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07 October 2014

Magna Carta: Be Part of History

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Would you like to be part of history? Next February, the four original Magna Carta manuscripts, granted by King John of England in 1215, will be united for the very first time at the British Library in London. Today, we're announcing the launch of a ballot, giving 1,215 winners the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see those four documents side-by-side.

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The British Library in London, home to two of the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

Magna Carta is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John as a practical solution to a political crisis, Magna Carta has subsequently become venerated as an international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of power, and as a guarantor of individual liberties. Magna Carta has influenced the drafters of many constitutional documents (including the United States Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and three of its clauses remain on the English statute book, including the most famous, which states that:

'No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.'

Once King John had agreed to the terms of Magna Carta in June 1215, copies were drawn up for distribution throughout England, most probably to be sent to the bishops for safe-keeping. Four of these original documents still survive, two of which are kept at the British Library, one at Lincoln Cathedral and one at Salisbury Cathedral.

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Salisbury Cathedral, home of one of the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. To kick-start that year of international celebrations, the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral are inviting 1,215 people to see these four Magna Carta manuscripts together for the very first time, for one day only (Tuesday, 3 February 2015).This will be part of a special event at the British Library, sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm, and including a separate opportunity for academics working on the Magna Carta Project (sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) to study the manuscripts in close detail.

So here's what you need to know. The ballot to win tickets to this event goes live today. It's free to enter, and the ballot will remain open until 31 October, after which the winners will be selected at random. In addition to being given this once-in-a-lifetime chance to view the four Magna Carta manuscripts in one place, 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.

Following the unification, the four Magna Carta manuscripts will return to their home institutions to be displayed as part of the 800th anniversary celebrations. The British Library's own exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, runs from 13 March to 1 September 2015, and separate exhibitions will be held at Salisbury and Lincoln Cathedrals.

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Lincoln Cathedral, home of another of the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

If you want to learn more about the background to Magna Carta, you can now also visit the British Library's new Magna Carta webpages.

Good luck to everyone who enters the ballot. We look forward to meeting the lucky winners on 3 February, and if you're not lucky this time round, we'd be delighted to see you at our respective Magna Carta exhibitions in 2015.

06 October 2014

Waiting List: AMARC Conference on English Fourteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library

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We are pleased to report that there has been an enthusiastic response to the announcement of the AMARC conference to celebrate the launch of Lucy Freeman Sandler’s book Illuminators and Patrons in Fourteenth-Century England: The Psalter Hours of Humphrey de Bohun and the Manuscripts of the Bohun Family.

As a result, all places are now filled, but we are starting a waiting list. 

If you would like to be added to the waiting list, please contact Dr James Freeman, at james.freeman@bl.uk

English Fourteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscripts in the British Library

Monday, 1 December 2014

British Library Conference Centre

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British Library, Egerton MS 3277, f. 46v (detail)

Speakers: Paul Binski, Alixe Bovey, Julian Luxford, Nigel Morgan, Kathryn Smith, and Lucy Freeman Sandler

04 October 2014

Magna Carta Tickets On Sale

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Tickets for our major 2015 exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, are now on sale. The exhibition runs from 13 March until 1 September 2015, and promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime show which explores the history and resonance of this globally-recognised document.

A standard adult ticket costs £13.50 (with gift aid); entry for under 18s and Friends or Patrons of the British Library is free, and concessions are available for other visitors. Full ticketing details can be found on the British Library's dedicated Magna Carta webpage.

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy is sponsored by Linklaters, and will feature the British Library's two copies of King John's 1215 Magna Carta, together with other items from our collections and generous loans from other institutions and private individuals, all of which will help to trace the journey of Magna Carta from its medieval origins to its modern significance. Among the exhibits will be a copy of the American Declaration of Independence, in the hand of Thomas Jefferson (on loan from the New York Public Library), and the copy of the US Bill of Rights sent to Delaware (loaned from the US National Archives). You can read more about these documents in an earlier blogpost.

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King John riding on horseback, from a 14th-century legal collection (London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius D II, f. 116r).

We are extremely grateful to Linklaters for their financial support of our exhibition, and to White & Case for sponsoring the loan of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights from the USA.

More Magna Carta news will be posted on this blog in the next few days. Don't forget to follow our Twitter account (@BLMedieval) for news on Magna Carta: 2015 promises to be a very exciting year!

03 October 2014

Apocalypse Then: Further Medieval Visions from Revelation

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Our recent blogpost, Visions of the Apocalypse, featured a selection of images from five of our favourite Apocalypse manuscripts. These works are filled with imaginative depictions of St John’s visions in the Book of Revelation, and it is interesting to compare how different artists illustrated the same text.

