Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

Introduction

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

24 March 2017

Digitising our manuscripts from Anglo-Saxon England

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Strong is he who tastes the power of books;
he who has possession of them is always the wiser.

Bald bið se ðe onbyregeð boca cræftes;
symle bið ðe wisra ðe hira geweald hafað.

Solomon and Saturn II, lines 238–246 (translated in J. Neville, Representations of the Natural World in Old English Poetry (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 198).

The British Library holds the world’s largest collections of books made or owned in England between the end of Roman Britain and the Norman Conquest of 1066. These books trace the development of writing, society, economy, government and religion from the 7th to the 11th centuries. We are delighted to announce that 175 of these manuscripts can now be viewed in full online on our Digitised Manuscripts website. We’ve produced a complete list of the Anglo-Saxon manuscripts available as of March 2017. The list is available here as a spreadsheet (although this format does work with all web browsers): Download Copy of All Anglo-Saxon Digitisations March 2017

Many of these manuscripts have been digitised in the last year in memory of Melvin R. Seiden. Others have been digitised thanks to the generosity of a variety of other funders.

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Detail of canon tables, from the Royal Bible: England (Canterbury?), early 9th century, Royal MS 1 E VI, f. 4r

The manuscripts available on Digitised Manuscripts certainly corroborate the Old English poet’s claim that ‘books are glorious’. They range from mesmerising illuminated Insular Gospel-books to four of the manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to fragments of scribbled farming memoranda. The list includes not only books that were made in England, but works whose annotations show they were owned in England before 1066. For example, the oldest book known to have been owned in England in this period was made in Africa

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End of Gospel excerpts and beginning of a prayer of Gregory the Great, with an illuminated initial, from the Book of Nunnaminster: Mercia, late 8th or early 9th century, Harley MS 2965, f. 16v

Don’t panic if your favourite manuscript is not yet on the list. More are being digitised all the time, including under The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200.

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Depiction of Mambres with a book: from a miscellany, England, mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1,  f. 87v

You can stay in touch with our progress by reading this blog or by checking our regular Twitter updates.

Alison Hudson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

21 March 2017

Omne Bonum (All Good Things)

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‘Virtually all good things [are] contained herein.’ That's how the author of the text known as Omne Bonum described his work. Omne Bonum is a huge encyclopedia, whose compiler (and scribe), James le Palmer, sought to compile all the knowledge of his time, arranged alphabetically for the use of ‘simple individuals who wish to seek out the precious pearls of learning’. There are 1350 entries arranged under the 23 letters of the medieval Latin alphabet, with each letter comprising a book. Over 750 of these entries are accompanied by historiated initials. The 1094 pages are divided into two volumes, held at the British Library and each surviving in two parts: Royal MS 6 E VI/1, Royal 6 E VI/2, Royal 6 E VII/1, Royal 6 E VII/2, all now fully digitised.  The illustrations, a gold mine of visual information about the medieval world, were already highlighted on our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. The whole manuscript can also be viewed on Digitised Manuscripts, not just the illustrations but the entire text, with all its complex components.

An illustrated page from a manuscript of James le Palmer's Omne Bonum.
Page with entries from Domesticus (servant) to Dominus bonus (good master), from James le Palmer's Omne Bonum, England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VI/2, f. 546r

Contents of the Omne Bonum

At the beginning of the first volume is a cycle of 109 tinted drawings, 4 to a page, illustrating all the important Bible stories from Creation to the Ascension of Christ, followed by a short series of visions, including the Vision of Saints Benedict and Paul (see below). The text includes excerpts from Gregory the Great’s Dialogues and Augustine’s De Genesi ad litteram.

A page from a manuscript of the Omne Bonum, showing an illustration of Christ's miracles.
Christ’s miracles: the loaves and fishes, the widow’s son, healing the blind, and walking on water, from Omne Bonum, England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VI/1, f. 10r

A highly illuminated opening from a manuscript of the Omne Bonum.
Vision of St Benedict and St Paul: f. 15v: Saint Benedict pointing to the soul of Bishop Germanus being carried up to Heaven (above), the conversion of Saint Paul (below); f. 16r: the face of God in radiance (above), St Benedict and St Paul kneeling (centre), a man and a woman kneeling before a circular diagram of the universe with the Garden of Eden at the centre, from Omne Bonum, England (London); c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VI/1, ff. 15v-16r

This biblical section is followed by the alphabetical entries, which cover a wide range of subjects:

Theology

The first entry, ‘Absolucio’ is typical of many in that the subject is theological and a creative solution has been found to illustrate an abstract concept. The Church hierarchy is portrayed in that the Pope is shown absolving bishops and a priest absolving a layman. In the accompanying text, priests are warned against demanding excessive penance when absolving members of their flock.

