On the morning of 31st May 1622, exactly four hundred years ago, a terrible fire struck Cork city. It was sparked by an early summer thunderstorm. Many of the tightly packed dwellings within the city walls were built of timber or clay and had thatched roofs, and when lightning struck they quickly went up in flames. Between 11 o’clock and noon the fire tore through all parts of the city, leaving a trail of devastation.
One of the reasons we know about this fire is because it was the subject of a news pamphlet, A relation of the most lamentable burning of the cittie of Corke, in the west of Ireland, in the province of Monster, by thunder and lightning, which was printed in London on 20th June, barely three weeks later. It is a scarce work, with only three copies recorded in the English Short Title Catalogue. But a Dutch translation was printed in The Hague by Aert Meuris in 1622, and this translation is held in the Library of Trinity College Dublin among the 5,200 pamphlets in the Fagel Collection.
The Library is digitising apocalypse manuscripts like there’s no tomorrow. The Dublin Apocalypse (TCD MS 64) contains the Latin text of the Book of Revelation, heavily decorated with 73 vibrant miniatures, and you can now see the Final Judgement in gold and vivid colour on our Digital Collections.
The imaging of this volume was completed to coincide with a one-day symposium based on the Dublin Apocalypse, taking place in the Neill Lecture Theatre of the Trinity Long Room Hub on Friday, 1 February 2019 from 9.45am. The event will draw together experts in their fields to discuss multiple aspects of the Dublin Apocalypse and its broader context. Attendance at what is sure to be an fascinating event is free but registration is essential at https://dublinapocalypse.eventbrite.ie.
Nigel Morgan, Professor Emeritus of the University of Cambridge, will discuss the iconography of the manuscript through an art historical lens. Michael Michael’s and Frederica Law-Turner’s papers will cast light on the Ormesby Psalter and delve into the East Anglian school of manuscripts. James T. Palmer, of the University of St Andrews, will study the circulation, interpretation, and use of the Book of Revelation in the Middle Ages.
Bernard Meehan, former Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at the Library of Trinity College Dublin will recount the curious story of how the manuscript arrived at the College through an unusual deal between the Board and a former Provost. Finally, Laura Cleaver, Ussher Lecturer in Medieval Art in Trinity, will address early-twentieth century facsimiles of the text and their impact.
So, if you’re seeking a friend for the end of the world or simply interested in one of the Library’s medieval treasures, please join us for insightful discussion and some free coffee.
The Library is home to a unique collection of around 450 medieval Latin manuscripts, spanning a period of 800 years. Until now, the catalogue has existed solely in hard copy but it has been taken from the shelves of the reading room and made globally accessible online through our Manuscripts and Archives online catalogue, available here. You can search specific manuscripts by title, reference number or any keyword relevant to your area of interest – or simply search for the phrase ‘medieval manuscripts’ to have a browse.
The most effective way to illustrate the scope of this project is to provide some insight into the array of items that come under the umbrella of Trinity’s Latin manuscript collection. Perhaps the most well-known group consists of seven Early Irish Christian manuscripts dating from Ireland’s golden age of faith and culture. Among the seven are the Book of Armagh (TCD MS 52) and the Book of Kells (TCD MS 58), which are among the most famous manuscripts in Ireland and, in the case of the latter, the world. All seven of these manuscripts have now been conserved, fully imaged and are available freely online through the Library’s Digital Collections.
The medieval collection includes luxuriously illuminated Books of Hours, confessors’ handbooks, psalters and bibles, to name but a few. The Book of Kells may be the most magnificently decorated Insular manuscript in existence but does it have a plate-spinning dog? No.
TCD MS 632 presents a kind of fifteenth-century classical handbook for medieval readers. Through articles, diagrams and maps, the book accounts for multiple aspects of classical study including mythology, geography and history. These small circular diagrams represent the rivers of the classical world. The larger infographic here relates to the length of time it takes individual planets to orbit the earth (the word terra is marked in the centre). The seven zones of the earth (including the arctic and temperate) are illustrated on folio 108r, identifying which zones are habitable and which are not. There is also a brief note beneath the diagram referring to the nine Muses of Greek mythology.
This charming fellow situated inside the large letter Q of TCD MS 10994, likely depicts Michael of Belluno in Italy; the named scribe of this manuscript. The text serves as a guide for confessors, a list of sins and omissions committed by society, including (but not limited to) boasting, dancing, fighting, superfluous drinking, cursing, gluttons who eat too quickly, men in curled wigs, women who indulge in cosmetics and listening to arousing music.
