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
Royal MS 1 A XIV, known as the Wessex Gospels, is a small book of the 12th century containing a translation of the four gospels into the West Saxon dialect of Old English. It is written in what has been described as a ‘rough, untidy’ hand by the famous Anglo-Saxon paleographer, Neil Ker (d. 1982), and has very little decoration. At the beginning of each Gospel is an initial in red or green with rough decoration in the contrasting colour, and two-line initials mark new chapters.
This English version of the Gospels is the earliest translation into the English vernacular, apart from the glosses in Latin gospel books such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, and it survives in 8 copies from this period. Royal 1 A XIV must have been copied directly or indirectly from a manuscript in the Bodleian library at Oxford, Bodley MS 441, as the same passages have been omitted from both.
According to Walter Skeat (d. 1912), the great Old English scholar of the 19th century, this book ‘gives the impression of having been written in troublous times, when the object was rather to have a copy for ready use than to spend time in elaborating it’. Based on this impression, he suggests that Royal 1 A XIV may have been copied during the troubled reign of King Stephen (1135-1154), though there is no evidence for this assertion. It is certainly a workaday version of the Gospels and has been well-used, judging from the well-worn edges. There are frequent corrections and additions, as seen in the page above (f. 86r) where the word þan has been inserted above line 7, and on the following line where the darker ink shows two erasures and corrections by the scribe.
The first page of this manuscript provides many clues about its history. At the top is the pressmark of the Benedictine cathedral priory at Christ Church, Canterbury, ‘D[istinctio] xvi Gra[dus] iiii’, so it was in the medieval library of the abbey, and was copied either there or in the area as it contains some Kentish spellings (for example ‘gefeyld’ for ‘gefyld’ fulfilled). The title written at the top of the page, ‘Text[us] iv evangelior[um] anglice’, is reproduced in the 14th-century catalogue of the Christ Church library, but at the Reformation this book was one of many acquired from religious houses by Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1556), whose name is written at the top of the page.
The Wessex Gospels next came into the hands of a noted collector of manuscripts, John Lumley (d. 1609) (his name is inscribed in the lower margin), who was involved in a conspiracy with Mary Queen of Scots, known as the Ridolfi Plot. Lumley forfeited his ancestral home and in unknown circumstances his collection of manuscripts passed to Henry Frederick, the eldest son of James I (d. 1612). The dashing, popular Prince of Wales was also a collector of art and books, and when he died at only 18 his manuscript collection became part of the Royal library. Now housed at the British Library, the Wessex Gospels has been fully digitised so that every page is accessible to view in detail on our Digitised Manuscripts site.
Don't forget to follow us on Twitter @blmedieval.
The fabulous Carmina regia, an address by the city of Prato to Robert of Anjou (Royal MS 6 E IX), is featured in the exhibition, but with a different image than that previously seen in Los Angeles and London (as part of the highly successful Royal Manuscripts exhibition held last year: see Praying to the King, our original post on the Carmina). The text may perhaps be attributed to Convenevole da Prato (c. 1270/75-1338), a professor of grammar and rhetoric most famous as Petrarch's teacher. In the address, the city of Prato beseeches the king to unite the Italian peninsula under his rule and restore the papacy to Rome. This was likely the presentation copy of the text, given to Robert of Anjou on behalf of the city of Prato.
The two manuscript leaves that were in the Getty exhibition are also transferring to Toronto. These were both originally part of a single manuscript: Additional 18196, f. 1, with scenes from the life of St Agnes, and Additional 35254B, with part of a hymn to St Michael. These leaves have been reunited in the exhibition with others from the same book of songs (or laudario) made for the Compagnia di Sant'Agnese, which was based at the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence.
All three loaned works were painted by Pacino di Buonaguida, who was active in Florence in the first half of the 14th century. Only one signed work of his is known: an altarpiece in the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Other paintings and manuscripts are ascribed to him based on stylistic similarities to this work.
