Category Archives: Summary Catalogue conversion project

Blog posts regarding items encountered during our project to convert the Bodleian Libraries’ Summary Catalogue into digital form for inclusion in Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts at

Memoirs of a French Protestant leader – MS. French c. 15

One of the many exciting things about working on the Summary Catalogue for me has been to dive into our holdings written in foreign languages. Being French, it is always quite thrilling for me to come across a piece of French history in the Catalogue. I have to admit my knowledge of it to be limited to basics, as I chose to study British history at university. Nonetheless, there are dates and names that have stuck with me from my school days, and when I saw the description for the item numbered 47174 in the Summary Catalogue, I knew I had to check out this particular box.

French c. 15 is a copy of Mémoires du Duc de Rohan. The Mémoires were written by Henri II de Rohan, who I think is a fascinating character, and a name you would probably come across while studying 17th century French history.

This is a story that takes us back to early modern France, in the aftermath of King Henri IV’s death, and in the midst of religious unrest. King Henri IV is likely to be one of the most well-known French kings today. His name is tied to the Wars of Religion and to a document called “Edict of Nantes” – let me come back to this later.

What were the Wars of Religion?

Towards the beginning of the 16th century, new religious ideas started to spread across Europe, challenging the dominant Catholic faith. They reached France as well and estimates show that by 1570, around 10% of the French population had converted to Protestantism. Amongst nobles and intellectuals, this proportion was even higher and could have reached as much as 50%.[1] Protestants in France were called the “Huguenots”, but the origins of the name remain unclear. At the time, there was no religious liberty: in the 16th century, Huguenots were heretics and they were persecuted, both by the Crown and by the Church.

In the second half of the century, the tensions between the two religious groups turned into open conflict, culminating in eight different periods of civil war in less than forty years (1562-1598): the Wars of Religion. They include the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (23/24 August 1572) in which thousands of Protestants, including many Huguenot leaders, were killed.[2]

The time of the Wars of Religion was a deeply troubled period marked by a lack political stability. While both England and Spain each had two monarchs reigning over those forty years, France was governed by five different kings, some of whom were still children when they accessed the throne. While the four first monarchs were from the Valois family, the last one, Henri IV, was not.

Henri IV and the Edict of Nantes

Henri of Navarre became King of France in 1589 upon the death of Henri III, who did not have any children. However, he was only crowned five years later in 1594 for a good reason: Henri IV was a Huguenot. While he chose to remain a Protestant for the first few years of his reign, his coronation only took place after he converted to Catholicism (1593), pressured by the political tensions. Henri IV nevertheless never had the full trust of either Protestants or Catholics and was murdered in 1610 by François Ravaillac, a Catholic zealot.

Henri’s biggest legacy is passing of the Edict of Nantes in 1598. Signed in Nantes, the document was originally known as the “Peace-making Edict.”[3] The Edict was inspired by several preceding edicts that unsuccessfully tried to quell the religious conflicts. It gave Protestants some rights (which came with obligations), and provided them with safe havens and was a sign of religious toleration – still a rare thing across Europe at the time.

The other Henri, Henri II de Rohan

Henri de Rohan was a member of one of the most powerful families of Britany, in Western France. He used to go hunting with King Henri IV, who was his first cousin once removed. Raised as a Protestant, Henri II de Rohan became the Huguenot leader in the Huguenot rebellions that took place after Henri IV’s death, from 1621 to 1629.
These rebellions, which are sometimes nicknamed the “Rohan Wars” from the name of the Huguenot leader, arose as the new Catholic King, Louis XIII (Henri IV’s son) decided to re-establish Catholicism in Bearn, a province in the South-West of France (located in Navarre, this was the former homeland of Henri IV). His decision to march on the province was perceived as hostility by the Protestants.

Memoirs of the Duke of Rohan on things that have taken place in France from the death of Henry the Great until the peace made with the Reformists in the month of March 1626

The Mémoires written by the Duc de Rohan are a testimony of the Huguenot rebellions. Written in 17th century French, they give insight on political matters of the time (in this instance, politics and religion are one and the same) and shed light on reasons that drove Protestants to rebel against the Crown. They give details about the relationships that the different protagonists had with each other. While the Bodleian libraries hold a manuscript copy, you can also read Henri de Rohan’s memoirs online here.

After the Mémoires

The aftermath of the Huguenot rebellions was not favourable to Protestants: in 1629, as the Huguenots lost the last conflict of the rebellions, a peace treaty was signed in Alès. The treaty banned Protestants from taking part in political assemblies and abolished safe havens. Henri de Rohan, who was the leader of the Huguenots, had to go into exile: Venice, Padua, and Switzerland. By 1634, Louis XIII had pardoned him, and Rohan was tasked with leading French troops first against Spain, and then against Germany in 1638. Henri de Rohan died from a battle wound in April 1638.

The Edict of Nantes of Nantes was completely revoked in 1685 by King Louis XIV. Freedom to worship was introduced again in France in 1789 in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,[4] a consequence of the French Revolution.

You can view the catalogue of this manuscript in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.


[1] Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. Encyclopedia of Protestantism, New York: Routledge, 2004, vol. 2, p. 736

[2] The exact number of casualties is unknown. Estimates range between 10,000 and 30,000.

[3] The original French term is “Édit de pacification.”

[4] The original French name is “Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.”

Read more:

Clarke, Jack A. Huguenot Warrior : the Life and Times of Henri De Rohan, 1579-1638, 1966

Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. Encyclopedia of Protestantism, New York: Routledge, 2004

Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629, 2005.

