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06 December 2014

Report on the Fourteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscripts Conference

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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. 

Coffee break
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. 

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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.

Coffee break 2

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!

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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.

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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.

Presentation

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!

04 December 2014

New Images on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

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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:

C13575-52
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

The ‘Huth Psalter’ (Add MS 38116)

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:

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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:

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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.

Prudentius, Psychomachia (Add MS 24199):

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.

K151228
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

Cibo Botanical manuscripts (Add MS 22332  and Add MS 22333)

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).

C12611-09
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.

A Bible from Bologna: Add MS 18720

Seventy-five gorgeous illuminated pages are newly published for this manuscript.

K137746
Historiated initial 'E'(t) at the beginning of the book of Jonah, of Jonah holding a scroll, from a Bible in two volumes, Italy, N. (Bologna), 4th quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 18720, f. 376r.
 

Let us know on Twitter @BLMedieval of any of your favourite images – new or old – from the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts!

- Chantry Westwell

01 December 2014

A Calendar Page for December 2014

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

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.

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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

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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

- Sarah J Biggs

29 November 2014

Guess the Manuscript XVII

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Another month has flown by - and it's time for Guess the Manuscript once more!

Guess the MS XVII


This snippet has been taken from a manuscript somewhere on Digitised Manuscripts, so get searching.

Answers the usual way: through the comments box below or through Twitter @BLMedieval.

Bonne chance!

- James Freeman

 

Update - 11.12.14:

OK, perhaps this one's a bit tricky, so here's a clue.  It's another detail shot from elsewhere in the same manuscript...Any ideas?

GTM XVII clue 1

 

27 November 2014

Worn Around the Edges: More on the Phillipps Lectionary

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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. 

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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. 

Add_ms_82957_f119r
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. 

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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! 

Add_ms_82957_f252r
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!). 

Add_ms_82957_ff126v-127r details
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. 

Add_ms_82957_fse006r
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. 

Add_ms_82957_f152v
Detail of wax droplets,
Add MS 82957, f. 152v 

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. 

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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. 

Add_ms_82957_ff002v-3r details
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. 

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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. 

Add_ms_82957_raking detail
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. 

- James Freeman

21 November 2014

Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships at the British Library

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Cotton_ms_vitellius_a_xv_f132r
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. 

Each studentship will be jointly supervised by a member of the British Library curatorial team and an academic from a UK Higher Education Institution. There are nine potential research areas that range across the British Library collections, with one for the medieval period: ‘Understanding the Anglo-Saxons: The English and Continental Manuscript Evidence’. 

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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. 

For further details and an application form, please visit the British Library’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships page.

20 November 2014

Magna Carta Ballot: A Huge Thank You

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We'd like to thank everyone who entered our recent ballot to see the four original 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts, when they are brought together next February for the first time in 800 years. We were overwhelmed by the response: just under 45,000 people entered online, and we received in addition more than 100 postal entries. Everybody at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral really appreciates the efforts made by members of the public to view our precious Magna Cartas.

The ballot is now closed, and the winning entrants are in the process of being selected. You may recall that we were offering 1,215 people the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the four documents side-by-side. Winners will be contacted between now and 12 December, so please hold tight if you haven't heard from us yet: there's a chance that you may actually be one of the chosen ones!

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Salisbury_Cathedral

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Lincoln Cathedral (left), Salisbury Cathedral (middle) and the British Library (right), home to the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

A reminder that the winners will view the four 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts at the British Library in London on Tuesday, 3 February 2015. The winners will be given a special introduction to the history and legacy of Magna Carta from historian and TV presenter Dan Jones. They will also each receive a special edition Magna Carta gift bag containing free passes to each of the upcoming exhibitions at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, plus a Certificate of Attendance, inscribed with the winner’s name and sealed in wax with a special stamp created to mark the day. The event is being sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm, and we are very grateful for their support.

For anyone who does miss out on this one-off event, remember that all four Magna Carta manuscripts will be on display individually as part of major exhibitions in 2015 at their respective institutions -  the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral. See this webpage for more information.

The 800th anniversary of the granting of Magna Carta by King John will be marked worldwide by numerous events and exhibitions, which will be publicised on this blog and via our Twitter account, @BLMedieval. In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about the history of Magna Carta, please see the British Library's dedicated webpages. It's going to be a very exciting year for all of us!

