Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Scot McKendrick, John Lowden and Kathleen Doyle: Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination

Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Scot McKendrick, John Lowden and Kathleen Doyle: Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination

Article excerpt

SCOT MCKENDRICK, JOHN LOWDEN AND KATHLEEN DOYLE

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination.

London: British Library, 2011.

448 pp., 48 figures (pp. 18-93) + unnumbered plates for 154 catalogue entries.

This volume has been published to accompany the exhibition "Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination" which ran at the British Library from November 11, 2011, to March 13, 2012. The volume opens with an Introduction by Scot McKendrick, followed by three essays discussing "The Royal Manuscript as Idea and Object" by John Lowden, "A European Heritage: Books of Continental Origin collected by the English Royal Family from Edward III to Henry VIII," by Scot McKendrick, and "The Old Royal Library: 'A greate many noble manuscripts yet remaining'," by Kathleen Doyle. The catalogue is organized thematically, with manuscripts grouped into sections dealing with "The Christian Monarch," "Edward IV: Founder of the Old Royal Library," "How to be a King: Works ofInstruction and Advice," "The World's Knowledge," "Royal Identity," "England and the Continent: Affinity and Appropriation."

The focus of this exhibition of "royal" manuscripts is those books that make up the Old Royal Library, comprising some two thousand volumes, which was given to the nation in 1757 by George II and which now constitutes the Royal manuscripts collection of the British Library. The rationale for the exhibition is more problematic than this straightforward definition suggests; while many of the Royal manuscripts have well-documented royal pedigrees, in other cases their supposed connection with the English royalty remains entirely unknown. Furthermore, other books with demonstrably royal connections are not part of the Royal manuscript collection at all. The exhibition therefore includes manuscripts from other British Library collections where clear royal provenance is known. Thus we find manuscripts such as British Library MS Harley 2278, a deluxe copy of Lydgate's Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund, produced at Bury St. Edmunds and presented to King Henry VI on the occasion ofhis Christmas visit to the abbey, despite the fact that it left the royal collection following Henry's reign. In fact, the definition of "royal" is still more capacious; it is not restricted to books that were directly commissioned by, or presented to, members of the royalty, but includes books mentioned in royal inventories, even if the reference is centuries after its initial commission. …

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