THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

707 posts categorized "Medieval"

18 August 2017

Discovering Literature: Beowulf to Chaucer

Add comment Comments (0)

What should you do when your Christmas is rudely interrupted by a Green Man, wielding an axe? How should you respond when a monster nightly terrorises your home? And what is the best way to entertain 29 travellers on the road to Canterbury? 

Pilgrims-leaving-canterbury-lydgate-royal18dii

Chaucer's pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, from 'The Siege of Thebes', by John Lydgate, England, 1457–60, Royal MS 18 D II, f. 148r


These are just some of the questions we’re going to be exploring in our latest on-site adult learning course, ‘Discovering Literature: Beowulf to Chaucer’, which offers students of any level the opportunity to learn more about the literature of medieval England. It contains Arthurian legends, dream-visions, dragons, chatty pilgrims and talking books. From the first great epic of English poetry, Beowulf, to the captivating tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, over six weeks participants will consider iconic works in Old English, Middle English and Anglo-Norman French, exploring the rich diversity of literary production in medieval England. We’ll be looking at works of comedy as well as of religious devotion, alongside haunting texts that explore the pain of adultery, loss and social exile.

Beowulf

Detail of the opening words of Beowulf, beginning 'Hwæt' ('Listen!), from Beowulf, England, 4th quarter of the 10th century or 1st quarter of the 11th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 132r.

The course uses original texts in translation but, with expert guidance, you’ll also be led through close-readings of selected passages in their original languages. The course runs over six weeks, on Tuesdays, from 24 October 2017, and the final session will feature a rare opportunity to work with original manuscripts from the British Library’s collections.

The course is available to 16 participants only, and places are limited, so book as soon as possible. The full course description and booking form is available here.

Mary Wellesley

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

17 August 2017

Snakes or scrolls? 11th-century wall paintings in Norfolk

Add comment Comments (0)

Our manuscripts contain so many hidden gems of medieval art, and one of this Blog's aims is to bring them to light. It is worth remembering, though, that many wonderful medieval paintings survive on the walls of country churches in forgotten corners of Britain. The styles and subjects are familiar, and they also have amazing stories to tell.

This image of a series of saints or apostles in roundels, holding scrolls, is from the wall of the tiny church of St Mary, Houghton-on-the-Hill, in Norfolk. which contains perhaps the most complete set of early medieval wall paintings in England; they date from the 11th century, shortly after the Norman Conquest of England. The figure on the right may be Jesus and on his left, not shown here, are demons, also holding scrolls (or are they snakes?).

Wpbd8f1e29_06

Nave east wall: detail of the border with the saints (and Christ) holding scrolls, St Mary’s, Houghton-on-the-Hill (courtesy of the Friends of St Marys website)

The shape of the scrolls and the way the figures hold them up recalls this image of King Edgar, with Bishops Dunstan and Æthelwold, in a copy of the Regularis Concordia, made at Christ Church, Canterbury. in the first half of the 11th century.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_iii_f002v

King Edgar, with Bishops Dunstan and Æthelwold, Regularis concordia, England (? Christ Church Canterbury), first half of the 11th century: British Library Cotton MS Tiberius A III, f. 2v

The way the wavy scroll is held up by the three figures above and its undulating shape, shaded in brown, green, mauve and ochre, repeated in the image of the monk holding the scroll below, is reminiscent of the wall painting. It has the same clear ochre outlines, though there is predominant use of yellow, and traces of white, red and green have been found on the plaster. However, the image in the Regularis concordia is clearly one long scroll held by all three people whereas the three in the St Mary’s church border are detached from each other.

St_Mary _Houghton-on-the-Hill _Norfolk_-_Interior_-_geograph.org.uk_-_309242

The east wall with the Last Judgement including the ‘Throne of God’ Trinity, St Mary’s Church, Houghton-on-the-Hill

The roundels are part of a scene of the Last Judgement that covered the east wall of the church, over the chancel arch. At the centre in a triple mandorla, now rather damaged, is a representation of the Trinity known as the ‘Throne of Grace’, where God the father, seated, holds the cross with Christ on it and a dove with wings outstretched represents the Holy Spirit. On God’s knee is a quatrefoil (not visible in the photographs), an Anglo-Saxon motif that indicates a very early date of before 1090 for these paintings; it is found in a number of 11th-century manuscripts.

