Category Archives: Medieval

“Procuring, Prostitution, and Perjury”

Perhaps unsurprisingly for an institution that did not formally admit women as members until 1920, the early records of the University are dominated by men – with academic progress records documenting their achievements; the minutes of Congregation and Convocation recording their appointments, actions and voices; and accounts noting how they chose to spend money. In contrast, the actions of women are seldom documented, unless they happened to be wealthy and gave large parcels of land for the use of the University.

An exception to this comes from a quirk of Oxford’s history – the existence of the Chancellor’s Court. The Chancellor’s Court was effectively the University’s own judicial system. Believed to have originated in 1214, when the Award of the Papal Legate ensured that arrested clerks would be handed over to the Chancellor, the powers of the Court grew over the years. By 1290, it had the power to hear all cases where one party was a University member; by 1341 the Chancellor had the right to banish people from the city; and by 1355, the Court had powers to enforce the peace of the city (by punishing those carrying weapons, for example). It is the records of the Court that detail the daily lives of “lower class” women and attitudes towards them.

One such woman is Lucy Colbrand. She appears in the first volume containing records of the Chancellor’s Court, the Chancellor’s Register 20 March 1435 – 3 March 1469 (Reference: OUA/Hyp/A/1). The Register is not an easy document to penetrate. The entries (written on a mixture of parchment and paper sheets) are thought to be in handwriting of individual Chancellors and their representatives (known as Commissaries). Furthermore, there is evidence that these entries were made hurriedly, perhaps even verbatim. The entries also use “scribe specific” abbreviations – just as we now have our own ways of shortening words when writing under time pressure. It’s rather like trying to read the prescriptions of dozens of different doctors!

Image of handwritten Latin on page from the Chancellors' Register

The page in the Chancellor’s Register, documenting Lucy’s transgressions (OUA/Hyp/A/1)

Fortunately, we are able to turn to the Reverend H.E. Salter’s two-volume transcription of the Register (Registrum Cancellarii Oxoniensis 1434-1469 (1932)) which removes the need to decipher handwriting, but still preserves the entries in their original Medieval Latin, the formal written language of this period. The entry relating to Lucy, dated 13 March 1443/4, can be found on pages 92 to 93 of Volume I.

A translation of the passage reads:

In that same year, namely the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 1443 on the day after the day of St Gregory the pope, Lucy Colbrand, procuress and whore, was publicly banished for numerous insurgencies and perjuries for which she had previously sworn that she would leave outside the University and its precincts forever. However, notwithstanding her oath, she did not leave but she was, within the University, the cause of ensuing quarrels, whoredoms, arguments and murders; therefore because she was thus the reason and cause for further evils and disturbance of the peace, and because she herself [was] incorrigible and unreforming after imprisonment, therefore on the aforesaid day she was banished publicly in the presence of many doctors and masters in writing in the form which follows:
‘In the name of God, Amen. We, Thomas Gascoigne, acting Chancellor of the University of the school of Oxford, do decree that you, Lucy Colbrand – who have been in the presence of the official judicially and at other times lawfully convicted of the frequent disturbance of the peace, of procuring, prostitution, perjury and many other outrageous trespasses and offences, and have confessed the same, and are wholly incorrigible — are to be banished on account of the aforementioned matters. According to this writ we banish you, warning you the first time, the second time, and the third and final time that you must leave and depart within three days from this University of Oxford and beyond its precincts, not to return again under the penalties and threats according to the privileges granted to us on that account.’
Enacted on the day of St Benedict the Confessor at Oxford at Carfax; and the punishment of incarceration is imposed on anyone who illicitly receives her into the University or its precincts.

The Medieval Latin of the original immediately presents its own challenges to understanding the entry. By the Medieval period, Latin had evolved to include words for new concepts, often specific to the context in which they were used. Even more of a headache for the would-be reader, sometimes words changed their meanings from those used in Ancient Rome. For example, in the first line, Lucy is described as “pronuba et meretrix”. “Meretrix” is straightforward, translating as “prostitute”, but in Classical Latin “pronuba” means “bridesmaid”, a word that does not fit comfortably in this context! An investigation of this word in its medieval context indicates that there was a complex vocabulary surrounding the sex industry active during this period. There were specific words, not just for prostitute, but also for brothels (lupanaria), brothel keepers (fautor lenocinli), and pimps (leno). “Pronuba” was sometimes used to describe a female pimp, but it was also specifically used to mean “procuress”, meaning someone who received money from a client for providing the introduction to a sex worker, perhaps the equivalent of running a modern-day escort agency.