A decorated page from a 14th-century manuscript of the Omne Bonum.
Absolucio (Absolution), from Omne Bonum, England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VI/1, f.19r

Though there is a focus on theology, church history and hagiography, reflecting the main concerns of the 14th-century author, a wide range of subjects is covered, including:

Law

This example of a legal argument taken from Hostiensis or Henry of Segusio’s Summa is of ‘accidental mishap’, whereby a monk who carries a sword to defend himself against pagans cannot help it if he happens to kill a pagan who he encounters when going about his daily business. The image shows a monk looking extremely pleased with himself, having plunged what appears to be a gargantuan metal object right through the body of an innocent-looking and rather well-dressed young man.  Could this really be termed ‘accidental’ or is ‘fortuitous’ a better description?


A detail from a manuscript of the Omne Bonum, showing an illustration of a monk thrusting a sword through a young man.
Casus fortuitus
(Accidental mishap), from Omne Bonum, England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VI/1, f. 228v

Morality and the human condition

Some images bring a wry smile to the modern reader, though the intention of the medieval illuminator was almost certainly not to amuse. Below, a prospective bride who is being given a ring looks extremely dissatisfied with her gift, while the young man seems very pleased with himself.

A detail from a manuscript of the Omne Bonum, showing an illustration of a bride receiving a gift.
Donacio propter nupcias
(Bridal Gift), from Omne Bonum, England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VI/2, f. 553r

Science and natural history

Science and natural history were also discussed. Some of these entries also had moral purposes, as the devil in the image below stands for the use of astrology for magical or superstitious practices which are condemned, whereas study of the stars is recommended for physicians and farmers, who will put it to good use. The accompanying text is based on the writings of Gratian, one of the many sources included in this compendium of knowledge.

A detail from a manuscript of the Omne Bonum, showing an illustration of a seated figure studying a star, alongside a demon.
Constellacio
(Constellation), from Omne Bonum, England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VI/2, f. 396v

The author also described different animals. In the image below, the puppies are rather cute, with Dalmatian-like spots, but the beaver is a weird hybrid creature with the head and paws of a dog and tail of a fish, reflecting the description in the text of ‘fins and tail like a fish’.

An illustrated page from a manuscript of the Omne Bonum.
Catuli
(puppies) and castor (beaver), from Omne Bonum, England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VI/1, f. 244r

Volume 2 of the set begins inauspiciously, the first entry being Ebrietas (Drunkenness). The image shows six drunken louts misbehaving, one of them being sick on the ground.

A detail from a manuscript of the Omne Bonum, showing an illustration of drunkenness.
Ebrietas (Drunkenness), from Omne Bonum, England, S. E. (London); c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VII/1, f. 1r

The remarkable compiler and scribe of the Omne Bonum was James le Palmer (b. 1327). He was king’s clerk in the Exchequer from 1359 and was granted a pension by Edward III in 1375.  He did not have time to finish his ambitious work, perhaps as he was trying to compile it in his spare time, and although some illustrations were added by a later owner, the text was never completed. The second volume begins at ‘E’ and there are relatively few entries for letters after ‘M’.

The final entry is Zacharias, with three entries representing three individuals, Pope Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist and the Old Testament prophet, each with a historiated initial. Instructions to the illuminator can be seen in a faint cursive in the margins, but they are not in the hand of le Palmer, and the artist, who was a later contributor, does not follow them closely; for example, in the upper left margin the note reads ‘Sit h[ic] papa & p[ro]ph[et]a’ (Here to be a pope and prophet) but the artist has drawn a pope and a king, illustrating the adjoining text, which tells of Pope Zacharias deposing a French king who was ‘inutilis’.

