Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in Trinity College Library: A Domesday Dossier

The Wren Library holds two manuscripts with close connections to the Domesday Book and it is exciting to report that one of them (O.2.41) is now displayed adjacent to Great Domesday itself as part of the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. Both of the Trinity manuscripts are referred to as ‘Liber Eliensis’ (‘The Book of Ely’) and contain various material relating to Ely abbey.  By the time of the Norman Conquest the Abbey was one of the largest and wealthiest endowments in England, second only to Glastonbury. Both manuscripts were copied in the later twelfth century and by the seventeenth century came into the possession of Thomas Gale (1635/6-1702), Fellow of Trinity and Dean of York, whose extensive collection of manuscripts was presented to Trinity by his son Roger Gale in 1738.

O.2.41_f. vi verso: Ely calendar including, on 23 June, the Feast of St Etheldreda

The older of the two manuscripts (O.2.41) comprises four main items: a calendar including Ely saints; the ‘book of Bishop Aethelwold’ describing the expansion of Ely abbey and its endowments; a cartulary of Ely abbey (a collection of transcripts of legal charters); and a copy of the Inquisitio Eliensis, or ‘Ely Inquest’.

O.2.41, p. 161: the preface to the ‘Ely Inquest’, describing the inquisitio terrarum (‘enquiry into landed property’) undertaken by the king’s barons.

The Inquisitio is a dossier of information collected from the original returns made to King William’s commissioners for the Domesday survey of 1086. In this compilation the account covers all the lands in the possession of Ely abbey, which were spread across Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Huntingdonshire. The collection is prefaced by an explanation of the way in which the survey was undertaken, which lists the names of the men who gave sworn testimony in each district of Cambridgeshire and part of Hertfordshire. These names are particularly useful as they are among the material which was excised from the eventual compilation of the Domesday survey in the Great and Little Domesday Books.

O.2.1, fol. K14r: lists of Abbots, Bishops and Kings in the later Liber Eliensis

The second Liber Eliensis (O.2.1) was compiled slightly later than the first, at the end of the twelfth century, and has related but slightly different contents. It also begins with a calendar, but here listing not only saints but also benefactors as well as kings, abbots and bishops. This is followed by a history of Ely abbey, partly derived from the ‘book of bishop Aethelwold’, but also compiled from various other documents in the abbey. It includes an account of King Cnut rowing past the abbey and hearing the monks singing.

O.2.1, fol. 14v: Bishop Aethelwold and King Edgar seated beneath two arches

This is followed by a further copy of the Inquisitio Eliensis, which incorporates some information not found in the earlier manuscript. The final section of the manuscript contains the lives of six Ely saints: Seaxburh, Eormenhild, Eorcengota, Werburg, Aethelburh and Wihtburh.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War is at the British Library until 19 February 2019.








Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in Trinity College Library: The Eadwine Psalter

The third manuscript to feature in our series taking a closer look at manuscripts lent by Trinity College to the British Library’s major exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War is the Eadwine Psalter (R.17.1). This elaborate manuscript, almost half a metre tall, is included in Henry of Eastry’s catalogue of the library of Christ Church, Canterbury compiled around c. 1320. It is named – Tripatrum psalterium Edwini – for the Christ Church monk and scribe, Eadwine, who is pictured full-page at the end of the manuscript accompanied by the inscription: “the prince of scribes … whose genius the beauty of this book demonstrates”. In fact, a number of scribes and artists worked collaboratively on the Psalter.

R.17.1, f.283v

The psalter is a much enhanced copy of the Utrecht Psalter (also currently on display in London) with a very elaborate design. It contains Jerome’s Latin translations of the Psalms in three columns: the inner column (labelled HEBR) is a translation from Hebrew together with a translation into Anglo Norman French, the middle column (labelled ROM) a Roman version with a translation into Old English, and the main text (labelled GALL) is Jerome’s revision of the Romanum. There is also a marginal gloss in Latin in the outer margin. The psalter texts were copied first and the interlinear and marginal glosses were added subsequently.

R.17.1, f.23v

The psalter contains 166 coloured outlined drawings as well as hundreds of decorated initials. Each psalm is preceded by an illustration derived from the Utrecht Psalter made by one of at least three artists who worked on the manuscript.

