700 Manuscripts Online

B.4.19, f.184r

The 700th manuscript added to the online James Catalogue is B.4.19. We are pleased to have reached this milestone in the same year that Trinity College is celebrating 700 years since the establishment of the King’s Scholars in Cambridge. In 1317 King Edward II sent 12 boys from the royal household, with a master, to study at Cambridge at his expense. They lived in rented accommodation. Twenty years later, Edward III transformed this community into a college by giving it a permanent house and endowment. He named this college the King’s Hall.  Appropriately this volume has the name of a contemporary archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Mepeham, inscribed on the second flyleaf (he was archbishop from 1328-1333). B.4.19 is a Biblical Commentary by St Thomas Aquinas on the gospels of Luke and John. Its companion volume is  B.4.18 on the gospels of Matthew and Mark.

The opening pages of both volumes are illuminated with initals showing a kneeling St Thomas, wearing his black Dominican habit, presenting his book to Pope Urban IV. This image is also repeated on f.184r of B.4.19 (shown above). The delightful borders of these illuminated pages are populated with dogs chasing rabbits, a deer and a goat (see here) and a lion with a bird above in a tree (see here).

Each gospel begins with an historiated initial. These are initials containing an identifiable scene or figure and in these instances depict the evangelist with their symbol.

B.4.18, f.3r (Matthew; symbol: a winged man or angel)


B.4.18, f.224v (Mark; symbol: a lion)


B.4.19, f. 1r (Luke; symbol: an ox)


B.4.19, f.184v (John; symbol: an eagle)

Both volumes date from the late-13th century and were originally in the library of Christ Church, Canterbury. They were given to Trinity College Library, along with over one hundred other manuscripts, by a former master of the College, Thomas Nevile (d. 1615).


Recent Additions to the Wren Digital Library (IV): Prince Henry’s Copybooks

Henry, Prince of Wales by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger oil on canvas, circa 1603,
NPG 2562, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Prince Henry Frederick (1594 –1612) was the son of James VI of Scotland (also later James I of England) and Anne of Denmark. In his short lifetime, he was regarded as a young man of great promise – the ideal Renaissance prince – but he died of typhoid fever at the age of only 18.

The boxed collection of eight copybooks, catalogued together as R.7.23*, date from around 1604-6 and provide a fascinating glimpse into the education of the young Prince. The most evocative book is perhaps volume 1 which contains handwriting practice:

R.7.23*, Vol 1, f.1 r

On later pages, Henry also practised letters, Latin phrases, flourishes and his signature (left). The right-hand side begins with a passage of Latin adapted from Cicero. Henry copied it out three more times down the length of the page. At the bottom there are two lines of apparently original composition (probably by his writing master of the time, Peter Bales) which translate as “indeed, in my opinion, Prince Henry has such a childish hand that he is hardly worthy of even mediocre praise as a writer”. However, a letter written to Henry by his father in 1604 praises the improvement of his handwriting [The Lost Prince, nos 12 and 20].

R.7.23*, Vol 1, ff. 5v-6r

The copybooks indicate that Henry had a fairly conventional early education. As well as practising Italic handwriting, he learned Latin, Greek and French and composed and translated Latin texts. Volume 6 contains a series of Latin exercises by the Prince, preceded by a letter from his tutor exhorting him to emulate the learning of Alexander the Great. Like most schoolboys, Henry’s pages sometimes included smudges and crossings out!

R.7.23*, Vol 6, ff. 8v-9r

Volume 7 contains a printed volume, originally in French with an English translation and then translated by Henry into Latin alongside the printed text.

R.7.23*, Vol 7, ff. 8v-9r

The French ambassador writing in 1606 described Henry as spending two hours a day studying, but the rest of his time in physical exercise [Strong, 66]. As he grew older, Henry’s education was broadened to include other subjects such as mathematics, music and history. He also showed great interest in naval and military matters, and enthusiasm for chivalric pursuits. Henry became a generous patron of the arts and his tragically early death was deeply felt and gave rise to much literature – particularly in sermons and verse – mourning the loss. Editions of some of these works can also be consulted in the College Library. After Henry’s death, his brother became heir to the throne and was crowned Charles I in 1626.

The copybooks were kept by Adam Newton (d. 1630) who was Henry’s tutor from 1599 and later his secretary. The volumes were bound, probably in 1610, in white velum and tooled with gold. They were given to the College by Newton’s son, Sir Henry Puckering (c.1619-1701) in 1691.

