porfilias

Add MS 18856, Bible Historiale, vol 1

Add MS 36673, Guiron le Courtois

Add MS 72707: A leaf from the Hungerford Hours. Other leaves from this manuscript in the British Library are:

Add MS 61887 

And Add 62106 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Chantry Westwell

18 January 2016

Elves and Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

Add comment Comments (1)

Recently, three beautiful Mercian prayerbooks from the late 8th and early 9th century have been uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts as part of our Anglo-Saxon manuscripts digitisation project. These manuscripts, which  were probably made somewhere in what is now western England, are notable for a variety of reasons: the distinctive initials, the earliest known copy of a Lorican prayer (a prayer of protection developed in Ireland), and the use of female pronouns in some prayers, suggesting they may have been made or owned by women.

Royal_ms_2_a_xx_f017r
Initial with a biting beast from the Royal Prayerbook, England (Kingdom of Mercia), late 8th- early 9th century, Royal MS 2 A XX, f. 17r

Harley_ms_2965_f004v
Initial from the Book of Nunnaminster, England (Kingdom of Mercia), late 8th- early 9th century, Harley MS 2965, f. 4v

Harley_ms_7653_f001r
Detail of a Latin prayer with female forms (‘ut pro me d[e]i famula oretis’), from the Harley Prayerbook, England (Kingdom of Mercia), late 8th- early 9th century, Harley MS 7653, f. 1r

One of these prayerbooks-- the Royal Prayerbook, Royal MS 2 A XX-- is also notable for containing one of the earliest known written reference to an elf (ælf or ylfe in Old English).  Unlike the heroic and otherworldly beings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga or Santa’s jolly assistants in American literature, the elf in this text seems to be rather sinister. The prayer in which the elf is mentioned seems to be an exorcism: ‘I conjure you, devil of Satan, of (an/the) elf, through the living and true God...that he is put to flight from that person’ (translated from the original Latin by Alaric Hall, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2007), p. 72).

Royal_ms_2_a_xx_f045v
Detail of a prayer mentioning an ‘ælf’, from the Royal Prayerbook, Royal MS 2 A XX, f. 45v

The association of Satan with an elf or someone called ‘Elf’ may reflect pre-Christian beliefs in Anglo-Saxon society. We have no direct written evidence for pre-Christian society or even later popular beliefs amongst the Anglo-Saxons; however, belief in elves features in later medieval accounts of Norse paganism, which may have shared some elements of its mythology with Anglo-Saxon paganism. The author of this prayer may have compared Satan to an elf to help his or her Anglo-Saxon audience understand who Satan was and what his powers were.

Elves also have negative connotations in Bald’s Leechbook, a collection of Anglo-Saxon medical remedies and diagnostic guides which has also now been digitised and put online (for more information about this manuscript, see our post Bald’s Leechbook Now Online). On the page shown below, there are charms which suggest elves could cause pain in domestic animals. Elves are also associated with diseases of the head and with mental illness in the leechbooks.

Royal_ms_12_d_xvii_f106r
Charms mentioning elves, Bald’s Leechbook, England (Winchester?), 1st half of 10th century, Royal MS 12 D XVII, f. 106r

Likewise, in Beowulf, elves (spelt ylfe) were included amongst the races of monsters. They are mentioned in a passage which, translated from the Old English by Seamus Heaney, claims:

‘...out of his (Cain’s) exile there sprang
ogres and elves and evil phantoms
and the giants too who strove with God’

Cotton_ms_vitellius_a_xv_f134r
A passage mentioning elves, from Beowulf, England, 1st quarter of 11th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 134r

However, elves may not always have entirely negative connotations in Anglo-Saxon lore. In the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries, many members of the West Saxon nobility gave their children names that included the element ‘ælf’: perhaps the most notable example is Alfred, or Ælfræd, the Great. Charters list many Ælfstans, Ælfgifus, and Ælfrics, although it is unclear if Anglo-Saxons chose names because they sounded like the supernatural beings called 'elves' or just as part of longstanding naming traditions. (See, for example, Fran Colman’s The Grammar of Names in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)).  

Very beautiful women were sometimes also compared to elves, although these texts suggest that such elfin beauty could lead to trouble. In the Anglo-Saxon poem about Judith, the Biblical heroine is described as ælfscinu, or beautiful like an elf.

Cotton_ms_vitellius_a_xv_f202r
Judith described as an elfin beauty, from Judith,
Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 202r

Thus, Anglo-Saxons imaginings of elves may also have been more complicated than our limited sources can reveal. Indeed, an early 10th-century glossary distinguished between different types of elves, such as mountain elves (dunelfen) and wood elves (wuduelfe), and used them to translate different types of nymphs from classical mythology.

Add_ms_32246_f021r
Detail of a glossary comparing nymphs to different types of elves, from a fragment of a schoolbook, England (Abingdon?), 1st quarter of 11th century, Additional MS 32246, f. 21r.

These are just a few of the references to elves in Old English literature. These references have sometimes been used to portray the Anglo-Saxons as superstitious and even credulous, but they appear in texts that exhibit complicated theological ideas, advanced linguistics, and even powerful medical remedies that have been verified using modern scientific techniques. And the idea of elves continues to fascinate many people to this day. So please click over to Digitised Manuscripts to explore these manuscripts and their elves.

-   Alison Hudson, Project Curator: Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

14 January 2016

A Belated Holiday Gift from Us: a Giant List of Digitised Manuscript Hyperlinks!

Add comment Comments (0)

It's that time of year again, friends, and we're pleased to (belatedly) celebrate the holidays by giving you a magnificent gift.  This gift is certainly worth the wait, though - a massive list of Digitised Manuscripts hyperlinks!  We're mixing it up a little bit this time, though, as the list is now a PDF, but fully searchable and with working hyperlinks.  You can download it here:  Download BL AMEM Digitised Manuscripts Master List.  There are 1429 manuscripts on this list now, we are staggered to report.

Add_ms_88991_f002v
Illuminated frontispiece of the marital arms of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford (created 1st Duke of Somerset, and Lord Protector in 1547) and his second wife, Lady Anne Stanhope, with the Seymour family motto ‘Foy pour Devoir’, from the Taverner Prayer Book, England (London), c. 1540, Add MS 88991, f. 2v

In honour of our biggest ever list of hyperlinks, we're pleased to share one of our smallest manuscripts, the Taverner Prayer Book (see above), which recently went online.  We've also added quite a few manuscripts from our Anglo-Saxon project, along with many from the illuminated collections in general.  We have some big plans for the coming year and many more manuscripts to share with you, so watch this space!

-   Sarah J Biggs