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04 March 2016

Cnut Manuscripts Now in the Treasures Gallery

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The Vikings are back! To commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the conquest of England by King Cnut in 1016, one exhibition case in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery (free admission, Monday to Sunday) is currently devoted to a variety of different sources from his reign.

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Detail of a list of benefactors including 
‘Æðelred [the Unready] Cynge' and 'Cnut Cynge', from the New Minster Liber Vitae, England (Winchester), 1031, Stowe MS 944, f. 25r

The new display includes two charters, a list of benefactors from the Liber Vitae of the New Minster, Winchester, the account of Cnut’s defeat of Edmund Ironside in the ‘D’ version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the earliest surviving copy of Cnut’s law codes issued at Winchester in 1020 or 1021.


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Section of Cnut’s law codes, from I-II Cnut, England, second half of 11th century, Cotton Nero A I, f. 11v

Apart from the two charters, all these manuscripts are now available on our Digitised Manuscripts website, but it is well worth seeing these variously sized manuscripts in person, if you are in London: for example, the law codes on display are the earliest surviving example of a ‘pocket-sized’ volume of English laws. So if you get the chance, do pop into the Treasures Gallery to learn more about what was happening 1,000 years ago!

Alison Hudson

01 March 2016

A Calendar Page for March 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.

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Calendar page for March from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 3r

March sees the beginning of springtime proper, and these folios from the Bedford Hours reflect all the contradictions of the new season.

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Detail of miniatures of a man cutting vines and the zodiac sign Aries, from the calendar page for March, Add MS 18850, f. 3r

At the bottom of the first folio is a miniature of a man hard at work trimming vines with an unusual-looking tool; he appears to be working in the dead of night, under a starry sky.  Next to him is a rather jaunty-looking ram, for the zodiac sign Aries.

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Detail of a marginal roundel of Mars, from the calendar page for March, Add MS 18850, f. 3r

The roundel in the middle right margin depicts an armoured warrior with a forked beard, holding a sword and a pike.  This (literally) martial gentleman is intended to represent Mars, for as the rubric explains, ‘the pagans called the month of march after their god of war’. 

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Calendar page for March, Add MS 18850, f. 3v

The beauty of spring is reflected in the decoration of the March calendar pages, adorned as they are with bluebells, roses, and less realistically, golden leaves.  The roundels illustrate the season further, depicting, as the rubrics tell us, how in March ‘everything becomes green’, and below, ‘how in March thunder and storms are born’. 

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Detail of marginal roundels of a two scenes of March weather, from the calendar page for March, Add MS 18850, f. 3v

-  Sarah J Biggs

26 February 2016

Caption Competition Number 4

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Sometimes we come across images that are just perfect for creative captions.  Here is one from an Apocalypse manuscript which has recently been fully digitised, Harley MS 4972.  It is filled with great images, including some weird hybrid concoctions.  So, over to you, dear, witty readers: how would you caption this image? The winner will be announced on the blog early next week.

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Detail from Apocalypse in Prose, South-east France (Lorraine), 4th quarter of 13th century- 1st quarter of the 14th century, Harley MS 4972, f. 14r

 

Update 26 February 2016

Thank you for all of your entries. We are delighted to announce our Caption Competition Winner! 

That winner (of eternal fame in the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts section) is M. Mitchell Marmel: "H'm. Wonder if St. Brigid can turn this into bacon?" Honorary mentions also go to those who sent us unconventional styles of captions, such as sound files.

Didn't get the joke? Read our previous post about St. Brigid's magical, alchemical abilities

Brigid

Brigid’s fire, from a manuscript of Gerald of Wales’ 'Topographia Hiberniae', Royal MS 13 B VIII, f.23v

 

20 February 2016

Fashion Goes Medieval

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Are you sure

King Priam of Troy sends his son, Paris, to Greece. Grand Chroniques de France, Paris, c. 1320-30, Royal MS 16 G VI, vol. 1, f. 4v

 

London Fashion Week has begun and to celebrate we at the British Library have decided to offer some historically informed opinions on what we’d like to see for A/W ’16.

Fashion is not immune to the charms of the medieval world. Fashionistas will recall the Byzantine-inspired textures and tinctures of Dolce & Gabbana’s Fall ’13 Ready to Wear show. We feel there is great potential in the marriage of fashion and medieval culture. 

