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Please note that these pages are from our old (pre-2010) website; the presentation of these pages may now appear outdated and may not always comply with current accessibility guidelines.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

Bede Writings on the Calendar, etc
England, Durham: twelfth century (second quarter)
MS Hunter 85 (T.4.2)

Written at the monastery of Durham by a number of scribes during the second quarter of the twelfth century, this manuscript is a compilation of several works mainly concerning the use of the Calendar, by the Venerable Bede, Abbo of Fleury, Hyginus, and others. It is closely related to, and in part probably copied from, another manuscript still at Durham (Hunter 100). Although its early ownership inscription has been excised, it still bears the Durham Cathedral pressmark 2a. 3i. T. dating from the period 1416-1446 when the books were placed in a new library.

The second item in the manuscript is a copy of Bede's 19 Year Cycles, covering the period 1-1253 A.D. The main interest of this text lies in the accompanying annals, added until the year 1199; one opening displayed below (folios 24v-25r) includes the entry for 1066. One of the scribes of the annals has been identified by David Rollason as that of the historian and chronicler Symeon of Durham (d. after 1129). Symeon's hand has been recognised in some thirty manuscripts, mostly from Durham, suggesting that he was responsible for supervising the production of manuscripts as well as for writing texts. The major work of the volume is Bede's treatise of 725 On the Reckoning of Time. Amplifying his earlier work On Times, the book was intended to provide Bede's students with a theoretical outline to increase their understanding of computation and the calendar. The text is introduced by an initial 'D' in red, green, blue, yellow and purple (folio 35r). It contains a seated representation of the author, identified by the inscription 'S. BEDA. P[resbiter]'; the opening words of the preface De natura rerum et ratione temporum... appear on the scroll he holds.

See also the January 2001 'book of the month' feature on this manuscript with further information and images.

folio 19v

folios 24v-25r

folio 35r

folio 92r

Alexander of Tralles Practice of Medicine, and other texts
England: mid twelfth century
  MS Hunter 435 (V.5.5)

The chief work of this medical compendium is the handbook of the Greek physician Alexander of Tralles, who practised pharmacy in Rome in the mid sixth century, prescribing remedies like iron for anaemia and rhubarb for liver weakness and dysentery. The other works include a pharmacopoeia, an explanation of medical terms, and a treatise on the diseases of women.

Major coloured initials introduce each book of the Practice, as shown below (folios 2r and 45r). These swirling arabesque designs in red, blue and green incorporate trilobe leaf shapes that suggest that this manuscript was produced in the West Country. As well as being decorative, these initials act as mnemonic cues and perform a useful navigational function in this pragmatic text. The incorporation of indexing tools and apparatus was still in its infancy in the twelfth century, and readers would rely on the layout of text to access information quickly and easily. Although each book is prefaced by a rudimentary listing of contents (as seen on 1v and 44v), there is no reference to pagination or chapter numbering to aid quick reference. There are, however, also vellum place holders to aid finding the main sections in lieu of pagination or foliation; these are now folded down, but would originally have stuck out of the text block effectively marking the start of each new book. One is visible in the top left hand corner of folio 44v.

folios 1v-2r

folio 11r

folio 44v

folio 45r

Statutes of the Realm
England: fourteenth century (first half)
MS Gen 336

This pocket copy of the laws of England was doubtless written for an itinerant lawyer. The collection is prefaced by two illuminated pages (folios 9v-10r) depicting a Crucifixion and an image of an enthroned king - the conjunction of Church and state. Although the manuscript was probably produced in England, the style of the Crucifixion is close to a type found in a group of Fenland psalters of the early fourteenth century. The text opens with the Magna Carta; this copies the third re-issue of the charter by Henry III, made in 1225. Written in a mixture of Latin and French, the last statute entered (as an addition) dates from the early 1350s, some ten years before Edward III ordered that the use of French in the courts should be discontinued.

folio 9v

folio 10r

folio 26r

folios 194v-195r

John of Arderne  Mirror of Phlebotomy & Practice of Surgery
England: late fourteenth/early fifteenth century  MS Hunter 112 (T.5.14)

Arderne, of Newark in Nottinghamshire, was surgeon to the royal household and to the army for much of the middle years of the Fourteenth Century, and may have developed his skills on active service with the armies during the Hundred Years' War. He was born in 1307 and died some time after issuing, in 1376, this treatise on the cure of anal fistula, one of the deadliest operations in medieval surgery. Thought to have lost only half of his fistula patients, he was considered a remarkably successful surgeon; his great advance at the time was to avoid the corrosive after-care treatment used by other practitioners. In other respects, Arderne was more traditional, practising astrology for the prevention of ailments, diagnosis, treatment and prognostication of the outcome. The 'zodiac man' illustrated on folio 48v shows which parts of the body were influenced by which astrological sign, thus indicating the most auspicious times for performing operations.

