THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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4 posts categorized "Scotland"

10 May 2014

Our Favourite Map

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What's your favourite map? This is our's (at least, today it is, next week we'll doubtless have a different one).

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Look closely, and you can just about discern the shape. Can you guess what it is yet? It's a medieval view of Britain, one of four surviving maps by Matthew Paris, historian and cartographer at St Albans Abbey. Scotland is shown at the top, joined to the rest of the British mainland by a bridge at Stirling ('Estriuelin pons'). Moving southwards are depicted two walls, one dividing the Scots from the Picts (the Antonine Wall) and the other the Scots from the English (Hadrian's Wall). Along the spine of the map is a series of English towns, including Newcastle ('Nouum castrum'), Durham ('Dunelmum'), Pontefract ('Pons fractus') and Newark ('Neuwerc'), culminating with London, Rochester, Canterbury and Dover ('Douera'), a castle located in the centre of the South coast of England. Wales ('WALLIA') is sited in just about the right place, with a sequence of jagged lines representing Mount Snowdon ('Snaudun'); diagonally opposite is Norfolk and Suffolk, and the towns of Norwich (a metropolis, no less), Lynn and Yarmouth.

This particular map is now bound separately (London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius D VI, f. 12v), but it once belonged to a manuscript of the Abbreviatio Chronicorum of Matthew Paris, dating from the 1250s. There are less complete maps of Britain by Matthew Paris in two other St Albans' manuscripts held at the British Library, Royal MS 14 C VII and Cotton MS Julius D VII, and in another at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MS 16). You can read more about these maps in Suzanne Lewis, The Art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica Majora (Aldershot, 1987), pp. 364-72; but meanwhile here are some more details of the version in Cotton Claudius D VI. It's worth bearing in mind that Matthew Paris did not have satnav, GPS or an A-Z, and that he had never visited the vast majority of the places recorded on his maps.

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f012v Studio c02661-02

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f012v Studio c02661-02

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f012v Studio c02661-02

 

Julian Harrison

08 April 2014

Fore! The British Library's Golf Book

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The 2014 Masters starts at Augusta this week (that's golf for the uninitiated). And what better way to kick things off -- to mangle a sporting analogy -- than with this famous image from the Golf Book. The modern game of golf has its origins in 15th-century Scotland, when King James II had it banned, in order that his subjects should devote more of their time to practising archery. There were, however, other ancient and medieval games which resembled the game of golf, from China, Persia and Rome, among other places. Some say that golf developed from cambuca (chambot in French), a game played with a stick and a wooden ball that was taken up in the Low Countries and Germany.

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A game resembling golf in the Golf Book (London, British Library, MS Additional 24098, f. 27r).

We very much doubt that the modern golf professionals playing at Augusta will care for these niceties. But they might be interested to see this page from the British Library's Golf Book (Add MS 24098, available in full on our Digitised Manuscripts site). We have featured this manuscript before, most notably as our calendar for 2013 (see the month of September) and in the post A Good Walk Spoiled. The splendid book in question was made at Bruges around the year 1540, and the illumination is attributable to the famous Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop.

You may wonder if the players in the bas-de-page scene are engaged in golf or in a game similar to cambuca. But we do suspect that the name "the Cambuca Book" would never have taken on, don't you agree? Watch out for those flying golf balls ...

Julian Harrison

24 August 2013

Mary, Queen of Scots Manuscripts On Loan

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The British Library is delighted to have loaned a number of important historical documents to the excellent Mary, Queen of Scots exhibition at National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh.  Our loans are displayed alongside jewellery, textiles, furniture, paintings, maps and manuscripts, all of which are used to re-examine the life and legacy of Scotland’s most famous Queen.

On 16 May 1568, Mary fled to England after being forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her one-year-old son, the future James I of England. As Elizabeth I’s cousin, Mary fully expected to be invited to court, but her Catholic faith and claim to the English throne made her a natural focus for discontented Catholics who refused to conform to Elizabeth's Protestant faith. For reasons of security, therefore, Mary was placed under house arrest and for the next nineteen years would be moved with her household from one secure location to another. 

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Sketch of Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire: London, British Library, MS Additional 33594, f. 174

One of the British Library loans currently on display in Edinburgh is this sketch of Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire, in which Mary was first imprisoned in 1569 and again in 1584.  Mary complained that ‘I am in a walled enclosure, on the top of a hill exposed to the winds and inclemencies of heaven’, and that her own apartments were ‘two little miserable rooms, so excessively cold, especially at night’.  The castle bridge and gate-house are visible bottom-right and on the left the Queen’s presence chamber and bedchamber have been identified along with rooms for her gentlewomen of the chamber, surgeon, ‘poticary’ and her secretary, Claude Nau.

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Sketch of the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots: London, British Library, MS Additional 48027, f. 569* 

In 1586, Mary was brought to trial for complicity in the Babington plot.  The hearing took place on 14–15 October 1586 in the Great Chamber at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, and is illustrated in this pen-and-ink sketch from the papers of Robert Beale, Clerk of the Privy Council.  Mary is shown twice: aided by two gentlewomen as she enters the court room (top-right), and sitting in a high-backed chair (upper-right, marked ‘A’).  Elizabeth did not attend the trial and therefore her chair of state on the dais is empty (top-centre).  The trial commissioners are identified by numbers.  Elizabeth’s chief advisor, Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, shown seated opposite Mary, is ‘2’, and Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s principal secretary, shown opposite the vacant chair of state, is ‘28’.  The commission of thirty-six peers, privy councillors and judges found Mary guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth. 

