Friday, 30 November 2012

The Geese Book

By the name of it, you'd think it was another falconry manuscript like De Arte Venandi Cum Avibus, but it's actually a two volume liturgical book that was created in Germany between 1503 and 1510.  It's called The Geese Book due to this illustration in the first book:

 Illustration from the bottom of a page showing a wolf leading a choir of geese, with a fox standing over them.  Keeping the fowl singers in line?  ...I'll get my coat...

The volumes largely contain musical notation for chants with several very decorative illuminations.  It's believed that one monk acted as scribe, whilst another chap was the artist.  Having researched it a bit, I found out that this book is huge -- 25.75" x 17.5" -- and made of vellum with pigskin bindings.  That's a lot of book, which doesn't sound massive until you see pictures:

 Left:  The cover of volume II of The Geese Book.  Sooo very pretty!  
Right:  Pictures of the book being digitised by the good people at The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies

The book contains a variety of chants for use at different times, some with some gorgeous illuminated margins and letters.  Some of these chants are suggested for use at very precise days, such as the first Sunday in Advent, which, incidentally, has a really beautiful page, with a really odd illustration at the bottom:

Bear and bear hunter in a bear hug.  It looks oddly like a reconciliation rather than the bear attacking...

Even after all these centuries, the gold on these pages is bright and looks absolutely stunning.  The best example is a page with notation for chants on Trinity Sunday.  The whole page is beautiful and in fantastic condition:

Look how shiny that gold is!  Also, I totally agree that the best time to shoot a deer with antlers like that is when it's asleep.  For a higher res and zoomable image, check this page out.

ACMRS has been digitising this manuscript since at least 2004.  It became available online yesterday.  I genuinely feel the need to thank the people who worked on this project for putting it online in this fashion.  Without their work, I would never have lost myself in these two books which were created by two talented men.  If you want to know more, examine the manuscript or even hear the chants (yeah, that hard work was part of the project too!), here's a link that'll take you straight to the online versions of the book:  Enjoy!

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Monday, 26 November 2012

The Smithfield Decretals

In my random googlings today, I came across a manuscript with the weirdest marginalia.  It's the Decretals of Gregory IX with glossa ordinaria, specifically The Smithfield Decretals.  This work was a collection of medieval canon law, designed to replace all the previous collections.  Originally compiled in 1230, this specific manuscript was actually finished around 1300 in Southern France.  Well, the written part was. 

 Top:  The last page of the Smithfield Decretals, including illustrations.  Oh, the folio is half a metre tall, by the way.
Bottom:  Close up of the last line of the manuscript.  Translated, it reads "The whole thing is finished; give the guy who wrote it a drink."  Good man!

Nearly all the illuminations, however, were added 40 years later.  Whoever owned it at that point lived in England and commissioned a group of artists to illuminate every page of the folio.  Some of the pages have pretty illustrations of birds or people hunting boar and are fairly "normal".  Other pages show battles and sieges, with some interesting details:

In this case, the interesting detail is that the castle is being defended by a sword-wielding woman.  Judging by the hairstyles, everyone in the castle is female, barring the face at the window, which could be that of a child.  Still, looks like the guy on the ladder is having a really bad hair day...

There are also some illustrations of Reyard the Fox, who was a trickster character in European folklore.  He is shown preaching to geese, chickens and even a heron.  But of course, geese are tasty...

Nom, nom, nom, geese.  I wonder what this picture could *possibly* be an allegory of... that's almost brave for the time!

Of course, once Reynard is caught, he must face  justice for his crime.  Hanging is a fitting medieval punishment for theft and murder:

The geese and ducks require retribution!  Though how on Earth that goose intends to fire that bow is beyond me...

Given that Reynard was a wily type, he probably managed to talk them out of it at the last, mind.  The manuscript has many story pictures of this type, including the revenge of the bunny rabbits, a knight jousting against a snail, and a dragon attacking a windmill.  If any of these descriptions take your fancy, a catalogue of images is available here:

I swear, there is even one captioned "Man attacking a butterfly."  I'd love to know the context for that one...

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Saturday, 24 November 2012

America's First Pictures

So two days after Thanksgiving.  I was going to do an article about it, but then steak and beer happened, because what's more American than steak and beer?  Anyhow, it got me to thinking about the first Europeans to settle in America.  No, not the pilgrims and their first Thanksgiving in 1621, but the people who tried to settle at Roanoke, the lost colony.

