4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

1300 to 1400 Timeline


The Hereford Mappa Mundi, "The Greatest Extant Thirteenth Century Pictorial Manuscript" Circa 1300

The Hereford Mappa Mundi. (View Larger)

The Hereford Mappa Mundi preserved at Hereford Cathedral, in Hereford, England, was drawn by "Richard of Haldingham or Lafford" (Holdingham and Sleaford in Lincolnshire) about 1300.  

"Superimposed on to the continents are drawings of the history of humankind and the marvels of the natural world. These 500 or so drawings include images of around 420 cities and towns, 15 Biblical events, 33 plants, animals, birds and strange creatures, 32 images of the peoples of the world and 8 pictures from classical mythology. '... it is without parallel the most important and most celebrated medieval map in any form, . . . and certainly the greatest extant thirteenth-century pictorial manuscript" (Christopher de Hamel, quoted on the Hereford Cathedral website, accessed 07-16-2011)."

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The Most Accurate World Map for Three Centuries Circa 1300

A reproduction of Tabula Rogeriana. (View Larger)

Of the ten surviving manuscript copies of the Kitab Rudjdjar (literally "The book of Roger" in Arabic) or Tabula Rogeriana, the earliest surviving copy, preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (MS Arabe 2221), has been dated to about 1300. It is copy of a world map drawn in 1154 by the Arab geographer, Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi al-Qurtubi al-Hasani al-Sabti, or simply El Idrisi, or  Muhammad al-Idrisi.

"Al-Idrisi worked on the accompanying commentaries and illustrations of the map for eighteen years at the court of the Norman King Roger II of Sicily in Palermo. The map, written in Arabic, shows the Eurasian continent in its entirety, but only shows the northern part of the African continent. The map is actually oriented with the North at the bottom. It remained the most accurate world map for the next three centuries.

"Roger II of Sicily had his world map drawn on a circle of silver weighing about 400 pounds. The works of Al-Idrisi include Nozhat al-mushtaq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq - a compendium of the geographic and sociological knowledge of his time as well as descriptions of his own travels illustrated with over seventy maps; Kharitat al-`alam al-ma`mour min al-ard (Map of the inhabited regions of the earth) wherein he divided the world into 7 regions, the first extending from the equator to 23 degrees latitude, and the seventh being from 54 to 63 degrees followed by a region uninhabitable due to cold and snow.

On the work of al-Idrisi, S. P. Scott commented:

"The compilation of Edrisi marks an era in the history of science. Not only is its historical information most interesting and valuable, but its descriptions of many parts of the earth are still authoritative. For three centuries geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes which form the Nile, as delineated in his work, does not differ greatly from that established by Baker and Stanley more than seven hundred years afterwards, and their number is the same. The mechanical genius of the author was not inferior to his erudition. The celestial and terrestrial planisphere of silver which he constructed for his royal patron was nearly six feet in diameter, and weighed four hundred and fifty pounds; upon the one side the zodiac and the constellations, upon the other-divided for convenience into segments-the bodies of land and water, with the respective situations of the various countries, were engraved" (Wikipedia article on Muhammad al-Idrisi, accessed 01-12-2009).

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The Oldest Surviving Ashkenazi Illuminated Manuscript Circa 1300

The Bird's Head Haggadah. (View Larger)

The oldest surviving Ashkenazi illuminated manuscript, The Bird's Head Haggadah, produced in Southern Germany about 1300, takes its name from the birdlike human figures illustrated in its margins. It is preserved in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. 

"This motif is apparently related to the biblical (Second Commandment) prohibition against creating graven images. In the Birds' Head Haggadah, discovered by Jewish art historian Bezalel Narkiss in 1946, the realistic human figure is avoided by providing it with the head and beak of a bird, but also by distorting or hiding it — with helmets, bulbous noses, and blank faces.

"The adult males are shown wearing on their birds' heads the conical 'Jew's Hat' which was compulsory for Jews in Germany and other lands of the Holy Roman Empire from 1215 until the late Middle Ages. This early S. German haggadah is richly illustrated with biblical, eschatological and ritual scenes - the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, Moses receiving the Tablets of the Law, the manna and quails falling from the sky, and the preparation of matzah for Passover. It written by the scribe Menahem, as indicated by marked letters in the text.

"The representation of human figures with animal heads is typical of South German medieval manuscripts. In the 12th-century Ashkenazi community in southern Germany, several codifiers forbade the realistic representation of human figures, yet ruled that it was permissible to draw human figures without faces. Rabbi Ephraim of Regensburg (12th cent.) permitted the painting of animals and birds, and of two-dimensional humans, as long as they had no faces. Though he believed that as prayerbook illustrations they were a distraction , he said they did not violate the Second Commandment because they were not concrete or sculptural. 

"The great French scholar, Rashi, was more lenient; he knew of and apparently did not object to wall frescoes (presumably in the home) depicting biblical scenes, such as the fight between David and Goliath. In 12th-century France, in general, many Torah scholars discussed and permitted even the three-dimensional representation of the human form, provided that it was incomplete.

"When the art of illuminating Hebrew manuscripts emerged in Northern Europe not later than the 13th century, the inhibition as regards depicting the realistic or complete human form lingered. By presenting the human figures with animal faces and bird heads, the illustrated Hebrew manuscripts retained at least marginally the traditional prohibition against representational art" (Jewish Heritage Online Magazine, accessed 04-07-2009).

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Lay Readers and Book Owners by the End of the 14th Century Circa 1300

"By the beginning of the fourteenth century the text of Vegetius, in addition to being used as a manual for military fortification by Edward I of England [Edward Longshanks] (1272-1307), was extracted for the preachers' manual compiled by Thomas of Ireland (before 1 July 1306), moralized by medieval preachers, and translated into French by Jean de Vignay.

"This last is a reflection of the increasing importance, at the end of the thirteenth century and in the course of the fourteenth, of an audience of lay readers (or at least of lay book-owners). Growing urbanization, increased literacy, and an overall improvement in the economy—the general lot of western Europe since the twelfth century—ultimately produced a class of country nobility and urban courtiers who patronized bookshops, artists, and translators such as de Vignay. Through the work of such book producers, the deeds of Alexander and the Caesars became as much a part of the noble household as the sermon from the pulpit" (Rouse, The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns [ed] The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 49).

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Perhaps the Earliest Movable Metal Type Circa 1300

Four of twelve metal Chinese characters thought to be the world's oldest extant moveable type.

In January 2012 twelve metal Chinese characters were discovered. These may be the earliest movable type, predating those used to print the Jikji Simche Yojeol in 1377. According to Prof. Nam Kwon-heui of Kyungpook National University (KNU) (경북대학교), abbreviated as Kyungdae(경대), in Daegu, South Korea, the metal characters were located in a private collection in Korea.

"The owner of the movable type was quoted as saying he bought them around 10 years ago and was told they were discovered during Japan's occupation of Korea and that a Japanese collector smuggled them out of Korea after World War II.

"The only other movable metal type presumed to date back to the Koryo Kingdom [The Goryeo Dynasty or Koryŏ] is in the National Museum of Korea[Seoul] and the Kaesong Museum of History [Kaesŏng, North Hwanghae Province, southern North Korea (DPRK)] which have one sample each. The type used to print the "Jikji" has yet to be discovered. The "Jikji," an anthology of the teachings of the Buddha for meditation, is held by the National Library of France since the country looted them during a botched invasion in the late Chosun Dynasty.

"In order for the newly found movable type to be dated correctly, experts need to analyze composition, metal craftsmanship and how they were handed down through history" (http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2010/09/02/2010090200639.html

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Ivory Booklet with Scenes of the Passion Circa 1300 – 1320

An ivory booklet preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art may be one of the rarest forms of medieval books. The booklet was carved in Northern France circa 1300 and painted, and gilded in the Upper Rhine circa 1310-1320. 

"Secular examples were common, but tablets with religious subjects were extremely rare and are known primarily from surviving inventories. The exterior covers of this unusual booklet show scenes of the passion and death of Christ, while the interior covers present scenes of the Virgin. Two of the interior "pages" include painted images added at a later date; these spaces originally must have been intended for some other purpose. All the other interior panels have raised edges, creating a recess for wax that the book's owner could incise with a stylus. The wax tablets within might have contained prayers of intercession or the litanies of saints" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1982.60.399, accessed 10-25-2011).

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Insight into the Production of Medieval Books Circa 1300

In November 2013 I had the pleasure of reading the beautifully written and magnificently produced volume, A Medieval Mirror. Speculum humanae salvationis 1324-1500 by Adrian Wilson and Joyce Lancaster Wilson, published by the University of California Press in Berkeley in 1984. The format of this work is 13.5 x 9 1/4 inches (34 x 23.5 cm). A Medieval Mirror was published a year after Wilson received a MacArthur "genius grant." Wilson was a distinguished book designer, and the Wilsons, working as a team, were also excellent book historians. The physical book, designed by Wilson, and luxuriously printed in Japan on the finest paper ( with no show-through) by Dai Nippon, with superb color and black & white plates, large, easy to read type and footnotes, is one of the finest university press books produced during the 1980s. Issued for $175, it was also one of the most expensive university press books at the time. In November 2013 a digital edition of the book was available from the UC Press E-Books Collection. However, this is one instance where a digital edition can never do justice to the experience of reading such a splendidly designed and produced physical book.

I felt that the quotation below was worth including in this database because Wilson brought to book history a lifetime of experience as a book producer and designer, thereby approaching the historical problems with insight beyond that of pure scholarship:

"In the actual work of making books, the medieval scribe must have begun, as would a modern designer, by determining the amount of text which would make a page when written in the chosen script and size and in the desired format. To this must have been added the space planned for miniatures, initials, headings, captions, and sometimes areas for glosses. This calculation would reval the number of sheets of parchment or vellum needed. Sometimes the skins were prepared by the scribes themselves as evening work when the light was too poor for writing, but probably it was more common to obtain them from the parchment maker. Once the scribe acquired them his next step would be to stack the sheets, possibly in threes, fours, or fives, for gatherings that would make, when the sheets were folded, from twelve to twenty pages. From his basic format plan, he pricked, through the parchment stack, the positions of the margins and the grid for the grid lines of the script. The points would then be connected by ruling lines in pale colored ink or by blind scoring.

"Whether the scribe actually wrote in a sewn gathering, or even a bound book, as is so often shown in miniatures, is diffcult to determine. The practice may sometimes have been to inscribe a single four-page sheet of the text consecutively, turning over or replacing the pages to preserve the sequence. There are examples of manuscripts in which a full skin was folded twice to make eight pages, or three times to make sixteen, where the scribe wrote his text leaving the sheet uncut. Scribes are also shown seated at steeply slanted, double-faced desks with the skin folded over the top in the direction of the animal's spine, but it must have been awkward to turn it around or upside-down for each new page. Probably this was the exception, and one may assume that the sheets were usually cut into bi-folios before inscription" (Wilson & Wilson, op. cit., 20-21).

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A Venetian Ordinance on the Production of Eyeglasses April 2, 1300

Essential for reading and writing, and an important factor in the spread of literacy, spectacles are thought to have been invented in thirteenth century Europe; however, their inventor is unknown. Various unsubstantiated theories were proposed over the centuries concerning possible inventors—none supported by satisfactory evidence. Some of the theories are mentioned in the Wikipedia article on Glasses.

Other contenders and snippets of evidence regarding possible inventors are listed on the London College of Optometrists web page on the Invention of Spectacles. Even though the name of the inventor or inventors of spectacles may never be confirmed, there is sufficient reason to believe that spectacles were invented toward the end of the thirteenth century, and that they became more widely used as the fourteenth century advanced.

"Venice was a major centre of glass production, and by the end of the thirteenth century eyeglasses had certainly become an object of general use there, as we can tell from an ordinance dated 2 April 1300 aimed at makers of glass and crystal. It prohibited them from perpetrating a fraud that must have become widespread: 'acquiring or causing to acquired, and selling or causing to be sold, ordinary lenses of colourless glass, under the pretense that they are crystal, for example buttons, handles, discs for kegs and for the eyes ('roidi de botacelis et da ogli'), tablets for altar pictures and crosses, and magnifying glasses ('lapides ad legendum'). The penalty was a fine and the smashing of the fraudulent object. The precise distinction made in the document between eyeglasses and magnifying glasses establishes clearly just what each of the named objects is, and since words preserve their own past like fossils preserved in amber, I note that the term Brille, which means eyeglasses in German, is derived from berillium, the medieval latin word for crystal (Frugoni, Inventions of the Middle Ages [2007] 7 and footnote 25).

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The Metz Pontifical: An Unfinished Medieval Masterpiece Circa 1303 – 1316

Folios 7v-8r of the Metz Pontifical.

The Metz Pontifical, an illuminated manuscript produced for Renaut de Bar, Bishop of Metz (1303-1316), and preserved at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, has the added virtue, from the standpoint of historical research, of being unfinished. Its manner of production is shown in an interesting flash animation on the Fitzwilliam website at this link. The manuscript was donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum by Henry Yates Thompson through the auspices of the museum's director, Sydney Cockerell.

Fifty-two other illuminated manuscripts owned by Yates Thompson are preserved in the British Library, which has an extensive article about Thompson and his fabulous collection at this link.

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Origins of the Vatican Library in the Papal Library 1303

The effigy on pope Boniface VIII, carved into the white marble of his sarcophagus in Saint Peter's Basilica. (View Larger)

On the death of Pope Boniface VIII, the papal library, the eventual basis of the Vatican Library, was moved to Avignon.  During Boniface's papacy the library contained "from 483 to 645 volumes" (Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 341).

