For more details on calendar pages or the Golf Book, please see the post for January 2013.
Calendar page for May with a boating scene, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 22v
The full-page miniature for May continues the theme of aristocratic courting, which may well be among the most pleasant of the 'labours' depicted in medieval calendars. In this scene, two boatmen are rowing a nobleman and two well-dressed ladies along a river; the three are playing musical instruments and are surrounded by flowering branches. On the bridge above them another aristocratic couple are riding on horseback, carrying branches and followed by their retainers. In the bas-de-page scene a group of men are practicing archery by shooting at a raised target (a popinjay?). On the following folio two couples are riding on horseback through a lush landscape, below the saints' days for May and a roundel with a nude man and woman for the zodiac sign Gemini.
Calendar page for May with a riding scene, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 23r
Some of you may be familiar with the Just So Stories of Rudyard Kipling (1902), which include "How the Leopard Got His Spots", "How the Elephant Got His Trunk", and "How the Camel Got His Hump". We like to think that Kipling, a man of letters, might have been able to draw inspiration from the British Library's collections when concocting these tales, not least when it came to his famous story of the camel.
Have you ever asked yourself what a camel looked like in medieval times? Marvellously, we have some idea, thanks to drawings found in three of the greatest Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, all at the British Library: the Beowulf-manuscript (Cotton Vitellius A XV); the Old English Hexateuch (Cotton Claudius B IV); and an illustrated miscellany from 11th-century Canterbury (Cotton Tiberius B V).
In the text known as the Marvels of the East is a passage describing ants the size of dogs, which live beyond the river Gorgoneus, and dig up gold from the earth. Men seeking gold are described crossing the river with their camels, leaving the young tied on their own side; the she-camels are laden with gold and return to their young, but the male camels are left behind, for the ants to devour, enabling the thieves to escape. In the Beowulf-manuscript, this scene is depicted by a large miniature (sadly damaged by fire), in which three dog-like ants attack a tethered camel on the right, while a man holds another camel bearing a saddle, and a young camel (or brontosaurus, take your pick) is tied to a tree at the bottom. In the copy of the same scene in the illustrated miscellany, a camel is attacked by ants while a man crosses the river to safety on the back of a she-camel.
If this wasn't enough to give the male camel the hump, what else was? Well, in the Beowulf-manuscript, the next scene, describing a place where many elephants are born, is illustrated with two slightly grumpy-looking camels (shown at the beginning of this post). Presumably the camels are saying to each other, "Doesn't the artist know what an elephant looks like?" The illustrated miscellany represents the same passage (in Latin, "in his locis nascitur multitudo magna elephantorum") with a pig-like elephant standing on an island.
Of course, it's highly likely that few Anglo-Saxons had ever seen a camel in real life, and so we should not be surprised that their pictures of them are quirky, to say the least. But is this a world-first, a chorus line of dancing camels? Riverdance, anyone?
You can read more about the manuscripts of the Marvels of the East in the facsimile of the same name by Montague Rhodes James (Oxford: The Roxburghe Club, 1929). For the Hexateuch, see Benjamin C. Withers, The Illustrated Old English Hexateuch: The Frontiers of Seeing and Reading in Anglo-Saxon England (London: The British Library, 2007). And don't forget to look at our Digitised Manuscripts site, to see both the Beowulf-manuscript and the Hexateuch in their entirety.
Decorated initial at the beginning of the English Prose Brut Chronicle: 'I n the nobul lande of Surre (Syria) ther was a worthi Kyng…', from The Prose Brut Chronicle of England (common version to 1430), England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 2256, f. 1r
In our recent post on the French Prose Brut, we promised a follow-up on the manuscripts of the English version. There are 38 in the British Library, out of a total of 181 surviving manuscripts listed by the Middle English scholar, Lister M. Matheson of the University of Michigan. A digital version of Matheson’s comprehensive study, The Prose ‘Brut’, The Development of a Middle English Chronicle is available online on the OpenLibrary website here.
