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22 July 2016

Updated List of Digitised Manuscript Hyperlinks

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Saints and monsters and centaurs, oh my! Continuing our tradition of releasing roughly every 3 months an updated list of hyperlinks of ancient, medieval and early modern manuscripts digitised by the British Library, we are pleased to present our most up-to-date list here: Download List of Digitised Manuscripts with Hyperlinks, July 2016. For our long-term followers who are interested only in the manuscripts uploaded since the March hyperlist was made, they can be found at the end of this file: Download List of Digitised Manuscripts with most recent uploads at the end, July 2016. You can find all our digitised content on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site.

The past few months have seen some major releases on Digitised Manuscripts. We are now close to digitising almost 1500 manuscripts. Highlights of the most recent upload include:

  • A copy of the Gospels translated into Old English, made nearly 1000 years ago.

Cotton_ms_otho_c_i!1_f070r
Opening of St John’s Gospel, from an Old English translation of the Gospels, England (Wessex?), c. 1000–1050, Cotton MS Otho C I/1, f. 70r 

  • The earliest surviving world map which includes a depiction of the British Isles. This manuscript — a scientific miscellany made in England in the mid-11th century — also contains colourful depictions of the labours of the month, of constellations and of the Marvels of the East.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_v!1_f037r
Sagittarius, from a scientific miscellany including Cicero’s Arator, England, 11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 37r 

  • A copy of Usuard's Martyrology used at St Augustine's Canterbury and updated there in the 12th and 13th century. One addition commemorates the death of 'Harold, king of the English, and many of our brothers' at the battle of Hastings. 

Cotton_ms_vitellius_c_xii!1_f139r
Historiated initial at the beginning of entries for the month of September, from Usuard's Martyrology, England (St Augustine's, Canterbury), late 11th-early 12th century with later additions, Cotton MS Vitellius C XII/1, f. 139r

This is to name but a few of the recent uploads. And stay tuned: there are many more exciting uploads coming up in the next few months. We’ll publish an updated list in the autumn, but until then please check our Twitter account for announcements about the manuscripts which have most recently been added to Digitised Manuscripts. (Our Twitter account is also good for London Underground-inspired puns and pictures of woodwoses, among other things.)

@BLMedieval

19 July 2016

Alexander Neckam’s Collections of Prometheus

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You shouldn’t have pressed that button. As the time machine sputters to life, your lab disappears, to be replaced with a forest and stone buildings. A group of monks take you in, and you regain a sense of calmness as you listen to them sing the daily office in the chapel. But what was that word that just came up? Zizania? You reach for your phone, only to remember that the Oxford English Dictionary and the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources won’t be online for centuries to come. You absolutely need to know what that word means. How will you find out?

Opening of Corrogationes Promethei in Royal MS 5 C V, f. 2r, late 13th to early 14th century.

Opening of Corrogationes Promethei in Royal MS 5 C V, f. 2r, late 13th to early 14th century.

You might turn to Alexander Neckam’s Collections of Prometheus (Corrogationes Promethei), a guide to reading difficult sections of the Bible written around the year 1200. Seven copies of Collections are in the British Library, and two of them can be browsed in full on Digitised Manuscripts: Harley MS 6 and Harley MS 1687. It is divided into two ‘books’. This does not mean that it was physically divided into two physically separate volumes: ancient writers used this term to divide a work into large sections, which in turn could be split into chapters (a tradition that continues to this day, as in The Lord of the Rings). The first section is a compilation of pointers from ancient grammarians such as Priscian, providing a refresher in Latin when you might have forgotten its subtleties. The second part works through the entire Bible in order, giving quotations of unusual passages with a running commentary on their correct interpretation, and notes on typical errors in the hand-copied Bibles of the day.

A fifteenth-century depiction of the fifth-century grammarian Priscian, Burney MS 235, f. 4r.

A 15th-century depiction of the 5th-century grammarian Priscian, Burney MS 235, f. 4r.