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The Use of Manuscript Rolls in the Middle Ages Circa 1304 – 1340

Folio 323r of Codex Manesse: a portrait of Reinmar dictating poetry scribes, one of which bears a wax tablet. (View Larger)

The Manesse Codex, or Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, was produced in Zürich, Switzerland at the request of the Manesse family during the first half of the 14th century. It is the single most comprehensive source for the texts of love songs in Middle High German, representing 140 poets, several of whom were famous rulers, and it includes 137 miniature portraits of the poets with their armorial crests.

"The term for these poets, Minnesänger, combines the words for 'romantic love' and 'singer', reflecting the content of the poetry, which adapted the Provençal troubadour tradition to German. . . . The entries are ordered approximately by the social status of the poets, starting with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, Kings Conradin and Wenceslaus II, down through dukes, counts and knights, to the commoners" (Wikipedia article on Manesse Codex, accessed 03-09-2009)

The codex had an obscure history before it belonged to the Baron von Hohensax, and the Swiss writer Melchior Goldast published excerpts of its didactic texts. After 1657 the codex was in the French royal library (now the Bibliothèque nationale de France), where in 1815 the manuscript was studied by Jacob Grimm. In 1888 it was sold to the German government following following a public subscription headed by William I and Otto von Bismarck and placed in the Bibliotheca Palatina of Heidelberg. Today it is preserved in Heidelberg University Library.

The price the German government paid for the codex in 1888— £18,000— was the highest price ever paid for a book up to that date. The purchase price was paid to bookseller and publisher Karl Trübner who paid the money to the Fifth Earl of Ashburnham in return for 166 manuscripts, of which 99 had been stolen from French libraries by Guglielmo Libri and sixty-six had been stolen from the Bibliothèque nationale de France by Jean-Baptiste Barrois. This deal, which cost the French library £6000 plus the Codex Manesse, had been accomplished largely by the determination and industry of the adminstrative director of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Léopold Delisle, who by painstaking research over more than twenty years had proven Libri's and Barrois's thefts of the manuscripts, and had lobbied effectively for their return to France.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the Codex Manesse was available at this link.

Of particular interest for book history is the portrait of Reinmar dictating poetry on folio 323 available at this link. The poet dictates to a notary who records the poems on wax tablets. A woman sits opposite the notary writing down the text on a roll draped across her lap—a depiction of writing in the medieval roll manuscript format, of which very few examples have survived. It is also a record of the use of wax tablets at this relatively late date.

Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses. Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts (1991) 23, and plate 5.

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Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Horticulture Circa 1304 – 1309

Folio 11 of MS M.232, the Morgan Library's 1470 Belgian manuscript of Ruralia Commoda. (View Larger)

Between 1304 and 1309 Bolognese jurist Pietro Crescenzi (Petrus de Crescentius, Petrus de Crescentiis) wrote Ruralia commoda. Derived in part from the writings of Romans ColumellaCato the Elder, and Varro, this was one of the most widely read medieval works on agriculture, animal husbandry, and horticulture, and it continued to be widely read throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, resulting in numerous printed editions, many illustrated. The text was divided into twelve sections:

1. The best location and arrangement of a manor, villa or farm

2. The botanical background needed to raise different crops

3.  Building a granary and cultivation of cereal, forage and food

4. On vines and wine-making

5 & 6.  Arboriculture and horticulture, including 185 plants useful for medicine and nourishment

7.  Meadows and woods

8.  Gardens

9.  Animal husbandry and bee-keeping

10. Hawking and hunting

11. General summary of the book

12. Calendar of duties and tasks, month by month

Ruralia commoda was first printed in an unillustrated edition in Augsburg by Johann Schüssler in 1471. In February 2014 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.  ISTC no. ic00965000. Thirteen editions were printed in the 15th century: six in Latin, three in Italian and two each in French and German. Various were illustrated with woodcuts.

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Logical Machines for the Production of Knowledge 1305

A portrait of Ramon Llull. (View Larger)

Around 1305 Majorcan writer and philosopher Ramon Llull (Lull) published in his Ars generalis ultima or Ars magna  (the "The Ultimate General Art") a method of combining religious and philosophical attributes selected from a number of lists, which he invented about 1275. It is believed that Llull's inspiration for the Ars magna came from observing Arab astrologers using a mechanical device called a zairja to calculate ideas.

Llull's method

"was intended as a debating tool for winning Muslims to the Christian faith through logic and reason. Through his detailed analytical efforts, Llull built an in-depth theological reference by which a reader could enter in an argument or question about the Christian faith. The reader would then turn to the appropriate index and page to find the correct answer.

"Llull also invented numerous 'machines' for the purpose. One method is now called the Lullian Circle, each of which consisted of two or more paper discs inscribed with alphabetical letters or symbols that referred to lists of attributes. The discs could be rotated individually to generate a large number of combinations of ideas. A number of terms, or symbols relating to those terms, were laid around the full circumference of the circle. They were then repeated on an inner circle which could be rotated. These combinations were said to show all possible truth about the subject of the circle. Llull based this on the notion that there were a limited number of basic, undeniable truths in all fields of knowledge, and that we could understand everything about these fields of knowledge by studying combinations of these elemental truths.

"The method was an early attempt to use logical means to produce knowledge. Llull hoped to show that Christian doctrines could be obtained artificially from a fixed set of preliminary ideas. For example, one of the tables listed the attributes of God: goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, will , virtue, truth and glory. Llull knew that all believers in the monotheistic religions - whether Jews, Muslims or Christians - would agree with these attributes, giving him a firm platform from which to argue.

"The idea was developed further by Giordano Bruno in the 16th century, and by Gottfried Leibniz in the 17th century for investigations into the philosophy of science.

"Leibniz gave Llull's idea the name ars combinatoria, by which it is now often known. Some computer scientists have adopted Llull as a sort of founding father, claiming that his system of logic was the beginning of information science" (Wikipedia article on Ramon Llull, accessed 04-02-2009).

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Origins of Beijing University 1306

In 1306 Peking Guozijian (Beijing Guozijian, Imperial Peking University (北京国子监/北京國子監) or Imperial Academy or Imperial College or Imperial Central School was established as the School of the Sons of State on Giuoziijian Street in Beijing. It was a national central institute of learning and the highest institute of learning in China's traditional education system. This was the ancestor of Beijing University which was officially founded as the Imperial University of Peking in 1898.

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The Most Widely Used Medieval Florilegium or Anthology: Cutting Edge Information Technology for the Time Circa 1306

About 1306 Irish secular clergyman, writer, anthologist and indexer Thomas of Ireland (Thomas Hibernicus), working in Paris, completed the first manuscript of his Manipulus florum, a florilegium or collection of authoritative quotations. A graduate of the Sorbonne, Thomas compiled his anthology from the library of the Sorbonne, which was at the time, the largest library in Christendom.

Thomas's Manipulus florum was among the mostly widely used florilegia in the Middle Ages, and it remained extensively useful through at least  the seventeenth century. The text survives in over one hundred eighty manuscripts. It was first printed in Piacenza by Jacobus de Tyela, and issued on September 5, 1483. (ISTC No.ih00149000). During the 16th century it was printed twenty-six times, and there were eleven printed ediitions in the seventeenth century. Altogether there were at least fifty editions of the work printed between 1483 and 1887. In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the 1483 edition was available from the Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek at this link.

Probably the Manipulus florum was so extensively used because of its advanced system of indexing and cross-references:

"Thomas organized the 'flowers' that he gathered for this collection under 266 alphabetically-ordered topics, from Abstinencia to Christus (Christus coming at the end in the manuscripts and the earliest print editions because the Greek letters Χρσ are used for the abbreviation). He also assigned unique reference letters to the individual entries under each topic, doubling the letters when the number of entries for a given topic exceeded 23 (i.e. the number of letters in the Latin alphabet) entries. For example, Vsura b is the second (and last) entry under the shortest topic; because Prudencia siue prouidencia has 24 entries, the twenty-third entry is designated z and the last one is ba; and Mors di is the last entry under the largest topic, with 97 entries. As Thomas explains in his Preface, these reference letters were created to support his cross-referencing system; at the end of nearly all of the topics he provided a list which includes similar topics (essentially synonyms and antonyms, such as Temperancia and Gula which are cross-referenced at the end of Abstinencia) and, more usefully, specific entries of related interest under unrelated topics. According to Mary Rouse and Richard Rouse, this combination of an alphabetized subject listing and a cross-referencing system represents the cutting edge of information technology at the time of its compilation. They also noted the remarkable stability of the manuscript tradition, which is partly due to the reproduction of the text by the Paris stationers' companies using the pecia system" (http://web.wlu.ca/history/cnighman/page2.html, accessed 11-06-2013). The quotation is from Chris L. Nighman's major online reference, the Electronic Manipulus florum Project.

Rouse & Rouse, Preachers, florilegia and sermons: studies on the Manipulus florum of Thomas of Ireland. PIMS Texts and Studies 47, Toronto (1979).

(This entry was last revised on March 31, 2014.)


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Islamic History Containing the Earliest Notice of Chinese Printing from a Non-Chinese Source 1307

A scene from Rashid al-Din Tabib's 'Jami al-Tawarikh' in which the Ghazan Khan is converted to Islam. (View Larger)

In 1307 Persian physician of Jewish origin, polymathic writer and historian from HamadanRashīd al-Dīn Tabīb (Persian: رشیدالدین طبیب) also Rashīd al-Dīn Fadhl-allāh Hamadānī (Persian: رشیدالدین فضل‌الله همدانی), a convert to Islam, wrote in the Persian language a history, very long for the time, entitled Jami al-Tawarikh.  

"It was in three volumes with a total of approximately 400 pages, with versions in Persian, Arabic and Mongol. The work describes cultures and major events in world history from China to Europe; in addition, it covers Mongol history, as a way of establishing their cultural legacy. The lavish illustrations and calligraphy required the efforts of hundreds of scribes and artists, with the intent that two new copies (one in Persian, and one in Arabic) would be created each year and distributed to schools and cities around the Ilkhanate, in the Middle East, Central Asia, Asia Minor, and the Indian sub-continent. Approximately 20 illustrated copies were made of the work during Rashid al-Din's lifetime, but only a few portions remain, and the complete text has not survived. The oldest known copy is an Arabic version, of which half has been lost, but one set of pages is currently in the Khalili Collection, comprising 59 folios from the second volume of the work. Another set of pages, with 151 folios from the same volume, is owned by the Edinburgh University Library. Two Persian copies from the first generation of manuscripts survive in the Topkapi Palace Library in Istanbul. The early illustrated manuscripts together represent 'one of the most important surviving examples of Ilkhanid art in any medium' and are the largest surviving body of early examples of the Persian miniature"( Wikipedia article on Jami al-Tawarikh, accessed 01-25-2012).

This history contained a discussion of printing in China. The description of the printing process bears very strong resemblance to the processes used in the large printing ventures in China under Feng Dao (932–953):

"When any book was desired, a copy was made by a skillful calligrapher on tablets and carefully corrected by proof-readers whose names were inscribed on the back of the tablets. The letters were then cut out by expert engravers, and all pages of the books consecutively numbered. When completed, the tablets were placed in sealed bags to be kept by reliable persons, and if anyone wanted a copy of the book, he paid the charges fixed by the government. The tablets were then taken out of the bags and imposed on leaves of paper to obtain the printed sheets as desired. In this way, alterations could not be made and documents could be faithfully transmitted. Under this system he had copies made, lent them to friends, and urged them to transcribe them and return the originals. He had Arabic translations made of those works he composed in Persian, and Persian translations of works composed in Arabic. When the translations had been prepared, he deposited them in the mosque library of the Rab'-e Rashidi" (Wikipedia article on Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, accessed 08-20-2014).

"This is the earliest notice of Chinese printing, aside from the making of paper money, outside of East Asiatic sources. It is evident that Rashid had a reasonably reliable source of information and that the printing in which he was interested was the printing of books, especially historical records. Where he failed was in not grasping the importance of the new art as an economical means of disseminating literature and in seeing it merely as a means of authenticating the exact text—a characteristic of Chinese official printing that has already been noticed . . . ." (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed[1955] 173).

In 1980, a 120-page illuminated version of Rashīd al-Dīn's manuscript in Arabic was sold at Sotheby's to Nasser David Khalili of London for £850,000, then the highest price ever paid for an Arabic manuscript. In August 2014 an extensive description of Khalili manuscript was available from Saudi Aramco World at this link.

♦ Also in August 2014 a digital facsimile of the Jami al-Twarikh of Rashid al-Din in Edinburgh University Library, which was considered another portion of the identical manuscript from which the Khalili portion originated, was available from Edinburgh University Library at this link. The Edinburgh portion was collected by Colonel John Baillie and donated to Edinburgh University in 1876.

(This entry was last revised on 08-20-2014.)


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The Earliest Surviving English Paper Codex, and the Earliest Recorded Use of Paper in England 1307 – 1308

On March 28, 2014 British antiquarian bookseller Justin Croft drew the attention of the Ex-Libris newsgroup to a blog post of his dated October 26, 2012 in which he discussed the earliest surviving paper record in England, the "Red Register" of King's Lynn, a register of deeds enrolled in the seaport town of King's Lynn from 1307 to 1372. Croft had the opportunity to examine the book when he visited the borough archives still housed in the King's Lynn Town Hall.