An illustrated page from a manuscript of the Omne Bonum.
Page with entries for Zacharias, from Omne Bonum, England (London), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VII/2, f. 532r

We would like to thank Lucy Freeman Sandler, whose remarkable study and scholarly edition of these unique manuscripts has provided the major source of information for our catalogue entry and this blogpost. For any further information on the author, illuminators, contents and context of this work, we refer our readers to:

Lucy Freeman Sandler, Omne Bonum: A Fourteenth-Century Encyclopedia of Universal Knowledge, 2 vols (London: Harvey Miller, 1996).

Chantry Westwell

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19 March 2017

A Tale as Old as Time

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Magic is in the air this weekend, as audiences worldwide have been going to see Disney’s live action remake of its classic animated tale, Beauty and the Beast. In Disney’s version of this classic tale, an enchantress places a curse on a vain prince which turns him into a hideous beast. If the prince does not learn to love another by the time the last petal falls on a magical rose, he will remain in his beastly state forever. Some years later, a young village girl, known for her love of reading and beauty, is taken prisoner in his castle. Naturally, romance ensues and Belle and her now-handsome prince live ‘happily ever after’.

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'Canon fuga in dyatessaron': from Magister Sampson’s Motets, Low Countries (Antwerp), c. 1516, Royal MS 11 E XI, f. 2v

Contrary to some reviewers, who describe the setting of Disney’s film as ‘medieval’, Disney’s adaptation was based on the fairytale by the French novelist, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, written in 1741. However, like many fairy tales composed during the 17th and 18th centuries, these narratives have roots which reach back into antiquity and draw on aspects of medieval and early modern life, from the use of roses in heraldry to its portrayal of literate women to the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story itself.

A particularly popular aspect of Disney’s adaptation of this tale is Belle's love of literature and enthusiasm for reading. There are numerous examples of women from the medieval period that wrote texts of their own, and clearly shared this same love of the written word.

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Her nose stuck in a book: detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan in her study, from the Book of the Queen, France (Paris), c. 1410–1414, Harley MS 4431, f. 4r

In a recent post, we explored the work of female scribes in manuscripts dating back to the 2nd century BC. In these early texts, it is possible to deduce from the context, content and the pronouns used that it may have been written by a woman. Later in the Middle Ages, it is possible to identify specific women who wrote, read or owned a variety of books. A particularly well known female author is Christine de Pizan (1364–1430).  One of Christine’s most famous works, The Book of the City of the Ladies, was written for Isabel of Bavaria, Queen consort of Charles VI of France, and discussed the important contributions to society made by women in the past.

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Be our guest: detail of Christine de Pizan presenting her book to Queen Isabel of Bavaria, Harley MS 4431, f. 3r

Another medieval female writer from the medieval period was Marie de France (1160–1215). Although little is known about Marie’s personal life, it is clear that she had an interest in literature and a desire to share her passion with others. During her lifetime, she translated part of the collection of Aesop’s fables and wrote about the importance of proverbs to moral instruction within society.

Marie also composed 21 short lais poems. These lais were romantic narratives, which glorified the concept of courtly love through the adventures of the main characters. In one particular lai Marie combined the theme of love with the supernatural and fairytale motifs to create a story that will be familiar to fans of the Beauty and the Beast tale.

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The tale of Bisclavret: from the lais of Marie de France, c. 1250–75, England (Oxford?), Harley MS 978, f. 131v

This lai is called Bisclavret (or The Werewolf), and tells of a baron who shape-shifts weekly into a wolf. He disappears from his home for three days, and then reverts to his human form by putting his clothes back on. When his wife discovers his secret, she decides to get rid of him by sending a knight, her suitor, to steal his clothes after his next transformation. Bisclavret, unable to return to his human form, is forced to spend the rest of his life roaming the woods. His luck changes, however, when the king finds him and adopts him as a pet. But the story unravels when the king takes him on a visit to his former lands, now governed by his wife and her suitor. Seeing his wife, Bisclavret goes into a rage, attacks her and rips off her nose. She then confesses her deeds and returns the stolen clothes, enabling Bisclavret to change back to his human form and regain his lands. This is, of course, a much darker version than Disney’s joyful adapatation.

