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What do Magna Carta, Beowulf and the world's oldest Bibles have in common? They are all cared for by the British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Section. This blog publicises our digitisation projects and other activities. Follow us on Twitter: @blmedieval. Read more

05 April 2020

Guess the manuscript returns

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Today's Guess the Manuscript is relatively simple, we think. In which British Library manuscript is this page found?

A detail of a manuscript page with a dragon strangling an elephant

You can find the entire book on our Digitised Manuscripts site. If you're still having trouble, we suggest looking at our Medieval England and France, 700–1200 webspace, created in partnership with the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Have a guess by submitting a comment below, or tweeting us @BLMedieval (#GuessTheManuscript). Happy hunting!


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02 April 2020

The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick

One of the most remarkable 15th-century English manuscripts can now be viewed in full online, on our Digitised Manuscripts site. The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick is an illustrated Middle English biography of Richard Beauchamp (b. 1382, d. 1439), 13th Earl of Warwick. It survives in a single copy, made for his daughter, Anne Beauchamp (b. 1426, d. 1492): Cotton MS Julius E IV/3. Richard Beauchamp was an important political figure during the reigns of Henry IV (r. 1399–1413), Henry V (r. 1413–1422) and Henry VI (r. 1422–61, 1470–71), at the height of the Hundred Years War between England and France.

A page from The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, showing an illustration of Beauchamp kneeling before Henry V, receiving his appointment as Captain of the French city of Calais.

Beauchamp is made Captain of Calais by King Henry V: Cotton MS Julius E IV/3, f. 13r (detail)

The manuscript contains 55 pen drawings, or ‘pageants’, that chronicle Beauchamp’s life, from his birth and baptism to his death and burial, each accompanied by a short explanatory caption. The drawings are renowned for their sense of drama, their realism, and their immense detail. You could spend hours scanning their contents and discover all manner of interesting features, from jewelled crowns and embroidered dresses to elaborate heraldic devices and swords. At one point, the heart of St George even makes an appearance, preserved in a gilded monstrance (a vessel for holding relics).

A detail from The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, showing an illustration of Beauchamp receiving an embellished vessel containing the heart of St George from the Holy Roman Emperor.

Beauchamp receives a monstrance containing the heart of St George from the Holy Roman Emperor: Cotton MS Julius E IV/3, f. 18r (detail)

The manuscript’s drawings provide significant insight into many aspects of European court culture during the Late Middle Ages (roughly 1250 to 1500). Recent scholarship has used them as important evidence for the study of weapons and armour, banqueting, dress and heraldry, architecture, late medieval drama, and even the design of ships and the nature of naval warfare.

A detail from The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, showing Beauchamp greeting and shaking hands with the Doge of Venice.

Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, greeted by the Doge of Venice, on his arrival to the city: Cotton MS Julius E IV/3, f. 8r (detail)

The pageants situate Beauchamp at the very heart of English political life, as a prodigious knight and general, as a major advisor to three English kings, as an ambassador travelling throughout Europe on behalf of the royal court, and ultimately as Lieutenant of France and Normandy and protector of the young Henry VI.

A page from The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, with an illustration depicting a battle between Beauchamp and Owen Glendower.

Beauchamp fighting in the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403: Cotton MS Julius E IV/3, f. 4r

Several of the manuscript’s illustrations see Beauchamp fighting in significant battles and sieges that took place in England and France during this period. One, for example, depicts the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, in which Beauchamp fought on the side of King Henry IV against Sir Henry ‘Harry Hotspur’ Percy, ultimately defeating the rebel and securing the English throne for the Lancastrian forces. The mounted Beauchamp appears at the centre of the battle, charging directly into the enemy forces.

A page from The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, showing Beauchamp defeating a French knight in a joust.

Beauchamp defeats a French knight during a tournament and is forced to dismount to prove he is not tied into his saddle: Cotton MS Julius E IV/3, f. 16r

Beauchamp acquired a reputation for engaging in chivalric behaviour and pursuits during his lifetime. Jousting and tournament scenes are notably prominent throughout the manuscript’s series of drawings. The Earl takes part in jousts in celebration of the coronation of Joan of Navarre as Queen of England, in a diplomatic mission to the Holy Roman Empire, and at a tournament before the French court, where he is shown defeating three French knights in quick succession. In this image, a victorious Beauchamp is forced to dismount from his own horse to prove that he has not been tied into his saddle, so astonished is the French court at his skill in the sport.  

A page from The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, showing an illustration of a banquet, thrown in honour of Beauchamp by Sir Baltirdam.

Beauchamp attends a banquet thrown in his honour by Sir Baltirdam, the Sultan’s Lieutenant: Cotton MS Julius E IV/3, f. 10r

One of the major sequences of images in the manuscript focuses on the pilgrimage Beauchamp undertook to the Holy Land in 1408, which sees the Earl travelling across Europe and encountering various members of the nobility during his journey. Upon reaching Jerusalem, Beauchamp meets with the deputy of the Patriarch of the city, and visits the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre. He then attends a banquet thrown in his honour by a certain ‘Sir Baltirdam’, a lieutenant to the Sultan of Egypt. At the conclusion of the meal, Sir Baltirdam offers Beauchamp and his men lavish gifts of precious jewels, silk cloth, and gold.