Detail from Hariot's Briefe and True Account of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590, showing Roanoke island, the colony and settlement of the local area.

In 1585, a group of 107 men were left on the island to establish a colony at the north end of the island -- probably not far from the one pictured above.  So, having had contact with them in 1586, Sir Walter Raleigh sent out an additional 150 colonists including several women and 9 children to settle on the island.  A friend and colleague of Raleigh's called John White led the mission, taking his daughter and son-in-law with him.  He was an artist and cartographer who'd visited before on the 1585 mission and created maps like this:

 Map of Virginia, from 1985, as printed in Hariot's book.  Roanoke is shown above and to the left of Trinitey Harbor.  Ah, those Elizabethans and their quirky spellings!

White also drew and painted pictures of the flora and fauna of the area, including pictures of the native peoples.  This was actually part of his and Hariot's mission, as people back in England wanted to know what was out there -- after all, resources tend to be good to have.  So they both wrote and drew the first pictures and descriptions of The New World.  The illustrations were mostly done by White and they're incredibly interesting.  For example, there's these two gorgeous pages of nature illustrations:

 Left:  "Meesquouns. Almost as bigg as a Parratt."  A Northern Cardinal.   From the British Museum Online.
Right:  A tiger swallowtail butterfly (Mamankanois) and a pufferfish (Tanborel).  This is one of 113 pages of drawings from White's explorations, done in pen, ink, graphite and watercolour.  British Museum Online.

He also created the first pictures of the local people.  I find the picture of the native woman from Florida the most striking:

Yeah, those are her tattoos.  I am such a wimp as I can't even bring myself to get one, much less anything this spectacular!

 Although there are also pictures of less friendly locals too:

Skirmish at Bloody Point, Frobisher Bay.  English with the St. George's cross flag, shooting at Inuit on a cliff.  Bet that went well...

White created around 113 pictures of this type, which you can find at the British Library Online

Sadly, when the colonists arrived on Roanoke in 1587, they found the previous 107 settlers all gone, with only a skeleton left at the barracks to tell a grim tale.  Of course, this made the colonists want to leave, but the fleet commander refused to sail them all back.  Making the best of a bad situation, the colonists set up shop and embarked on improving relations with the local Croatoan tribe, fearing that other tribes may kill them due to earlier cultural misunderstandings such as accused theft, raids and outright murder.  During this time of improving relations, the first European was born in America -- Virginia Dare.  She was White's granddaughter.

The colonists insisted that White go back to England to ask for support as they felt they were still at severe risk from the locals.  Sure enough, he went back that same year, leaving his family at the Roanoke colony.  However, he was unable to make it back to the colony for nearly three years thanks to a small problem with a massive Spanish Armada that required all the boats in the English Navy to be on hand.  By the time White made it back to the colony in 1590, all that was left were some dismantled buildings and the words "Croatoan" and "Kro" carved into a tree.  No one knows what happened to the colonists or White's family for sure.  It's possible that they were taken in by local tribes, that they died in a raid, or that they were kidnapped.  What is a certainty, however, is that they must have been brave to even consider settling there in the first place.

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Edit:  I almost forgot!  If you're interesting in reading a transcript of Hariot's book, you can find it online here:

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Boccaccio's Famous Women

I was doing more research into Chaucer's works when I stumbled upon Boccaccio.  Boccaccio wrote the Decameron, published around 1353, which is the work that inspired Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  Boccaccio also wrote a work in 1374 called De Claris Mulieribus (Of Famous Women).  This book was unusual for it's time in that it was the first collection of solely female biographies ever written.  It includes 106 different biographies about famous historical or mythological women.  Of course, as this is a medieval work, there are several different copies of this manuscript.  On top of that, Boccaccio also decided that he'd like to revise his book a few times in the last 20 years of his life and send many of them to influential women.  As this was a very popular book, there were also versions printed after his death.  My favourite illustrations are from De Claris Mulieribus, 599, which is held by the National Library of France, which is dated as being 1401-1500, with no further information.  Sadly, their online copy is only available in black and white, which is rubbish because the illustrations in this particular manuscript are beautiful.  Hooray for Wikimedia Commons though, which has plenty of the illustrations in colour!

What I find surprising about this particular manuscript is how many women are pictured wearing armour.  Take Tamyris for example:

Queen Tamyris of the Massagetae, lead her army to victory against the Persians in 529BC.  "I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood, and so I shall".  Wikimedia Commons.

