Medieval manuscripts blog

333 posts categorized "Featured manuscripts"

27 August 2013

Anglo-Saxon Invasion

The British Library has one of the most comprehensive collections of manuscripts in Old English, many of which have already been catalogued online with images at the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.  We have recently added catalogue entries and images for the Old English manuscripts in the Additional collection.  There are relatively few of these, but some of these manuscripts contain unique or very important texts.

They are:

Add MS 47967:  The Old English Orosius

Zoomorphic initial (A)'E'(ft) with four heads and interlaced bodies at the beginning of Book III, Chapter i, from the Old English Orosius, England (Winchester), c. 892-925, Add MS 47967, f. 31v


Add MS 37517 The 'Bosworth Psalter'

Opening page of Psalm 101 with a large decorated initial, display capitals, and interlinear gloss in Old English, from the Bosworth Psalter, England (Canterbury?), 4th quarter of the 10th century, Add MS 37517, f. 64v

Add MS 40000:  The 'Thorney Gospels'

Large decorated initial 'Q'(uoniam) at the beginning of Luke's Gospel, with faint interlinear glosses, France (Brittany?), 1st quarter of the 10th century, Add MS 40000, f. 48r

The glosses in the Thorney Gospels, which are extremely faint, can be seen more clearly online by zooming in on the images, than they can in the manuscript itself.  They are above lines 3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 17, 18 and 24; if you are having trouble reading them, you can find details in N R Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), no. 131.

Inscription in Old English from the 2nd half of the 11th century referring to the former binding of the manuscript: '+Aelfric 7 wulfwine. Eadgife goldsmides geafen to broperraedenne twegen orn weghenes goldes daet is on pis ilce boc her foruten gewired' (Aelfric and Wulfwine, goldsmiths of Eadgifu, gave for the confraternity two oras of weighed gold which is wired without upon this same book), Add MS 40000, f. 4r

Add MS 23211Fragments of Saxon royal genealogies and a Martyrology in Old English

Fragment with decorated initial from the first page of a martyrology, England (south-west), 4th quarter of the 9th century, Add MS 23211, f. 2r


Add MS 34652:  a leaf from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: the preface with a West-Saxon genealogy from Cerdic (494) to Alfred (899) (f. 2) and a leaf from the bilingual Rule of Chrodegang (chapters 60-62, incomplete) (f. 3)

Text page of Chrodegang's rule with initials and rubric, England (Winchester), 2nd half of the 11th century, Add MS 34652, f. 3v

Add MS 61735Farming memoranda of Ely Abbey (also available on Digitised Manuscripts here, and please check out our recent blog post on the memoranda)

Recto of the 3 strips of parchment containing an inventory and valuation of livestock supplied by Ely to Thorney Abbey and a note of rents (payable in eels!), England (Ely), c. 1007-1025, Add MS 61735


Add MS 40165AMartyrology fragment (ff. 6-7) (also available on Digitised Manuscripts here)

Martyrology fragment written in insular miniscule, England (south-west?), 4th quarter of the 9th century, Add MS 40165A, f. 6v


Add MS 9381Bodmin Gospels (St Petroc Gospels), with records of grants of manumission in Old England and Latin added on blank leaves and in margins

Canon tables with Bodmin manumissions, France (Brittany), last quarter of the 9th century or 1st quarter of the 10th century, Add MS 9381, f. 13r


Add MS 32246Part of Priscian's Excerptiones with Old English and Latin marginal glosses and Aelfric's Colloquy

Add MS 32246 f. 21v K90112-39
Excerptiones with a Latin-Old English glossary, England, 1st half of the 11th century, Add MS 32246, f. 21v

 - Chantry Westwell

20 August 2013

St John the Evangelist in the Lindisfarne Gospels


St John the Evangelist in the Lindisfarne Gospels (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D IV, f. 209v).

Now on show in Durham, until 30 September 2013, is this miniature of St John the Evangelist in the Lindisfarne Gospels. The page in question prefaces the Gospel of John in this famous, Anglo-Saxon gospelbook. John is depicted sitting on a blue cushion, with a scroll held in his left hand, and with his evangelist symbol (an eagle, imago aequilae) above his head. The pigments are as rich as the day they were painted, a combination of oranges, reds, blues and greens.