Croft's post struck a cord with me when I searched this database and discovered that my entry for the first use of paper in England was a pathetic undocumented single sentence that said, inaccurately, "The first recorded use of paper in England was in 1309." This entry, numbered 314 in the database, was one of my earliest short notes, written when I began attempting to broaden the scope of the data beyond the history of computing, networking and telecommunications, to cover the history of media, for the simple present tense timeline in my 2005 printed book From Gutenberg to the Internet. That timeline was an expansion of the timeline that I wrote for my printed book Origins of Cyberspace (2002). In 2005 I had no expectation that the project would become a website, or that it would reach anywhere near the extent it had reached in 2014. And though I had revised, expanded, or otherwise corrected many of those original overly brief and unsubtantiated notes since 2005, for some reason this relatively meaningless entry had been left essentially in its original state. Therefore I took the opportunity that Croft's post offered to expand this entry. Croft wrote:

"In the early fourteenth century England’s writers habitually wrote, as we all know, with quill pens on sheets of parchment or vellum. And that’s true of writers in a variety of fields: in the church, the law courts, or in royal and local government. Here in Lynn, in 1307 we find a medieval writer (or probably writers) writing on quires of paper with the clear intention of binding them up as a book. The paper could not, of course, have been English: the first recorded English paper mill dates from only the 1490s, when a Hertford paper maker supplied paper to the printer William Caxton.

"It was only after I returned home to Faversham (which coincidentally has a pretty mean collection of medieval charters) that I realised just how early the Lynn paper book was. In fact, consulting the endlessly-useful classic by Michael Clanchy From Memory to Written Record, I found that: ‘The earliest records made in England on paper come most appropriately from major seaports: a register from King’s Lynn beginning in 1307 and another from Lyme Regis in 1309’.

"The King’s Lynn Red Register is then, the earliest surviving English paper book. I realise that, had I been paying attention, I would have noticed it even has its own blue plaque outside the town-hall, though it doesn’t tell us why it’s important.

"It’s a common (and fair) assumption that paper books have something to do with printing. Books are printed on paper. There are a few black-tulip exceptions, usually very early (a few copies of the Gutenberg Bible and other incunables, including Caxtons, and of course a few copies of the wonderful Kelmscott Chaucer and other private press books; late revivals of vellum printing). There’s also a co-incidence of chronology: paper making, especially in England, takes off with the advent of printing. Conversely, we tend to think of medieval manuscripts as written on parchment or vellum.

"On reflection I can now think of several examples of English medieval manuscripts on paper, mostly urban or legal registers from the fifteenth century (there’s even one here in Faversham). A few date from the period before printing, but very few from the fourteenth century. That makes the 1307 Red Register at Lynn truly remarkable.

"It speaks of a confident leap-of-faith on behalf of the town government to make an important civic record on a material with such a short track-record in practice. Of course we know that Chinese and Islamic cultures used paper long before, but the first paper mills in Europe were not active before the 1270s (in Italy; where else?). Urban records were not mere shopping lists: they were the documents used by powerful ruling elites to protect the data which allowed them to carry out their day to day business in the knowledge that they were acting correctly and lawfully. Town documents were jealously guarded and treated with all the care and respect that a major business corporation would use to maintain and back-up its databases. That is one reason why medieval town records have such a good rate of survival.

"To experiment with paper as a record-keeping technology was a brave and forward-looking move in 1307. Probably before its time, since it didn’t catch on for so long. Paper would turn out to have all kinds of advantages over parchment: it can be less bulky, it allows for much more rapid writing in new, faster hands, and ultimately it would become cheaper. By 1500, except for deeds and charters, paper would become dominant in record-keeping of all kinds. Perhaps most significantly, in the long run, it provided a perfect surface for printing."

In Pragmatic Literacy, East and West 1200-1330, edited by R. H. Britnell (1997) Geoffrey Martin wrote in a chapter entitled "English Town Records", "The relatively high cost of parchment seems to have limited the scope of personal archives. It was some time before paper became a cheap alternative, and its use was limited in the towns before the end of the fifteenth century. The earliest example is a register of deeds enrolled at King's Lynn, from 1307, followed by the Husting court book of Lyme Regis in Dorset, a similar register begun 1308. The so-called Little Red Book of Bristol and the Red Paper Book of Colchester, a paper volume also original bound in red leather, are other examples from the first and second halves of the century respectively." (p. 130.)

Perhaps it is not coincidental that both of these early English registers on paper were created in seaport towns in which trade must have been very active with continental regions where paper was in production. By the twelfth century paper was being produced in the Iberian peninsula and in Italy. Paper production did not reach France or Germany until mid to late 14th century. Therefore it is likely that the paper used for both the King's Lynn and Lyme Regis registers came from Italy or Spain. The first papermill in England arrived very late compared to continental developments. John Tate operated the first English papermill from 1496 to 1507, and the first book printed in England on paper made in England was printer Wynkyn de Worde's first English edition of Bartholomaeus Anglicus's De proprietatibus rerum in the English translation of John Trevisa. According to the ISTC, this undated edition was issued "circa 1496."

The Red Register of King's Lynn was transcribed by Robert F. Isaacson and edited by Holcombe Ingleby for publication in King's Lynn in 1922 in a 2 volume work entitled appropriately, The Red Register of King's Lynn. Consisting of mainly deeds and wills, it provides invaluable records of an important town in the fourteenth century. However, from the book history standpoint the key element of this register is its early use of paper as a recording medium.

(This entry was last revised on March 29, 2014.)


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Dante Alighieri's "Divina Commedia" 1308 – 1321

A statue of Dante at the Uffizi. (View Larger)

Between 1308 and 1321 Italian poet Dante Alighieri, a Florentine, also called the "Father of the Italian language," composed the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia), an allegorical vision of the afterlife as a culmination of the medieval world-view. The work was originally called Commedia, but later changed to Divina Commedia by the Italian author and poet Giovanni Boccaccio. Printed editions did not add the word Divina to the title until that of that of the Venetian humanist Lodovico Dolce, published in 1555 by Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari.

No original manuscript written by Dante survived, though we have over 600 manuscript copies from the 14th century, and probably even more from the 15th century. Beginning with a commentary written in 1333 by Dante's son Jacopo, 15 medieval commentaries on the Divina Commedia were written.

The first dated illustrated manuscript of the Divina Commedia was written in 1337 by the notary and poet Ser Francesco di Ser Nardo da Barberini (Francésco da Barberino)  (Milan, Biblotheca Trivulziana MS. 1080). It was illuminated in Florence by the artist known as the Master of the Dominican Effigies. In March 2014 images of this manuscript were available from the Bibliotheca Augustana website at this link.

"The legend is that Ser Francesco provided dowries for his daughters by writing out a hundred mansuscripts of the Divine Comedy, and it is curious that there are at least three other copies so closedly related to the signed mansucript in their script and decoration that they must have been produced together: Flrorenc, Bibl. Laur. Strozz. MS 152, Bibl. Naz. Palat. MS 313, and Pierpont Morgan Library M. 289. The proceeds of even a few such books would make any daughter worth chasing" (De Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts [1986] 143-44).

From the textual standpoint the most precious 14th century manuscripts of the Divina Commedia may be the three full copies made by Giovanni Boccaccio during the 1360s. Even by this early date Boccaccio could not consult Dante's original manuscript.

(This entry was last revised on March 23, 2014.)


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The Speculum humanae salvationis 1309 – 1500

The Speculum humanae salvationis or Mirror of Human Salvation, a bestselling anonymous illustrated encyclopedic work of popular theology, originated between 1309 (since it refers to the Pope being at Avignon) and 1324, the date on two copies.  A preface, probably from the original manuscript, states that the author did not identify himself out of humility, though numerous suggestions of authorship have been made. The author was almost certainly a cleric, and there is evidence he was a Dominican. A leading candidate for authorship is Ludolph of SaxonyVincent of Beauvais has also been proposed.

The Speculum humanae salvationis falls into the category of encyclopedic speculum literature concentrating on the medieval theory of typology, in which events of the Old Testament foretold events of the New Testament. The original version was in rhyming Latin verse, describing a series of New Testament events, each of which was prefigured by three Old Testament events. The work must have been very widely copied, as it remains one of the most widely preserved of illuminated manuscript texts; over 350 medieval manuscript copies survive in Latin, and the text was also translated and copied into Dutch, French, German, English and Czech. Almost all the copies were illustrated, following the pattern of the manuscripts dated 1324, but from an exemplar that was probably lost. "In the prologue is the statement that the learned can find information from the scriptures, but the unlearned must be taught by pictures, which are the books of the lay people" (Wilson & Wilson 24). It was also one of the most widely printed texts in the fifteenth century, both in blockbook and editions printed from movable type. There were four blockbook editions (two in Latin and two in Dutch), and sixteen editions printed from movable type by 1500. 

"No works of the late Gothic had more influence on artists working in all the media than the Biblia pauperum and the Speculum humanae salvationis. The influence of the typological text and illustrations of the latter can be seen in the fourteenth-century stained glass windows of churches at Mulhouse, Colmar, Rouffach, and Wissembourg. The woodcuts of the blockbooks clearly appear in designs of the fifteenth-century sculptures of the church of Saint-Maurice at Vienne and in the famous tapestries of the Life of Christ at La Chaise-Dieu and the series at Rheims. Mâle states that one could be sure that any Flemish artist of importance had in his atelier manuscripts of these two works. Jan van Eyck, in 1440, worked from a Speculum in the triptych for the church of Saint-Martin in Ypres. The typological treatment of the Nativity was traditional and one might assume that Van Eyck could find it in other sources, but on the exterior of the side panel is the earliest example, in panel painting, of the Annunciation to Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl just as it appears in the Speculum. This subject entered the artistic iconography specifically through the Speculum text and image. There was a copy also in the atelier of Roger van der Weyden, as can be seen in the famous Bladelin triptych, where the same prefigurations of the Nativity are pictured. The use of both books as sources, in a single work of art, is not uncommon" (Wilson & Wilson, A Medieval Mirror. Speculum humanae salvationis 1324-1500 [1984] 28-29).

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of an illuminated manuscript of the Speculum humanae salvationis produced in Paris or Flanders circa 1430-1450 and preserved in Einsiedeln at the Stiftsbibliothek was available from e-codices at this link.  Another digital facsimile of an illuminated manuscript, preserved in Sarnen at the Benediktinenkollegium, written in 1427, possibly by Brother Thomas de Austria ordinis sancti Johannis, was available from e-codices at this link.  

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The Rochefoucauld Grail 1315 – 1323

Arthur versus the Saxons as depicted in the Rochefoucauld Grail. (View Larger)

Between 1315 and 1323 The Rochefoulcauld Grail was written and illuminated in Flanders or Artois by the same team of artists and scribes who produced the deluxe copies of the text now London, British Library, Add. MS. 10292-4 and Royal MS.14.E.III) perhaps for Guy VII, baron de La Rochefoucauld. It is one of the principal manuscripts of the greatest romance of the Middle Ages, with 107 miniatures illustrating warfare, chivalry and courtly love. It contains the Lancelot-Grail cycle in French prose, the oldest and most comprehensive version of the legend of King Arthur and the Holy Grail.

The manuscript was sold at Sotheby's London on December 10, 2010 for £2,393,250 including premium. The Sotheby's catalogue description, presumably written by Christopher de Hamel, included the provenance and numerous published references. The manuscript sold consisted of three volumes. A fourth volume of the manuscript is divided between the Bodeleian Library, Oxford (Douce MS 215) and the John Rylands Library, Manchester (MS Fr. 1).

In February 2014 a selection of images from the manuscript was available from Theguardian.com at this link.  

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Prices that Booksellers Should Charge for Manuscripts 1317 – 1342

The Bolognese statutes of 1317 (repeated in the statutes of 1347) provided a list of prices that booksellers should charge for manuscripts

This list of prices, published by Frank Soetermeer, Utrumque ius in peciis: Aspetti della produzione libraria a Bologn fra due e trecento. Oribs academicus: Saggi e documenti di storia delle universita, 8. (Milano, 1997) 314-317, reproduces a list found in Graz, Universitätsbibliothek 363, fol. 1rv.

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Early Persian Appreciation of the Value of Chinese Printing for the Standardization of Correct Texts 1317

In 1317 Persian scholar Dawud al-Banakiti wrote concerning Chinese printing in his Raudat uli'l-Albab (Garden of the Intelligent) a summary copied closely from the Jami'al-Tawarikh of polymath Rashīd al-Dīn Tabīb (Persian: رشیدالدین طبیب‎) also Rashīd al-Dīn Fadhl-allāh Hamadānī, which had been written in 1307:

"The Chinese are wont to make copies from books in such wise that no change or alteration can find its way into the text. And when they thus desire, they order a skillful calligrapher to copy a page of the book on a tablet in a fair hand, and then all the men of learning carefully correct it, inscribing their names on the back of the tablet. Then skilled and expert engravers are ordered to cut out the letters. And when they have thus taken a copy of all the pages of the book numbering all the blocks consecutively, they place them in sealed bags, like dies in a mint, and entrust them to reliable persons appointed for the purpose, keeping them securely in special offices on which they set a particular seal. When anyone wants a copy of the book he goes before the committee and pays the dues and charges fixed by the government, after which they bring out the tablets, impose them on leaves of paper like the dies are imposed on gold for coins, and so deliver the sheets to him. Thus it is impossible that there should be any omission or addition to any of their books, on which, therefore, they place complete reliance and thus is the transmission of the histories effected" (Needham, Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West [1970] 23-24).