Memoirs of Henri de Rohan online

MS. e Mus. 78: Shields of arms, in colour, by the French royal herald Montjoie

Another day, another interesting item found whilst completing the retro-conversion of the Summary Catalogue. As a confessed lover of medieval history, this item took me right back to my knighthood and chivalry university studies. What caught my eye was the seemingly historical material included in this beautifully illuminated manuscript. It all looks relatively straightforward: shields of arms from various kingdoms in Europe by the French herald Montjoie, written in the 16th century. Any questions? I have one. Included in this manuscript we have “shields of the knights of the Round Table” such as those of “Galaad, Perseual, and Lancelot du Lac.” With a slight change in spelling, the figures Galahad, Perceval, and Lancelot are largely considered to be mythical. They are understood to be created by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his pseudo-historical Historia Regum Britaniae (History of the Kings of Britain c. 1136-1137) and later in the 12th century by Chrétien de Troyes in his Arthurian Romances.[1] So what are they doing here?

Rough translation of French

Line 1-6: “‘Book of the herald Montjoie,  containing shields of arms collected by him. In this book, which is made up of 72 leaves of parchment, there are various coats of arms of  some kingdoms in Europe, of the 150 knights of the Round Table, and those of  several dukes, counts, marquis, chatelains [someone who owns a castle], barons and other lords and gentlemen of  miscellaneous provinces of the kingdoms of France, England and Scotland…”
Line 9: “A treatise addressed to ‘my very dear … brother prince of Vienna'”
Line 11-12: “So, all good mores stem from virtue”
Line 13: “The means/way/method”

Whether this manuscript is fully fictional or not is a topic for discussion probably longer than a light-hearted blog post, and requiring a lot more knowledge of coats of arms than I possess. This interesting element does however warrant me to discuss the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, as well as delve into heraldry and the beautiful illustrations by Montjoie.


A French royal herald named Montjoie wrote and illuminated this book in the 16th century. We don’t know much about him, though another French herald of the same name was supposedly present during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.[2] They could be the same person with the wrong date on this manuscript, Montjoie could be the name given to French royal heralds, or it could have been a popular choice. Other than this, we have no information about the herald apart from the obvious: being literate and adept at illustration. The level of detail given to each of these colour shields suggests someone with a lot of time and a lot of respect for the knights who displayed and fought with these coats of arms. Heralds were initially messengers used by kings, queens and the nobility, and they were also required to organise and oversee tournaments.[3] They would have spent a lot of time with knights and the heraldry that accompanied them, both at these tournaments, and also overseeing battles such as Agincourt. In this instance, the French and English heralds watched the battle from atop a hill and came to a decision about the victorious army – the decision was respected, showing just how much the heralds were also.


Clark described coats of arms as beginning in combat, with the need to distinguish chiefs and commanders as well as “point out those under their command” i.e. a bit like how different football teams usefully wear different colours, and captains wear armbands. According to Fearne, quoted in Clark, “the first soueraigne that ever gave coate of armes to his soldiers was King Alexander the Great, who, after the manner of his ancestors, desirous to exalt by some speicall meanes of honor his stoutest captaines and soldiers above the rest, to provoke them to incounter their enimies with manly courage, and by the advice of Aristotle, he gives unto the most valiant of his armies certain signes or emblemes, to be painted upon their armours, banners, and pennons, as tokens for their service in his wars”.[4] Coats of arms are heraldic visual designs on a shield and actually came into general use in European nobility around the 12th century. Who could bear and use arms changed from country to country, but they were personal and in England and Scotland were bestowed on individuals rather than families. They were legal property and were passed from father to son from the end of the 12th century on the order of King Richard I, strictly regulated by heralds.[5] The rules of coats of arms are very detailed, using figures such as lions for courage is only the beginning. For a fuller look into this distinct science, see H. Clark An introduction to heraldry.[6] Every line, figure, shape, and colour has meaning, and each worked to distinguish one knight from another.

Figures from H. Clark, An Introduction to Heraldry (London: Henry Washbourn, 1829).

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

In medieval Europe, knighthood went from a mounted warrior, to a class of lower nobility, to a rank associated with “the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfectly courtly Christian warrior.”[7] These shields of arms played a large role here, as the knights (largely on horseback) entered tournaments, justings, tiltings and other “honourable exercises” to “gain reputation in feats of arms”.[8] These arms identified the knights, as well as the nobility they may have been vassals for, and allowed them to show off and also gain skills they may need in actual battle. The knights would arrive and heralds would check their armorial bearings, proof of nobility and register them. These tournaments first began in Germany in the tenth century and became general practice in Europe shortly afterwards.[9] The tournaments are regarded largely in relation to the world of Arthurian romances, principally by French author Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century, and bring visions of A Knight’s Tale to all who have seen the (brilliant) film adapted loosely from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.[10]

Getting back to the manuscript, Montjoie here has assigned some of the Knights of the Roundtable that we recognise from these romantic tales shields of arms. It’s fun to imagine Lancelot with the diagonally red striped shield and Galahad the starkly English red cross, but unfortunately these figures are largely accepted to be mythical legends rather than real life chivalric figures. The same is to be said for King Arthur, who became this romantic figure through Geoffrey of Monmouth’s centring of him in his pseudo-history mentioned above. It is largely accepted amongst historians that there is “no solid evidence for his historical existence” despite being credited with defeating the Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries, though Arthur’s legend well and truly lives on.[11] It was Geoffrey who wrote about Merlin, Guinevere, Excalibur, and Arthur’s final resting place at Avalon, and Chrétian who added Lancelot and the Holy Grail, focusing on various Knights of the Round Table as well as the King.[12] Nicholas Higham discussed in his 2018 article how “Arthur has been pressed into service time and again to support any number of causes” and he even inspired a dish in the Great British Menu this year.[13] That such tales were so prevalent in society that Montjoie wanted to illustrate the shields of arms for these characters, and they are still prevalent today is very humbling. Perhaps all we want is a strong legend to believe in and an Arthurian romance. Whilst we will never truly know if King Arthur or any of the Knights of the Round Table existed (until time machines are invented), we can enjoy Montjoie’s book nonetheless.