Here’s a run-down of some looks we want to see next season.

  1. The Wimple

It hasn’t been on-trend since c.1550, but we think it’s time it made a come-back. Team with killer heels for maximum impact.

Wimple 2

Detail from La Somme le roy, France, late 13th century, Add MS 28162, f. 9v

A scalloped hem will give your wimple a more relaxed feel. Perfect for a first date.

  Scallop

Detail from a historiated initial, Israelites consulting the Lord, from a Bible, England, ?London, c. 1400-25, Royal 1 E IX, f. 56v  

 

  1. Statement Headpieces

The fascinator has had its day. Millinery needs to get theatrical.

   Statement head

Detail of the queen of Macedon and her ladies from ‘Histoire d’Alexandre le Grande', Paris, late 1420s, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 7r

Experiment with diaphanous fabrics for an improbable, wind-defying look.

Hats

Jean de Courcy is led form the Forest of Temptation by the Seven Virtues from 'Chemin de vaillance', Bruges, Master of the White Inscriptions, late 1470s, Royal MS 14 E II, f. 194r

Offset a linear silhouette with head-wear more suited to bee-keeping. 

  Beekeeping

Lady out hunting, Alphonso Psalter, England, c. 1281-4, Add MS 24686, f. 13v

Even a monochrome outfit can be made to stand out with some serious underpinning.   

Christine louis

Detail of Christine de Pizan presenting her work to Louis of Orléans from 'The Collected Works of Christine de Pizan', Paris c. 1415, Harley MS 4431, f.95r

    3. Upsized Outfits

Outfits? The attire of one person? It’s starting to look at bit dated. We want to see clothing put together with an eye for a person’s surroundings. For example, stockings should be matched to the robes of nearby bishops.

Outfits

The Coronation Book of Charles V of France, Master of the Coronation Book of Charles V, Paris, 1365, Cotton Tiberius B VIII f. 48r

Or your horse.

Luttrell

Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, mounted, being assisted by his wife and daughter-in-law, The Luttrell Psalter, Northern England (Diocese of Lincoln), c. 1325-50, Add MS 42130, f. 202v


   
 4. The Bocking

We’re calling it the Bocking. It’s the stocking-boot. The shoe-boot (shoot) was big on the high street last year, but this year we want it to be all about the continuous sharp-toed stocking-boot.

The longer the toe, the better. Preferably so long, your shoe extends into the personal space of people nearby or over the lip of an image frame. 

     Bocking
    

                                 Bocking 3   

(Left) Le Songe du vergier, Paris , Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy, c. 1378, Royal MS 19C IV, f 1v

(Right) Detail, Philippe de Mézières presenting his treatise to Richard II of England. Philippe de Mézières, 'Epistre au roi Richart', France, 1395-6, Royal MS 20 B VI, f.2

 

5. Beards: Bigstyle.

The hipster beard is big right now, but it can be bigger. Think beard meets onesie.

 

Woodwose

A Wildman (Wodewose) from the Genealogy of the Infante Dom Fernando of Portugal, Lisbon and Bruges, Antonio de Holanda and Simon Bening, 1530-4, Add MS 12531 f. 1

~ Mary Wellesley

 

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04 February 2016

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Now Online

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We are pleased to announce that four of the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Chronicle manuscripts have been digitised in full as part of our Anglo-Saxon manuscripts digitisation project and are now available on our Digitised Manuscripts website:

 

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'Always after that it grew much worse': end of the entry for 1066, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D-text, England, mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, f. 80v 

The term ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ refers to a series of annalistic chronicles, arranged by year, which were written primarily in Old English between the 9th and 12th centuries. These annals record information on a huge variety of subjects from major battles and Viking invasions to famines and agricultural issues, from ecclesiastical restructurings to notes on the death of notable people from across Britain. Some annals even include poems about kings and battles. Although all the annals share some core text—the so-called ‘common stock’, which seems to have been compiled at some point during the reign of Alfred the Great— each text of the Chronicle has its own variations, omissions, and additions. It is therefore perhaps more correct to speak of ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicles’, as Simon Keynes has suggested.

The manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are still known by the letters assigned to them in the 19th century. They are:

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle A: the earliest surviving copy, now Cambridge, Corpus Christ College, MS 173, contains entries written at different times between the 9th and early 11th centuries, with a 12th century continuation. It is sometimes known as the ‘Parker Chronicle’, after Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave large parts of his collection of manuscripts to the University of Cambridge and particularly to Corpus Christi College, whose Parker Library is named after him.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle B: Cotton MS Tiberius A VI, copied in the late 10th century. This chronicle covers the period between 60 BC and 977 AD. It is sometimes called the ‘Abingdon Chronicle’ or ‘Abingdon Chronicle I’ because one of its last entries refers to Abingdon. Along with the C- and D-texts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it also contains a series of annals known as the ‘Mercian Register’, which recount the activities of Æthelflaed, lady of the Mercians, in the early 10th century. The Mercian Register provides an important contrast to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle itself, which focuses on the exploits of West Saxon kings, at the expense of other perspectives.

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Page with the start of the Mercian Register, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle B-text , England, c.977-1000, Cotton MS Tiberius A VI, f. 30r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C: Cotton MS Tiberius B I, copied in the eleventh century and related to the B-text.

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Page from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C-text, England, 11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B I, f. 125r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D: Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, copied in the mid-late eleventh century. The added information it contains about Worcester and York has led some scholars to suggest it was written in the North or based on a ‘Northern Recension.’

  Cotton_ms_tiberius_b_iv_f066r
Page with the start of the entry for 1016, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D-text, England, mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, f. 66r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle E: copied and compiled in the twelfth century at Peterborough Abbey, and sometimes known as the ‘Peterborough Chronicle’. It is currently in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc 636.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle F: Cotton MS Domitian A VIII, written in the late 11th century at Christ Church, Canterbury. This is notable for being a bilingual version of the chronicle, with Latin versions of each annal following the Old English versions.

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Page from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle F-text, England (Canterbury), late 11th century, Cotton MS Domitian A VIII, f. 32r

Additionally, several fragments of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle survive, which are kept at the British Library. These include the G fragment (in Cotton MS Otho B IX and Cotton MS Otho B X), which seems to contain early entries but was burnt in the Ashburnham House fire of 1731. Additionally, H, also known as the Cottonian Fragments, is contained in Cotton MS Domitian A IX.

The British Library has also recently digitised a separate series of Easter table annals that were kept and compiled at Canterbury in the mid-and late-11th century. These annals notably did not mention the Norman Conquest, although a later hand added ‘Her co[m] Willelm’ to the annal for 1066.

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Detail from Easter Table Annals, England (Canterbury), late 11th century-12th century, Cotton MS Caligula A XV, f. 135r

All these manuscripts have had varied and colourful histories, which are reflected in the medieval additions and early modern annotations scattered throughout, and in the modern period some of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle manuscripts have been bound with other interesting texts which we have now digitised as well. These include the 11th-century copies of the Old English version of Orosius’s Historia adversus paganos and the poems Maxims II and the Menologium (in Cotton Tiberius B I); the earliest surviving fragments of the early twelfth-century Latin legal compilation Quadripartitus and a list of Welsh cantrefi (in Cotton Domitian A VIII); cartularies from Ely and Gloucester (in Cotton Tiberius A VI and Cotton Domitian A VIII, respectively); and a variety of anonymous late medieval and Anglo-Norman chronicles, all now available online.

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Scutum Dei Triangulum, England, mid-15th century, Cotton Domitian A VIII, f. 162r

~ Alison Hudson

01 February 2016

Exploding Eyes, Beer from Bath-Water and Butter from Nettles: the Extraordinary Life of Brigid of Kildare

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Today, February 1st, is the feast day of saint Brigid of Kildare (d. c. 524).  Brigid or ‘Brigit’ or ‘Bride’ was a virgin and abbess, and is the patron saint of dairymaids, poets, blacksmiths and healers. She is one of the most popular medieval Irish saints, with numerous churches and shrines dedicated to her both in Ireland and elsewhere. Her iconographical emblem is the cow.

There are multiple versions of the life of Brigid in both Old Irish and Latin. The earliest, written in Latin, dates from around a century after her death. All the versions are hazy in their biographical detail, but what they lack in biography, they more than make up for with colourful miracle stories.

