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152 posts categorized "Royal"

05 November 2012

Beautiful Contraband: The Queen Mary Psalter

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We are thrilled to announce the long-awaited upload of the Queen Mary Psalter to our Digitised Manuscripts site (click here for the full manuscript).  We discussed the Psalter last year in our post Rival Queens, Precious Books, but here is a bit of a recap...


Miniature of the Crucifixion, with eight niches occupied by male figures, with an historiated initial 'A'(d), with a pope, king, bishop and two others kneeling before an altar, with a bas-de-page scene of Christina cast into the sea and rescued by angels, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B. vii, f. 256v


The Psalter is named, as you might imagine, for Queen Mary Tudor (1516 - 1558), daughter of King Henry VIII, but the manuscript was not made for her - in fact, it was produced nearly 200 years before Mary's birth.  The Psalter was created in England, probably in London or East Anglia, between 1310 and 1320.  Some scholars argue that it was made for Isabella of France (1295 - 1358), Queen of England and consort of Edward II, but unfortunately there is no certainty about this point.  The Psalter was certainly created for an aristocratic patron, and possibly a royal one, but the lack of any colophon or coats of arms in the manuscript means that it has been impossible to conclusively link it to any original owner. 



Miniature of the Tree of Jesse, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B. vii, f. 67v


More is known about the manuscript itself, which was put together with an enormous amount of care.  The Psalter opens with a unique cycle of Old Testament miniatures, which details events from the Fall of Lucifer to the death of Solomon and is accompanied by an Anglo-Norman commentary found nowhere else; it was probably commissioned particularly for this manuscript. This is followed by a calendar, the Psalter (Book of Psalms) proper, Canticles, and Litany, and virtually all of the manuscript is in the hand of one scribe.



Miniature of Christ in the Temple speaking to the doctors, with the Virgin and Joseph behind, and six niches with prophets, accompanying the text of Psalm 52, with a bas-de-page scene of a mounted man and two mounted women hawking, with a man on foot holding a lure, and a hawk attacking a duck, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B. vii, f. 151r


The layout of the text was meticulously planned to fit almost seamlessly with the nearly unparalleled program of decoration in the Psalter.  The sheer number of images throughout are staggering; there are 223 Old Testament images, 24 calendar scenes, 104 half- or full-page miniatures, 23 historiated initials, and 464 marginal or bas-de-page drawings.  Most remarkably, every image in the manuscript was produced by a single highly-skilled artist, now known as the Queen Mary Master.

We know very little about where the Queen Mary Psalter was during the first two centuries of its existence.  By the early 1550s it had come into the hands of Henry Manners, the 2nd earl of Rutland (1526 - 1563), who as a devout Protestant was arrested by Mary in May of 1553, shortly after she took the throne.  A much-erased note on f. 84r reads:  'This boke was sume tyme [under erasure: the Erle of Rutelands], and it was his wil / that it shulde by successioun all way / go to the [under erasure: lande of Ruteland] or to / [partially erased: him that linyally succedis by reson / of inheritaunce in the seide lande'].




It is uncertain what happened to the Psalter after Rutland's arrest, but in October of 1553 it was seized by an eagle-eyed and opportunistic customs officer named Baldwin Smith; there presumably had been an attempt to remove the manuscript from England.  Smith inscribed his name and the circumstances of this seizure at the end of the manuscript (see f. 319v) and then presented it as a gift to Queen Mary.  Mary clearly valued the Psalter very highly; she had it rebound to include the pomegranate device that she had inherited from her mother (see above, now much worn), and there is some evidence to suggest that she used it in her personal devotions. 

If you would like more information about the Queen Mary Psalter, it is among those manuscripts featured in the Royal app, which is still available for download.  We hope that you enjoy paging through this treasure on Digitised Manuscripts (online here); a few of our favourite images are below.



