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02 July 2013

A Calendar Page for July 2013

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For more details on calendar pages or the Golf Book, please see the post for January 2013.

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Calendar page for July with a miniature of a nobleman going hawking, with haymakers behind him, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 24v

Our glimpse into the summer pursuits of aristocrats continues in this miniature from the month of July.  In the foreground, a nobleman is setting out on horseback to hunt with falcons; he is accompanied by two retainers carrying more birds of prey, along with two dogs who seem eager for the hunt.  Behind him, a group of haymakers are at work mowing a field.  In the bas-de-page, a group of men are trying, unsuccessfully it appears, to capture some outsized butterflies.  On the following folio can be found the saints' days for July and a rather fierce-looking lion for Leo.  Below we can see the conclusion of the haymakers' labours, as they head off into the distance with a horsecart laden with their harvest.

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Calendar page for July with a bas-de-page scene of a haycart, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 25r

01 July 2013

The Lindisfarne Gospels in Durham

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The British Library is delighted to be a major lender to the exhibition The Lindisfarne Gospels in Durham, which runs from 1 July to 30 September 2013. No fewer than six of the Library's greatest Anglo-Saxon and medieval treasures are on display at Palace Green Library in Durham, among them the St Cuthbert Gospel, the Ceolfrith Bible and, of course, the magnificent Lindisfarne Gospels.

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The Lindisfarne Gospels (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D IV, f. 11v).

The loan of these treasures marks the culmination of many years' planning and collaboration between the British Library, Durham University, Durham Cathedral and Durham County Council. It provides an outstanding opportunity for visitors to examine these books at close-hand, and in the context of other artefacts including objects from the Staffordshire Hoard and from the tomb of St Cuthbert.

The star object in this exhibition is undoubtedly the Lindisfarne Gospels, which (according to a colophon added on its final page) was made by Eadfrith, bishop of Lindisfarne (698-c. 721). The monastic community of Lindisfarne fled its home in response to Viking raids, carrying their books with them, settling temporarily at Chester-le-Street and finally at Durham. Every page of the Lindisfarne Gospels is witness to Anglo-Saxon artistic craftsmanship. Particularly noteworthy for art historians are its carpet pages, evangelist portraits and decorated initials; but the meticulous, half-uncial script is also of the highest calibre. The pages currently on display are from the canon tables which precede the four gospels (one of which is shown above). The Lindisfarne Gospels can be viewed in its entirety on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site, and can also normally be seen on display in our Treasures Gallery.

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The St Cuthbert Gospel (London, British Library, MS Additional 89000, f. 28v).

Another manuscript to be seen in the Durham exhibition is the St Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest intact European book, still to be found it its original leather binding. This book was purchased for the nation in 2012 following the largest such fundraising campaign ever conducted by the British Library. Most scholars agree that it was made in around AD 698, at the time when Cuthbert's body was translated to a new tomb at Lindisfarne. The coffin was re-opened at Durham Cathedral in 1104, and the book (a copy of the Gospel of St John) found inside. Two of its text-pages can be seen at the Palace Green Library, one of which has a contemporary annotation, as also seen above. Once again, the entire manuscript can be viewed on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

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The Ceolfrith Bible (London, British Library, MS Additional 45025, f. 15r).

An early Bible associated with Anglo-Saxon Northumbria has also been loaned by the British Library to Durham. The fragmentary Ceolfrith Bible (Additional MS 45025) was one of three great pandects (single-volume Bibles) commissioned by Abbot Ceolfrith of Wearmouth-Jarrow (690-716). This Bible seemingly left its home at a very early stage, perhaps as a gift to King Offa of Mercia (757-796), before arriving at Worcester Cathedral Library. After the Middle Ages it was broken up to be used as binding papers in a set of Nottinghamshire estate accounts, before a handful of leaves were subsequently rescued and purchased on behalf of the British Library. This manuscript was the subject of a recent blog-post, describing its fortuitous survival.

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The Royal Athelstan Gospels (London, British Library, MS Royal 1 B VII, f. 15r).