A lot of the stories about Brigid, in each of the versions of her life, or ‘hagiography’, revolve around food – we find miracles associated with milk, butter, bacon and also beer. The library holds a very early manuscript of one of the Latin versions of Brigid’s life, Additional MS 34124. It dates from 850 and comes from Benediktbeuren in Germany. There is a story in this manuscript about how one night Brigid was expecting guests and realised she was short of food. Fearing that the evening’s feast would be ruined, she was able to change nettles into butter and tree bark into ‘the richest and most delicious bacon’. (Chapter 119)

Many of these miracle stories mirror stories from the Gospels. In John 2:2-12, we find the story of how Christ turns water into wine at the Supper at Cana. In the earliest Latin life of Brigid, by Cogitosus, we find a similar story in which Brigid realises she has no beer to give to her guests, whereupon ‘with the power of her faith’ was able to turn bath-water into beer. (Chapter 8)

Alongside the miracles associated with food and beer, there are also miracles involving amorous misadventures. A story from the earliest Irish life, from a manuscript in the Bodleian library in Oxford (MS Rawlinson B. 512) describes how a man came to Brigid’s house and asked for her hand in marriage. Having sworn a vow of virginity, Brigid was not taken with the idea. She declined the offer, but - ever magnanimous – offered her suitor an alternative. The text relates how she instructed him to go to a wood to the west of his house. In the wood, she tells him, he will find a house in which there is a beautiful maiden – he will know her because she will be washing her father’s head. Perhaps fearing that the suitor’s charms might be lost on this maiden, Brigid tells him ‘I shall bless your face and your speech so that they shall take pleasure in whatever you will say’. (Chapter 15) Brigid might make a suitable patron saint for first dates as well.

One of the Latin lives has a different version of this story. In this version Brigid is encouraged to take the hand of her suitor by her father and brothers. Reluctant to do this, she prays to God to be afflicted with a bodily deformity, whereupon, the life describes how ‘one of her eyes burst and liquefied in her head’. (Chapter 19)

A much later writer, Gerald of Wales (d. c. 1220) in his topographical guide to Ireland, dedicated to Henry II, has extensive descriptions of Brigid’s abbey and shrine. He describes a fire kept burning at the shrine, which is tended by a small group of nuns. The fire never goes out, and despite burning for centuries, it never produces any ash. It is surrounded by a hedge, which no man is allowed to enter. Only women are allowed to tend to the fire and to blow on it. Gerald relates a story about how an archer lept over the hedge and blew on the fire. On jumping back over the hedge, the archer began to lose his senses and blow into the faces of everyone he met. Then, consumed by thirst, he begged his friends to take him to some nearby water, where he drank so much that he burst. (Chapter 77)

You can see an image of Brigid’s fire, from a manuscript of Gerald of Wales’ Topographia Hiberniae (Royal MS 13 B VIII, f.23v) held at the library here. In the right of the image we can see the archer ill-advisedly blowing on the fire and then subsequently attempting to sate his thirst at a river.

Brigid's fire

Here you can see two of calendar pages from Books of Hours (prayer-books) for the month of February. In them, you can see saint Brigid’s name at the start, next to February 1st. This one (Additional MS 21114, f. 1v), produced in Northern France in the thirteenth century, shows a man cutting branches. The word ‘brigide’ is visible in the third line.  

Brigid calendar

In this one (Egerton MS 2076, f. 2r) produced in Germany in the early sixteenth century, the words ‘Brigide virginis’ are visible in the second line.   

Calendar page brigid

 

Mary Wellesley, Feast of Saint Brigid, 2016.

Further Reading:

For a translation of the earliest life of Brigid in Latin, by Cogitosus, see S. Connolly and J.M. Picard, ‘Cogitosus: Life of Saint Brigit’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 117 (1987), 5-27.

A translation of the earliest Old Irish life of Brigid can be found in M. A. O’Brien, ‘The Old Irish Life of Saint Brigit’, Irish Historical Studies, I (1938-9), 121-34.

A translation of another version of the Latin life, from a manuscript found in the library’s collection can be read in S. Connolly, ‘Vita Sanctae Brigitae: Background and Historical Value’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 118 (1988), 5-49.

A translation of Gerald of Wales’ Topographia Hibernica can be read in Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, ed. and trans. by John J. O’Meara (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982).

A Calendar Post for February 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.