One of the most evocative passages in Revelation is at the beginning of chapter 12:

‘And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars … And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.’ 

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Detail of the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, from the Queen Mary Apocalypse, S.E. England or East Anglia, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 20v

Medieval illuminators applied their talent and imaginations on this text, and the results are wonderfully varied. In the above image from the Queen Mary Apocalypse, the woman is svelte and elegant, posing nonchalantly in her rather ‘bling’ crown, with the moon at her feet. There is no beast in sight yet, and St John and the winds are watching her in admiration. On the following page (f. 21r), featured in our last blogpost, the horrific seven-headed beast occupies the whole page and the woman is shown in an inset picture, giving up her new-born child to an angel.

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The Woman and the Beast, from the Silos Apocalypse, Spain, 1091-1109,
Add MS 11695, ff. 147v-148r

This next image from the 11th-century Spanish manuscript, the Silos Apocalypse, is part of a brilliantly coloured tapestry, featuring a rather whimsical monster who looks almost friendly: all seven heads appear to be smiling. In the upper part of the image is a woman holding a magnificent floral shield, her head surrounded by daisy-like stars, while she gestures towards the beast.

The lower half of the page shows water flowing out of one of the beast’s mouths towards the  brightly-clothed woman, who now has wings. The water is being swallowed up by the earth, as described in the following verses from Revelation, 12:13-16:

‘And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness …And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.’

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Detail of the woman and the beast spewing water into the earth, from the Welles Apocalypse, England, c. 1310,
Royal MS 15 D II, f. 156r

In this image from the Welles Apocalypse, produced in England between 1300 and 1325, the stars are part of the patterned background and the beast has only one head, with water spewing out of it into what appears to be a hollow tree trunk. The woman resembles Mary with a blue robe and halo.

Yates Thompson MS 20, f. 20v
Detail of the woman and the beast spewing water into the earth, from the Yates Thompson Apocalypse, Paris, c. 1370-c. 1390,
Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 20v

A manuscript made late in the 14th century in Paris, Yates Thompson 10, also has a woman raising her hands in terror. The dragon has only one head once again, but is more lifelike than the one in the Welles Apocalypse, and so is the landscape, though the sky is golden.

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Detail of the woman clothed with the sun and the  seven-headed beast spewing water into the earth, from the Abingdon Apocalypse, England (?London), 3rd quarter of the 13th century,
Add MS 42555, f. 36v

The Abingdon Apocalypse, from the 13th century, shows a woman flying away from the griffon-like beast with seven heads, one of which spews water into a tunnel in the earth. Beneath her, wolves and lions are looking on. A golden screen against a blue sky represents her cloak of the sun and she is holding a book-like object.

These are not the only beasts, in fact Apocalypse manuscripts are full of an awesome array of imaginative creatures that must have struck terror into the hearts of anyone brave enough to open these books.

Here is a selection of Apocalyptic beasts, but we must include a disclaimer: this material could give you serious nightmares.

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Detail of the second beast of the Apocalypse on an altar and the third beast watching saints being killed (left),
Add MS 42555, f. 43v

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Detail of John looking at the three beasts of the Apocalypse with frogs coming out of their mouths,
Add MS 42555, f. 60v

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Detail of men battling with a dragon,
Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 22v

A few brave knights are prepared to take on this ferocious creature, while the woman in clothed with the sun flies away.

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Detail of John standing before the false prophet, the dragon, and the beast, with frogs emerging from their mouths representing their unclean spirits,
Royal MS 15 D II, f. 174v

These two beasts and the false prophet have frogs in their mouths, according to the text, but they look more like fish, or maybe large tadpoles.

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The adoration of the Beast with an inscription: 'ubi reges terre bestia[m] et draconem adorant' (Revelation 13:1-10),
Add MS 11695, ff. 151v-152r

And finally, two of the most terrifying beasts of all - and they are being worshipped!

- Chantry Westwell

01 October 2014

A Calendar Page for October 2014

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

While the summer growing season may be over, the agricultural labours are by no means at and end, as these calendar pages for the month of October display.  On the opening folio is a roundel miniature of a man scattering grain in a plowed field.  Behind him are some turreted buildings and a bridge, while above, some hopeful birds are circling.   On the facing folio is a small painting of an ominous-looking scorpion, for the zodiac sign Scorpio.  Below, a tired man is heading home from his labours in the field, carrying a bag on his shoulders.  His dog is bounding before him, and swans can be seen swimming in the river beside.

