The Shrewsbury Book from Rouen, 1444–45 British Library, Royal 15 E. vi, ff. 2v

Royal Manuscripts

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination was the title of an exhibition hosted at the British Library in 2011. Now selected papers from the accompanying conference have been edited and uploaded.

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination showcased over 150 richly decorated manuscripts associated with and collected by English monarchs between the ninth and sixteenth centuries. Drawn mainly from the Old Royal library given to the nation by George II in 1757, the exhibited manuscripts revealed a magnificent artistic inheritance and provided a vivid insight into the lives and aspirations of those for whom they were made.

In connection with the exhibition a scientific conference was held. A selection of papers from the conference have now been published and made available in the Electronic British Library Journal 2014


The First Manuals of English History: Two Late Thirteenth-Century Genealogical Rolls of the Kings of England in the Royal Collection
By Dr. Olivier de Laborderie. Laborderie teaches history and geography at a secondary school near Paris and was a part-time lecturer in medieval history at the Université Paris-Est Créteil from 2001 to 2013

PHOTO: British Library Royal MS. 14 B.VI
Royal MS. 14 B.VI


The reign of Edward I (1272-1307) witnessed the creation of numerous genealogical rolls of the kings of England from Egbert to the reigning king, initially in Latin (for instance BL, Add. MS. 30079), but then more often in Anglo-Norman. As Thomas Wright first intuited in 1872, these much innovative aide-mémoire represent the first ‘feudal manuals of English history’. Their overall design owes much to the various visual abstracts of English history designed in the 1250s by the great St Albans chronicler Matthew Paris (such as his famous ‘portrait gallery’ in BL, Royal MS. C. VII, ff. 8v-9 or his genealogy in BL, Cotton MS. Claudius D. VI, ff. 5v-9v). The two royal genealogies in the Royal Collection, Royal MSS. 14 B. V and Royal 14 B. VI, are particularly representative of this kind of historical abstract, all the more so as they can be counted among the most finely illuminated of them and the only ones offering original ‘marginal’ drawings and grotesques that enhance their attraction.



Matthew Paris, Visual Exegesis, and Apocalyptic Birds in Royal MS. 14 C. VII
By Dorothy Kim. Dorothy Kim is an Assistant Professor of English at Vassar College.

Jerusalem. Royal MS. 14 C. VII, f.5r.
Jerusalem. British LibraryRoyal MS. 14 C. VII, f.5r.


This article argues that the prefatory maps in Royal MS. 14 C. VII act as a visual distillation of the vast system of emblems in the margins of the other Chronica Majora manuscripts. Recently, scholars have discussed Matthew Paris’s visual marginalia as reading devices and finding aids that distill sections of written text into single images. This article expands that conversation by arguing that the imagery in the prefatory maps of Royal 14 C. VII is even more condensed and refined, focusing on how apocalyptic birds painted in the manuscript link England with the crusader East. Specifically, the apocalyptic birds of Royal MS. 14 C. VII link geographical space and marginal commentaries on the Historia Anglorum and Chronica Majora with Joachim of Fiore’s eschatological historiography in particular and Franciscan cosmology in general. In essence, these condensed visual images are forms of visual exegesis – a type of visual reading theorized by Paolo Berdini. As a result, Royal MS. 14 C. VII’s prefatory maps reorient cartographic hierarchies and entwine the contemporary crusader present with the apocalyptic future.


A Royal Crusade History: The Livre d’Eracles and Edward IV’s Exile in Burgundy

By Erin K. Donovan. Erin K. Donovan received her Ph.D. in medieval art history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013 with a dissertation entitled ‘Imagined Crusaders: The Livre d’Eracles in Fifteenth-Century Burgundian Collections’.

London, British Library, Royal MS. 15 E. I, f. 16. Heraclius returning the True Cross to Jerusalem
British Library, Royal MS. 15 E. I, f. 16. Heraclius returning the True Cross to Jerusalem


The English King Edward IV (1442-83) had multiple political, familial, and cultural connections with the Flanders-based court of Burgundy headed by Duke Charles the Bold, including Edward’s sister Margaret of York’s marriage to Charles, Edward’s induction into the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece, and his five-month exile in Burgundy when the Earl of Warwick placed the former King Henry VI back on the English throne. British Library, Royal MS. 15 E. I, known as the Livre d’Eracles, a French translation and continuation of William of Tyre’s crusade history Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum, is a beautiful example of Edward IV’s patronage of Flemish manuscript illumination. The manuscript was tailored to the king’s royal interests and yet also showed some resonance with similar manuscripts made for the Burgundian noblemen with whom he interacted. The visual narrative in Royal MS. 15 E. I emphasizes humble and wise leadership, even particularly English leadership, for the gaze of its royal owner.