As well as the Lindisfarne Gospels, a second Anglo-Saxon gospel-book has been loaned by the British Library to the Durham exhibition. This is the so-called "Royal Athelstan Gospels" (Royal MS 1 B VII), which was also shown at our own recent Royal Manuscripts exhibition, and is described in more detail in its accompanying catalogue. Made in Northumbria in the first half of the 8th century, this book contains an added manumission in Old English, stating that King Athelstan of Wessex (924-939) had freed a certain Eadhelm from slavery.

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The Durham Liber Vitae (London, British Library, MS Cotton Domitian A VII, f. 7v).

The fifth British Library manuscript in the new exhibition is the Durham Liber Vitae or Book of Life (Cotton MS Domitian A VII). This book was made in the 9th century, written in gold and silver ink, and was continued by generations of monks until the Dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. It contains the names of members of the monastic community, together with those of other religious and benefactors, including various Anglo-Saxon kings: you can read more about it in our post The Durham Book of Life Online.

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Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert (London, British Library, MS Yates Thompson 26, f. 11r).

Last, but definitely not least, the British Library's famous illustrated Life of St Cuthbert (Yates Thompson MS 26) forms part of the Durham exhibition. This book contains the text of Bede's prose Life of Cuthbert, accompanied by a series of exquisite full-page miniatures. It has been featured regularly on our blog, most notably in the post entitled A Menagerie of Miracles (who can forget the image of the otters washing Cuthbert's feet?).

Lending these manuscripts to Durham underlines the British Library's commitment to increase access to its world-famous collections, and to promote new research into medieval manuscript culture. To find out more about them, have a look at Digitised Manuscripts, where all six books can be examined in great detail. Lindisfarne Gospels Durham: One Amazing Book, One Incredible Journey is on show at Palace Green Library until 30 September 2013.

29 June 2013

Guess the Manuscript IV

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It's time for another installment of everyone's favourite game - Guess the Manuscript!  How quickly can you figure this one out?  By now you know the rules: the manuscript is part of the British Library's collections, and can be found (somewhere) on on our Digitised Manuscripts site.  Ready?  Here we go...

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In case not everyone reading this spends their working lives staring at flyleaves, here's another clue:

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And that is how you would find the leaf in this manuscript.  Best of luck!

We'll update with the correct answer shortly.  You can see our previous Guess the Manuscript posts here, here, and here.

Updated:  these spectacular flyleaves are part of the Rochester Bible, Royal MS 1 C VII.  Thanks for playing along!

27 June 2013

Christine de Pizan and the Book of the Queen

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We are thrilled to announce the recent upload of one of our best-loved (and most-requested) medieval manuscripts to our Digitised Manuscripts site; Christine de Pizan’s Book of the Queen (Harley MS 4431) is now online!

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Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan in her study at the beginning of the ‘Cent balades’, Harley MS 4431, f. 4r

Christine de Pizan is widely regarded as one of Europe’s earliest female professional authors, and is certainly one of the most prolific.  Born in Venice in 1365, she moved to Paris as a young child when her father was appointed the royal astrologer and alchemist to King Charles V of France.  Christine took advantage of the intellectual atmosphere of the court, making use of the royal library to teach herself languages, history, and literature.  Her writing career began at the age of 24, after her husband, a royal secretary, died suddenly, and she was faced with the necessity of providing for herself and her small children.  She soon attracted the patronage of a number of nobles at court, and produced dozens of major works over the next three decades, along with hundreds of ballads and poems.

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Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan presenting her manuscript to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, France (Paris), c. 1410 – c. 1414, Harley MS 4431, f. 3r

The largest extant collection of her writing can be found in Harley MS 4431, a compilation, now in two volumes, produced for Isabeau (or Isabel) of Bavaria, the queen consort to Charles VI of France.  This manuscript was written and decorated under Christine’s supervision, and it is possible that some of the passages are in her hand.  The notable artists the Master of the Cité des Dames (see also Egerton MS 2709, Royal MS 19 E VI, and Royal MS 20 C IV) and the Master of the Duke of Bedford (see also Add MS 18850) were principally responsible for the illumination. 