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The Earliest Use of Paper Money in Japan 1319 – 1327

"Earliest use of paper money in Japan. The Japanese notes were smaller than those of China, being about 2 by 6 inches. This paper money was secured by a gold or silver or other metallic reserve" (Hunter, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft 2nd ed [1947] 474).

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Medieval Union Catalogue of Manuscripts Circa 1320

About 1320 Oxford Franciscans compiled, on the basis of on-site surveys, the Registrum Anglie de libris doctorum et auctorum ueterum — a manuscript union catalogue of some 1400 manuscript books in England, Scotland and Wales. It listed the works of 98 authors owned by 189 monastic or cathedral libraries.

"Although none of these libraries is Franciscan, the master list is organized geographically according to the division of Great Britain into the custodiae of the Franciscan order. The three surviving manuscripts of the Registrum date from the beginning of the fifteenth century; it is nevertheless possible to establish from external evidence that the Registrum must date from the first or second decade of the fourteenth century" (Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses. Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 237-38).

Registrum Anglie de libris doctorum et auctorum veterum. Edited with an introduction and notes by Richard H. Rouse and Mary A. Rouse. The Latin text established by R. A. B. Mynors (1991).

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The Luttrell Psalter, Preserving the Memory of Ordinary Folk Alongside the Mighty and the Wealthy 1320 – 1340

Between 1320 and 1340 Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, Lord of the Manor of Irnham, Lincolnshire, England, commissioned the Luttrell Psalter (British Library Add. MS 42130). This psalter, written by a single anonymous scribe and illustrated by at least five different anonymous artists, contains one of the most extensive collections of images of everyday rural life of both nobles and ordinary people in medieval England. While the Luttrell Psalter was not the first to include scenes of contemporary rustic life, the number of its images and their fascinating details, and their lively and often humorous aspects provide a virtual "documentary" of work and play during a year on an estate like Sir Geoffrey's. Because of the number of collaborators involved in its production it is thought that the psalter could not have been created in the small village of Irnham, but was perhaps created in the larger town of Lincoln.

"The Luttrell Psalter is one of the most intensely personalized of medieval books and betokens a heightened level of intimacy between patron, planner and maker. It is interesting that such audacious experiments in achieving a fully synthesized relationship between the conventional major decorated components of a liturgical or devotional manuscript and innovative didactic/entertaining images in its marginal space, should have been undertaken in a commission by a 'new man' with social aspirations, at the junction between the rural knightly classes and the great barons of the realm. Perhaps only such previously unploughed ground could successfully nurture the seeds of such innovation, free of the strangling conventions surrounding the production of books for royalty and the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

"In such cases, the relationships between the work's planners, patrons and makers in producing a combined 'text' bears comparison with the modern film industry. As in the collaboration between director, producer, production team and actors, each can contribute their own aspects of 'reading' or interpretation, without necessarily departing from an established 'script' or storyboard. Film is not usually 'history' or temporally disembodied 'art' (though it can be both) - neither is the Luttrell Psalter. It represents one of the most imaginative attempts in art to provide not only metaphorical and literal illustrations of the text, with word-images playing upon individual phrases, words or syllables  (as on f. 152v where two naked men are foot wrestling, taking their cue from the Latin word passer on the line above, which in courtly French indicates pas, 'step/foot', and also the past, passé, with which such exotic peoples were often associated in the medieval imagination and f. 87v, where the star announcing the birth of Christ to the Magi and the shepherds hangs from the phrase nati sunt, 'are born'), but to relate them to the trials and tribulations, boons and blessings of everyday life. The temporal continuum links past, present and future: its images seek not only to depict fourteenth century realities but also to explore eternal meanings" (Michelle P. Brown, The World of the Luttrell Psalter [2006] 56-57).

The Luttrell Psalter was acquired by the British Museum in 1929 with the assistance of financier and collector J. P. Morgan who loaned the museum the very high purchase of price of 30,000 guineas (£31,500) interest free. Because of the wide social appeal of its imagery, and its other unique features, the manuscript was the subject of extensive scholarship since it passed into public ownership. There were also two printed facsimile editions, the second of which (in full color) was issued by The Folio Society in 2006 with a commentary by Michelle P. Brown. In August 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from the British Library at this link. With the digital facsimile the British Library posted a very detailed table of contents of the manuscript plus a bibliography of the most significant scholarly works about it. Also in August 2014 a portion of the manuscript was available from the British Library through its "Turning the Pages" program at this link. A collection of captioned still images from the psalter was available from Wikimedia at this link. In 2010 Lincolnshire Heritage Filmakers produced a 20 minute dramatization of events depicted in the manuscript entitled The Luttrell Psalter Film.

The contents of the manuscript, as listed by the British Library are as follows:

 ff. 1r-12v: Calendar, with the feasts of the following English saints included: Edward (18 March), Augustine (26 May), Translation of Thomas of Canterbury (7 July), Wilfrid (12 October), Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln (17 November); Edmund (20 November); Thomas of Canterbury (29 December). The title 'Papa' and references to the feasts of Thomas of Canterbury (except his Translation) have been scored through with a pen; ff. 13r-259v: Psalter, Gallican version; ff. 259v-283r: Canticles and the 'Quicunque Vult'; ff. 283v-293v: Litany; ff. 293v-295v: Five collects: Deus cui proprium est (ff. 293v-294r); Omnipotens sempiterne deus quie facis mirabilia (ff. 294r); Pretende domine famulis et famulabus (ff. 294r-294v); Deus qui es sanctorum tuorum splendor (ff. 294v-295r); Deus propicius esto michi mierimo peccatori (ff. 295r-295v). ff. 296r-309v: Office of the Dead, use of Sarum, incomplete, breaking off at the 3rd versicle after the 9th lesson, with musical notation. Marginal additions (14th-15th century) give alternative cues for the responses to the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th lessons at Matins, e.g., 'Subvenite sancti dei', (f. 303), 'Domine secundum actum meum', (f. 308). Decoration: The Calendar (ff. 1r-12v) contains: 10 large hybrids in colours in the outer margins, 12 decorated initials with foliate partial borders in colours with gold and initials in red, blue and gold with penwork decoration. The Psalter (ff. 13r-259v) contains: One framed bas-de page miniature with full border (f. 202v). Over 400 decorated borders with bas-de page scenes in colours with gold, containing a variety of figural, foliate, monstrous, genre and religious motifs (on every page from f. 13r to 215r and infrequently to f. 259v). 10 large historiated initials at beginning of the major Psalms. The remainder of the volume (ff. 259v-309v) contains: 1 historiated initial (f. 263v) with partial border in colours with gold. A full border with a bas-de page scene (f. 266r). Framed initials in colours with gold, with zoomorphic or foliate decoration, at the beginning of the remaining psalms. Square and diamond-shaped musical notation on a stave of four red lines in the Office of the Dead (ff. 296r-309v). The subjects of the large historiated initials in the Psalter are: f. 13r: Psalm 1, David playing the harp; f. 51r: Psalm 26, A saint pointing to his eye; f. 75v: Psalm 38, David pointing to his tongue; f. 97v: Psalm 51, A saint pulling out the tongue of a seated man; f. 98v: Psalm 52, Standing fool; f. 121v: Psalm 68, David, crowned and naked, standing in water; f. 149r: Psalm 80, David playing a psaltery; f. 174r: Psalm 97, Five clerics chanting with a psalter containing musical notation; f. 177v: Psalm 101, Man kneeling before the Lord in the heavens; f. 203r: Psalm 109, David, seated at the Lord's right hand. The subjects of the smaller historiated initials are: f. 14v: Christ blessing; f. 15v: Head of a young man; f. 16v: David praying to a head with a halo; f. 18r: Head of a king; f. 20v: Christ showing wounds; f. 28r: Head of a fool; f. 38v: A man knocking at the door of a shrine, surrounded by waves (?); f. 40r: David praying; f. 46v: Head of a bearded man; f. 53v: The beheading of John the Baptist by a blue-coloured executioner with a golden sword (the execution takes place in a building resembling the Tower of London).f. 61r: A lady playing a rote; f. 68r: Head of a lady; f. 79v: A man confronted by two beggars; f. 81r: Christ with a kneeling soul; f. 86r: The Virgin and Child, with a bird; f. 88r: Christ with David kneeling; f. 89r: David with seven men, all clapping hands; f. 90r: Grotesques; f. 157r: David praying to a head with a halo; f. 158v: A monk reading and a grotesque; f. 165r: Christ standing and blessing; f. 166v: Christ holding a book, with a kneeling man; f. 170v: Two trumpeters; f. 171v: Two laymen singing; f. 176v: Two birds singing; f. 180r: A soul praying to a head with halo; f. 185v: Christ hearing confession; f. 205v: Three boys kneeling;f. 263v: Two clerks singing with music on a lectern.The subjects of the bas-de-page scenes include: ff. 86r-96v: Scenes from the life of Christ;f. 147v: Archers practising;f. 158r: A miller in his windmill;f. 161r, Bear-baiting;f. 161v, A ship in full sail;f. 163v: A wattle pen full of sheep;f. 164v: The city of Constantinople;ff. 169v-174v: Scenes from country life such as ploughing and weeding;f. 181r, A watermill;ff. 181v-182r: A carriage decorated with eagles and gold fabric, with royal ladies inside, pulled by a team of five horses;f. 193r: Women spinning;f. 196v: A boy stealing cherries from a tree;f. 202v: Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, mounted, armed, and attended by his wife Agnes (nee Sutton, d. 1340) and his daughter-in-law Beatrice, (nee Scrope), with the heraldic devices of the three families.ff. 206v-207r: Preparations for a feast;f. 207v, Serving the feast;f. 208r: The Luttrell family feasting.Coats of arms are found throughout the manuscript, including ff. 59, 157, 163, 171 (Luttrell); f. 41 (Sutton); f. 161 (Scrope)." 

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Rules for the Operation of the Library of the Sorbonne 1321

". . . the master promulagated a body of regulations in 1321 'for the benefit of the house [Sorbonne] and the better care of the books,' which defined and rectified the book provisions of the college. . . . In these provisions the masters are bascially concerned with three matters of importance at the time and of significance to the subsequent development of the library: supervision of the loaning and of the general care of the circulating books; enlargement of the collection of chained books; and the making of a new catalog of the whole collection . . . .

"At the head of the list was the stipulation that no book was to be loaned out of the house unless a pledge of greater value, whether book or precious metal, be left in its place in the pledge chest. The responsibility for the circulating books, the libri vagantes of the parva libraria, were placed in the hands of cu stodians of the books who were to elected by the fellows. They were to account for books lost during their tenure, and to exercise strict control over the keys to the parva libraria. The loan register was to be renewed; in it, under the name of each individual borrower, the books which he had were to be precisely described, not only with author and short title, but also with the value of the book and the incipit of its second folio. . . . Certain unbound manuscripts of little worth, such as collections of notes and sermons, were to be disposed of, and the proceeds used to buy books which the library lacked.

"Having insured that adequate control would be maintained over the use and circulation of the unchained books, the statutes secondly insured that the major books would be available at all times. The legislation stipulated that henceforth the best manuscript of each work in the college was to be selected and chained in the libraria communis; all books belonging to the college were subject ot being impounded for chaining, including those which might currently be on loan to individual fellows, because the good of the community outweighs individual privilege . . . .

"The third matter of general significance in the statutes of 1321 was the provision that a new catalog should be made of the whole collection, because many of the books previously owned by the house could not longer be found" (Rouse & Rouse, "The Early Library of the Sorbonne," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 378-79).

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First Use of Paper in Holland 1322

"Usually given as the date of the first use of paper in Holland. According to J. H. Stroppelaar (Het Papier in de Nedelanden Gedurende de Middeleuwen, Inzonderheid in Zeeland, Middelburg, 1869), the oldest paper found in the archives of Holland is dated 1346, and is preserved at The Hague" (Hunter, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft 2nd ed [1947] 474).

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Printing with 100,000 Written Characters of Movable Type 1322

Following in the foot steps of Wang Zhen, in 1322 the magistrate of Fenghua, Zhejiang province, named Ma Chengde, printed Confucian classics with movable type of 100,000 written characters organized on revolving type tables.

Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, Volume 5, Part 1, 208.

