THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

148 posts categorized "Royal"

11 September 2014

Royal Manuscripts Conference Papers Now Online

Add comment Comments (0)

We are pleased to announce that selected papers from the two-day international conference associated with the ‘Royal Manuscripts’ exhibition (11 November 2011 – 13 March 2012) are now available on the Electronic British Library Journal 2014 (articles 4–10). 

Royal_ms_19_d_iii_f003r
God creating the Heavens and the Earth, from Guyart de Moulins, ‘Bible historiale completée’, Genesis to Psalms, France (Clairfontaine and Paris), 1411,
Royal MS 19 D III, vol. 1, f. 3r

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination showcased over 150 richly decorated manuscripts associated with and collected by English monarchs between the ninth and sixteenth centuries.  Drawn mainly from the Old Royal library given to the nation by George II in 1757, the exhibited manuscripts revealed a magnificent artistic inheritance and provided a vivid insight into the lives and aspirations of those for whom they were made.

Royal_ms_15_e_vi_f003r
The genealogical descent of Henry VI from St Louis in a book presented by John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, to Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, France (Rouen), 1444-45,
Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 3r

On the 12-13 December 2011, seventeen speakers gathered in the British Library to discuss different aspects of the Royal collection, from the makers and users of these books to content as diverse as genealogy and law, legend and history, and liturgy.  An account of the conference, its speakers and their subjects, can be read here.  Many of the manuscripts displayed in the exhibition can still be seen in seven themed facebook albums (The Christian Monarch 700-1400; The Christian Monarch 1400-1600; Edward IV: Founder of the Royal Library; Instruction: How to be a King; The World’s Knowledge; Royal Identities; and The European Monarch), each featuring between 15 and 25 items.  Previous ‘Royal Manuscripts’ blog posts are listed here and here, and are often richly illustrated with items featured in the exhibition.

Royal_ms_2_a_xvi_f003r
Henry VIII at Psalm 1 (where we would expect an image of David), from the Psalter of Henry VIII, England (London), c. 1540,
Royal MS 2 A XVI, f. 3r

The research for this exhibition was funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  Student bursaries for the conference were generously supported by AMARC.

- Holly James-Maddocks

22 May 2014

A Sense of Detachment

Add comment Comments (1)

Those of you who have spent a great deal of time on our Digitised Manuscripts site may have encountered the occasional instance of a detached binding amongst the wonderful array of medieval manuscripts on offer.  Many of the bindings are spectacular works of art in themselves, featuring amazing examples of medieval embroidery, leatherwork, or ivories.  Besides being beautiful to look at, these bindings are also vitally important to scholars investigating the history of the manuscripts they were once attached to.

Harley_ms_2889!1_fblefr
Detached binding containing an ivory plaque of St Paul, from the Siegburg Lectionary, 11th century, Harley MS 2889/1

Bindings can be detached for any number of reasons.  It was a policy among many collectors and institutions in the 18th and 19th centuries (the British Museum included) to automatically rebind every newly-arrived manuscript, and unfortunately many of the original bindings from this period are now lost to us.  Of course, this is no longer our procedure, and the British Library makes every effort to maintain the integrity of the manuscripts that come to us.  Bindings are only replaced these days when it is necessary for preservation or conservation purposes. 

Add_ms_42131!1_f007r
Detached silk curtain, formerly covering a miniature, from the Bedford Psalter and Hours, 15th century, Add MS 42131/1

Because these detached bindings are usually kept in our manuscripts store under the same shelfmark as their erstwhile interiors, there was initially no good way to display them on Digitised Manuscripts, save a wonky workaround in which the images were numbered as end flyleaves.  This at least allowed the images to be displayed, but we were aware of the potential for confusion for those interested in examining the bindings themselves, so we’ve been working to develop a better solution.  And at long last, here it is: we have created new shelfmarks for a number of the detached bindings, and have republished many of the images online accordingly.  We still have a few more to go, and we should issue one caveat – this new system does not incorporate all of the detached bindings in the Library’s collections, only those for select and restricted manuscripts on Digitised Manuscripts.  As always, if you have any questions or would like to examine any of these bindings, please get in touch with the Manuscripts Reading Room at mss@bl.uk.