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Calendar page for February from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

The calendar pages for February are just as lavishly decorated as those for January, filled with coloured initials and gold foliage.  At the bottom of the first folio is a miniature of another pleasant winter labour, that of warming oneself before a fire.  The gentleman in this scene has just removed one of his boots and is extending his foot towards a roaring fire, presumably after coming in from the cold.

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Detail of the miniatures for warming oneself and the zodiac sign Pisces, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

Alongside is a miniature of two fish connected by a single line, hovering above an ocean and below a star-studded sky – this for the zodiac sign, Pisces.

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Detail of a marginal roundel with Februa and flowers, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

Above in a roundel is an elegantly-dressed lady in a red dress trimmed with ermine; she is holding a bunch of flowers close to her face.  This unusual scene is explained by the rubrics at the bottom of the folio, which describe how this month is named after a woman called ‘Februa’, who ‘according to the poets’ was the mother of Mars, the god of war.  Rather unusually, she is said to have conceived her son by ‘kissing and adoring a flower’.

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Calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2v

The remaining saints’ days are laid out in the following folio, with a bit of space left blank because of the shortness of the month.  The roundels once again illustrate the bottom verses, which describe a procession around the city and the annual February Festival of Fools.

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Detail of a marginal roundels of a city procession and the Festival of Fools, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2v

-  Sarah J Biggs

28 January 2016

Tales of Half-Friends, Bedcovers and Sheep crossing streams: A parental lecture of the 13th century

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 Harley MS 527, a collection of romantic and didactic texts, mostly in Anglo-Norman French has recently been fully digitised. Of particular interest is a version of Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis in Anglo-Norman French verse. This popular text is of Eastern origin and consists of a series of moral tales or exempla used by a father to instruct his son; Ward includes it in his Catalogue of Romances in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum vol 2, (1893) under ‘Eastern Legends and Tales’.

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Prologue of the Chastoiement d'un Père à son fils, England (or France), 4th quarter of the 12th century to 1st half of the 13th century, Harley MS 527, f. 32v

Petrus Alfonsi, the author of the Latin text, was formerly known as Rabbi Moses Sephardi and was physician to Alfonso I of Aragon.  When he converted to Christianity, he took the name Alfonsi in honour of his patron, and his writings often deliberately reject the teachings of Judaism to demonstrate his loyalty to his new religion

 

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Detail of Alfonso of Aragon, with a prisoner brought before him, France, Paris, 4th quarter of the 14th century, after 1380, Royal 20 C VII, f. 23v

First Alfonsi and then later the unknown French translator of this work added detail and dialogue to embellish the original Eastern version and, in the latter instance to enhance its appeal to the 13th century public; for example a fox appears in some versions and ‘Paris’ is substituted for ‘Pareis’ or ‘Parais’ (Old French for ‘paradise’). However, some references to Eastern culture are retained, such as the mention of a ‘prodom’ (gentleman) who goes on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

There are 6 surviving copies in the Anglo-Norman dialect, of which the British Library has two: Harley MS 527 and Harley 4388, another collection of tales and proverbs.

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Text page with decorated initials, England or France, 1st quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 4388, f. 41v

Of the 6 known versions in Old French (as written in France during this period, as compared to the Anglo-Norman dialect of England), one is currently in the British Library. Additional MS 10289 is a manuscript from Mont Saint Michel that has featured in a number of blogposts as it also contains the legend of Titus and Vespasian and the Romance of Mont Saint Michel.

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Puzzle initial at the beginning of Le Chastoiement d'un Père à son fils, in Old French, from a St Michel manuscript, 4th quarter of the 13th century, France (Normandy), Add MS 10289, f. 133r

The Anglo-Norman text of Le Chastoiement in Harley MS 527 contains 26 tales by which a father instructs his son how to conduct his relationships with God and his fellow man, i.e. his friends, parents and spouse.  The father begins with an appeal for his son’s undivided attention. Does this sound familiar to fathers and sons who read our blog ?

 

 Beu fiz dist il a me entent                                            Good son, he said, listen to me

Ne lessez pas coler au vent                                         Do not let the wind blow away

Ceo ke tun pere te dirat                                                                What your father is going to tell you

Si ben le entendes il te vaudrat                                 He wants you to listen carefully.

 

The tales that follow are colourful, entertaining and sometimes gruesome.  Though Harley 527 is not illuminated, we have found images from other manuscripts to illustrate some of the tales. I include some of Ward’s quaint and amusing titles in English.