Recently we asked our readers how they have been using our public domain images. And we're extremely gratified by the many responses we have received, via Twitter (@blmedieval) and in the comments section at the end of the original blogpost. Here is a selection of your comments:
I do medieval recreation/reenactment, and I like to use the BL images as inspiration for my illuminated/calligraphed texts.
I recently published an article on medieval wood pasture management and was excited to be able to use manuscript images from the BL Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts as part of the analysis. An acknowledgement of the BL's service in providing the image was included in the endnote for each figure. Thanks so much for providing this service to scholars!
I'm teaching a course on Arthurian literature, art and film from the Middle Ages to the present in October, and am using the image of Arthur from Royal 20 A. II, f. 4 as the course image. It's wonderful to have this readily available representation of Arthur from a medieval manuscript, and hopefully will serve to inspire my students not only in terms of an interest in Arthurian studies, but also manuscript studies too!
I have used your images from the Queen Mary Psalter and your interface to make a point about mediated networks.
Yes (with attribution), on a poster for a Middle English poetry reading.
Text page with coloured initials and line-fillers, and a portion of a message written in the margin by Lady Jane Grey to her father, the Duke of Suffolk: '… youre gracys humble daughter Jane Duddley.' (London, British Library, MS Harley 2342, f. 80r).
I've used bits for my site banner images.
And from one of our regular contributors came this: Well done. This is precisely the sort of thing that the national collection should be doing; enriching the culture of the nation of today by means of images from the public treasury of manuscripts.
We've been asked to clarify a couple of issues raised by some of our users. At present, the British Library's policy on the re-use of images in the public domain applies (in the case of our medieval manuscripts) to images downloaded from our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts and from this blog. Readers who commission or purchase publication-quality images from our Imaging Services should note that, as those images are strictly not in the public domain, they still need permission to reproduce them. Likewise, users should note that the technology behind our Digitised Manuscripts site currently precludes the downloading of images from that resource. This applies to all the manuscripts published as part of our Greek manuscripts, Harley Science and Royal digitisation projects.
Meanwhile, we hope that you continue to find new ways to use our images, so that together we can promote new research and gain new insights into our medieval and early modern heritage.
Just a reminder that images from our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts are now available under a Public Domain mark. This means that they are available for download and reuse, on condition that certain basic principles are observed: (1) please respect the creators; (2) please credit the source of the material; (3) please share knowledge where possible; (4) please consider the efforts of the British Library in preserving and making such works available, should they be used for commercial or other for-profit purposes.
Initial word-panel Shir (song) inhabited by a unicorn and bear, in the "Duke of Sussex's German Pentateuch" (Germany, 14th century): London, British Library, MS Additional 15282, f. 296v.
That's the legal bit out of the way. You can search our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts by keyword, search for a particular manuscript, explore our virtual exhibitions (such as the Royal collection of manuscripts, French illuminated manuscripts and the medieval bestiary), and search our glossaries of terms used when describing illuminated manuscripts and Hebrew manuscripts. Just think -- a simple search for "unicorn" produces no fewer than 34 results, including manuscripts made in England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland, Spain and Switzerland. Maybe in time you'll even be able to download images of our infamous unicorn cookbook.
Miniature of a unicorn, in Philes, De natura animalium (France, 16th century): London, British Library, MS Burney 97, f. 18r.
Let us know how you're using our images, either by sending a comment (via the link at the foot of this post) or tweeting us @blmedieval. A selection of uses will be publicized in a future blog-post.
Over the past few years, we've had great pleasure in making many of our books available to view in their entirety on our Digitised Manuscripts site. Periodic announcements have been made on this blog, relating notably to the digitisation of our Greek and Royal manuscripts and to our Harley Science Project. But nothing quite compares to the new treasures now added to Digitised Manuscripts, encompassing the fields of art, literature and science.
And when we say "treasures", we really mean it! The six books in question are none other than (drumroll, please) the Harley Golden Gospels, the Silos Apocalypse, the Golf Book, the Petit Livre d'Amour ... and, um, two others. What were they again? Oh yes, remember now. Only Beowulf and Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook. How could we forget?