Royal MS 10 E IV  f. 73r
Positively primeval! A woman demonstrates displeasure at a wodewose's advances, Smithfield Decretals, Southern France (?Toulouse), c. 1300–40,
Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 73r

Nor was Marie de France’s tale the only instance of a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ type story in medieval art and literature. Wodewoses, or hairy wild men from the forest, often appear in the margins of manuscripts attempting (usually unsuccessfully) to woo beautiful women. There were also stories about a handsome young knight forced to marry a much older woman, who became beautiful when he learned to respect her. This is the plot of the Wife of Bath’s tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

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The beginning of the Wife of Bath's Tale: England, mid-15th century, Harley MS
1758, f. 97v 

As a female who loves to read and marvels at the contents of a library, Belle continues to be an important role model for young girls who share this love of the written word. Christine de Pizan and Marie de France are just two examples of many women throughout history who were clearly passionate about reading and writing texts of their own. Marie de France’s story of physical transformation as a barrier of love is just one example of how fairytale narratives recur throughout history, and still delight audiences today. One could even say that this kind of narrative is a tale as old as time…

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Beauty is found within: historiated initial with a rose, Royal MS 11 E XI, f. 13v

Becky Lawton and Clarck Drieshen

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17 March 2017

St Patrick's Confessio: A Medieval Autobiography

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17 March is St Patrick’s Day, when the people of Ireland and those of Irish descent around the world celebrate the feast day of this famous saint. Patrick is one of the patron saints of Ireland and certainly the most celebrated! As a young man in the 5th century, he was kidnapped from his home in Roman Britain and spent years enslaved as a shepherd in Ireland. He eventually managed to escape back to Britain, and then returned as a missionary to convert the Irish to Christianity. Patrick describes his remarkable story himself in his Confessio, a form of autobiography. The Confessio survives in only 8 manuscripts, one of which is held by the British Library (now Cotton MS Nero E I/1). This fascinating text has been fully translated from Latin into English by the Royal Irish Academy and can be found online here.

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'My name is Patrick, I am a sinner': Opening lines of the Confessio, Cotton MS Nero E I/1, f.169v

The British Library's copy of the Confessio and Epistola is part of the Cotton-Corpus Legendary, the earliest substantial legendary from England. This text originally formed two volumes, covering the whole liturgical year: they are now divided between Cotton MS Nero E I/2, Cotton MS Nero E I/2 and Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 9. The majority of the text was copied in the second half of the 11th century at Worcester Cathedral.

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Careful now! Depiction of St Patrick standing on a snake in Purgatory, from St Patrick's Purgatory: England, 1451, Royal MS 17 B XLIII, f. 132v

What may surprise many people about the Confessio is that it contains no mention of shamrocks, snakes being driven out or the naming of the mountain where Patrick tended animals as a slave, although these popular traditions have later grown up around his story. Patrick wrote the text when he was an older man, reflecting on his faith in God and referring to his life as a spiritual journey. Although he calls himself as ‘a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers’, Patrick’s faith gave him inner strength and helped him through many experiences, including: temptation by Satan as he lay sleeping one night; his escape from slavery through the wilderness; and his later call to return again to the Irish (‘I never had any reason for returning to that nation…except the gospel and God’s promises’). We also see a more human side to Patrick as he describes the homesickness he felt while in Ireland (‘I could wish to leave them to go to Britain…to visit my home country and my parents’), and the joy upon seeing his family in Britain once more (‘They welcomed me as a son, and they pleaded with me…I should never leave them again.’)

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Detailed map of Ireland from the Nowell-Burghley Atlas, 1559–1570, Add MS 62540, f. 3v

The Confessio is accompanied by Patrick’s letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, commonly known as the Epistola. Likely composed before the Confessio, Patrick uses his position as Bishop of Ireland to condemn and excommunicate Coroticus and his soldiers for attacking a number of Patrick’s newly baptised converts and carrying them off into slavery. With personal experience of this practice, Patrick expresses his sadness and grief at losing his ‘fairest and most loving brothers and sisters’ to ‘villainous rebels against Christ...who divide out defenceless baptised women as prizes, all for the sake of a miserable temporal kingdom’. The Epistola also reveals Patrick’s love of his Irish flock and belief in his mission: ‘And yet I rejoice within myself: I have not worked for nothing…thanks to God you who are baptised believers have moved on from this world to paradise. [You] leap for joy, like calves set free from chains, and you tread down the wicked, and they will be like ashes under your feet.’ We toast today to Paddy’s health and to your own, sláinte!