Detail from R.17.1, f.36v

A date of production of the mid-12th century might be suggested by a marginal drawing and description in Old English of a comet (usually assumed to be Halley’s which appeared in 1145). It has been queried, though, whether this note originated in the Psalter: it may have been copied from elsewhere. Equally, the comet referred to may be one of several others which appeared in the 12th century.

Detail from R.17.1, f.10r

A plan of the waterworks at Christ Church, which from architectural evidence is known to have been made after 1153, appears after the painting of Eadwine. It was drawn onto blank leaves of the original bound manuscript. This unique diagram shows the plumbing system of the monastic complex which was, at the time it was devised, an innovative engineering achievement.

R.17.1, ff. 284v-285r

The Eadwine Psalter was produced and remained at Christ Church for most of the medieval period until it was given to Trinity College Library by Thomas Nevile (died 1615), Dean of Canterbury and Master of Trinity College.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War is at the British Library until 19 February 2019.

Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in Trinity College Library: De consolatione philosophiae

This is the second blog-post in a series taking a closer look at manuscripts lent by Trinity College to the British Library’s major exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War. This week, we focus on Boethius’ De consolatione philosophiae (O.3.7).

O.3.7, f.31r

Boethius was an educated member of the Roman elite. De consolatione was written as a dialogue between the author and Philosophy and addressed issues such as predestination and free will. Boethius’ text was complex and many commentaries were written and circulated alongside it. These commentaries are known as glosses. The main Latin text is written in a minuscule hand and the extensive gloss, which is written in the margins and between the lines of the main text, is in a contemporary Old English script. The marginal glosses, which are a form of scholarly footnote, are linked to the main text by corresponding symbols in red ink.

O.3.7, Detail from f.2r

A full page drawing on f.1r relates to Boethius’ vision of Philosophy described in the opening chapter: “She was of awe-inspiring appearance, her eyes burning and keen beyond the usual power of men … Her clothes were made of imperishable material of the finest thread woven with the most delicate skill … There were some books in her right hand, and in her left hand she held a sceptre.” This figure of Philosophy can be compared to figures on other frontispieces in contemporary manuscripts including a copy of Gregory’s Regular pastoralis from St Augustine’s Abbey (Oxford St John’s College, MS28, f2r) , and St Dunstan’s Classbook (Bodleian, Library MS Auct F.4.32, f.1r) from Glastonbury Abbey.

O.3.7, f.1r

As well as the commentaries and glosses in the margins and between the lines, some of the poems in this manuscript have been provided with musical notation. The signs added above the text provide a melody for this verse, and are written using a characteristically Anglo-Saxon form of neumes. They may have been intended as a means of allowing the poem to be sung out loud, or may simply have helped the reader to remember the metre of the verse.

O.3.7, Detail from f.4r showing neumes

Trinity’s copy of Boethius is a prestigious manuscript, probably produced at St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury around the last quarter of the 10th-century. It was given to the Library by Roger Gale in 1738.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War is at the British Library until 19 February 2019.




Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in Trinity College Library: The Trinity Gospels

Trinity College Library has lent five manuscripts to the British Library’s major exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War. In five blog-posts between now and Christmas we will take a closer look at each of these manuscripts, beginning with the ‘Trinity Gospels’, produced in the early eleventh century.

B.10.4, ff. 59v-60r

Several grandly illuminated Gospel books survive from Anglo-Saxon England, and the British Library exhibition brings a number of them together under the same roof for the first time in their history. Perhaps the most sumptuous of these is Trinity MS B.10.4, which is the only late Anglo-Saxon Gospel book to preserve full double-page illuminated openings at the start of each of the four Gospels. The title of each of the Gospels is written in large interlocking gold capitals, after which there is a full-page illustration of each of the four evangelists facing a large initial letter for the opening word of each Gospel. Sadly the opening pages of the Gospels of Luke and John have been rather badly affected by damp in the distant past, but the earlier pages are particularly pristine.