[1] Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britaniae (History of the Kings of Britain c. 1136-1137), (originally published 1929); Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, translated with an introduction and notes by William W. Kibler (London: Penguin Books, 1991).

[2] John Keegan, The Face of Battle (London: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 74.

[3] H. Clark, An introduction to heraldry (London: Henry Washbourn, 1829), p. 4.

[4] Ibid, p. 1-2.

[5] Coat of arms, Wikipedia, URL:

[6] H. Clark, An introduction to heraldry.

[7] Knights, Wikipedia, URL:

[8] H. Clark, An introduction to heraldry, p. 3.

[9] Ibid, pp. 4-5.

[10] Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances.

[11] King Arthur, Wikipedia, URL:

[12] King Arthur, Wikipedia; Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britaniae; Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances.

[13] Nicholas J. Higham, King Arthur: The making of a legend (Yale University Press: 2018), p. 2.

You can view the catalogue of this manuscript in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.


‘On behalf of the Strike Committee’: MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523

“The vales, the streams, the meadows, hamlets of Cotswold stone—they make a pretty picture for your second family home. But they hide away a story of labour, toil and skill of the children, men and women in the Cotswold textile mills.”
Andy Danford, “The Ballad of Bliss Tweed Mill”.[1]

With nearly 56,000 references, the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts showcases the wide diversity of archival material held by the Bodleian libraries, and that is one of my favourite aspects of working on this project. Today, I have chosen to explore yet another side of the catalogue: local history. When I worked on the retroconversion of MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523, I was quite fascinated to learn that this particular box held papers relating to a strike that happened in 1913-1914 in an Oxfordshire factory. My knowledge of British labour history was mainly focused on Northern regions and on earlier decades, so I was curious to check out the manuscript. It starts with a note written by the historian Sir George Norman Clark, who compiled the papers.

The papers in this file were put together in 1919: they are all that I could find on this subject in my possession. It does not seem that many can be missing. I first heard of the strike at the end of February, when I came back from Italy where I had spent the winter. Lady Mary Murray, on the day before the police-court hearing of the charge of riot against Shepard (sic) and others, told me that the strike was in progress and asked me to go over and see what happened at the police-court. I went with [George Douglas Howard] Cole and these papers give the rest of the story as far as it concerns me, except that I told the strike committee at a meeting at Selincourt’s house that they must drop the scheme for a new factory. They agreed, but with great regret. 

G. N. Clark.

MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523 contains the story of the strike that took place between December 1913 and June 1914 at Bliss Tweed Mill in Chipping Norton, about 20 miles North of Oxford. If today the factory building has been converted into residential apartments, at the time of the strike it was buzzing with around 400 workers. About two thirds of these workers (237) took part in the strike, amongst whom a slight majority of women (125).

Bliss Tweed Mill

The Bliss family had been active in the cloth sector in the Chipping Norton area since the middle of the eighteenth century when they upgraded their site to a large-scale fully steam-powered factory in the nineteenth century. By 1870, according to Mike Richardson, Bliss mill employed up to 700 people.[2] This growth is the evidence of the prosperity of the business the Bliss family had established. They specialised in tweed, one of the trading strengths of the region since the middle ages.

However, in 1872, a fire caught and destroyed part of the mill, along with three human casualties. The factory had to be rebuilt and the owner, William Bliss, had to borrow a large sum of money from the bank. This, along with a decrease in product sales, plunged the company into recession.

In 1896, the Bliss family left Chipping Norton, and a man called Arthur Dunstan was appointed as managing director. A few chosen lyrics from Andy Danford’s “Ballad of Bliss Tweed Mill” show how the employees felt towards the man: “Some called this man a tyrant …, some called the providence to send him to his grave.”[3]

What led to the strike?

The strike at Chipping Norton was decided for local reasons, but happened in the midst of a larger national period of unrest. Strikes flourished in the years 1910-1914, so much so that the journalist and historian George Dangerfield called the era “the workers’ rebellion”.[4]

At Bliss Tweed Mill in November 1913, Arthur Dunstan discouraged his employees from joining the local branch of the Workers Union, threatening them with the loss of their jobs should they choose to syndicate. Bliss Tweed Mills workers had indeed many reasons to join the union: Dunstan’s style of management was harsh, as the lyrics quoted above show; he was hated by his employees for keeping wages low and working conditions poor. In his 2008 article, Mike Richardson states that over 230 workers joined the union regardless of their boss’ threats.[5]

In December 1913, three employees, who were very active union members, were sacked. Their co-workers tried to negotiate with the hierarchy to get them reinstated, but negotiations failed and as a result, on 18 December 1913, 237 workers stopped their work. Their strike would last six months.

MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523

Many documents were produced during the time of the strike at Bliss Tweed Mill. Some emanated from the workers, others from the outside, like newspaper reports. George Clarke collected all he could find, and they now form MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523. These papers tell the story of what happened in the Chipping Norton mill in 1913 and 1914 better than this blog post ever could.

Lists of the workers containing their names, marital status, job titles and wages; communications from the mill’s management or from the strike committee; cuttings… 135 items, both printed and manuscript now form MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523.

You can view the catalogue of this manuscript in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.


[1] “The Ballad of Bliss Tweed Mill”, written and performed by Andy Danford, 2014, (accessed May 2020)

[2] Richardson, Mike. ‘“Murphyism in Oxfordshire” – the Bliss Mill Strike 1913–14: Causes, Conduct and Consequences’, Historical Studies in Industrial Relations, vol. 25/26, 2008

[3] Danford, Andy. Op. Cit.

[4] Dangerfield, George. The Strange Death of Liberal England, Constable: London, 1935.

[5] Richardson, Mike. Op. Cit. p. 89

Read more:

Bliss Mill Strike 1913-1914: A week by week account of the strike in Chipping Norton 100 years ago 

Bristol Radical History Group’s online material relating to the strike 

A book of magical charms: MS. e Mus. 243

Whilst working on the project of retro-converting the Old Summary Catalogue (OSC), I get a unique chance to look at everything acquired by the Bodleian Libraries since 1602. This includes the academic, interesting, and a bit weird. And weird is what I’m bringing you today, hopefully offering a welcome bit of escapism.

You never know what you’re going to come across each day and the item I’ve chosen to write about this time is recorded as number 3548, with the description beginning “A book of magical charms”. How could this not pique my interest? The full OSC entry is as follows:

The Newberry Library in Chicago contains a similar book of magical charms from the 17th century, for which they sought public help to transcribe in 2017 in the hope of making the various magical texts they held “more accessible to both casual users and experts”.  Christopher Fletcher, the coordinator of the US based project, explained that ” both protestant and Catholic churches tried very hard to make sure that nobody would make a manuscript like this…they didn’t like magic. They were very suspicious of it. They tried to do everything they could to stamp it out. Yet we have this manuscript, which is  a nice piece of evidence that despite all of that effort to make sure people weren’t doing magic, people still continued doing it.” [1] Although from a different continent, this is a great piece of evidence to show how magic, spirituality, and supposed ‘witchcraft’ continued to remain in the lives of many for much longer than the church and state would have liked to believe.

There are another three items attributed by Falconer Madan (author of the OSC and a Bodleian librarian) to the Oxford citizen Joseph Godwin, who presented this book of magical charms on the 6th August 1655. These show an interesting mixture of magic, science, and religion, that was undoubtedly prevalent – though discouraged- at the time:

– Number 3543, MS. e Mus. 173: “Copies of incantations, charms, prayers, magical formulae, astrological devices, and the like”
– Number 3546, MS. e Mus. 238: “Magical treatises” (including magic and astrology)
– Number 3550, MS. e Mus, 245: “A roll of incantations and prayers”

As with many archival items, we don’t know a huge amount of information about it. We don’t know much about Joseph Godwin, the donor, other than that he was a citizen of Oxford, and we can’t know whether this book of magical charms was written by Godwin or someone else.  What we can assume with relative confidence is that the author of this book would have been well-educated. Literacy levels are notoriously difficult to estimate; some may have been able to read and not write, and although most information comes from those able to sign their names, they may have been able to do little else. However, in England in the 17th century, it is tentatively estimated that literacy levels were around 30% for males, potentially higher for a university city such as Oxford. [2] The fact that this, as well as the other material, is written in a mixture of Latin and English, suggests an elite education. A standardised form of written English became prevalent in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, with this replacing Latin and French in 1417 in government documents and business. [3] By the 17th century, Latin would have largely been the preserve of the clergy and academic community. A disproportionate amount of those persecuted for witchcraft were from poor and uneducated backgrounds, whereas this book provides additional evidence that those from all walks of life may have taken an interest.

Onto the object here at the Bodleian Library. One of the reasons I chose this item to write about was how much the first charm I came across made me laugh:

“A booke of Experiments taken
out of dyvers [diverse] auqthors. 1622

Anger to aswage.

Wryte this name in an Apple ya[v]a
& cast it at thine enemie, & thou shalt
aswage his anger, Or geve it to a
woman & she shall love thee.”

Now I’m no expert, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say throwing an apple at your enemy is probably not going to do wonders for repairing your friendship, even in the 17th century! Geoffrey Scare, John Callow, et al, for The Guardian in 2001, wrote about how differently we do live now, however. They began their article on witchcraft and magic in 16th and 17th century Europe with a simple truth: “‘At the dawning of the third millennium, a belief in the reality and efficacy of witchcraft and magic is no longer an integral component of mainstream Western culture. When misfortune strikes at us, our family or a close neighbour, we do not automatically seek to locate the source of all our ills and ailments in the operation of occult forces, nor scour the local community for the elderly woman who maliciously harnessed them and so bewitched us.” [4] Just like this, we do not tend to turn to magical charms in order to reverse our fortune, or solve our problems with enemies, love, or danger, as the book suggests was practiced then.