Harley MS 4431 was the subject of an AHRC-funded research project by the University of Edinburgh, in association with the British Library and the ATILF (Analyse et Traitement Informatique de la Langue Française), a unit of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique at the University of Nancy.  The resulting website provides images, transcriptions of the texts, a glossary of Christine’s language, and an admirable collection of further research tools.

The British Library has plans to exhibit the Book of the Queen in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, but until that time, please check out the glories of the fully-digitised version here, and several of our favourite illuminations below.

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Detail of a miniature of Venus presiding over a group of men and women, who are presenting their hearts to her, from 'L'Épître Othéa', Harley MS 4431, f. 100r

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Detail of a miniature of Queen Penthesilea with and her army of Amazons riding through the forest to aid the Trojan army, from 'L'Épître Othéa', Harley MS 4431, f. 103v

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Detail of a miniature of Hercules slaying Cerberus, and Theseus and Pirithous battling demons, from 'L'Épître Othéa', Harley MS 4431, f. 108v


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Detail of a miniature of Apollo killing Ganymede by piercing his eye, from 'L'Épître Othéa', Harley MS 4431, f. 119v

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Detail of a miniature of the Judgement of Paris, from 'L'Épître Othéa', Harley MS 4431, f. 125v

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Detail of a miniature of the Wheel of Fortune, from 'L'Épître Othéa', Harley MS 4431, f. 129r

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Detail of a miniature of Hermaphroditus and the nymph Salmacis bathing in a lake, from 'L'Épître Othéa', Harley MS 4431, f. 132v

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Detail of a miniature of ladies watching knights jousting, from 'Le Duc des vrais amants', Harley MS 4431, f. 150r

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Detail of a miniature of Christine and the Sibyl standing in a sphere of the cosmos, with the moon, sun and stars surrounding them, from 'Le chemin de long estude', Harley MS 4431, f. 189v

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Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan before the personifications of Rectitude, Reason, and Justice in her study, and helping another lady to build the 'Cité des dames', Harley MS 4431, f. 290r

For the latest news and updates from the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts team, be sure to follow us on Twitter @blmedieval.

24 June 2013

Royal Manuscripts Launch the AHRC Image Gallery

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Last week the Arts & Humanities Research Council announced the launch of its new Image Gallery, which will feature selected digital images from the many and varied projects which it supports. We are honoured that one of the British Library's recent projects has been chosen as the pilot 'virtual exhibition': thirteen manuscripts from last year's exhibition Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination can be seen in the gallery here.

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As well as supporting initial research for the Royal exhibition, the AHRC awarded the British Library a further grant to fully digitise many of the manuscripts featured in it, as part of its Digital Tranformations in the Arts and Humanities programme. Details about these manuscripts and links to their digital surrogates can be found on our blog.

We are delighted to be featured in this way, and hope that the new Image Gallery facilitates research into the art, culture and history of the Middle Ages. Further updates about newly digitised manuscripts will be published here and communicated via our Twitter feed, @blmedieval.

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21 June 2013

A Digital Reunion: The Sforza Hours

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The history of the Sforza Hours, our newest upload to Digitised Manuscripts, in many ways resembles a detective story.  The manuscript (now Add MSS 34294, 45722, 62997, and 80800) was commissioned about 1490 by the Duchess of Milan Bona Sforza (d. 1503), the second wife of Galeazzo Maria Sforza.  The Milanese court painter Giovan Pietro Birago (fl. 1471-1513) was contracted to embellish it with miniatures.

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Bas-de-page scene of a hound chasing a rabbit, with Bona's name 'Diva Bona' in the full border, Add MS 34294, f. 122v

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Detail of a full border with Bona's embelm of the phoenix and motto 'Sola fata, solum Deum sequor', Add MS 34294, f. 93r


By 1494 Birago’s work on the manuscript was almost finished and the artist delivered a substantial portion of the still-unbound manuscript to the Duchess.  Then, something unexpected happened.  Several leaves still remaining in the artist’s workshop vanished.  The missing portion must have included a calendar, an indispensable part of any Book of Hours, which the Sforza Hours lacks to this day.  At present, the manuscript begins imperfectly with the four lessons excerpted from the Gospels.