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A medieval shamrock? Miniature of an alleluia or wood sorrel plant, from an Italian herbal, c. 1280–1310, Egerton MS 747, f. 12r

Alison Ray

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16 March 2017

Our First 100 Polonsky Pre-1200 Manuscripts Are Now Online

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The first 100 manuscripts are up! The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700–1200 is celebrating its first digitisation milestone. 100 manuscripts from the British Library have now been added to our Digitised Manuscripts site for you to explore!  A full list of the 100 digitised manuscripts with links to the viewer can be found here:  100 MSS Online.

These manuscripts cover a wide variety of topics and images from the Project’s focus of AD 700–1200 (you can read more about the Project or listen to the French interview of Matthieu Bonicel, Head of Innovation at the BnF). Some of the highlights include lavishly illuminated Gospels, like the Préaux Gospels from early 12th-century Normandy, with its amazing miniatures of the Evangelists and luxurious canon tables.

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Canon table with Evangelist surrounded by dragons and overgrown vines. The Préaux Gospels, Add MS 11850 f. 10v

A Rule of St Benedict datable to 1129 from the Benedictine abbey of St Gilles, in the diocese of Nîmes, opens with a gilded image of four tonsured men. The marginal letters in gold leave no doubt that this is St Benedict presenting a book (undoubtedly the Rule) to his disciple St Maurus. According to the account in the Life of St Maurus, St Maurus was responsible for establishing the Benedictine order in Francia (modern-day France).

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The opening folio of the Rule of St Benedict, Add MS 16979, f. 21v

The manuscripts now fully digitised also include plenty of material that requires a certain level of specialist knowledge to interpret. For example, a table similar to a graph sheet from a turn of the 12th century manuscript from Canterbury provides information for calculating the correct date of Easter and other movable feasts, in addition to scientific observations related to calendars, meteorology, astronomy and the keeping of time. Added material shows that the tables were still in use in the 15th century!

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Table for calculating the date of Easter, from Egerton MS 3314, f. 31v

Another fascinating manuscript is a 9th-century text on the liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, music and astronomy from Lotharingia (covering modern day Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, some eastern areas of France and western areas of Germany). How many students has this Lady Rhetoric seen with her wide eyes; how many readers have been intimidated (or amused) by her unimpressed expression?

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A diagram of rhetorical argument, Harley MS 2637, f. 12r

We hope you enjoy exploring these exciting manuscripts. Happy discoveries!

Tuija Ainonen

Partez  à la découverte de 100 manuscrits antérieurs à 1200 grâce au projet The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200.

Nous sommes ravis de vous annoncer l’achèvement de cette première étape, qui consiste en la publication des 100 premiers manuscrits entièrement numérisés, sélectionnés par la British Library. Ceux-ci seront disponibles en ligne, sur notre site internet Digitised Manuscripts. Une liste complète de ces volumes pourvue d’un lien vers l’interface est fournie ici: 100 MSS Online.

Venez découvrir l’extraordinaire richesse de ces manuscrits, couvrant une période de 5 siècles (entre 700 et 1200). Ces derniers présentent une importante variété d’œuvres et d’enluminures. Voyagez dans diverses régions et époques au travers de ces manuscrits. Vous apprécierez ainsi l’Evangéliaire des Préaux (XIIe siècle), somptueusement décoré, ou la règle de saint Benoît, provenant de l’abbaye de Saint-Gilles, près de Nîmes (1129), et sa représentation magistrale de saint Benoît et son disciple saint Maur. Les collections ayant trait  aux arts libéraux ainsi que les manuels pédagogiques fournissent également de précieux témoins de l’enseignement et du renouveau de ces disciplines. Un  manuscrit du IXe siècle originaire de Lotharingie est ainsi représentatif de l’instruction à l’époque carolingienne. Nous espérons que vous apprécierez cette sélection et qu’elle vous mènera à de nombreuses découvertes. Bonne visite !