This might today seem a rather odd approach for a reference book. We often take the index for granted, but at this time it was still a nascent invention. Works such as Isidore of Sevile’s Etymologies were organized by subject, and required familiarity; readers did not expect to get answers from their books in a matter of seconds. It was not for almost a century that some copies of Alexander’s Collections were rewritten in alphabetical order.

The book was widely loved. There are 38 known manuscripts that survive, and records of another 46 – not quite a blockbuster in medieval terms, but very respectable. After the author’s death, the prior of Malmesbury, known only by the initial ‘S.’, wrote to Walter de Melida, formerly Alexander’s clerk at Cirencester Abbey. One of two copies of the unpublished letter is now in Royal MS 5 C V, f. 57r–v (the other is Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Latin 11867, f. 240v). He goes into raptures about the book:

Hence, as though entering the porch of Solomon, while I admire the scholastic scenes once handed down – as if through the pleasant greens of my forgotten youth – I energetically admire the scents of flowers which I had thought to have withered in such a man. But the happy storeroom of the memory is to be praised that embraces so many and so great and so different treasures of storehouses, and succeeds in protecting them without decay. This householder should well be called good and rich, who brings forth from new and old things from his treasury, and he should doubtless be called the seat of wisdom; occurrence and fulfilment direct his soul with experience. This is the faithful spouse who keeps every new and old fruit for his beloved, so that he can say with restrained cheerfulness, as if on behalf of his family: ‘We have ripe apples, tender chestnuts, and plenty of pressed cheeses.’ [Virgil, Eclogues 1.80–81]

In spite of the enthusiasm for Alexander’s work, there was immediate confusion about the meaning of the title Corrogationes Promethei. What did Prometheus have to do with grammar? A letter survives with a 13th-century copy of the work glossing the title as ‘collections of a wise or prudent man’ (Évreux, Bibliothèque municipale, MS Latin 72, f. 1v). The most convincing theory is that the title refers to Rhetorica ad Herennium 4.9, the classic textbook on the art of rhetoric. In a quotation that Priscian popularized, it compares Prometheus to a ‘ridiculous master’. As was typical for Alexander Neckam, the title was meant to be self-deprecating and slightly humorous.

— Andrew Dunning (@anjdunning)

14 July 2016

Manuscript the Tube

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Some time ago I was alone in the office on a Friday evening and was left in charge of the @BLMedieval Twitter account. This is sometimes dangerous. Among my sillier inventions is the hashtag #WodewoseWednesday, which created a low-velocity Twitter storm as people sent us images of endearing, furry Wildmen (or Wodewoses) from manuscripts across the world. By the end of that day, Twitter had reduced me to near hysterical giggles and I wondered if I might have to lie down under my desk. 

It all started quite innocently on the Friday in question, when Johan Oosterman @JohanOosterman posted an image of the British Library’s Egerton MS 1900, f. 100r, with the caption ‘Elephant and Castle’. Here is that image, taken from a late 15th-century German travelogue, which describes a journey from Venice to Egypt.

Elephant and castle

Amused by this tweet, I thought of other names of London Tube stations that could be represented by manuscript images. I retweeted the first suggestion and invited people to #manuscriptthetube. The results showed just how inventively people engage with manuscripts that have been made digitally available. It was also a reminder that medieval London is not far from the surface and you do not need to dig deep, not even as deep as a Tube platform, to find its traces. Here, in the most modern of media – digital images representing a modern transport network – was a reminder of the city’s past, of its rich lexicon of medieval place names and the imagination of its inhabitants and an online community further afield.

 Royal 16 F II f73
Earliest known topographically accurate view of London, with the Tower of London and Duke Charles d’Orléans writing in the Tower, from Charles d’Orléans, Poetry and Pseudo-Heloise, Epistles, 'Les demands d'amours', and  'Le livre dit grace entiere', Low Countries (Bruges), c. 1483 (this image) with later additions, c. 1492 – c. 1500, Royal MS 16 F II, f. 73r

Tower of London Underground Ralf Roletschek
A 21st-century view of the Tower of London, photographed by Ralf Roletschek, England (London), 13 October 2010. 