Further Reading:

Catherine MacLeod, The Lost Prince: The Life & Death of Henry Stuart, National Portrait Gallery (London, 2012)

Roy Strong, Henry, Prince of Wales and England’s Lost Renaissance (London, 1986)

500th Manuscript Online


Bernard Gui (1260-1331) was a Friar-Preacher perhaps best known as an Inquisitor against the Albigensians (or Cathars). He ended his career as Bishop of Lodève. This manuscript (R.4.23) includes various works by Bernard, but we are highlighting the beautifully illustrated genealogical tree – Arbor genealogie regum – which traced the lineage of the French Kings from their Trojan origins (ff. 49v-52v).

Each page is a sequence of illuminated pictures which narrate the succession and genealogy of the kings of France. Each king is represented standing in a medallion in which their name and the length of their reign is also written. The kings have the royal insignia – the crown and sceptre – and are dressed in gowns covered with the fleur-de-lys. Beside them there are usually some smaller medallions in which their ancestors, offspring and spouses appear.

The tree begins on f.49v with medallions representing the chiefs of the Sicambri and, at the top of the page, a damaged miniature of robed men conversing. The tree continues with larger medallions. The first (on f.50r) is Pharamond, a legendary early King of the Franks; he was not mentioned in any chronicles from the Middle Ages (for example he was omitted by Gregory of Tours in his famous Historia francorum). The legend says that his daughter Argotta, from his second marriage, is the ancestress of the French royal line, as she was Merovech’s mother. Below Pharamond follow Chlodio, Pharamond’s son and Merovech, the founder of the Merovingian dynasty in the 5th century.

R.4.23, f.50r
R.4.23, f.50r

The lineage continues on the subsequent pages. Those depicted on f.52v, for example, represent Dagobert II, king of Autrasia (676-679) who was made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church; his feast is on 23 December. He is pictured with some of his relatives. Ansegisel, a son of Arnulf of Metz, is pictured in the uppermost medallion. Through his marriage to Begga, the daughter of Pepin the Elder, the clans of the Pippinids and the Arnulfings were united, giving rise to a family which would eventually rule the Franks as the Carolingians. Below, other important figures appear, like Charles Martel (king of Franks between 737-741) and Pepin the Short.

R.4.23, f.52v
R.4.23, f.52v

The last page (f. 57r) presents Louis X (who reigned between 1314-1316); he was the eldest son of King Philippe IV ‘the Fair’, most famous for having annihilated the order of the Knights Templar. The name of Louis X is not written in the medallion but it is mentioned in the accompanying text. Some later notes continue the genealogy.

R.4.23, f.57r
R.4.23, f.57r

The Legend of St Eustace

The latest medieval manuscript to go online is B.11.5, a 13th-century French Psalter once owned by Goring Priory. It includes illustrations of the legend of the 2nd-century saint, Eustace, as follows:

A Roman military officer called Placida was hunting near Tivoli and saw a vision of Christ between the antlers of a stag.

B.11.5, f.15v
B.11.5, f.15v

Taking the name Eustace, he immediately converted to Christianity and was baptised with his wife and sons. His faith was soon tested by separation from his family after his wife was taken during a sea voyage

B.11.5, f.16r
B.11.5, f.16r

and his sons were carried away by beasts while they were crossing a river together.

B.11.5, f.17v
B.11.5, f.17v

His family was restored to him. However, when Eustace refused to take part in a pagan ceremony

B.11.5, f.18r
B.11.5, f.18r

they were all sentenced to be roasted to death inside the statue of a bull.

B.11.5, f.19v
B.11.5, f.19v

Other medieval depictions of the legend can be found in a painting by Pisanello (c. 1438-42) in the National Gallery, in stained glass in Chartres Cathedral and in a wall painting in Canterbury Cathedral.

Stephan Batman and Art of Limning

Stephan Batman (c.1542 – 1584) was a published author and translator who, for much of his career, was the rector of St Mary’s, Newington (Newington Butts). His works include A Christall Glasse of Christian Reformation (1569), The Doome Warning All Men to the Judgemente (1581) and his best-known, Batman uppon Bartholome (1582) based on the medieval encyclopedia of Bartolomaeus Anglicanus. Batman was also a member of Archbishop Parker’s household and was involved in collecting books on the Archbishop’s behalf, many of which were given to the library at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. He also read, annotated and collected medieval manuscripts for himself, some of which are now in the Wren Library (B.1.38, B.2.7, B.14.15, B.14.19, and B.15.33).