Queen Tamyris became queen of her people in her own right after her husband died.  The Persian emporer of the time, Cyrus the Great, decided he wanted her land and asked her to marry him.  She refused and so there was war.  There were a few more complications than that, in all honesty; after all, her son was captured and committed suicide in shame.  That's going to make any mother angry, so when she and her army caught up to Cyrus, she had him killed, then beheaded and crucified, before putting his head into a wineskin filled with blood.  After that, she had his brain scooped out and turned into a bowl for wine, just in case that wasn't enough retribution for the loss of her son and the deaths of those in her armies. To clarify, Tamyris is a historical person, just in case any of that seemed too fantastic.

Another warrior woman shown in armour in the manuscript is Penthesilea.  Penthesilea was an Amazon queen who accidentally killed another Amazon queen whilst out hunting, so in order to be purified of the crime, she was sent to fight on the side of Troy in the Trojan War.

"Furious Penthesilea leads a battleline of Amazons with crescent shields, and she glows in the middle of thousands fastening golden belts around the exposed breast, female warrior, and the maiden dares to run with men."  From The Aenid.  The picture does not show exposed breast, but it certainly hints at it.  I also cannot help but wonder if it is inferred that there is armour plating under that skirt, but that's my personal speculation.

Penthesilea caught the attention of Achilles due to her prowess in battle and so he arranged matters to where he would face her on the battlefield.  She fought him, but sadly, she was fighting Achilles.  The story goes that as she died, Achilles saw her beauty, fell in love and actually mourned her.

The other two women to be shown in armour in this manuscript are Orithyia and Antiope, who were both Amazon queens who co-ruled:

Nice armour, ladies.  Although I'd love to know how Antiope intends to sit down without stabbing herself somewhere entirely unpleasant.

Antiope was the wife of Theseus and there are several variations on her tale, all ending in her death in a battle or fight.  Orithyia, likewise, died of her wounds after beseigeing Athens in order to get her sister back.  In a way, showing these four women in armour is not strange, as Tamrys and Penthesilea are two of the nine female worthies named by Eustache Deschamps -- individuals who personified the ideals of chivalry of the later part of the 15th century.  From there it's easily argued that if you show one Amazon in armour, you have to show the rest in armour too.

The manuscript has so much to offer in terms of showing female attire of the 15th century though.  For example you've a depiction of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife looking quite well dressed:

 I bet that headdress makes her at least a foot and a half taller.  However, you have to appreciate that neckline...

...and Epicharis, a freedwoman from Nero's Rome, who refused to betray her fellow conspirators to assassination, despite being heavily tortured.  She's shown in the manuscript with some very nice side lacing:

In case you're wondering, she's said to have strangled herself on her girdle in order to prevent her confession under a second bout of torture...

There are so many examples of good medieval female fashion in De Claris Mulieribus 599 that it's worth checking out the gallery on Wikimedia Commons.  I do believe this manuscript is also worthy of a few posts!

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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Henry VIII: The Prince in Mourning

When you think of Henry VIII, you think of a rather large ginger man who ate too much and always got his way.  The church disagreed with him, so he left and created his own damn church; he went through wives at a rate of knots; he was absolute ruler and commanded obedience in court.  He pulled no punches and seemed pretty heartless, but he also came across as a strong, charismatic leader, showing anger rather than sadness or vulnerability.

 Henry VIII.  Ladies... check out my cod.  WOOF!
Portrait from 1540 by Hans Holbein.

People forget that the man was once a child whose mother died when he was 11.  It had been a hard time for the family; his brother, Arthur, died of some kind of fever-based illness in April 1502.  Elizabeth, his mother, fell pregnant and gave birth to a girl called Catherine on the 2nd February, 1503, but the child died a few days later.  Elizabeth then died to a post partum infection a week after the child died.  You cannot help but empathise with the small child shown in this manuscript:

 Prince Henry weeping at his mother's empty death bed.  The two girls are his sisters shown in mourning attire, Princess Margaret (aged 13) and Princess Mary (aged 7).  Poor kids.

Henry was known to be very close to his mother so it's no surprise that the young prince was devastated.  It's possible that his distanced relationship with his father was compounded by his mother's death, as according to one account, his father "privily departed to a solitary place and would no man should resort unto him".  Harsh.  Sometimes a kid needs his dad, even in 1503.

