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02 September 2014

Dictionaries: More Than Mere Words

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Back in March this year, we announced that we had saved an important fifteenth-century manuscript from export: the only complete copy of the Catholicon Anglicum, one of the earliest Middle English-Latin dictionaries.  Inspired by this fascinating linguistic and lexicographical source, in the intervening months we have been cataloguing other late medieval dictionaries in our collection. 

Add MS 22556, f. 47r
Entries beginning with the letter ‘G’, from the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England (Norfolk), 15th century, Add MS 22556
, f. 47r 

The Promptorium parvulorum (‘The Students’ Storehouse’), like the Catholicon, had its Middle English entries arranged alphabetically, but in two sections: 'nomina' (nouns, but also adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections) coming first, followed by 'verba' (verbs).  The British Library has four copies of this text in the collection: Add MS 22556, Harley MS 221, Harley MS 2274 (a fragment) and Add MS 37789

Add MS 37789, f. 1r
The prologue (‘preambulum’) to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England (Norfolk), late 15th century, Add MS 37789, f. 1r

The prologue to the Promptorium tells us that its compiler lived as a Dominican friar in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, in 1440.  Two of our copies – Add MS 22556 and Add MS 37789 – can be localised to Norfolk on the basis of linguistic evidence.  The compiler described himself as a recluse, and perhaps lived in an anchorage attached to the order’s house.  Although his name is unknown, the Promptorium is commonly assigned to ‘Geoffrey the Grammarian’ on the basis of an annotation in a printed edition of 1499.    

Add MS 37789, f. 84r
The explicit to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’ and incipit to the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, with scribal colophon of John Broke, Add MS 37789, f. 84r
 

In the sixteenth century, John Bale attributed the authorship of another late medieval dictionary to Geoffrey: the Medulla grammaticae.  The two texts had a close relationship in both manuscript and print.  In Add MS 37789, they are bound together within the same manuscript.  The title ‘Medulla grammaticae’ is sometimes attached as an alternative in early printed editions of the Promptorium parvulorum.  However, there is ultimately no evidence to support Bale’s attribution, which has proven more confusing than helpful to scholars. 

Harley MS 2257, f. 65r
The end of the list of entries beginning with ‘H’ and beginning of the list of entries beginning with ‘I’, with a pen-flourished initial, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, mid-15th century, Harley MS 2257, f. 65r
 

The Medulla grammaticae enjoyed a broader circulation than either the Catholicon or the Promptorium.  As its name suggests – Medulla grammaticae means ‘The Core of Grammar’ – its purpose was to aid the understanding of Latin grammar rather than composition, so logically the entries are arranged Latin-Middle English.  We have published detailed catalogue descriptions for each of our Medulla manuscripts, as follows: Add MS 24640, Add MS 33534, Add MS 37789, Add MS 62080, Harley MS 1000, Harley MS 1738, Harley MS 2181, Harley MS 2257, and Harley MS 2270

Add MS 62080, f. 1vb
Front endleaf (the former pastedown) bearing ownership inscriptions (Edward Lyster, Thomas Gayner), with pink-stained leather covering of the medieval binding visible at the edges, from the Medulla grammaticae, England (?Nottingham), Add MS 62080, f. 1v
 

The manuscripts of these dictionaries are functional, unelaborate objects – written for the most part in cursive scripts, usually on paper, with decoration rarely extending beyond plain coloured initials – but they are intriguing nonetheless.  Add MS 62080 (a Medulla), which retains its medieval binding, appears to have passed through several hands in the Nottingham area.

Add MS 62080, f. 2r
Detail of the opening of the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, with a grotesque figure chewing on the cadels of the intertwined letters ‘H’ and ‘A’, Add MS 62080, f. 2r
 

This copy of the Medulla also has some amusing grotesques in its initials. 

Harley MS 2274, f. 61v
Prognostication calendar relating to ‘metalles, quoynes and apparel and other necessaries’, from a composite miscellany containing a fragment of the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England, 2nd half of the 15th century, Harley MS 2274, f. 61v
 

The fragment of the Promptorium at the end of Harley MS 2274 is accompanied by an array of liturgical, devotional, medical and prognostication texts: including a curious zodiac calendar that advised when would be a good or bad time to ‘begynne all fyry workis’ (i.e. involving furnaces), ‘to lende mony to have it a gayne’, ‘to bye woll or woolyn clothe’, or ‘to put on nwe apparel’. 

