By now, you should have heard whether you were one of the lucky 1,215 winners of our ballot to view all four 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts next February. But fear not, don't despair, if you were unsuccessful this time around ... because we're delighted to remind you that next year the British Library will also be staging the largest exhibition ever devoted to Magna Carta.
A 14th-century manuscript image of King John hunting (London, British Library, Cotton MS Claudius D II, f. 116r)
So what do you need to know, and what will you be able to see at the British Library? Our exhibition is called Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, and is sponsored by the law firm Linklaters. It opens to the public on 13 March 2015, and closes on 1 September. Tickets are already on sale -- just follow this handy link -- and are priced at £13.50 (Adult Gift Aid) with many concessions: entry is free for the Under 18s and Friends of the British Library. As you might expect, our two manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta will be on display, together with countless books and objects relating to this globally-recognised document. Previously we announced that an early copy of the American Declaration of Independence (1776), handwritten by Thomas Jefferson, will feature in our exhibition, on loan from New York Public Library, together with the Delaware copy of the United States Bill of Rights (1790), being borrowed from the US National Archives and Records Adminstration. Our American loans are being kindly funded by White & Case.
The Forest Charter, 1225 (London, British Library, Additional Charter 24712)
At this stage we're not allowed to tell you the full line-up of exhibits -- we don't want to spoil the surprise -- but we can promise that our exhibition will be spectacular. There will be manuscripts, documents and printed books, paintings, prints and drawings, newspapers, cartoons and photographs, and artefacts galore. And this blogpost contains a little taster of some of the things that will be on show.
A 13th-century manuscript image of King John being poisoned by a monk of Swineshead Abbey (London, British Library, Cotton MS Vitellius A XIII, f. 5v)
Over the next few months, we'll be telling you more about our plans: keep an eye on this blog and follow us on @BLMedieval. We look forward to welcoming you to the British Library next year. It's only 3 months before our exhibition opens ...
The earliest printed edition of Magna Carta, 1508 (London, British Library, C.112.a.2, ff. 5v–6r)
There’s still time to get organised for the forthcoming holidays! If you’re stuck for ideas, need inspiration, or are puzzling about what to get that special someone, let the British Library take the stress out of the shopping.
Here are some of our favourites – all medieval-themed, of course – which are available either from the shop at St Pancras or from the British Library Online Shop:
- The 2015 Illuminated Manuscripts Calendar, featuring an array of colourful and elaborate miniatures from the pages of manuscripts in the British Library collection, with captions written by our own fair hands.
- A chance to get to grips with one of the most famous Old English poems, with the Electronic Beowulf. The DVD contains a line-by-line translation as well as critical apparatus and – best of all – a complete digital colour facsimile of the manuscript, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV.
- What did spoken English sound like in the early sixteenth century? Here’s a chance to find out: William Tyndale’s Bible was the first text of the Bible to be printed in English, and St Matthew’s Gospel is read out in the original English by Prof. David Crystal. This is available both as a CD and a download.
- If you know someone who fancies trying his or her hand at being a scribe, perhaps this calligraphy set (complete with quill) would be ideal. Check out Digitised Manuscripts for models to follow; the ambitious scribe might want to take a look at the Macclesfield Alphabet Book (Add MS 88887), also available as a facsimile.
Don’t forget: images of many of our most famous manuscript treasures are available as prints. They are available in a range of sizes, on different materials, and can be ordered with frames. Here’s a few that caught our eye:
- Saint Dunstan, hard at work – from a manuscript made at Canterbury between c. 1170 and c. 1180 (Royal MS 10 A XIII).
- Henry VIII, depicted as King David, playing a harp in a private chamber – from a Psalter that the King himself owned (Royal MS 2 A XVI).
- The Nativity, from the Benedictional of St Aethelwold, made between 963 and 984 (Add MS 49598).
There’s also a great selection of books to choose from – here’s three to look out for:
- 1000 Years of Royal Books and Manuscripts, edited by Scot McKendrick and Kathleen Doyle: this collection of scholarly essays delves into the question of what books were commissioned, owned and read by kings and queens of England, and arose from the highly popular Royal Manuscripts Exhibition in 2011-12.
