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Jacobite Relics

The Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition

Two fascinating Jacobite ‘relics’ from the collection of the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library were recently loaned to the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland. The exhibition, the first major display on this theme in over 70 years, traced the ambitions of the Stuarts and their Jacobite supporters from the defeat of James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 to the downfall of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden in 1746. It was a spectacular, ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ gathering of over 350 items: paintings, costumes, jewellery, documents, weapons and glassware loaned from a wide range of private and public collections such as the Musée du Louvre, V&A,  Royal Collection, British Museum, as well as the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

Image credit the National Museums of Scotland

The loan of these manuscripts sparked further research into their provenance which forms the subject of an article in the current Jan/Feb 2018 issue of History Ireland magazine by this author.

When the last member of the Stuart dynasty, Henry, Cardinal Duke of York (brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie) died in Rome in 1807, many of the state papers held in his possession were purchased by the English crown. But the more personal family documents were retained by members of the Cardinal’s circle who then sold them off, piecemeal, to eager visitors taking the grand tour. Among these was the Irish collector Blayney Townley Balfour (1799-1882) of Townley Hall near Drogheda. While in Rome in 1842, he purchased, among other miscellaneous Jacobite souvenirs, the two manuscripts loaned by Trinity to the Edinburgh exhibition.

The first of these (TCD MS 3529) is the Book of Private Devotions of James II. This is a small, confessional volume of letters, prayers and memoirs written in James’s own hand and mostly dated 1698-1700. Written around eight years on from his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, James was then nearing the end of his life, in exile in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he was subsidised by Louis XIV of France. The volume provides a window into the deposed King’s psychological state and pious obsessions. At one point he proffers advice on how best to spend one’s leisure time: through prayer, meditation and good books. Also admissible as leisure-time pursuits are matters of business, (moderate) hunting, shooting, and tennis (but only for exercise and the desirable company it could afford). James particularly advises against attending balls, operas and plays but concedes that ‘if obliged at any time to go to any of them, to governe one’s [eyes] with discretion, and to let one’s thoughts be of the vanity of them’.  In the Edinburgh exhibition the volume was displayed underneath two wall sconces and alongside a service book (belonging also to James, and his queen, Mary of Modena) loaned from the Royal collection. Also in the case were his spectacles case, along with a pair of contemporary spectacles, loaned by the V&A – in short, the personal effects that the exiled king would have likely kept on his bedside table.

The second manuscript on loan from Trinity (TCD MS 7574) is the marriage certificate of James II’s son, James III (the ‘Old Pretender’) and the 17-year-old Polish princess Maria Clementina Sobieska (1702-1735) – the parents of Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). Its elaborate frontispiece bears the combined Stuart and Sobieski coats of arms above a hilltop village probably intended to represent Montefiascone, near Lake Bolsena, north of Rome – the  venue for the wedding, and summer residence of the then Pope, Clement XI. That the union took place at all is nothing short of remarkable given the events that led up to it played out like a Hollywood blockbuster: the couple were pursued across Europe by the agents of King George and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI leading to an ambush, an imprisonment, and a jailbreak, with a maid in disguise, lost jewels, false identities, forged passports, broken axles, and the spiking of some hapless pursuers’ drinks all thrown in for good measure.

One advantage in gathering together so many items from different institutions is that manuscripts can be displayed alongside other objects related to the same event. Accordingly, the Edinburgh exhibition also featured a silver medal struck to commemorate the tumultuous rescuing of Maria Clementina Sobieska en route to her wedding, as well as portraits of the bride and groom, and a print of the marriage ceremony itself. The whole affair caused a sensation throughout Europe, but did not furnish its well-deserved fairy tale ending as the couple separated soon after their two sons were born.

International loans of manuscripts are never undertaken lightly; they incur a number of complex arrangements and advance preparation. In this case, work began in the summer of 2016 when Trinity granted the initial loan request. Library staff then liaised with their counterparts at the National Museum of Scotland as well as with exhibition designers, conservators and art handlers in negotiating loan agreements, facilities reports, insurance documentation, export licences, courier itineraries and receipts.