Harley MS 221, f. 206rb
Detail of a list of ‘holsome herbes for the potte in tempore pestilenciali’, ‘a soverayne medicynne for the swetyng sekenesse’ from Master Walter Hyllum, and another ‘for the frenche pockis’, from an endleaf to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England, 15th century, Harley MS 221, f. 206r
 

Harley MS 221 (a Promptorium) was one of the manuscripts acquired by Robert Harley from Sir Symonds d’Ewes on 4th October 1705, in the first of several ‘block purchases’ from other manuscript collectors.  It is one of the few dictionary manuscripts on parchment, and is written in a fine Textura script.  The last leaf contains a number of medical recipes for dealing with pestilence, sweating sickness and ‘the french pocks’ (i.e. syphilis). 

Harley MS 1738, f. 81v
Detail of a scribal colophon, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, late 15th century, Harley MS 1738, f. 81v
 

Some evidence of the production and early provenance of Harley MS 1738 (a Medulla) survives.  It may have been written by a scribe called William Harper, who wrote his name and the following verse upside-down at the bottom of the last page: ‘Si mean penna valet, melior mea littera fiet’ (‘If my pen is strong, my letter will be better’) (f. 81v).  

Harley MS 1738, f. 1r
Detail of an inscription relating to the ordering of paper, Harley MS 1738, f. 1r
 

It seems that at same point in the late fifteenth century someone wished to make a copy of this manuscript, and asked their brother Thomas to acquire the materials for them to do so: ‘Thomas brother I pray yow of halgentylnesse that yow wyl do the labor for to by me ii bokys in lyn papir for wrytyng [...] ad verssus the pralaying bokys and wel that ys callyd Medulla gramatice’ (f. 1r).  It is of particular interest to our study of book production that it was possible in the fifteenth century to purchase not just plain paper, but quires that had been already ruled and lined for writing.

Add MS 33534, f. 1r
Detail of an inscription relating to the binding of the manuscript, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, mid-15th century, Add MS 33534, f. 1r
 

A similar instruction survives in another Medulla manuscript: Add MS 33534.  This is another copy with a medieval binding, probably of the mid-fifteenth century, that once featured straps and labels on the exterior.  An inscription on f. 1r reads: ‘Brothur William Barkere I pray youe lett thys booke be bound at the utmost by myddyll Lent and my brother shall pay for the byndyng’.  The wording appears to indicate that William Barker was a monk, who perhaps was being given the book by a layman, whose brother in turn would foot the bill for its binding.

Add MS 62080, f. 31vc
Detail of the head of a woman within a pen-flourished initial ‘C’, Add MS 62080, f. 31v
 

These dictionaries are an important reminder that Latin learning was not confined the cloister, cathedral or church.  Laymen too required a functional command of the language in order to conduct business, to read and understand legal documents such as charters and wills.  There is growing evidence as well – that the Catholicon Anglicum, Promptorium parvulorum and Medulla grammaticae together reinforce – that to understand lay reading habits we must go beyond vernacular texts.  The laity did not content themselves with reading in the vernacular, but sought out and consumed popular and broadly circulating historical, literary, and religious texts in Latin for their own entertainment and edification.

- James Freeman

01 September 2014

A Calendar Page for September 2014

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

September marks the beginning of the wine-making season in the northern hemisphere, and this is as true today as it was on the pages of our medieval calendar.  In the opening folio, the process is beginning in earnest, as three women are busy picking grapes in a vineyard, loading them into the basket of a waiting man.  Behind them are several grand buildings, while the oenophilic theme of the month is mirrored by the acanthus vines circling round the page.  The labour continues on the facing folio.  Below the saints’ days for September and a woman holding a balance (for the zodiac sign Libra), a man is bringing a full basket of grapes into a barn.  He is greeted by a fellow worker, who stands in a tub full of grapes, crushing them beneath his feet.

Add_ms_38126_f009v
Calendar page for September, with a roundel miniature of people harvesting grapes, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 9v

Add_ms_38126_f010r
Calendar page for September, with a roundel miniature of a men making wine, with the zodiac sign Libra, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 10r

- Sarah J Biggs

29 August 2014

Don’t Lose Your Head: It’s Just St. John the Baptist’s Day!

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Throughout the year there are two feast days commemorating John the Baptist.  On June 24th, his nativity is celebrated; he and the Virgin Mary are the only saints whose birthdays are commemorated.  The second feast day, August 29th, concerns his martyrdom by being beheaded.

Add MS 71119D
Cutting of an initial 'L' of the martyrdom of St John the Baptist with the executioner holding up the saint’s head, from a choir book, Italy, N. (Bologna), c. 1375-c. 1400,
Add MS 71119D

But let us hold off on such visually disturbing images for a moment and focus on St John’s life.  Most information about his life and work comes from the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Acts of the Apostles, and the Jewish historian Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (Antiquitates iudaicae).  Based on these sources a pretty detailed biography of St John the Baptist can be established.  He was born in the 1st century BC to Zechariah and Elizabeth, probably a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  As a prophet, he preached about the need for repentance and a righteous life before the arrival of someone mightier than him (there is still a debate whether he meant God himself or a messiah).  

