Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring an unfortunate earl

Apologie of the Earl of Essex


MS 287 is a copy of a tract by Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex (1565-1601), addressed anonymously to Anthony Bacon (a device that enabled Essex to deny authorship), entitled:

‘To Maister Anthonie Bacon. An Apologie of the Earle of Essex, against those which falsely and maliciously taxe him to be the only hinderer of the Peace, and quiet of his Countrey.’

The text differs slightly from that of the first printed edition of 1600 (STC 6787.7) which also included a letter from Essex’s sister, Lady Rich, ‘to her maiestie, in the behalf of the earle of Essex’.

About the tract’s publication, Rowland Whyte wrote on 10 May 1600 to Sir Robert Sydney that ‘Lord Essex continues where he did: he plays now and then at tennis. An Apology written by him about the peace, is, as I hear, printed; on which he is much troubled, and has sent to the Stationers [Company] to suppress them,  for it is done without his knowledge’. On 13 May Whyte reported that ‘The Queen is offended that this Apology of peace is printed, for of 200 copies only 8 is heard of. It is said that my Lady Riches letter to her Majesty is also printed, which is an exceeding wrong done to the Earle of Essex’.

Royal displeasure was something that Essex could ill afford. In 1598 his high standing as Queen Elizabeth’s favourite had been strained by a series of disastrous enterprises. He recovered sufficiently to be appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1599, charged with destroying the rebellion led by the Earl of Tyrone. Having instead concluded a peace treaty with Tyrone, Essex was imprisoned and charged with treason on 20 March 1600. He survived that crisis, but led an abortive rebellion to unseat the queen, and he was executed on 25 February 1601.

The manuscript has a distinguished provenance. It first belonged to Sir Julius Caesar (1558-1636), a distinguished lawyer and judge who became chancellor of the Exchequer in 1606, and was master of the Rolls from 1614 to 1636. The antiquarian Horace Walpole (1719-1797) and the antiquarian and book collector Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872) were subsequent owners.


Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring an enchanted voyage

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Voyage of Maeldune’ adapts a well-known Irish legend in P.W. Joyce’s Old Celtic Romances (1879). It relates the adventures of a chieftain who seeks to revenge his father’s death, but who is blown off course on a Ulyssean voyage of enchantment and calamity. The journey brings him to magic islands that cast a frenzied spell on his crew, who fall to slaying each other. The spell is broken only on the Isle of a Saint where they encounter a hermit who admonishes forgiveness. Weary of strife and sin, the mariners return home. On seeing his father’s killer, the hero forsakes revenge and leaves him be.

Composed in 1879-80, the text of the manuscript is, besides relatively small variants, identical to the version published in Ballads, and Other Poems (1880). The poem is written in black ink with extensive revisions in Tennyson’s hand on thirteen leaves of ruled laid paper, torn with hurried force from a copybook now held at the Houghton Library (Harvard Notebook 47), which contains other early fragments of the poem. The ragged, dirty pages contain the final stages of creation as Tennyson fair-copied and further revised the poem. They significantly modify the well-known story that Tennyson composed in his head while walking up and down the garden before committing his poem to paper.

That Sir Louis Sterling liked Tennyson is clear from the fact that, in addition to two private press editions of Tennyson’s work presumably acquired for the publisher rather than the author, he owned 31 printed editions of his works, including some in more than one copy, some in trial copies, and The Princess in the first five editions. This is one of three Tennyson holograph manuscripts in the Sterling Library.

MS SL/V/32

Voyage of Maeldune

Medieval manuscripts at Senate House Library

The opening of the Chronicle of the Black PrinceWe were very fortunate yesterday to host Professor Michelle P. Brown for a talk on the history of medieval manuscripts and in particular on some of the manuscripts, fragments and facsimiles held in Senate House Library. Michelle began by examining one of our manuscript treasures: an extremely rare account of the life of Edward the Black Prince, produced around 1385. The illuminated frontispiece sets the tone for the text, showing the knight Edward, in his armour, kneeling in devotion before the Holy Trinity. This visual narrative prepares the reader for the tales of the Prince’s martial valour and piety that follow. While the gold leaf illuminating the picture of the Trinity has remained gloriously bright, Michelle explained how the silver pigments used to paint the Prince’s armour and ostrich feather badges have tarnished over time to give a slightly smudged effect to the image as it survives today. Moving on to the layout of the text, Michelle explained how gold and coloured initial letters of varying sizes conveyed the relative significance of different passages, and – in an age when memorising a text was much more important and prevalent than today – helped readers to fix portions of the story in their minds for recall later.

Michelle then discussed eleven miniatures cut from a mid 13th-century Psalter (Book of Psalms) which came to the library in the 1960s bound up in tiny late 19th-century edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. No larger than cigarette cards, the miniatures depict scenes from the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, including the nativity, the last supper and the crucifixion. The scenes, while depicted in the individual style of the artist, would have been immediately familiar to the medieval mind, both literate and illiterate, not only from books but from stained glass windows and statuary too.

Attendees were able to see some digital reproductions from these manuscripts on library iPads, enabling them to zoom into details hardly visible to the naked eye when viewing the originals. These reproductions can be seen here.

Michelle finished with some fascinating insights into the Lindisfarne Gospels and Luttrell Psalter of which the library owns high-quality facsimiles in its outstanding Palaeography Collection.

We hope to have Michelle back again before too long to treat us to further insights into the medieval book.

From the Reading Room – tracing female authorship in medieval manuscripts.

This week Julie Tanner has been in consulting lingustic atlases. I asked about her use of these and her wider research interests.


