We’re just recovering from not one but two royal visits to the library last week.
On Monday afternoon Prince Charles stopped in during his visit to Cambridge. He was very interested in the cases of manuscripts owned by kings and princes, in particular the two manuscripts we have that were part of the ‘Old Royal’ library of Henry VIII and still have their original clasps and red velvet binding, MSS 87 and 217. He asked about the conservation of manuscripts and remarked on similar volumes he had seen on the shelves of the Royal Library at Windsor.
Our second royal visit, on Wednesday evening, was by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand. In preparing for the visit, Dr de Hamel was lamenting that the library doesn’t possess a copy of Marco Polo’s account of his travels to show HRH, since Polo mentions Thailand. He happened to make these remarks in the reading room where a reader happened to be researching medieval travel accounts.
‘But you do have a copy of Marco Polo’s account of Southeast Asia’, she said, ‘it’s in John of Tynemouth’s chronicle’. We fetched MS 5 and she showed us the relevant passage. As part of his thorough description of the world and its history since Creation, the fourteenth-century English chronicler had included the following brief account of Thailand, taken from Marco Polo:
Ultra quas ad miliaria 400 est prouincia lochath que grandis est et ditissimam valde regem habet nulli tributarium idolatre sunt. ibi copia auri inuenitur et elephantes multi.
Four hundred miles away is the province of Lochath (Thailand) which is great and has a very rich king. The people worship idols and pay tribute to no-one. Much gold is found there and many elephants.
CCCC MS 5, f. 10r
HRH was extremely interested in the passage – and it was an excellent excuse to also exhibit several manuscripts depicting elephants, including the most famous of all, from Matthew Paris’ Chronica maiora.