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The Legal Manuscripts of Lambeth Palace Library

By Arendse I Lund, on 19 December 2018

For the past couple months, I’ve been working with the legal manuscripts at Lambeth Palace Library. As the historic library and record office of the Archbishops of Canterbury, they have an incredible collection of documents and manuscripts collected, copied and published from the 9th century till today — and I’m taking full advantage of it!

Lambeth Palace Library MS 118 (Author’s own photo)

During my London Arts & Humanities Partnership placement at Lambeth Palace Library, I’m writing about the sorts of things I discover as I examine their incredible collection of manuscripts. My first piece is on their two vellum copies of Henry of Huntingdon’s massive Historia Anglorum, his account of the history of England from its beginnings until the mid-twelfth century. Huntingdon’s account is important as a historical source. However, it’s also fascinating because we can see his narrative techniques at play; he inserts apocryphal stories as a way to highlight a historical figure’s character.

By comparing the two manuscripts their stark differences are thrown into light, both in terms of their content and also their current physical state. MS 118 is in a much better state with clean pages and wide margins. MS 327 has all the marks of having been a working copy and frequently used; there’s a spattering of verdigris discoloring the pages and stitches repairing tears in the vellum.

Stitches across Lambeth Palace LIbrary MS 327

As I work my way through all of Lambeth’s medieval legal holdings, I am putting together an exhibit of the most important manuscripts. This will go on display in the spring. Stay tuned!

Medieval Snowball Fights

By Arendse I Lund, on 21 December 2016

Medieval illuminations are one of the great delights of working with manuscripts. Many times fanciful, sometimes austere, and frequently religious, these images and marginalia provide a delightful insight into the cultures that made them.

medieval snowball fight

Children throwing pre-made snowballs (Bodleian Library MS Douce 135, f. 7v)

Contemplating the Cat depicted some of that diversity in marginalia and illumination but with the winter solstice upon us, I thought I’d shed a light on the colder illuminations. Snowball fights are some of those illuminations that are always cheery, showing that winter play really has not changed all that much in the centuries since these manuscripts were created.

Three-way medieval snowball fight

Rambunctious children engage in winter fun (Walters Collection W.425.12R)

This illumination from the Walters Collection is appended to a calendar describing December Feast Days. This was an important topic in medieval manuscripts as Feast Days had to be meticulously calculated so that fasting and celebrations would occur on the correct days. Instead of an illumination depicting a nativity, or another religious topic as was common, this illuminator instead chose a winter scene—a snowball fight.

Medieval snowball fight flirting

A little snowball fight flirting (Bibliothèque Nationale de France NAL 167, f. 79)

Winter was an understandable theme in medieval works. The eponymous prince in the Old English Dialogue of Solomon and Saturn inquires what the purpose of snow falling is and the Maxims I promises that good weather will return once more. The majority of early medieval works were religious; it is only around the 14th century that an increasing number of secular works are produced and illuminated.

In these manuscripts, snowball fights aren’t confined to children either; people of all ages, men and women, can be seeing hefting an icy ball creating an endearing lightheartedness to winter that we might otherwise overlook.

Aggressive medieval snowball fight

Children gang up in a snowball fight (Book of Hours of Bénigne Serre, Cod. 103, f.12r)

Illuminations are a great way to see what games would have been played and known in the Middle Ages. Jenneka Janzen wrote about the evidence for medieval board games: chess, backgammon, etc. Card playing is also well documented.

Typically, illuminators would have depicted scenes familiar to them or that they had high confidence in drawing. (Sketches and pen trials often appear on folios considered less important, or in the margins, testing designs and scenes.) The winter scenes here were done in detail with great skill.

As the demand for manuscripts grew, those with the money could afford to have them illuminated precisely how they desired and more richly detailed and elaborately decorated scenes appear. Books of Hours, as personal books of devotion, were particular favorites to ornately illuminate.

While my dreams of a white Christmas are unlikely to come true, at least I can pretend while looking at medieval manuscripts.