Miniature of God the Creator holding a compass with angels and cherubins, and Lucifer with fallen angels and devils, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B. vii, f. 1v



Detail of a miniature of two centaurs with bows, aiming their arrows at nearby birds (for the zodiac sign Sagittarius), from a calendar page for November, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B. vii, f. 82r



Detail of a miniature of the three Magi before Herod, with a bas-de-page scene of a bear on a chain springing at a woman, while a man is whipping him, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B. vii, f. 131r



Detail of a bas-de-page scene of two hybrid grotesques (each half-fish), with shields and lances, jousting with one another in the ocean, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London or East Anglia), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B. vii, f. 143v

26 October 2012

What's on Digitised Manuscripts? The Top 10

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The British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site, launched in September 2010, is now over two years old. You may not have noticed everything that has appeared online so far, so here are our medieval and early modern highlights, in approximate chronological order:

The St Cuthbert Gospel (Add MS 89000)

Add MS 89000, f. 34r

The Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton MS Nero D IV)

The Old English Hexateuch (Cotton MS Claudius B IV)

The Theodore Psalter (Add MS 19352)

Add MS 19352, f. 57v

Gerald of Wales (Royal MS 13 B VIII)

Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum and Chronica maiora (Royal MS 14 C VII)

Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 2r

Sumer Is Icumen In (Harley MS 978)

The Gorleston Psalter (Add MS 49622)

The Smithfield Decretals (Royal MS 10 E IV)

The Psalter of Henry VIII (Royal MS 2 A XVI)

Royal 2 A xvi f. 30
Royal MS 2 A XVI, f. 30r

More content is being added on a regular basis, and updates will appear on this blog and via our Twitter feed, @blmedieval. Which highlights would you have chosen?

18 October 2012

British Library Journal Now Online

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A sixteenth-century design for a revolving reading desk: Agostino Ramelli, Le diverse et artificiose machine; composte in lingua Italiana et Francese (Paris, 1588), p. 317. London, British Library, 48.f.15.

A few months ago, we drew your attention to the Electronic British Library Journal, which publishes scholarly research into the history of the British Library and its collections (Medieval News and Views). The eBLJ (for short) is the successor to the British Library Journal, which appeared between 1975 and 1999. We are delighted to report that articles from the British Library Journal are now available online, bringing the combined back catalogue of the British Library Library and eBLJ into one simple location.

A full listing of British Library Journal articles from 1975 onwards is found here. Below you will find hyperlinks to those contributions relating to ancient, medieval and early modern manuscripts. The topics covered include Magna Carta, Codex Sinaiticus, the Bedford Hours, the Cotton Genesis, Christine de Pizan, and the Sforza Hours; while a quick glance at the list of contributors -- among them Janet Backhouse, Christopher de Hamel, Thomas Kren, Nigel Morgan and Colin Tite -- emphasizes the journal's scholarly reputation.

We continue to welcome contributions to the Electronic British Library Journal, and will also endeavour to publicise the fruits of that research in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Blog.

British Library Journal articles

1 (1975)

Janet Backhouse, An illuminator’s sketchbook

T. S. Pattie, The ruling as a clue to the make-up of a medieval manuscript

2 (1976)

Michael Borrie, What became of Magna Carta?

D. H. Turner, The Wyndham Payne Crucifixion

3 (1977)

T. S. Pattie, The Codex Sinaiticus

Lotte Hellinga & Hilton Kelliher, The Malory manuscript

4 (1978)

R. F. Green, Notes on some manuscripts of Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes

5 (1979)

Judith Oliver, Reconstruction of a Liège Psalter-Hours

Retha M. Warnicke, The Laurence Nowell manuscripts in the British Library

6 (1980)

Colin G. C. Tite, The early catalogues of the Cottonian library

7 (1981)

Andrew G. Watson, An early thirteenth-century Low Countries booklist

Janet Backhouse, A reappraisal of the Bedford Hours

Kristine Edmondson Haney, The paint surfaces in the Psalter of Henry of Blois

9 (1983)