This book of magical charms is to me, a mixture of folklore, religion and spiritual belief, and I couldn’t talk about it without delving a little bit into witchcraft, which I and many others find a fascinating topic. What I found shocking when doing my research was how recent the last conviction under the 1735 Witchcraft Act was in the United Kingdom. The act repealed previous laws against witchcraft but imposed fines and imprisonment still against those claiming to be able to use magical powers. To me, witchcraft persecution is the stuff of Early Modern History classes, but it was actually 1944 when Jane Rebecca Yorke of Forest Gate in East London was the last to be convicted. [5] Whereas we may think of witchcraft now to be mostly mythical, or something a small amount of the population dabble in, the law has played a large part in punishing those who have been associated in it throughout at least the last 500 years.

The first official (and by that I mean recorded) law against witchcraft in England was in 1542. Parliament passed the Witchcraft Act, making the practice of magic a crime punishable by death. Although repealed in 1547, it was  restored in 1562. An additional law was passed in 1604 by James I, a firm believer in the persecution of witches, which transferred the trials from the church to ordinary courts and thus made witchcraft trials far more commonplace. The peak of witchcraft trials took place between 1580 and 1700, usually involving lower class and older women, and the last known trials occurred in Leicester in 1717. It is estimated that 500 people in England were executed for witchcraft related offences, most of these being women. As referenced above, the 1735 Witchcraft Act, passed in 1736, repealed the laws making witchcraft punishable by death but allowed fines and imprisonment. This was repealed in 1951 for the Fraudulent Mediums Act which is turn was repealed in 2008. [6] The timeline of witchcraft makes the book of charms even more interesting, and the act of Joseph Godwin’s donation one of potential bravery (/stupidity). With witchcraft such a prevalent part of society in 1622, this object in Godwin’s home or as a donation may have led to suspicion, prosecution, and even death.

The story behind the book, we may never know, but it is a great object in itself. Here are some other interesting passages/charms I came across which provide us a unique look into belief at this time:

If you’re interested in this object, you can view it in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.

[1] Katz, B., “Chicago Library seeks help transcribing magical manuscripts,”, (3 July 2017), URL:
[2] Van Horn Melton, J., The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
[3] “Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700,” The Guardian (20 June 2001), URL:
[4] Scarre, G., J. Callow, et al, “Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth-and Seventeenth Century Europe,” The Guardian (8 June 2001), URL: /jun/08/artsandhumanities.highereducation
[5] “Jane Rebecca Yorke,” Wikipedia, URL: _Yorke
[6] “Witchcraft,” UK Parliament, URL:

The ‘Mirror of Wisdom’ in the Weston stacks: MS. Lat. misc. e. 74

What is Rosicrucianism?

Rosicrucianism was born at the beginning of the 17th century from a legend about a man called Christian Rosenkreuz. According to the legend, Rosenkreuz was a German doctor who lived in the 15th century. He is credited with creating the Order of the Rose Cross, which gave its name to the tradition.

The spiritual movement draws on several other traditions and brings together Hermeticism, Christian mysticism, alchemy and the Kabbalah. The Kabbalah is a system of beliefs that derives from ancient Hebraic traditions. Though inherited from the Jewish religion, Christianism also has a Cabbala (with a different spelling). Whether Jewish or Christian, the tradition, if followed correctly, is to bring an evolution of the being, transforming the initiate into a better self, bringing them closer to their God. Quite similarly, Rosicrucianism aims at a “universal reformation of mankind”.

Together with freemasonry, Rosicrucianism is now one of the most well-known traditions of occultism. Since it appeared in the 17th century, it has had a lasting influence on many hermetic groups and shaped the occult revival of the 19th century. Although it has been quite forgotten today, at the time the movement was a large-scale phenomenon that touched most classes of society. Many significant people of the era dabbled in occult movements, making a lasting imprint on European culture. For example, Oscar Wilde and W. B. Yeats, two well-known writers of the time, were both initiates of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult group that heavily included Rosicrucianism in its teachings.

Before our manuscript was published, three other texts set the basis for what came to be know as Rosicrucianism; these were published in 1614 (Fama Fraternitatis RC), 1615 (Confessio Fraternitatis) and 1617 (Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosicross anno 1459). All three works are now considered manifestos to the spiritual tradition.

“The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosy Cross”

Not long after that, in 1618, Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum (The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosy Cross) was published by one “Theophilus Schweighardt” (a pseudonym, thought to be the German alchemist Daniel Mögling).

MS. Lat. misc. e. 74, pp. 2-3

The manuscript is written in Latin, but it is famous enough to have been transcribed and translated. Today, the text is thus available in several languages, including English, on the internet.

Like many writings dealing with subjects like hermeticism or alchemy, it is a complex text, and those who have sought to decipher it have not always come to the same conclusions.

MS. Lat. misc. e. 74, which is a copy of Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum, has other interesting features though: three colourful paintings, tucked at the end of the manuscript, such as this one:

MS. Lat. misc. e. 74, pp. 44-45

Imagery in esotericism is always packed with symbols and acts as codes that can be deciphered by adepts. Lines, shapes, words and colours were always thought out with a lot of care and an image such as this one is meant to be more than just a pretty picture. This manuscript shows the pictures in glorious colourful details; however, when Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum was published, the paintings became simple black and white engravings. These still became very popular, to the point that today, this is the image that illustrate the Wikipedia page defining Rosicrucianism!

Screenshot of the ‘Rosicrucianism’ Wikipedia page taken in April 2020

Though the engravings might be famous, and other coloured versions of the pictures (maybe lithographs) exist, I have not been able to find any coloured version online as rich as the one in MS. Lat. misc. e. 74.

The content of the manuscript might be available through the internet, but it doesn’t quite compare to the experience of holding the manuscript and admiring its three paintings, coloured and highlighted in gold leaf.