Batman was also a talented limner. Originally limners were illuminators of manuscripts though towards the end of the sixteenth century limnery could also refer to painting (often portraits) on paper. These works were usually made with fine pigments and bound together with a water-soluble resin called gum Arabic. Today they would be known as watercolours. Batman may himself have written about limning in a work which is now lost.

The illumination pasted onto the flyleaf of manuscript B.14.15 is an example of Batman’s work as a limner.


It is a three-quarter length depiction of a black child wearing a band around her head. She holds pink flowers which would also have had a symbolic significance. The two intertwined bands at the bottom of the image calls to mind the wreath of a heraldic crest although these usually show just six twists. Black people are sometimes depicted on family crests such as those for Blackman, Blackmore, Heyman and Andrewes. In the past few years historians have begun to examine the place of black people in sixteenth century society. While Africans are known to have been at the Tudor court from the beginning of the sixteenth century, for major cities including Plymouth and London, there is also evidence of black communities living, working and intermarrying. For example, the parish records of St Botolph’s without Aldgate (close to Newington Butts) have a number of black people recorded in them. They were often working, like their white counterparts, as domestic servants.

Manuscript B.14.15 is a 15th century translation of Gerard of Liège’s De Doctrina Cordis. It was bequeathed to the Augustinian Priory of Holy Trinity at Aldgate in London in 1455 by Dame Christine Saint Nicholas. This text was one of several that circulated in an around this community in the fifteenth century and was typical of the kind of devotional material that was being translated from Latin into the vernacular for female audiences. Batman acquired the manuscript in 1575 and the dates at the bottom of the illustration refer, therefore, to the provenance of the text. Devotional texts in Middle English were Batman’s particular interest and M. B. Parkes has suggested that his especial regard for this text is evinced by his annotations and the inclusion of the fine illustration. It does not appear, however, that this apparent crest has any link to the name Batman. Please contact us if you have any thoughts …


Parkes, M. B., ‘Stephan Batman’s Manuscripts’, Medieval Heritage: Essays in Honour of Tadahiro Ikegami (Tokyo, 1997)

Katherine Coombs, “‘A Kind of Gentle Painting’: Limning in 16th-Century England”

Fairbairn, J., Fairbairn’s Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland, compiled from the best authority by J. Fairbairn and revised by L. Butters (Edinburgh and London)



St Urith of Chittlehampton

The Glastonbury Commonplace Book (O.9.38), described by M. R. James as “the note-book of a Glastonbury monk”, contains a remarkable collection of miscellaneous material. Today, however, we are focusing on the legend of St Urith (or Hieritha) whose feast day is celebrated on 8th July. The manuscript contains the fullest known account of this saint in the form of a rhyming poem. The poem appears towards the end of the volume (f. 87r) and, although the leaf has been damaged on the outer edges resulting in the loss of the ends of some of the lines, James worked on the text and published a transcription in 1902.

O.9.38, f86v-f87r
O.9.38, f86v-f87r

Based on this text, he summarised the legend as follows: Urith, a maiden dedicated to a religious life, had a jealous (pagan) step-mother who bribed some haymakers to attack and kill her. A fountain sprung up from the ground where she fell. This legend is very similar to those of two other west-country saints – St Sidwell of Exeter and St Juthwara – both beheaded at the instigation of their stepmothers. However the poem locates this particular legend in Chittlehampton, north Devon:

Nunc gaudet tota patria/innocens virgo [vicerit]/Quod sue nouerce odia/O villa chitelhamptonia/quod tal[amum sponsi subiit]/Letare cum deuonia

The church at Chittlehampton is dedicated to St Urith who was probably buried in a small chapel on the north side where a medieval slab may now cover her burial place. Urith’s well is found at the east end of the village. There were regular pilgrimages to her shrine until the mid-16th century and the considerable offerings there seemingly funded the building of the impressive Church tower. The carved stone pulpit (c. 1500) includes a figure of Urith holding a martyr’s palm as well as the church’s foundation stone.

The Tower of Chittlehampton Church
The Tower of Chittlehampton Church. Photograph by Rex Harris.


The Pulpit at Chittlehampton
The Pulpit at Chittlehampton. Photograph by Rex Harris.

As a local saint, the name Urith was popularly used for girls during the sixteenth and seventeenth century in the west country. Urith Chichester from Raleigh in Devon, for example, married John Trevelyan of Nettlecombe Court in Somerset in 1591. It has been suggested that the stained glass window in the church at Nettlecombe may, at the time of the marriage, have been inscribed St Urith when it originally depicted St Sidwell.

Stained glass window in Nettlecombe depicting St Urith or St Sidwell (second from right) (Photograph by Peter Tremain)


M. R. James, ‘St Urith of Chittlehampton’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society (1901-2), pp. 230-234.