This image has had a lot of interest lately; although the Vaux Passional has been in the National Library of Wales since 1921, it's recently been digitised and therefore re-evaluated.  No one had really looked at it in a while.  People are interested in this image because Henry VIII has never been pictured as being vulnerable or even having grieved for anyone much, even as a child.  During the re-evaluation, it became evident that this Passional was likely part of the library of Henry VIII's father, Henry VII.  In fact, it's possible that the image below actually shows the Vaux Passional being given to Henry VII:

Illumination showing the possible presentation of the book to the king.  Prince Henry is weeping in the background.

The activity in the background has actually helped to date the piece somewhat, placing its creation at the start of the 16th century.  The manuscript, which is written in French, similarly follows themes of death.  It contains two bodies of work -- a Passional and Le Miroir de la Mort by Georges Chastellain.  The Passional calls on the reader to meditate on the arrest, trial, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.  It starts at the raising of Lazarus and ends with Judas and Pontius Pilate.  Le Miroir de la Mort is a work that discusses "the futility of wordly pleasures in the face of certain death".  Cheery stuff then.

 Illumination from the Vaux Passional showing "Christ between two thieves".  The source has stunning detail, available here)

The manuscript also shows the seige and fall of Jerusalem, which I think is my favourite illumination -- saving for that of Prince Henry:

It's worth taking a look through the National Library of Wales online gallery for this book.  It's all stunning, and all done by one person who lived in London back in the early 1500s.  No one knows who made it, but it's pretty clear they had a good understanding of death and sadness.  It's also a wonderful reminder that this "swaggering warrior king" was once a child.
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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

How to Verify your Blogger Blog on Pinterest

I normally keep to writing about history stuff, but this is a pretty useful tip, so I thought I'd share it.  Last week I found this "verify website" checkmark on my Pinterest profile page.  It's a new feature designed to make it easier for users to find out more about who they're following, and a way for profile owners to highlight their website on their profile.  Note that they're still rolling out the verify feature, so if you don't see this feature anywhere on your Pinterest, it may not be with you yet.  Pinterest is currently only supporting this feature on top level domains right now, but bloggers are finding work arounds in order to get their sites verified.  I've yet to find a blogger work around other than this one, and this one took some experimentation. 

The problem lies in not being able to just upload an HTML page, which is what Pinterest wants you to do in order to get verified.  But here's a workaround for that...

How to Verify your Blogger Site for Pinterest 

1.  Login to your Pinterest account and go to settings.
2.  Click on the "Verify Website" check mark next to your website address.
3.  The instructions below will appear.  Download the HTML verification file (mine was called pinterest-987a1.html):

4.  Log into your blogger account, go to your blog dashboard, and go to pages.  Make sure that your "show pages" option (highlighted in red below) is set to "don't show":

This stops your Pinterest verification document from being linked on your site -- unless you specifically link it for whatever reason.

5.  Click on the "New Pages" button.  You should see the following pop-up menu:

6.  Select the Blank page option.   You will be taken to what looks like a new blog post.  I changed my view from compose to HTML at this point.

7.  Open up your downloaded Pinterest file in Notepad.  If you're on a mac, open it in TextEdit (Mac Users Note:  If you open your file in TextEdit and you see images instead of code, close the file and go to TextEdit > Preferences > Open and Save and check "Ignore rich text commands in HTML files".  Then reopen your file).

8.  Hopefully, you should see the code.  Select all of the code and copy it.

9.  Paste all the code into the "body" of your new page.  Name your page as per the HTML file you downloaded (see below):

10.  Save the page and publish it.  If it doesn't take you back to Pages once you've published this page, go to Pages and select "view" under your Pinterest html page.  It will take you to the Pinterest verification page as it should be viewed in your browser.  Don't head over to Pinterest just yet!

11. Go to where your browser shows your website link.  Only select the part highlighted below and include the slash:

In short, my website's main page is  The part that is highlighted above is the link to the page you've just created.  But you only need the tail end for what we're about to do, because Blogger assumes that you're working within your blog domain and auto-fills that part for you.

12.  Go to settings > search preferences > errors and redirections > custom redirects > edit.

13.  Paste this fragment of URL into the "To" box.  In the "From" box, type the name of the Pinterest generated HTML document, including a slash (so /pinterest-987a1.html in my example).  Check the "Permanent" box below and hit save.  It should all look like this:

14.  Go back to the Pinterest page that started you on this jaunt.  You can either go to Pinterest and then settings, or you can view the page you created and click on the "Go to Pinterest" link.  You may need to click on "3.  Click here to complete the process."