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Miniature of St Mark and his lion at the beginning of the Gospel excerpts, Add MS 34294, f. 10v


Birago’s version of events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the illuminated leaves survives in a letter he wrote to a person whose identity unfortunately has not yet been traced.  The painter claims that his work was stolen by a certain Fra Gian Jacopo, and subsequently sold by him to another friar, only referred to in the letter as Fra Biancho.  This Fra Biancho, Birago continues, took the leaves to Rome and presented them to Giovanni Maria Sforzino (d. 1520), illegitimate son of Francesco Sforza and half-brother of Bona’s husband Galeazzo.  The letter not only gives us some insight into the murky behaviour of some ordained members of the Milanese church, but also puts into perspective the tangible value of an illuminated manuscript as a desirable object of theft.  Regrettably, the letter does not give us any time frame for the events it describes.  We may only suspect that Giovanni Maria Sforzino had already received the stolen leaves by the time of his sister-in-law’s death in 1503, as they were never returned to her or reintegrated with her prayerbook.

It is only now that a small portion of the previously missing folios can be reunited with the rest of the manuscript, if only digitally.  Three detached leaves illuminated by Giovan Pietro Birago, all discovered in the 20th century and now in the collection of the British Library, were identified as those once removed from the unbound Sforza Hours.  Two of them are leaves from the calendar (Add MSS 62997 and 80800), and were both acquired by Martin Breslauer in 1984, in Switzerland.

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Calendar page for May, Add MS 62997

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Calendar page for October, Add MS 80800


The third leaf includes a miniature of the Adoration of the Magi that once preceded the hour of Sext in the Hours of the Virgin (Add MS 45722).  It belonged to the French collector Jean Charles Davillier (b. 1823, d. 1883) before an anonymous benefactor presented it to the British Museum in 1941.

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Miniature of the Adoration of the Magi, Add MS 45722


The remaining miniatures by Giovan Pietro Birago have never been recovered.  Bona Sforza clearly did not commission another campaign of work to complete her book of hours.  At her death in 1503, the unfinished manuscript probably passed to her nephew Philibert II (b. 1480, d. 1504), Duke of Savoy.  Philibert must have either presented or bequeathed the hours to his wife Archduchess Margaret of Austria (b. 1480, d. 1530).  Margaret, a keen patron of the arts, decided to have the manuscript completed.  In 1517, she commissioned the scribe Etienne de Lale to replace some of the missing text, and between 1519 and 1521, the Flemish illuminator Gerard Horenbout (b. c.1465, d. c.1540) to paint the remaining miniatures (the accounts for both campaigns have survived).  Doubtless following the Archduchess’s wish, Horenbout painted her and her father’s portraits in a biblical disguise.  Margaret appears as St Elizabeth in the Visitation.

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Miniature of the Visitation, from the prayers at Lauds, Add MS 34294, f. 61r


She is also recognizable as a woman attending the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, while her father, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, is shown as Simeon.

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Miniature of the Presentation in the Temple, from the prayers at None, Add MS 34294, f. 104v


The manuscript must have been subsequently presented to Emperor Charles V (b. 1500, d. 1558), Margaret’s nephew.  The Emperor's portrait in a cameo bust can be found in the margin of f. 213r with the accompanying monogram KR (Karolus Rex).

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Folio with a cameo bust of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, Add MS 34294, f. 213r


The Sforza Hours was eventually purchased by Sir John Charles Robinson (d. 1913), Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, in 1871, in Spain.  The book subsequently passed to another art collector, John Malcolm of Poltalloch (d. 1893), who presented it to the British Museum in 1893.