The Lindisfarne Gospels is the centrepiece of the Durham exhibition, staged in Palace Green Library, a stone's throw (literally) from the impressive Romanesque cathedral. Also are show are other British Library manuscripts, most notably the St Cuthbert Gospel (which we bought for the nation in 2012 for £9 million), plus treasures from the British Museum, Corpus Christi College Cambridge and other institutions, and items from the Staffordshire Hoard. Catch the exhibition while you can, it's a treat!

You can read more about the exhibition here. And you can see the Lindisfarne Gospels in its entirety on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, @blmedieval.

12 August 2013

Twelfth-Century Girl Power

One of our recent uploads to Digitised Manuscripts is the indisputably fabulous Melisende Psalter (Egerton MS 1139); have a look at the fully digitised version here. This extraordinary manuscript is not only a superb example of 12th-century Crusader art, but also a fitting legacy for the remarkable woman for whom it was most likely created - Melisende, the Queen of Jerusalem.

Detail of a miniature of the Nativity of Christ, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139, f. 2r

Melisende was born in 1105, and spent her early years in Edessa, a territory that had been conquered by her father, Baldwin, a Frankish crusading knight who met with much success on the battlefield. His wife (the deliriously-named Morphia), to whom he was much devoted, was the daughter of an Armenian prince, and a formidable figure in her own right. As their eldest daughter, Melisende was heavily influenced by her strong and ambitious parents, and grew up surrounded by the traditions of both East and West – not to mention a near-constant state of warfare.

When Melisende was 13 her father was elected the King of Jerusalem. Lacking sons, the newly-crowned Baldwin II took the unusual step of naming his eldest daughter the heir to his kingdom, and Melisende soon became an active participant in the administration of the crusader state. Baldwin eventually arranged a match between Melisende and the Frankish military commander Fulk V, Count of Anjou and Maine, after taking steps to ensure that his daughter’s position would be assured after her marriage.

Melisende and Fulk ascended to the joint rule of Jerusalem after Baldwin II’s death in 1131, but Fulk did not wait long before he sought to strip Melisende of her power and seize the throne for himself alone. Melisende was more than a match for him, however. Possessing a canny knowledge of diplomacy, able military commanders, and the loyalty of her subjects, she quickly put an end to his attempted coup. The couple eventually reconciled, but Melisende’s position was sacrosanct ever after; the historian William of Tyre later wrote that Fulk never again tried to ‘take the initiative, even in trivial matters, without [her] knowledge’.

Ivory plaque from the lower binding, of the six vices and six works of charity, illustrating Matthew 25:35-36, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139

Some scholars have argued that the Melisende Psalter was a gift from Fulk to Melisende after their reconciliation – a glorious form for an apology to take, if true. There is certainly plenty of evidence for this suggestion. The death of Baldwin II is listed in the Psalter’s calendar, but Fulk’s death in 1143 is not noted, which implies that he was alive at time it was created. The Psalter was originally encased in two ivory plaques (now detached), one of which includes a carving of a bird labeled as ‘herodius’ (see above); in the French vernacular this bird was also called a ‘foulque’, a rather obvious allusion to Fulk.

Detail of a miniature of the Deesis, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139, f. 12v

Like Melisende herself, the Psalter is a unique synthesis of East and West. The text, liberally highlighted with gold lettering, conforms to the standards of the Holy Sepulchre, but its style and script is closest to contemporary French or English productions, and the calendar is a copy of one developed for use in the diocese of Winchester. At the beginning of the manuscript is a series of 24 full-page miniatures with scenes from the New Testament; the presence of such scenes is common in western European Psalters from this period, but the images in Melisende’s are of a distinctly eastern style, reflective of the Byzantine Orthodox liturgical tradition. These masterful illuminations were created by an artist named Basilius, who signed his name (‘Basilius me fecit’ or ‘Basilius made me’) on the last miniature in the series (this inscription is just barely visible in the stool beneath Christ’s feet; see above).

