This is the autograph presentation copy of the life of Henry V given by the author, the Italian humanist Tito Livio Frulovisi, to Henry VI, king of England 1422-71. It shows the royal arms on the first page. Frulovisi came to England probably in 1436 in the household of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, brother of Henry V and uncle of the boy king Henry VI. The reign was not a happy one. Henry VI succeeded as a small child to a kingdom in the last stages of the Hundred Years’ War, soon to be torn apart by the Wars of the Roses. He had been crowned first in France as a baby and secondly in Westminster Abbey on Sunday 6 November 1429. [MS 285, folio 4r]
It’s nearly Halloween, and accompanying days of All Saints and All Souls, so in many parts of the world people have been gearing up for the night by watching horror films, procuring masks and makeup, and generally revelling in the monstrous and terrifying. However, the thrill of pondering pure terror is nothing new, and medieval manuscript illustrations can be filled with grotesque images which accompany one of the most durable sources of horror in the Western heritage: the end of the world. While today we have zombies, plagues, or nuclear winter, which are directly caused by human folly, our medieval predecessors had acts of God visited upon the world in response to human sin.
The Book of Revelation and the Vision of St. Paul are contained in CCCC MS 20, a richly illustrated apocalypse from the early 14th century, with 106 pictures interspersed throughout the Anglo-Norman and Latin text. The content and style of the Anglo-Norman illustrated apocalypse developed in the 13th century, when theologians were concerned with the nature of eternity and history, and how they were related to the Bible. If the universe and the Bible were both authored by God, then understanding one meant a better understanding of the other, and a trend arose of attempting to match current events with Biblical ones. With the Apocalypse so prominent in people’s minds, stand-alone, heavily illustrated copies of the visions of the end of the world became popular in England. The illustrations shown here are just a tiny portion of the art in MS 20, all of which can be seen on Parker on the Web.
All images are the property of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Unauthorised use is prohibited.
A Pontifical is a service-book for a bishop. This richly illuminated manuscript, probably made in London, seems to have been begun for Guy de Mohun, bishop of Saint Davids 1397-1407. It later belonged to Richard Clifford, bishop of London 1407-21. It includes the service for the coronation of a king, which Guy de Mohun would have attended for Henry IV, king of England 1399-1413. The miniature shows the king between four bishops. Henry IV was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Monday 13 October 1399. [MS 285, folio 4r]
Æthelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, was king of the Anglo-Saxons 924-927 and the first king of all England 927-39. This is the frontispiece from the manuscript of Bede’s life of Saint Cuthbert which Æthelstan presented to the community of Saint Cuthbert, exiled from Lindisfarne in Northumbria, during the royal journey north to invade Scotland, probably in 934. It is the oldest surviving manuscript made for any king in England. The picture is the earliest portrait of an English king wearing a crown. Æthelstan was crowned in Kingston on Thames, one of the first recorded English coronations, on Sunday 4 September 925. [MS 183, folio 1v]
August has arrived and the ‘dog days of summer’ are settling in across Cambridge, as the rising heat and humidity remind us all of Cambridgeshire’s true identity as a fen.
The term ‘dog days’ arrived in the English language through a translation of caniculares dies, or the days surrounding the heliacal (sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. It was a standard classical description of a time of year associated with extreme heat, lethargy, and illness. In the Iliad, Book XXII, Homer writes that, as Achilles approached Troy, ‘Old Priam was the first to see him, racing over the plain, his bronze breastplate gleaming like Sirius, the star of harvest, brightest of stars in the dark of night. Orion’s Dog, men call it, glittering brightly yet boding ill, bringing fever to wretched mortals’. CCCC MS 81, a paper manuscript of the mid-fifteenth century, contains Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and, Quintus of Smyrna’s Posthomerica.
To see how the term reached English, we can look at The Red Book of Darley, the second part of CCCC MS 422. It is an English Missal manuscript, probably from the church of St Helen, Darley Dale, in the Lake District. Its Easter table suggest that it was written in the 1060s, probably circa 1061, and it is composed in a combination of Latin and Old English.
The table for July, on page 35, gives the description of the 13th of the month as, ‘Sce Myldriðe, dies caniculares’ with a gloss of ‘hare dagas’. This means it was the day of Saint Mildreth and the beginning of the dies caniculares, the hare dagas, alternately written as háradagas, which were the dog days. The etymology of this term is from the Anglo-Saxon word for the Dog Star, hárasteorra. The literal translation of the Old English would be Hoary Star, or perhaps Grey Star. This is an interesting example of translating sense for sense, not word for word- the glosser was most interested in identifying the ‘dies caniculares’ as an astronomical event, which was best represented by using the native term for the star in question.
Translating caniculares dies into dog days seems to begin sometime in the early Renaissance period. John Trevisa writes, in 1398 ‘in the mydle of the monthe Iulius the Canicular dayes begyn,’ Lydgate uses the term ‘canyculeres‘ in 1430, and, in 1538, Thomas Elyot defines ‘Canicula…a sterre, wherof canicular or dogge days be named Dies caniculares.’
So why did ‘dog days’ win out to describe the tail end of summer and not just the loan word canicular ? Is it the imagery of the term- a panting dog drooping in the heat? Or perhaps it is its connection to our other phrases and words using the same root, like ‘dog-tired’ or ‘dogged’? Or maybe it is simply the alliteration and rhythm of the phrase, which would please the Anglo-Saxon poetic sense as well.
In any case, all we can do is wait for those first cool days of Autumn, and know that man’s best friend was only dragged into this muggy time of year through the naming of a star.
The Vaticana Pontificum is a variant of a very ancient collection of pictorial prophecies, in which images of strange animals and mystical emblems could be applied to particular rulers or popes. This volume was made for Bury St Edmunds Abbey in the early fourteenth century. Suggested identifications have been added to the pictures in the hand of the librarian (and later prior) of Bury, Henry of Kirkestede (c. 1314-c.1378). The picture of a pope with a cow was captioned by him as referring to the saintly Celestine V, briefly pope in 1294. Celestine was brought up as a farmer and was dragged unwillingly from his rustic hermitage to be crowned pope, only to resign six months later. His papal coronation was in Rome on Sunday 29 August 1294. [MS 404, folio 90r]
The Scotichronicon is a unique chronicle of the history of Scotland, compiled by Walter Bower (1385-1449), abbot of Inchcolm Abbey, now a romantic ruin on an island in the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh. The manuscript was made there for Bower himself, c.1447-49. This coloured drawing shows the coronation of Alexander III, king of Scotland 1249-86. The royal poet is addressing him in Gaelic, ‘Benach de re Albane…’ (‘Beannachd Dé Rígh Alban), ‘God bless the King of Scotland’. The coronation took place on Moot Hill at Scone on Tuesday 13 July 1249. [MS 171B, folio 206r]