Our newly republished manuscripts and detached bindings are below; we hope you enjoy browsing through them!

Add_ms_37768!1_f001ar
Add MS 37768:  the Lothar Psalter, Germany (Aachen) or France (Tours), 9th century

Add MS 37768/1:  detached ivory carving from the cover of the Lothar Psalter, 9th century 

Add_ms_42130!1_fblefr
Add MS 42130:  the Luttrell Psalter, England (Lincolnshire), 1325-1340

Add MS 42130/1:  box and volume containing the detached former binding and flyleaves of the Luttrell Psalter, England (Cambridge), c. 1625-1640

Add_ms_42131!1_fblefv
Add MS 42131:  the Bedford Psalter and Hours, England (London), 1414-1422

Add MS 42131/1:  detached former bindings, paste-downs, spines, and silk curtains from the Bedford Psalter and Hours, England, 15th – 17th centuries

Egerton_ms_1139!1_fse005r
Egerton MS 1139:  the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143

Egerton MS 1139/1:  detached binding with ivory panels & backings, wooden panels and metal plates from the Melisende Psalter, 12th century (with later additions)

Egerton_ms_3277!1_fblefr
Egerton MS 3277:  the Bohun Psalter and Hours, England (London?), second half of the 14th century

Egerton MS 3277/1:  detached binding from the Bohun Psalter and Hours, 18th century

Harley_ms_603!1_fbspi
Harley MS 603:  the Harley Psalter, England (Canterbury), first half of the 11th century

Harley MS 603/1:  detached binding and flyleaves from the Harley Psalter, 19th century

Harley_ms_2820!1_fblefr
Harley MS 2820:  the Cologne Gospels, Germany (Cologne), fourth quarter of the 11th century

Harley MS 2820/1:  detached binding from the Cologne Gospels with an ivory panel of the Crucifixion, late 11th century (set in a post-1600 binding)

Harley_ms_2889!1_fbrigv
Harley MS 2889:  the Siegburg Lectionary, Germany (Siegburg), 11th century

Harley MS 2889/1:  detached binding from the Siegburg Lectionary, with two 11th century ivory plaques (set in a 19th century binding)

Royal_ms_12_c_viii!1_fblefr
Royal MS 12 C VII:   Pandolfo Collenuccio’s Apologues and Lucian of Samosata, Dialogues, Italy (Rome and Florence), 1509 – c. 1517

Royal MS 12 C VII/1:   detached chemise binding embroidered with the badge and motto of Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612)

Update (3 June 2014):

We've just added three more detached bindings to Digitised Manuscripts.  And here they are!

Add_ms_18850!1_fblefr
Add MS 18850:  the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410 - 1430

Add MS 18850/1:  detached former binding for the Bedford Hours, consisting of a wooden box, 2 red velvet covers with metal clasps and 4 folios, England, 17th century

Add_ms_42555!1_fblefr
Add MS 42555:  the Abingdon Apocalypse, England, 3rd quarter of the 13th century

Add MS 42555/1:  detached former binding components from the Abingdon Apocalypse, 18th century

Add_ms_61823!1_fblefr
Add MS 61823:  the Book of Margery Kempe, England (East Anglia?), c. 1440

Add MS 61823/1:  remains of the original white tawed leather chemise binding from the Book of Margery Kempe, England, c. 1440

- Sarah J Biggs

08 May 2014

Superheroes, True Romance, Blood and Gore

Add comment Comments (0)

The British Library’s amazing new exhibition, Comics Unmasked, was opened last week by TV presenter and comics fan Jonathan Ross. Talking about the oldest item on show, an early printed version of the Bible with graphic images, Jonathan commented that the Bible can be a great source of material for comic books. We in Medieval Manuscripts know this only too well!

Of course, it all began with manuscripts. Here are some early examples.

The Old English Hexateuch – How many modern comic books have dancing camels?

This 11th-century Old English version of six books of the Old Testament is filled with graphic depictions of the well-known stories, like the series below showing Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden:

Cotton_ms_clab4_f007v
Adam and Eve, England, S. E. (Canterbury), 2nd quarter of the 11th century: London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B IV, f. 7v

We had to include this picture of the dancing camels!