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Renaissance Humanists Hunt for the Manuscripts of Roman Authors Circa 1325 – 1450

"The recognition that they were not Romans, that the Roman past was essentially other, differentiated Renaissance writers from their medieval counterparts. Lovato Lovati's colleague Albertino Mussato (1262-1329) could compose a tragedy in Senecan metre for an ancient purpose, to rouse the citizens of Padua to civic action. Petrarch (1304-74) could compose letters to Cicero in Ciceronian style, though Boccaccio (1313-76) still mingled quotations from ancient and medieval authors without recognizing that they were inherently different. The recognition that Rome was a culture basically distinct from their own was largely the work of humanists and they, as Martines has shown, were trained first and foremost in law. A legal training involved competence in the arts of discourse—in the writing of letters. One letter from Florentine chancellor Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406) was said by a contemporary to be worth 5,000 soldiers. The models of style to which they turned were ancient letters: Seneca's, the Younger Pliny's, Symachus', and (after Petrarch had rediscovered them) Cicero's to Atticus and to others of his friends. Teachers of discourse like Guarino of Verona (1374-1460) were the umanisti or humanists in whose hands lay the revival of Antiquity. The Roman past was recognized as something removed in time, definably different, and of interest as an ideal, which one might escape into as did Petrarch or which one might use as a goad to challenge the indolent present; thereupon it became something to be sought. The hunt was on for manuscripts of Roman authors collecting dust in ecclesiastical libraries. Humanists served as diplomats, and their search for and discoveries of the texts of Roman authors took place in stolen moments in the course of their diplomatic missions to European courts ecclesiastical and secular. Hence Petrarch assembled his text of Livy in Avignon, where his patron Landolfo Colonna attended the papal court; hence Poggio (1380-1459) tired of the business of the Council of Constance (1414-17), explored the book cupboards of St-Gall. Nicholas of Cues  [Nicholas of Cusa] (1401-64) very naturally visited the libraries of Egmont and St. Maximin in Trier, along with scores of others equally interesting, in his capacity as papal legate to Germany. Not unlike their forerunners Lupos of Ferrieres, Wibald of Corvey, Philip of Bayeux, Richard de Fournival, diplomats of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries searched the libraries of abbeys and cathedrals for ancient authors. While libraries were the sources for texts, the agencies by which texts were disseminated were especially two: (1) the international meeting places, such as the seats of ecclesiastical authority, the papal court at Avignon (1309-77), the great Councils of Constance (1414-18) and Basel (1431-49) and Rome itself—crossroads where diplomats from the South met those from the North; and (2) the humanist-diplomats themselves through their networks of like-minded friends and correspondents. Even without external evidence one can see, for example that Petrarch was single-handedly responsble for the introduction to fourteenth-century Italian humanists of a whole series of ancient texts; these are texts for which the parent of an entire branch of the manuscript tradition obviously once belonged to him, since the derivative manuscripts belonged in large part to his friends and their friends" (Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns [ed] The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 50-51).

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The Earliest Dated Astrolabe Made in Europe 1326

The Chaucer astrolabe, preserved in the British Museum, remains the earliest dated astrolabe made in Europe. It is of the type described by the poet Geoffrey Chaucer in his A Treatise on the Astrolabe, written circa 1390. That text is considered the earliest technical manual written in English. No specific surviving astrolabe has been identified as the one used by Chaucer.

The first rudimentary astrolabes were invented in the Hellenistic world, circa 150-100 BCE, and were often attributed to Hipparchus.

An astronomical instrument used for observing planetary movements, the astrolabe was indispensable for navigation. Brass astrolabes, a type of analog calculator, were developed in the medieval Islamic world, and were also used to determine the location of the Kaaba in Mecca, in which direction all Muslims face during prayer. Planispheric, or flat, astrolabes, were more common than the linear or spherical types. In planispheric astrolabes the celestial sphere was drawn on a flat surface and represented on one plate.

The earliest surviving dated astrolabe of the planispheric type dates from 927 or 928. Coincidentally it is also preserved in London, at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

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The Largest Library in Christendom 1328

A reading room at the Library of the Sorbonne. (View Larger)

The Library of the Sorbonne, the largest in Christendom, contained 1722 volumes of manuscripts in 1328. Since many of these volumes contained more than one text, the total number of texts involved would have been substantially higher. According to some accounts, libraries in Moorish Spain or Al-Andalus, especially in Cordoba, may have contained far larger numbers of manuscripts.

Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 226.

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Filed under: Libraries

The Largest Library in England 1331

A photograph of the Canterbury Cathedral, within which resides the Library of Christ Church. (View Larger)

In 1331 the Library of Christ Church, Canterbury, contained "1850 volumes." "The largest monastic collections of this period contained between four and five hundred volumes" (Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 341).

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The Second Catalogue of the Library of the Sorbonne 1338

The second catalogue of the library of the Sorbonne—the richest library in Christendom—was written in 1338. 

The library, divided into two parts, contained 1722 volumes. The first portion called the communis or magna libraria consisted of 330 volumes chained to the reading desks. The rest of the collection, designated the small library, consisted of 1090 volumes. About 300 volumes relisted from the prior catalogue written in 1290 were designated as missing or in circulation. The writer(s) of the 1338 catalogue

"furnished a large amount of information about each volume. He gives not only the contents, but also the name of the donor, the estimated value, and first words on the second leaf and on the next to the last leaf. This device, intended to help identification of books belonging to the Library and to prevent mutilation, is invaluable to us in trying to identify surviving volumes of the collection. Some professors kept out books on indefinite loan, like their successors today. Such books were appropriately called libri vagantes, 'strays' from the sacred precincts of the Library. It should be said that usually a money deposit was required of borrowers. We even have loan records of the Library during the fourteenth century. The appraisal of each book given in the catalogue was intended to facilitate payment for books lost by borrowers. Chained books were occasonally loaned but only after a faculty vote. There was even a rudimentary inter-library loan system. And that is not all: a union list of books in the monasteries of Paris was made as early as the thirteenth century for the use of the Sorbonnistes. The catalogue of the reference library is in two parts, a shelf-list and a classified catalogue" (Ullman, The Library of the Sorbonne in the Fourteenth Century. The Septicentennial Celebration of the Founding of the Sorbonne College in the University of Paris. [1953] 35-36).

"The collections of the other colleges of the period included no more than three hundred works. . . " (Martin, The History and Power of Writing [1994] 153).

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The First Two Color Printing 1340

In 1340 the first two color (black and red) printing was produced in China.

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The Oldest Known English Public Advertisement Circa 1340

Portions of an early poster written on parchment by a professional Gothic scribe were found as part of the stiffening inside a bookbinding made in Oxford about 1340. 

"The fragments come from a single sheet, written on one side only in a whole range of different Gothic scripts, and they are stained and weathered. The supposition is that the poster was once tacked up outside a stationer's shop (presumably in Oxford) until it became obsolete or was replaced and so was taken down and stored as a useful scrap of thick parchment. One day its pieces proved ideal for padding out a binding, and thus the oldest known English public advertisement has come down to us. It shows short specimens of twelve different scripts for different classes of liturgical manuscript, from a large choir psalter to little portable processionals with music. There are similar Continental specimens from the fifteenth century, advertising the range of hands available from the scribes Herman Stepl, of Münster in Westphalia, for example, or Robert of Tours in the diocese of Nantes. Presumably the customer came into the shop, looked over the patterns as one might a menu in a takeaway restaurant, and left an order for a particular script" (de Hamel, Medieval Craftsmen. Scribes and illuminators [1992] 39 and plate 31).

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French Portable Information Retrieval Device Circa 1340

A portable Calendarium by the Danish mathematician Petrus Philomena de Dacia made in the South of France about 1340 CE is preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Manuscrits, Nouv. acq. lat. 375). 

This livre plicatif or "pocket book", intended to be hung from the body, probably from a band around the waist, contains parchment leaves folded several times so that the size of the sheets are as small as practical and fit into a binding which could be hung from a belt or a string.   The amount of text was limited since the sheets were small to begin with and generally could be writton only on one side.

Almanacs of this kind generally contain twelve sheets, one for each month of the year, with daily indication of hour and minute of the day and night, as well as details of ecclesiastical computation. In addition, there are various astronomical data such as eclipses, the size of the moon. Throughout the Middle Ages astrological considerations were generally linked to medicine. Some medieval calendars of this kind contain drawings of a human figure covered with anatomical-therapeutic and astrological indications. 

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A Painted Wood Panel that Once Covered an Account Book 1343

A painted wood panel preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dated 1343 once covered an account book compiled by the biccherna of Siena, a committee who served as administrators and treasurers of the commune. 

"The scene at the top shows three of the five committee members, all of whose names are listed in the inscription below. The carmarlingo, or secretary, wearing the white robes of a Cistercian monk, counts a bag of money before two officers with record books. The painted book cover belongs to a long tradition of Sienese civic commissions. For some 500 years beginning in 1258, the commune hired local painters to decorate the covers of the financial books at the end of each fiscal term" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/10.203.3, accessed 12-03-2013).

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Philobiblon, Perhaps the Earliest Treatise on Book Collecting and on Preserving Books & Creating a Library 1345 – 1473

The seal of Richard de Bury. (View Larger)

Shortly before his death in 1345, the priest, bishop, politician, diplomat and bibliophile Richard Aungerville, commonly known as Richard de Bury, wrote Philobiblon, perhaps the earliest treatise on the value of preserving neglected or decaying manuscripts, on building a library, and on book collecting. de Bury was appointed tutor to the future King Edward III while Edward was Prince of Wales, and, according to Thomas Frognall Dibdin, inspired the prince with his own love of books.

Having connections in the court, de Bury somehow became involved in the intrigues preceding the deposition of King Edward II, and in 1325 supplied Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, in Paris with money from the revenues of Brienne, of which province he was treasurer. For a period of time he had to hide in Paris from the officers sent by Edward II to apprehend him.

Upon his ascent to the throne in 1327 Edward III rapidly promoted de Bury, appointing him cofferer to the king, treasurer of the wardrobe and afterwards in 1329 Lord Privy Seal. The king repeatedly recommended him to the pope, and twice sent him, in 1330 and 1333, as ambassador to the papal court in exile at Avignon. On the first of these visits Richard met a fellow bibliophile, Petrarch, who recorded his impression of Aungerville as "not ignorant of literature and from his youth up curious beyond belief of hidden things." Pope John XXII made de Bury his principal chaplain, and presented him with a rochet in earnest of the next vacant bishopric in England. 

During his absence from England in February 1333 de Bury was appointed Dean of Wells. In September of the same year, he was appointed Bishop of Durham by the king. In February 1334 de Bury was made Lord Treasurer, an appointment he exchanged later in the year for that of Lord Chancellor. Richard may have sometimes exploited his political power to collect manuscripts. According to the Wikipedia, an abbot of St Albans bribed him with four valuable books, and de Bury, who procured certain coveted privileges for the monastery, bought from him thirty-two other books for fifty pieces of silver, far less than their normal price. In Philobiblon

"Richard de Bury gives an account of the wearied efforts made by himself and his agents to collect books. He records his intention of founding a hall at Oxford, and in connection with it a library in which his books were to form the nucleus. He even details the dates to be observed for the lending and care of the books, and had already taken the preliminary steps for the foundation. The bishop died, however, in great poverty on 14 April 1345 at Bishop Auckland, and it seems likely that his collection was dispersed immediately after his death. Of it, the traditional account is that the books were sent to the Durham Benedictines Durham College, Oxford which was shortly thereafter founded by Bishop Hatfield, and that on the dissolution of the foundation by Henry VIII they were divided between Duke Humphrey of Gloucester's library, Balliol College, Oxford, and George Owen. Only two of the volumes are known to be in existence; one is a copy of John of Salisbury's works in the British Museum, and the other some theological treatises by Anselm and others in the Bodleian.

"The chief authority for the bishop's life is William de Chambre, printed in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, 1691, and in Historiae conelmensis scriptores tres, Surtees Soc., 1839, who describes him as an amiable and excellent man, charitable in his diocese, and the liberal patron of many learned men, among these being Thomas Bradwardine, afterwards Archbishop of CanterburyRichard Fitzralph, afterwards Archbishop of Armagh, the enemy of the mendicant ordersWalter Burley, who translated Aristotle, John Mauduit the astronomer, Robert Holkot and Richard de KilvingtonJohn Bale and Pits I mention other works of his, Epistolae Familiares and Orationes ad Principes. The opening words of the Philobiblon and the Epistolaeas given by Bale represent those of the Philobiblon and its prologue, of that he apparently made two books out of one treatise. It is possible that the Orationes may represent a letter book of Richard de Bury's, entitled Liber Epistolaris quondam dominiis cardi de Bury, Episcopi Dunelmensis, now in the possession of Lord Harlech.

"This manuscript, the contents of which are fully catalogued in the Fourth Report (1874) of the Historical Manuscripts Commission (Appendix, pp. 379–397), contains numerous letters from various popes, from the king, a correspondence dealing with the affairs of the university of Oxford, another with the province of Gascony, beside some harangues and letters evidently meant as models to be used on various occasions. It has often been asserted that the Philobiblon itself was not written by Richard de Bury at all, but by Robert Holkot. This assertion is supported by the fact that in seven of the extant manuscripts of Philobiblon it is ascribed to Holkote in an introductory page, in these or slightly varying terms: Incipit prologus in re philobiblon ricardi dunelmensis episcopi que libri composuit ag. The Paris manuscript has simply Philobiblon olchoti anglici, and does not contain the usual concluding note of the date when the book was completed by Richard. As a great part of the charm of book lies in the unconscious record of the collector's own character, the establishment of Holkot's authorship would materially alter its value. A notice of Richard de Bury by his contemporary Adam Murimuth (Continuatio ChronicarumRolls series, 1889, p. 171) gives a less favourable account of him than does William de Chambre, asserting that he was only moderately learned, but desired to be regarded as a great scholar (Wikipedia article on Richard de Bury, accessed 02-04-2014).

Philobiblon was published in print for the first time in Cologne, 1473

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The Chantilly Illuminated Manuscript of Dante's Inferno Circa 1345

Along with Yates Thompson MS 36 in the British Library, the Chantilly Inferno (Chantilly, Mus. Condé, MS 597/1424) is considered one of the greatest of the illuminated manuscripts of Dante's Divine Comedy. The Chantilly manuscript was probably created in Pisa about 1345, only a little more than twenty years after Dante may have finished the poem.

The Chantilly Inferno contains the text of the Inferno together with the Latin commentary on the text by the Italian writer Guido da Pisa. It is among the earliest illuminated copies of the Inferno, and the only known illuminated copy of Guido da Piso's commentary. Most of the 55 miniatures in the manuscript accompany the commentary, though their iconography is drawn from the Inferno. The miniatures mainly appear in the lower margins, reflective of one of two types of illustration that were developed in Florence in the 1330s for the illustration of the Divine Comedy. The color palette for these illustrations is limited to browns and grays, and one one episode is depicted in each miniature. The paintings were attributed by art historian Millard Meiss to three or more artists working in the style of Francesco Traini. These artists, Meiss, theorized, had been trained as panel or mural painters.

Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture II, 18-19.

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Petrarch Discovers Cicero's Letters to Atticus 1345

In 1345 Italian scholar, poet and humanist Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) discovered Cicero's Letters to Titus Pomponius Atticus in the Bibliotheca Capitolare (Chapter Library) at Verona. This discovery is often credited with initiating the 14th century Renaissance.

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Filed under: Book History, Libraries

The Black Death 1347 – 1353

The spread of the Bubonic plague in Europe. (View Larger)

Between 1347 and 1353 the Black Death, one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, killed thirty to sixty percent of Europe's population.  For centuries the epidemic continued to strike every 10 years or so, its last major outbreak being the Great Plague of London from 1665 to 1666. Though the vectors were not understood at the time, the disease was spread by rats and transmitted to people by fleas or, in some cases, directly by breathing.

"The pandemic is thought to have begun in Central Asia, and spread to Europe during the 1340s. The total number of deaths worldwide is estimated at 75 million people, approximately 25–50 million of which occurred in Europe. . . . It may have reduced the world's population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in 1400.

"The 14th century eruption of the Black Death had a drastic effect on Europe's population, irrevocably changing the social structure. It was a serious blow to the Roman Catholic Church, and resulted in widespread persecution of minorities such as Jews, foreigners, beggars, and lepers. The uncertainty of daily survival created a general mood of morbidity, influencing people to 'live for the moment', as illustrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in The Decameron (1353)" (Wikipedia article on Black Death, accessed 01-03-2009).

"The three plague waves [Plague of Justinian, Black Death, and that beginning in China's Yunnan province in 1894] have now been tied together in common family tree by a team of medical geneticists led by Mark Achtman of University College Cork in Ireland. By looking at genetic variations in living strains of Yersinia pestis, Dr. Achtman’s team has reconstructed a family tree of the bacterium. By counting the number of genetic changes, which clock up at a generally steady rate, they have dated the branch points of the tree, which enables the major branches to be correlated with historical events.  

"In the issue of Nature Genetics published online Sunday [October 31, 2010], they conclude that all three of the great waves of plague originated from China, where the root of their tree is situated. Plague would have reached Europe across the Silk Road, they say. An epidemic of plague that reached East Africa was probably spread by the voyages of the Chinese admiral Zheng He who led a fleet of 300 ships to Africa in 1409 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/01/health/01plague.html, accessed 11-01-2010).

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Perhaps the First Paper Mill in France 1348

Troyes, France. (View Larger)

"Under this date it is recorded that a paper mill was established in the Saint-Julien region near Troyes, perhaps the earliest mill in France" (Hunter, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft 2nd ed [1947] 475).

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Henry of Kirkestede Compiles a Medieval Union Catalogue of Manuscripts Naming 694 Authors Circa 1350

About 1350 the Benedictine monk Henry of Kirkestede, prior of the royal abbey of St. Edmund at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, and traditionally known as Boston Burienis, compiled a union catalogue of manuscripts in English libraries entitled Catalogus de libris autenticis et aposcrifis. He named 674 authors and assigned to them about 3900 works.

Richard H. Rouse & Mary A. Rouse, eds., Henry of Kirkestede, Catalogus de libris autenticis et aposcrifis (2004).

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Block Printing May have been Practiced by Arabs and Jews as early as the Mid-14th Century Circa 1350

Hebrew bock-print from the late fourteenth centry.  In the Genizah Collection.

Fragments of block-printing on paper in Arabic and Hebrew from the Cairo Genizah, the storeroom of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, Old Cairo, Egypt, now preserved in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University Library, indicate that block-printing may have been practiced by Arabs and Jews as early as the mid-14th century.

Examples of wood block printing in Arabic excavated in 1880 in the region of El-Fayyum (Faiyum) in Egypt are also thought to date from the mid-14th century. They are preserved in the Erzherzog (Archduke) Rainer Collection in the Austrian National Library, Vienna.

Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed (1955) 176-181.

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The Earliest Surviving Spectacles Circa 1350

A pair of leather spectacles, found, among other artifacts, in 1953 beneath the floorboards of Kloster Wienhausen, near Celle, in Germany. (View Larger)

In spite of the obvious fragility of spectacles (eyeglasses), a reasonable number of extremely early examples have survived from the mid-fourteenth century onward. Images and information about them have been collected by David A. Fleishman on his website, Antique Spectacles and other Vision Aids.

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The Oldest Sephardic Haggadah Circa 1350

From the Sarajevo Haggadah: Moses upon Sinai, holding the Ten Commandments. (View Larger)

Considered the most beautiful Jewish illuminated manuscript in existence, and the oldest Sephardic Haggadah, the Sarajevo Haggadah, was produced in the mid-14th century in Barcelona, Spain. It was written on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold, and opens with 34 pages of illustrations of biblical scenes from creation through the death of Moses. Its pages are stained with wine— evidence that it was used at many Passover Seders. It is preserved at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo.

"The Sarajevo Haggadah has survived many close calls with destruction. Historians believe that it was taken out of Spain by Spanish Jews who were expelled by the Alhambra Decree in 1492. Notes in the margins of the Haggadah indicate that it surfaced in Italy in the 1500s. It was sold to the National Museum in Sarajevo in 1894 by a man named Joseph Kohen.

An illuminated leaf of hebrew text from the Sarajevo haggadah. (View Larger)

"During World War II, the manuscript was hidden from the Nazis by the Museum's chief librarian, Dervis Korkut, who at risk to his own life, smuggled the Haggadah out of Sarajevo. Korkut gave it to a Muslim cleric in Zenica, where it was hidden under the floorboards of either a mosque or a Muslim home. During the Bosnian War of the early 1990s, when Sarajevo was under constant siege by Bosnian Serb forces, the manuscript survived in an underground bank vault. To quell rumors that the government had sold the Haggadah in order to buy weapons, the president of Bosnia presented the manuscript at a community Seder in 1995.

"Afterwards, the manuscript was restored through a special campaign financed by the United Nations and the Bosnian Jewish community in 2001, and went on permanent display at the museum in December 2002" (Wikipedia article on Sarajevo Haggadah, accessed 03-23-2009).

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Writing Zilbaldone Circa 1350

The practice of writing zibaldone, or collections of notes in paper codices of small and medium format, such as we might call commonplace books, began in the mid 14th century.

"Rather than miniatures, zibaldone often incorporate the author's sketches. Zibaldone were in cursive scripts (first chancery minuscule and later mercantile minuscule) and contained what Armando Petrucci, the renowned palaeographer, describes as 'an astonishing variety of poetic and prose texts.' Devotional, technical, documentary and literary texts appear side-by-side in no discernible order. The juxtaposition of gabelle taxes paid, currency exchange rates, medicinal remedies, recipes and favourite quotations from Augustine and Virgil portrays a developing secular, literate culture. By far the most popular of literary selections were the works of Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio: the 'Three Crowns' of the Florentine vernacular traditions.These collections have been used by modern scholars as a source for interpreting how merchants and artisans interacted with the literature and visual arts of the Florentine Renaissance" (Wikipedia article on commonplace book, accessed 01-16-2011).

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Routine Everyday Messages Inscribed on Rune-Sticks Circa 1350

Since 1955 670 runic inscriptions on wood dating from the fourteenth century were excavated from the medieval city at Bryggen, Bergen, Norway. Excavation took place after a disastrous fire swept through a historic waterfront district. Many of the Bryggen inscriptions are letters and everyday messages cut into small wooden sticks or tablets which were easily transported. 

Before these inscriptions were excavated there was doubt whether the runes were ever used for anything else than inscriptions of names and solemn phrases. The Bryggen find showed that runes were used for routine, everyday messages in this area, and presumably also in other parts of Scandinavia. Another important aspect of the find was that many of the inscriptions dated as recently as the 14th century. Prior to the discoveries at Bryggen it was believed that the use of runes in Norway had died out long before. Since these findings, many more runic inscriptions of this type have been found in Norway.

"There is some evidence for rune-stick letters in Scandinavian contexts as far back as the ninth century. It is possible that the early Anglo-Saxons made extensive use of rune-sticks for practical communications, bu the absence of even one surviving example makes it difficult to proceed beyond speculation. We do have some evidence for familiarity with the runic alphabet among the educated classes of society. For instance, the solution to certain Anglo-Saxon riddles depends upon knowledge of runes . . . ." (Kelly, Anglo-Saxon lay society and the written word," IN: Mckitterick (ed) The Uses of Literarcy in Early Mediaeval Europe [1990] 37).

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The Earliest Depiction of Eyeglasses in a Painted Work of Art 1352

The first depiction of spectacles in art: a portrait of Cardinal Hugo of Provence at his writing desk, painted by Tommaso de Mondena in fresco in the Basilica San Nicolo in Treviso, Italy. (View Larger)

"The earliest depiction of spectacles [eyeglasses] in a painted work of art occurs in a series of frescoes dated 1352 by Tommaso da Modena in the Chapter House of the Seminario attached to the Basilica San Nicolo in Treviso, north of Venice. Cardinal Hugo of Provence [Hugh de St. Cher] is shown at his writing desk wearing a pair of rivet spectacles that appear to stay in place on the nose without additional support. The Cardinal actually died in the 1260s and could never have worn spectacles! Across the room Cardinal Nicholas of Rouen is depicted using a monocular lens in the style of later quizzing glasses. The artist has even tried to represent the physical effort of straining to see the book through the lens. The men depicted in this series of paintings are Dominicans (like Fra Rivalto), members of a dynamic monastic order founded in 1217 and regarded as 'the carrier of the sciences'. It is notable that visual aids are portrayed as devices for the use of literate men as well as aesthetes - they had, after all, commissioned this important work of early Renaissance art" (London College of Optometrists web page on the Invention of Spectacles, accessed 06-22-2009).

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The Gough Map: The Oldest Surviving Road Map of Great Britain and the First Map to Depict a Recognizably Accurate Picture of Britain's Coastline Circa 1360

Named after English antiquarian, collector and scholar Richard Gough, who donated the map to the Bodleian Library in 1809, the Gough Map or Bodleian Map is the oldest surviving road map of Great Britain. Gough is believed to have acquired the map from the collection of lawyer, antiquarian and collector "Honest Tom" Martin in 1774. As Gough wrote in 1780, 

"The late Mr. Thomas Martin shewed to the same society (Soc. of Antiquaries) at the same time (1768) a map on vellum, which he supposed to be of the age of Edward III in which the names of London and York were distinguished by large gold letters.  This map I purchased at a sale of his MSS, 1774, and shall subjoin the following account of it, to illustrate the copy made by Mr. Basire, pl VI.  It is drawn on two skins of vellum, in a style superior to any of the maps already described... The roads are marked by lines, and even the miles in each stage.  But the greatest merit of this map is, that it may justly boast itself the first among us wherein the roads and distances are laid down" (Gough, British Topography. Or, an Historical Account of What has been Done for Illustrating the Topographical Antiquities of Great Britain and Ireland [1780] 76).

In June 2015 I found the remarkable website at www.goughmap.org  entitled Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain, which is most highly recommended. Besides interpretive essays, and a new paleographical study of the writing of place names on the map, and a bibliography, the site offers a digital, searchable version of the map.

"The map's authorship is also unknown. It is thought that much of the information about the map was gained from either one or more men who travelled around Great Britain as part of Edward I's military expeditions into Wales and Scotland. The areas of the map's fringe with the most accurate detail often correspond with those areas in which Edward's troops were present. The accuracy of the map in the South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire areas suggest that the author could be from this region. However, it is also possible that the map was constructed based upon the collation of various people's local knowledge. For example, the cartographic accuracy in Oxfordshire could be explained by the fact that [Bishop] William Rede, Fellow of Merton College, had successfully calculated the geographic coordinates for Oxford in 1340.

"The Gough Map is important due to its break with previous theologically-based mapping. It was the first to show the road network of England, though there are some notable and confusing omissions, such as large sections of Watling Street. The use of numerals to indicate road distances in leagues is unique in comparison to all other pre-17th century maps of Britain. It was also the first map to depict a recognisably accurate picture of Britain's coast, although the accuracy is much greater in England than in Scotland, at the time part of another kingdom. Towns are shown in some detail, with London and York written in gold lettering and other principal settlements illustrated in detail. Despite its accuracy, the map does contain a number of other errors. Notably, islands and lakes such as Anglesey and Windermere are oversized, whilst the strategic importance of rivers is shown by their emphasis. Well known but geographically small features such as the Peninsula in Durham are also overly-prominent. The map contains numerous references to mythology as if they were geographical fact, as illustrated by comments about Brutus' mythical landings in Devon. Nevertheless, it remains the most accurate map of Britain prior to the 16th century" (Wikipedia article on Gough Map, accessed 07-16-2011).

(This entry was last revised on 06-20-2015.)

