MS 61, f. 1v
This is the finest surviving copy of Chaucer’s epic Trojan romance, Troilus and Criseyde, illuminated in London c.1415-20, perhaps for the royal prisoner in the Tower of London, Charles d’Orléans (1394-1465). The frontispiece shows Geoffrey Chaucer himself declaiming his poem to an aristocratic party, gathered in a landscape. Chaucer himself died on 25 October 1400.
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CCCC MS 582, inside front cover
Matthew Parker had been chaplain to Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. His close relationship with their daughter, Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth, had an important part to play in his life, She was born on 7 September 1533. This coloured engraving of Queen Elizabeth was pasted by Parker inside his own copy of the statutes of Corpus Christi College.
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CCCC MS 394, f. 15r
This late thirteenth-century Apocalypse was owned by Thomas Markaunt (c.1382-1439), senior proctor of the University and Fellow of Corpus Christi College. The pictures here show the elders around the Throne of God. By his will of November 1439, Markaut bequeathed 76 books to the College. The Apocalypse was no. 72, valued at 2 shillings. The bequest was received by Corpus on 1 August 1440. MS 394, folio 15r.
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Eagles teaching an eaglet to look at the sun. CCCC MS 22, f. 166v
Summer has finally properly arrived in England, and the sun has made a stronger-than-usual appearance in Cambridge. While we humans need to dust off our sunglasses, the eagle, as described by Isidore of Seville in the early 7th century, is capable of staring directly into the sun.
In fact, the eagle tests its young by holding them up to the sun, and if they cannot look right at it, they are cast out of the nest. This brought about the medieval allegorical reading of the eagle’s ability to look directly into the sun as analogous to Christ’s ability to see the full glory of God. Only the most worthy souls can be lifted up by angels and perceive the whole power of God.
This illustration is from CCCC MS 22, a collection of Isidore of Seville’s works, which includes one of the oldest extant copies of an illustrated bestiary made in England. It probably dates from c. 1150-70, and may have been produced in the North of England.
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The two-volume Chronica Maiora of Matthew Paris (c.1190-1259), monk of St Albans, is one of the major records of history at the time of the Crusades. It is the author’s own copy, with illustrations in his own hand. The picture here shows the disastrous Battle of Hattin in Palestine, when Saladin defeated the crusaders’ armies and captured the True Cross. The battle took place of 4 July 1187. MS 26, folio 140r.
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MS 194, f. 57r
The Scala Mundi, or ‘Ladder of the World’, is a diagrammatical chronicle of universal history from the Creation to the early fourteenth century, when the manuscript was made. It includes the earliest known depiction of Stonehenge, described as having been built by Merlin. Stonehenge is still used annually to mark the summer solstice, which falls around 20-22 June.
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For several years, a pair of mallard ducks have nested in the New Court of Corpus, probably based on its academic credentials and excellent foliage. The annual sight of the Corpus ducklings and their subsequent herding to the Cam occurred yesterday to great fanfare, as the entire College stopped what they were doing to watch.
The medieval theory of the duck was that it was named ans in Latin after its constancy (assiduitate) in swimming (natandi). If you look closely, this is described in the first sentence of the section on ducks in the Peterborough bestiary (MS 53, 14th c.), starting with the historiated letter ‘A’:
CCCC MS 53, f. 203v
However, the name likely came from an Indo-European root word which was also visible in the Old English word for duck : enid. The Corpus Glossary (MS 144, early 9th c.) shows the translation of Latin aneta for Old English enid:
CCCC MS 144, f. 8v
The modern English word for duck came from the original Anglo-Saxon verb, dúcan, meaning to dive or duck in the modern sense. The word was already in use for the bird by the late Anglo-Saxon era, but continued in tandem with enid or ende through the 15th c.
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