A page from The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp, showing Beauchamp’s burial presided over by the Bishop of Lichfield, with his coffin being lowered into a tomb.

The Burial of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick: Cotton MS Julius E IV/3, f. 27r

The final set of images in the manuscript takes a more sombre turn, depicting Beauchamp’s death and burial in 1439. Presided over by William Heyworth, Bishop of Lichfield, and observed by a crowd of mourners, Beauchamp’s coffin is shown being lowered into his tomb in the Beauchamp Chapel of St Mary's Church, Warwick. Both the chapel and the tomb survive to this day, the latter marked by an enormous bronze effigy of the Earl made during the 15th century.

A bronze effigy of Richard Beauchamp in armour, marking the site of his tomb, accompanied by bronze sculptures of a dog and a griffin.

The 15th-century bronze effigy of Richard Beauchamp, resting on his tomb (St Mary’s Church, Warwick)

Our manuscript was probably commissioned by Anne Beauchamp, daughter of Richard Beauchamp and widow of Richard Neville 'the Kingmaker', Earl of Warwick (b. 1428, d. 1471), sometime between 1483 and her death in 1492. Its drawings have been linked to an artist now known as the 'Caxton Master', named after his illustrations of William Caxton's translations of the Metamorphoses of Ovid (Cambridge, Magdalene College, Old Library, MS.F.4.34) and the Mirroure of the Worlde (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 283). Later, the manuscript was owned by the herald Robert Glover (b. 1544, d. 1588), before passing into the hands of the great manuscript collector, Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (b. 1571, d. 1631). It was bequeathed to the nation by Cotton's grandson, Sir John Cotton (b. 1621, d. 1702). We are delighted that it can now be viewed in full online, for everyone to enjoy.


Calum Cockburn

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31 March 2020

Don’t waste time writing

What should you do if you read something remarkable, or come across a brilliant observation that you must remember? Take a photo and share it via the family WhatsApp group? Post it on Twitter and wait for the likes to roll in? Or perhaps it should go on Instagram, with a background of a sunset to set it off?

In the early modern era, contemporaries would either commit these gems to memory or store them in commonplace books. Add MS 32494 is one of these treasure troves of wisdom, once belonging to the scholar and poet Gabriel Harvey (1552/3–1631). If you’re grappling with the perennial question of what you should (and shouldn’t) be doing, Harvey is here to help. Here is some of his advice:

A manuscript page containing Harvey’s advice about dreams and not making the same mistakes

Gabriel Harvey's advice about dreams and making the same mistakes, in his commonplace book: Add MS 32494, f. 11v


Don't be frustrated if you can’t remember last night’s really good dream. According to Harvey, ‘who so regardith Dreames, is lyke him, that takith howld of A shaddowe, and followith after the wynde’ (f. 11v).

Making the same mistakes

It’s time to break the pattern. As Harvey put it, ‘he that wasshith himself bycause of A dead boddy, and then towchith the deade againe, what good doith his washing? So is it with A man that repentith his misdeeds, and doith them againe’ (f. 11v).

A manuscript page in which Harvey advises getting up early

Harvey's advice about eating and sleeping: Add MS 32494, f. 19r

Eating and sleeping

If you’re reading this in bed, it’s time to get up! Hannibal used to get up before daybreak and never rest until supper, before sleeping on the ground with only his cloak to cover him. Both Alexander the Great and Scipio used to eat whilst going about their business. And as Harvey’s mother used to say, ‘all the speede, is in the morning’ (f. 19r).


Another bad habit. Harvey was given to this vice, sternly reminding himself to ‘auoyde all writing, but necessary, which consumith unreasonable much tyme, before you ar aware: you haue alreddy plaguid yourselfe this way: Two Arts lernid, whilest two sheetes in writing’ (f. 16r).


The way to happiness is to ‘make the best of euery thing’ (f. 12r). If you’re unhappy, don’t let anyone know (‘he bearith his misery best, that hydeth it most’, f. 22r).


If you haven’t got a copy of Seneca to hand, fortunately Harvey took some notes for you. To gain a woman’s affection, all you have to do is ‘to looue and to be loouely’. The lover who is the most devoted will enjoy the greatest success: ‘he rulith most in Venus Court, that servith his Lady best’. Don’t think that because your lady has ostensibly forgiven you that she isn’t seething inside. As Harvey noted, ‘a pleasante looke doth pacify the Loouer, thowgh his Ladyes Hart be neuer so angry’. Remember that romance is a mixture of work and win: ‘he that gatherith Roses, must be content to prick his fingars, and he that will win his Looues fauour, must abide her sharpist words awhile’ (f. 25v). Finally, before embarking on a new courtship, Harvey advised reflecting on how other people you know are doing (‘When thou goist awooing, marke how thy neighbours haue spedd before ye’, f. 25r). If they all seem to be trapped in unhappy relationships, will it be any different for you?

A manuscript page containing Harvey’s advice about women and romance

Harvey's relationship advice: Add MS 32494, f. 25r

We hope Gabriel Harvey’s advice proves useful. Don’t forget, ‘it is better not to lyue, then not to know how to lyue, or not to lyue as you know’ (f. 23r).


Jessica Crown

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