Add_ms_42497_f001r
Detail of a scene of John the Baptist baptising Christ, watched by angels, from Scenes from the Life of John the Baptist, France/Germany (Alsace, Hohenbourg), c. 1175-c. 1200,
Add MS 42497, f. 1r

For St John and his disciples, baptism was considered a symbol of that repentance, although it was not necessary to undergo this rite in order to become accepted into their circle.  As we all know, among the people who were baptized by Saint John was Jesus.

Add_ms_42497_f001v
Detail of a two-part scene showing John the Baptist being pushed into prison and later sitting behind bars,
Add MS 42497, f. 1v

Unfortunately for St John, his opinion on how one should live was not to the liking of Herod, the ruler of Judea under the Roman Empire, or his wife.  He was imprisoned, because apparently he looked disapprovingly upon Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who was Herod’s half-brother’s ex-wife.

  Yates_thompson_ms_13_f106v
Bas-de-page scene of Salome dancing on her hands before the feasting Herod and Herodias, with a caption reading, ‘Cy la fille du roy demau[n]da a sun pere la teste seint iohan’, from the Book of Hours,  England, S. E.? (London?), c. 1325-c. 1350,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 106v

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f264v
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of Herod and his queen sitting at a table and Salome to the right performing a tumble, from 'The Queen Mary Psalter’, England (London/Westminster or East Anglia?), 1310-1320,
Royal 2 B VII, f. 264v

It all sounds like an overcomplicated soap-opera material, but in fact the outcome was very serious and dramatic. During Herod’s birthday party, Salome (who was the daughter of Herodias from the first marriage) danced so nicely, that he promised her anything she wanted.

Royal_ms_15_d_i_f297r
Detail of a miniature of the beheading of John the Baptist, from the Bible historiale, Netherlands, S. (Bruges), c. 1479,
Royal MS 15 D I, f. 297r

After getting sober, he probably regretted his open-endedness, because Salome, at Herodias’ instigation, asked for St John the Baptist’s head.  Herod reluctantly agreed and had the saint decapitated.

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f107v
Bas-de-page scene of Salome presenting the head of John the Baptist in a golden bowl to Herodias, with a caption reading, ‘Cy porte la fille du roy la teste s[eint] ioh[a]n e[n] un esqu[e]le devaunt sa mere’ (‘Here the king’s daughter carries St John’s head on a platter to her mother’),
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 107v. On a side note, do you recognize this image above? You should, because it is the source of one of the images used for our little spoof from 2012.

And so Salome presented her mother with St John the Baptist’s head on a platter (the origin of the famous saying ‘to want somebody’s head on a platter/plate’).

Add MS 39636 f. 52r
Cutting of a historiated initial 'N' with John the Baptist, from a choir book, Italy, N. (Lombardy), c. 1500-c. 1510,
Add MS 39636, f. 52r

St John’s beheading scene is a very popular theme in Christian art.  Sometimes he is also depicted holding a platter (oh, the irony) or a book, with a lamb on it, alongside the description Ecce Agnus Dei.  

Egerton_ms_1139_f012av
Miniature of Christ in Majesty with John the Baptist and Mary, from the 'Melisende Psalter', Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143,
Egerton MS 1139, f. 12v (more on this manuscript can be found in our post  Twelfth-Century Girl Power)

He is also an important figure in Byzantine and later in Eastern Orthodox art, because he is a part of the Deësis, which is a traditional iconic representation of enthroned Christ, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist.

To sum up everything we learnt today about St John the Baptist’s beheading, here is an all-in-one image:

Arundel MS 157 f. 7r
Detail of a miniature of the bringing of the head of St John the Baptist, from a Psalter, England, Central (Oxford), c. 1200-c. 1225,
Arundel MS 157, f. 7r

- Justyna Jadachowska

28 August 2014

A Temporary Farewell

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As I am preparing to head off for a year’s maternity leave, I thought I would take the opportunity to thank you all for the wonderful opportunity it has been to work on this blog.  It has been a great pleasure to be able to share so many of the glories of the British Library over the past 3 or so years, and very gratifying to have such fabulous responses to our work. 

Harley_ms_4425_f140r detail
Detail of Nature at a furnace, forging a baby, from the Roman de la Rose, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1490 – c. 1500, Harley MS 4425, f. 140r

If you happen to be feeling as nostalgic as I am, might I suggest that you cast your eyes back on a few of my favourites?  As you may have noticed, I have a great interest in marginalia and bestiaries, so the list would have to include Weird and Wonderful Creatures of the Bestiary, Monkeys in the Margins, More Gorleston Psalter ‘Virility’: Profane Images in a Sacred Space, Marginali-yeah! The Fantastic Creatures of the Rutland Psalter , and naturally, Knight v Snail and the famous Unicorn Cookbook.