- A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, by Christopher de Hamel: need an entertaining introduction to the world of medieval books, their decoration and readers – or know someone who does? Look no further!
- Illuminators and Patrons in Fourteenth-Century England, by Lucy Freeman Sandler: no scholarly library should be without a copy of this book! It was launched at a British Library conference on 1st December. Detailed and accessible, it contains the latest research into the wonderful Bohun Psalter by Lucy Freeman Sandler, Professor Emerita at New York University (a precis of the book will be forthcoming on the blog!).
The 1 December conference celebrating the publication of Professor Lucy Freeman Sandler’s new book was a great success, with around 140 delegates attending. Her book, Illuminators and Patrons in Fourteenth-Century England: The Psalter Hours of Humphrey de Bohun and the Manuscripts of the Bohun Family will be described in more detail in a forthcoming post.
The conference was held in association with AMARC (the Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections), which welcomed many new members to the organisation. The day began with a welcome from Claire Breay, Head of the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section of the Library, followed by papers by six speakers.
Detail of a miniature of the Beast rising from the sea, from a fragmentary Anglo-Norman Apocalypse, England, early 14th century, Add MS 38842, f. 4v
Paul Binski opened proceedings with his paper on Lombardy and Norfolk, which re-examined the question of Italian influence in English art before 1350 and what is known about Italian art actually in England at that date. Nigel Morgan then delivered his paper on a little-studied fragmentary Anglo-Norman prose Apocalypse in the British Library, Additional 38842. He compared its iconography with that found in Anglo-Norman and Latin apocalypses, noting in particular instances where the miniatures in Additional 38842 reflected more accurately the narrative in the text, which raised the possibility that the artist could read Anglo-Norman.
Before the lunch break Bernard Meehan, the new Chair-elect of AMARC presented the outgoing Chair, Christopher De Hamel with a signed copy of Lucy’s new book in thanks for his many years of service. As well as encouraging attendees to join the Association, Bernard also announced the dates of the two upcoming AMARC meetings: 30 April 2015 at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and 10-11 September in Dublin. Add them to your diary now!
Detail of a miniature of Michal helping David to escape the soldiers of Saul, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, 1310-1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 52r
The second session was begun by Kathryn Smith, who had travelled from New York for the conference. Kathryn examined the Old Testament prefatory cycle in the Queen Mary Psalter (Royal 2 B.vii), and discussed analogues of and possible sources for some of the Queen Mary Master’s compositions, evidence for the artist’s working methods, and the history and image of the Jews as constructed in pictures and text. Alixe Bovey followed, presenting new evidence for the patronage of the Smithfield Decretals, Royal 10 E. iv, and its connection to the Batayle family.
In the final session, Julian Luxford examined Additional 39758 and Additional 47170 and evidence of the involvement of Walter of Whittlesey, a monk of Peterborough abbey, as the person who commissioned, copied or decorated them. Julian’s paper revealed the character of historical study within one of the major East Anglian monastic foundations and the role that this roll and codex may have played as ‘vindicative’ texts of the abbey’s precedence and property in the region.
Detail of an historiated initial showing Jezebel talking to Ahab in bed, with the ‘embedded marginalia’ of a lewd woman in the margin, from the Bohun Psalter, England (?London), 2nd half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3277, f. 110v
The day concluded with a paper by Lucy Freeman Sandler. Drawing on the research conducted for her new book, she challenged the assumed marginality of decoration at the edges of the text of the Bohun Psalter, Egerton 3277. These strange drawings are in fact ‘embedded’ in the area adjacent to the historiated initials, both initial and drawing being enveloped by the same gold background. Lucy highlighted many such decorations that offered analogues or subversions of the narrative summarised by the historiated initials, while acknowledging that the meaning of many remained obscure and the subject for future research.
The proceedings were brought to a close with a vote of thanks by Kathleen Doyle, Lead Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library. As thanks for her paper, and in acknowledgement of her nearly 60 years’ work on the manuscripts, Lucy was presented with a large poster of one of the initials from the Bohun Psalter. The opportunity to secure a signed copy of Lucy’s new book was seized by many of the conference attendees. Further copies (unsigned) are still available from the British Library shop!