Sandra Hindman, The composition of the manuscript of Christine de Pizan’s collected works in the British Library: a reassessment

10 (1984)

Janet Backhouse, The making of the Harley Psalter    

12 (1986)

M. L. Evans, A newly discovered leaf of ‘The Sforza Hours’

13 (1987)

T. S. Pattie, Ephraem the Syrian and the Latin manuscripts of ‘De Paenitentia’ 

John N. King, The account book of a Marian bookseller, 1553-4

Penelope Wallis, The embroidered binding of the Felbrigge Psalter

Marian Wenzel, Deciphering the Cotton Genesis miniatures: preliminary observations concerning the use of colour

Andrew Prescott, The structure of English pre-Conquest Benedictionals

Nigel Morgan, The artists of the Rutland Psalter

Christopher de Hamel, Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts from the library of Sir Sydney Cockerell (1867-1962)

Janet Backhouse, The Tilliot Hours: comparisons and relationships

M. L. Evans, New light on the ‘Sforziada’ frontispieces of Giovan Pietro Birago

14 (1988)

Bodo Brinkmann, The Hastings Hours and the Master of 1499

15 (1989)

Clyve Jones, The Harley family and the Harley papers

16 (1990)

Rosamond McKitterick, Carolingian uncial: a context for the Lothar Psalter

Andreas Petzold, Colour notes in English Romanesque manscripts

Linda Ehrsam Voigts, The ‘Sloane group’: related scientific and medical manuscripts from the fifteenth century in the Sloane collection

Barry Taylor, An old Spanish translation from the 'Flores Sancti Bernardi' in British Library Add. MS. 14040, ff. 111v-112v

David Hook, Egerton MSS. 302 and 303: a Spanish chronicle cycle and its history

J. E. Cross, Missing folios in Cotton MS. Nero A. I

17 (1991)

Colin G. C. Tite, A catalogue of Sir Robert Cotton’s printed books?

David H. Wright, From a copy to facsimile: a millennium of studying the Vatican Vergil

S. E. Lee, Two fragments from Cotton MS. Otho B. X

18 (1992)

Janet Backhouse, Sir Robert Cotton’s record of a royal bookshelf

James P. Carley, The Royal library as a source for Sir Robert Cotton’s collection: a preliminary list of acquisitions

E. C. Teviotdale, Some classified catalogues of the Cottonian library

Colin G. C. Tite, ‘Lost or stolen or strayed’: a survey of manuscripts formerly in the Cotton library

Elisabeth M. C. van Houts, Camden, Cotton and the chronicles of the Norman Conquest of England

Sylvia Wright, The author portraits in the Bedford Psalter-Hours: Gower, Chaucer and Hoccleve

20 (1994)

Michelle P. Brown, The role of the wax tablet in medieval literacy: a reconsideration in light of a recent find from York

W. Schipper, Dry-point compilation notes in the Benedictional of St Aethelwold

Lynda Dennison, The Apocalypse. British Library, Royal MS. 19 B. XV: a reassessment of its artistic context in an early fourteenth-century English manuscript illumination

Margaret Connolly, Public revisions or private responses? The oddities of BL, Arundel MS. 197, with special reference to Contemplations of the Dread and Love of God

Patricia Basing, Robert Beale and the Queen of Scots

T. S. Pattie, A fragment of Ephraem the Syrian and the rare word asiantos vindicated

22 (1996)

Simon Keynes, The reconstruction of a burnt Cottonian manuscript: the case of Cotton MS. Otho A. I 

David Postles, The Garendon cartularies in BL, Lansdowne 415

Thomas Kren, Some newly discovered miniatures by Simon Marmion and his workshop

23 (1997)

David G. Selwyn, ‘Books with manuscript’: the case of Thomas Cranmer’s library

24 (1998) 

J. H. Bowman, The Codex Alexandrinus and the Alexandrian Greek types

25 (1999)

Stella Panayotova, Cuttings from an unknown copy of the Magna Glossatura in a Wycliffite Bible (British Library, Arundel MS. 104)