The passage also gives us insight into the punishments used (not only towards prostitutes) at the time. The least harsh penalty was abjuration. In this context, it can be interpreted as a promise to withdraw from the University to a set radius (for example, five miles) for an agreed period of time (for example, one year). Imprisonment was another punishment option, probably deeply unappealing at a time when the city’s prison had been nicknamed the “Bocardo”, thought to have been derived from the word “Boggard”, meaning toilet. Finally, the Chancellor had the power to exile individuals from the University and its precincts (technically within two miles of Carfax tower, although in 1444 the King gave the Chancellor permission to banish disturbers of the peace to a distance of 12 miles), a punishment that also carried public shame as it was announced at Carfax on market days.

detail of map of Oxford in 1400 showing the Bocardo and CarfaxAs well as transcribing the Chancellor’s Register, Salter also “retro-created” a map of how Oxford might have looked in 1400. The Bocardo would have been located within the North Gate, and Carfax is by St Martin’s Church (only the tower of the church remains today, known as “Carfax Tower”). This vibrant modern update of Salter’s work is an extract from the brand new “British Historic Towns Atlas, Volume VII, Oxford” and is kindly provided by and is copyright of The Historic Towns Trust, 2021. 

Lucy seems to have, through numerous infractions, worked her way through the system of punishments to the most severe available, obviously trying the Chancellor’s patience in the process. It’s clear that at some point previously, she did abjure, and thus her reoffending is referred to as a “perjury”, a breaking of her oath. It is notable, however, that at the time of abjuration, Lucy’s crimes must have been substantial, for the period of withdrawal was “forever”. It’s evident that she had also already spent some time incarcerated (“after imprisonment”) – again, given the structure of the wording, most likely for the same crimes. Her refusal (or inability due to financial circumstances) to stop offending seems to have infuriated the authorities – the words “incorrigible” and “unreforming” are often amplified by words of repetition and continuation – “previously”, “ensuing”, “numerous”, “further”, contributing to the impression that Lucy seems to have been before the Chancellor a number of times in the past.woodcut print of a line drawing showing a woman on a cart in a market placeSource: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

This sense of exasperation is supported by the immediacy of the writing. Although, this provides some challenging palaeography, it nevertheless, in this circumstance, conveys the feelings of the author. The first paragraph heaps up her crimes: although it is clear that the crimes of sexual immorality are the focus of the punishment, it is made plain that she is an “unseemly” woman – she is not quiet and submissive. She quarrels, argues, and is disruptive. The second paragraph apparently gives us the precise words spoken by the Chancellor when handing down his sentence, possibly in the very speech that Lucy would have heard. Although recorded for administrative purposes, the direct language places the reader in Lucy’s shoes: “You… have been… lawfully convicted and… have confessed… we banish you… you must leave”. The use of the “the first time, the second time, and the third and final time” conveys a sense of rhythmic emphasis given to this warning – we can practically hear the speaker’s delivery when reading the piece.

pen and ink sketch of document with seal

A piece of marginalia from later in the Register depicts the form of official decrees (OUA/Hyp/A/1)

The order in which Lucy’s crimes are listed is also of interest, as the crimes do not fit our preconceptions of importance. As identified above, those regarding sexual immortality are front and centre, but the list goes on – she does not respect authority, she breaks her oath, and causes arguments. It is one of the last crimes listed that provides the surprise, as the passages cites her involvement in murders (plural). It is not clear from the passage to what extent Lucy was involved or how active a participant she was. It may perhaps have been a passing involvement, as it is not mentioned at all in the direct speech of the second paragraph. Yet, it does seem to convey the sense that involvement in murder is of the least concern to those in power, certainly behind being a quarrelsome and argumentative woman!