B.10.4, ff. 10v-11r

This book was prepared with exceptional care to ensure that its appearance would be as fine as possible. The illuminated canon tables (listing congruent passages in the four Gospels) and the opening pages of each Gospel were prepared on much thicker parchment than the remainder of the book, presumably to prevent the risk of the rich colours showing through to the other side of the skin. This gives the book an unusual structure.

B.10.4, ff. 55v-56r

The main text of the Gospels is also executed with exceptional care, with several gold initial letters on every page. It is written in a particularly attractive Anglo-Caroline minuscule hand, by a scribe who is known to have worked on several other books, including three other surviving Gospel books. One of these is now in Copenhagen and the other two are both in the British Library: the Kederminster Gospels, on loan from Langley Church (BL Loan 11) and the ‘Cnut Gospels’, Royal MS 1 D x. This scribe shares several characteristics with the finest work of Christ Church, Canterbury from the early eleventh century, especially the work of the famous scribe Eadwig Basan, and this has led some scholars to associate this group of Gospel books with Canterbury too. However, various other possible places of origin have been proposed more recently, including Peterborough and a possible association with Bury St Edmunds.

B.10.4, f. 1r

By the time of the Reformation, the Trinity Gospels was one of the manuscripts that came into the hands of Archbishop Matthew Parker. Parker left most of the manuscripts in his library to his alma mater, Corpus Christi College Cambridge, but some passed to his son, and we may assume that this Gospel book was among those. It later came into the hands of Thomas Nevile (who held two offices concurrently: Dean of Canterbury 1597-1615 and Master of Trinity College 1593-1615) perhaps through his brother Alexander Nevile, who was involved in the same scholarly circles as Matthew and John Parker. The Trinity Gospels was one of 126 medieval manuscripts presented to Trinity College in about 1612 by Thomas Nevile.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War is at the British Library until 19 February 2019.



‘This doomsday’: the Trevelyans in the First World War

RCT/23/1: Robert Trevelyan’s identity card for the Friends’ War Victims Relief Committee.

On 27 October, 1918, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson wrote a postcard to his friend, Robert Trevelyan, the poet, playwright, and classicist, wishing that the war could be resolved as easily as their latest postal game of chess; instead, it still seemed to ‘hang on a razor’s edge’.

RCT15/8: Letter from Robert to his son Julian written in November 1918

Trevelyan, whose papers in the Trinity archive are currently being catalogued, was in France, working for the Friends War Victims Relief Committee. Earlier in the war he had sheltered the conscientious objector, poet John Rodker, and when he himself was called up, friends such as the art historian Desmond MacCarthy wrote to the Military Tribunal attesting that his pacifism was lifelong and not merely adopted as an excuse to avoid active service. The Tribunal accepted this, and allowed him to work with the Quakers instead. Letters from Robert to his young son Julian survive in the Trinity archives, in which he describes working on a farm which bred animals to be sold cheaply to French farmers who had lost their stock in the war and visiting Sermaize-les-Bains, destroyed in the first battle of the Marne, where the inhabitants lived in wooden huts built for them by the FWVRC. He also put together a library for relief workers. He writes of his hope that ‘there will be no more wars while I am alive, or while you are alive either’.

RCT/42/9: Photograph c.1896 of the three brothers with their parents (L to R: Charles, George, Robert)

Robert and his two brothers, who all attended Trinity, provide a microcosm in one family of the range of attitudes towards the First World War. His elder brother, Charles, was a Liberal MP, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, who resigned from the government in August 1914 in protest at British military intervention against Germany, and with others such as Ramsay MacDonald and Bertrand Russell was a founder and key advocate of the Union of Democratic Control, which strongly opposed conscription and war censorship. He thereby incurred much personal criticism in the press.

RCT14/101: Letter from George to Robert written just after the end of the war

The third brother, George Macaulay Trevelyan, later Regius Professor of History at Cambridge and Master of Trinity, was also horrified by the outbreak of war which he called ‘this doomsday’. Julian Huxley recalled in his “Memories” that on hearing the news, George ‘buried his head in his hands on the breakfast table, and looked up weeping’. However, he believed that once the war had begun it was necessary to continue fighting and to win; he wrote to Robert that he had ‘never admired Charles more’, and that the anti-war side had a ‘most useful part to perform’, but that though he accepted a share of blame for Britain he held that the German militarists must be defeated. He was judged medically unfit for military service, and so in autumn 1915 he took up the command of the first British Red Cross ambulance unit sent to Italy and served there until the end of the war, displaying notable bravery for which he was decorated by the Italian government.

