Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring the Black Prince manuscript

The publication of Senate House Library, University of London, featuring sixty treasures from the Library’s holdings, was a high point for the Library in 2012. In 2013 we hope to feature individual items from the volume in weekly blog entries. Of course we hope that it will encourage people to buy the book … but there’s also the motivation that was the motivation for producing the book, of celebrating and sharing some of the books and manuscripts that are precious to us.

The book begins with MS1, a manuscript from about 1385. The manuscript was composed by Sir John Chandos (d. 1370; the ‘Chandos Herald’), the domestic herald of the soldier, administrator and follower of Edward, the Black Prince (1330-1376). It provides an eyewitness account in over 4,000 lines of French verse couplets of the exploits of Edward, during the Hundred Years War. The item came to the University of London from another Prince Edward: the University of London purchased it to present to the Prince of Wales (subsequently Edward VIII) when conferring the honorary degrees upon him on 5 May 1921, and Edward placed it on permanent loan in the University Library. The manuscript is special for various reasons. Its text is significant: to quote Reginald Arthur Rye’s description of it in Catalogue of the Manuscripts and Autograph Letters in the University Library at the Central Building of the University of London … with a Description of the Manuscript Life of Edward, Prince of Wales, the Black Prince by Chandos the Herald (London, 1921), “The poem is one of the most valuable authorities on certain episodes in the Hundred Years War, and is in all probability the source of almost all our information respecting the years 1366 and 1367” (p. 6). Then it has stunning provenance, having belonged to the well-known author, translator and scribe John Shirley (?1366-1456). Finally, it is beautiful, opening with a stunning illuminated full-page miniature depicting the Holy Trinity and the Black Prince.

            The manuscript was an obvious candidate for the treasures volume. It is the first item to be featured there because the volume is arranged in chronological order of production. Its placing is fortuitous, for it deserves pride of place as what might well be described as the greatest of Senate House Library’s treasures.



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