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Book of the Month

June 2008

Manuscript Compilation

Devotional & Philosophical Writings

London: c. 1325-1335
Sp Coll MS Hunter 231 (U.3.4)

Our June book is a 14th century manuscript miscellany of 38 texts, including works by Seneca, St Augustine, and Aristotle. Lavishly produced and glittering with gold, the volume is illustrated by 13 historiated initials and 3 illuminated full-page pictures by the chief artist of the Taymouth Hours. 

illumination at head of page 81 accompanying an unknown author's hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary

historiated initial accompanying a Eucharistic hymn and prayer (page 49)

The volume is a personal compilation of works intended for private use. Consisting of some 485 pages on vellum, included are a series of devotional texts, treatises on morals and the liberal arts (drawing primarily upon Seneca), some scientific writings of Aristotle, and excerpts from philosophical treatises.

The first 98 pages are dedicated to religious devotional works. The works of Saint Anselm, Hugh of Saint Victor, Saint Augustine, Saint Bernard and Saint Benedict are represented, as well as several meditations, hymns and prayers to Mary of unknown authorship. Many of the items are illustrated by illuminated historiated initials*. Two magnificent full page miniatures are also found in this section.

The middle part of the book (pages 99-274) largely consists of works by or excerpted from Seneca. It is illustrated by four historiated initials and an arresting full page picture of the philosophers Seneca, Plato and Aristotle.

The final section of the manuscript contains a compilation of texts by Aristotle (or pseudo-Aristotle). There is also a dialogue on the nature of man by an unknown author, an excerpt from Isaac Israeli's 10th century treatise on Philosophy, and a commentary on the Lord's Prayer. On the last page is a copy of St Augustine's Creed.

The current binding is from the 17th century, although repaired and rebacked in the 1960s. A contemporary listing of contents bound in amongst the preliminary leaves includes details of some works not now found in the volume, indicating that some of its contents have been lost or extracted since it was first made in the 14th century.


* an historiated initial is when a letter incorporates an identifiable scene or figures, often linked to the accompanying text

 historiated initial and text beginning St Augustine's On the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (page 36)

The manuscript has been well used and its margins are annotated by a number of hands. Although some of the pages have been soiled and marked over time, the high quality of its illustrations suggests that it must have been commissioned by a person of some wealth. Unusually, in this case, we do know who originally owned it. Although the manuscript is not inscribed by any early owner, there are visual clues in many of the illustrations where a figure is found repeatedly: dressed either in a red or blue gown, tonsured, and often kneeling as a supplicant, this figure is identified as "Rogerus" by the text banderoles that accompany several of the pictures.
It seems that the book was made for Roger of Waltham (d. 1332x41). A rich administrator, Roger was a clerk of Antony Bek, the Bishop of Durham. He held several benefices in the north, and was a Canon of St Paul's London. He also held the important administrative position of Keeper of the Wardrobe of Edward II for a year in the 1320s, and was nominated by Edward to the archdeaconry of Buckingham in the diocese of Lincoln; probably intended as a reward for royal service, this had to be cancelled when it was discovered that the previous incumbent was still alive.

The connection between Roger of Waltham and this manuscript was first established in 1953 by Richard Hunt (1908-1979), Keeper of Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. A letter (still kept in the annotated catalogue to the Hunterian manuscripts) from the great manuscripts scholar Dr Otto Pacht (1902-1988) documents how he showed photographs of the illustrations to Hunt who suggested Roger of Waltham as the possible identity of "Rogerus". Pacht states that "Investigating this hypothesis I came to the conclusion that Dr Hunt is absolutely right. Roger of W. is the author of a compilation of moral philosophy based mainly on Seneca. Now Seneca is one of the principal authors in MS. U.3.4 and he holds the centre of the philosophical Trinity on fol. 276. Stylistically the MS. has to be dated exactly in the period of Roger of W."


historiated initial accompanying hymns to
the Blessed Virgin Mary (page 50)


detail of Seneca from full page miniature (page 276)

The work that Hunt refers to is Roger of Waltham's Compendium morale. Surviving in several manuscript copies, this is a treatise of moral philosophy that focuses on princely virtues. As noted by Pacht, it is largely derivative, drawing much from Seneca, but also quoting extensively from the Bible and other classical sources. Its author was obviously widely read.

The identification of Roger of Waltham as the first owner of the manuscript has subsequently been reinforced by Lucy Freeman Sandler (New York University) who has researched the manuscript in detail and written several articles about it. Having compared its contents with the Compendium, she has confirmed that they each contain five of the same devotional texts; furthermore, the original contents list two more works that appear in the Compendium but that are now missing from our manuscript. Like the Compendium, it is likely that Roger was closely involved in the selection of texts for this manuscript, even though it was intended for his own private use rather than circulation.