All three Trevelyan brothers were convinced of the horror of war; all believed in November 1918 that everything possible should be done to ensure that such a disaster never occurred again.

Papers from the Trevelyan archive are currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.




Bindings in the Spotlight (7)

Photo of Rose Adler binding 'Idylles'

This month we are featuring the French Art Deco bookbinder Rose Adler (1892-1959) and her binding for Theocritus’ Idylls in French illustrated by Henri Laurens (Kessler.a.23).  Accompanying the book, which is part of the Kessler Collection of livres d’artistes and fine bindings, are three pages of notes in Adler’s hand which relate to the details of the binding and the payment involved.

Image of notes in Rose Adler's handRose Adler 2Rose Adler 3

For a fascinating short biography of Adler, do visit another blog courtesy of the American Bookbinders Museum:


Trinity Lends to Major Anglo-Saxon Exhibition

On Friday 19th October 2018 a spectacular exhibition –  Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War – opens at the British Library in London. It will feature material ranging from the 5th to the 11th centuries and will examine the development of written English and the creation of the kingdom of England. Trinity College has lent five manuscripts to this exhibition, but more than thirty Anglo-Saxon manuscripts can also be consulted in the Wren Digital Library. We will be publishing a series of blog posts about the manuscripts loaned to the exhibition over the next few weeks.




Nobel Prizes at Trinity College

On 3 October 2018 it was announced that Sir Gregory Winter, Master of Trinity College, has been jointly awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, with Professors Frances Arnold and George Smith, for his pioneering work in using phage display for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing new pharmaceuticals. The Nobel Assembly said:

‘The 2018 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind. Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals. Antibodies evolved using a method called phage display can combat autoimmune diseases and in some cases cure metastatic cancer.’

Sir Gregory becomes the 33rd Nobel Laureate to be a Member of Trinity College since Lord Rayleigh was awarded the prize in Physics in 1904, and is the 107th affiliated with Cambridge. A list of members of Trinity College who are or were Nobel Laureates can be viewed here. Trinity members have received the award in every Nobel category.

E. D. Adrian’s Nobel Diploma

Edgar Douglas Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian, was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize for Physiology, jointly with Sir Charles Sherrington, for their work on the function of neurons. He was a Fellow of Trinity College from 1913, and served as Master from 1951 to 1965. Each Nobel diploma is an original work of art. The diploma, awarded to Lord Adrian, displayed above depicts the Great Gate of Trinity.

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The only father and son to be jointly awarded a Nobel prize were Sir William Henry Bragg and his son Sir Lawrence Bragg, awarded the 1915 prize in Physics for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays.  Sir Lawrence was only 25 years old at the time of the award.

Joseph John Thomson, 1856-1940

Sir J. J. Thomson was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1906, for his work on the conduction of electricity in gases, leading to his discovery of the electron. His son Sir George Paget Thomson was awarded the same prize in 1937 for his work in discovering the wave-like properties of the electron.

Sir James Mirlees receiving his award from the King of Sweden

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was established in 1968 through a donation from the Swedish Royal Bank, and is administered by the Nobel Foundation alongside the prizes established by Alfred Nobel. In 1996 the prize was awarded to Sir James Mirrlees, who died on 29 August 2018. He shared the prize with Professor William Vickrey of Columbia University, for their research on the economic theory of incentives when information is incomplete or asymmetric.

Piero Sraffa receiving his award

Before the existence of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, an equivalent status was afforded to the Söderström medal, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. This medal was awarded in 1961 to Piero Sraffa, the leading Italian economist who was a Fellow of Trinity College from 1939 until his death in 1983.