Cotton_ms_clab4_f039r
Abraham’s Camels in the Book of Genesis: London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B IV, f. 39r

Holkham Bible Picture Book -  Joseph hears shocking news, ‘SHOCK’, ‘HORROR’!!

Sometimes described as England’s first graphic novel, this book tells stories from the Old and New Testament in a series of pictures with captions in Anglo-Norman French. There is some interesting material that didn’t make it into the authorised version of the Bible. The page below tells about Joseph’s reaction when he hears Mary is having a baby: the banners contain the dialogue, like speech bubbles in modern cartoons. In the second image, Joseph, whose friends have been telling him some home truths about his wife, is touching Mary’s stomach and asking her some awkward questions. Mary protests, ‘No, really don’t worry, I have never committed a bodily sin’. Of course he doesn’t believe her, but fortunately an angel drops in to reveal the divine plan and he has to eat humble pie.

Add_ms_47682_f012r
Joseph finds out about Mary’s pregnancy, England, S.E. (?London), 1327-1335: London, British Library, MS Add 47682, f. 12r

Episodes from the life of Christ are also given the comic-book treatment:

Add_ms_47682_f024v
The healing of the paralysed man; Christ rests by a well; the woman of Samaria; the disciples eat but Jesus will not: London, British Library, MS Add 47682, f. 24v

Egerton Genesis Picture Book – the Prequel, or where it all began

Egerton MS 1894, better known as the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, tells the creation story in a series of images:

Egerton_ms_1894_f001r
The first days of Creation, England (?Norfolk), 3rd quarter of the 14th century: London, British Library, MS Egerton 1894, f. 1r

Egerton_ms_1894_f001v
God creates the birds, animals and man, and rests on the final day: London, British Library, MS Egerton 1894, f. 1v

You can read more about this manuscript in our blogpost A Medieval Comic Strip.

Queen Mary Psalter –   Moses, the greatest epic hero

The life of Moses is one of the great stories of all time, providing material for comics and movies such as the Charlton Heston epic and Spielberg’s ‘Prince of Egypt’. The Queen Mary Psalter contains a remarkable series of Old Testament stories told in a series of 223 pictures with captions in French. Included in the series is the Moses story. Here are some of the episodes:

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f022v
Miniature in two parts of the king of Egypt demanding that all Jewish infants be killed (above); of the birth of Moses, and Moses placed in a basket and left on the banks of the Nile (below), England (London?), c. 1310-1320: London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 22v

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f024v
Miniature of Moses freeing the Israelites from the king of Egypt, (above); miniature of Moses and the king of Egypt's troops facing each other across the Red Sea, (below): London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 24v

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f026r
Miniature of God giving the laws to Moses for a second time (above); and of Moses showing the laws to the Israelites (below): London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 26r

We'll feature more medieval "comics" on this blog in the next few weeks. We're having great fun putting this list together, and would welcome more suggestions via @BLMedieval. Meanwhile, you can see our Comics exhibition in London until 19 August 2014, book your tickets online here.

Chantry Westwell

23 April 2014

The Anatomy of a Dragon

Add comment Comments (2)

Happy St George’s Day, everyone!   For some images of this patron saint of England, Portugal, Russia, and many other nations, please see our post from last year.  Today, though, we thought we would turn our attention to St George’s famous opponent, the dragon.

Royal_ms_2_a_xviii_f005v_detail
Detail of a miniature of St George and the dragon, from the Beaufort/Beauchamp Hours, England (London) and Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1401, Royal MS 2 A XVIII, f. 5v

Dragons are near-ubiquitious in medieval manuscripts.  They take pride of place in bestiaries and herbals, books of history and legend, and Apocalypse texts, to name a few.  They serve as symbols, heraldic devices, and even as ‘just’ decoration, and their physical characteristics can vary widely. Cinematic and literary depictions of dragons today are fairly consistent; they are almost always shown as reptilian, winged, fire-breathing creatures (in a word, Smaug).  But this was by no means constant in the medieval period.

Let’s have a look at a very common medieval trope – of the dragon as the nemesis of a saint or angel.  Below we can see dragons facing off against St George (again), St Margaret, and the Archangel Michael.  All these examples are drawn from late 15th century manuscripts, but their dragons are very different, and range from a lizard-y animal with duck-like feet to a winged leonine creature and a demon.