Exciting news for those of our readers who might want to search for an image of a 13th-century devil with horns, an English drawing of a horse from the 10th century, rain over the Italian countryside, severed limbs or even Job afflicted with boils. More than 200 new images are now available online in our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. For those who have not yet used this catalogue, it has an advanced search page which allows you to search for key words combined with place of origin, date range and many other criteria: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/search2.asp.
Over 4000 illuminated manuscripts from 800 to 1800 have been catalogued to date and we have now added a new selection with images and descriptions that were not previously available online, mostly from the Additionals series. The following examples show the range and variety of the items newly catalogued:
A Dutch copy of the legend of Jason and Medea (Add MS 10290)
This features colour-wash images of some dramatic and bloodthirsty scenes:
Medea with Jason and the Argonauts in a ship, about to throw the head of her brother into the sea with his severed limbs, to stop her father, King Oethes, who is pursuing them in the other ship; above left, Jason’s abandoned lover Hypsipyle is about to jump off a cliff; from ‘Historie van Jason’, Germany or Netherlands, N. (Harlem), between 1475 and 1480, Add MS 10290, f. 118
Named after Alfred Huth, who donated his collection of manuscripts to the British Museum in 1912, this is a pocket-sized psalter in Latin from Lincoln or York, with an Anglo-Norman text for calculating Easter added at the beginning. It contains 11 full-page miniatures in the style of the William of Devon manuscripts (Royal MS 1 D I, Egerton MS 1151, and others. Simple search using the keywords ‘William of Devon’ and you will find them all in the catalogue. To continue with the gory theme, this one shows a young child being held aloft on a spear by one of Herod’s soldiers:
The Adoration of the Magi: Herod orders the Massacre of the Innocents; the Massacre of the Innocents with a young boy's body held up on a spear, from the ‘Huth Psalter’ England (Lincoln or York?), 4th quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 38116, f. 10r.
A miscellany of scientific and grammatical texts in Latin and Anglo-Norman French (Add MS 17716)
This manuscript contains treatises on French spelling and grammar, as well as Manieres de langage, a text used for teaching the French language in England in the 15th century. It includes several short tales in French, apparently as examples for reading or language practice, one of which has the intriguing title Le mari cocu, battu et content (‘The husband who is cheated on, beaten up and happy’). The story is about a pair of young lovers who concoct an elaborate ruse. The beautiful young wife tells her elderly husband Mr Bon (who has only three grey hairs left) that the falconer (her lover) is a blackguard who wants to seduce her. If he (Bon) disguises himself as her and waits in the garden that night, he will catch him at his tricks. Bon duly waits in the garden for several hours while the lovers have fun inside. Finally the falconer goes to the garden and pretends to make love to Bon dressed as a woman. When Bon responds, the falconer pretends to be horrified and says that he was only there to test his master’s wife’s honour. He beats Bon with a stick in supposed punishment and sends him inside, where Bon finds his wife lying ‘innocently’ in bed, waiting for him. Bon is delighted that his wife and falconer have been so honourable towards him and resolves to treat the falconer as part of the family. Of course the lovers are delighted!
The manuscript also contains a Latin poem on algorithms and treatise on the movement of the planets, part of which is shown here:
Text page with pen-flourished initials of an astronomical treatise, from a Scientific and Grammatical Miscellany, England, 1st half of the 15th century, Add MS 17716, f. 11r.
This is a 10th-century copy of the allegorical poem by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348-c. 405), made in the south of England. It concerns the struggle between the Vices and Virtues for possession of the human soul. The origin of the manuscript is unknown but it was at Bury St Edmunds Abbey in the 14th century (it contains their pressmark) and then in the library of Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 to 1715. The outline drawings of allegorical figures are finely executed with their garments drawn in some detail, providing examples of the tunics and veils worn by Anglo-Saxon women in this period.