The Fields Medal

The Fields Medal is often regarded as equivalent to a Nobel Prize in the mathematical sciences. It is awarded every four years to up to four mathematicians under 40 years of age at the International Congress of the International Mathematical Union. Four medal-holders have so far been associated with Trinity College, including two present Fellows of Trinity, Sir Michael Atiyah and Sir Timothy Gowers. The Fields Medal was awarded in 1970 to the late Professor Alan Baker for his work on transcendental numbers.

A small exhibition about Nobel Laureates from Trinity is currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.

Fermat’s Last Theorem

It is now 25 years since Andrew Wiles provided the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. A celebration of the event was held at the Isaac Newton Institute on 1 October 2018, with lectures (all now available online) by Sir Andrew Wiles, Jack Thorne and John Coates. The Wren Library provided a historical context for the day by displaying the first appearance of Fermat’s Last Theorem in print.

Pierre de Fermat famously wrote down his last theorem in the 1630s in the margin of a bilingual Greek and Latin edition of the Arithmetica of Diophantus of Alexandria. The copy with his annotation no longer survives, but Fermat’s son incorporated the conjecture into a new edition of Diophantus which he published in Toulouse after his father’s death, in 1670. Following the Diophantine proposition to divide a square into two other squares, Fermat’s observation reads:

Cubum autem in duos cubos, aut quadratoquadratum in duos quadratoquadratos & generaliter nullam in infinitum ultra quadratum potestatem in duos eiusdem nominis fas est dividere cuius rei demonstrationem mirabilem sane detexi. Hanc marginis exiguitas non caperet. It is impossible to separate a cube into two cubes, or a fourth power into two fourth powers, or in general, any power higher than the second, into two like powers. I have discovered a truly marvellous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.

The simple proposition took more than 350 years to prove, and became the subject of a bestselling book by Simon Singh in 1997.

Diophanti Alexandrini Arithmeticorvm libri sex, et De nvmeris mvltangvlis liber vnvs. Cvm commentariis C.G. Bacheti v.c. & obseruationibus D.P. de Fermat senatoris Tolosani (Toulouse: Bernardvs Bosc, 1670). Trinity College Library, T.17.21.

The diagram below is taken from a collection of Fermat’s mathematical writings compiled by his son Samuel de Fermat and published in 1679. This page shows the end of a long letter from Blaise Pascal to Fermat in which he discusses the problem of the division of a stake between two players whose game is interrupted before its close. The table shows the value of shares when two gamblers play, putting 256 pistoles at stake. ‘The numbers of the first line are always increasing. Those of the second do the same. Those of the third do the same. But after that, those of the fourth line diminish. Those of the fifth, etc. Which is strange.’

Varia opera mathematica D. Petri de Fermat, Senatoris Tolosani. Accesserunt selectæ quædam ejusdem epistolæ, vel ad ipsum à plerisque doctissimis viris Gallicè, Latinè, vel Italicè, de rebus ad mathematicas disciplinas, aut physicam pertinentibus scriptæ. (Toulouse: Johannes Pech, 1679). Trinity College Library, T.11.45.




‘A man of no ordinary attainments’: The Life and Work of Robert Leslie Ellis

Robert Leslie Ellis, likeness from a portrait by Samuel Lawrence

Almost forgotten today, the English polymath Robert Leslie Ellis (1817-1859) was lauded by his contemporaries as a ‘prodigy of universal genius’ and an ‘ideal of a University man’. Having been privately educated at Bath, reading Xenophon and Virgil and solving equations from the age of 10, Ellis went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1836, where he became a pupil of George Peacock and William Hopkins. A great academic career beckoned; he helped D. F. Gregory to found the Cambridge Mathematical Journal in 1837, graduated Senior Wrangler in 1840 and was elected Fellow of Trinity shortly afterwards. During the 1840s, Ellis published major papers on functional and differential equations and probability theory and took on the co-editing, with James Spedding and Douglas Denon Heath, of Francis Bacon’s Works. From 1847, Ellis’s health deteriorated and in 1849, aged 32, he returned home from a grand tour as an invalid, having been struck by rheumatic fever at San Remo. The rest of his short life was spent at Anstey Hall, Trumpington, where he saw much of his friends John Grote and William Walton, to whom he dictated his thoughts on topics ranging from etymology and bees’ cells to Roman law and a projected Chinese dictionary.