Joyce Coleman, New evidence about Sir Geoffrey Luttrell’s raid on Sempringham Priory, 1312

05 October 2012

Digitising Royal: New Perspectives on the Royal Manuscript Collection: A Workshop at the British Library

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Royal Workshop

Following on the success of our recent Royal workshop in Durham, Illuminated Manuscripts and Their Users, we are pleased to announce that we will offer another, this time in London.  This workshop will take place at the British Library on 9 November, from 10:30 - 13:00, and will focus on the issues and opportunities surrounding our recent digitisation efforts.  The workshop will allow the participants to interact with a selection of manuscripts from the Royal collection, as well as their newly-created digital surrogates.

The session will open with a brief overview of our recent digitisation efforts by project supervisor Dr Kathleen Doyle, called 'Digitised Manuscripts at the British Library.'  Dr Joanna Fronska and Sarah J Biggs will then speak about the variety of challenges (and opportunities) that have arisen in the course of the complicated Royal digitisation programme.

This will be followed by three presentations on the various aspects of research made possible (or significantly easier!) by the existence of digital surrogates; these surrogates will be examined in detail alongside the manuscripts themselves.

Joanna Fronska: 'The Making of the Coronation Book of Charles V (Cotton MS Tiberius B. viii, ff. 35-80)'

Sarah J Biggs:  'A Closer Look at the Iconography of the Bohun Psalter and Hours (Egerton MS 3277)'

Nicole Eddy: 'Interoffice Memos: Instructions to Illustrators and Rubricators'

This workshop is designed primarily for MA and PhD students of manuscript studies, but it is also open to any member of the public with a particular interest in the subject.  If you would like to attend, please email Royal-Manuscripts-Digitization [at] by 5 November at the latest.  Spaces are limited to a maximum of 15 participants, so an early response is encouraged.  There is, however, a possibility of holding additional sessions in future, so please do get in touch if you would like to attend.

28 September 2012

The Miroir Historial: A History of the World in a (Large) Nutshell

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Detail of a miniature of Caesar crossing the Rhine, with the arms of the Holy Roman emperor held by one of the soldiers, at the beginning of book 7, from the Miroir Historiale (translated by Jean de Vignay from Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum historial), Netherlands (Bruges), 1479-1480, Royal MS 14 E. i, part II, f. 50r

The Miroir Historial (Mirror of History), an encyclopaedia of world history in French, was a part of Edward IV's collection of illustrated historical works produced in Bruges in the early 1470s.  Now part of the Royal Collection, it featured in the Royal Exhibition earlier this year at the British Library, and is now digitised in full on our Digitised Manuscripts site (click here for Part I, and here for Part II of the manuscript).  The text, a history of the world from Creation to the year 1250, is fully readable and the colourful images accompanying each section are available to view in detail on our website.

The Miroir Historial is based on the historical section of the Speculum maius or 'Great Mirror', a vast Latin work by the Dominican scholar Vincent de Beauvais, produced between 1230 and 1260, during the reign of the saintly King Louis IX of France. This medieval equivalent of Wikipedia was a collection of all the knowledge of the Middle Ages, compiled from a wide variety of sources, including Christian, classical, Arabic and Hebrew.  It is a monumental work of scholarship in three volumes, divided into 80 books or 9885 chapters, which became the leading reference work of its day. The Speculum was made up of three parts, each one covering a different branch of knowledge: the Mirror of Nature, the Mirror of Doctrine and the Mirror of History (a fourth part, the Mirror of Morality, was added later).



Detail of a miniature of the birth of Alexander the Great, at the beginning of book 5, from the Miroir Historial (translated by Jean de Vignay from Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum historiale), Netherlands (Bruges), 1479-1480, Royal MS 14 E. i, part 1, f. 177v


The Speculum Historiale was translated into French by a Knight Hospitaller, Jean de Vignay, in the 14th century. It covers the entire history of man from the Creation up to Vincent's lifetime, including tales of Alexander the Great, Mahomet, Charlemagne and Brutus, the mythical founder of Britain, and ending with King Louis' crusade to the Holy Land in 1250. Although the French version does not seem to have had a wide circulation, judging by the relatively small number of surviving manuscripts, the work was dedicated to Jeanne, wife of Philip VI of France and was owned by important collectors such as John, Duke of Berry.