Like many Londoners, I have a great affection for the iconic London Tube map. It’s a masterpiece of design. The map was designed by Henry Beck (1902-1974) in 1932. His innovation was to take some liberties with geography and thereby make the stations appear evenly spaced, ordered and legible. In its broad palette and dovetailing lines it’s a visual representation of all of London’s colour and variety. In many ways, Beck's map is similar to a manuscript like Egerton MS 1900, itself a colourfully illustrated travelogue with some distortions of distance. 

Below is a run-down of some of our favourite tweets which #manuscriptthetube. Please continue to send us your suggestions via @BLMedieval. We've embedded the links to all the original tweets in everyone's Twitter handles. 

 

A Run-Down of Our Favourites

Some suggestions gestured to the medieval history embedded in London's place names, like this one from Buckland Abbey @BucklandAbbeyNT, for Blackfriars. Blackfriars is named after a community of Dominican monks or ‘black friars’, so called because of the black habit they wore. It was established in 1221 near Lincoln’s Inn. The image here is from @thegetty's MS 107, f. 224r

Blackfriars

Some punned on the names of Tube stations, like Acton Town from Susannah Davis @aethelflaed with an image from the Bodleian Library @bodleianlibs MS Auct F 2 13

Acton Town

Harrow on the Hill  station proved to be a rich source of inspiration for Adam @pseudomonas, with an image from our 'Taymouth Hours', ?London, c. 1325-50, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 68v

Harrow on the hill, YT

Harrow on the Hill got a second outing in my personal favourite of the punning suggestions from @SLevelt, Sjoerd Levelt, with an image from our Speculum humanae salvationis, England, c.1485-1509, Harley MS 2838, f. 33v

  Harrow on the hill

Geoff Griffiths @Cheoffors offered both Baker Street/Baker's Treat and also Pudding Lane with this image from the Getty Museum @theGetty from a mid 13th-century psalter, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 14, f. 8v

 

Baker's treat

@Cheoffors also suggested a wonderful image for Heat-throw/Heathrow (All Terminals) from Codex Skylitzes Matritensis, Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid, Vitr. 26-2, Bild-Nr. 77, f.  34 v

  Heathrow

Richard Fitch @tudorcook was in playful mood with an image of Arsenal from @MorganLibrary's late 14th-century copy of Jacques de Longuyon's Vows of the Peacock, in MS G 24, f. 25v

 

Arsenal

And we also loved his suggestion for Hatch End from the Hague's MS MMW 10 B 25, f. 31r

Hatch end

 

 Commonplace Berk @stambuch was typically witty in his suggestion for Kilburn from the Bodleian Library's Douce MS 332. You can see his other suggestion here (caution advised). 

Kilburn

Others were more literal representations of the names of tube stations, like London Bridge (Mind the gap!) from @DollyJorgensen with an image from our Yates Thompson MS 47, a copy of John Lydgate's Life of Saint Edmund, made in ?Bury St Edmunds, c. 1461-75.

  London bridge

 

We are thrilled that the Getty Museum @thegetty took up our British challenge and suggested Seven Sisters from an image of Philosophy presenting the seven liberal arts to Boethius by the Coëtivy Master.

 
Seven sisters

 Geoff Griffiths @Cheoffors also used this image for High Barnet. For our non-British readers, 'barnet' is cockney rhyming slang for 'hair' (it comes from 'Barnet fair') and also means 'head'.

 High barnet

Rayners Lane, from Susannah Davis @aethelflaed was a very British suggestion, with a detail of Croesus from John Lydgate's Fall of Princes, ?Bury St Edmunds, c. 1450-60, Harley MS 1766, f. 133r

H 1766 f133r

And there was a bleak and brilliant humour to her suggestion for Amersham from Add MS 18851, the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, made in Bruges in c. 1497. 