The Royal Image and Diplomacy: Henry VII’s Book of Astrology (British Library, Arundel MS. 66)
By Joanna Frońska. Dr Joanna Frońska is an ingénieur de recherche at the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, CNRS, Paris

British Library, Arundel 66, f. 2012
British Library, Arundel 66, f. 201


One of the most intriguing manuscripts associated with Henry VII of England, British Library, MS. Arundel 66 combines astronomical tables and works of so-called judicial astrology with a short collection of political prophecies. As an informal note added at the end of one of its texts suggests, the volume was probably completed by a certain John Wellys on 30 June 1490. The present essay is an attempt to read the selection of political prophecies and interpret the manuscript’s pictorial contents in the light of events surrounding peace negotiations between England and France in 1489-90 and as a reflection of a use of renewed Plantagenet and Lancastrian claims to the French throne and a mythical royal ancestry in the early Tudor propaganda.






Interpretation and Astrology in a Medieval Manuscript
By Maud Pérez-Simon. Maud Pérez-Simon is Assistant Professor of Medieval Studies at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3.

PHOTO: Royal MS. 20 B. XX, f.86v Stillbirth of a Monstrous Child
British Library. Royal MS. 20 B. XX, f.86v Stillbirth of a Monstrous Child


Royal MS. 20 B. XX is a small but lavishly illuminated copy of the French prose Alexander romance made in the 1420s. Its iconography is remarkable in the medieval tradition for a number of scenes in which the illuminator has concentrated on themes of divination by means of astrology and portents. The interpretation of signs and symbols in this Roman d’Alexandre en prose is both an element in the narrative and an invitation to the reader to decipher the inner meaning of text and image




The Bestiary in British Library, Royal MS. 2 C. XII and its Role in Medieval Education
By Ilya Dines. Ilya Dines is an historian whose research interests focus on medieval encyclopedism, education, and manuscripts. He currently directs the Cataloguing Project of Western Manuscripts at the National Library of Israel.

PHOTO: London, BL, Royal MS. 2 C. XII, f.
British Library. London, BL, Royal MS. 2 C. XII, f.


The process of medieval education is still very obscure to us, and indeed very little is known about how texts were used in schools. This is particularly true of the role and function of the influential genre of medieval bestiaries in the process of educating novices and pupils in cathedral schools and monasteries. The Royal collection contains one peculiar manuscript, namely Royal 2 C. XII, a bestiary of the so-called BIs Family, made in the first quarter of the thirteenth century, probably at the abbey of St Peter at Gloucester. The text of this bestiary was published at the end of nineteenth century, and thus Royal 2 C. XII is one of the first bestiaries published by modern scholars. The published text has almost nothing exceptional, and it was perhaps for this reason that this manuscript has been almost absolutely neglected by specialists in the field. Nevertheless, the manuscript (contrary to almost all other known manuscripts of this genre) has a large number of contemporary glosses, which were not published, and which shed a light on how the bestiary was used and how students were intended to learn the basic tenets of Christian doctrine from its stories about animals and birds.

Constructing Saint Louis in John the Good’s Grandes Chroniques de France (Royal MS. 16 G. VI)

By Anne D. Hedeman. Anne D. Hedeman is Judith Harris Murphy Distinguished Professor of Art History at the University of Kansas.

British Library:  Priam sending Paris, the rape of Helen, and the siege of Troy. Royal MS. 16 G. VI, f. 4v.
British Library: Priam sending Paris, the rape of Helen, and the siege of Troy. Royal MS. 16 G. VI, f. 4v.


In the 1330s a new, revised, densely illuminated copy of the Grandes Chroniques de France was made for the John, the dauphin of France who would be crowned King John the Good in 1350. Containing a twice-revised text and over 400 one- and two-column wide illuminations, the chronicle breaks from prior and subsequent royal traditions of illustration. This article argues that the visual and textual expansions were designed to elide the chronicle with a contemporary copy of Vincent of Beauvais’s Miroir historial also made for John. Because the manuscripts share format, mise-en-page, artists, secondary decoration and distinctive editing practice, their similarities would encourage readers to use the miroir and chroniques as an ambitious four volume world history that offered John interlaced genealogical frames for interpreting history and a particularly powerful model in Saint Louis.



Royal Manuscripts Conference Papers Now Online


The Shrewsbury Book from Rouen, 1444–45 British Library, Royal 15 E. vi, ff. 2v


Royal Manuscripts. The Genius of Illumination.
By Scot McKendrick, John Lowden and Kathleen Doyle
British Library 2011
ISBN 9780712358163



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