Two ink drawings of Superbia's horse grinding its teeth (above) and Superbia reining in her horse, pointing her hand towards three figures in short robes, probably other vices, while Humility and Hope stand on the right, from Aurelius Prudentius, Psychomachia, England, S., 4th quarter of the 10th century, Add MS 24199, f. 12v
These 16th-century Italian botanical manuscripts contain watercolours of the flora and landscapes of the Ancona region of Italy by the amateur botanist Gherardo Cibo (b. 1512, d. 1600).
Full page botanical painting of Galanthus (Snowdrop) on the right and a blue-flowering bulb, probably Ipheion on the left, with a botanist and a young man gathering plants on a mountain top, from Gherardo Cibo, Extracts of Dioscorides' 'De re medica', with botanical paintings, Italy, Central (Urbino), c. 1564-1584, Add MS 22332, f. 35r.
The slaughtering of animals and preparing of meat for the winter are the labours highlighted in these final calendar pages of the year. On the opening folio can be found the beginning of the saints’ days for December. Below, a roundel miniature shows two men in a barn; one has his hands firmly on the horns of a bull, holding him steady, while the other man is preparing to deliver the coup de grâce with a wooden mallet. In the facing folio, another man is butchering a hog outdoors, wielding a long, sharp knife. A bucket of blood is beneath the slaughtering table, and above, we can see a wooly ram (perhaps aghast at the carnage), for the zodiac sign Capricorn. Surrounding this scene is another golden architectural frame, populated with angels playing musical instruments, and a kneeling monk above, perhaps in honour of the feast of the Nativity.
Calendar page for December, with a roundel miniature of two men slaughtering a bull, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 12v
Calendar page for December, with a roundel miniature of a man butchering a hog, with the zodiac sign Capricorn, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 13r
The Phillipps Lectionary must once have been – and to some extent still is – a very beautiful manuscript. As Tuesday’s post detailed, it is full of richly decorated headpieces, glimmering gold headings, and ornate zoomorphic initials. The manuscript’s condition reveals, however, a story of centuries of use, misuse and neglect that seem at odds with the precious contents.
Leaf containing a decorated headpiece and titles written in gold, which displays severe cockling, multiple tears and losses at the leaf edge and upper corner, and the smudging and loss of text, from the Phillipps Lectionary, Add MS 82957, f. 137r
Christopher de Hamel’s recent Panizzi lectures showed inordinately expensive and elaborately ornamented giant bibles being used amid the smoke, grease and grime of the monastic refectory. We should therefore avoid the assumption that medieval people treated their books – even luxury ones – with the same care as modern-day curators. In the Phillipps Lectionary, there is damage literally at every turn; no corner of the manuscript has been unaffected by the way the manuscript has been handled and mishandled, stored and ignored, and – most recently – salvaged and painstakingly repaired.
A mutilated leaf; the black backdrop highlights how the moisture damage has made the edges fragile and liable to tear and flake away, Add MS 82957, f. 119r
The physical condition of this manuscript presents many problems to the curator: how best to balance the need to conserve and protect it with the needs of readers to view and study it; and how to manage the digitisation process. Every manuscript that we plan to digitise is first examined, assessed, and, if necessary, treated by one of our in-house conservators (an earlier post by Ann Tomalak describes this process in more detail). The manuscript you see today on Digitised Manuscripts has been the subject of hours of work and many careful interventions in order to make it fit for digitisation. These repairs will be the subject of a future blog post. Here, our focus will be upon the damage the manuscript has sustained.
The fore-edge of the manuscript, illustrating the areas damaged by rodents, Add MS 82957
Most obviously, the manuscript has suffered from rodent damage. The edges of the manuscript, in particular the upper left-hand corner, have been nibbled. Prior to conservation, these thin, shredded strips of parchment would fall off every time the manuscript was opened. Worse still, the discolouration of the parchment in these locations may have been caused in part by the rodents’ urine. Rest assured we washed our hands very thoroughly after handling the manuscript!
Detail of a leaf showing moisture staining and severe cockling, with part of the text now concealed under a stiff fold in the parchment, Add MS 82957, f. 252r
Damp and mould have also taken their toll on the parchment leaves. The moisture has caused the leaves to swell and cockle. This must have taken place while the manuscript was closed. Adjoining leaves have crinkled together and, though they can be separated, continue to ‘lock’ together when the pages are turned. The mould has eaten away at the parchment, weakening it and making it more likely to split and tear. Rodents also seem to prefer damp and mouldy parchment, because it is softer (and perhaps partially pre-digested!).