Miniature of Vincent of Beauvais as a Dominican monk, sitting at a desk and writing his book, at the beginning of book 1, with a full border containing the Royal arms of England, from the Miroir Historial (translated by Jean de Vignay from Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum historiale), Netherlands (Bruges), 1479-1480, Royal MS 14 E. i, part 1, f. 3r


Edward IV's copy contains an iconic image of Vincent de Beauvais writing at his desk (which visitors to the Royal exhibition might remember).  Behind Vincent can be seen his collection of beautifully-bound books on shelves, an indication of the possible outward appearance of the work in its original binding, which does not survive.  The artists responsible for this and the other smaller miniatures in the manuscript were professionals from a Bruges atelier that produced other books for the English king. The borders contain Edward's coat of arms, and Royal insignia of the type found in many of Edward's manuscripts, over forty of which are in the British Library's collections today.

- Chantry Westwell

20 September 2012

Not Just a Pretty Picture: Illustrating a Royal Romuléon

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Miniature of Romulus and Remus suckling from the she-wolf; from Benvenuto da Imola, Romuléon, translated by Jean Miélot, Netherlands (Bruges), 1480, Royal 19 E. v, f. 32r.

This stunning manuscript (Royal 19 E. v) was made in the Netherlands, at a workshop in Bruges. It was made, however, specifically for the king of England, Edward IV, as is triumphantly evident from the border decoration on this illuminated page. Edward IV's arms (the three lions of England quartered with the fleurs de lis of France) are carried by angels, and the white rose of the House of York features prominently. Edward greatly admired the workmanship of Flemish illuminators, and, around 1479-1480, acquired a large number of such impressively illustrated manuscripts, which remain in the British Library's Royal collection, and some of which are accessible on the Digitised Manuscripts website (see, for example, Royal 14 E. i, vols 1 and 2 and Royal 14 E. iv).

It is possible that Edward's acquisitions were inspired by his admiration for the libraries owned by some of the court surrounding Philip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy and a major patron of the arts in the 1460s. This manuscript would certainly fit such a model: the text is the Romuléon, a medieval Latin compendium, translated into French by one of Philip's court scholars, retelling the history of Rome from its foundation to the reign of the emperor Constantine. Depicted here, on the first page of Book I of the work, is the discovery by a shepherd of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of the city of Rome. The boys, according to the story, were the twin sons of the god Mars and a princess named Rhea Silvia, who had been forced to become a Vestal Virgin by her usurping uncle. When, despite her vowed chastity, Rhea Silvia became pregnant, she was killed, and the two brothers were cast out into the wilderness to die. They were saved from starvation by a she-wolf, who nursed Romulus and Remus, and became one of the iconic images of the Roman state.

In this illustration, Romulus and Remus are shown nursing in the foreground, being discovered by a shepherd. The picture adopts a common convention of medieval art, compressing time and combining multiple events in a single, economical image. In the background, the shepherd is shown again, now with the children in his arms, handing them over to his wife for her to raise as their own.

Miniature of an army on the march; from Benvenuto da Imola, Romuléon, translated by Jean Miélot, Netherlands (Bruges), 1480, Royal 19 E. v, f. 125r.

But how did the illuminator know what to draw?  Not, in this manuscript as in many others, by actually reading the book! This is clear on several pages, where we can still see the instructions on how to proceed. At the very bottom of the page pictured above, written in letters extremely small and hurried, are the original instructions to the illustrator, left by one of the manuscript's design managers and describing what needed to be shown in the illustration. On most pages, these notes no longer remain, or are only fragmentary: they are located so near the bottom of the page because it was always intended that they would be trimmed away when the manuscript was finished and bound, so that they would no longer spoil the immaculate page. While such notes may not be visually beautiful, however, they are extremely valuable to historians, providing a sneak peek into the process of production for the manuscript.