Amersham

Elephant and Castle  got a second outing from @SophieVHarwood with a detail of the death of Codrus, from Speculum humanae salvationis, England (London), c. 1485-1509, Harley MS 2838

H 2838 f27

C R Stillman-Lowe @SICathy sent us this lovely angel for, um, Angel from the 'Taymouth Hours', our Yates Thompson MS 13

  Angel

C R Stillman-Lowe @SICathy also tagged some bemused-looking barons for Barons Court, with a detail of Merlin standing before King Arthur, from the Lancelot-Grail (The Prose Vulgate Cycle), Northern France (Saint-Omer or Tournai), 1316, Add MS 10292, f. 200v 

Tw Add 10292 f200v

@DollyJorgensen was on fine form, suggesting Hammersmith with detail of a blacksmith, from a fragmentary Book of Hours, England (London), c. 1320 - c. 1330, Harley MS 6563, f. 68   

H 6563 f68v

I loved some of the madder ones. Like this suggestion of Oval from Anthony Bale @RealMandeville. Yep, it's a wound. 

Oval

Our very own @julianpharrison gave us Fulham Broadway (or possibly Tott[ering]ham Court Road?). No we didn't get it either, but we thought we should put it up in any case to keep him happy. And it does depict a pig on stilts, from Jean Froissart's Chroniques (the 'Harley Froissart'), Low Countries (Bruges), c. 1470-1472, Harley MS 4379, f. 19v

H 4379 f19v

Finally, Erik Kwakkel @erik_kwakkel gave us a very witty suggestion which gestured to the history of our collection. He suggested Burnt Oak, with an image of some of the charred fragments of manuscripts destroyed in the Cotton Fire. You can read about the terrible fire which destroyed part of the library's Cotton collection here

Burnt oak

 Which are your favourite entries from #manuscriptthetube? We'd love to hear your suggestions: please tweet us @BLMedieval or leave a comment below this blogpost.

 ~@marywellesley

 

Related

 

Susan Reed @sureed67 reminded us that Saint Pancras was 'Beheaded by the Emperor. So you could say the King was Cross with St Pancras'. Find out more about who this king, or rather emperor, was and why he was cross with St Pancras,  by checking out our St Pancras' Day blog post).

Detail Royal 2 B VII f. 249v


Detail of St Pancras and the Emperor Diocletian, from Queen Mary Psalter, England (Westminster or East Anglia?), c. 1310-1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 249v

11 July 2016

Robert of Cricklade: Why I Write

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The problem of whether to write something new or dig something up from the past is perennial. As Ecclesiastes puts it, ‘There is no end to the writing of books, and much study is wearisome.’ This was especially a problem for medieval writers, from whom we have inherited a concern for demonstrating the authorities supporting our assertions. Some intellectuals in the Middle Ages wondered whether there was any purpose in writing at all, given the wealth of books already available.

Robert of Cricklade thought otherwise. Born in Wiltshire, he was first a teacher, later becoming an Augustinian canon (halfway between a monk and a secular priest) at nearby Cirencester Abbey. Around 1138/9, he was put in charge of St Frideswide’s Priory in Oxford, much of which still stands today as part of Christ Church. One of five copies of his unpublished book On the Marriage of Jacob (De connubio Iacob) is in the British Library.

Royal-8-e-ii-f1r

Robert of Cricklade’s On the Marriage of Jacob, late 12th century, Royal MS 8 E II, f. 1.

Robert was an indefatigable supporter of contemporary writers. He asserts that if others think he should stop writing, perhaps they were merely jealous. He offers a challenge: Do you want me to pay attention to you? Then give me something to read (Royal MS 8 E II, f. 49r–v):

Let them call to mind that it is written, ‘jealousy slays the simple’ [Job 5:2], those namely who in being jealous prove that they are lesser than those of whom they are jealous. If they grieve that I write, let them also write, and I will certainly read their writings, as it is said, ‘with a bowed head’ [Horace, Saturae 3.80], as theirs; I read now those who write now, not being jealous and disparaging, but giving thanks that thus far ‘the Lord’ has not, as the prophet says, ‘forsaken the land’ [Ezekiel 8:12, 9:9], since even in our age people may be found who can stir us up to love of his sayings and writings.