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Charles V Establishes a Royal Library at the Louvre 1368

The courtyard of the Louvre, present day. (View Larger)

In 1368 King Charles V converted the fortress of the Louvre into a royal palace, and established a royal library there. This library was the origin of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

"Charles had received a collection of manuscripts from his predecessor, John II, and transferred them to the Louvre from the Palais de la Cité. The first librarian of record was Claude Mallet, the king's valet de chambre, who made a sort of catalogue, Inventoire des Livres du Roy nostre Seigneur estans au Chastel du Louvre. Jean Blanchet made another list in 1380 and Jean de Bégue one in 1411 and another in 1424. Charles V was a patron of learning and encouraged the making and collection of books. It is known that he employed Nicholas Oresme, Raoul de Presle and others to transcribe ancient texts. At the death of Charles VI, this first collection was unilaterally bought by the English regent of France, the Duke of Bedford, who transferred it to England in 1424. It was apparently dispersed at his death in 1435" (Wikipedia article on Bibliothèque nationale de France, accessed 02-22-2014).

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Filed under: Libraries , Museums

The Papal Library Contains 2,059 Volumes 1369

In 1369 the papal library contained 2,059 volumes. This, and the library of the Sorbonne in Paris, were the largest libraries in Christendom.

Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts (1991) 341.

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One of the Earliest Sources of Trecento Secular Polyphonic Music 1370

Folio 31r of the Rossi Codex, upon which is written a madrigal entitled 'in un broleto, al'alba.' (View Larger)

The Rossi Codex, written circa 1370, contains 37 secular musical works including madrigals, cacce and, uniquely among trecento sources, monophonic ballatas.  For many years it was considered the earliest source of fourteenth-century Italian music, and although other pre-1380 sources of secular, polyphonic, Italian music have more recently been identified, none are nearly so extensive, even though only 18 folios of the original 32 in the manuscript survive.

"The largest part of the Rossi Codex is currently in the Vatican Library . . .  This section comprises seven bifolios, ff. 1–8 and ff. 18–21. In the early nineteenth century, it was in the possession of Italian collector Giovan Francesco de Rossi, for whom this manuscript and the collection in the Vatican is named. In 1857 his widow gave the manuscripts to the Jesuit library in Linz, later transferred to Vienna. . . . In 1922, the Jesuits gave the collection to the Vatican. The manuscript was first brought to the attention of the musical community by Monsignor Gino Borghezio in 1925 and then described in more depth by the musicologists Heinrich Besseler (1927), Friedrich Ludwig (1928), and Johannes Wolf (1939). Although all three of these scholars contended that the manuscript, like most of the surviving trecento sources, was Florentine, the Italian scholars Ferdinando Liuzzi, Ugo Sesini, and Ettore Li Gotti noted that linguistic evidence in the texts pointed to northern Italy, and the Veneto in particular as more likely point of origin. Most recently, Pirrotta has asserted a specific origin in Verona on the basis of symbols in the codex's works.

"The source's whereabouts prior to Rossi's possession are unclear. . . .

"A smaller section of the manuscript is in the library of the Fondazione Greggiati in Ostiglia (Biblioteca musicale Opera Pia "G. Greggiati"). . . . These two bifolios were discovered by Oscar Mischiati in 1963. Since the folios did not appear in any library catalogs prior to 1963, and since the folios show evidence of having been folded, they were likely used as covers or cover reinforcements for other volumes" (Wikipedia article on Rossi Codex).

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Scribes in London First Organize September 23, 1373

The "Writers of Court and Text Letter" or "Writers of the Court Letter" delivered a petition to the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, to establish a monopoly of their profession by forming a corporate body whose members are governed and protected. 

"They were first mentioned, with the limners and barbers, as an accepted professional class as early as 1357. Seven years later, in 1364, the Writers doubtless considered that the general direction for the good government of all the crafts in the City of London applied to them because a copy of the enrollment of that article is the second entry in their records" (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=35888, accessed 02-28-2009).

♦ In 1617 group secured a Royal Charter from James I as the Worshipful Company of Scriveners.

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The Relative Costs of the Components of Medieval Manuscripts 1374 – 1375

"To give us an idea of the costs of making manuscript books in the Middle Ages we have an example of the costs incurred in making a copy of Henri Bohic's voluminous Commentaires, which Etienne de Conty had made in 1374 and 1375 by the copyist Guillaume du Breuil. It is a work of two large in-folio volumes, one with 370 leaves and the other with 388. A note on the inside of each volume tells us that the work cost 62 livres and 11 sous in Parisian money. This sum was made up of the following:

- The copyist's salary: 31 livres 5 sous
- The purchase and preparation of the parchment, including the mending of holes: 18 livres 18 sous
- Six initial letters with gold: 1 livre 10 sous
- Other illuminations, in red and blue: 3 livres 6 sous
- The hiring of an exemplar for the copyist provided by Martin, Carmelite clerk: 4 livres
- Repairs to holes in the margins, and stretching: 2 livres
- Binding: 1 livre 12 sous

These manuscripts are now kept in the Bibliothèque municipale d’Amiens, shelfmark 365" (blog.Pecia: Le manuscrit medieval, 5 novembre 2007).

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The Earliest Surviving Example of Old Polish Literature Circa 1375

Folio 3r of the Psałterz Floriansk. (View Larger)

The Psałterz Floriansk, an illuminated psalmody, consisting of parallel Latin, Polish and German texts created toward the end of the 14th century, is probably the earliest surviving example of literature in the Old Polish language. Sometimes also known as Hedwig Psałterz, its name comes from a village in Austria — Sankt Florian. The manuscript was discovered in 1827, and first published as a printed book in Vienna, 1834. It was acquired by Poland in 1931, and is preserved in the National Library of Poland in Warsaw.

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The First Encyclopedia Arranged in Alphabetical Order Circa 1375

Folio 1v of Omne Bonum upon which is drawn the four scenes of creation: God creating fish; God creating animals; the Creation of Adam; the Creation of Eve. (View Larger)

About 1375 English clerk of the Exchequer, James le Palmer, compiled and wrote out Omne bonum, an encylopedia of universal knowledge, on 1100 folio leaves, with roughly 1,000,000 words. Le Palmer also commissioned over 800 illustrations from various manuscript illuminators. The manuscript (British Library MS Royal 6.E VI-VII) is the earliest encyclopedia with its entries arranged in alphabetical order.  Its illustrations, covering the widest range of subjects, are a major iconographical source for the time. 

Attribution of authorship and analysis of the text and images of this manuscript was done by Lucy Freeman Sandler and published as Omne Bonum. A Fourteenth-Century Encyclopedia of Universal Knowledge (2 vols., 1996.) Sandler's two volumes contain almost 900 illustrations. Sandler also traced the sources of Le Palmer's information for the many articles in his encyclopedia.

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One of the Most Beautiful Medieval Atlases 1375

In 1375 the Catalan Atlas (Atles català), an exquisitely beautiful cosmography, perpetual calendar, and thematic representation of the known world, was produced by the Majorcan cartographic school. Creation of the atlas has been attributed to Cresques Abraham (Abraham Cresques), a Jewish cartographer from Palma, Majorca (Mallorca).

"The Catalan Atlas originally consisted of six vellum leaves folded down the middle, painted in various colors including gold and silver. The leaves are now cut in half. Each half-leaf is mounted on one side of five wooden panels. The first half of the first leaf and the second half of the last leaf are mounted on the inner boards of a brown leather binding. Each measures approximately 65 × 50 cm. The overall size is therefore 65 × 300 cm.

"The first two leaves contain texts in Catalan language covering cosmography, astronomy, and astrology. These texts are accompanied by illustrations. The texts and illustration emphasize the Earth's spherical shape and the state of the known world. They also provide information to sailors on tides and how to tell time at night.

"The four remaining leaves make up the actual map, which is divided into two principal parts. The map shows illustrations of many cities, whose political allegiances are symbolized by a flag. Christian cities are marked with a cross, other cities with a dome. Wavy blue vertical lines are used to symbolize oceans. Place names of important ports are transcribed in red, while others are indicated in black.

"Unlike many other nautical charts, the Catalan Atlas is read with the north at the bottom. As a result of this the maps are oriented from left to right, from the Far East to the Atlantic" (Wikipedia article on Catalan Atlas, accessed 01-11-2013).

Since the 14th century reign of Charles V of France the Catalan atlas has been preserved in the Bibliothèque royale de France (now the Bibliothèque nationale de France.)

An authoritative reference is The Creques Project of Gabriel Llompart and Jaume Riera, accessed 10-11-2013).

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The Earliest References to Playing Cards in Europe 1377

"The earliest references to playing cards in Europe that can be clearly differentiated from chess, follow each other with rapid succession in various countries—Germany 1377, Spain 1377, Luxemburg 1379, Italy 1379, Belgium 1379, France 1382. . . "(Carter, Invention of Printing in China, 2nd ed. [1955] 185).

At this time playing cards in Europe were probably not printed.

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The Earliest Surviving Book Printed from Movable Metal Type 1377

In 1377 Jikji Simche Yojeol, (Jikjisimcheyojeol) a Korean Buddhist document written by the Buddhist monk Baegun (Buddhist name Gyeonghan), was printed in Heungdeok Temple in Cheongju, South Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty. The was the first book printed from movable metal type.

Baegun's work, intended as a guide for students of Buddhism, comprised a collection of excerpts from the analects of the most revered Buddhist monks throughout successive generations. Originally issued in 2 volumes, only a single copy of the second volume survived, preserved in the division of Manuscrits orientaux in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.


"The Jikji 'had been in the collection of [Victor Emile Marie Joseph] Collin de Plancy, a chargé d'affaires with the French Embassy in Seoul in 1887 during the reign of King Gojong. The book then passed into the hands of Henri Véver [in an auction at Hotel Drouot in 1911], a collector of classics, and when he died in 1950, it was donated to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, where it has been ever since.' Today only 38 sheets of the second volume of the metal print edition are extant.  

"In May 1886, Korea and France concluded a treaty of defense and commerce, and as a result in 1887 official diplomatic relations were entered into by the treaty's official ratification by Kim Yunsik (1835-1922) and Victor Emile Marie Joseph Collin de Plancy (1853-1924). Plancy, who had majored in law in France and went on to study Chinese, had for six years served as translator at the French Legation in China between 1877 and 1883. In 1888 he came to Seoul as the first French consul to Korea, staying until 1891. During his extended residence in Korea, first as consul and then again as full diplomatic minister from 1896-1906, Victor Collin de Plancy collected Korean ceramics and old books. He let Kulang, who had moved to Seoul as his official secretary, classify them" (Wikipedia article on Jikji, accessed 09-09-2010).

In January 2014 an extensive website devoted to the Jikji was hosted by a South Korean NGO at this link.

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Merton College Library Contains Approximately 500 Manuscripts 1378

A globe in the present day Merton College Library. (View Larger)

In 1378 the new library at Merton College, Oxford was finished. At this time the library at Merton College contained approximately 500 manuscripts.

"At the same time the University of Oxford itself had no more than two or three boxes of books, the ownership of which was disputed by a college, and they were not chained and made accessible till 1412" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 107).

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Both of the Earliest and Most Authoritative Manuscripts of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Were Written by the Same Scribe Circa 1380

The opening leaf of the Hengwrt Chaucer. (View Larger)

Under the direction of Geoffrey Chaucer scribe Adam Pinkhurst wrote the Hengwrt manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Chaucer composed a short poem gently chiding a scribe who worked for him named "Adam." In the poem Chaucer scolded the scribe for having so many errors in his manuscripts that Chaucer had to correct them in proofreading. This scribe Professor Lynne Mooney identified as Adam Pinkhurst by comparing the writing of the manuscript with Pinkhurst's signature on an oath Pinkhurst had to sign when he joined the Writers of the Court Letter, predecessor of the Scrivener's Company of London, shortly after 1382.

Here is Chaucer's poem written to Adam Pinkhurst:

Chaucer's Wordes Unto Adam His Own Scriveyne

Adam scrivener, if ever thee befall

Boece or Troilus for to write new [again],

Under thy longe locks thow maist have the scall,

But [unless] after my makinge thou write mor trew,

So oft a day I mot [must] thy werke renewe It to correct, and eke to rubbe and scrape,

And all is thorowe thy necligence and rape [haste].

Preserved in the National Library of Wales, in Aberystwyth, where it is known as MS Peniarth 392D, the Hengwrt Chaucer is the earliest and most authoritative manuscript of the Canterbury Tales.

"Recent scholarship has shown that the variant spellings given in the Hengwrt manuscript likely reflect Chaucer's own spelling practices in his East Midlands / London dialect of Middle English, while the Ellesmere text shows evidence of a later attempt to regularise spelling; Hengwrt is therefore probably very close to the original authorial holograph."

"This was one of the collection of manuscripts amassed at the mansion of Hengwrt, near Dolgellau, Gwynedd, by Welsh antiquary Robert Vaughan (c.1592-1667); the collection later passed to the newly-established National Library of Wales as the Peniarth or Hengwrt-Peniarth Manuscripts.

"The Hengwrt manuscript's very early ownership is unknown, but by the 16th century it can be identified as belonging to Fouke Dutton, a draper of Chester who died in 1558.  It then seems to have passed into the ownership of the Bannester family of Chester and Caernarfon, and through them was in the possession of an Andrew Brereton by 1625; by the middle of the 17th century it had been acquired by Vaughan.

 "Peniarth MS 392 D contains 250 folios with a page size of around 29 x 20.5 centimetres. It is written on heavily stained and rather damaged parchment. The main textual hand has been identified with one found in several other manuscripts of the period (see below); there are a number of other hands in the manuscript, including one of a person who attempted to fill in several gaps in the text. This has been tentatively identified as the hand of the poet Thomas Hoccleve" Wikipedia article on Hengwrt Chaucer, accessed 02-28-2009).