Stowe_ms_17_f189v detail
Detail of a marginal painting of a monkey with a swaddled infant, from the Maastricht Hours, Netherlands (Liège), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 189v

Of course my leave-taking isn’t a permanent one; I’ll be returning to the British Library – and to the Medieval Manuscripts blog – in September of 2015.  There will still be a number of posts coming up that I’ve written, and I’m leaving you in the very capable hands of Julian Harrison, Cillian O’Hogan, James Freeman, and the rest of the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts team.  Until we meet again!

- Sarah J Biggs

26 August 2014

Bugs in Books

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Even the most cursory glance over the pages of medieval manuscripts will reveal a plethora of insects.  Bugs are everywhere – although we hasten to add that we are extremely vigilant about avoiding the presence of any actual living insects within the pages of our books.  But there has been little comprehensive scholarship about the appearance of such creatures in medieval manuscripts.  Insects usually live literally in the margins, often not even appearing in catalogue entries despite their profusion. 

Add_ms_35313_f064v detail
Detail of a border including flowers, moths, and flies, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Netherlands (Ghent?), c. 1500, Additional MS 35313, f. 64v

Whilst undertaking this very short exploration of the subject, therefore, we would do well to remember the words of one of the earliest writers about these minute creatures.  As Pliny the Elder reminds us in the introduction to his book about insects:  ‘Nature is nowhere to be seen in greater perfection than in the very smallest of her works.  For this reason then, I must beg of my readers, notwithstanding the contempt they feel for many of these objects, not to feel a similar disdain for the information I am about to give relative thereto, seeing that, in the study of Nature, there are none of her works that are unworthy of our consideration.’

Add MS 28841 f. 6r detail
Detail of a folio from a prose treatise on the Seven Vices, with marginal spiders and a praying mantis, Italy (Genoa), c. 1330 – c. 1340, Additional MS 28841, f. 6r

We’ll begin, as we almost always do, with the bestiary, that essential book of medieval beasts.  The early medieval bestiary includes amongst its pages only two species of what we would consider insects today – ants and bees.

011HRL000004751U00032000 detail
Detail of a miniature of ants in their anthill, from a bestiary, England (Salisbury?), 2nd quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 4751, f. 32r

The humble ant is given quite extensive treatment in the bestiary.  Echoing Isidore of Seville’s somewhat fanciful etymology, the text tells us that the ant is called ‘formica’ because it carries pieces of grain (‘ferat micas’).   It goes on to describe much recognisable ant behaviour, detailing how ants walk in lines to gather food, store it for the winter, carry loads far in excess of their own size, and work together for the good of the group. 

Harley_ms_3244_f050r detail
Detail of a miniature of ants on their anthill, from a theological miscellany including a bestiary, England, 1236 – c. 1250, Harley MS 3244, f. 50r

A parallel tradition to that of the bestiary is the Physiologus, one of the precursors to the Marvels of the East.  In the Physiologus, a subspecies of ant, as large as dogs, is said to live in Ethiopia and to be adept at digging up gold.  Such skill can be exploited by human beings, but only very carefully, as these ants will try to chase down and kill anyone who attempts to steal from them. 

Cotton_ms_vitellius_a_xv_f101r detail
Detail of a miniature of dog-like gold-digging ants attacking a camel, while a man loads another camel with gold and escapes, from the Marvels of the East, England, 4th quarter of the 10th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 101r

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 96r dog-size ants G70031-02a
Detail of a miniature of dog-like gold-digging ants attacking a group of men who have come to steal their gold, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 96r

The concept of insects as a distinct class of animals was one that didn’t exist in this period.  Bees, for example, are characterised as the ‘smallest of birds’, and accordingly, often come at the end of the bestiary's section on winged animals.  They are described as industrious creatures, living in community under a chosen king.  Born in the decaying bodies of oxen or slaughtered calves, it is said, bees build their homes with ‘indescribable skill’, make honey, and then guard it fiercely against all potential invaders.  Much like ants, bees were praised over the centuries by various authors who considered them humble and loyal animals, ‘wonderfully noble', and worthy of emulation by human beings.

Harley MS 3448 f. 10v bees c13744-42a
Detail of a miniature of bees guarding their hives against a marauding bear, from Flore de virtu e de costumi (Flowers of Virtue and of Custom), Italy (Padua?), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 3448, f. 10v

Royal MS 12 C XIX f. 45r bees F60101-62a
Detail of a miniature of bees collecting nectar and returning to their hive, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 45v

That said, bees could sometimes be used as weapons.  A mid-13th century copy of William of Tyre’s Histoire d’Outremer contains a miniature of the Patriarch of Antioch who was bound to a tower and smeared with honey in a gruesome attempt to end his life.