Laure Miolo (French summary)

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14 March 2017

Insular Manuscripts AD 650-850: Networks of Knowledge

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The Medieval Manuscripts Section at the British Library is a partner in a new project, ‘Insular Manuscripts AD 650-850: Networks of Knowledge’, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The project will establish an international research network to advance understanding of knowledge exchange and cultural networks in early medieval Europe through analysis of the surviving Insular manuscripts made in Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England, and in continental monasteries founded by English or Irish missionaries. There are about 500 of these manuscripts, 75% of which are held in libraries in continental Europe.

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Page from the Royal Prayerbook: Southern England (Mercia), late 8th or early 9th century, Royal MS 2 A XX, f. 17r

The research network will bring together academics, curators and digital specialists at a time when increasing numbers of these manuscripts are being digitised in full and made available online. The project will run three workshops which will contribute to the development of an open-access, online research resource and other published outputs. The first workshop, ‘Methods of making: palaeographical problems, codicological challenges’, will be held at the British Library on 24–25 April 2017. In 2018, a workshop will be held in Galway and Dublin on ‘Networks of knowledge then and now: digital potential’, and in 2019 the final workshop in Vienna will be on ‘Knowledge exchange: people, places, texts’.

Cotton Augustus II 61 close
Detail of a decree of the Council of Clofesho on the abolition of the archbishopric of Lichfield: Southern England (?Canterbury or London), c. 803, Cotton MS Augustus II 61 

The project is being led by Professor Joanna Story of the University of Leicester, and is a collaboration with the British Library, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Trinity College Dublin, the National University of Ireland, Galway, and the Institut für Mittelalterforschung, Österreichishche Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna. To follow the progress of the project, see the website

Cotton_ms_domitian_a_vii_f015v

A late example of insular half uncial in a list of kings, including Charlemagne (Karlus) and his treasurer, Mægenfrith. From the Durham Liber Vitae: Northumbria, 1st half of 9th century, Cotton MS Domitian A VII, f. 15v

 

Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts, and Co-Investigator in the Networks of Knowledge Project

Leverhulme

10 March 2017

Magic in the British Library's Papyri

10 March 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the first episode of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some members of the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts team of the British Library are big fans of the series, which is set in a library and whose characters routinely have to decipher manuscripts in ancient languages in order to defeat the forces of evil. Indeed, we are currently in the process of digitising several papyri  which mention some of the figures whom Buffy battles.

Papyrus_46_f002v
A handbook of magic: Egypt (Thebes), 4th century, Papyrus 46, f. 2v

The British Library's collection of papyri includes different sorts of texts, from speeches to letters about vineyard management, from the constitution of Athens to fragments of plays, from wills to part of the Iliad. The papyri also include some magical texts: charms, recipes, curses and prayers. Love spells were discussed in our 2017 Valentine's Day post. There are also some demon-summoning spells that sound just like the sort of text that could kick off one of Buffy's, Xander's, Willow's and the librarian Mr Giles's adventures.

Papyrus 123, a fragment from the late 4th century, preserves a special charm to summon demons against others: 'I bring into subjection, put to silence, and enslave every race of people, both men and women, with their fits of wrath, and those who are under the earth, beneath my feet, but especially and now say their names.'

Papyrus 123

Looks familiar? Images of demons, from a magical incantation, Egypt, late 4th century, Papyrus 123

Papyrus 122, a sheet from the early 5th century, contains a spell to request a visit from the netherworld by the demon Besa. (Besa was  originally based on an ancient Egyptian god called Bes.) The text says:

'On your left hand draw Besa in the way shown here with an ink made of blood from a crow and a dove. Put around your hand a black cloth . Go to sleep on a rush mat, having an unbaked brick beside your head — and he’ll come to you in a vision to tell you what you are interested in.'

Below these instructions there is even a sinister image of the demon to be drawn “on your hand”.


Papyrus 122
Detail from a collection of magical spells, Papyrus 122, Egypt (Hermopolis), 5th century

So if you are interested in knowing the future, you could try drawing this image on your hand, but please note you will also need the accompanying spell. For further details, please see our Digitised Manuscripts site. However, if you do not have a vampire slayer to protect you, we don't recommend trying this at home!