For I also read the writings of the venerable abbot of Clairvaux that came into our hands; and I not only read the splendid work of the man of highest erudition, William, monk and cantor of the church of Malmesbury, that he compiled on the Lamentations of Jeremiah, but I also had it written, so that it might be found in our church. I read also his book on the miracles of the most blessed mother of God and perpetual virgin, Mary, which is also found in our church. What shall I say on his compilations from the works of the most blessed Pope Gregory, in which the violent uprooter of sins and loving builder of virtues appears so that in him in a certain way it seems to be fulfilled which is written, ‘See, I have set you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to build and to plant.’ [Jeremiah 1:10] I have not yet read his other works, but I will read them if it should please God and the space of my life is extended. For I am not jealous of writing monks, but I rejoice with them, although I am not a monk, but the most unworthy of the canons of Cirencester of the church of St Mary, the mother of God, under the discipline of the holy and venerable Serlo, the first abbot of the place, praying to God for the remission of their sins.

Robert’s approach was not mere words; although his copies of William of Malmesbury do not survive, some of the other remaining books from Malmesbury and Cirencester show evidence of exchanges between the two locations, only 20 km apart. In Oxford, he wrote a life of St Frideswide that showed the priory’s patron saint as a precocious learner (and far more intelligent than a typical male child). Even after Robert’s death (between 1174 and 1180), his work at Oxford and Cirencester inspired the work of the famous Alexander Neckam (1157–1217).

Robert’s advice holds true for any of us today suffering from writer’s block. Bragging that your talent exceeds even that of J.R.R. Tolkien won’t achieve anything. ‘Nunc lego qui nunc scribunt’ – ‘I read now those who write now’.

— Andrew Dunning (@anjdunning)

09 July 2016

Caption Competition No. 5

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Dear Readers,

It's caption time again! And today (you lucky people) we're giving you not one but two — yes, TWO — chances to exercise your brains/show off to your friends. Over to you!

For inspiration (if you need any), the original images are found in an English Apocalypse manuscript, dating from the 1st quarter of the 14th century (British Library Royal MS 2 D XIII, ff. 18v, 43v).

We look forward to receiving your contributions – the best suggestions will be published on our Twitter account (@BLMedieval) in the next few days.

Royal_ms_2_d_xiii_f018v

CAPTION 1

 

Royal_ms_2_d_xiii_f043v

 CAPTION 2

 

Update (13 July)

We received some fantastic suggestions for our latest caption competition. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed: here is a small selection of our favourites.

Caption 1

@keithedkins OK Jeremy, you've had long enough, here are my 50 nominations to stand against you

@julianpharrison Thank goodness you've brought the toilet paper

Caption 2

@obrienatrix Early experimental stages: how the hole got in the #medievaldonut

@tudorcook Oh and that's a poor effort from the Heavenly Host team in this first round of the shot putt!

07 July 2016

The Translation of Thomas Becket

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Today we celebrate the Feast of the Translation of Thomas Becket. On this day in 1220 the relics of this famous English martyr were ‘translated’ or moved from the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral to an elaborate shrine in the newly-constructed apse at the east end of the cathedral. In the words of Kay Slocum (Liturgies in Honour of Thomas Becket, Toronto, 2004), this was ‘one of the most important and sumptuous state occasions of the 13th century’. King Henry III of England was in attendance, together with the political and religious great and good, and a new liturgical office was composed for the occasion. Unfortunately, the shrine was destroyed in 1538 by order of King Henry VIII, but the legend and the liturgy survive.

Two manuscripts in the British Library's collections contain versions of the Office for the Translation. One of these, the ‘Stowe Breviary’ (also known as the ‘Norwich Breviary’, Stowe MS 12), can be viewed in full on our Digitised Manuscripts site. This manuscript was made in the diocese of Norwich within a few years of the translation of Becket’s relics, and it is illuminated in the East Anglian style perfected in the Gorleston Psalter.

Stowe_ms_12_f270r

Historiated initial depicting the translation of Thomas of Canterbury, with the name ‘Thomas’ erased in the rubric on the right of the initial: 1322-1325, the ‘Stowe Breviary’, Stowe MS 12, f. 270r

Thomas Becket, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, was murdered in the cathedral on 29 December 1170 by three knights, widely believed to have been acting on the orders of King Henry II. Henry had been incensed by Becket’s refusal to recognise the power of the English monarch over the Church. The story of Becket’s martyrdom spread rapidly through Europe and it was widely represented in medieval art. One of the most famous series of images is that found in the Queen Mary Psalter, one of which is shown here (they can all be seen on Digitised Manuscripts).