Yates_thompson_ms_12_f120r detail
Miniature of the Patriarch of Antioch being attacked by bees, from
William of Tyre’s Histoire d’Outremer, France (Picardy?), 1232-1261, Yates Thompson MS 12, f. 120r

It is not clear why the early bestiaries omitted so many of the species of insects that people must surely have been familiar with – in many cases, perhaps, far too familiar. Flies, spiders, moths, and butterflies do not put in appearances in texts until later.  The British Library is lucky enough, however, to possess a mid-16th century Greek copy of Manuel Philes’ De animalium proprietate which includes a cicada (f. 13r), a locust-like insect (f. 19r), and three species of spider – two of which are poisonous (and one of which is apparently six-legged).

Burney_ms_97_f029r detail
Detail of a painting of three spiders, including a malmignatte, from a Greek copy of Manuel Philes’ De animalium proprietate, 2nd – 3rd quarter of the 16th century, Burney MS 97, f. 29r

Six-legged spiders are not unusual to find in medieval art, and neither are their ten-legged cousins, as the examples below will show:

Sloane MS 4016 f. 6r c13578-09b
Detail of a six-legged spider in its web, from an herbal, Italy (Lombardy), c. 1440, Sloane MS 4016, f. 6r

Royal MS 13 B VIII f. 11v E124037
Detail of a marginal ten-legged spider, from Gerald of Wales’ Topographic Hiberniae, England (Lincoln?), c. 1196 – 1223, Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 11r

Most insects in medieval art, however, were not designed to illustrate any accompanying text, or at least, not literally. This is particularly the case for manuscripts from the later medieval era.  The vast majority of insect examples we have found are decorative ones, taking their place amongst the flowers, fruit, and jewels that adorn these pages.  Some are occasionally used for humorous purposes, or may have been intended to underscore the message of the text.   An extremely small selection of these sorts of images is below; if we have omitted any gems, please do let us know in the comments or on Twitter: @BLMedieval.  Happy bug hunting!

Stowe_ms_17_f048r detail
Detail of a marginal painting of flies surrounding a dog, from the Maastricht Hours, Netherlands (Liège), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 48r

011HRL000007026U00013000 detail
Detail of a marginal dragonfly and dragon, from the Lovell Lectionary, England (probably Glastonbury), c. 1400 – c. 1410, Harley MS 7026, f. 13r

Add MS 35254 K N and P F60002-30
Selection of cuttings of border illuminations, featuring flowers, birds, moths, butterflies, and other insects, Italy (Rome), c. 1572 – c. 1585, Additional  MS 35254, f. N

Add MS 28841 f.7v
Detail of a folio from a prose treatise on the Seven Vices, with a caterpillar and a spider catching a fly, Additional MS 28841, f. 7v

Add_ms_18852_f030r detail
Detail of a grasshopper, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, Additional MS 18851, f. 30r

Add_ms_18852_f017r detail
Detail of a butterfly alighting on a flower, Additional MS 18851, f. 17r

Add_ms_30337_f010r detail
Detail of a miniature of bees collecting nectar, and a beekeeper (rotated 180°), from the Exultet Roll, Italy (Monte Cassino), c. 1075 - c. 1080, Add MS 30337, membrane 10

Add_ms_35313_f029r detail
Miniature of the Crucifixion, with a gold border including flowers, moths, a fly, and a caterpillar, Additional MS 35313, f. 29r

Add_ms_35313_f071v detail
Detail of a border including a monkey and a fly, Additional MS 35313, f. 71v

Burney MS 132 f. 2r C0192-06b
Detail of a border including a dragonfly and helmets, from De bello gallico, Italy, 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Burney MS 132, f. 2r

- Sarah J Biggs

24 August 2014

St Bartholomew and Bookbindings: Happy St Bartholomew's Day!

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The latest in our running series of saint-day blog posts concerns St Bartholomew (see here for our posts on St Lawrence, St Benedict, St Margaret, St Patrick, St Apollonia – and the almanac that set the ball rolling in February).  The means of St Bartholomew’s martyrdom, you’ll be pleased to know, is up to our usual visceral and horrific standard – but first let’s take a quick look at the life of this apostle and saint. 

Egerton_ms_3277_f162v
Detail of an historiated initial depicting St Bartholomew holding a knife, with grotesques in the initial body and margin, from the Bohun Psalter, ?London, 2nd half of the 14th century,
Egerton MS 3277, f. 162v 

Bartholomew is mentioned as of Jesus’s twelve apostles in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (but not John).  Little is known about his early life.  According to Eusebius of Caesarea’s Historia ecclesiastica, written in the early 4th century, Bartholomew undertook missionary work in ‘India’ (a term that in the medieval period referred to a large and variously defined territory in the east), where he reputedly left behind a copy of St Matthew’s Gospel.  