The named portraits of Roger are all found in the devotional section of the manuscript. A distinctive figure, he is depicted in either a red or blue furred gown; almost always shown kneeling with hands raised in supplication, he focuses on the object of his devotion. The images represent visually the concept of the accompanying text. The initial shown to the right here, for example, is placed with Stephen Salley's Meditations on the XV Joys of the Blessed Virgin Mary: the first meditation is on Mary's motherhood of God, and appropriately the picture depicts Mary as a nursing mother. The text scroll reads "'Be merciful to Roger, Virgin Mary with your Son".

The incorporation of owner portraits in the illustrative scheme of medieval manuscripts is fairly common - these were, after all, hand made and expensive individual commissions. According to Sandler, the majority of these images are found in devotional books such as this, intended for personal meditation and prayer. The images were added to enhance spiritual experience in reading the text, while the inclusion of a portrait was a physical and lasting manifestation of that person's devotion to God, hopefully helping to fast track them a place in heaven. In this manuscript, Roger's "hope for heavenly favour is expressed repeatedly in the speech scrolls" transforming even standard images into "unique and individual representations". We know that Roger also endowed a lavishly painted chantry chapel in St Paul's in 1323, at about the same time that this manuscript was produced; priests were paid to say masses and prayers for him and his family in order to help speed their souls to heaven. As Sandler states, "Roger clearly believed in the power of images and precious materials, as well as the power of prayer".

historiated initial accompanying Stephen of Salley's Meditations
on the XV Joys of the Blessed Virgin Mary (page 62)

historiated initial accompanying St Bernard's On the
Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary (page 53)

There are a number of unusual subjects treated in the devotional illustrations, including the initial of the Crucifixion that illustrates St Bernard's meditation On the compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It faces a hymn on the sorrows of the Virgin that describes her soul as being transfixed by a sword: consequently, the illustration shows a sword piercing her body.

page beginning St Bernard's On the
Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary (page 53)

Sandler points out that depictions of Mary as a nursing mother are also fairly rare. As well as the example mentioned already (page 62), there is another instance in an initial that accompanies John Peckham's Philomena. In this poem, the soul meditates on the life and passion of Christ, living through a mystic day before dying of love as the nightingale dies through the passion of her song. The two historiated initials found at the beginning of the text reflect this subject matter: in the upper 'C', Christ's life (his infancy, public ministry, and death on the crucifix) is summarised, while in the lower 'P', a figure reminiscent of Roger reaches up to a nightingale (the 'Philomena' of the poem).

historiated initial accompanying Seneca's
Treatise on the Seven Liberal Arts (page 123)

Several initials that illustrate the "Senecan" philosophical part of the manuscript show scenes of teaching and book learning. Above, a disciple (again, possibly a depiction of Roger) sits before Seneca as he teaches from his open book.

historiated initials accompanying John Peckham's
 Philomena (page 89)

full page miniature of the Coronation of the Virgin following hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary (page 83)

historiated initial accompanying hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary (page 82)


The historiated initials found in the first two sections of the manuscript are fascinating, but the chief glory of the book are in its three full page miniatures.

The first is of the Coronation of the Virgin, a scene found in a number of psalters of the period. Christ is shown placing a crown on Mary's head as she sits in an attitude of devotion. The grouping of the figures of Christ and Mary is standard. but no other representation from the same period incorporates text scrolls. Very much a feature of this manuscript, the scroll which emanates from Roger (kneeling at the foot of a flight of steps) reads "Ruling with your son let a realm be prepared for Roger".

Perhaps the most striking illustration is that which couples the rapturous visions of God that were experienced separately by Saint Benedict and Saint Paul through contemplation. A blazing light appeared to Benedict while he was in prayer, in the splendour of which he saw the soul of Germanus, Bishop of Capua, being carried to heaven by angels. Paul is said to have experienced a similar blinding revelation. According to Sandler, the two visions are brought together here as meditative models to bring the reader closer to God.

Divided into three compartments, the giant face of God - surrounded by flames and radiant streams of light - is at the top. In the background are four angels, one holding up the naked soul of a mitred Bishop Germanus. In the middle - positioned between heaven and earth - are Benedict and Paul. Benedict holds a crozier in his left hand, gazing upwards as he kneels and points with his right forefinger to the diagram of the Universe below. Paul kneels in adoration behind a huge sword, point downwards. In the lower compartment, Roger and another figure (possibly Roger again), are shown praying on either side of a diagram of the twelve spheres. The two speech scrolls read: "All creating I beg, as I hope, have mercy on Roger" and "May all things created by God be my medicine".