Unfortunately, this is the first and last we hear of Lucy in the University’s records. She makes no further appearance in the Chancellor’s Court records. A cursory search of non-University contemporary judicial documents (such as Rogers’ Oxford City Documents and Salter’s Records of Mediæval Oxford and Munimenta Civitats Oxonie) appear not to record her name. We have no information on whether Lucy continued to exercise her profession and her temper outside the city boundaries, or whether the Chancellor’s harshest punishment finally “reformed” her character. It would seem that, to quote Laurel Ulrich, “well-behaved women seldom make history”.

For further information on the Chancellor’s Court and prostitution in Medieval Oxford the following sources are a good starting point:

Salter, H. E. Registrum Cancellarii Oxoniensis, 1434-1469. Oxford, 1932. Print. Oxf. Hist. Soc. (Ser.) ; v. 93-94.

Kavanagh, H. (2020) The Topography of Illicit Sex in Later Medieval English Provincial Towns. MPhil thesis. Royal Holloway, University of London. Available at: https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/files/37318718/2020KavanaghHMphil.pdf (Accessed: 8 December 2021)

Karras, RM. “The Regulation of Brothels in Later Medieval England.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 14.2 (1989): 399-433. Web.

Mazo Karras, Ruth. “The Latin Vocabulary of Illicit Sex in English Ecclesiastical Court Records.” The Journal of Medieval Latin 2 (1992): 1-17. Web.

Advancing and expanding access to our archives

Helping to navigate the Bodleian Libraries’ vast archives.

I am thrilled to be working on a major initiative by the Bodleian Libraries to prepare for the introduction of an online circulation system for the Bodleian’s vast collection of archive and manuscript materials. I grew up in a family avid about history and I went on to study history at university—so it’s an incredible privilege to be able to contribute to this work which will benefit readers, researchers and members of the public from all around the world.

My role at the Weston Library includes barcoding all the material stored there, uploading this information into our online systems, and contributing to the conservation and re-housing of collections. The work underway behind the scenes is a very significant project that will contribute to widening access to the Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections. It’s energising to think that I am contributing to making all this material more accessible for as wide an audience of readers and scholars as possible. I am conscious that archival material is meaningful, powerful, and sometimes contested, and I am motivated by the idea I am contributing to a project which will allow a greater number of people to provide rigorous, progressive and exciting views of the past and its influence on the present.

One of the main privileges of my job is that I have the opportunity to work with all the collections in the Library. As I scamper around the Library’s many compartments to barcode the collections held there, I encounter material from all the Weston’s collections—medieval manuscripts, music archives, modern manuscripts, rare books, and maps from around the world. In the above photo, you can see me (please forgive the scruffy lockdown hair) preparing to put labels on each of the shelves in the Weston Library. I did this as the staff at the Weston came back to Library after the most recent lockdown, and the aim was to help my colleagues and I navigate the Library’s compartments to find materials—it can get quite labyrinthine! The coronavirus pandemic affected the Bodleian Libraries’ workings significantly, but through it all the Library always strived to “keep Oxford reading”. The project to which I am contributing was inevitably delayed by the pandemic because it involves a lot of work which can only be done onsite, but now a number of colleagues in the department are contributing to the project to catch up lost time and get it done!

Hopefully this has provided you with a glimpse of the daily inner-workings of the Bodleian and how we are working to make things accessible!

Preserving Hafiz, Poet of Shiraz.

 

or better or for worse, Special Collections Librarians have adopted the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) scheme to classify the subject matter of the Islamicate Manuscripts described in the Union Catalogue ‘Fihrist‘. By and large this works well for this material which was created in the medieval period. There are, however, some anomalies such as modern country names (e.g. Yemen (Republic) — History) having to be used rather than their more ancient equivalents, or Medicine, Arab, which does not do justice to an Avicenna or a Rhazes who, although they wrote predominately in Arabic, were Persians by birth. Fihrist lists more than 2000 subjects in current use in the catalogue which also includes personal names as subject matter of works.