This item is now available through the Bodleian Archives & Manuscript interface.


‘Rosicrucianism’ on Wikipedia
Speculum Sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum, translated by Donald Maclean

“My longing to burst into print grew into an uncontrollable mania”—Handmade editions of poetry by Frederic Prokosch (MS. Eng. poet. f. 33)

Working in archives, there is one thing which I find really special, and actually quite magical: even with a catalogue description, I am never entirely prepared for what is waiting inside the box. MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 is a perfect example of this. The Summary Catalogue entry for this item reads:

Twelve booklets containing copies of works by 20th cent. poets, written, and decorated in colour, by Frederic Prokosch, ‘New Haven 1932’, probably made 1968-70; a colophon in each states that it is one of five numbered copies.

I was intrigued by the date uncertainty, and by the fact that these would be handmade editions so I was curious to check out the contents. Inside a small dark blue box lay indeed twelve booklets, most of them with colourful marbled covers, along with an enclosed letter.

December 2.

Dear Sir,

I am sending you, as a gift, a group of 12 little handmade pamphlets of poetry which I did long ago. (They look rather Art Nouveau to me now!) 
I hope they will amuse you.


Frederic Prokosch

There are six poets featured in the series—W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and W. B. Yeats, along with Prokosch himself—and two booklets per poet. Quite interestingly, the two that do not have marbled covers are works by Prokosch; an attempt, perhaps, to differentiate himself from his fellow writers? Apart from the difference in the covers, all booklets are built in the same way: around five leaves, with a unique illustration at the beginning, always containing gold elements, and the poem(s) in the middle of the booklet with an illumination for the first letter.

The Gull by Prokosch (MS. Eng. poet. f. 33/10, fols. 1v-2)

Two Poems by Yeats (MS. Eng. poet. f. 33/11, fols.2v-3)

Frederic Prokosch was born in Wisconsin, in the United States, in 1908. He studied literature before becoming a writer himself, publishing his first novel in 1935 (The Asiatics), and his first collection of poems in 1936 (The Assassins). His memoir, Voices (1983), although proven to be mostly a fictional work, depicts Prokosch’s passion for the arts of the written word. In Voices, the reader is treated to a collection of anecdotes, including a tale of his newly discovered passion for poetry and printing: “I turned to poetry . . . My poems grew twisted, exotic, impenetrable. I wrote of mountains and deserts, of icebergs and caravans. My longing to burst into print grew into an uncontrollable mania.”[1] Although not printed editions, the booklets that form MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 probably were a product of this desire. Through the memoir, the reader also follows Prokosch as he encounters a great number of famous artists, many of them writers, including Auden, Eliot, Joyce, and Pound. Although there is no indication of any meetings with Yeats, the Irish poet is frequently mentioned throughout Voices. As questionable as those stories might be, they are nonetheless a testimony of Frederic Prokosch’s respect and admiration for his fellow writers.

Voices is not the only thing about Prokosch that raises suspicion regarding its accuracy. Robert Greenfield, who extensively studied the American writer in Dreamer’s Journey: The Life and Writings of Frederic Prokosch (2010), pointed out:

As a consequence of this medley of twists and turns, apocryphal claims, misstatements, distortions, and falsifications encompassing more than a century, even the simplest facts of his life, such as the date of his birth, are still subject to dispute.[2]

It seems MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 is no exception to this, falling in the very shroud of mystery described by Greenfield. It is quite unclear when Prokosch actually produced the booklets; although he claims they were made in New Haven in 1932, the New Summary Catalogue entry suggests otherwise: “‘New Haven 1932’, probably made 1968-70”. And they might even have been made slightly later than that. Indeed, upon close examination, some of the papers chosen by Prokosch bear (very faint but still visible) watermarks revealing the brand of the material—Arches and Ingres, both French brands. Quite interesting when one knows Prokosch spent the last decades of his life in the South of France. This would also be a perfect match to the biography written by Greenfield:

In 1972, Frederic abruptly ceased his travels and retired to ‘Ma Trouvaille’, a cottage in Grasse, in the south of France, where he played bridge, made some half-hearted efforts to cultivate a garden, revived his interest in printing private limited editions of his favourite poems and withdrew into invisibility.[3]

When I opened MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 I was, as always, quite unsure what would be sitting within the box. In this case, I found very beautifully made booklets of poetry, including some by one of my own favourite authors. But I also discovered Prokosch, a writer I had never encountered before working here, and more than that, I found myself in the middle of a date riddle. Pretty exciting for a small dark blue box.

[1] Prokosch, Frederic. Voices: A Memoir, New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1983, p. 45

[2] Greenfield, Robert. Dreamer’s Journey: The Life and Writings of Frederic Prokosch, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010, p. 21

[3] Ibid., p. 19

Illuminated pedigree compiled by Thomas Gardiner, Monk of Westminster, showing the descent of Henry VIII from Cadwallader, Hugh Capet, Alfred and William the Conqueror, 1542/1564: MS. Eng. hist. e. 193

Notice the choice of a lion underneath Henry VIII, a symbol in heraldry symbolising courage, nobility, royalty, and strength. The Royal Arms of England contains 3 lions and was chosen by the Plantagenet kings who ruled England from 1154 until the House of Tudor.[1]