Egerton MS 1070 - f. 99v
Detail of a column miniature of St Bartholomew holding a book, from the Hours of René d’Anjou, Paris, c. 1410,
Egerton MS 1070, f. 99v 

Other traditions have him travelling to various countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Ethiopia, Mesopotamia and Parthia.  He is of particular importance in the Armenian Church, which holds him and St Jude Thaddeus as patron saints for having brought Christianity to the region in the 1st century.  Depictions of him holding a book most probably refer to his work in spreading the Gospel. 

Yates Thompson MS 7 - f. 68r
Detail of an historiated initial of St Bartholomew holding a knife and a book, from the Hours of Dionora of Urbino, Italy (Ferrara or Rome), 1509x1538,
Yates Thompson MS 7, f. 68r 

Most images of St Bartholomew, however, concentrate on how he died rather than how he lived.  He was martyred in the city of Albanopolis, which archaeologists have located at Zgërdhesh in modern-day Albania.  By most accounts, St Bartholomew was flayed alive – his skin torn from his body – and so he is commonly depicted with one or other of the instruments of his torture, most commonly a long, curved knife, but sometimes a whip (he is also supposed to have been crucified upside-down, a method more usually associated with St Peter). 

Royal MS 20 D VI - f. 42r
Detail of an historiated initial of St Bartholomew being flayed alive, from Wauchier de Denain, ‘Lives of the Saints’, Paris, 2nd quarter of the 13th century,
Royal MS 20 D VI, f. 42r 

Other manuscripts illustrate the gruesome act taking place, with St Bartholomew usually shown being restrained on a bench while his torturers slice away at his skin. 

Add MS 46365B
Cutting of a miniature of St Bartholomew being flayed alive, from a collectar, Rome, 3rd quarter of the 16th century,
Add MS 46365B 

Medieval illuminators did not shy away from the blood and gore.  This miniature was taken from a 15th-century Italian collectar, a book containing prayers for the canonical hours of the divine office, the cycle of services conducted by monks and priests throughout the day.  The way it dwells upon the visceral and drawn-out process by which St Bartholomew was put to death is most discomfiting. 

Harley_roll_y_6_f008r
St Bartholomew handing St Guthlac a whip, from the Guthlac Roll, England (probably Crowland), 1175-1215,
Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 8 

Bartholomew played a bit-part role in the life of one of our home-grown saints, Guthlac of Crowland.  Tormented by demons on his isolated island in the fens, Guthlac is depicted on the Guthlac Roll (Harley Roll Y 6) as being carried through the air towards an open hell-mouth.  Just in time, St Bartholomew comes to his rescue, handing him his whip, which Guthlac can use to beat back the unholy hordes.  The Guthlac Roll thus attaches an interesting twist to the story of St Bartholomew, where the instrument that was used by his persecutors is turned around and used against the forces of evil.  (For more on the Guthlac Roll, see out blog post ‘On a roll’). 

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Full-page miniature of St Bartholomew holding a knife and his flayed skin, from the Oscott Psalter, England (?Oxford), c. 1265-c.1270,
Add MS 50000, f. 9r

In some instances, St Bartholomew is also shown holding his own flayed skin.  The means of his martyrdom has led him to being adopted as a patron saint by various trades involved with the skinning of animals: butchers, tanners, trappers, leather workers and – most significantly for us – bookbinders. 

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Plain red moulded goatskin binding, from the St Cuthbert Gospel, England (Lindisfarne), c. 698,
Add MS 89000, front cover

While it is an unfortunate fact that the medieval bindings of many, if not most, medieval books have been irretrievably lost, the British Library nonetheless possesses an enviable collection of bindings from across the medieval period.  We have the earliest intact medieval binding in existence, that attached to St Cuthbert Gospel, as well as many other examples right up to the 15th century. 

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Detail of a column miniature of St Bartholomew holding a knife and a book in a girdle binding, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Southern Netherlands (Bruges),
Add MS 18851, f. 442v 

It seems appropriate, then, to draw attention to a fantastic new resource for studying these rare and important survivals: the British Library’s Database of Bookbindings.  This contains descriptions and images of bindings both medieval and modern, identifications of the binders responsible, and bibliographies.  It is possible to search by various criteria, including binders’ names, marks of ownership, country of origin, decorative style and colour and technique.  Further entries and descriptions are planned in the future.

- James Freeman

21 August 2014

Three More Books of Hours

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In one of our blog posts last week, we featured the Wardington Hours, a relative newcomer to our collections. Three other Books of Hours have been acquired by the British Library since 2000, each of particular interest to art historians and scholars.

