University of Glasgow


Part of the Library and University Services

Please note that these pages are from our old (pre-2010) website; the presentation of these pages may now appear outdated and may not always comply with current accessibility guidelines.

English Language Honours Options

Reading the Past: from script to print
Late Medieval English Literature 

Resources in Special Collections

  Home Page for Medieval mss.
  Religious and devotional mss. 
  Pragmatic mss.
   Late Medieval literary mss
  Histories & chronicles

Gregory I  Pastoral Care
England: tenth/eleventh century MS Hunter 431 (V.5.1)

This is one of a small group (comprising less than two dozen) of surviving manuscripts of the Fathers written in pre-Conquest Caroline minuscule. This text of the Pastoral Care is of particular interest in that the first 102 folios appear to have been copied by three scribes in the early eleventh century from an exemplar in Welsh minuscule or, less probably, Irish minuscule, which they could not read correctly. They extend certain abbreviations wrongly and preserve abbreviations that they did not understand; common mistakes include writing tunc for tamen, etin for etiam, and sunt for sed. In the twelfth century, the book was carefully corrected and fifty-six new leaves added. At this period, the book was in the keeping of the library of Worcester Cathedral. This has been established from the presence of some marginalia in the 'tremulous' Worcester hand - the hand of a late twelfth or early thirteenth century monk whose glosses have pinpointed the Worcester provenance of many manuscripts. An example of his distinctive hand is shown below in the margins of folio 16v and 140r.

folio 1r: beginning of text

folio 13v

folio 16v

opening: folios 139v - 140r

Boethius The Consolation of Philosophy 
England: c.1120-1140 MS Hunter 279 (U.5.19)

Although this manuscript has been sadly mutilated, remains of its illustrations have survived. It originally contained a drawing of Boethius in prison of which only a fragment survives (folio 31r), as well as large capitals at the beginning of each book, but only the 'D' for book 5 still exists (folio 54v). Another fragmentary drawing (folio 45v) shows Ulysses reaching safety even as the crew of the ship have been changed into animals by Circe. As Philosophy is explaining that a man who abandons goodness sinks to the level of an animal, she illustrates her meaning with a poem based on the Odyssey recounting how Ulysses is saved by Hermes from Circe's curse. The author of the gloss preserved in the manuscript discusses the significance of the Circe myth as an illustration of the principle of the relationship of all physical bodies, which enables one to be turned into another. This illustration is unique among extant Boethius manuscripts and it may well reflect the importance given to this incident by this unknown commentator.

The provenance of this manuscript is unknown, although the inscription 'david dei gracia Rex scotorum' (in the lower margin of folio 20r) in a contemporary hand referring to David I (1123-53) could be taken to suggest a northern origin. It is quite conceivable that the manuscript was produced in Durham, but there is no firm evidence for such an attribution. When the work was bequeathed to Glasgow University by William Hunter, it was bound up with two other twelfth century items, Cicero De Amicitia (MS Hunter 278) and Martianus Capella Satyricon (MS Hunter 280).

folio 31r

folio 20r

folio 45v

folio 54v (detail)

Bede Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles & Retractions on the Acts
England: mid twelfth century
  MS Hunter 438 (V.5.8)

Bede's reputation in the Middle Ages was primarily as a theologian; this manuscript contains his Expositio Actuum Apostolorum and Retractatio in Actus Apostolorum, together with the glossary of geographical names sometimes attributed to St Jerome but probably by Bede. The book is written in Caroline minuscule and decorated with coloured ornamental initials in red, green, and violet. Large penwork initials mark the openings of major sections: their motifs of men and dragons fighting in the coils of entangling foliage are carried over from earlier Anglo-Norman manuscripts containing beasts and monsters. The initial 'A' shown here (folio 74r) depicts a lion and a winged dragon in a deadly embrace. It is a fine example of the controlled draughtsmanship of Romanesque art.

folio 1r

folio 74r

folio 81v

folio 82v

Hunterian Psalter
England: c.1170  MS Hunter 229 (U.3.2)
*access to the original manuscript is restricted*

One of a small group of elaborately illuminated twelfth century English psalters, this book is regarded as the greatest treasure of Dr William Hunter's magnificent eighteenth century library. Hunter acquired the manuscript in France amongst several other lots at the Jean-Louis Gaignat sale of 10 April 1769; he paid 50 livres and one sou for the Psalter - at the time, he was generally paying three times as much for early printed books.