In this image in the 'Eadui Psalter', the seated St Benedict has quatrefoil shapes on each knee, and one above and below. We have published a detailed analysis of those quatrefoils (with astonishing results) here.

Arundel_ms_155_f133r

A group of monks presenting a copy of the Rule of Benedict to St Benedict who sits enthroned while another monk prostrates himself at Benedict's feet, the 'Eadui Psalter', England, S.E. (Christ Church, Canterbury), 1st half 11th century, British Library Arundel MS 155, f. 133r

If the dating is correct, this remote church may contain the earliest known example of the ‘Throne of Grace’ Trinity. Two French works of the early 12th century are the earliest manuscript witnesses (Cambrai, Bibliotheque Municipale, ms. 0234 and Perpignan, Bibliotheque Municipale, 1: see Park and Heywood, ‘Romanesque Wall Paintings’). Representing the difficult concept of the Trinity in art was first undertaken in this period; the ‘Throne of Grace’, an early attempt to depict the relationship between the three figures, became the most popular form throughout Europe from the 12th century onwards. Here is a later example from the Egerton Psalter, originating in East Anglia in the late 13th century.

011EGE000001066U00083000

Historiated initial 'D'(ixit) with a Throne of Grace Trinity, the 'Egerton Psalter’, England (East Anglia), c. 1270–c. 1290: British Library Egerton MS 1066, f. 83r

A manuscript from the early 11th century (before 1029), containing a liturgical and computistical collection known as ‘Ælfwine’s Prayerbook’, has this image of the Trinity, with the Father and Son seated together and the dove on Mary’s head, as she holds the infant Christ.

Cotton_ms_titus_d_xxvii_f075v

The Trinity with Mary and a hell mouth below, Ælfwine’s Prayerbook’, England (New Minster, Winchester), 3rd decade of the 11th century: British Library Cotton MS Titus D XXVII, f. 75v

On the north wall of the church are scenes from the Old Testament, including a well-preserved image of God creating Eve from Adam’s rib, and a trace of what is believed to be Noah’s Ark. On the south wall is a fragment of a Wheel of Fortune (or perhaps a Wheel of Life), once again an early representation of this subject that was popular with later manuscript illuminators. The Friends of St Mary’s are currently raising funds to complete the uncovering of the medieval paintings on this wall.

E124020

Historiated initial 'D'(ixit) of the Wheel of Fortune, at the beginning of book 4. Quadripartitum of Ptolemy, England, 1st quarter of the 14th century: British Library Royal MS 12 F VII, f. 182v  

Although the subjects may be familiar, their innovative iconography and style for the Romanesque period, and the fact that they were created in a small church in a remote corner of Norfolk, makes these paintings exceptional. But even more exceptional is the story of their survival and restoration in the late 20th century.

Tower      St_Mary _Houghton-on-the-Hill _Norfolk_-_geograph.org.uk_-_309241

Photographs of the tower of St Mary’s church, Houghton-on-the Hill, before and after restoration

St Mary’s church is at the end of a bridleway, west of the village of North Pickenham in Norfolk, close to an old Roman road known as Peddars Way. The original village of Houghton-on-the-Hill was mentioned in Domesday Book, but earlier Saxon artefacts from the 5th to 7th centuries have been found in the fields nearby. Sir Robert Knolles, an infamous commander in the Hundred Years War, who ravaged large parts of Normandy, was Lord of the Manor from 1376 until his death in 1407. The church is believed to have been built in 1090 and was extensively altered in the 14th century, perhaps by Knolles. The congregation gradually dwindled as the village shrank in size and, following damage by a First World War Zeppelin in 1916, it was finally abandoned in 1937.

Wpdce93071_05_06

The interior of St Mary’s, Houghton-on-the-Hill, before restoration (courtesy of the Friends of St Marys website)

The crumbling, desecrated ruins, covered in ivy were discovered in 1992 by a remarkable local resident, Bob Davey, who, with his wife Gloria, worked tirelessly to restore this beautiful little church. Bob started and even paid for some of the restoration work himself, although once the wall paintings were discovered, experts were called in to continue the renovations.