Detail of text that has lifted off and transferred onto the facing leaf, Add MS 82957, ff. 126v and 127r
It is fortunate that, in most instances, the margins are so wide that the damp has not reached the text block and caused the ink to bleed. Here, however, the ink has lifted off and transferred onto the facing leaf, damage most likely caused by a combination of moisture damage and friction between the two leaves.
The upper edge of the manuscript, illustrating the swelling caused by moisture damage, Add MS 82957
The water/urine damage has affected the shape of the book by making one corner into an uneven wedge shape.
Humans too have left their mark. In several locations, small red dots are found on the parchment: this is candle wax, which you can feel as a slightly raised spot on the surface. You can see that as the wax has cooled and contracted, it has pulled on the parchment, causing small radiating wrinkles to appear.
Detail of a small hole burned into the parchment, Add MS 82957, f. 197v
Elsewhere, the damage is more serious, with falling cinders from a candle having burnt small holes into the parchment. In this instance, the cinder burnt a hole through one of the adjoining leaves.
Detail of an initial ‘Θ’ (theta) that has been torn out and the corresponding off-print, Add MS 82957, ff. 2v and 3r
The manuscript has also been mutilated, with several initials roughly torn out. All that remains of these are ghostly off-prints on facing pages.
Neo-Gothic-influenced blind-tooled binding, probably 19th century, Add MS 82957, front binding
The manuscript was rebound, probably in the nineteenth century. The binding features recessed boards, most likely to help to protect the edges from further damage. The blind tooling is unusual – showing neo-Gothic influences that perhaps echoes William Morris bindings from Kelmscott – as is the covering.
Detail of the binding, shot under raking light, revealing the wild boar follicle pattern, Add MS 82957, front binding
Close inspection has revealed that the manuscript is bound in wild boar skin. The above image was taken under raking light, a technique where light is shone at an angle from the side, making surface texture more clearly visible. One can see the triangular follicle pattern typical of common pig skin, which was widely used for this purpose. However, the presence of additional bristles – amounting in the live animal to an extra layer of hair – confirms the source as a wild rather than domesticated swine. The circumstances in which the skin was acquired – perhaps a genteel hunting-party? – remains a mystery.
Stay tuned for the next instalment on the Phillipps Lectionary, when we will describe the conservation and digitisation process in more detail.
Opening leaf of the Old English epic poem ‘Beowulf’, 4th quarter of the 10th century or 1st quarter of the 11th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 132r
This is a reminder that the deadline for applications for a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership at the British Library is 4.00pm on Friday 28th November. There is just one week left to apply – don’t miss out on this fantastic opportunity!
Six doctoral studentships are up for grabs, fully-funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and with additional financial support of up to £1,000 per year from the British Library to cover travel and related research costs.
Miniature of King Cnut and Queen Aelfgifu/Emma placing a golden cross on an altar, witnessed by Christ in Majesty and Benedictine monks, from the Liber Vitae of New Minster and Hyde, England, S.W. (Winchester) c. 1031, Stowe MS 944, f. 6r
The British Library has the largest holdings of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the world. We particularly welcome applications relating to network and knowledge exchange across early medieval Europe, the methods of making manuscripts and the development of script, perceptions of the past in Anglo-Saxon England, and comparable topics (see the advertisement for full details). A CDA in this field would fit exactly with the three-year period of research and preparation for the major British Library exhibition on the Anglo-Saxons, which is scheduled to open in October 2018.
We invite applications from Higher Education Institutions to work with us on this topic. We will select the six proposals with the strongest HEI applications to start in the next academic year, commencing October 2015. HEI applications will be assessed according to the following criteria:
- development of the research theme;
- the proposed academic supervisor’s research interests and expertise;
- the ability of the proposed Department to support the student;
- and evidence of previous successful collaboration with non-HEI partners.
The studentships will then be further developed in collaboration with the successful academic partner in each case before being advertised to prospective students. The successful student will contribute to the final agreed research topic.