Cotton Caligula C ix, f. 192

Letter from James VI to Elizabeth I, 26, January 1587: London, British Library, MS Cotton Caligula C IX, f. 192  

On 26 January 1587, in a final attempt to save the life of the mother he barely knew, James VI of Scotland wrote to his ‘dearest sister’, Elizabeth I.  Beginning two lines from the bottom of this page he asks, ‘Quhat thing, Madame, can greatlier touche me in honoure that is a king and a sonne than that my nearest neihboure, being in straittest [friend]shipp with me, shall rigouruslie putt to death a free souveraigne prince and my natural mother, alyke in estaite and sexe to hir that so uses her … to a harder fortune, and touching hir nearlie in proximitie of bloode?’

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Sketch of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots: London, British Library, MS Additional 48027, f. 650*

Although Elizabeth signed Mary’s death warrant on 1 February 1587, she remained extremely reluctant to execute an anointed sovereign and instructed her secretary, William Davison, not to send it.  Lord Burghley, however, acted quickly and had the death warrant carried to Fotheringhay by Robert Beale, who read it aloud to Mary on 7 February, the evening before her execution.  This drawing shows Mary three times: entering the hall; being attended by her gentlewomen on the scaffold; and, finally, lying at the block with the executioner's axe raised ready to strike.  The Earls of Shrewsbury and Kent are seated to the left (1 & 2) and Sir Amias Paulet, one of Mary’s guards, is seated behind the scaffold (3). 

Additional 23240, f. 65

Letter from James VI to Elizabeth I, March 1587: London, British Library, MS Additional 23240, f. 65

When Elizabeth found out that Mary had been executed, she was furious and wrote to James VI apologising for ‘that miserable accident’ and protesting her innocence.  This is James’s unsigned draft reply to Elizabeth, dated March 1587, in which he assures her that given ‘youre many & solemne attestationis of youre innocentie I darr not wronge you so farre as not to judge honorablie of youre unspotted pairt thairin …’  Then, seizing the opportunity to press his case to be named as Elizabeth’s heir, he added ‘I looke that ye will geve me at this tyme suche a full satisfaction in all respectis as sall be a meane to strenthin & unite this yle, establishe & maintaine the trew religion’.

The Mary, Queen of Scots exhibition is on at National Museums Scotland until 17 November 2013.

03 June 2013

Robert the Bruce letter found at British Library

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A previously unknown letter of Robert the Bruce, addressed to the king of England, has been found in a British Library manuscript. The letter was written in 1310, and reveals how, when faced with an English army marching into Scotland, Robert made an eloquent appeal to King Edward II, asking for peace on the understanding that Scottish independence be recognised.

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The letter of Robert the Bruce to Edward II, added at the foot of the page (London, British Library, MS Cotton Titus A XIX, f. 87r).

Robert's letter, written in Latin, is entered into the pages of a manuscript made towards the end of the 15th century by the monks of Kirkstall Abbey (Yorkshire). Its significance was recognised by Professor Dauvit Broun of the University of Glasgow, the principal investigator of the Breaking of Britain project (Cross-border society and Scottish independence, 1216-1314). The letter is actually included in a dossier of the correspondence of King Edward III of England (1327-1377) with the king of France, the archbishop of Canterbury, Popes Benedict XII and Clement VI, and the emperor of Bavaria. Previously identified as a letter sent by Robert II, king of Scots, to Edward III, the letter in question has now been convincingly attributed to Robert the Bruce by Professor Broun.

At the time of writing (1310), King Edward II of England (1307-1327) was leading an army into Scotland. Robert the Bruce (1306-1329) was trying to stave off this invasion by seeking to open negotiations with Edward, aimed in turn at asserting Scottish independence. Describing the letter, Dauvit Broun reports that "Bruce’s tone is extremely conciliatory; he seems to be offering to do anything possible to establish peace. However, he is nonetheless plainly addressing Edward as one king to another. There is no doubt that the bottom line here is that Edward should recognise Robert as king of the Scots." Soon after the letter was sent, Edward II's army returned south of the border. When Edward subsequently re-invaded Scotland, he suffered a humiliating defeat at the battle of Bannockburn (24 June 1314).

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Detail of the letter of Robert the Bruce to Edward II (London, British Library, MS Cotton Titus A XIX, f. 87r).

Translation of the letter of Robert the Bruce (courtesy of Dauvit Broun, University of Glasgow)

To the most serene prince the lord Edward by God’s grace illustrious king of England, Robert by the same grace king of Scots, greeting in Him through whom the thrones of those who rule are governed. When, under the sweetness of peace, the minds of the faithful find rest, then the life of Christians is adorned with good conduct, and also the whole of Holy Mother Church, because the affairs of all kingdoms are everywhere arranged more favourably. Our humility has led us, now and at other times, to beseech your highness more earnestly so that, having God and public decency in sight, you would take pains to cease from the persecution of us and the disturbance of the people of our kingdom in order that devastation and the spilling of Christian blood may henceforth stop. Naturally, everything which we and our people will be able to do by bodily service, or to bear by giving freely of our goods, for the redemption of good peace and for the grace of your good will for all time, which must be earned, we are prepared and shall be prepared to accomplish in a suitable and honest way, with a pure heart. And if it accords with your will to have a discussion with us on these matters, may your royal sublimity send word in writing to us, by the bearer of this letter. Written at Kildrum in Lennox, the Kalends of October in the fifth year of our reign [1 October 1310].

We are grateful to Dauvit Broun for sharing his research with us, and to Chris Lee and Tony Grant of the British Library for providing the photograph. You can read more about the new find here. Don't forget that we're always happy to publish any new discoveries relating to the British Library's medieval manuscripts -- contact us via Twitter @blmedieval, or using the comments field at the end of this post.