Wpb32a15ee_06

Bob Davey MBE, with the wall paintings in the background (courtesy of the Friends of St Marys website)

Bob Davey is usually found at the church in the afternoon, accompanied by one of the Friends of St Mary's, and he talks movingly about the building he loves so much, its history and decoration. He has his own theories on the wall paintings. For him, the figures in the roundels are holding not scrolls but snakes: the ones on the right held by Satan and his companions (not shown), drooping down at the ends, signify the Fall; whereas those on the left held by the saints have upturned ends.   

With thanks to the Trustees of the Friends of St Mary’s for the information in this blogpost, for the use of their images and for their dedication to preserving this gem of medieval art, now a working church. Their website contains further information and opening hours.

 

Bibliography

Clive Rouse, Medieval Wall Paintings (Princes Risborough: Shire Publications, 4th edn., 1991).

David Park and Stephen Heywood, ‘Romanesque Wall Paintings Discovered in Norfolk’, Minerva, 8.2 (March/April 1997), 8–9.

‘Parish history booklet: Church of St Mary, Houghton-on-the Hill’ (Friends of St Marys, 2007), online here.

Nick Mayhew-Smith, Britain's Holiest Places (Bristol: Lifestyle Press Ltd, 2011), pp. 131–33.

Florence Close, ‘Imaginer l’indicible: à propos de la mise en mouvement des images dans les récits de visions de la Trinite des hagiographes et des mystiques médiévaux (vii-xiie siècles)’, MethIS (2016), 49–76 (pp. 50, n. 5), online here.

 

Chantry Westwell

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

15 August 2017

Call for papers: Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon England

Add comment Comments (0)

Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon England

A postgraduate and early career symposium on the book culture of early medieval England before 1100

On Saturday 15 December 2018 the British Library will be holding a postgraduate and early career symposium on Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon England. The symposium follows an international conference taking place on 13 and 14 December 2018. Both events are being held during a major exhibition on Anglo-Saxon England which will open at the British Library in October 2018. We expect that there will be a reduced joint registration fee for the conference and symposium for students and unwaged early career researchers.

Cotton_ms_vespasian_a_i_f031r

The Vespasian Psalter, 8th century: British Library Cotton MS Vespasian A I, f. 31r

Proposals for papers are invited from advanced postgraduate students and early career researchers. We wish to encourage paper proposals from a wide variety of institutions. This symposium is intended to foster discussion about books, documents, the uses of writing, the transmission of ideas, the survival of evidence, and intellectual contact within and beyond Anglo-Saxon England. Manuscripts that were made or used in Anglo-Saxon England should be central to all proposals.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_xiii_f077v

Liber Wigorniensis, early 11th century: British Library Cotton MS Tiberius A XIII, f. 77v

If you would like to submit a proposal, please complete the attached form (Download 2018 Anglo-Saxon Symposium CFP) and send it to Claire Breay (claire.breay@bl.uk) by 1 December 2017. Decisions will be announced by 2 February 2018.

Claire Breay

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

12 August 2017

Guess the song 2

Add comment Comments (0)

After last week's fantastic effort from our readers, the Guess the Song Competitionâ„¢ is back! The rules are simple: can you guess the song from the medieval manuscript images below?

So how does it work? These manuscript illuminations make up the lyrics to a classic song. If you're in the mood, try to guess the artist and song title. We'd love you to send us your answers via Twitter (did we ever mention we're on Twitter?) or using the comments page below this post. We’ll endeavour to retweet and publish the best answers, especially the ones that most amuse us.

Image 1_sloane_ms_981_f068r

Image 1, from a medical miscellany, last quarter of the 14th or first quarter of the 15th century, Sloane MS 981, f. 68r

 

Image 2_add_ms_47682_f033v

Image 2, from the Holkham Bible Picture Book, c. 1327–1335, Add MS 47682, f. 33v

 

Image 3_royal_ms_12_c_xix_f045r

Image 3, from a bestiary with theological tracts, c. 1200–c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 45r

 

Add MS 42130 f. 160r detail

Image 4, from the Luttrell Psalter, 1325–1340, Add MS 42130, f. 160r

 

Image 4_sloane_ms_4016_f096r

Image 5, from a herbal, c. 1440, Sloane MS 4016, f. 96r

10 August 2017

Pouncing beasts

Add comment Comments (1)

You are turning the pages of an ancient and beautiful manuscript. It is about the size of a modern A4 volume, although wholly different in smell (parchment has the kind of ineffable musk that makes fans of history swoon), appearance (it is bound in leather with handwritten text on its parchment pages), and weight (all that wood and animal skin adds up).