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Calendar page for October, with a roundel miniature of a man sowing grain, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 10v

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Calendar page for October, with a roundel miniature of a man heading home after his work is done, with the zodiac sign Scorpio, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 11r

- Sarah J Biggs

27 September 2014

The life and death of Pompey the Great

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Even by the standards of Rome in the first century BC, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus  had an eventful life. The son of Strabo, a man so loathed by the Romans that his body was dragged from its bier during his funeral, Pomey quickly made his own mark on the world and moved beyond the shadow of his infamous father. Plutarch tells us he was helped in this in no small way by the fact that he was quite good-looking, a fact that the illuminator of this historiated initial, in a Latin translation of Plutarch, seems to have taken on board:

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Detail of Harley MS 3485, f 190r (Florence, 1470)

A string of military successes ensured Pompey’s accelerated promotion to the consulship at the unusually early age of thirty-five. Shortly after this, he took on the daunting task of ridding the Mediterranean of pirates, who at the time were causing havoc to trade routes across Rome's sphere of influence. Here is a picture of Pompey subduing the pirates:

 

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Detail of Royal MS 20 D I, f 358r (Naples, 2nd quarter of the 14th century)

Some time later, Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus formed the First Triumvirate, a political alliance designed to benefit all three. But this alliance was not fated to last, and after the death of Crassus in Parthia in 53 BC, conflict between Pompey and Caesar seemed inevitable.

The story of the civil war between Pompey and Caesar was hugely popular in the middle ages, best known through vernacular accounts of Roman history such as the French Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César  (well represented in the British Library’s collections) and the Irish In Cath Catharda. These draw in part on the epic poem of Lucan, as well as on late antique epitomes of Roman historical works. In a number of medieval accounts, Caesar and Pompey are depicted fighting at close quarters:

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Detail of Royal MS 16 G VII, f 339r (Paris, last quarter of the 14th century)

Though a man of outstanding abilities, Pompey was for a bad end. Like many doomed ancient heroes, he had a vision of what was to come in a dream. The ghost of his former wife Julia (the daughter of Julius Caesar) appeared to him and warned him of impending disaster. Here are two images of this dream:

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Detail of Royal MS 20 C I, f 130v (France, 1st quarter of the 15th century)

 

 

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Detail of Royal MS 16 G VII, f 305v (Paris, last quarter of the 14th century)

Pompey’s death itself was a sorry affair. After the catastrophic defeat to Caesar at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, he made for Egypt. The then king of Egypt, Ptolemy XIII, was persuaded by his advisor Pothinus that Pompey should be executed in order to curry favour with Caesar. In Plutarch’s vivid account of the event, Pompey sailed to shore in a tiny skiff. Just as he reached the shore, and in full view of his men and his wife Cornelia, he was murdered by those in the boat with him:

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Detail of Royal MS 17 F II, f 271r (Bruges, 1479)

Plutarch and Lucan tell us that as he was executed he pulled his toga up over his head, something shown in the following picture:

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Detail of Royal MS 16 G VII, f 310v (Paris, last quarter of the 14th century)

His assassins dumped his body on the shore and took his head away to be presented to Caesar.

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Detail of Royal MS 14 E v, f 318v (Bruges, c1479-1480)

-Cillian O'Hogan

23 September 2014

Guess the Manuscript XV

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Roll up, roll up! It's time to try your luck at another Guess the Manuscript, back by popular demand. As always, the rules are straightforward: the image comes from a manuscript that can be found somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts website, and is part of our medieval collections. Leave guesses in the comments below, or via Twitter @BLMedieval. We'll update this post with an answer on Friday, Sep 26.

Image

Update, 25 September: Many congratulations to @yorkherald, who correctly identified this image as the fore-edge from Add MS 27861, a 14th-century Greek Gospel book. You can view it in full on Digitised Manuscripts.

- Cillian O'Hogan

this image comes from a manuscript that is located somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and is part of our medieval collections.  You can leave your guesses in the comments below, or via Twitter @BLMedieval.  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/07/guess-the-manuscript-xiv.html#sthash.85jnxkjw.dpuf
this image comes from a manuscript that is located somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and is part of our medieval collections.  You can leave your guesses in the comments below, or via Twitter @BLMedieval.  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/07/guess-the-manuscript-xiv.html#sthash.85jnxkjw.dpuf

18 September 2014

Languages in Medieval Britain

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We are proud to announce that the Catholicon Anglicum is now being exhibited in our Treasures Gallery. The British Library acquired the manuscript, the only complete copy of the text in existence, in February this year, for £92,500, following the temporary deferral of an export licence. It had lain hidden for over a century in the Monson family collection in Lincolnshire. 