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f298r

A bas-de-page image illustrating the murder of Thomas Becket, from the Queen Mary Psalter: England (London/Westminster or East Anglia?) between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 298r

Three years after his death, Becket was canonised by the Pope, and his cult became one of the most widely celebrated in the Middle Ages. Liturgies were composed for his feast day, 29 December, with lessons recounting his life and legend and chants celebrating his miracles. In the Huth Psalter from northern England, St Thomas is portrayed alongside the very popular St Margaret and St Catherine of Alexandria.

011ADD000038116U00013000

Thomas Becket is murdered by a group of knights; Margaret emerges from the belly of a dragon, and beats a demon with a flail; Catherine of Alexandria prays amidst the dead bodies of the men who attempted to martyr her by breaking her over a wheel. An angel breaks the wheels with clubs: England (Lincoln or York?), 4th quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 38116, f. 13r

The Penwortham Breviary (Add MS 52359), a beautifully decorated manuscript from northern England, contains a series of liturgies for Thomas Becket with musical notation.

Add_ms_52359_f049v

Part of the Office of St Thomas Becket from a Sarum Breviary (the ‘Penworthiam Breviary’): northern England, c 1300-1319, Additional MS 52359, f. 49v

By the early 13th century crowds of pilgrims from across Europe visited Becket’s tomb at Canterbury Cathedral, returning home with tales of miraculous events. Following an earlier papal decree, his relics were to be moved to a magnificent new shrine and the Archbishop at the time, Stephen Langton, planned the occasion meticulously, choosing an auspicious date, rather than exactly 50 years to the day from Becket’s death. Tuesday, 7 July 1220, was ‘according to the details given in Leviticus … on the tenth day … of the seventh month after seven-times-seven years from the event; and for good measure, the day was Tuesday, corresponding with the special Tuesdays in Becket’s life, the date was the anniversary of Henry II’s inhumation in 1189, and 1220 was a leap-year, a time of good fortune’ (Ann Duggan, ‘The Cult of St Thomas Becket in the Thirteenth Century’, in St Thomas Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford: Essays in His Honour, ed. by Meryl Jancey, Hereford, 1982, pp. 38-39). Unfortunately the shrine was destroyed in 1538 by order of King Henry VIII, but a candle in Canterbury Cathedral marks the spot.

The Office for the Translation of Thomas Becket is included in a number of surviving breviaries, and it continued to be celebrated every 50 years from 1220 to 1470, an unprecedented honour for an English saint. A second copy in the British Library's collections is found in Additional MS 28598, a late 13th-century breviary from Ely, with the same antiphons and responsories as Stowe MS 12, but with musical notation. A unique prosa (a set of rhymed couplets set to music added to a responsory on special occasions) follows Lesson 9, which tells how the martyr resuscitated a young girl for the second time.

C13086-13

A page from a Breviary with musical notation, late 13th century, England, E. (Ely), Additional MS 28598, f. 29r

You can read more about Thomas Becket in our blogpost Murder in the Cathedral.

Chantry Westwell

 

05 July 2016

Masons and Manuscripts

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What do the masons who built medieval cathedrals, the philosopher Voltaire and the artist Marc Chagall have in common? Give yourself a pat on the back if you knew that they are all associated with freemasonry. The history of freemasonry is the subject of a major exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, open until 24 July 2016, to which the British Library has loaned two medieval manuscripts.

Egerton_ms_1894_f005v
The tower of Babel being built by masons, from the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, England, c. 1350-1375, Egerton MS 1894, f. 5v

Freemasonry had its origins in the building of medieval cathedrals. In the late Middle Ages, masons gathered in guilds or lodges regulated by statutes. Each new mason had to undergo an apprenticeship of seven years and to swear an oath before they could receive the status of mason. At around the same time, a legend was created to enhance the status and importance of masons’ work. The oldest versions of this legend are dated to the end of the 14th century and the early 15th century, and they survive in two British Library manuscripts (Royal MS 17 A I and Additional MS 23198). They contain a verse history of masonry and of the regulations of the craft of masonry, ending with a prayer. These poems give a mythical account of the origins of mason’s craft: they claim that the secrets of practical geometry and masonry were created with the world and were the foundation of all knowledge, and that masonry was established in England during the reign of King Athelstan (d. 939).