In almost every direction there are pen drawings of animals. The pictures are lively, sometimes with whole scenes showing creatures performing seemingly bizarre acts: a self-castrating beaver; a colourful tiger staring at a disk. What is more, nearly all these images are outlined with little pin holes. The book is an important member of an entertaining category of medieval illuminated manuscript: the bestiary. Those pin holes are also crucial, since they indicate that at some stage someone may have copied the images in this book.

Add ms 11283 f.22v 023r

Close scribal and artistic collaboration would have been necessary to produce pages like this double-spread showing images of birds: Add MS 11283, ff. 22v–23r

Bestiary texts offer animal-lore as a source of allegorical lessons for moral spiritual guidance. The earliest bestiary manuscripts date to the beginning of the 12th century. They were made throughout North-Western Europe, but the genre flourished most in England, eventually declining in popularity in the late 13th and 14th centuries. It may not surprise you to learn that bestiary images of animals were not drawn from nature, but from established artistic conventions.

This particular book has 102 images, drawn in pen and occasionally coloured. They would have been inserted after the text was written, so the scribe left gaps for the artist to fill.

Add ms 11283 f.4v detail

A beaver self-castrates to escape a hunter, Add MS 11283, f. 4v

Here we can see a beaver fleeing a hunter. It has removed and dropped its testicles — valued for their medicinal properties — in order to save its own life. This alarming depiction provided an allegorical model for the moral lesson that humans should cast away their vices to give the Devil no cause to pursue them.

Add ms 11283 f.2r

A colourful tiger nurses its own reflection, believing it has found its stolen cub, Add MS 11283, f. 2r

On another page we see the sad plight of the tiger. It is coloured with blue, green and red circles and stripes, pawing a disk decorated with the same colours. A man on horseback rides away, carrying a colourful cub in his arms. The text explains that if someone steals the cub of a tiger and they are chased by its mother, she will be distracted if a circle of glass or mirror is thrown before her, mistaking her own reflection for the lost cub in order to nurse it.

Pouncing

If you are fond of wordplay, you may think it apt that as well as the prowling, prancing, crawling and flapping subjects of this manuscript, it also bears the marks of having been used for ‘pouncing’. Pouncing was a post-medieval way of copying of images. Lines of holes would be made around the picture into a sheet below. This would then be removed, held over the surface intended to receive the copy and dusted with powder such as chalk or charcoal. The outline of the first image would be quickly and effectively transferred onto the new surface.

Add MS 11283 f.11v pricking

This image of a group of hoofed animals may have been outlined with pin holes in order for it to be copied via a technique known as pouncing: Add MS 11283, f.11v

Just as medieval scribes could copy texts from ‘exemplars’ (another manuscript used as a model), so later artists could copy their images. At some point, the images of this bestiary were outlined with pin holes, probably to allow them to be copied. We do not know when these holes were made in this particular manuscript, but they typically date to the post-medieval period. It is poignant to think that these holes were left by someone who admired the images as much as us. 

Amy Jeffs

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dans le nord-ouest de l’Europe, entre les XIIe et XIVe siècles, les bestiaires étaient un genre de manuscrits très populaire. Comme tous les bestiaires, Add MS 11283 décrit des animaux pour en tirer des leçons morales. Ce manuscrit est rempli d’illustrations amusantes : beaucoup d'images sont contourées avec des trous d'épingle, ce qui permettait de les transposer à l'aide d’un marquage au pochoir.

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

Supported by

Tag

08 August 2017

Illuminated manuscripts for polyglots

Add comment Comments (1)

Here at the British Library we have just completed our latest digitisation project, with over 100 manuscripts added to our website between January 2016 and July this year. The project, funded by a private donor, has focused on collection items in French and other European vernacular languages that are notable either for their illuminations or for texts of particular interest. A list of the manuscripts digitised in this project is available at online: Download French and Vernacular Illuminated project digitisation list. Here are examples of some of the most remarkable items from our collections newly available on Digitised Manuscripts.