The Psalter is a book of private devotion; popular in the early Middle Ages, it was supplanted by the Book of Hours in the Thirteenth Century. This manuscript opens with a calendar illustrated by the traditional labours of each month and signs of the zodiac. The month for February (folio 1v) is shown below. In common with a small group of extant Twelfth Century psalters, the main text is preceded by a sequence of thirteen richly illuminated full-page scenes from both the Old and New Testaments (folio 13v depicting doubting Thomas and Jesus saving Peter on the sea of Tiberias shown below), followed by further historiated and decorated initials to the end. The style is a mixture of Byzantine modelling and English linear pattern. A splendid example of Romanesque art, the pages retain their original brilliance and vivid colours. The identity of the undoubtedly wealthy patron who commissioned the manuscript's production is unknown, although it may possibly have been Roger de Mowbray (d.1188), from one of the greatest Anglo-Norman families of the twelfth century. Having been a crusader, he had a knowledge of the sacred sites of the Holy Land and also founded the Augustinian houses of Byland and Newburgh near to his castle in Thirsk: these two houses were sacked by Henry VIII's commissioners in 1539/40 and it is argued that at this point the psalter must have been removed and somehow taken to France. Given the number of northern saints commemorated in the calendar (Cuthbert and his translation, Wilfrid, John of Beverley and Oswald), it is likely that its first owner did reside in a Northern Diocese, while three commemorations of St Augustine points to a connection with the Augustinian Canons. It is possible that the various scenes of life on a seigneurial estate may depict that of Roger's.

The manuscript consists of some 200 carefully selected vellum leaves, gathered in 29 quires.  It is written in an English proto-Gothic book hand: the slightly oval shape of the 'o's and the lozenge shaped thickening of the tops of the minims demonstrate the shift in script from English Caroline. Its script and initials show close similarities to another English psalter now preserved in the Royal Library, Copenhagen (MS Thott 143), and it is probable that the two manuscripts were produced in the same scriptorium. Neither this nor the Copenhagen Psalter has an entry in the Calendar for Thomas Becket, which suggests that they were completed some time before his canonization in 1173. The dioceses of Canterbury, York and Lincoln have all been proposed as possible places of production, but nothing is known for certain. While York is a reasonable place of origin for the scriptorium, the evidence is not firm enough to justify for the manuscript the title of 'York Psalter' as it has previously been known. 

Several intriguing annotations and amendments hint at past owners of the manuscript. There are post twelfth century additions for a female supplicant (folios 208r-210v) following the Collects; the word endings are later changed to plural male. There is considerable marginalia in French throughout. Most enigmatic of all is a thirteenth century inscription found in the margin of the last folio; this appears to provide in Latin the instructions for the preparation and adminstration of an amulet - to be sanctified at the altar with the Mass of the Holy Ghost and then suspended from the neck of a person afflicted with epilepsy or, perhaps, in danger of death. The language of the charm seems to be in a corrupted form of Old English.

Folio 21v depicts King David, the traditional author of the psalter. He is surrounded by his musicians, with the musical notes ut, re, mi, fa etc above the row of bells at the top.

See also the on-line Treasures Exhibition for further images from this manuscript.

folio 1v

folio 13v

folio 21v

folio 197r

Devotional and Philosophical Writings
England, London: c.1325-1335
  MS Hunter 231 (U.3.4)

This compilation of thirty-eight texts includes six works from St Augustine, fourteen by or attributed to Seneca, Anselm's Orationes, and several anonymous works. It was made for Roger of Waltham (d.1336), Canon of St Paul's, London, and Keeper of the Wardrobe of Edward II (1 May 1322 to 19 October 1323). Lavishly produced, the manuscript is illustrated by thirteen historiated initials and three illuminated full-page pictures by the chief artist of the Taymouth Hours. All three are displayed below. Depicted are: the Coronation of the Virgin (p. 83), a scene found in a number of psalters of the period; a page divided into three compartments, showing the face of God with angels bearing the soul of Bishop Germanus, St Benedict and St Paul contemplating the Creator, and Roger and another figure praying on either side of a diagram of the twelve spheres (p.85); and a portrait of Plato and Artistotle flanking Seneca (p. 276). Roger is also named as the supplicant in three other illustrations in the book; it was exceptional for philosophical texts to contain illustrations in the fourteenth century, and it may be assumed that Roger was closely involved in their selection. He is also known as the author of a treatise on moral philosophy focusing on the virtues and duties of princes, largely based upon Seneca.

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.

page 83

page 85

page 89 (detail)

page 276

Book of Hours and Psalter
England:  mid fifteenth century  MS Hunter 268  (U.5.8)

The workmanship of this richly ornamented manuscript is of a very high standard. Included are whole-page illuminated frames incorporating fine leafwork and flower forms, as well as an extensive use of gold, with gilt letters and sprays on nearly every page. 

The text begins with a Calendar in black and red, which has been badly cropped.  The Book of Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary is followed by the much rarer text of the Hours of the Name of Jesus. This is followed by the Psalter, Canticles and Litany. An alphabetical index to the Psalms has been added at the end in the hand of Anthony Cope, who signs the book in several  places - including an ownership inscription at the beginning which reads "Anthonius Coope me possidet | Anno Domini 1553" (Anthony Cope owns me .. 1553) and a signature on the opening page (folio 1r), as shown below. Cope also adds some Latin verses and a medical receipt for cancer on folio 176r.

folio 1r

folio 23r

folio 37r

folio 170v

  Return to top