“Kynge Henry the VIJth in wysedome And ryches Equall to
Kynge Solomon he was sonne and Eyre to noble Edmunde
Erle of Rychemonde the ryght And trew Eyre to Holy
Kynge Cadwallyder / He maryed Quene Elizabethe the
Daughter and Eyre to Kynge Edwarde the IIIJth / After he
had openly in the ffelde obtayned Hys Ryghte he raigned
XXIIJth yere VIIJ monthes & XXIJ Dayes And he lyethe
Buryed in Westmynster where as he orderyd perpetuallye
to Endure the moste nobleste foundacyon that ever was
Harde of / He had by quene Elizabethe / Artur prince of
Wales / Edmunde Duke of Somersett / Elizabethe / & Kateryn /
All iiij Dyed wythe oute issu / Quene Margette of Scotlande
Quene mary of ffrance /”


Henry VIII (1491-1547) is without a doubt one of the best known English kings, mostly due to his penchant for wives, his break with Rome and the Catholic Church, and his role in the English reformation. The king reigned for 38 years, got through 6 wives, and “favoured then dispensed” of 3 chief ministers, all named Thomas.[2] But even this king, infamous now for his fickle attitude to marriage and his gluttony, had to prove his royal legitimacy in the 16th century. Henry VIII was, after all, only the second Tudor king. His father, Henry VII, had fought against the house of York for the crown, plotting their downfall from exile in Brittany for 14 years before his coronation in 1485.[3]

What is it?

This item, an illuminated pedigree, is a family tree/genealogy which served to provide evidence of Henry VIII’s legitimacy as king of England. It expresses the line of succession to Henry all the way back to the Welsh king Cadwallyder (633-682), also known as Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon. Cadwallyder ruled as king of Gwynedd from around 655 to 682 AD, when he is said to have died of a plague. There is not much information recorded on the Welsh king, aside from the fact he was the “laste kynge of that blode,” before the pedigree begins connecting him to Henry VI, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. There is no doubt left as to who the pedigree was attempting to legitimise.

The pedigree traces Henry’s lineage through such other rulers as Hugh Capet (d. 996), King of the Franks between 987 and 996, as well as William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy. William ruled England between 1066 and 1087 after he had “slayne kynge harolde in the felde” and was succeeded by his son, William Rufus. The roll does not add much illuminating detail about each ruler, though tends to mention how they came to power, how they died, and any notable religious houses they founded.

The pedigree is dated internally as 1542, though on the outside is written “Pedigree of the Kings by Thomas Gardiner, Monke: 1564”. Alongside stitching and evidence of extra parchment being glued together, this may suggest that elements were added at different times, possibly by different people. The main author and artist of this piece does, however, seem to be Thomas Gardiner (or Gardyner), who was possibly the same monk of Westminster who wrote a chronicle of English history from Brutus to Henry VIII, called The Flowers of England.

Matthew Payne and Julia Boffey explored the life of Gardiner in their 2017 paper “The Gardyner’s Passetaunce, the Flowers of England, and Thomas Gardyner, Monk of Westminster.”[4] According to this research, Gardiner was born around 1479 in London. His father was a skinner and his mother may have been “the illegitimate daughter of Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford and the brother of Edmund Tudor, whose marriage to Margaret Beaufort produced the future Henry VII; Gardyner was thus, after 1485, the date of Henry’s accession, the king’s step-cousin once removed.”[5] This, if the same person, brings an interestingly personal element to this pedigree.

In around 1493, Gardyner was admitted a novice at Westminster Abbey. He studied at Oxford between 1497 and 1499 and even added a year at Cambridge. Displaying such intellectual prowess was probably part of the reason why he was chosen to create the pedigree. When he returned to Westminster in 1501, he was ordained a priest. Payne and Boffey point out that although the exact purposes of his book and the pedigree are unknown “their function as part of a programme of pious royal promotion seems unquestionable”. They were undoubtedly there to extol Henry VII and Henry VIII’s virtues as great kings, “proclaiming the justice of their claims to the crown.”[6]

Why did he need this?

Henry VIII undoubtedly led in a very different fashion to his father, Henry VII, who was known to be reserved and did not involve himself in foreign affairs. Much more ostentatious, Henry VIII was known for his lavish banquets and greed, and his inability to reconcile his own opinions and actions with the Catholic Church. By breaking from tradition and waging war in France and Scotland, Henry VIII would have needed documents like this to ensure the people knew he was rightly in power, and there was nothing they could do about it.[7]

You can view and request this item through the new Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts webpage.

[1] Garai, J., The Book of Symbols (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973); Jamieson, A. S., Coats of Arms (Pitkin Publishing, 1998)

[2] Cheshire, P., Kings, Queens, Chiefs and Rulers (London: Star Fire, 2003),  p. 132

[3] Ibid,  p. 129

[4] Payne, M., and J. Boffey, “The Gardyner’s Passetaunce, the Flowers of England, and Thomas Gardyner, Monk of Westminster,” The Library 18.2 (2017): 175-190

[5] Ibid, p. 177

[6] Ibid, pp. 178-182

[7] Brewer, J. S., and J. Gairdner. The Reign of Henry VIII from His Accession to the Death of Wolsey: Reviewed and Illustrated from Original Documents (London: John Murray, 1884)

Escaping the Reign of Terror: MS. French c. 19

“And daily, hourly, the hideous instrument of torture claimed its many victims—old men, young women, tiny children, even until the day when it would finally demand the head of a King and of a beautiful young Queen.”[1]

1793, France.