When it comes to Persian Poetry, the LCSH provides 2 main headings: Persian Poetry — 747-1500, and Persian Poetry 1500-1796. The dates of 1500-1796 may be explained by the fact that the Safavid Dynasty ruled Iran with their brand of state-sponsored Shiism and Sufism beginning around 1500, after which from about 1722, the Afsharid Dynasty briefly rose to power until the Qajars established their rule fully over Iran in 1796, ushering in a period of modernization including that of literary forms. The beginning date of 747 is slightly more puzzling, coming as it does less than a century after the fall of the Sassanid Empire to the Arab Muslims and the death of the last King Yazdigird III in 651.

This Arabo-Islamic conquest by many accounts left Iran reeling, and in the (perhaps now outdated) words of Iranian cultural historian Abdol Hossein Zarrinkoub (d. 1999) caused Two Centuries of Silence during which no Persian literary production of note took place. Others, such as E. G. Browne (author of A Literary History of Persia), point out that on the contrary, ‘take from what is commonly called Arabian Science – from exegesis, tradition, theology, philosophy, medicine, lexicography, history, biography, even Arabic grammar- the work contributed by Persians, and the best part is gone.’ [Browne, Literary History, i:204].

Browne is referring to monumental works written by Persians in Arabic such as Tabari’s two famous books on Universal History, and Qur’anic Exegesis which take up to 30 volumes each in some printings; or volumes of Prophetic Traditions by Bukhari (of Bukhara, Transoxiana); or Sibawayh’s book on Arabic Grammar, and many more besides.

When it comes to poetry in the ‘New Persian’, it seems to be the 9th and 10th Centuries in the great central-Asian metropolis of Bukhara at the courts of the Samanids where the art flourished once more in the Persian tongue with minstrels such as Rudaki (860-940) singing and playing the lute. Dowlatshah of Samarqand, who wrote his Memorandum of the Poets in 1487, includes over 140 biographical entries beginning with Rudaki, before whom he says no other Persian poet’s work was recorded or written down, perhaps because of a ban on books written in Persian. With the advent of the Samanids and Saffarids, poetry in Persian re-emerged and became popular.

As for the date 747, that was the year of the beginning of the Abbasid revolt in Eastern Iran against the Umayyads who ruled the empire from Damascus. By 750 the Umayyads had been overthrown, and plans were made for a new capital at Baghdad, with a noble, learned, and influential Persian family – the Barmakids – acting as viziers. Think Barmecide feast! Many Persian administrative practices were introduced to the state bureaucracy by the Barmakids, but again, the State Registers were apparently still being written in Arabic until the time of the Samanids, or possibly even the Ghaznavids.

If we take our ‘Millennium’ of Persian Poetry to be 747-1796, the major poet who was flourishing in the middle of this period would  be Amir Khusraw of Dehli (1253-1325). If we take the date to be from 880, when Rudaki was in his flush of youth, then a much more well-known figure would be flourishing – none other than Hafiz of Shiraz (1315-1390) – which is why this cataloguer felt he had passed a milestone in his lockdown cataloguing work when he completed entries for the copies of the works of Hafez held by the Bodleian Libraries’ Oriental Special Collections.

The poet Hafiz (back right) with companions. [Bodleian MS. Elliott 163, fol. 55b]

The Libraries hold a total of 47 manuscript copies of the works of Hafiz plus a number of commentaries, making him the third most-represented poet in the Persian collections after Jami with 98, which is not surprising as he died 100 years after Hafiz, and many copies of his works were made in Safavid times, and Sa’di (who died 100 years before Hafiz) with 83, and whose Bustan and Gulistan have been ever-popular.

Two copies of the Divan (collected poetical works) of Hafiz are available to browse on Digital.Bodleian; MS. Ouseley Add. 175 – an exquisite copy made in 1571 by the acclaimed calligrapher Mir Ali the Scribe to the Sultan. This includes an introduction in the hand of Sir Gore Ouseley; and MS. Ouseley Add. 26, a less lavish version copied in 1538.

Catalogue records of the Bodleian’s holdings of the works of Hafiz may be browsed here.