Some of our favourite highlights from the manuscript are below; have a look at the entire manuscript here.

Miniature of Christ and the raising of Lazarus, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139, f. 5r

Miniature of the Ascension of Christ, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139, f. 11r

Historiated initial ‘B’(eatus vir) of David harping, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139, f. 23v

Miniature of Mary Magdalene, at the beginning of a prayer to her, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139, f. 210r

Ivory plaque from the upper binding, with scenes from the life of David, from the Melisende Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139

- Sarah J Biggs

09 August 2013

The Eyes Have It

Here's a poser for you. Below are the evangelist portraits from the famous Lindisfarne Gospels, reputedly painted (according to a 10th-century colophon) by Bishop Eadfrith (698-c. 721).

The question is: can you spot the difference? The answer is found at the foot of this post.


St Matthew the Evangelist in the Lindisfarne Gospels (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D IV, f. 25v)


St Mark the Evangelist in the Lindisfarne Gospels (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D IV, f. 93v)


St Luke the Evangelist in the Lindisfarne Gospels (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D IV, f. 137v)


 St John the Evangelist in the Lindisfarne Gospels (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D IV, f. 209v)

To find out more about the making of the Lindisfarne Gospels, we highly recommend that you read Richard Gameson's new book, From Holy Island to Durham: The Contexts and Meanings of the Lindisfarne Gospels (Third Millennium, 2013). Or why not visit Durham itself, where the manuscript itself is on display until September 2013? Meanwhile, don't forget that you can view all the pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site.

So, the answer to our poser is ... well, it's a bit of a trick question. All the eyes are blue, except ... you'll have to work that one out!

01 August 2013

A Calendar Page for August 2013

For more details on calendar pages or the Golf Book, please see the post for January 2013.

The aristocratic pursuits which have so characterised this manuscript (see here for April, May, June and July) take a back seat in these scenes from the calendar pages for August.  In the opening full-page miniature, a man and a woman are pausing from their labours in the fields to take some refreshment; the man is holding out a bowl towards another woman, who bears a basket of food and a jug (one hopes that it is full of wine).  A dog with a studded collar plays nearby, while behind the resting pair more peasants are at work harvesting grain.  In the bas-de-page, a group of men are engaged in the rather disquieting game of 'cock-throwing', hurling sticks at a bird that has been tied to a stake.  On the following page are the saints for August, and a small roundel miniature of a woman holding a flower, for the zodiac sign Virgo.  Below, another group of men are snaring birds, using an owl to attract them. 


Calendar page for August with a miniature of labourers harvesting grain and resting in the fields, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 25v


Calendar page for August with a bas-de-page scene of a men snaring birds, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 26r

29 July 2013

The Last Will and Testament of Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great (871-899) and Eadred (946-955) are the only Anglo-Saxon kings whose wills have survived to the present day, both of which are found in the same manuscript, British Library Add MS 82931, known as the Liber de Hyda and a recent upload to our Digitised Manuscripts site.

The decorated opening page of the Liber de Hyda.

Opening page of the Liber de Hyda, Add MS 82931, f. 1r

Although it was produced in the mid-15th century, the manuscript contains copies of much earlier documents dated between 455 and 1023, all relating to Hyde Abbey, Winchester. The documents are connected by a chronicle of Anglo-Saxon history beginning with the legends of the founding of Britain and ending abruptly (in mid-sentence) during the reign of King Cnut in 1023. Each of the later chapters of the chronicle is followed by an appendix containing wills, charters and legal documents from that period, dealing mainly with land grants to the abbey. Many of these documents are unique to this manuscript, so it is an important resource for Anglo-Saxon historians. The only copy of Eadred's will is found here, but a much earlier copy of King Alfred's will survives in an 11th-century manuscript, the Liber Vitae of the New Minster, Winchester (British Library, Stowe MS 944).

The opening page of the will of Alfred the Great, from the Liber de Hyda.

Opening page of Alfred the Great's will, Add MS 82931, f. 10v

Alfred's will, drawn up c. 885, almost 15 years before his death, begins very much like a will today:

Ic Aelfred cingc mid Godes gife 7 mid geþeahtunge Aeþelredes ercebisceopes 7 ealre Westseaxena witena gewitnesse ...

