Royal Manuscripts Conference, British Library, 12-13/12/11


Royal Manuscripts posterScot McKendrick, Head of History and Classics at the British Library, introduced this popular conference by thanking all people and sponsors involved in the Royal Manuscripts project. Fifteen years of research and collaborative efforts now culminate in the ‘Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination‘ exhibition (which I strongly recommend!), opened by  the Queen on 10th November 2011.

The British Library’s online catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts now includes records for over 4.000 manuscripts and accompanying 34.000 images. The Library has registered 30.000 searches a month and over the past 12 months 115.000 unique users have used catalogue. Of these 4.000, 600 manuscripts and supplementary 1.000 images come from the Old Royal Library.

The Illuminated Manuscripts exhibition showcases 154 manuscripts of which 148 are from the Library’s collections and 111 from the Royal Manuscripts collection. Needless to say how crucial this wonderful new resource is and will be for the understanding of the medieval period and its textual production and transmission.

While the most heavily advertised, the exhibition and digital representations are only two of the project’s impressive achievements. Other outputs, in fact, include a smartphone and tablet app, two books, a blog, a forthcoming three-part TV series on BBC4 (to be launched on 9th January 2012) and, of course, the conference.

In terms of scholarship, digital surrogates of the manuscripts represent an invaluable tool, as the high quality photographs will enable scholars to freely access and examine the documents, thus conducting much of their research from their home location.

Monday 12th speakers & sessions:

  • A.S.G. EdwardsWilliam Forest, scribe and poet. Edwards presented the work of poet and scribe William Forest. Forest was responsible for the production and dissemination of the surviving manuscripts of his poems, three of which belong to the Royal Collection.
  • Matthew FisherThe Harley Scribe and Royal history writing. Dr Fisher explored the gap between author and text in medieval textual literature. Fisher described the scribal involvement in one particular Royal manuscript, arguing that the so-called Harley scribe did not merely copy but actively curated, revisited and translated some of its texts.
  • Dorothy KimHow Matthew Paris visualised the East in MS Royal 14 C. VII. Kim discussed the contents of another Royal manuscript, known for illustrating Paris’ journeys from London to Jerusalem and containing a complete copy of his Historia Anglorum. In particular, Kim examined Paris’ visualisation of the East and the Eastern Mediterranean.
  • Erin K. Donovan – A Royal crusade history: Livre d’Eracles and Edward IV’s exile in Burgundy. Donovan considered King Edward IV’s interaction with the Flemish manuscript illumination culture and the Burgundian culture of crusade through the analysis of the Livre d’Eracles (or Histoire des croisades).
  • Alixe BoveyRoyalty and the Smithfield Decretals. Bovey, whom you might remember from the BBC4 series In Search of Medieval Britain, explored two royal themes of the Smithfield Decretals, the collection of canon law promulgated in 1234 by Pope Gregory IX and illuminated in c.1300 in France. First, the representation of kingship in the English illumination and, second, the reasons behind the manuscript’s assimilation in the Royal Library.
  • Olivier De Laborderie – The first manuals of English history. Two late-13th-century genealogical rolls of the kings of England in the Royal Collection. De Laborderie introduced the afternoon’s dominating theme, dynastic genealogy, with the analysis of two  exquisitely  illuminated manuscripts, produced during the reign of Edward I. In particular, De Laborderie focused on the manuscripts’ marginal drawings which seem to suggest woman sponsorship.
Picture of the Shrewsbury Book

Detail from Royal 15 E. VI: Margaret receives the Book. © British Library

  • Marigold Norbye – “This figure maketh clere demonstracioun… descendid is of the stoke and blode of seint Lowys”: French and English propaganda wars through genealogical diagrams. Dr Norbye kicked off her session by briefly introducing the Shrewsbury Book (MS Royal 15 E. VI), one of the items on display at the Royal Manuscripts exhibition. The book was a gift of John Talbot, 1st earl of Shrewsbury, to young Margaret of Anjou, bride of Henry VI. Within the first pages of this manuscript is a wonderfully and lavishly illustrated genealogical diagram of Henry VI’s family. Norbye described this genealogy as a possible propaganda effort to confirm and defend the king’s controversial rule of France as well as England’s.
  • Sara TorresRomances of dynasty in the Talbot Shrewsbury Book. While mostly known for its beautiful miniatures, Torres examined the Shrewsbury Book’s textual function and the ways in which its narratives influence and develop the themes of dynastic genealogy.
  • Jade BaileyAn icon of Anglo-French Kingship? The portrayal of Charlemagne in text and image in Royal 15 E. VI. Bailey, a third-year doctoral student, analysed the role of Charlemagne within the Shrewsbury Book with particular emphasis on the Carolingian texts and the images.

Tuesday 13th speakers & sessions: 

  • Maud Perez-SimonAlexander under the Brush of the Harvard Hannibal: A study of Royal MS 20 B. XX. Perez-Simon explored the relationship between the text and miniatures of this unusually small and little known manuscript.
  • Anne D. HedemannConstructing Saint Louis in John the Good’s Grandes Chroniques de France (Royal 16 G. VI). Hedemann examined and discussed the differences between this copy of the Grandes Chroniques and the rest, particularly the large number of images and revisions, as well as the marginal annotations. Why is it different? Does the format tell us anything about its historical context?
  • Thom Kren - Royal twins? The Hours of Louis XII and the Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany. Kren, Senior curator of manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum, considered the affinities of these two manuscripts, with special emphasis on the miniatures.
  • Lieve de Kesel - A perfect match between Flanders and England: Flemish miniatures for the first Tudor King. De Kesel, a specialist of Flemish illumination, focused on two Royal manuscripts belonging to Henry VII, both showing illuminations by a Flemish artist. De Kesel then compared these manuscripts to another by the same master, the Roman de la Rose of the Harley collection.
  • Ilya DinesThe bestiary and its role in medieval education. Dr Dines discussed the medieval bestiary present in Royal 2 C XII, and the role played by bestiaries in medieval education, particularly of the Christian doctrine.
  • Lucy Freeman SandlerThe Lumere as lais and its Readers: Pictorial evidence from British Library Royal 15 D. II. Freeman Sandler analysed the images of a copy of the Anglo-Norman Lumere de lais, suggesting they represent the audience for the book. The theory, Freeman Sandler stated, is supported and corroborated by explanatory comments in the text itself.
  • Joanna Fronska – The Royal image and diplomacy: Henry VII’s Book of Astrology (British Library, Arundel 66). Joanna Fronska discussed Henry VII’s Book of Astrology not only as a response to the king’s interest in the stars, but also as a record of the continuous political and diplomatic exchange between France and England.
  • Sonja DrimmerA manuscript of Horapollo’s Hieroglyphica and the quest for a Royal patron. Drimmer described Royal 12 C. III as the earliest illustrated manuscript of Horapollo’s Hieroglyphica, a collection of hieroglyphics produced by Filippo Alberici for Henry VII.
  • John GoodallThe English Castle. Goodall concluded the conference with a presentation of his book The English Castle.
From a humanities perspective, while confessing my ignorance and limited understanding of many of the issues discussed, this conference has significantly improved my knowledge of medieval texts and their historical influence. From a digital humanities point of view, however, it lacked digital presence and, therefore, missed out on potential contributions from a much wider audience.

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Watch the Royal Manuscript’s video on YouTube.

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