The Divan or collected poetical works of Hafiz finds widespread use in Persianate lands for Bibliomancy or fortune-telling by books. Most families would have a copy of the Divan which, opened at random after an intention to seek omens, the reader would interpret the poem that appears to them in a way that lends meaning to their life. This is because Hafiz is seen to be an interpreter of the unseen realms and was known as lisān al-ghayb or speaker of the unknown.

In Iran, one can have one’s fortune told by Hafiz in street-stalls, but there are also many online faʾl-i Hafiz such as this one at the link below conveniently using an English translation!

Hafiz fortune-teller

[The Bodleian Libraries are not responsible for the content of external sites]

 

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.

Heralds

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.

Heraldry

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.

References:

[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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms.

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

[7] Knights, Wikipedia, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight.

[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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur.

[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.

 

The Shāhnāmah of Ibrāhīm Sulṭān – Available Online from Digital.Bodleian

VIEW IBRĀHĪM SULṬĀN’S SHĀHNĀMAH ONLINE
The Shāhnāmah – Book of Kings (or King of Books) – is an epic poem written in Persian by Abū l-Qāsim Firdawsī of Ṭūs. Completed in about 1010 CE, the book is composed of some 60,000 verses which narrate the history of Greater Persia from mythical beginnings until the Arab conquests of the 7th century.

Said to be the longest poem ever to have been written by a single person, the significance of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāmah to the Persian-speaking world can be compared to that of the works of Homer to Greece.

No manuscript copies of the Shāhnāmah survive from the 11th or 12th centuries, and only two from the 13th century are still extant, but many copies from the Timurid and Safavid periods are preserved in Library collections today.

Three of the grandsons of Tīmūr (Tamerlane) are known to have had lavish copies of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāmah or Persian Book of Kings made for them. The Shāhnāmahs of Bāysunghur, Muḥammad Jūkī, and Ibrāhīm Sulṭān are preserved in the Golestan Palace, Tehran, the Royal Asiatic Society, London, and the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, respectively.

Left: Shamsah showing inscription dedicated to Ibrāhīm Sulṭān. (MS. Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 12a). Right: Ibrāhīm Sulṭān holding court outdoors. (MS. Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 1b).

Thought to have been made in Shiraz sometime between 1430 and Ibrāhīm Sulṭān’s death in 1435, this copy of the Shāhnāmah is known for its exceptional miniature paintings and exquisite illuminated panels.

The manuscript was acquired by Sir Gore Ouseley, a Diplomat and Linguist, during travels in the East in the early 19th century, and came into the Bodleian in the 1850s along with many other of Sir Gore’s collections. It is now preserved as MS. Ouseley Add. 176.

Ibrāhīm Sulṭān’s Shāhnāmah is now digitally available online via Digital.Bodleian. Recently, its sibling Muḥammad Jūkī’s Shāhnāmah was published online by the Royal Asiatic Society; both in good time for Nawruz or Persian New Year on 20th March!

REFERENCES

Abdullaeva, F., & Melville, C., The Persian book of kings : Ibrahim Sultan’s Shahnama (Treasures from the Bodleian Library). Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2008.

Beeston, A. F. L., Hermann Ethé, and Eduard Sachau. Catalogue of the Persian, Turkish, Hindûstânî, and Pushtû Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library . Oxford: At the Clarendon, 1889.

Robinson, B. W.,  A Descriptive Catalogue of the Persian Paintings in the Bodleian Library. Oxford: Clarendon, 1958.

The Bodleian Libraries would like to thank the Bahari Fund for helping to make this digitization project possible.

Oxford College Archives

A new website for Oxford College Archives has been launched at https://oac.web.ox.ac.uk/.

Painting of Oxford students entitled 'Conversation Piece, Worcester College' by Edward HallidayThe site includes a general introduction to the archives held by the Oxford colleges, individual pages on most of the colleges (with further links to catalogues etc.) and links to associated archives in the City and University.  There is also an FAQ page, a glossary of all those odd Oxford terms, and a bibliography.  The site will be enhanced and updated regularly.

War, Health and Humanitarianism

How can we define humanitarianism?

What motivates humanitarian actors like Oxfam and the Red Cross?