Royal 15 E II   f. 265
Detail of a mason and a carpenter, from Livre des proprietez des choses, Low Countries (Bruges), 1482, Royal MS 15 E II, f. 265r

In the 17th century, individuals who did not have links with masonry were admitted to lodges, first in Scotland and afterwards in England. The term ‘lodge’ designated the hut of masons and was extended to the corporation of masons. Freemasonry as we know it today originated in England in the 18th century, when some gentlemen masons – often members of the Royal Society or other learned men -- gathered at the ‘Goose and Gridiron’ tavern in St Paul’s churchyard, before uniting four London lodges into one in 1717. Freemason lodges played a key role in the dissemination of Enlightenment ideas because of the close links between members of the Royal Society and members of the Great Lodge of England.

Royal_ms_17_a_i_f001r
A page from one of the earliest masonic treatises, Constituciones artis gemetrie secundum Euclyde, England, 15th century, Royal MS 17 A I, f. 1r

In 1725, English freemasons founded the first French lodge in the neighbourhood of St-Germain in Paris. The political philosopher Montesquieu (1689-1755) was one of the first Frenchmen to become an ‘officer’, after having been initiated into freemasonry in an English lodge at Westminster in 1730. Despite some criticism, freemasonry flourished in France, and it counted among its members Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (1741-1803), the author of Les Liaisons dangereuses, and the expressionist artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985).

The exhibition currently being staged in Paris aims to bring a new perspective to the origins and history of freemasonry. We are delighted that the British Library is a prominent lender to La Franc-Maçonnerie, and we hope that visitors to the exhibition enjoy seeing our manuscripts.

~Laure Miolo

01 July 2016

A Calendar Page for July 2016

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

Add_ms_18850_f007r
Calendar page for July from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430,
Add MS 18850, f. 7r

Summer is in full swing in the Bedford Hours calendar pages for the month of July. 

Add_ms_18850_f007r_detail1
Detail of miniatures of a man scything wheat and the zodiac sign Leo, from the calendar page for July,
Add MS 18850, f. 7r

At the bottom of the folio is a miniature of a man engaged in a very typical labour of the month for July, scything wheat.  Although he is surrounded by a bucolic landscape including a river and a small bridge, our peasant appears less than pleased about his task.  Happily, his grumpy attitude is not shared by his companion at the bottom of the page, a remarkably jolly looking lion, for the zodiac sign Leo.

Add_ms_18850_f007r_detail2
Detail of a marginal roundel of Julius Caesar, from the calendar page for July,
Add MS 18850, f. 7r

On the middle left of the folio is a roundel miniature of an armoured king, crowned, holding a sword and a tablet headed with the letters ‘KL’ – a very simplified version of a medieval calendar.  This king, the rubrics tell us, is Julius Caesar, for whom the month of July was named.  The verses go on to describe how Caesar ‘fixed and put in order’ the months of the year that were ‘confused in the ancient calendar’ and for this achievement he was eternally memorialised. 

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Calendar page for July,
Add MS 18850, f. 7v

The saints’ days for July continue on the following folio, accompanied by two marginal roundels. The first of these, on the middle left, shows a snarling dog who appears to be biting at a bright star; this is most likely intended to represent Canis, the star that the rubrics tell us is ‘reigning’ in the month of July.  At the bottom is a less pleasant scene of Julius Caesar.  He is here seated on this throne, raising his arm in alarm as another man plunges a dagger in his chest.  Two men close by are also pulling daggers from their sheaths in a scene that illustrates how Caesar ‘was killed by his counsel.’

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Detail of marginal roundels of Canis and the murder of Julius Caesar, from the calendar page for July,
Add MS 18850, f. 7v

-   Sarah J Biggs