Revd J. F. Chanter,  ‘St Urith of Chittlehampton: A Study in an Obscure Devon Saint’, Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Vol 46 (1914).

Oriental (Ethiopic) Psalter

Our 400th manuscript goes online today: an Oriental (Ethiopic) Psalter.  It is a small volume – only 15 x 17.5 cm – written in the 13th century in the language of Ge’ez (or Ethiopic).

B.13.9, ff. 93v-94r
B.13.9, ff. 93v-94r

A note by W. A. Wright (a former Librarian and vice-Master of Trinity) gives some indication of the volume’s contents which include psalms and canticles, but we would love to know more …

Edit 21/7/15: The dating of this manuscript has now been queried. See for comparison Walters Ms W.768. If you have any further information about this manuscript, please let us know!



Catchwords are words which are usually written on the bottom margin of a page which repeat the first word on the following page. Here is an example from Trinity MS R.3.60. Note the catchword ‘singula’ on the bottom of the verso (left) page which is the first word on the recto (right) page.

R.3.60. ff.20v-21r

In MS B.15.25, the catchwords are all contained within grotesque drawings including a man spearing fish,

B.15.25, ff. 7v-8r

a dog,

B.15.25, ff. 15v-16r

and wrestlers.

B.15.25, ff. 63v – 64r

Why was this done? It helped with the correct order of leaves of paper or quires during binding. Books were formed by binding a number of quires together. The collation is the description of the way in which a book was bound. So, for example, the collation of B.15.25 is described as follows:

18 , 28 , 38 , 48, 58 , 68 , 78, 88, 98, 108, 118 , 128, 138, 146, 156.

In this instance the manuscript was made up of 13 quires of 8 leaves and 2 additional quires of just 6. The number of leaves in a quire can vary. The catchwords occur on the last verso of each quire to link to the first recto of the following quire.

Folios 47v-48r illustrated below is the point where quire 6 ends and quire 7 begins.


The study of the way in which manuscripts are bound and the physical structure of a book is called codicology and can tell the user much about the origin and production of a text.



John Dee’s Library Catalogue

John DeeJohn Dee (1527-1609), mathematician, astrologer, and antiquary, and model for Shakespeare’s Prospero, owned one of the most significant private libraries in Elizabethan England. A fine facsimile of the Trinity College, Cambridge manuscript O.4.20 – John Dee’s Library Catalogue – was originally published by the Bibliographical Society in 1990 and edited by Julian Roberts and Andrew G. Watson. Unfortunately, this edition, which also included a complete list of Dee’s printed books, has been out of print for some years. In 2009 Roberts and Watson published their latest update online via the Bibliographical Society’s website:
It describes the current location of further items included in Dee’s catalogue with additional useful interpretation.

As part of its ongoing manuscript digitization project, and in the hope of further assisting researchers interested in Dee, Trinity has made a virtual manuscript of John Dee’s library catalogue publically available:

Furthermore, a major exhibition of books owned by John Dee is planned by the Library of the Royal College of Physicians, London, during the first half of 2016 and this will include O.4.20.

O.4.20, f.1
O.4.20, f.1


The Legend of Robin Hood

Manuscript R.2.64 is a single folio but an extremely significant text for understanding the history of medieval dramatic performance. It is a series of twenty-one couplets based on the legend of Robin Hood. The outlaw was well-known in ballads and prose texts from the fourteenth century: for example, the reference to the rhymes of Robin Hood in Piers Plowman (B.15.17, f.30r). In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, however, the tales were especially popular as drama in the form of pageants, ceremonial games or dances. The first reference to a dramatic performance of Robin Hood is from Exeter in 1426-7, but Trinity Manuscript R.2.64 is the earliest extant text.

There are no stage directions or scenes so it is believed that this text formed the basis for an improvised performance containing a lot of action including an archery match, stone throwing, tossing the pole (“caber” in Scotland), wrestling and sword fighting. Follow this link for a transcript and further discussion.

R.2.64 recto
R.2.64 recto


R.2.64, verso
R.2.64, verso

There is no obvious relationship between the two sides of the manuscript. The verso contains a series of six receipts dated around 1475 as well as an image of a green dragon, a crude sketch of a woman’s head and what may be outstretched fingers.

The manuscript has been linked to the Paston Family of East Anglia and a number of intriguing avenues are followed by John Marshall in his 1998 essay ‘”Goon in-to Bernysdale”: the trail of the Paston Robin Hood play’.