How have relief and development organizations competed and collaborated to mitigate suffering from conflicts?

Is political neutrality feasible or necessary?

These and other questions will be addressed in the symposium, ‘War, Health and Humanitarianism’ on 16 June in the Weston Library Lecture Theatre, which brings together historians studying conflicts from the medieval period to the present day. Speakers will include Dr. Rosemary Wall, Bodleian Library Sassoon Visiting Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Global History at the University of Hull, whose current research focuses on conflict in Cyprus, Vietnam and Nigeria in the 20th century and British and French humanitarian responses.

For further information and to register see:

http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/222665/War-Health-and-Humanitarianism_Programme.pdf

Unloading dried milk

Unloading dried milk for the starving people of Biafra at Fernando Po during the Nigerian Civil War, July 1968
MS. Oxfam COM/5/1/51
Credit: Duncan Kirkpatrick / Oxfam

Bodleian Treasures: Early Ethiopian Bible Illumination

On Saturday, the 8th of April a group of bibliophiles from the Anglo-Ethiopian Society visited the Weston Library. Their trip from London to Oxford was intended as a study day, attending lectures and a photo exhibition on the illuminated Gospels from the Abba Garima Monastery. During the academic programme, Dr Judith McKenzie spoke about the themes of Garima illumination, while Professor Francis Watson gave a lecture on canon tables. The first part of the day took place at the Ioannou centre and was organised by Judith McKenzie, Miranda Williams, and Foteini Spingou, with photographs by Michael Gervers.
In the afternoon, a small display of Bodleian Ethiopian treasures was ready for the group in the Blackwell Hall. The two fifteenth century biblical codices on display were given to the library by Dr Bent Juel-Jensen in 2006. These exceptional codices come with a wealth of painted miniatures, representing biblical figures from the patriarchs to evangelists. MS. Aeth. c. 14, comprising the Four Gospels in Ge’ez script is thought to come from the Gojjam province in north-western part of Ethiopia. There are four colour miniatures of the Evangelists, one before each Gospel. These were made by Nicolo Brancaleone, a Venetian artist active in Ethiopia.

The other mid-fifteenth century illuminated manuscript, MS. Aeth. d. 19 includes Psalms, hymns of the Old Testament, Song of Songs and Praises of Mary.


The display at the Bodleian was received with great interest and there definitely was a sense of enthusiasm for promoting the collection also in the future. Many thanks to the colleagues in the Oriental collections, as well as Exhibitions department for their support. It was a great pleasure to meet the many members of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society and we look forward to welcoming all back in the future!

Thai Manuscript Conservation Association Workshop at the Bodleian

On 14th and 15th December staff from Bodleian Special Collections and Digital Library Systems and Services welcomed representatives from the Manuscript Conservation Association of Thailand. Delegates included Mr. Boonlert Sananon, President of the MCA, Mr. Boonlue Burarnsan, Vice President of the MCA, and Mrs. Phatchanun Bunnag, Registrar of the MCA.

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During the first day of the workshop delegates discussed the latest developments in TEI /XML cataloguing standards for Thai manuscripts at the Centre for Digital Scholarship. On the morning of second day of the workshop the delegates visited the Conservation workshop. This was followed by a lecture by given Mr Saneh Mahapol, from the Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture on the conservation of palm leaf books in Thailand.

The workshop ended with delegates helping the library to identify and make basic TEI descriptions of uncatalogued Thai manuscripts in the Bodleian’s collection.

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Georgian Manuscript Treasures on Display

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Visitors to the Weston Library on Wednesday 19th October will have the opportunity to see two 17th century manuscripts of Shota Rustaveli’s epic poem, which will be on display to accompany Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze’s lecture ‘Come, let us sit for Tariel’: The story of The Man in the Panther’s Skin. This 12th century work was dedicated to Queen Tamar, Georgia’s greatest ruler, and to this day remains a monument of Georgian national identity. The two manuscripts that will be on show were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2014 as part of a joint nomination made with Georgia’s National Centre of Manuscripts. Registered lecture goers will also have the chance to view the manuscripts from 5pm in the Blackwell Hall before the start of the talk at 5.30pm.