It'll think about it for a moment and then you should be verified.  Winner!

Edit:  It's come to my attention that I wasn't the first person to find this method out.  Pravin Vibute at discovered it four days earlier.  Good man!

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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Fawkes: He's just this Guy, y'know...

Yeah, I know.  It's the day after Guy Fawkes night, but I have a good reason for posting late:  We were watching stuff explode.

When I lived in the states, I remember patiently explaining that no, we did not celebrate July 4th in England.  Why would we have a "we lost" or "good riddance" day?  But the idea of Bonfire Night, 5th November and Guy Fawkes would draw a look of confusion onto the faces of a lot of folks.  The explanation I used to give ran like this:

Back in 1605, a group of Catholic conspirators decided they wanted to put a Catholic on the throne because they'd had a lot of religious persecution over the years.  So these conspirators decided to blow up Parliament with King James I inside.  One of the conspirators decided he should probably warn his brother-in-law to avoid parliament on 5th November, which led to Guy Fawkes being caught in Parliament's basement with 36 barrels of gunpowder.  So ever since then, the British set off fireworks and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes as a celebration of a plot that failed to kill a king.  [Cue the massive look of confusion].  No, we're not really sure what we're celebrating any more, but everyone likes an excuse to set things on fire and to watch fireworks.  [Cue a sudden light of understanding].

Woodcut of the conspirators, created by Crispijn Van de Passe around 1605.  Fawkes is third from the right.  The chap named Bates on the left was a servant and therefore not important enough to have his first name featured -- everyone else was of a higher class.  Only eight of the thirteen are pictured.  From Wikimedia Commons.

That is pretty much the bare facts of the matter, stripped of history, culture, context and additional information.  Sure, these chaps had very much been subject to persecution -- under Elizabeth I.

 Elizabeth I:  Not nice to Catholics.  Rainbow portrait, ca. 1600, meant to show her agelessness.  

She had passed several laws that saw people executed for their beliefs, often through being hung, drawn and quartered.  James I was her successor and wanted to be more tolerant, stating that he would not persecute Catholics "that will be quiet and give an outward obedience to the law." 

 James I:  Wanted to be nicer to Catholics, considering his mum was one.  Sadly, they tried to blow him and his wife up.  That kind of thing makes a monarch angry.  Ca. 1603-1609.

However, James I did not openly remove any sanctions either -- after all, at the time of the gunpowder plot he was on the throne barely two years.  The plot did nothing to encourage him to be nice to Catholics either.

Guy Fawkes was captured red-handed and held as his majesty's convenience in the Tower of London.  Fawkes was held at some length in a cell called "Little Ease", which was a cell only 4ft long by 4ft high, and only as deep as the wall.  The idea was that it was too small to lie down, stand or sit comfortably.  Of course, that was the least of what happened to Guido Fawkes.  He refused to give his name (John Johnson being the worst false name ever) and his co-conspirators fled, with several dying in a last-stand siege.  After 10 weeks of torture, Guido Fawkes finally signed confessions -- one is so faint and shaky it's just grim, and the other is marginally better, signed eight days later:

 This is your signature on 17th Century Torture:  The signature on the first confession (above) lies below the word "good".  Wikimedia commons.  

This is your signature 8 days after 17th Century Torture:  Still shaky.  Still grim.  Guy Fawkes' signature on the second confession.  National Archives.

All the conspirators faced ugly ends -- those who died before being executed still had their corpses decapitated and placed on Traitor's Gate.  Those who survived the seige got the worst of it; they were hung until nearly dead and then whilst still conscious they were castrated, disemboweled and then quartered.  Ironically, Guy Fawkes had the cleanest death of the lot.  He'd decided that he'd suffered enough, thank you, and so jumped from the scaffold to hang, breaking his neck and cheating the executioner.

The British, being the cheerful people that we are, decided that we would turn all this into a celebration.  Burning effigies of Guy Fawkes became commonplace, and although it's not so common now, I remember as a child seeing other kids making Guys and asking adults for "a penny for the guy" so they could go off and buy fireworks. Thanks to these effigies, the word "guy" also came to mean an oddly dressed man, before becoming used as it is today.

It's got to be said though, as a child, I remember some fantastic Guy Fawkes Nights.  When you're six, all you remember are the fireworks and the poem...

"Remember, remember, the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot."

...with the meaning totally lost on you.  But it doesn't matter because you are six, there are fireworks and fireworks are amazing!
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