Add_ms_38126_f139v
Miniature of St George and a lizard-like dragon, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands, c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 139v

Harley MS 2985 f. 37v C12569-03_detail
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the side of a lion-like dragon, from a Book of Hours, Use of Sarum, Netherlands, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 2985, f. 37v

Sloane MS 3049, f. 115r c5473-03a
Detail of a miniature of the Archangel Michael fighting a demon-like dragon, from Francisco de Ximenez’s Livre des anges, France (Tours), c. 1480, Sloane MS 3049, f. 115r

Even within a single manuscript it is possible to find a multiplicity of dragon sub-species.  One notable example is a French copy of the Life of Alexander the Great, in which this famous king is squaring off against three different kinds of dragon (our favourite, of course is the last).

Royal_ms_20_b_xx_f073r_detail
Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great battling against winged dragons with emeralds in their foreheads, from Le livre et la vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre, France (Paris), c. 1420 – c. 1425, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 73r

Royal_ms_20_b_xx_f078v_detail
Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great battling against winged horned dragons, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 78v

Royal_ms_20_b_xx_f083v_detail
Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great battling against two-headed, eight-legged, crowned dragons with multiple eyes along their torsos, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 78v

The idea of the dragon as a fearsome foe for all godly and righteous beings stretches back to the late-antique source material that later developed into the 12th and 13th century text of the bestiary.  The book of beasts tells us that the dragon is a variety of serpent, is ‘larger than all other animals in the world’, lives in caves, and possesses great strength in its tail.  Nothing, ‘not even the elephant’, is safe from the dragon, which lies in wait and then suffocates the captured elephant within its coils.  The ominously-curled tail of the dragon is often shown to great advantage in the miniatures illustrating this passage (see particularly the first image below).

Royal MS 12 C XIX f. 62r F60101-65a
Detail of a miniature of a dragon attacking and suffocating an elephant, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 62r

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 118v G70035-41a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a mother elephant giving birth in water to avoid the dragon circling overhead, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London?), 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 188v

The bestiary text also makes explicit the connection between the dragon and the devil, aligning the fantastical creature with evil, deception, ‘vainglory and human pleasures’.  We see this connection repeated again and again in medieval manuscripts, particularly those concerned with describing and explaining evil. 

Add MS 38842 f. 5r c7835-03_detail
Detail of a miniature of men worshipping a dragon and the beast of the Apocalypse, from an Apocalypse with commentary in French prose, England (London?), c. 1325 – 1330, Additional MS 38842, f. 5r

Royal_ms_15_d_ii_f153r_detail
Detail of a miniature of the Woman and the seven-headed, ten-horned dragon-beast of the Apocalypse, from the Welles Apocalypse, England, c. 1310, Royal MS 15 D II, f. 153r

Harley_ms_1340_f008r_detail
Detail of a miniature of a human-headed satanic dragon, representing the papacy of Urban VI whose election was contested and resulted in the appointment of the anti-pope Clement VII, from Joachim de Fiore’s Vaticinia de Pontificibus, Italy (Florence), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 1340, f. 8r

It would be too simplistic, though, to claim that dragons were universally objects of horror and loathing.  They were not even always enemies.  Dragons make appearances in discussions of astronomy and natural history, as elements of decoration, and even within the Tudor coat of arms.

Arundel MS 66 f. 33v G70017-79a
Detail of a miniature of the constellation ‘Draco’, from an astrological compilation with political prophecies, England (London?), 1490, Arundel MS 66, f. 33v

Add MS 16577 f. 44v d40053-81a
Detail of a dragon with its tail circling a caption, from a Hebrew festival prayer book, Italian rite, Italy, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Add MS 16577, f. 44v

Add MS 39636 f. 28 c13835-71
Detail of a historiated initial ‘S’ of the Pentecost, with the body of the initial formed by two intertwining dragons, Italy (Lombardy), 3rd quarter of the 15th century,  Add MS 39636, f. 28r

Royal_ms_11_e_xi_f002r_detail
Detail of an allegorical miniature about the Tudor rose with a red dragon, lion, and white greyhound, from Magister Sampson’s Motets for Henry VIII, Netherlands (Antwerp), 1516, Royal MS 11 E XI, f. 2r

We’ll be tweeting more fabulous British Library dragons over the next day or so; as always, please let us know your favourites.  And have a wonderful St George’s Day!

