Medieval manuscripts blog

151 posts categorized "Royal"

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.


30 August 2012

The Art of Chivalry: The Texts of the Talbot Shrewsbury Book

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Detail of a miniature of the storming of Corunna by Broadas, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 207r


The stunning images in the Talbot Shrewsbury Book (Royal MS 15 E. vi) are not the only treasure hidden between its covers (see our earlier post about the manuscript). Its contents are a unique collection of fifteen texts in French, compiled for a very important patron, the future Queen of England. Their subjects range from history to romance to military strategy - the common theme throughout is the art of chivalry. This was a fitting subject for a military commander such as John Talbot, the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, who commissioned the work and presented it to Margaret of Anjou, future wife of Henry VI, probably on her arrival in Rouen in March 1445 on her way to England. Whether or not the young Margaret found the military manuals and statutes of the Order of the Garter as entertaining as the tales of Alexander and the romance of the Swan Knight, this was certainly a wedding gift to be treasured and passed on to future generations. Sadly, her only son, Edward, Prince of Wales, was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, but this manuscript was certainly in the Royal library in the reign of Charles II, two centuries later, and remained in the Royal collection until its donation to the British Museum (now, of course, the British Library).

Stories of heroes and heroines of the past, both real and imaginary, in the form of chansons de geste (troubadour’s songs) and chivalric romances, fill two thirds of the volume. These are followed by more didactic texts in the form of chronicles, instructional manuals and statutes. Each text begins on a new folio in a separate gathering, and were all joined together in a single volume, with a list of contents on the verso of the first folio.

Two of the greatest heroes of the past are the subject of the first six texts in the collection:



Detail of a miniature of Alexander encountering blemmyae, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 21v


Alexander the Great

Le Livre de la Conqueste du Roy Alexandre is a French translation of the legend of Alexander, in which he is portrayed as the ultimate hero who conquers the known world, does battle with flying dragons, meets Amazonian women and horned men, and is lowered into the sea in a cask. Included here are tales of his childhood and legendary education by Aristotle, the murder of his mother, Olympias, and details of his successors. There are 81 colourful miniatures illustrating Alexander’s legendary exploits. The one above shows him meeting the Blemmyae, men-monsters with their heads in their chests.



Detail of a miniature of Charlemagne and four kings, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 25r



The next five tales are set in the time of Charlemagne, the great military hero and Holy Roman emperor, whose reign provides the background to a huge epic cycle involving a plethora of subsidiary characters. The first four texts are in the form of chansons de geste and the fifth is a prose romance.

Simon de Pouille relates the events in the war between Charlemagne and Christian Jerusalem on the one side and Jonas of Babylon, on the other. Simon, one of the emperor’s companions, is sent as an envoy to the Saracen leader, a task fraught with difficulties.

Aspremont tells of Charlemagne’s campaigns in Italy. Aspremont is one of the peaks in the southern Appenines though which the army advances on the way to Rome.



Detail of a miniature of Charlemagne and Fierabras with the relics, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 70r


Fierebras is the tale of Charlemagne’s battles with the Saracens and of the encounter between his army and Fierebras of Alexander, in which the Crown of Thorns and other relics are recaptured for the Christians.

Ogier le Danois links the tales of Charlemagne with Arthurian legends, as common characters and places are introduced. Ogier, the Danish hero and enemy of Charlemagne, marries an English princess and becomes King of England, bearing a son by Morgan le Fee while he is shipwrecked on Avalon.



Detail of a miniature of Charlemagne at a table; and Aymon's sons on Bayard, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 155r


Quatre fils Aimon or Le livre de Renault de Montauban tells the story of four brothers who flee from persecution by Charlemagne, going on a crusade on Bayard, the magic horse. Renault eventually becomes a stonemason at the cathedral in Cologne and after his death his body develops miraculous properties.


Other romances

Two prose romances of Anglo-Norman origin and a chanson follow:

Pontus et Sidoine, adapted from the French version of the Anglo-Norman romance, King Horn, tells the story of the son of the King of Galicia and the daughter of the King of Brittany and their love for one another. A tale of chivalry as well as a moral treatise, it glorifies peace as a worthy aim for all, even knights and soldiers.



Detail of a miniature of Guy of Warwick as a courtier and pilgrim, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 227r


Le Romant de Guy de Warwik et d’Heraud d’Ardenne was one of the most popular romances in medieval England, judging from the number of copies that survive in both French and Middle English, mostly in verse. There are, however, only two known copies in French prose, of which this is one. Guy is an English knight who falls in love with a lady of high standing and must prove himself worthy to win her hand. He is taught chivalry by his foster-father, Heraud, and embarks on a series of successful adventures, but later comes to regret his violent past and goes on a crusade, then retires to a hermitage.



Miniature of a knight in a boat drawn by a swan; miniature of a mother in bed, with seven children in a  cradle, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 273r


The last romance in the collection is a chanson called Lystoire du chevalier au Cygne, an abridged version of part of the vast Crusade cycle. The tale of the seven children turned to swans and of Hélias, the swan knight, was linked to the legendary origins of Godefroi de Bouillon, one of the leaders of the First Crusade (1096), who became the first ruler of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.


Didactic texts

The remaining third of the manuscript (from folio 293 onwards) contains texts which are more didactic in nature, perhaps intended for the instruction of Margaret of Anjou or of her future sons and heirs. There are three works on chivalry and warfare, an instructional manual for kings and princes, a chronicle and statutes.

Larbre des batailles is a treatise on war and the laws of battle, written for a wide audience in the style of a scholastic dialogue; a question is posed, both sides are debated and a conclusion follows.

Le gouvernement des roys et des princes is translated from Gilles de Rome’s De regimine principium, the Mirror of Princes, an influential text which interpreted (sometimes loosely) and promoted Aristotle’s political and moral philosophy to a medieval audience. It combined practical advice with philosophical guidance for rulers.



Detail of a miniature of Aubert and Ide, Robert the Devil, and Charlemagne, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 363r


Chroniques de Normandie is a history of the region from the 8th century to 1217. It begins in the time of the legendary Aubert and his son Robert le Diable, during the reign of Pepin, father of Charlemagne, the early part up to 1189 being a prose version of Wace’s Roman de Rou. The sources of the continuation from 1189 onwards have not been established beyond doubt, though there are parallels with other chronicles of the period such as Ralph of Coggeshall and Matthew Paris.

Breviaire des Nobles is a poem on the values of chivalry, beginning ‘Je Noblesce, dame de bon vouloir…’.



Detail of a miniature of Henry VI enthroned giving the earl of Shrewsbury the sword as constable of France, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 405r


Le livre des fais darmes et de chevalerie is a work on military strategy and the conduct of war, compiled by its author, Christine de Pizan in 1410, from a variety of sources, both ancient and contemporary, for the instruction of young knights. Although as a woman she had no direct experience of fighting, she succeeds here in producing an authoritative work on the subject, worthy to be translated and printed by Caxton in 1489.

The Statutes of the Order of the Garter (here written in French) are the rules for the government and organisation of the chivalric order founded by Edward III in the late 1340s. The original statutes do not survive and this version is slightly different from the four early texts which were printed by Ashmole in his comprehensive work on the subject in the 17th century. Included are rules pertaining to foreign travel by members of the Order, to uniforms and to the guardianship of the order in the king’s absence.



Detail of a miniature of the Chapter of the Garter, a king and knights gathered around an altar surmounted by George and the dragon, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 439r


- Chantry Westwell