Peter Toth and Alison Hudson

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09 March 2017

England and France 700-1200: Franco-Saxon Manuscripts in the Ninth Century

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The British Library and the University of Leicester invite applications for an AHRC-funded PhD studentship on ‘Franco-Saxon manuscripts in the ninth century’. The project is offered under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership programme, and will be co-supervised by Joanna Story, Professor of Early Medieval History at Leicester, and by Dr Kathleen Doyle, Lead Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library. This full-time studentship, which is funded for three years at standard AHRC rates, will begin on 1 October 2017, and will be based at the British Library in London.

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A decorated initial in a Franco-Saxon gospelbook, Tours, 2nd half of the 9th century (British Library Add MS 11849, f. 27r)

The studentship

The successful candidate will undertake a PhD thesis on Franco-Saxon Manuscripts in the Ninth Century that centres on analysis of illuminated manuscripts produced in northern Francia. Manuscripts held at the British Library will be central to this project.

In the later 9th century monasteries in the Pas de Calais, at Saint-Amand, Saint-Bertin (Saint-Omer), Corbie and Saint-Riquier, produced manuscripts that are characterised by the use of a highly distinctive style of ‘Franco-Saxon’ illumination. These monasteries were places of great power, wealth and patronage in the 9th century, and were ruled by abbots who had close links to the Carolingian court. Proximity to the Channel coast, and to the trading emporium of Quentovic (Étaples) — which lay not more than a day’s ride from both Saint-Riquier and Saint-Bertin — meant that there were also longstanding political, cultural, economic and religious connections with Anglo-Saxon England. These links to places and people of power are made manifest in the deluxe manuscripts that were produced in these monasteries in the later 9th century, which combined the measured aesthetic of Carolingian epigraphic display scripts with an idiomatic use of Insular decoration.

The project offers the opportunity both for detailed historical research and direct engagement with early medieval manuscripts that may also reveal connections between England and France through their texts, decoration, script and methods of manufacture. The project will focus on books in the British Library, and on those codices that exemplify the Franco-Saxon style housed in London and elsewhere. The successful student will work with the supervisors to develop the project in ways that complement and extend the student’s existing skills-set and interests.

This AHRC collaborative studentship arises from a new international digitisation initiative, funded by The Polonsky Foundation, to digitise 800 illuminated manuscripts relating to ‘England and France, 700–1200’ that are held at the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris. That digitisation project creates unique opportunities for the successful candidate to this studentship competition, via training and outreach opportunities (e.g. writing catalogue entries, manuscript descriptions, blog-posts), and by examining aspects of the art history, codicology, palaeography and historical context of production and patronage of relevant manuscripts held at the British Library, and potentially also in Paris.

We are seeking to recruit a highly promising student who will relish the opportunity of combining academic research with the experience of working as part of a professional team of curators and researchers. This studentship is likely to appeal to individuals with a background in early medieval history, book history, literature and language, classics, or in applying interdisciplinary methods for understanding early medieval material culture. Prior experience of research using early medieval manuscripts will be an advantage, and the successful applicant will be able to demonstrate skills commensurate with career stage in relevant medieval and modern languages and palaeography. A commitment to communicating the results of research to a wider public audience is a key asset in the context of the British Library’s digitisation and exhibition programmes.

Subject to AHRC eligibility criteria, the scholarship covers tuition fees and a grant (stipend) towards living expenses. The national minimum doctoral stipend for 2017/18 has been set by Research Councils UK at £14,553. In addition the student has access to up to £1,000 per annum from the British Library for research-related costs, and to Student Development Funding (equivalent to an additional 6 months of funding per studentship) to allow time for the student to take up further training and skills development opportunities that are agreed as part of the PhD programme. The student also will benefit from staff-level access to the British Library’s collections, expertise and facilities, as well as from the dedicated programme of professional development events delivered by the British Library in tandem with the other museums, galleries and heritage organisations affiliated with the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme.

How to apply

Further information about this collaborative research project (including academic and eligibility criteria), and full details on how to apply can be found in the further particulars, here: http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/history/postgraduate/collaborative-doctoral-award-opportunities.

Informal Enquiries

Informal enquiries about this collaborative project can be sent to Professor Joanna Story: [email protected] 

 

Closing Date:              Monday 10 April 2017, 12:00 (midday, London time)

Interview Date:          5 May 2017, at The British Library, London