Add_ms_18856_f003r
God with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, surrounded by angels and cherubim, a winged woman with a crown addressing a council of the Church, the four Evangelists and scenes from the Old and New Testament in roundels, from the Bible Historiale, France, Central (Paris), c.1420, Add MS 18856, f. 3r

Manuscripts in French

Among the numerous French manuscripts digitised are the Library’s remaining copies of the Roman de la Rose, a popular French allegorical poem beginning with a dream-vision of love, and developed by a second author into a discussion of the philosophical and scientific knowledge of the day. There are now 14 copies of this very popular text on Digitised Manuscripts. For details of the Rose manuscripts in our collections, see our blogpost, ‘Everything’s coming up Roses’.

Add_ms_31840_f003r
The Lover’s dream, from Roman de la Rose, France, Central? (Paris?), c. 1380, Add MS 31840, f. 3r

Some of the most beautifully-illuminated manuscripts in French tell familiar stories from the Bible and the classical past, allowing for imaginative depictions of well-known episodes and characters like Alexander the Great. The first image in this post is of a Bible Historiale, an illustrated collection of Bible stories and commentary. The Roman d’Alexandre is another example.

 

Harley_ms_4979_f017v
The coronation of Alexander and the wedding banquet of King Philip and Cleopatra, from the Roman d’Alexandre, Low Countries, 1st quarter of the 14th century. Harley MS 4979, f. 17v

Anglo-Norman is the version of French that evolved in England after the Norman Conquest, and in the 14th century it was still being used alongside Middle English and Latin. This volume is a compilation in all three languages, believed to have been produced in the Hereford area around 1320–1340, with an assortment of religious, mathematical, legal and astrological texts. This book is copied in an everyday cursive script with only minor decoration, but it is of great importance for the unique texts it contains, including the only known manuscript copy of the Romance of Fulk le Fitz-Warin, recipes in Anglo-Norman French and macaronic verses (with alternating lines in French, Latin and English).

Royal_ms_12_c_xii_f007r
Macaronic satirical verses from a prose and verse miscellany, England, Central (Hereford), 1st half of the 14th century, Royal MS 12 C XII, f. 7r

Manuscripts in Middle English

Manuscripts containing key Middle English texts have also been included in this project: we have digitised 8 of these, including works by Chaucer, Lydgate and Gower.

Yates_thompson_ms_47_f054r
Detail of a miniature of the discovery of Edmund's head with a scroll with gold inscription 'heer heer herr', with a wolf guarding it, and a man blowing a horn, from John Lydgate's Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund, between 1461 and c. 1475, England, S. E. (Bury St Edmunds?), Yates Thompson MS 47, f. 54r

Add_ms_37790_f137r
A Carthusian anthology of theological works in English includes works on contemplation by Julian of Norwich and Richard Rolle, 
'The myrroure of symple saules' a Middle English translation of a French text by Marguerite Porète, from the ‘Amherst Manuscript’, England, mid-15th century, Add MS 37790, f. 137r

Among the manuscripts digitised is a copy of the Canterbury Tales, with the spurious ‘Tale of Gamelyn’, not written by Chaucer, but of particular interest for the themes it shares with the contemporary Ballad of Robin Hood.

Harley_ms_1758_f068r
Prologue and opening lines of the Squire’s Tale from the Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, England; 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 1758, f. 68r

 

Manuscripts in other European vernacular languages featuring in the project include:

Middle Dutch

This version of the Medea legend in Middle Dutch has some extremely graphic images of Medea’s horrific actions and is followed by a work on the game of chess.

C11870-01
Jason, Creusa and her father, the King of Corinth are seated at the wedding table; Medea enters with four dragons and tears her son to pieces in front of them, from Medea and Dat Scaecspel (Chess Book) in Dutch, Add MS 10290, f. 138r 

Jacob van Maerlant’s Middle Dutch work, Der naturen bloeme (The Flower of Nature) is a natural encyclopaedia and bestiary in verse, written around 1270 at the request of the nobleman Nicolaas van Cats to contain all available knowledge about the natural world. Almost every page is illustrated, with some creatures more easily identifiable than others. This manuscript seems to have been a lending copy, and it is also notable for its book curse.

Add_ms_11390_f025v
A page from Der Naturen Bloeme  featuring a steer, a mole and other creatures, c 1300–c 1325, Netherlands, Add MS 11390, f. 25v

 

Occitan (Langue d’Oc) and Catalan

The Breviari d’Amor, composed by Matfre Ermengaud in 1288–1292 in Occitan (or Langue d’Oc, the dialect of Southern France), is a poem containing a compendium of contemporary knowledge under the umbrella of faith, and seen as a manifestation of God’s love. Ermengaud describes himself as a senher en leys e d’amor sers, in other words a master or doctor of law but also a poet who serves the ideal of love.