Add MS 74754: ‘The Small Bedford hours’

In the last blog post we mentioned the Bedford Hours (Add MS 18850), since it was made by the same group of Bruges artists as the Wardington Hours. It has been in our collections for more than 150 years, having been bought by the British Museum in 1852. In 2000, we acquired a manuscript known as the ‘Small Bedford Hours’, also probably made for John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford (b. 1389, d.1435). The evidence linking it to this famous patron is the following: the tree-stock, which appears on ff. 51r, 201r and 392r, was one of his badges.

Add MS 74754, f. 201r
Full page illumination with Historiated initial 'D' of David at prayer and tree stock, from ‘The Small Bedford Hours’, Paris, c. 1430, Add MS 74754, f. 201r

The two partially erased initials on ff. 369r and 385v probably contained the arms of England and France. 

Add MS 74754, f. 385v
Partially erased initial ‘O’(mnipotens), which probably contained the arms of England and France, from Add MS 74754, f. 385v

Finally, the special prayers include these words: ‘et in domo regia servorum tuorum me nasci fecisti ac populum magnum michi commisisti regendum’, which seems to indicate that the owner was of royal blood, and ‘Semper vero in tu gratia me et ancillam tuam annam thori unius vinculo in nomine tuo michi coniunctam fovere digneris […]’, which indicates that the owner had a consort named Anne.  Bedford was married to Anne of Burgundy in 1423, and she died in 1432. 

There is no calendar and the Hours of the Virgin at the beginning are of the Use of Sarum, which was the most popular rite in England in this period. Prayers or suffrages to St George, St Thomas Becket (scratched out) and St Catherine are included after Lauds. The last part contains the usual psalms, prayers and litany.

Add MS 74754, f. 357r
A page of the Litany from Add MS 74754, f. 357r

Add MS 82946

This Book of Hours, by contrast, contains three calendars.  First, a calendar of Sarum use (ff. 4r-8r) followed by two York calendars, the second (ff. 15r-31r) with facing astronomical tables by Richard de Thorpe, friar of York (b. c. 1339). The Sarum calendar seems to originate in Northern France, as it includes the feasts of the Norman saints Michel and Eloi. This part of the manuscript, with the accompanying Hours (ff. 32r-78v), was made in Bruges, as the illuminated initials and borders are in the same style as a manuscript made there in 1409 (now Durham, Ushaw College, MS 10).

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Sarum Calendar from a Book of Hours previously in the Pincus Collection, Bruges, c. 1410, Add MS 82946, f. 8v

The two York calendars and scientific material (including figure drawings and tables), were added to the manuscript in the 1420s, as indications in the calendars suggest.  They are by a single hand and in a uniform decorative style, believed to be of York Augustinian origin but made for an outside patron rather than the Austin Friars themselves, as the feast of Saint Augustine in August is not in red or blue to mark a major feast. Another interesting feature is the use of green ink, which is unusual in England at this time.

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York Calendar added to a Book of Hours, York, c. 1420, Add MS 82946, f. 15v

On f. 30v there is an astrological calendar in the form of a wheel with an enlarged centre hole, which indicates that it probably had a movable pointer like the hand of a clock.

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Astrological diagram, York, c. 1420, Add MS 82946, f. 30v

There are two full page images of naked men on folios 31r and 31v, following the second calendar. Zodiac man on folio 31 is shown with the zodiac symbols clustered over him indicating the parts of the body they govern. He stands in the large pool that seems to be the result of Aquarius hanging around his lower legs emptying his water-pots. The image is boldly painted with unusual green borders and an orange patterned background, which perhaps show Bohemian influence. The second diagram shows the phlebotomy points and is rougher in execution.  

Add MS 82946, f. 31r
Diagram of Zodiac man, York, c. 1420, Add MS 82946, f. 31r

For much of the above, and for further information on this manuscript, see an article by John B Friedman, 'Richard de Thorpe's Astronomical Kalendar and the Luxury Book Trade at York', Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 7 (1985), 137-60.

Egerton MS 3883

This Book of Hours was also made in the southern Netherlands, probably in Bruges, with some material being added in England in the fifteenth century: a treatise on the fifteen joys of the Virgin, and three short poems in Middle English addressed to the Virgin, God and Christ, by Lydgate among others. The scribe of these additions signs his name ‘Chetwyn’ and there are four devotional diagrams including the following, entitled 'The iiii Cardinal vertuws’.

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Devotional diagram and decorated page from a Book of Hours, Netherlands, S. and England, 15th century, Egerton MS 3883, ff. 43v-44r

The circular marks on ff. 124v, 133r-34v, 142v and 158v-59v are all that remain of pilgrim badges – medieval souvenirs of journeys to holy sites – that had once been affixed there.

Egerton MS 3883, f. 142v
Erased prayer to St Thomas Becket and off-set from a pilgrim badge, Egerton MS 3883, f. 142v

On this page a prayer to St Thomas Becket has been erased. Perhaps the owner had been on pilgrimage to Canterbury – possibly taking this book with them – and had placed his or her badge there to commemorate it whenever they recited the prayer.