The figure of God found here is a possible model for a similar miniature found in the Omne Bonum manuscript (BL Royal 6 E VI-VII), a fourteenth century encyclopaedia of universal knowledge.


full page miniatures accompanying
St Benedict's Vision of the Universe (page 85)

detail of lower compartment of full page miniature from St Benedict's Vision of the Universe depicting the spheres (page 85)

The image of the spheres represents the medieval view of the cosmological universe. The stationary earth is at centre - here depicted by the Fall of Man - surrounded by the three remaining elements (water, air and fire), the seven known planets (including the moon), and the stars orbiting the earth in concentric rings. Such diagrams of the universe were common in medieval astronomical and mathematical manuscripts.

full page miniature depicting Plato, Seneca & Aristotle (page 276)

In the last full page miniature, Plato (left), Seneca (middle), and Aristotle (right) stand dressed in Doctors' caps and fur-lined gowns. All hold open books before them, to which Plato and Seneca point their right forefingers, while Aristotle raises his right hand with a didactic gesture. The books are inscribed with quotations from each of their writings, each sentence summing up the chief message of its author as transmitted in the medieval period. Beryl Smalley explains that the three ancient philosophers are here presented according to the medieval iconography of the Blessed Trinity (i.e. the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). Seneca, the favourite moralist of the Middle ages here replaces God in the centre of the picture.

The lavish use of raised gold in the background is clearly seen in this illustration. Here, the gold has been incised in a pattern of stars and lozenges. Such patterns increase the eye catching quality of the burnished gold, truly illuminating the page.

The miniatures and historiated initials are clearly the work of one artist, identified by Sandler as the Master of Taymouth Hours. The Taymouth Hours (British Library Yates Thompson 13) is an illuminated Book of Hours that was probably produced c. 1325-1335. Given Roger's association with court, it is likely that this artist worked in London. According to Thorp, the illustrations in our manuscript "offer a fascinating example of his range of treatment, subject matter and decorative design".

historiated initial and beginning of text of spurious correspondence between St Paul and Seneca (page 99)

Despite the lavish illustrations, the script of the manuscript is a rather hurried Anglicana, presenting a somewhat workmanlike appearance at odds with the illuminations. Exceptionally, the writing on each page starts above the top line - a practice generally discontinued from about 1230. The text is otherwise broken up by the standard use of rubrications for headings and penwork initials to flag up the start of different sections.

annotations on flyleaf (folio v recto)


annotations on flyleaves  (folios iv verso and v recto)

There are several annotations in the flyleaves that offer clues about the book's history in between its ownership by Roger of Waltham and William Hunter (1718-1783), who bequeathed the book to the University of Glasgow at the end of the 18th century. One of these was once supposed to be the monogram of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), the Lord Chancellor of England - however, this theory was disputed by A. I Doyle who has suggested that "it may be nothing more than an elaborate 'Jesus mercy'". Below this is an 17th century ownership inscription of one Andrew Bridge, about whom nothing is known. Underneath this, in an 18th century hand, the title of the manuscript is given ("Meditationes ad s. Trinitatem cum 32 al. Tracti, eiusdem Author ...") followed by what is probably a price "2.12.6". This is possibly the inscription of the bookseller Thomas Osborne (1704?-1767). The most celebrated bookseller of his day, he bought up and sold the collections of many eminent individuals, including the Harleian Library books. A catalogue of his indicates that this manuscript was once in his possession: it was probably sold to Hunter from his collection in 1768.

historiated initial accompanying Seneca's Treatise on Composition (page 110)

This beautiful manuscript will be on display from mid June until October 2008 in the Hunterian Museum as part of the Hunter: man, medic and collector exhibition.

O. M. Brack, 'Osborne, Thomas (bap. 1704?, d. 1767)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 28 May 2008]

M. C. Buck 'Waltham, Roger (d. 1332x41)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 20 May 2008]

The Oxford book of medieval Latin verse Newly selected and edited by F.J.E. Raby Oxford: 1959 Level 10 Classics Z322 1959-R [particularly for information about "Philomena"]

L.F. Sandler 'Face to face with God: a pictorial image of the Beatific vision' England in the fourteenth century: proceedings of the 1985 Harlaxton symposium edited by W.M. Ormrod Woodbridge: 1986, pp. 225-35 Level 8 History DH220 ENG

L.F. Sandler 'The image of the book-owner in the fourteenth-century: three cases of self definition' England in the fourteenth century: proceedings of the 1991 Harlaxton symposium edited by Nicholas Rogers Stamford: 1993, pp 58-80 Level 8 History DH220 ENG2

L.F. Sandler 'The chantry of Rogerof Waltham in Old St Pauls' The medieval English cathedral: papers in honour of Pamela Tudor-Craig: proceedings of the 1998 Harlaxton Symposium edited by Janet Backhouse. Donington: 2003, pp.168-190 Level 11 Fine Arts J4830 HAR

Beryl Smalley English friars and antiquity in the early fourteenth century Blackwell: 1960 Level 10 Theology JD80 SMA [particularly for information about the illustration of the three philosophers which is used as a frontispiece to the book]

K.A. Smith Art, identity and devotion in fourteenth-century England: three women and their books of hours London: 2003, pp 120-123 Level 11 Bibliog B162:11 2003-S

Nigel Thorp The glory of the page London: 1987, no. 27 Sp Coll Ref

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Julie Gardham June 2008