18 November 2014

A Royal Beast and the Menagerie in the Tower

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Yates_thompson_ms_13_f018r - detail
Detail of a miniature of a crowned lion as ‘King of Beasts’ in a Book of Hours (‘The Taymouth Hours’), ?England (?London), c. 1325–c. 1350,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 18r

In light of the recent news that London may be without lions for the first time in 800 years, and with further inspiration from the Royal Beasts exhibition at the Tower of London, we take a turn towards the role of the lion in the medieval imagination.

Barbary lion skull
A skull of a ‘Barbary’ lion, excavated from the moat of the Tower of London in 1937, image courtesy of the Natural History Museum, London

Visitors to Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination may remember the lion skull kindly lent to the British Library by the Natural History Museum. This was one of two skulls unearthed at the Tower of London, where King John (d. 1216) had established a Royal Menagerie which was to become home to an assortment of exotic beasts including lions, bears and one short-lived elephant.

Egerton_ms_3277_f068v detail
Detail of an historiated initial showing the King of England mounted on a lion, from the Bohun Psalter, England (S.E., ?London), 2nd half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3277, f. 68v

The skulls were radiocarbon dated to 1280–1385 and to 1420–1480, suggesting that these particular lions were the private exhibits of either Edward I, II or III, in the first instance, or of the Lancastrian Henry VI or Yorkist Edward IV, in the second. These ‘Barbary’ lions, hailing from northwest Africa, were doubtless an exciting embodiment of the Royal Arms of England for any English monarch.

Harley4751 f2v
Detail of a miniature of crafty method for catching lions (potentially) by placing a goat in one hole and waiting for a lion to fall down the second hole, from a Bestiary, England (?Salisbury), c. 1225–c. 1250,
Harley MS 4751, f. 2v

Whether royal mascots or diplomatic gifts, numerous archival records indicate a long history of lions at the tower. Exactly how they came to be at the tower, how they were crated and transported, is unknown, but trapping a lion using the method depicted in the Bestiary above (involving two holes and a tethered goat) would be quite a feat. The earliest noted payments to their keepers came from King John in 1210-1212, with records becoming more detailed under Henry III (d. 1272).

Egerton_ms_3277_f104r - detail
Detail of an historiated initial showing a man being devoured by lions (I Kings 20:36), Egerton MS 3277, f. 104r

In 1240, the sheriffs of London were instructed to make provisions for a lion and a keeper, William de Botton, including 14 shillings for ‘buying chains and other things for the use of the lion’. By 1314, the sheriffs were providing a quarter of mutton every day for the maintenance of numerous lions. The polar bear seems to have had it better in this respect. As part of a cost-saving measure for the City, this (chained) Norwegian captive could at least fish for its own supper on the bank of the Thames.

The keeper’s own wages could be slow to materialise, as experienced by William Bounde who was owed £55 by 1408: he would be imprisoned by his creditors, he claimed, and the lions would go unfed. The office was granted to Robert Manfeld in 1436, who would double up as marshal of the hall within the royal household. Perhaps delegating duties became a challenge since it was in the same year that all of the lions in the tower apparently died. Had he simply fed the sick lions a monkey, as recommended by the Bestiary, they may well have been cured.

Royal_ms_12_f_xiii_f005v - detail
Detail of a miniature of lion and his irrational fear of the white rooster, in a Bestiary, England (?Rochester), c. 1230–c. 1300,
Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 5v

The Bestiary describes the power, courage and intelligence of the lion – a fitting emblem of monarchy – who fears nothing save the white rooster, scorpion and snake.

Royal_ms_12_c_xix_f006r - detail
Detail of a miniature of cubs born dead and reanimated by their fathers who breathe life into them, in the Bestiary, England (?North or Central), c. 1200–c. 1210,
Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 6r

When hunted, the Bestiary relates, the lion sweeps his tail over the ground to conceal his tracks; he also sleeps with his eyes open to avoid capture, and he has the ability to resurrect his stillborn cubs. He never attacks women and children, nor the man who prostrates himself before him.