- Sarah J Biggs

05 April 2014

Royal Manuscripts Follow-on Project - Completed!

Add comment Comments (0)

The Royal Manuscripts project team are pleased to announce that with the publication of 1000 Years of Royal Books and Manuscripts, edited by Kathleen Doyle and Scot McKendrick, published by British Library Publications, the AHRC-funded follow-on to the Royal Manuscripts research project has been successfully concluded. 

Editors
Kathleen Doyle, Scot McKendrick, and 1000 Years of Royal Books and Manuscripts

In February 2012, the AHRC made an additional grant to the Library under the Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact scheme, to enhance the research undertaken for the original Royal: Illuminated Manuscripts of the Kings and Queens of England project, and its dissemination.  As a digital enhancement project, the principal goal was to augment the resources on Royal manuscripts available to researchers on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website.  Regular readers of the blog will know that we have published regular updates on the project of this digitisation (see the links at the end of this post).

Royal_ms_19_d_iii_f003r
God the creator, from a Bible Historiale, Royal MS 19 D III, f. 3r

The goal of the follow-on project was to provide freely-accessible full online digital coverage of 24,750 pages from approximately 40-50 manuscripts featured in the Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illuminated exhibition held at the British Library 11 November 2011-13 March 2012.  This objective was met and exceeded with 71 manuscripts now available on the website.  Thanks to all of you who provided ideas for digitisation selection.

Durham workshop

The project had two other objectives.  The first was to convene two workshops to allow students and scholars to build on the existing research undertaken as part of the Royal project by analysing texts and images of these manuscripts in collaboration with other researchers.  One workshop was held at Durham University on 6 June 2012, hosted by Professor Richard Gameson, Department of History.  At the workshop eleven undergraduate students presented papers on manuscripts included in the Royal exhibition, and Roger Middleton, Lecturer Emeritus, Department of French Literature at the University of Nottingham, presented a live display of the new research capabilities of the Digitised Manuscripts website.  The second workshop was designed for post-graduate students, and was held in London on 9 November 2012.  This workshop explored the research possibilities of digitisation in a seminar examining three original manuscripts together with their magnified digital images.

The third output was the publication of the book, which is a collection of ten essays on the development of Royal libraries, enhancing and building on the research completed for the initial Royal project.  Two of the essays (by Richard Gameson and Catherine Reynolds) were drawn from the new research presented at the Frank Davis lecture series held at the Courtauld Institute of Art in autumn 2011.  Four (by Michael Wood, Nicholas Vincent, John Goldfinch, and Jane Roberts) grew out of lectures given as part of the British Library lecture series accompanying the exhibition.  One (by James Carley) is on a royal manuscript that was once a part of the Old Royal Library but was not included in the exhibition, and so his research is presented in the volume for the first time.  The remaining three contributions (by Joanna Fronska, Scot McKendrick, and Kathleen Doyle) build on research that was undertaken for the initial Royal Manuscripts project presented in the exhibition catalogue.  Thanks to the grant provided by the AHRC, the book is extensive illustrated with ninety-four colour illustrations.   

AHRC

Previous Royal Manuscripts blog posts:

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/11/new-additions-to-digitised-manuscripts.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/08/chronicles-lancelot-and-a-journey-to-jerusalem-royal-manuscripts-now-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/08/gospels-psalms-and-prayer-rolls-more-royal-devotional-manuscripts-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/08/books-of-beasts-adventure-and-two-from-new-minster-new-royal-manuscripts-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/08/psalters-bibles-and-the-end-of-days-devotional-texts-from-the-royal-collection-go-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/06/books-of-history-war-and-mystery-more-royal-manuscripts-go-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/06/crowns-romances-and-chronicles-aplenty-new-royal-manuscripts-online.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/05/the-chosen-royals.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/03/keep-your-royal-suggestions-coming.html

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/02/which-royal-manuscripts-should-we-digitise.html

- Kathleen Doyle

20 February 2014

The Lovers Who Changed History

Add comment Comments (0)

Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History is to be broadcast tonight on Channel 5 (Thursday, 20 February, 8pm). Presented by historian Suzannah Lipscomb, the first episode features Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours (British Library King's MS 9), in which she and King Henry VIII wrote flirtatious messages to each other.