It is not surprising that so many manuscripts survive, as the Brut chronicle was one of the most popular accounts of English history among the lay audience in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period. From the fifteenth century, it has been used as the standard account of English history and was the first chronicle of England to be printed by William Caxton (the Chronicles of England, 1480). In addition to the manuscript copies, there were 13 early printed editions.
Decorated initial and border at the beginning of the Brut, with the title 'Here begynnyth the kalendare of Brute in Englysshe tunge', and the introduction: 'Here begynnyth a Booke in Englyssh tung that is called Brute of England which Declarith and tretith of the furste beginning of the lande of Englande. How hit was furst wildernesse and noo thing ther in but wormes and wylde bestes and a cuntre desolate. And afterward how hit was inhabite and by whom and in what manere.' From The Prose Brut (Chronicle of England), England, 2nd or 2rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 24, f. 1r
The original Middle English version of the chronicle is based on the Anglo Norman French text, (see French Prose Brut Chronicles in the British Library and How to Find Them) and is believed to have been produced between 1380 and 1400. Harley MS 3945 contains the earliest version to 1333, known as the common text. It is a 15th century manuscript and is described in the British Library Search our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts.
The Common Text begins with the mythical origins of the English and ending with the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, where the Scots were defeated by the army of Edward III.
Historiated initial of Diocletian and his daughters, with the chronicle beginning: 'In the noble land of Syrie th[er] was a noble kyng and mighty and a man of grett reno[u]n that men called Dioclitian'. The story continues with the 33 daughters of Diocletian, the eldest named Albyne (Albina), who murdered their husbands and were set adrift at sea before they landed on an island, which they named Albion. From the Prose Brut Chronicle of England, England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 1568, f. 1
The chronicle was amended and updated during the 14th and 15th centuries, with the first continuation taking it up to the death of Edward III in 1377, an addition associated with the chroniclers of Westminster. One of the British Library manuscripts containing this text to 1377 is Stowe MS 68, which is described with images in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts here.
A champ initial and decorative border marking the familiar opening chapter of the chronicle, from The Brut Chronicle, England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Stowe MS 68, f. 1
The chronicle to 1377 was then updated in some versions to 1419, taking events from the death of Edward III to the siege of Rouen, with the majority ending, 'and manfully countered with our English men'. One of the manuscripts of this version is Harley MS 1568, which contains the picture of Diocletian and his daughters above. The catalogue entry can be viewed here.
The continuation to 1419 is found in Harley MS 7333, which is believed to have been copied in the mid-15th century by the amateur scribe John Shirley of Leicester, and which also contains Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, part of Gower’s Confessio Amantis and Lydgate's Life of Saints Edmund and Fremund.
A passage from The Canterbury Tales, which follows the Brut Chronicle, England (Leicester), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 7333, f. 37r
The final extension is to 1461, the accession of Edward IV, found in British Library Additional MS 10099, a paper manuscript of the late 15th century, under the title 'A breve tretise compiled for to bringe the people oute of doute, that han not herd of the Cronycles and of the lineal descensse unto the crownes of Englande, of Fraunce, of Castel Legiouns, and unto the Duchie of Normandie, sith it was first conquest and made'. It also contains Higden's Polychronicon and a text entitled Doctrina Sana (Rules for healthy living). See the catalogue entry online here.
The relationships of the texts and continuations are extremely complicated, and Matheson classified them into four groups, the Common text, the Extended Version, the Abbreviated version and a looser grouping which he called the Peculiar Version, which includes a translation from the French Brut by John Mandeville (British Library MS Harley 4690 contains this translation). Records show that they were owned by religious houses, aristocratic families, and merchants, from London to Yorkshire to Wales.
In the second half of the fifteenth century, the chronicles were spread to an even wider audience as they were used by Jean de Wavrin as the basis of his Recueil des Croniques d’Engleterre which he composed for the Burgundian court, allies of the English.