 

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Caesarius' body in a sack, from a Passionale,  England, S. E. (Canterbury), 1st quarter of the 12th century, Arundel MS 91, f. 188r

The Half-Friend or ‘Le Demi Ami’: a father asks his son how many friends he has made in his life to date, and the son answers 100.  The father on the other hand, says he has only half a friend, and is sceptical of his son’s claim.  To test the loyalty of the son’s friends, he tells him to place an animal carcass in a sack, pretend it is a human body and ask his friends to help him dispose of it.  In the end only the father’s ‘half-friend’ comes to his assistance. The father tells his son that only someone who will help when you are in need is a true friend and he follows with the second tale about ‘Two Merchants (‘Les Deux Amis’), one from Baghdad and one from Egypt, one of whom is prepared to sacrifice his true love and the other his life for his friend.

Next the father warns his son that many women are deceitful and evil and that men need God’s help to protect them from their wiles. The exempla seem rather to show the extraordinary ingenuity of the women in question! In all three tales the husband returns home unexpectedly while the wife is entertaining her lover.

 

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Vulcan finding Venus and Mars together, from The Roman de la Rose, France, Central? (Paris?), c. 1380, Egerton MS 881, f. 141v

In ‘Le Borgne’ or ‘The Man with the injured eye’ a man blinds himself in his one eye while dressing his vines and returns home for some tlc from his wife.  She is otherwise occupied and hides her lover in the bed, then tells her husband she will administer a charm to help him. She places her mouth over his good eye, blocking his vision while the lover escapes, telling him that her charm that will prevent him from injuring his other eye, and with that she sends him off to bed!  In the next tale, The Husband who had a bed-coverlet held before him or ‘La Toile tendue’, the wife and her mother hold up a new quilt or bed cover they have made for the husband to admire, while the lover escapes behind it.

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Women washing clothes in wooden tubs, from the Splendor Solis, Germany, 1582, Harley MS 3469, f. 32v

Found in a unique Anglo-Norman version in Harley MS 527, ‘The Cuvier‘ or the Gallant hidden under the washing-tub  is a further variation on the above tales, with the lover in a similarly ridiculous position, the husband fooled, and the devious wife triumphant, though shown in a thoroughly bad light.

Harley_ms_527_f038r
Le
Cuvier, an exemplum from the Chastoiement d'un Père à son fils, Harley MS 527, f.38r

Unsurprisingly, the son seems to enjoy these tales and keeps asking for more.  After another such tale, he naturally decides he will not marry, and the father has to tell him the tale of a clever and virtuous woman. Of course the latter tale is rather boring so we will not go into details here !

In the time-honoured way of parents, the father cannot resist slipping in tales of respect for one’s elders and superiors, and then there is the story of a young clerk who is enticed into a tavern and who comes to a bad end.  One can imagine the son rolling his eyes at this obvious propaganda, nevertheless he keeps asking his father for more stories.

 

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Solomon instructing his son, from a Bible historiale, France, Central (Paris and Clairefontaine), 1411, Royal MS 19 D III, f. 289r

The tenth exemplum is a very clever tale of ingenuity and a riposte by the father to the son’s insatiable demands. In ‘Le Conteur’ or ‘The Storyteller, found in Add MS 10289 but not in the Harley manuscript, a king’s storyteller tells him five stories each night until, on one occasion, the king is not sleepy and demands more.  Unlike Scheherazade, who had to tell stories for 1001 nights, the clever storyteller invents the following ruse so that he can go to sleep without losing his head.  He begins a tale about a peasant returning from a fair where he has bought many sheep, and who needs to cross a stream with them to get home.  The only way across is with an old woman in a small boat that can only take two sheep at a time. After relating how the first two sheep cross, the storyteller falls asleep. When the king wakes him to demand that he continue, he says that it is going to take hours for the sheep to cross the wide river in the slow boat, so they may as well sleep in the meantime and resume the tale in the morning.  The king is pleased with his storyteller’s cleverness and he is allowed to go back to sleep.

~Chantry Westwell

Further Reading

H.L.D. Ward, Catalogue of Romances in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum, vol 2 (1893), pp. 253-58.

Le Chastoiement d'un père à son fils, a critical edition, ed. by Edward D Montgomery, Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures, 101 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971).

Ruth J. Dean, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1999), nos 184, 263.