231v
Miniature of Christ as the Man of Sorrows kneeling before his tomb, with Henry VIII's message addressed to Anne Boleyn in the lower margin (London, British Library, MS King's 9, f. 231v).

The story of Henry and Anne's love affair is well-known; but less so is the precious evidence found in this Book of Hours, held by the British Library, which contains secret messages exchanged by the lovers. Henry portrayed himself as a lovesick king by placing his message beneath an image of the man of sorrows, writing in French ‘If you remember my love in your prayers as strongly as I adore you, I shall hardly be forgotten, for I am yours. Henry R  forever.’ Anne replied in English, writing beneath a miniature of the Annunciation: 'Be daly prove you shall me fynde, To be to you bothe lovynge and kynde.'

066v
Miniature of the Annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel, with Anne Boleyn's note in the lower margin (London, British Library, MS King's 9, f. 66v).

We can only speculate how Henry and Anne came to exchange these private, scribbled messages. Perhaps Henry wrote his first, and passed the book to Anne Boleyn, who returned the favour. Hopefully we will find our more tonight: don't forget to watch the documentary!

Lipscomb

Julian Harrison

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

18 January 2014

A Map at the End of the World

Add comment Comments (0)

Now fully digitised on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and currently on loan to the National Library of Australia for the Mapping Our World exhibition, Royal MS 14 C IX is one of the British Library’s copies of Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, and one of numerous manuscripts in our collection containing medieval maps of the world.

Higden coined the name Historia Polychronicon – meaning ‘a history of many ages’ – to encapsulate the universal scope of his chronicle, which encompassed not only the history of the entire world from Creation to his own era of the fourteenth century, but also its geography as well.

001ROY000014C09U00001VRB
Map of the world from Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, England, c. 1350, Royal MS 14 C IX, ff. 1v-2

This marrying of history and geography can be seen with particular clarity in the large mappa mundi at the beginning of Royal MS 14 C IX, unique among the nearly 150 surviving copies of the Polychronicon in containing two maps (see above).  Unlike their modern counterparts, medieval maps were not concerned solely with landmasses, mountains, rivers, borders and cities, nor with ‘to-scale’ representation.  They were conceptual objects, upon which time as well as space were plotted, with historical events shown alongside visual or prose descriptions of the topography and people of the world. 

Royal_ms_14_c_ix_f001v_mesopotamia_detail
Detail of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, from Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, England, c. 1350, Royal MS 14 C IX, f. 1v

Following a pattern laid down by earlier maps, this one divides the world into the three known continents: Asia in the upper half (f. 1v), Africa stretched along the right and Europe in the lower left-hand corner (f. 2r), with England coloured in red. 

Royal_ms_14_c_ix_f002r_england_detail
Detail of England, from Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, England, c. 1350, Royal MS 14 C IX, f. 1v

All is surrounded by green ocean, and buffeted by the winds, which are represented by twelve heads, each huffing and puffing.  Major rivers are shown: the Euphrates and the Tigris enclosing Mesopotamia (which means ‘between two rivers’; see above), the Nile snaking its way across Africa, the Rhine coming down from the Alps, and even the Thames meandering past Oxford and London.  Many of the descriptive labels are excerpted from the text of the Polychronicon, indicating that its creator was familiar with Higden’s book, and perhaps used this very copy to annotate the map.

Royal_ms_14_c_ix_f002v_detail
Detail of the Garden of Eden, from Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, England, c. 1350, Royal MS 14 C IX, f. 2v

The map also charts the flow of Christian history.  The blank panel at the top is intended to feature a drawing of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (as seen on the other map in this Polychronicon on f. 2v; see above).  Babylon and the Tower of Babel are beneath it, followed by a rather charming sketch of Noah in his ark with a ram, a lion and a stag. 

Royal_ms_14_c_ix_f001v_noah_detail
Detail of Noah in the ark with a ram, lion, and a stag, from Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, England, c. 1350, Royal MS 14 C IX, f. 1v

Jerusalem is given particular prominence, but most remarkable is possibly the tiniest representation of the Crucifixion in a manuscript in the British Library. 