I, King Alfred, by the grace of God and with the advice of Archbishop Æthelred, and the cognisance of all the West Saxon council ...

It describes the past and future succession of his kingdom, and Alfred's relationship with his father, brothers and nephews. In the preamble, the legacy of Alfred's father, Æthelwulf, is summarised, referring to how his four sons each succeeded to the kingdom in turn, and how they each made provisions for their sons. Alfred, the youngest and last to succeed, was keen to establish his right to the property distributed in his will; and so mention is made to a meeting of the West Saxon council, after his brother Æthelred's death, where the thegns upheld Alfred's claims to his brother's inheritance.

Having dismissed all rival claims to the property, Alfred proceeds to distribute land, first to his elder son Edward, then to the Old Minster at Winchester (where he was buried), to his younger son, daughters, brothers' sons and a kinsman named Osferth. In what appears to be a sentimental gesture, he bequeaths to his wife Ealhswith the places of his birth, Lambourn, and two greatest victories, Wantage and Edington. His treasure is then allocated to his children, his followers, his nephews and to the Church. A total of 2000 silver pounds was distributed, an indication of the great wealth Alfred accumulated during his reign. The king then appealed to all his successors to abide by the conditions of his will, his final gesture being to grant freedom to all the members of the council who had served him.

Eadred, one of the lesser-known Anglo-Saxon kings, was Alfred's grandson, who succeeded his brother Edmund to the throne in 946. After a short reign, he died young of a serious digestive ailment and may even have suffered from a physical disability. Despite this, Eadred had some military successes and was able to incorporate the Viking kingdom of York into his realm. The provisions made in his will are evidence of the tenuous nature of his control: Eadred left large quantities of gold and silver 'for the redemption of his soul and for the good of his people, that they may be able to purchase for themselves relief from want and from the heathen army if they [have] need'. The money was entrusted to church leaders for distribution in their respective areas. Eadred must have been concerned for the future of his kingdom, with his successor, his nephew Eadwig, only 14 years old when he acceded to the throne. Eadwig is not mentioned in the will and Eadred's mother is the only family member who is bequeathed property. However, Eadred appeared keen to leave nothing to chance when it came to the welfare of his soul; he specified that gold was to be given to 'every ecclesiastic who has been appointed since I succeeded to the throne'. Neither did he forget the members of his household, who each received a legacy.

A page from the Liber de Hyda, showing the text of Eadred's will.

Eadred's will, Add MS 82931, f. 22r

In the Liber de Hyda the wills are copied in three languages: Latin, Old English and Middle English. On the page above can be seen the end of the Latin will, followed by the Old English version in the first column, under the rubric 'Incipit testamentu[m] Edredi Regis in lingua saxonica'. Near the end of the second column is the Middle English translation with the title 'Testamentu[m] Edredi Regis in lingua Anglica'. The first line of the will shows the change in written English between the 10th and the 15th centuries, which the scribe has faithfully reproduced. 'þis is Eadredes cinges cwide' becomes 'Thys ys kyng Eadredys testament'. The English letter 'þ' or 'thorn' is replaced by 'th' and the French term 'testament' has replaced 'cwide' (the Old English word for speech from which 'quoth' is derived), meaning 'words' or 'instructions’. Today, when we say 'last will and testament' we use another word of Old English origin (from 'willan', meaning to want or wish) alongside the French term.

25 July 2013

Guess the Manuscript V

The beautiful weather lately has put us all in a gentle summery mood, so we've decided not to inflict another flyleaf mystery on you.  Today's installment of Guess the Manuscript is from the actual body of the actual manuscript; how quickly can you figure it out?


As always, this is from a manuscript in one of our collections and can be found somewhere on the Digitised Manuscript website.  Send your guesses in, and we'll update with the answer shortly!  You can check out our previous Guess the Manuscript posts here, here, here, and here.

