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]
Finally, after what seems like years of barely restrained anticipation, Magna Carta has officially turned 800. Like most 800th birthday parties, we’re celebrating it by looking at pictures from the subject’s wild youth, and exclaiming over how young it looks.
Corpus Christi College MS 16 is an autograph copy of Matthew Paris’ Chronica Maiora, which contains a depiction of the charter, with hanging seal, on f. 42r. Although the manuscript was created 30-40 years after the 1215 signing of Magna Carta, it works with Roger of Wendover’s contemporary account of the events surrounding the signing that forms the first part of the chronicle. The text of Magna Carta in MS 16 is not entirely accurate to any extant official version, as Wendover never worked with an original, and Paris never chose to carefully edit the text, but it is based on the earliest 1215 and 1217 versions.
This manuscript is currently on display at the British Library’s temporary Magna Carta exhibition, and will remain there until September 2015.
A later version of Magna Carta is to be found in CCCC MS 59, f. 182r. This early 14th century manuscript contains a variety of historical documents and short chronicles, and the version of the charter is the confirmation of 1225, which was substantially the same was the 1217 version but was confirmed by King Henry III and announced to be sealed from his own free will, which underscored its legitimacy in tempering the power of the king.
Finally, a late 14th century collection of English statutes which forms part of MS 377 contains the version of Magna Carta that was reissued in 1297, by Edward I. This is the final version of the core text, and the one that is still in statute today, albeit with most articles now repealed.
The manucripts at the Parker Library that contain editions of Magna Carta attest to the profound importance it had on medieval English scholars. It was copied and recopied, updated and provided with commentary, in a way that grounded its legitimacy and created the basis of its importance in later eras.
While the original text has long been outdated, the importance of a government based on clearly defined relationships between all parties has not. Honestly, for 800 years old, Magna Carta is looking pretty good.
This is a late thirteenth-century French manuscript of the Chronique de Reims, an adventurous history of the third crusade. It belonged to the poet John Skelton (c1460-1529), who used it for instructing the young Prince Henry, whose tutor he was from c1495 until about 1502. In that year, Henry’s elder brother Prince Arthur died, and Henry himself unexpectedly became heir to the throne, to which he eventually succeeded as Henry VIII in 1509. Skelton afterwards gave the manuscript to the new king in the unsuccessful hope of reinstatement in the court. Henry VIII was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Sunday 24 June 1509. [MS 432, folio 32r]
This week, a researcher discovered that Parker’s own copy of A discouery and playne declaration of sundry subtill practises of the Holy Inquisition of Spayne […] Set forth in Latine, by Reginaldus Gonsaluius Montanus, and lately translated, from 1569, is a rare complete copy, including a full folded sheet that contains an illustrative guide to the various actors and actions of the Spanish Inquisition. Most other copies appear to have lost this sheet, or it was never tipped-in.
This copy, class mark SP.330, may be in such an ideal condition because it was not only printed by John Day, Parker’s own printer, but also dedicated to him by the translator, V. Skinner. It would be a reasonable assumption that if a copy were presented to him, it would be complete, with care taken to ensure the extra tipped-in woodcut was included. The full sheet depicts a large, complex scene of torture, judgement, and capital punishment and includes a guide to each set of actors on the opposite page.
Reginaldus Gonsalvius Montanus was the pseudonym of Casiodoro de Reina (or Reyna), a Spanish Protestant who fled the inquisition and later produced the first complete translation of the Bible into Spanish. After first spending time in London, he moved on to Antwerp when calls for his extradition became too insistent. His original text, Sanctae Inquisitionis hispanicae artes aliquot detectae, ac palam traductae, was published in Heidelberg in 1567. Parker also owned a copy of the Latin version, which is classmark SP.407.
The autograph Chronica Maiora of Matthew Paris (c1200-1259), monk of St. Albans, is one of the most famous sources for thirteenth century English history. It is a history of the world, but is especially important for events of the author’s lifetime. The manuscript is in two volumes and contains hundreds of little drawings by Matthew himself. This picture shows the procession of Henry III, king of England 1216-72, bringing the famous relic of the Holy Blood to Westminster Abbey in 1247. Matthew Paris knew Henry III personally, and showed him this manuscript. Henry III had been crowned in Westminster Abbey on Sunday 17 May 1220. [MS 16, folio 216r]
MS 16 is currently on display in the Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition at the British Library until 1 September 2015.
As Britain moves ever closer to the General Election, it is worth looking back on a time of ever so slightly more riotous politics at Cambridge University.
CCCC MS 106 contains a collection of documents pertaining to the sixteenth-century University, and one account, undated but likely from the 1540s, is entitled ‘A broyle upon the attempt of D. Glyn the Lawer for the election of a Vice-Chancellor contrary to the myndes and libertyes of the Regentre’.
The text is told from the point of view of one D. Glyn, and he begins, ‘Mr. Cwnerforth dyde laye violent hands upon the sete where I satt and Mr. Perne dyde pull me bakwarde by the hwde soo that yf the cheere had not beyn upholden by certain that stode bye thaye hade overthroyne hit ande me’.
Later, the gossip continues, as Glyn recounts:
‘Mr. Bambryk sayd at dinner the same daye or apon the mundaye or tuysday or at the lestwayes this wek last past, ‘I love Mr. Conerforth better then any regent in this towne for his doynges and yf he had gevyn D. Glyn a blow or tow he had servyd him well’’.
While this may appear to be an overreaction and a blockage to the democratic process, it is worth bearing in mind that the 1540s were a period of political and financial difficulties for the University. The previous decade had been one of upheaval as the new policies of Henry VIII forced the departure of monks and friars, who has been a key part of university life, and caused general inflation on the prices of basic goods. Money was tight, for example, in 1540–1, £30 had to be borrowed from various benefactions in order to cover the fees for bread and ale, and the university candelabra were pawned as security on these loans.
If nothing else, Glyn’s account underscores the perils of wearing an academic hood among enemies.
Richard Fahey, a PhD candidate at the University of Notre Dame, just wrote a blog post about the mythological treatment of Woden in Anglo-Saxon genealogies, using CCCC MS 66, p. 69 to illustrate. Click through and compare MS 66’s illustration with that of the British Library’s Cotton Caligula A.viii.