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f008v - detail
Detail of a miniature of Josiane (luckily a virgin of royal blood) with two lions,
Yates Thompson 13, f. 8v (this miniature featured earlier this year in our Valentine's Day blog post, An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love)

Lions were able to ascertain, by mysterious means, both virginity and royal blood, which is why Josiane was immune to being trapped in a cave with two lions.

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f012r - detail
Detail of a miniature of Beves of Hampton slaying the two lions pestering Josiane,
Yates Thompson 13, f. 12r

Beves of Hampton, by contrast, was forced to employ all his knightly prowess to avoid being devoured alive.

Royal_ms_13_b_viii_f019v - detail
Detail of a miniature of Joanna of Paris embracing a lion, from the ‘Topographia Hiberniae’ of Gerald of Wales, England (?Lincoln), c.1196–1223,
Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 19v

Occasionally, a ‘woman’s tricks’ might be held responsible for encouraging the amorous affections of the lion, as Gerald of Wales reports was the case at the French court of King Philip.

Roy17EVII f107v
Detail of a column miniature showing Habakkuk (suspended by the hand of God) delivering a jug of stew to Daniel in the lions’ den, from Guyart de Moulins, Bible historiale, France (?Paris), 1357,
Royal MS 17 E VII, f. 107v

Roy1Di f377
Detail of an historiated initial 'A' showing Daniel and two lions in the den, from a Bible, England, c. 1250–c. 1275,
Royal MS 1 D I, f. 377r

The popular stories associated with biblical heroes Daniel, Samson and David gave frequent cause for lions in manuscript miniatures. Daniel’s benign and friendly companions emphasise his miraculous delivery from the lions’ den.

Harley_ms_2803_f126v
Marginal drawings of David keeping his sheep safe by grappling with a lion and a dog (above) and fighting Goliath (below), from the Worms Bible, Germany (Frankenthal), c. 1148,
Harley MS 2803, f. 126v

Other popular subjects include David – shepherd boy and future king – protecting his sheep from a lion, a prolepsis of his battle with Goliath.

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f044r - detail
Detail of a miniature of Samson taking a honeycomb from the lion’s body, from the ‘Queen Mary Psalter’, England (?London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320,
Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 44r

Samson was renowned for possessing the strength to tear apart a lion with his bare hands. The illuminator who executed the Samson miniature chose to depict the moment when Samson revisited the dead lion to find bees nesting in its carcass, allowing him to take honey from the lion’s body.

Add 69865 f2v
Detail of an historiated initial containing an Evangelist portrait that represents Mark as a lion, from a Book of Hours, Italy (?Bologna), c. 1390 – c.1400,
Add MS 69865, f. 2v

The lion can be seen, more frequently, distinguishing the Gospel of Mark from the other Evangelists (this particular Mark has morphed into a lion-human hybrid).

Egerton 3266 f8
Detail of an historiated initial showing Jerome and lion, from Jerome, Pseudo-Jerome and others, Epistles and treatises, Italy (?Venice), c. 1390,
Egerton MS 3266, f. 8r

Similarly, Saint Jerome can be identified by his red Cardinal’s hat and his attribute, a lion.

Egerton 1070 f9
Detail of the border of a Calendar page for July, showing Leo and a man harvesting and gathering sheaves of wheat,  from a Book of Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410,
Egerton MS 1070, f. 9r

In the bestselling devotional books of the Middle Ages, the calendar pages often display a zodiac sign paired with a typical activity for the month. Leo, the sign for July, heralded the harvest and he is frequently juxtaposed with scenes of peasants sharpening sickles or threshing grain.

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f078r - detail
Detail of Leo as a lion apparently forced into the July calendar by chain,
Royal 2 B VII, f. 78r

The lion is often very well portrayed in manuscripts and this may be linked to their popularity as an exhibit in the Tower. The improvements to Matthew Paris’ depictions of elephants, for example, are the result of his journey from St Albans to the Menagerie to draw Henry III’s elephant from life. Looking at the miniature above, you can almost imagine William de Botton with his chains worth 14 shillings, cajoling his captive ...

To learn more about the lions and other exotic creatures, their keepers, and the vanished menagerie that was a distant predecessor of London Zoo, check out the Royal Beasts exhibition at the Tower of London.

- Holly James-Maddocks