Revolution swept the country five years ago. Since the well-known Storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789, many changes have taken place across France, mostly in Paris. For five years, the French aristocracy and nobility have been in a state of panic. They have witnessed the rise of increasingly radical republican ideas take root in local politics, resulting in widespread violence.  As the country moves further away from its monarchical past with each passing month, King Louis XVI is executed on 21st January 1793 on grounds of high treason against the State—one among many casualties of the new regime.

How did it all come to this?

Like many revolutions, it started with a desire for more freedom and for an enlargement of political rights. The French population had increased to 26 million inhabitants when the revolution broke out, making it the most populated country in Europe at the time. This came with challenges, especially as far as food was concerned, and crop failures (such as the one that occurred in 1788) were bound to accentuate the already existing tensions between the people and the elite. This French population was also increasingly more educated. The common people started to press for more freedom from an outdated feudal system while the bourgeoisie demanded an increase in political power and representation. Overall, there was a consensus among many French subjects that the current system of government was obsolete and needed reform. Additionally, the 18th century was marked by the birth of Enlightenment ideas and many of the philosophers who shaped the movement (Rousseau and Voltaire to cite a couple) were French and widely read in France. The philosophers criticised absolute monarchy and the influence of the Church and they believed in the importance of human rights.

By May 1789, France had reached a state of financial crisis that was serious enough for the King to gather a sort of assembly that was called the Estates General. The goal of this assembly was to bring together the nobility (300 representatives), the Church (300 representatives) and the commoners (600 representatives) so that they could discuss the grievances of people of all classes across the country and advise the King. However, when it came to voting in the 1789 Estates General, it was decided that each of the three estates would count for one vote—an unfair system for the commoners as their voice went from representing half of the assembly to  only a third. The conflict escalated in June, as the commoners broke from the Estates General to form a National Assembly whose goal was to write a new French constitution. While Louis XVI initially agreed to this, he nonetheless drafted troops to dissolve this new National Constituent Assembly. Now July 1789, less than a week before the Storming of the Bastille, revolution was about to break out.

1793, France.

Revolution swept the country five years ago. Did it manage to achieve the ideals for which the revolutionaries fought? The King is dead and a Republic has been proclaimed. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, directly inspired by the ideas of Enlightenment, has been introduced. Yet, the violence and bloodshed continues as revolutionaries strive to purge the country of its old system. Enemies of the Republic and aristocrats are executed daily on the Place de la Grève. Since July 1789, to escape the guillotine or just the ambient violence, many French people have decided to emigrate.

So what did emigration mean during the French revolution?

Emigration linked to the French revolution was very far from being the largest mass migration in history. In total, according to Raphael Franck and Stelios Michalopoulos, more than 100,000 French people decided to leave their country behind in the wake of the revolution (so, a very small portion of the 26 million French). Quite logically, emigration concerned mainly the wealthy, especially the nobility and the clergy.[2]  Some left with the goal of plotting a return of the monarchy from abroad, others simply to escape the violence. Their destinations varied as while some crossed the Atlantic, many remained in Europe. Ernest Daudet’s account of the phenomenon highlights that many nobles fled to relatives’ homes in nearby territories, especially in Turin, where Louis XVI’s brother was scheming ways to counter the revolution.[3] Many French people also decided to head for the British Isles.

6 February 1793, London.

“Sir, I send you with this a list of the French Emigrants of known and respectable Characters, now in England, and in Jersey, which you said it would be desirable to obtain, in a Conversation I had the Honour of having with you on the subject some time since in the House of Commons. I cannot be sure it is compleat, notwithstanding great Pains have been taken to render it so . . . John Thomas Stanley, Esq., M.P.”[4]

2019, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford.

“This” is a volume of 126 leaves, with a vellum binding. Names are recorded alphabetically along with, every now and then, mentions of family members and occupations. Overall, the register documents the arrival of 1,063 French people in England and Jersey, of which many were domestic servants and members of the military. Comprehensive lists of emigrants was commissioned several times during the revolution years by French authorities to identify people whose remaining belongings could be confiscated. Were they to come back to France, people on these lists would have been stripped of their civil rights. It is unclear however whether this particular register was used for this purpose as the ultimate recipient, both of the volume and of Staney’s letter, is now unknown.

John Thomas Stanley’s letter, along with the register that contains the list of French emigrants to England and Jersey, are now known as MS. French c. 19. It was acquired by the Libraries in 1937 and the 226 years of its life have not been the kindest to the register. Former mould, eradicated through fumigation, has left marks over the pages of the volume. This has not however eaten away the names of those people who, two centenaries ago, crossed the channel in the hopes of a better life far from the massacre of what came to be known as the Reign of Terror. The register does not record what happened to the emigrants after their arrival, but you can still today discover who they were by visiting the Libraries and calling up MS. French c. 19. The Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts also contains documents that shed light on what was happening in the meantime in France, with MS. French c. 27 containing official documents of the French revolutionary government (1793-1795).


[1] Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960 (1913), p. 9

[2] Franck, Raphael, and Stelios Michalopoulos. “Emigration during the French revolution: Consequences in the Short and Longue Durée.” IDEAS Working Paper Series from RePEc (2018): IDEAS Working Paper Series from RePEc, 2018. Web.

[3] Daudet, Ernest. Histoire de l’émigration pendant la Révolution Française. Tome I : De la Prise de la Bastille au dix-huit fructidor, Paris: Librairie Poussielgue, 1904.

[4] Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. French c. 19, fol. 4

Read more about this:

“French Revolution”, Britannica Online

Reboul, Juliette. French Emigration to Great Britain in Response to the French Revolution, Cham, Switzerland : Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.