- Chantry Westwell

16 August 2014

The Lacock Abbey Cartularies

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A cartulary or chartulary (derived from the Latin chartularium) is a collection of charters, title-deeds and other documents relating to a specific, most often religious, institution.  They survive in the form of books and, less commonly, rolls.  Some are finely copied and decorated, but the majority are plain productions.  This reflects their functional purpose as repositories of records that were essential then – and highly useful now – for understanding the administration of the land, property and finances of a cathedral, monastery, parish church, hospital, or fraternity.  The British Library possesses around five hundred cartularies or similar gatherings of documents, including the earliest example from a religious house: Cotton MS Tiberius A XIII, from Worcester Cathedral Priory, made in the first half of the eleventh century.  A large proportion of these were part of the ‘foundation’ collections of Robert Cotton and Robert Harley and his son Edward that were brought together with the creation of the British Museum in 1753. 

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The front binding of the ‘older’ cartulary, wooden boards covered with white-tawed skin with a single clasp (now gone), England (Lacock), mid-13th century, Add MS 88973
 

The newest addition to our collection of cartularies was in 2011, with the accession of those of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.  In two volumes that each retain a medieval binding, these are now Add MS 88973 and Add MS 88974.  They have been fully digitised and have recently been loaded to our Digitised Manuscripts site. 

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Copy of a charter recording the grant by Ela of the manor of Lacock for the foundation of a nunnery, Add MS 88973, f. 7v
 

The first, ‘older’ cartulary contains copies of some of the earliest charters relating to the Abbey and its foundress and first abbess, Ela, countess of Salisbury (b. in or after 1190, d. 1261).  Possessed of royal connections of a sort through her marriage to William Longespée, an illegitimate son of Henry II, Ela was also the sole heiress of William Fitzpatrick, 2nd earl of Salisbury.  She thus commanded considerable wealth, which she used to found and endow a new abbey over several months in 1229/30.  Her original plan was for a house of Cistercian nuns, but the decision in 1228 by the General Chapter at Cîteaux not to accept responsibility for any further female houses left Ela little choice but to accept the Bishop of Salisbury’s recommendation in April 1230 that the house follow the rule of St Augustine. 

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Detail of a list of the acquisitions made by Lacock Abbey during the abbacies of Ela and Beatrice, Add MS 88973, f. 57v
 

The manor and village of Lacock formed the nucleus of the Abbey’s possessions, which were augmented in stages by further benefactions not just from Ela, but from her son William Longespée (II)

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Documents and notes in Latin and French, copied by several hands, Add MS 88973, f. 76v
 

The charters in the first volume are arranged in a very rough chronological order.  The core part of the manuscript was copied in stages between the mid-13th and mid-14th centuries.  The involvement of numerous scribal hands of different periods indicates that the volume was produced in fits and starts, an impression confirmed by the insertion or stitching in of loose sheets of parchment, or copying of additional charters in blank spaces at later junctures. 

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Detail of the opening of the section containing charters relating to Calne in the ‘Newer’ Cartulary, Add MS 88974, f. 91r
 

The second volume, ‘newer’ cartulary, by contrast, appears to have been copied by a single hand and is arranged in such a way as to suggest a concerted attempt to impose order on the abbey’s documents.  They are sorted topographically into eighteen sections, providing a convenient geographical overview of the extent of the Abbey’s holdings: from Calne and Heddington to the east, Sherrington and Chitterne to the south, Winterbourne to the west and Chippenham to the north. 

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Detail of a confirmation of William (II) Longespée of a charter relating to Lacock Abbey originally issued by Ela in the ‘Old’ Cartulary, with a marginal cross-reference to the third charter in the Lacock section of the ‘New’ Cartulary, Add MS 88973, f. 8v

The second volume, though later and containing duplicate copies of many charters, was by no means intended to replace the first.  That they were intended to function as a pair is suggested by their very similar binding – they may have been bound around same time, probably no later than the mid-fourteenth century – and confirmed by their contents.  The first volume contains marginal cross-references to documents in the second, allowing the reader to gain a chronological and geographical overview of the abbey’s holdings. 

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Detail of the same confirmation, copied into the ‘New’ Cartulary, Add MS 88974, f. 2r
 

The Lacock cartularies join another manuscript relating to the history of the Abbey: Cotton MS Vitellius A VIII, which combines the Annals and the Book of Lacock.  Unfortunately, it was badly burned in the fire in 1731 at the Ashburnham House, where the Cotton collection was kept prior to its deposit at the British Museum.  Much of the Book of Lacock is entirely illegible, though luckily a copy made in the late 16th century survives as Harley MS 5019.  The two cartularies acquired by the British Library are thus especially important for the study of the history of this Abbey, its endowments and administration.

- James Freeman