Each of these six manuscripts is a true splendour, and has immense significance in its respective field, whether that be Anglo-Saxon literature, Carolingian or Flemish art, or Renaissance science and learning. On Digitised Manuscripts you'll be able to view every page in full and in colour, and to see the finer details using the deep zoom facility. You can read more about the chosen six in a special feature in the Financial Times Weekend magazine, published on 9 February 2013.
Harley Golden Gospels (Harley MS 2788): this beautiful gospelbook was made in early-9th-century Germany, perhaps at Aachen. The text is written entirely in gold ink, which even today glistens in the light; the sheer wealth of its decoration lends this manuscript its association with the Carolingian royal court.
Beowulf (Cotton MS Vitellius A XV): contains the longest epic poem in Old English, and arguably one of the greatest works of world literature. The manuscript was made around the year AD 1000, and escaped destruction by fire in 1731: the scorch marks are still visible on its pages.
Silos Apocalypse (Additional MS 11695): this commentary on the Apocalypse was made by monks at the Spanish abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos, being started in AD 1091 and completed in 1109. The decoration leaps out from every page, remaining as vivid as the day it was painted.
Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook (Arundel MS 263): compiled between the years c. 1478 and 1518, this notebook deals with many of the subjects close to Leonardo's heart: mechanics, geometry, hydraulics, optics, astronomy and architecture. Written in his characteristic mirror script, one scholar has described Leonardo's book as an "explosion of ideas".
Petit Livre d'Amour (Stowe MS 955): Pierre Sala (d. 1529), a valet de chambre of Louis XII of France, made his "Little Book of Love" for his mistress (and subsequently wife) Marguerite Builloud. Who could not have been bowled over by such a gift? The manuscript is still preserved in its original carrying case, inscribed with the letters P and M.
Golf Book (Additional MS 24098): famous for its depiction of a game resembling golf, this Book of Hours contains a series of miniatures attributable to Simon Bening (d. 1561), one of the greatest Flemish artists.
We are delighted to be able to share these six glorious manuscripts with our readers around the world; and we hope in turn that you share them with your friends too. You can also currently see Beowulf, the Harley Golden Gospels and select pages from Leonardo da Vinci's notebook in the British Library's Sir John Ritblat Gallery.
Don't forget to follow us on Twitter @blmedieval.
While some of our high-grade manuscripts are temporarily unavailable, please take the opportunity to use our Digitised Manuscripts site. We have already uploaded hundreds of manuscripts, digitised in their entirety, including many of our medieval Greek books; some of our scientific manuscripts; and dozens of volumes featured in the British Library's Royal exhibition. Check out some of our greatest medieval books, including one of our most recent acquisitions, the St Cuthbert Gospel. And don't forget to use the deep-zoom facility, which enables users to view the manuscripts as never before!
The late-7th-century St Cuthbert Gospel (Additional MS 89000): note the lack of white gloves!
We are very happy to be able to share our wonderful manuscripts with you -- please pass on the good news, and share them with others.
The British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section would like to wish you a very happy Christmas, and all the best in the new year!
Detail of a miniature of the Nativity, from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410, Additional MS 18850, f. 65r
Detail of a miniature of Greeks making merry (perhaps at a New Year's celebration?), from Xenophon, France, c. 1506, Royal MS 19 C. vi, f. 131r
It's been another hectic year in the British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section. We hope that you have enjoyed reading this blog (and continue to do so), and that you derive great pleasure from seeing some of the manuscripts that we look after.
In case you are still chasing last-minute Christmas gifts for manuscript lovers, here is a small selection of items relating to our collections.
Love Letters: 2000 Years of Romance, by Andrea Clarke (British Library, 2011), priced £10.
Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination, edited by Scot McKendrick, John Lowden & Kathleen Doyle (British Library, 2011), the catalogue of our hugely successful Royal exhibition in 2011-12, priced £40.
Magna Carta: Manuscripts and Myths, by Claire Breay (British Library, 2011), priced £7.95.
Beowulf: Treasures in Focus, by Julian Harrison (British Library, 2009), priced £3.99.