- Joanna Fronska

19 June 2013

New Acquisitions in Manuscript and Print

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On 5 June 2013, the British Library bought four lots in the Mendham Sale at Sotheby's, London. The Library's view was that the sale was regrettable, and Roly Keating (our Chief Executive) expressed his reservations as joint-signatory in a letter published in The Times on 11 May. However, once it became clear that the sale would go ahead, a decision was made to try to purchase certain lots, in order to preserve some of the Mendham books for the national collection and to maintain public access to them.

The new acquisitions comprise two Books of Hours, one in manuscript and the other printed, together with two incunabula. The dispersal of the collection involved the risk that books hitherto available for research in the United Kingdom would leave the country or disappear into private hands. The British Library already has outstanding collections of manuscripts and of early printed works, so adding these books to our collections guarantees their availability to a worldwide research community now and in the future. Moreover, Joseph Mendham’s collecting activities meant that he acquired many early printed books that were unlikely to attract the attention of the institutional libraries or bibliophilic collectors of his era.

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Image reproduced by permission of Sotheby's.

Book of Hours, Use of Sarum, with additions including Middle English verse by John Lydgate

Southern Netherlands, middle of the 15th century

This Book of Hours was probably made in Bruges for the English market. Early in its history the manuscript was adapted for use by a female patron, and a number of Middle English devotional pieces were added to it, among them a version of John Lydgate's Shorte tretis of the 15 joyes of Oure Lady. Not only is the context is which this manuscript was produced of great interest, but its various additions have immense research value; we are delighted that it will soon to available to researchers in our Manuscripts Reading Room.

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Image reproduced by permission of Sotheby's.

Book of Hours, Use of Sarum

London: John King for John Walley, 1555. 8º.

This small Catholic liturgical book, produced during the reign of Queen Mary I (1553–1558), is beautifully printed in red and black, and is a unique survival in excellent condition. John King and John Walley were both early members of the Stationers' Company in London, and King's printing shop was next to that of the Royal Printer, John Cawood. Although the text was also produced on the Continent for the English market, fewer editions were produced in England. All editions now survive in small numbers, mainly because the books were heavily used and then discarded when new editions became available.

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Image reproduced by permission of Sotheby's.

Martinus Magistri (or de Magistris), Tractatus consequentiarum

Paris: Felix Baligault, 20 August 1494. 4º.

Bound with Johannes de Sacro Bosco, Tractatus de sphera

[Paris]: Felix Baligault, [1494]. 4º.

Martinus Magistri’s treatise on the theory of consequence was composed by one of the leading nominalist scholastic philosophers in late-medieval Paris. Having reached its height in the 14th century, a revival in the study of consequence took place after nominalist teaching was reintroduced at the University of Paris in the 1480s. Medieval theories of this kind have become of increasing interest to modern logicians, but the texts survive in few copies. Of the 7 known editions of Magistri’s work, only 2 could be found in United Kingdom libraries, and none was previously in the British Library’s collections.

The Tractatus is bound with Johannes de Sacro Bosco’s astronomical treatise, De sphera, one of the most widely-read introductions to astronomy in the Middle Ages, surviving in numerous manuscript copies and over 80 early printed editions, 14 of them from the 15th century. None is common; these were very much books to be read and used.

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Image reproduced by permission of Sotheby's.

Sixtus IV, Bulla extensionis indulgentiarum …

[Rome: Georg Lauer, after 1 September 1480].

Indulgences were widely sold as part of the fund-raising effort to support the Knights of Rhodes against the assaults of the Ottoman Empire. Only one other copy of this printing is known, held at Munich University.

These four new acquisitions will soon be available to researchers in the Manuscripts Reading Room and the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at the British Library.

17 June 2013

Lindisfarne Gospels Rewind

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Did you miss the Lindisfarne Gospels and St Cuthbert Gospel on BBC Radio 3? Then fear not, as the whole programme is available to listen again (United Kingdom only, alas) on the BBC iPlayer. Presented by author David Almond, the programme explores the place of these majestic manuscripts in art, religion and literature, and features interviews with staff from the British Library.

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Meanwhile, both of these great books can be viewed on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site: click here to see the Lindisfarne Gospels and the St Cuthbert Gospel.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, @blmedieval.