Royal_ms_19_c_i_f011v
The Tree of Love or 'Arbre d'Amor', with the figure of 'Amors Generals' at the centre, from the Breviari d’Amor in Occitan, early 14th century, France, S. (Toulouse?), Royal MS 19 C I, f. 11v

The work was adapted into Catalan prose. This magnificent copy comes from the collection of illuminated manuscripts formerly belonging to Henry Yates Thompson.  

Yates_thompson_ms_31_f039v
The Offices of the Angels from the Breviari d’Amor in Catalan prose, Spain, E. (Catalonia, Gerona?); last quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 31, f. 39v

Two other Yates Thompson manuscripts, MS 47 (see above) and MS 21, a copy of the Roman de la Rose have also now been digitised. For information on this collection, see the virtual exhibition in our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.   

Mantuan dialect of Italian

The extremely influential scientific work, De proprietatibus rerum, was compiled in the 1240s by a Franciscan, Bartholomeus Anglicus (Bartholomew the Englishman), for the instruction of his fellow Franciscans. This copy was translated from Latin into Mantuan for Guido dei Bonacolsi (d. 1309).

Add_ms_8785_f315r
Map of the world, supported by Christ, with the Continents depicted as different buildings, from De proprietatibus rerum, Italy, N. (Manua), c 1300–1309, Add MS 8785, f. 315r

A home-grown alphabetical encyclopaedia in Latin

Encyclopaedias have been a theme running through this project: to the De nature and the Breviari above, we can add the Omne Bonum, a huge alphabetical reference work compiled in the 14th century by the Englishman James le Palmer, who was clerk of the Exchequer under Edward III. Most of the entries are illustrated.

Royal_ms_6_e_vii!1_f001r
‘Ebrietas’ (Drunkenness), from the Omne Bonum, England, S. E. (London), c. 1360–c. 1375,  Royal MS 6 E VII/1, f. 1r

For further details, see our recent blogpost that accompanied the digitisation of these manuscripts. 

lluminated Apocalypse Manuscripts

And last but not least, the Apocalypse (the biblical book of Revelation with a commentary) was among the most popular works of the medieval period, and numerous illustrated copies were produced in England. 11 manuscripts in Latin, French or Middle English, and some in dual-language versions, have been digitised in this project, so that all 20 illuminated copies of the Apocalypse in our collections are now online. See our recent blogpost ‘The End of the World as we know it’ for the complete list.

This copy is in three languages, with the main text in Latin, a verse translation and prose commentary in Anglo-Norman French and an added paraphrase in Middle English prose.

Add_ms_18633_f022v
The dragon attacks the mother and child, from the Apocalypse in three languages, England, 2nd half of the 13th century, Add MS 18633, f. 22v

Chantry Westwell

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

05 August 2017

Guess the song competition!

Add comment Comments (5)

Here at the British Library we are dedicated to coming up with silly entertaining highly educational competitions to entertain our readers, and today is no different! The rules are simple: can you guess the song from the images below?

The following manuscript illuminations make up the lyrics to a classic song, and we want you to get on your thinking caps (and dancing shoes) to guess the artist and song title. Answers via Twitter please or through the comments page below this post. We’ll retweet and publish correct (or the most amusing) answers.

Update: thank you to everyone who took part: the answers are below (no peaking).

 

Image 1

Image 1, from John Lydgate’s Troy Book and Siege of Thebes, 1457–c. 1530, Royal MS 18 D II, f. 30v

 

Image 2

Image 2, from the Coldingham Breviary, c. 1270-1280, Harley MS 4664, f. 125v

 

Image 3

Image 3, from the Chroniques of Jean Froissart (the ‘Harley Froissart’), c. 1470–1472, Harley MS 4380, f. 1r

 

Image 4

Image 4, from a devotional miscellany, first half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 745, f. 68v

 

Did you have fun figuring out the answer to our guess-the-song competition? Find the solution below, well done everyone for taking part and stay tuned to our Blog for more quizzes!