‘Angus McIntosh’s Linguistic atlas of late medieval English is of great use for my research.  I am compiling a diplomatic¹ edition of selected lyrics from the Findern manuscript and it is pertinent to study linguistic profiles of lexis local to the area of South Derbyshire where it is known that the manuscript was compiled.  If any connections can be made between localised language in the atlas and vocabulary from the anonymous lyrics it is possible to use this evidence to support a claim that provincial scribes had further involvement in the production of the manuscript beyond copying the text.  Some of the scribes are known to be women of the Findern family, and many of the lyrics are honest, sincere female-voiced reflections on losing a loved one.  My broader research interest concerns female participation in provincial manuscript authorship and compilation – McIntosh’s Linguistic atlas is of great help in this endeavour.’

Julie Tanner – Goldsmiths College.

 ¹Diplomatic is defined by Peter Beal as follows: ‘The science or study of documents and records, including their forms, language, script and meaning. It involves knowledge of such matters as the established wording and procedures of particular kinds of document, the deciphering of writing, and document analysis and authentication’  (p. 121).

Teaching with Italian Manuscripts

Recently for the third time Dott. Laura Nuvoloni, Incunabula Cataloguer at Cambridge University Library, taught students on UCL’s Italian Studies M.A. two classes at Senate House Library, using library materials. She wrote:

The star of the small but intriguing collection of manuscript books and fragments from Medieval and Renaissance Italy is MS288, a humanistic miscellany of educational 25vtreatises, including Paulus Vergerius, De ingenuis moribus ac liberalibus studiis, from the library of Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence (1837-1914). The manuscript was identified as in the hand of the celebrated Paduan scribe Bartolomeo Sanvito (1433-1511) and dated to around 1455-1456 by A. C. (‘Tilly’) de la Mare. This book is a testimony of the intellectual interests of Italian humanists and their wealthy patrons; by contrast, a Breviary, written and illuminated in traditional Gothic style, is a reminder of the relevance of daily religious practice to both members of the clergy and lay individuals in medieval and Renaissance Italy (MS904). 

These and other manuscripts and fragments proved to be useful aids when describing the different quire organisations and the various ruling techniques that scribes used when preparing parchment or paper manuscripts for copy; they also provided material examples of the development of formal and cursive scripts for texts in Latin and Italian vernacular alike.  Bound volumes also provided different binding examples. Two unassuming paper manuscripts, containing tables and documents relating to communal tolls and taxation in Florence, Pisa and Argenta between 1423 and 1579, were of particular interest to me as they not only provided examples of different hands, both formal and cursive, and of bindings on leather over pasteboards with blind-tooled decoration and on parchment over paperboards, but also first-hand information on contemporary prices for paper, parchment and pigments (MS3; MS15).

Pseudo-Clemens Romanus: a 9th-century manuscript fragment

Fragments of manuscripts make up a large part of the Library’s holdings of medieval material, having come into the Library through various means: as gifts, as teaching examples, and in the bindings of other manuscripts and early printed books: the majority of the fragments originate from the practice of re-using the parchment of dismembered manuscripts as raw material for bindings.  The manuscript fragments continue to be chiefly used for teaching of palaeography and codicology, but fragments can also be an important vehicle for the survival of texts, and contribute to the reconstruction of lost or imperfect manuscripts.  An example from the collections here is a vellum binding fragment from the Auchinleck manuscript (MS593) which has been digitally reunited with other fragments to provide a fuller facsimile of the manuscript held at the National Library of Scotland.  Many of the fragments in the collection are described in Rowan Watson’s Descriptive list of fragments of medieval manuscripts in the University of London Library.   

Image of the verso of the fragment

Verso: Ref. Flood 1/Closs/ box 67/2

An image of the fragments recto

Recto: Ref. Flood 1/Closs/ box 67/2

However one of the earliest significant fragments held here, dating from the 9th century, is not covered by this list and is found in the papers of the Closs/ Priebsch Family, one of the collections of the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies Library.  The fragment (ref. Flood 1/ Closs/ box 67/2) is a section of the Recognitiones Clementis, an important work of the early church in the form of a philosophical and theological romance, using the disciples as characters in a continuing narrative.  The text is associated with Pope Clement I, but is of undetermined authorship.  The Clementine narratives have been dated possibly to the third century CE and have survived in two forms: the Homilies of which the original Greek manuscripts survive, and the Recognitions, for which the original Greek has been lost, but the text has been transmitted through  a c.4th-century translation by Rufinus of Aquileia.  The Closs fragment includes book II, verses 8-12 of Rufinus’ version.  It appears to have been first recorded in 1991 by John L. Flood in his description of medieval manuscripts in the Priebsch-Closs Collection: Die mittelalterlichen Handschriften der Bibliothek des Institute of Germanic Studies, London.  It is in two columns written in a fine, early Caroline minuscule, the standardised European book-hand created and spread under the patronage of Charlemagne in the 8th century, on West German parchment, and has been dated to the first half of the 9th century (Flood, p. 326).  The fragment was most likely used as the endpapers in a quarto-sized binding, but of its provenance beyond belonging to Closs, nothing is known (not unusual for a loose binding fragment).  Intriguingly, Flood suggests there may be a relationship with BL Add. MS 18400, a manuscript of German origin which includes a version of the same text dated to the 10th century.

The Closs/ Priebsch papers are comprised of a range of material, including a small number of significant medieval German manuscripts and manuscript fragments collected by August Closs, a former professor of German at Bristol University.   As well as this fragment, there are also 14th-century binding fragments and a late 15th-century manuscript of Heinrich Seuse’s Buch von der ewigen Weisheit and a collection of fragments of German poetry of the 13th/14th centuries (Flood, nos.3-5 ; Closs/ box 67/ 4, i and ii).  The Priebsch-Closs collection of books forms the core of the IGRS special collections and includes material from the 15th to the 20th century.

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.