Royal_ms_14_c_ix_f001v_crucifixion_detail copy
Detail of the city of Jerusalem and the Crucifixion, from Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, England, c. 1350, Royal MS 14 C IX, f. 1v

Beneath the label ‘Mons Caluarie’ (Mount Calvary), we see Christ on the cross, the nails in his hands and feet and the wound in his side all clearly visible, accompanied by two figures, presumably the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist. 

Important sites in subsequent Christian history are marked in the lower half of the map: Rome and St. Peter’s as the centre of the Catholic Church, and Santiago de Compostela as the last stage in the Christianization of Europe.

Royal_ms_14_c_ix_f002r_santiago_detail
Detail of the pilgrimage trail ending in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, from Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, England, c. 1350, Royal MS 14 C IX, f. 1v

In Genesis, there are six days of Creation, followed by a seventh day of rest.  St Augustine interpreted this as a prefiguration of the course of human existence, dividing history into six ‘ages of the world’ and proposing that the Last Judgement would occur at the end of the sixth age.  Although Higden divided the historical books of the Polychronicon along different lines, nevertheless he retained the sixfold structure that had been a common feature of universal history since Orosius’s Historia aduersos paganos.  Higden wove together universal and insular historical divisions of time, concentrating the first five ages in the first two historical books of the Polychronicon, and dividing the remaining four according to successive invasions – Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, and Norman – which had long been depicted in history books as divine punishment for people’s sinfulness.  God was immanent in the medieval world and his intervention in human history in the sixth age an imminent possibility.  The reader of this copy of the Polychronicon found themselves at the end of the world in more ways than one.

- James Freeman

20 November 2013

The True History of Richard II

Add comment Comments (0)

David Tennant (of Doctor Who and Hamlet fame) is currently wooing audiences in the new Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard II. This is one of William's Shakespeare's most famous history plays, notable for the richness of its language (“This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle ... This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”) and its depiction of the king's decline and overthrow. But Shakespeare was equally notorious for embellishing the facts -- to what extent does his play reflect the true history of Richard II?

Harley_ms_1319_f002r

The presentation page of ‘The Capture and Death of King Richard’, showing the author, Jean Creton, and the Duke of Burgundy (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 2r).

Much of our knowledge of the downfall of King Richard II of England (1377–1399) is based on a contemporary account entitled La Prinse et Mort du Roy Richart (‘The Capture and Death of King Richard’). This work was composed by the French historian Jean Creton (c. 1386–1420), and presented to Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy. Creton had been sent by King Charles VI of France to accompany Richard on a doomed expedition to Ireland in 1399, and was present when the English king was seized at Conwy in North Wales by the supporters of Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV). La Prinse et Mort du Roy Richart records the official version of Richard II's death, namely that the king had died by starvation; but Creton believed that Richard remained alive and in prison. In 1402, when the French received reports that Richard II was in Scotland, Creton was despatched to ascertain the truth, at which point he finally concluded that King Richard was indeed dead.

A number of manuscripts of La Prinse et Mort du Roy Richart survive, one of which (Harley MS 1319) can be viewed in its entirety on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site. Made in Paris early in the 15th century, and painted by the Virgil Master, the manuscript in question contains a series of 16 miniatures which depict events in the final year of Richard II's reign.

A selection of images from Harley MS 1319 is reproduced here. We highly recommend that you look at the others on Digitised Manuscripts, so that you can see how people living in the 15th century would have viewed the life of Richard II, events which even at that time were subject to mystery and suspicion.

 

Harley_ms_1319_f007v

 The relief ships (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 7v). 

 

Harley_ms_1319_f012r

 Archbishop Arundel preaching (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 12r).

 

Harley_ms_1319_f019v

 Richard II at Conwy (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 19v).

 

Harley_ms_1319_f030v

 Henry Bolingbroke and the dukes (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 30v).

 

Harley_ms_1319_f050r

Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke at Flint Castle (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 50r).

 

Harley_ms_1319_f053v

 Richard II delivered to the citizens of London (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 53v).

 

Harley_ms_1319_f057r

Henry Bolingbroke recognized as king by the parliament (London, British Library, MS Harley 1319, f. 57r).