Detail of instructions to the illustrator; from Benvenuto da Imola, Romuléon, translated by Jean Miélot, Netherlands (Bruges), 1480, Royal 19 E. v, f. 125r.

When enlarged, it is just possible to read these words, written, like the text itself, in French. They say, 'It needs a company with several armed people, both on foot and on horseback, going to war through the countryside'. Details unnecessary for the production of the illustration – like the identity of the 'armed people' – have been left out. Despite this, however, the illuminator has executed these instructions well. That the armed party, who likely represent either the Carthaginian or Roman forces during the Second Punic War, are wearing contemporary armour and march through a landscape of Gothic towers, is fully in keeping with medieval artistic conventions.


Detail of a miniature of the emperor Trajan adopting Hadrian; from Benvenuto da Imola, Romuléon, translated by Jean Miélot, Netherlands (Bruges), 1480, Royal 19 E. v, f. 367v.

13 September 2012

Isidore of Seville's Etymologies: Who's Your Daddy?

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Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636), the bishop of Seville from about 600 to his death, is better known as an author than as an administrator.  His most famous work is the Etymologies, a work of tremendous influence throughout the Middle Ages.  One eleventh-century manuscript (Royal 6 C. i), probably copied at St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, is now available on the Digitised Manuscripts website.


Diagrams of the path of the Sun and the phases of the moon; from Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, England, last quarter of the 11th century, Royal 6 C. i, f. 30r.

The Etymologies is famous for its sometimes quirky explanations of the history of words.  In some cases, when Isidore takes the word apart based on what it sounds like, the explanation that results can be extremely engaging, if not necessarily true.  The Latin word for 'beggar' (mendicus) is now believed to derive from an earlier word meaning 'deformity' or 'lack'.  Isidore, however, speculates a much more charming story, of a 'custom among the ancients' to 'close the hungry mouth and extend a hand, as if speaking with the hand' (manu dicere).

In other cases, Isidore’s etymologies, while colourful, are spot-on.  The one he gives for the words Fornicarius and Fornicatrix (male and female prostitute) explains that these terms come from the Latin word for 'arch' (fornix), and refers to the architecture of ancient brothels.  Prostitutes were understood to lie under such arches while practising their trade.  This is the same explanation for the word 'fornicate' offered in the Oxford English Dictionary today!



Etymologies of words beginning with F and G; from Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, Book 10, England, last quarter of the 11th century, Royal 6 C. i, f. 82r.

While these vocabulary lessons are the most famous part of the Etymologies, and the section from which the work takes its name, the Etymologies is really more of an encyclopaedia, compiling all the information that it would be important for an educated person to know.  This includes descriptions of the movement of the Sun and the phases of the moon, as well as a simple schematic map of the layout of the continents.  Isidore was the first to explain the layout of the continents in what would become the classic medieval schema, the T-O map.  The world is round, with Jerusalem its spiritual as well as geographical centre, standing at the convergence between the three known continents of Asia, Europe and Africa.



T-O map of the world, with east at the top; from Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, England ,last quarter of the 11th century, Royal 6 C. i, f. 108v.

A particularly striking image in the manuscript is the affinity diagrams, laying out the relationships within members of a family.  Who exactly is your second cousin twice removed?  Fortunately for the reader, a simple chart should sort out the confusion.  'The grandfather of my paternal uncle,' it reads across one line, 'is my propatruus, and I am to him the niece or nephew of his son or daughter'.  Relationships are labelled with both the terms for the relative and the term by which he or she would refer to the reader: both grandfather and grandson, both uncle and nephew (or niece!).  Just as the world has been diagrammed, so have the intricacies of the family tree.