It is also understood that scribe Adam Pinkhurst, employed by Chaucer, wrote the more famous and more elegant Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer probably after Chaucer's death.

The opening of 'The Knight's Tale' in the Ellesmere Chaucer. (View Larger)

"The early history of the manuscript is uncertain, but it seems to have come into the possession of Thomas de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford at some point. "The Ellesmere manuscripts began to be assembled by the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Egerton (1540-1617), Baron Ellesmere and Viscount Brackley and were added to by his descendants; he obtained his manuscript of the Tales from Roger, Lord North. The library of manuscripts remained at the Egerton house, Ashridge, Hertfordshire, until 1802 when it was removed to London. Francis Egerton, created Earl of Ellesmere in 1846, inherited the library, and it remained in the family until its sale to Henry Huntington by John Francis Granville Scrope Egerton (1872-1944), 4th Earl of Ellesmere. Huntington purchased the Bridgewater library privately in 1917 through Sotheby’s.

"The Ellesmere manuscript is a highly polished example of scribal workmanship, with a great deal of elaborate illumination and, notably, a series of illustrations of the various narrators of the Tales (including a famous one of Chaucer himself, mounted an a horse). As such, it was clearly a de luxe product, commissioned for a very wealthy patron.

"The manuscript is written on fine vellum and is approximately 400mm by 284mm in size; there are 240 leaves, of which 232 contain the text of the Tales. Though a single scribe was employed, the illustrations were possibly carried out by three different artists" (quotations from Wikipedia article on Ellesmere manuscript, accessed 02-28-2009).

The Ellesmere Chaucer is preserved in The Huntington Library.

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Costs for a Missal Produced in 1382 1382

Costs for a missal produced in 1382 by bookseller Thevenin Langevin, preserved in La bibliothèque de l'ancien collège de Dormans-Beauvais (Collège de Beauvais) in Paris:

- copyist's salary: 24 livres
- illumination: 5 livres 4 sous (2.305 "grosses lettres" and 2.214 "verses"), and 5 livres 12 sous for "Joachim Troislivres", illuminator, who made the "histoires" and the large letters of gold and blue.
- the hiring of an exemplar : 32 sous
- binding: 32 sous
- "fermeilles" : 48 sous
- "pipe": 6 sous 4 deniers
- "chemisette" and "toille": 8 sous
- "enseignes": 3 sous (Elisabeth Pellegrin, Bibliothèques retrouvées [1990] 50).

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The High Point of Medieval Library Cataloguing 1389

"The high point of medieval library cataloguing is found in the three-part catalog of Dover Priory in England, made in 1389. Here every volume is listed and every tract identified, the tract's position within a volume entered by leaf number, the opening words (the incipit) of each quoted, and the whole rendered accessible by a shelf list and an alphabetical index of all the works in the library" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 107).

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John Whytefeld Compiles an Innovative Medieval Library Catalogue 1389

The manuscript catalogue of the library at St. Martin's Priory (Dover Priory) in Dover, England compiled in 1389 was innovative for several reasons. The catalogue, compiled by John Whytefeld, who was probably "precentor," the officer in charge of the library, was divided into three sections:

1. A shelf-listing by call number, the number representing a fixed location even to the location of the individual volume. These entries included short title, the number of the page in the book on which the call number was recorded, and the first words of the text on that page, as well as the number of leaves in the book and the number of works contained in the volume.

2. A section arranged by call number that provided the contents of each volume, with the opening words for each work, and the number and side of the leaf on which each tract begins.

3. A catalogue of analytical entries and an alphabetical listing, but with entries of the usual medieval type, some under author, others under title followed by author, with still other entries beginning with words such as liber (book), pars (part) or codex, with no importance attached to the entry word.

In The Ancient Library of Canterbury and Dover (1903) xc ff., E. R. James described Whytefeld's catalogue and reproduced sections one and two. He also reproduced in Latin Whytefeld's explanatory introduction to the catalogue. This was translated into English by J. W. Clark and published in The Care of Books (1901) 194-96. Because of the innovative, unusual, and complex features of his catalogue system Whytefeld undoubtedly recognized the need for a detailed explanation. I have quoted Clark's translation in its entirety:

"The present Register of the Library of the Priory of Dover, compiled in the year of the Lord's Incarnation 1389 under the presidency of John Neunam prior and monk of the said church, is separated into three main divisions. The object is that the first part may supply information to the precentor of the house concerning the number of the books and the complete knowledge of them: that the second part may stir up studious brethren to eager and frequent reading; and that the third part may point out the way to the speedy finding of individual treatises by the scholars. now although a brief special preface is prefixed to each part to facilitate the understanding of it, to this first part certain general notes are prefixed, to begin with, for the more plain understanding of the whole Register.

"Be it noted, then, first, that this whole library is divided into nine several classes (Distinctions), marked according to the nine first letters of the alphabet, which are affixed to the classes themselves, in such a way that A marks out to him who enters the first Class, B the second, C the third, and so on in order. Each of the said nine classes, moreover, will be seen to be divided into seven shelves (grades), which are also marked off by the addition of Roman numeral figures, following the letters which denote the classes. We begin the number of the shelves from the bottom, and proceed upwards so that the bottom shelf, which is the first, is marked thus, I; the second thus, II; the third thus, III; and so the number goes on up to seven.

"In additon to this, the books of the Library are all of them marked on each leaf with Arabic numberals, to facilitate the ascertaining of the contents of the volumes.

"Now since many of the volumes contain a nymber of treatises, the names of these treatises, although they have not always been correctly christened, are written down under each volume, and an Arabic numeral is added to each name shewing on what leaf each tract begins. To this number the letter A or B is subjoined, the letter A here denoting the first part of the leaf, and the letter B the second. The books themselves, furthermore, have their class-letters and also their shelf-marks inserted not only outside on their bindings, but also inside, accompanying the tables of contents at the beginning. To such class-letters a small Arabic figure is added which shews clearly what position the book occupries in the order of placing on the shelf concerned.

"On the second, third, or fourth leaf of the book, or thereabouts, on the lower margin the name of the book is written. Before it are entered the above-mentioned class-letters and shelf-numbers, and after it (a small space intervening) are immediately set down the words with which that leaf begins, which I shall call the proof of investigation (probatiorum cognitionis). The Arabic figures next following will state how many leaves are contained in the whole volume; and finally another numeral immediately following the last clearly sets forth the number of the tracts contained in the said volume.

"If then the above facts be securely entrusted to a retentive memory it will be celarly seen in what class, shelf, place and order each book of the whole Library ought to be put, and on what leaf and which side of the leaf the beginnings of the several treatses may be found. For it has been the object of the compiler of this present register [and] of the Library, by setting forth a variety of such marks and notations of classes, shelves, order, pagination, treatises and volumes, to insure for his monastery security from loss in time to come, to shut the door against the spite of such as might wish to despoil or bargain away such a treasure, and to setup a sure bulwark of defence and resistance. And in truth the compiler will not be offended but will honestly love anyone who shall bring this register—which is still faulty in many respects—into better order, even if he should see fit to place his own name at the head of the whole work.

"In the first part of the register, therefore, we have throughout at the top, between black lines ruled horizontally, first the class-letter in red, and, following it, the shelf-mark, in black characters (tetris signaculis). The again between other lines ruled in red, vertically: first, on the left a numeral shewing the place of the book in order on its shelf; then the name of the volume; thirdly, the number of the 'probatory' leaf; fourthly, the 'probatory' words in the case of which, by the way, reference is made to the text, and not to the gloss); fifthly, the number of leaves in the whole volume; and, lastly, the number of the treatises contained in it—all written within the aforesaid lines. In addition there will be left in each shelf of this part, at the end, some vacant space, in whcih the names of books that may be subsequently acquired can be placed."

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The Oldest Map of Africa Circa 1390

A portion of the Dun Ming Hun Yi Tu, or The Great Amalgamated Map, showing the African continent. (View Larger)

The Great Ming Amalgamated Map, or Da Ming Hun Yi Tu (Chinese: 大明混一圖; pinyin: dàmíng hùnyī tú, Manchu: dai ming gurun-i uherilehe nirugan) world map, was created in China about 1390. It was painted in colour on stiff silk and 386 x 456cm in size. The original text was written in Classical Chinese, but Manchu labels were later superimposed. It is one of the oldest surviving world maps from East Asia although the exact date of creation remains unknown. It depicts the general form of the Old World, placing China in the center and stretching northward to Mongolia, southward to Java, eastward to central Japan, and westward to Africa and Europe. It is considered the oldest map of the African continent, and may have been a copy of a map sculpted into rock.

The map is preserved in the First Historical Archive of China, Beijing.

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Earliest European Document on the Production of Paper 1390

A view of Nuremberg--folio 99v/100r of the Nuremberg Chronicles--showing Stromer's paper mill, bordering the city on the bottom right. (View Larger)

In 1390 Ulman Stromer, a member of the Senate governing the city of Nuremberg, recorded in a manuscript that he was converting a mill on the Pegnitz river just outside the western wall of the city to the production of paper.

The manager of a trading company which had been importing paper from Italy, Stromer established his paper mill to meet the growing demand for paper in his country. To produce paper he hired Italian workers with technical experience in the trade. Stromer's diary, preserved in the Germanisches National Museum in Nuremberg, is the earliest European document on the production of paper. It also includes an account of the earliest known labor strike in the history of papermaking.

Dard Hunter, The Literature of Papermaking 1390-1800 [1925] 9-11.

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One of the Oldest Known Manuscripts on Cookery in English, Written in the Form of a Scroll Circa 1390

A recipe for pork in a sage sauce, from The Forme of Cury. (View Larger)

The Forme of Cury, a vellum scroll thought to have been written by the master-cooks of Richard II, and one of the oldest known manuscripts on cookery in the English Language, contains 196 recipes. The word 'cury' is the Middle English word for 'cookery'. The scroll was first published by the vicar and antiquary Samuel Pegge in 1780 as The Forme of Cury, a Roll of Ancient English Cookery, Compiled, about A.D. 1390, by the Master-Cooks of King Richard II, Presented Afterward to Queen Elizabeth by Edward Lord Stafford, and Now in the Possession of Gustavus Brander, Esq. Illustrated with Notes, and a Copious Index or Glossary.  The manuscript scroll is preserved in the British Library.

"The preamble to the manuscript explains that the work has been given the 'assent and avysement of Maisters and phisik and of philosophie at dwelled in his court.' ('approval and consent of the masters of medicine and of philosophy that dwelt in his (Richard II's) court.') This proud acknowledgement illustrates the ancient link between medicine and the culinary arts.

"The author states that the recipes are intended to teach a cook to make everyday dishes ('Common pottages and common meats for the household, as they should be made, craftily and wholesomely'), as well as unusually spiced and spectacular dishes for banquets ('curious potages and meetes and sotiltees for alle maner of States bothe hye and lowe.') The word 'sotiltee' (or subtlety) refers to the elaborate sculptures that often adorned the tables at grand feasts. These displays, usually made of sugar, paste, jelly or wax, depicted magnificent objects: armed ships, buildings with vanes and towers, eagles. They were also known as 'warners,' as they were served at the beginning of a banquet to 'warn' (or notify) the guests of the approaching dinner.

Folios 57v-58r, MS 7 of the John Rylands Library: a copy of The Forme of Cury in codex form. (View Larger)

"The Forme of Cury is the first English text to mention olive oil, cloves, mace and gourds in relation to British food. Most of the recipes contain what were then luxurious and valuable spices: caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and pepper. There are also recipes for cooking strange and exotic animals, such as whales, cranes, curlews, herons, seals and porpoises" (http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/booksforcooks/med/pygghome/sawge.html, accessed 06-06-2009).

♦On December 2, 2009 the MailOnline reported that another manuscript of The Forme of Cury from apparently about the same time, but in codex form, was discovered in the John Rylands Library at Manchester University. The article describes the efforts at Manchester to prepare some of the recipes in that manuscript and how some of the dishes looked and tasted after they were prepared.

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The First Book in English Written by a Woman 1395

Revelations of Divine Love, written by English anchoress and an important Christian mystic Julian of Norwich around 1395, is the earliest book in the English language written by a woman. Julian was also known as a spiritual authority within her community where she also served as a counsellor and advisor.[She is venerated in the RomanCatholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches. Julian's manuscript survives in only one copy preserved in the British Library. When I wrote this note in May 2016 it did not appear to have been digitized. See The Julian of Norwich British Library Amherst Manuscript (Additional 37,790) Project.

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The Oldest Library in Germany? June 3, 1398

In 2014 the European Commission presented its Europa Nostra award to the Biblioteca Bardensis in Barth, Germany. The earliest reference to the library—also known as the Kirchenbibliothek St. Marien Barth— is a donation record of a collection of books given to the library by Barth pastor Hermann Hut (Hoet) on June 3, 1398. The library, located in the small town of Barth near the Baltic Sea, is one of the oldest parish libraries in Germany, and is also the oldest German library remaining in the exact location in which it was founded.

Among the holdings of the Kirchenbibliothek St. Marien Barth are a dozen or so medieval manuscripts, 130 incunabula and thousands of rare books, all of which were in bad need of restoration in 2014 after many years of neglect. 

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Saint Catherine in her Study with her Revolving Bookstand Circa 1399 – 1416

The Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry written and illuminated by Herman, Paul and Johan Limbourg, and preserved in The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, includes an image of St. Catherine in her study with a most elegant revolving bookstand, on which we can see eight volumes. 

This is one of the more distinctive depictions of library furnishings in a medieval manuscript.

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