The British Library Diary for 2014 is exquisite! Page after page of fantastic manuscripts, in rich jewel-like colours, greet each week. The images are taken from the collection of Royal Manuscripts given to the nation by George II in 1757, but with additional miniatures from selected other collections too. The cover (right) shows the Earl of Shrewsbury, with his sumptuous red velvet and fur-lined robe, decorated with circular blue and gold Orders of the Garter, presenting his book to Margaret of Anjou. It doesn’t look a very happy court, though; no-one is looking in the least bit pleased, and most seem to be actually sneering! The backcloth of blue and red squares shows the arms of England at the time. The claim to lands in France meant that the gold fleur-de-lis on a blue background took precedent in heraldry to the gold leopards of England on a red background.
The very sharp printing means that it is possible to see all the details. In this miniature from the Bedford Hours (c.1410–30), Clovis, who became the first king to unite France in 481 when he was 15 years of age, is being helped on with his armour. At the same time his queen, Clothilde, is handing him his shield showing the arms of France. Note the cute little dog looking on admiringly, and the rather pathetic stone lions guarding the entrance. In the upper part of the miniature, God is giving a cloth painted with the French arms to an angel, indicating that Clovis was a Christian and so blessed. In the countryside around there is a rather fierce lion, a rabbit munching a very red apple, and a wolf making off with a sheep, and the shepherd shaking his fists as a consequence.
Another book being presented is depicted in this miniature of c.1475. Here the author Jean de Wavrin is painted on his knees in front of Edward IV. The king’s robes again show the gold fleur-de-lis on a blue background, and they contrast with the rather dull grey of the writer’s clothes. Edward’s throne is quite magnificent with a wonderful red back cloth and an interesting trefoil decoration attached quite high up. Two hats are quite fun, and must have looked rather strange when viewed from the front, as the large black plumes on the blue (right) and green (left) hats look as it they would have stuck up rather like coxcombs! The burgundy wallpaper does look particularly fine. Note the arms of England sliding off the bottom of the page, with France in the first and third quarters, which are always regarded as the most important in heraldry, and England in the second and third – less important.
This miniature from the Wells Apocalypse (early 14th century) shows the writing very clearly, and the prescissus, or cut off, endings to the letters are really distinctive. Note the tops of the ascenders of the letters l in the third line, and the bottoms to the letters i, u, s (looks a bit like an f) and i in the fourth line. Some think that these shapes were made by simply turning the pen to its full width horizontally, but the letters l suggest a different method. Note the little tail at the top on the right hand side, particularly with the second l (line 3). This small tail indicates that the letter was started from the right and then the pen was moved down to the left to make the downstroke. The tail wafting in from the left and the thickening of the stroke at the top was then added on afterwards. Similarly, the bottom of the strokes are made by maintaining the pen nib at an angle of about 30° which results in a slanting end to the letter, and then ‘filling’ in the rest of the stroke to make it look cut off at the end. Sadly the woman shown in the initial A doesn’t look too impressed by it all, despite her very elaborate headdress!