Chart of familial affinities; from Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, England, last quarter of the 11th century, Royal 6 C. i, f. 78r.

07 September 2012

Image and Text Meet in a Royal Regiment

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Miniature of the author presenting his book to Henry V; from Thomas Hoccleve, Regiment of Princes, England (2nd quarter of the fifteenth century), Royal 17. D. vi, f. 40r.


This manuscript dates from the second quarter of the fifteenth century: shortly after, that is, the deaths of Thomas Hoccleve -- the author of the works contained in this collection -- and of King Henry V, to whom, as Prince of Wales, Hoccleve had dedicated the most famous of these works, the Regiment of Princes.  The Regiment is an example of the 'Mirror for Princes' genre, where a poet gives advice to a prince or king on how he should rule both his nation and himself.  Images of all of Royal 17. D. vi are available on the Digitised Manuscripts website.

In the miniature above, we see Hoccleve kneeling before Henry, presenting him with a copy of his book.  Such presentation portraits are common features of the beginning of manuscripts, but this one is a bit unusual, falling as it does well into the text.  It comes at the point when Hoccleve finally begins to speak directly to the prince, near the end of his astonishing prologue to the Regiment -- remarkable, because the prologue alone is nearly one half of the full work.  In it, he explores his reasons for writing the Regiment, as well as his own position in the literary tradition.

And that tradition is very important to him.  Hoccleve, like a number of his colleagues in the poetic circles of early fifteenth-century London, greatly admired Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of the Canterbury Tales, and the literary lion of the previous generation.

In fact, Hoccleve claims to have actually known Chaucer before the death of the great man, a death he repeatedly laments throughout the poem: 'My dere maister [master], God his soule quyte [acquit] / And fader Chaucers fayn wold me han taught [And father Chaucer wanted to teach me] / But I was dulle and lerned right naught' (f. 41r, Regiment lines 2077-79).  As with the presentation portrait that interacts so closely with the text of the poem, appearing as it does right at the point when Hoccleve speaks to Henry directly ('Hye and noble prince excellent / My lord the Prince, O my lord gracious', f. 40r, Regiment lines 2017-28), Hoccleve also creates a unique interaction between text and image centred around the figure of 'Father Chaucer.'



Detail of a miniature of Geoffrey Chaucer; from Thomas Hoccleve, Regiment of Princes, England (2nd quarter of the fifteenth century), Royal 17. D. vi, f. 93v.

A portrait of the famous author stands in the margin.  Unlike many medieval portraits, this one actually attempts to capture a likeness.  It has been faithfully copied at the creation of the manuscript, along with the text, but is one of a number of manuscript drawings of Chaucer (compare, for example, the one found in Harley 4866) that are believed to descend from a painted panel portrait -- in this case, indirectly.  To the best of our knowledge, then, this is what Chaucer really looked like!  Here, the author points at the text where Hoccleve has explained his reasons for wanting the portrait to be included:

'Although his life queynte [quenched] be, the resemblaunce
of hym hath in me so fressh livelynesse,
That to putte other men in remembraunce
Of his persone, I have here the liknesse
Do make to this ende in Sothefastnesse,
[Caused to be made for this purpose, in truth,]
That [so that] they that have of hym lost thought and mynde
By this peynture [painting] may ageyn [again] hym fynde'.
(f. 93v, Regiment lines 4992-98)

In an age when each copy of a book was a unique artistic production, often made decades or centuries after the death of the author, Hoccleve's effort to draw text and image together so closely was an ambitious one, which we are fortunate to find here so faithfully reproduced.


Decorative border on a page from Thomas Hoccleve, Regiment of Princes, England (2nd quarter of the fifteenth century), Royal 17. D. vi, f. 48r.  The Latin note in the margin has been provided by Hoccleve, and identifies the source he used when composing the adjacent text.  The provision by an author of such additional apparatus, while not unique, is unusual, and is a further indication of Hoccleve's intention to take into account all aspects of the manuscript book -- not just the text alone.