MS 373, f. 24r
This little early twelfth-century manuscript belonged to Matilda (c.1102-1167), daughter of Henry I of England, who married the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, in 1114. The text is a unique account of the imperial family, probably made in Würzburg. The picture here shows the first medieval emperor, Charlemagne, crowned in Rome on Christmas Day, 25 December 800.
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Last year the Parker Library acquired a volume that once belonged to Archbishop Matthew Parker. Curiously enough, it looks like it was never meant to be housed in the Library, as it does not appear in the Parker Register, the list of books bequeathed to the College. Instead, it was bought from a Sotheby’s auction, and now represents the newest, and arguably most obscure, item of the collection. As it is part of a five-volume set of the Bible, one would perhaps expect it to be a rather voluminous tome, but in reality it is instead rather little (203x145mm). A lavishly decorated binding makes up for its modest dimensions, presenting gold-stamped foliage and gauffered edges. It also contains one of the most puzzling features of the volume: 4 letters on both front and back boards, reading EESSF. Despite the efforts of more than one scholar, these initials are still waiting to be deciphered – they may represent owners’ initials, or perhaps the beginning letters of a motto. They are also specific to our copy: the other 3 traceable volumes of Parker’s set (in the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, and the private collection of the Duke of Rutland) do not appear to have them.
Unfortunately, we only know very little about our book since Parker’s death in 1575, as it only reappeared in the mid-nineteenth century! One of the inscriptions on the first flyleaf reads: ‘Robert Gregory C.C.C. Oxon’, which refers to a student of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography tells us that Gregory matriculated at Corpus in 1840, was later ordained priest (1844), and then proceeded to obtain a Doctorate in Divinity in 1891. Given Gregory’s scholastic interest, it is only fitting that he would own a book such as Parker’s Apocrypha. Since the American copies present different features to ours, it is likely that Gregory only owned this one volume of the set, and one may discreetly add that it would have made quite a nice addition to his library. This is because the apocrypha is a group of texts that does not traditionally belong to the Bible, but was later added between the Old and New Testaments. The very reason why it was called apocrypha, from the Greek apokriphos meaning ‘hidden’, is that it represents non-canonical texts, thus perhaps indicating Gregory’s inclination to go beyond what was deemed traditional.
Not much more is known of the dwellings of the book prior to Gregory. One may speculate that Parker left it to his son John, as his will lists many books to be left in his possession. John also had a connection with Christ Church Oxford, which may explain how the book travelled from one city to the other. One last clue may be hiding a very faint inscription just under Gregory’s signature, dated 1791. But for now, we can only hope to keep adding pieces to this fascinating jigsaw.
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CCCC MS 7, f. 121r
This manuscript comprises chronicles and records of benefactions to St Albans Abbey, compiled in St Albans in the early fifteenth century. The picture here of the abbot and his monks illustrates the account of the death of John de la Moote, abbot of St Albans 1396-1401, who died on 11 November 1401.
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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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