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Opening of the section for words beginning with M, from the ‘Catholicon Anglicum’, England (Yorkshire), 1483, Add MS 89074, f. 102v
 

Since its arrival at the British Library, it has been catalogued in detail (along with other late medieval dictionaries in our collection), photographed in full and uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts, and now forms the centrepiece of a display of manuscripts about the variety of languages that were spoken and written in medieval Britain. This is your chance to see this rare and precious manuscript face-to-face!

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End of the section for words beginning with
Ȝ, and the compiler’s epilogue, Add MS 89074, f. 185v 

The Catholicon was the first such dictionary to have all of its entries arranged in alphabetical order. The positioning of vernacular words first, with Latin equivalents following, shows that it was intended to be used for Latin composition not translation. It would have been of particular utility in the grammar schools that were being founded in large numbers during the 15th century. 

Harley MS 3376, f. 1v
Alphabetical glossary of rare Latin words, with glosses in Latin and Old English, England (?Worcester), 4th quarter of the 10th century or 1st half of the 11th century, Harley MS 3376, f. 1v
 

An early predecessor of the Catholicon is the first exhibit in the display: an alphabetical glossary of rare Latin words that was made in the 10th or 11th centuries, perhaps in Worcester. It may have been made for someone familiar with only basic Latin vocabulary, or as an aid to developing a more advanced command of the language. The headwords are glossed with more simplistic Latin equivalents or, sometimes, Old English words. 

Following the Norman Conquest, Old English was supplanted by French as the language of the ruling elites. The next item on display in the Treasures Gallery is a 14th-century copy of a treatise written by Walter of Bibbesworth a century earlier, the Tretize de Langage. It was designed to be used by a mother to teach her two young children, and uses descriptions of everyday life and work, rhymes and riddles – even animal sounds – both to entertain and educate. 

Egerton MS 89, f. 93v
Descriptions of diseases and their symptoms, treatments and cures, from the ‘Lilium medicinae’, Ireland (County Clare), 1482, Egerton MS 89, f. 93v
 

The other two exhibits showcase languages that were spoken elsewhere in the British Isles. The Lilium medicinae, a guide to the treatment of illnesses, was written in 1303 by Bernard de Gordon, a famous physician at the University of Montpellier in France. Bernard was one of the medical authorities named by the Doctor of Physick in the General Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This Irish translation of the Lilium was written by the scribe Domhnall Albanach Ó Troighthigh of County Clare in 1482. The Latin headings name various illnesses; the subheadings ‘Signa’, ‘Curacio’ and ‘Clarificacio’ describe their symptoms, treatment and cure. 

Arundel MS 285, ff. 5v-6r
Tinted woodcut of the Flagellation of Christ at the beginning of a poem by Walter Kennedy, from a collection of Scottish poetry, ?Scotland, 1st half of the 16th century, Arundel MS 285, ff. 5v-6r
 

A collection of Scottish poetry illustrates the cross-over between manuscript and print in the early 16th century. It contains seventeen 15th-century printed woodcuts, which have been pasted into reserved spaces in the book, often at the beginning of the texts. The source of the woodcuts is not known. They may have been recycled from a previous book, or gathered from a selection of devotional handbills or flyleaves. A poem about the Passion of Christ by Walter Kennedy begins, appropriately, with a scene of the Flagellation of Christ, an elaborate rubric in red ink and the opening words in an imposing display script. 

Harley MS 4353, f. 12r
A page from ‘The Book of Cyfnerth’, Wales (?Neath), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Harley MS 4353, f. 12r
 

There were, of course, other languages spoken in medieval Britain besides these. The British Library holds manuscripts of medieval Welsh, such as this legal text known as ‘The Book of Cyfnerth’. It contains the Gwentian code of Welsh law – a witness to a legal system distinct from that of England – and was written in south-west Wales, perhaps in Neath, early in the 14th century. The scribe who made this book was also responsible for another in the British Library, Cotton MS Cleopatra A XIV, which also contains Welsh laws and a copy of the Cosmographia of Bernardus Silvestris. 

Harley MS 1782, f. 14v
Bas-de-page scene of Christ carrying the Cross, from a manuscript of a Passion poem in Cornish, England (Cornwall), 15th century, Harley MS 1782, f. 14v
 

Harley MS 1782 further illustrates the flowering of regional forms of Christianity during the medieval period that we saw in the Scottish poetry book.  This manuscript is a 15th-century copy of a poem about Christ’s passion written in Cornish.  The text is illustrated with a series of scenes from the Passion – here, Christ carrying the Cross – akin to those that marked the Stations of the Cross in medieval churches. 

- James Freeman