Miniature of the Siege of Troyes, 1419, from Wavrin's Croniques, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1470 - c. 1480, Royal MS 14 E IV, f. 57r
Happy St George's Day, everyone! Here are some images from the British Library's collections, to celebrate the feast day of the patron saint of England, Portugal, Georgia, Russia and Palestine, among others. You can find many more images of St George on our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.
Miniature of George fighting the dragon, with a full border with George passing the king's daughter, at the beginning of a prayer to George, in a Book of Hours: Bruges, c. 1500 (London, British Library, MS Egerton 1147, f. 259r).
Detail of a miniature of George fighting the dragon, in a Book of Hours: France, c. 1430-1440 (London, British Library, MS Harley 2900, f. 55r).
Miniature of George and full scatter border, in a Book of Hours: Bruges, c. 1500 (London, British Library, MS King's 9, f. 41r).
Detail of a miniature of George killing the dragon, with the princess kneeling, in the Legenda Aurea: Paris, 1382 (London, British Library, MS Royal 19 B XVII, f. 109r).
We're often asked what the Beowulf manuscript contains. Here's a helpful run-down, which explains how the epic poem we know as Beowulf is part of a wider collection, and how that codex was itself bound in the 17th century with an entirely separate medieval volume.
Essentially, all the components of the "Beowulf manuscript" were put together by the Parliamentarian and antiquarian scholar Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631). Cotton had at his disposal two independent medieval codices: one dating from the very end of the 10th century or beginning of the 11th, and containing the poem Beowulf and other texts; the second dating from the 12th century, and containing Old English versions of Augustine's Soliloquies and the Gospel of Nicodemus. Cotton had these bound together as part of a single volume, christened Cotton MS Vitellius A XV (once the 15th item on shelf A of a press named after the emperor Vitellius). At the front of that volume were added a leaf removed from a 14th century Psalter, a list of contents, and a medieval endleaf (presumably taken from one of the two medieval compilations).
You can see the whole Beowulf manuscript on our Digitised Manuscripts site. But, for ease of reference, here is a full list of the contents, plus images from selected pages.
Psalter leaf (f. 1: now removed to form Royal MS 13 D I*, f. 37, the remains of the Psalter to which it originally belonged)
England, c. 1350-1360
Early modern endleaf (f. 2)
England, 1st half of the 17th century
Contains a list of contents in the hand of Richard James (d. 1638)
Medieval endleaf (f. 3)
England, 1st half of the 15th century (f. 3r), 2nd half of the 16th century (f. 3v)
Medieval endleaf, containing historical memoranda
"The Southwick Codex" (ff. 4-93)
England (provenance Southwick Priory, Hampshire), 2nd half of the 12th century
Augustine of Hippo, Soliloquia (ff. 4r–59v: imperfect)
Gospel of Nicodemus (ff. 60r–86v: imperfect)
Debate of Saturn and Solomon (ff. 86v–93v)
Homily on St Quintin (f. 93v: imperfect)
"The Nowell Codex" (ff. 94-209, named after its former owner, Laurence Nowell, d. c. 1570)
England, last quarter of the 10th century or 1st quarter of the 11th century
Homily on St Christopher (ff. 94r–98r: imperfect)
Marvels of the East (ff. 98v–106v)
Letter of Alexander to Aristotle (ff. 107r–131v)
Beowulf (ff. 132r–201v)
Judith (ff. 202r–209v: imperfect)
Diagram of a square table with 'C'est la fourme de la Table Rounde del Roy Arthur' written above, from a French Prose Brut, France, second half of the 14th century, Royal MS 20 A III, f. 160r
The Prose Brut chronicles, a collection of 13th and 14th century texts, tell the history of Britain from its legendary origins through to the Plantagenet period when they were composed. They were first written down in Anglo-Norman, the French dialect of England, later adapted into Latin and Middle English, and eventually became one of the most popular accounts of English history in the medieval and early modern period. The Anglo-Norman prose version survives in at least 49 manuscripts, but there are almost 200 surviving copies in Latin and English. In the British Library we have reputedly 15 Prose Brut manuscripts in French, 7 in Latin and 38 in English; it is therefore one of the most widely-represented non-religious texts in our manuscript collections.