The need for navigational apparatus in practical texts such as this had become fairly well established by the Fourteenth Century. This manuscript is foliated and boasts a comprehensive index that refers to both texts. Although the alphabetical order of the index is only rudimentary (strict alphabetical order not being adhered to beyond grouping each topic under its appropriate letter), a combination of rubrication and underlining of keywords makes finding specific subjects easy, while access to the precise location of each topic in the text is facilitated by the citation of both a folio number and a letter (flagged up in red in the margin of the folio). Thus, in the examples shown below, the entry for 'Agrippa' is found on the index page (folio 97r) at the top of the 'A' section with the reference 'folio vi a'; upon turning to folio 6v, the section dealing with 'Agrippa' will indeed be found opposite the initial 'a' in the margin (it is flagged up by a red paraph marker). This treatise also contains some of the best examples from the Middle Ages of diagrams of instruments and of treatments to be effected, closely co-ordinated with the text. The illustrations performed a practical function in demonstrating visually techniques and examples of plants and herbs to be used in making up curative recipes; they were vital in the transmission of the text, and were faithfully copied from manuscript to manuscript. They would also have helped to give each page an individual layout, making pages memorable and thereby aiding reader in find information mnemonically. This manuscript has obviously been well used, and there are extensive annotations by early readers, including additions of medical recipes.

folios 6v-7r

folio 44r

folio 48v

folio 97r

Cartulary of the Holy Trinity, Aldgate
England, London: 1425-1427
  MS Hunter 215 (U.2.6)

Queen Matilda founded the Augustinian priory of the Holy Trinity in Aldgate in 1108. An important monastic house from its inception, it enjoyed royal patrons and the support of many of the citizens of London. This volume of its charters was put together by Brother Thomas de Axbridge between 1425 and 1427. In the introduction he explains that one of the reasons he made it was in order to facilitate the collection of rents, for, he says, 'the world has progressed to such evil and contradicts ancient facts unless copies of charters are everywhere produced in evidence'. He tells us that he made use of ancient books in its compilation, and arranged his work according to parishes. With its detailed record of leases, agreements, rentals and the like, the Cartulary provides a wealth of information, not only on the social and economic life of medieval London, but also on its topography and changing land use. A professional production, the decoration of the Aldgate Cartulary is rich when it is compared with other books of its type. Richly gilt and flourishing initials adorn many pages, and the openings of the main sections are particularly ornamental. An opening at the beginning of the section relating to the 'Soca extra Algate' is displayed below (folio 150r); as well being enhanced by painted initials and floral sprays, there is a tinted drawing of a mitred ecclesiastic: this is probably purely decorative and cannot be regarded as representing anybody.

The manuscript fell into private hands after the dissolution of the priory in 1532. In the sixteenth century it belonged for a time to the Elizabethan antiquary, Stephen Batman, and was used by John Stow in his Survey of London (1598).

See also the August 2002 'book of the month' feature on this manuscript with further information and images.

folio 1r

folio 2r

folio 5r

folio 150r

Letters patent
Westminster: 1589  MS Gen 762

The term 'letters patent' refers to an open letter or document, usually from a sovereign or person in authority. They could be issued for various administrative purposes - such as recording a contract or agreement, to confer a privilege or office, or to authorize or command something to be done. They were delivered open with a seal attached and designed to be read as a proclamation; hence they were open (or 'patent') for all to read, as opposed to the type of document referred to as 'letters close', which were sealed closed in order that only the recipient could read them. They were similar to charters in administrative function, but tended to be more wide ranging in nature and less formally composed.

This document is dated 8 February 1589. It is written in a chancery script on a single side of vellum, and its authority is conferred by the seal of Queen Elizabeth I. It relates to the purchase in 1587 of Hertford Priory (formerly a Benedictine Priory) by one Martin Stott.

whole document

vellum text in greater detail

back of seal

Return to top of page