The two manuscripts were also photographed in their entirety by Digital Resources and assessed and treated in Conservation ahead of their Scottish journey. When the day of installation finally dawns, however, a great sense of camaraderie shared between the colleagues from all the contributing institutions makes up for the lengthy practicalities that arise from such an ambitious undertaking. Such high-profile loans to well publicised exhibitions enhance the participating institutions’ international reputation as well as offering wider public access to the display items. Other major, recent loans from the Library include the papyrus fragment PAP.F.18 to the Nero exhibition in Trier and a selection of Oscar Wilde items to an exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris.

The Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition ran at The National Museum of Scotland June-November 2017.

Estelle Gittins

To Aleppo Gone

'The Prospect of Aleppo' from Henry Maundrel 'Journal of a Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem 1697' Fag.4.33
‘The Prospect of Aleppo’ from Henry Maundrel Journal of a Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem 1697 Fag.B.4.33

For anyone who watches current news footage from Aleppo, it is hard to imagine what this ancient city once was. For centuries it was a peaceful, vibrant, multi-cultural centre with a strong relationship with the West based on trade and tourism. These unique items from the Library’s Research Collections reflect the cultural intersections between East and West once nurtured in Aleppo.

Continue reading “To Aleppo Gone”

Enduring Everest

TCD MS 10484/4/4
TCD MS 10484/4/4

In the aftermath of the First World War, many seasoned soldiers turned to a life of adventure, seeking out new adrenalin-fuelled challenges to replace the heroics of the battlefield, or to suppress the memory of its atrocities, or both. The conquest of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, became an attractive objective, and three attempts were made in the early 1920s by British mountaineering teams. These included the Irishmen Charles Howard Bury (the 1921 ‘Reconnaissance’ Expedition) and Richard William George Hingston (1924). Both had served with distinction in the war (Howard Bury in France, Hingston in the Middle East), and their war diaries form part of the Library’s First World War resource, ‘Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails’.

10484/4/11 members of the 1924 expedition, Hingston is standing second from left
10484/4/11 members of the 1924 expedition, Hingston is standing second from left

The 1924 expedition, which Hingston joined as a medical officer and naturalist, is famous for resulting in Everest’s greatest mystery: George Mallory and Andrew Irvine broke off from the group to make a final attempt on the summit on 8 June 1924, and were spotted near to the summit only to then disappear into the cloud cover, never to return. Mallory’s body was only recovered in 1999 at 26,755 ft (8,155 m) – what caused their deaths, or whether they actually made it to the summit remains a matter of conjecture, despite the fact that this attempt was the best documented of its time.

TCD MS 10484/4/1 member of the climbing team with oxygen tanks
TCD MS 10484/4/1 member of the climbing team with oxygen tanks

The official photographer, John Noel, devoted himself to recording a filmed record of the expedition. The result, The Epic of Everest, is one of the most remarkable pieces of documentary film-making of the early 20th century. With Noel preoccupied with filming (as well as the logistical nightmare of transporting bulky equipment up the slopes alongside its own team of mules and porters), the remainder of the group dutifully compiled still photographs with their ‘tourist variety’ cameras. Their published report, The Fight for Everest, details the travails of the Himalayan photographer: the tendency to ‘under-expose in tropical Sikkim and over-expose in arctic Tibet’; the unwelcome effects of the lack of oxygen on development times and their ingenious solution to the problem of drying negatives in sub-zero conditions:

10484/4/15 Everest Base Camp
10484/4/15 Everest Base Camp

‘We threaded as many as 50-60 [negatives] on cotton as soon as they were washed and suspended them in rows in the apex of Noel’s double-walled tent. Then we brought in great glowing trays of smouldering Yak dung and set those on the floor so that the heat might rise and circulate about the films and prevent them from freezing … Noel complained that he had to sleep in the tent; we complained that he was the only man to have a fire in his bedroom.’

TCD MS 10484/4/2
TCD MS 10484/4/2

Given such challenges, it is remarkable that so many enduring images made it back, including those taken by Hingston and now housed in M&ARL. Hingston not only took images of his fellow mountaineers, sherpas, and the region itself, but also birds and insects as part of his work as a naturalist. M&ARL also holds Hingston’s annotated maps of the area, correspondence with colleagues at Camp II, and letters he sent to the Natural History Museum on his return. These include taxonomical lists of the specimens he collected, including a species of Black Attid spider. He discovered this creature living at 22,000 feet – the highest known habitat for any animal.