The original version of the French Prose Brut opens with the founding of Britain by Brutus, nephew of Aeneas of Troy, beginning: 'En la noble cite de graunt Troie il i avoit un noble chivaler fort et puissaunt de cors qe avoit a noun Eneasa'. ('In the noble city of great Troy there was a noble knight, strong and powerful in body who had the name Aeneas'). In the long version of the text, this is often preceded by a short 'prequel' known as Des Grantz Geanz, which tells the story of the first discovery of the island by Albina and her sisters, which is why the new land came to be known as Albion.
Detail of a miniature of Albina and her sisters, daughters of King Diodicias of Persia, the monstrous women who murdered their husbands and founded the kingdom of Albion in Britain, from a French Prose Brut, France of the Netherlands, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Royal MS 19 C IX, f. 8r
The early legends are filled with fantastical events, including those in the stories of King Arthur. The narrative gradually becomes more realistic, though, as it it moves through the history of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the more contemporary events of the Norman and Plantagenet period, representing an early attempt at factual historical narrative.
Manuscripts of the Prose Brut in Anglo-Norman French
Here is a list of British Library manuscripts containing this text, with links to our online catalogues where images and further information are available.
I. The 'Common Text'
The British Library has two of the 5 surviving manuscripts of the earliest version of the chronicles to 1272, known as the 'common' version as it forms the basis for most of the later accounts. Our Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue contains short descriptions (links provided) and they are accessible to scholars in our Manuscripts Reading Room.
Additional MS 35092, ff. 5-144 (mid 14th-century)
Cotton MS Tiberius A VI (14th century)
A genealogical diagram illustrating the lineage of William the Conqueror, after which he is introduced in the text: 'Cesty William Bastard Duc de Normandy fust vailliant chevalier' ('This William the Bastard Duke of Normandy was a valliant knight…'), from a Chronicle of England ( the 'Anonimalle Chronicle'), England, 14th century, Royal MS 20 A XVIII, f. 150v
II. The Later Versions and Continuations in Anglo Norman French
Of the 13 remaining manuscripts, 4 are in our online Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts with descriptions and images.
Royal MS 20 A XVIII (14th century)
Royal MS 19 C IX (15th century)
Royal MS 20 A III (second half of the 14th century; the manuscript also contains Gautier of Metz' L'image du Monde)
Harley MS 200 (2nd-3rd quarter of the 15th century)
Miniature of the king of France being presented with the attributes of his throne (the crown, the helm, the cloak, the sword, the fleur de lis, etc.) by bishops and dignitaries. This miniature was painted in Paris, c. 1500, and was bound together, probably in the 17th century, with the manuscript containing the Brut and other chronicles, which was copied about 50 years earlier. Harley MS 200, f. 2r
The Prose Brut manuscripts in the Cotton collection are in the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.
An outline entry for each manuscript can be found by searching under the manuscript name:
Cotton MS Cleopatra D III, ff. 74r-182v
Cotton MS Cleopatra D VII, ff. 76r-79v (hand 2), 80-139v (hand 1), 140-182v (hand 2)
Cotton MS Domitian A X, ff. 14r-87v
Cotton MS Julius A I, ff. 51r-53v (fragment, damaged by fire)
More to follow on the Brut. Our collection of English Prose Brut manuscripts is even more comprehensive, and there are some beautifully illuminated manuscripts from the fifteenth century. Watch this space for details.
Follow us on Twitter: @blmedieval
- Chantry Westwell