Image 1 Lyric: That big wheel keep on turning

Image 2 Lyric: Proud Mary

Image 3 Lyric: Keep on burning

Image 4 Lyric: Rolling, rolling, rolling on the river

Song and Artist: Proud Mary, by Creedence Clearwater Revival / Ike & Tina Turner

 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval 

 

03 August 2017

The beautiful Bosworth Psalter

Add comment Comments (0)

Have you ever wondered how medieval manuscripts get their modern names? Did you know, for instance, that the so-called 'Bosworth Psalter' (British Library Add MS 375170) isn't named after the Battle of Bosworth Field (give yourself an extra bonus point if you knew that took place on 22 August 1485) but is instead so known because it may once have been kept in the library at Bosworth Hall in Buckinghamshire?

The beautiful Bosworth Psalter has recently been digitised as part of The Polonsky England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200. We're delighted that you can now explore it in full on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site, where you can drool over its sublime decoration and sumptuous script.

Add_ms_37517_f004r
The Beatus-initial (Beatus vir), which begins the book of Psalms. Add MS 37517, f. 4r. Possibly from Canterbury, 4th quarter of the 10th century.

The Bosworth Psalter is written in Latin, in one of the translations traditionally ascribed to St Jerome (d. 420). Over a period of nearly twenty-five years, St Jerome worked on translations of biblical texts from Greek and Hebrew into the Latin vernacular; he completed three versions or revisions of the Psalms. The first was made from the Greek Septuagint version, and is now commonly known as the Roman or Romanum Psalter because it was adopted by the church in Rome. One reason the Bosworth Psalter is so special is the purity of its text of St Jerome’s Roman version of the Psalms.

Add_ms_37517_f033r
Beginning of Psalm 51 (52), Quid gloriaris. Add MS 37517, f. 33r.

The Psalter’s large initials together with multi-coloured script divide the text in three parts at Psalms 1, 51 and 101, in a division of the so-called ‘three fifties’ that is found in English, but not most Continental manuscripts. The scribe used initials with interlace decoration, some zoomorphic elements and capital letters of varying size and colour to enhance the importance of these pages. At the beginning of Psalm 101, the first letter ‘D’'(omine) (Lord) is enhanced by delicate foliate forms.

Add_ms_37517_f064v
The beginning of Psalm 101 (102), Domine exaudi. Add MS 37517, f. 64v.

In addition to this threefold division, the other major divisions of a Psalter are also marked by large decorated initials, as in this initial for the beginning of Psalm 109, which in Benedictine monasteries is the Psalm sung at Vespers on Sundays.

The Bosworth Psalter was designed for use of a community following the Rule of St Benedict. In fact, it's the oldest English manuscript that includes all of the important texts of the Benedictine Office (Psalter, canticles, hymns and monastic canticles). 

Add_ms_37517_f074r
Beginning of Psalm 109 (110), Dixit Dominus. Add MS 37517, f. 74r.

It is the earliest surviving manuscript of the 'New Hymnal' from England. This hymnal was developed on the Continent in the 9th century, and expanded the number of hymns used in monastic services. The greater diversification of hymns meant that monks were able to avoid daily repetition of same hymns. The practice of singing a much expanded variety of hymns spread to England with the English Benedictine Reform movement in the second half of the 10th century. Because of this inclusion, it is generally thought that the Bosworth Psalter was made in and for one of the monastic houses in Canterbury during the archiepiscopate of St Dunstan (r. 959–988), a prominent proponent of monastic reform in Anglo-Saxon England.

Add_ms_37517_f105r
Beginning of the Hymnal. Add MS 37517, f. 105r.

The manuscript acquired different layers of additions: some pages are covered with Latin commentaries spreading from margin to margin.

Add_ms_37517_f052v
Some pages are filled with commentaries in Latin. Add MS 37517, f. 52v

Another remarkable feature is that parts of the Psalter and some of the canticles were glossed with Old English words, written above the Latin text, in the early 11th century.

Add_ms_37517_f054v
Beginning of Psalm 86 (85) Inclina domine aurem tuam ad me, with interlinear Old English gloss: onhyld drihten eare Ã¾in to me. Add MS 37517, f. 54v

We're sure you'd agree that the Bosworth Psalter is another superb addition to our Digitised Manuscripts collection. The magnificent artistry in the initials, and the importance of its text and annotations, make this a very special manuscript. Do go and explore this unique historical book online!

Tuija Ainonen

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

 

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

Supported by

PF Logo