TCD MS 10473 f 36 recto Hingston's journal for 7 to 10 June 1924 describing the tragic summit attempt
TCD MS 10473 f 36 recto Hingston’s journal for 7-10 June 1924 describing the tragic summit attempt

One of the most emotive items in the collection is the notebook Hingston took with him to record the expedition, TCD MS 10473, which was then worked up into a more legible copy, TCD MS 10474. With echoes of the diary of Scott of the Antarctic, this is both a record-keeping exercise and a personal notebook, with each entry written in pencil commencing with location and height in feet, but betraying little of the extreme conditions. A single page 36 recto, datable to 8 June, describes the final ascent by Mallory and Irvine: ‘eyes glued to the mountain. There is just a chance of Mallory and Irvine getting to the summit’, but finishes sombrely on 10 June, ‘there can be no doubt; the worst has happened.’

A full list of the Hingston papers is available on the Manuscripts and Archives online catalogue. The Hingston papers were fully digitised in 2010 as part of the EuropeanaTravel project funded under European Commission’s eContentplus programme, and are available via the Library’s Digital Collections site.

Estelle Gittins

And then a Nero comes along …

NeroPosterThe Library of Trinity College Dublin has recently loaned a papyrus fragment (TCD PAP F.18) to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier for their exhibition Nero – Kaiser, Künstler und Tyrann (Nero – Emperor, Artist and Tyrant) on the life of the notorious Roman emperor Nero.  This exhibition will run from May to October 2016.

This small fragment, written in Greek and dated 54 AD, announces the death of the emperor Claudius, and the accession to the imperial throne of his grand-nephew Nero.  The new emperor is hailed as ‘the expectation and hope of the world … the good genius of the world and source of all good things’.  This description echoes the optimism that was engendered across the empire at the beginning of Nero’s reign.  The exhibition attempts to highlight some of the more positive aspects of his story – his popularity during the early years of his rule, and his love of the arts, as well as dealing with his darker and tyrannical side.


Trier is the oldest city in Germany, and the only one that was a seat of the Roman Empire. This major exhibition features over 700 exhibits, including statues, pottery, coins, jewellery and other artefacts relating to Nero and his world.  A substantial amount of these are from the museum’s own holdings, but there are also many items on loan from European repositories including the Vatican Museum, the Louvre, the British Museum, and of course, the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

The collection of Greek papyri in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library dates from between the 13th century BC to the 7th century AD, and it is ranked second, after Oxford, among papyri collections in Britain and Ireland.  Documents include literary and sacred texts, as well as official and administrative documents: letters, tax receipts, accounts, contracts, leases and valuations.  Most of the several thousand fragments in the Library’s possession came from the excavations of Sir W. Flinders Petrie during the 1880s in the Fayyûm district of Egypt.  The fragment on loan to Trier is part of a find of papyrus documents discovered during the excavations of Hogarth, Grenfell and Hunt of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, which TCD part sponsored.  It was found in the ancient rubbish dumps of the town of Oxyrhynchus, which was roughly 300km south of Alexandria.

In September 2013, the Preservation and Conservation Department commenced work on a small selection of Greek papyri – including the Nero document – which had been housed between glass and Perspex pressure-mounts. The project involved the conservation of 300 papyri fragments and the implementation of an improved housing system as several of the glass mounts were smashed or cracked, so replacement was a priority. Many Perspex mounts also needed to be removed, because of its tendency to scratch and its electrostatic nature.

The papyrus itself was in a fragile condition; many of the fragments had never been surface cleaned and were heavily soiled. They were brittle and fragile, and several different types of tape had been attached in an attempt to hold fragments together; however, more often the tape obscured text or were causing more damage.

Treatment included removing the tapes and other material from direct contact with the papyrus, humidifying and flattening creases and folds. Realigning fibres and fragments and bridging and mending fractured areas. Once treatment was completed the papyri were returned in new glazed pressure-mounts permitting safe handling. The conservation of the papyri was key for their continued preservation and have ensured future accessibility through digitisation and exhibition.

Nero_Ausstellung_RLMT_Foto_Th_Zühmer (11)
© GDKE – Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier, Th. Zühmer

Ellen O’Flaherty (Manuscripts & Archives Research Library)
Clodagh Neligan (Preservation and Conservation Department)