22 July 2013

A Carolingian Masterpiece: the Moutier-Grandval Bible

On Christmas Day of the year 800, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, was crowned Europe’s first Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III.  Many people, including Charlemagne himself, saw the empire he had established (called Carolingian in his honour) as a continuation of that of the Romans, and the Christmas ceremony in Rome confirmed this in the eyes of the world.

Charlemagne was committed to resurrecting the classical scholarship of Greece and Rome that many felt was lost during the so-called Dark Ages, and he gathered intellectuals from around Europe to his court in Aachen.  One notable recruit was the English cleric Alcuin of York (c. 735 - 804), who joined Charlemagne's ambitious project around 781.  Alcuin became the leading figure in the group of scholars and artists assembled to stimulate the cultural revival that became known as the 'Carolingian Renaissance'. This Renaissance was focused on Charlemagne’s Court at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) and monasteries such as Tours, where Alcuin was abbot.

A page from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, showing illustrations of scenes from the Book of Genesis.
The frontispiece to Genesis, depicting the Creation of Adam and Eve, their Temptation and Expulsion from the idealised landscape of Eden to labour on thorny soil, from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, France (Tours), c. 830 – c. 840, Add MS 10546, f. 5v

One of Alcuin's contributions was to produce an emended version of the Latin Vulgate Bible. Subsequently a number of single volume Bibles were produced by teams of scribes and artists at his abbey of Tours, for distribution around Charlemagne’s empire.  We are delighted to announce that the one of the great products of that scriptorium, the Moutier-Grandval Bible, made under Abbot Adalhard (834-843), is now available online on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website.

A page from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, showing an illustration of Christ in Majesty.
Miniature of Christ in Majesty, surrounded by the Evangelists and their symbols, from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, France (Tours), c. 830 – c. 840, Add MS 10546, f. 352v

This immense pandect—it is an enormous 495 x 380 mm, and has 449 folios—is one of three surviving illustrated copies produced in Tours in the 9th century.  The four full-page miniatures reveal this manuscript’s debt to classical art.  The decorated initials are followed by square capitals and uncials which lead into the text script, which is a form of caroline minuscule, upgraded here by the introduction of some variant letter-forms such as 'a'.  Some twenty different scribes worked on the manuscript, a signal of the scale of book production at Tours during this period.

A page from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, showing the opening of St Jerome's Prologue to the Bible, with a decorated initial F.

Decorated initial ‘F’(rater Ambrosius) from the beginning of Jerome’s prologue to the Bible in the form of a letter to Paulinus, from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, France (Tours), c. 830 – c. 840, Add MS 10546, f. 2r

The manuscript takes its name from the monastery of Moutier-Grandval, in the canton of Berne, Switzerland, where it was housed from at least the 16th century until the 18th when it made its way into private hands.  Little evidence exists concerning the Bible’s early history, but it is possible that it belonged to Moutier-Grandval from the very beginning, as the Tours scriptorium routinely produced manuscripts for use in other foundations.

An illustrated page from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, appearing at the end of the Book of Revelation.

Miniature of the book ‘sealed with seven seals’ on an altar, being opened by the Lamb and the Lion of Juda, with the symbols of the Evangelists; below, an enthroned figure holding a canopied cloth (the vault of the heaven?) and an angel blowing a trumpet, at the end of Revelation, from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, France (Tours), c. 830 – c. 840, Add MS 10546, f. 449r

The enormous size and weight of the Moutier-Grandval Bible, as well as the fragile state of its binding, made it a particular challenge for us to digitise. A special cradle was employed to safely house the manuscript during photography, and a team of experts from a number of departments in the British Library worked together to transport, tend, and watch over it during the days of filming – have a look at some of our behind-the-scenes photos below!  And if there are any queries about our use (or rather, lack of use) of white gloves, please see our previous post on the subject.

The Moutier-Grandval Bible being photographed in the British Library's imaging studio.

The Moutier-Grandval Bible being photographed in the British Library's imaging studio.

Special thanks are due to Andrea Clarke, Kathleen Doyle, and Julian Harrison of the Medieval and Earlier Manuscript department, Ann Tomalak and Gavin Moorhead of the British Library Centre for Conservation, and Antony Grant, Senior Imaging Technician.

Sarah J Biggs

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