Other standout examples include the Ricemarch psalter, a Latin text of Welsh origin in an Irish style, and the Dublin Apocalypse (TCD MS 64, pictured below), a fourteenth-century manuscript depicting the Final Judgement in gold and vivid colour that is simultaneously beautiful and grotesque. This particular illustration is the horseman of war, identifiable by his fiery red horse and his big ol’ sword.
If you would like to learn more, here is a quick and shameless plug for our Illuminating the Middle Ages online exhibition which went live in January of this year, available at the following link.
12 June 2018 marks the eleven-hundredth anniversary of the death of the remarkable Æthelflæd: daughter of King Alfred the Great, Lady of the Mercians and – to her Viking foes – ‘most famous Saxon queen’. Her impressive reputation and unique position in Anglo-Saxon England are recorded in two medieval sources housed in the Library, one English, one Irish. Both stand as testament to her enduring legend at home and abroad.
The eldest child of Alfred the Great (d.899) and Eahlswith (d.902), Æthelflæd was born into a fragmented England: Alfred’s Wessex was one of a number of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in turbulent co-existence with the constantly encroaching Viking Danelaw. Alfred, it seems, intended each of his children to play important roles in furthering his aim of uniting the English kingdoms against the Danes, and this was to be achieved through a variety of means: through political power, through property, through strategic marriages, and through religious influence. However, Alfred’s contemporary biographer, Asser, describes a society that did not promote female leadership: ‘The West Saxons do not allow a queen to sit beside the king, nor to be called a queen, but only the king’s wife’. This makes Æthelflæd’s achievements all the more startling.
It is not known where Æthelflæd grew up, although she was possibly raised with maternal relatives in Mercia rather than Wessex. Her marriage to the Mercian ruler, Æthelred (d.911), was a strategic power-play for both her father and husband. Despite being a princess of Wessex, she did not officially graduate to becoming Queen of Mercia, rather she was merely designated the wife of the Lord of Mercia in recognition of Alfred’s overlordship of that kingdom.
From 910 the Mercian Register of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles records her rise to prominence, possibly due to the fact that her husband became gravely ill at this time. On his death in 911 she assumed the leadership of Mercia apparently uncontested and was identified as ‘Myrcna hlœfdige’ – Lady of Mercia. The language is important, as this was the precise equivalent of Æthelred’s habitual title of ‘Myrcna hlaford’. This indicates that the Mercian rulers’ assembly did not draw any distinction between her authority to rule and that of her husband’s. She led the Mercians so successfully that on her death in 918, her daughter, Ælfwynn, was also accepted as her successor (albeit for only six months). The uncontested transference of power from one female ruler to another was unprecedented, and it would not be repeated for another six-hundred years, when the English throne passed from Mary I to Elizabeth I in 1558.
Æthelflæd was both a warrior and a builder, planning and leading military campaigns against the Danes, whilst also extending her father’s policy of establishing a series of fortified towns or burhs. She either rebuilt or founded the county towns of Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester, Chester, Shrewsbury, Warwick, and Stafford. Militarily, she was a smart tactician, and just before her death the Danes of York indicated that they were ready to surrender to her. By this point the extent of the lands under her influence was rivalled only by the realms of her brother Edward the Elder Burhs and the King of the Scots, Constantín Mac Áeda (d.952).
Æthelflæd in the Library
Ætheflæd appears in two sources in the Manuscripts & Archives section of the Library. She is profiled in an early-fourteenth-century diagrammatic genealogy of the kings of England, ‘Summary chronicle of English history from Beorhtric’s accession (AD 786) to Edward I’s (AD 1272)’ (TCD MS 496). This contains the family tree of Alfred in which she appears in one roundel, with genealogical lines linking him to his children Edward and Elfleda (Æthelflæd). The accompanying inscription reads:
Elfleda sapientissima filia eius cum aliis quattuor
Æthelflæd the wisest daughter of [Alfred] with four others.
And, beneath the circle:
Ista Elfleda omni mulierum sapientissima dicebatur, que multum[?] fratrem suum regem ab regnum suum gubernandum per sapientam suam instruxit. Haec nupsit comiti Edredo.
This Æthelflæd was called the wisest of all women, and through her wisdom greatly instructed her brother the king on the governance of his kingdom. She married count Edred [Æthelred].*
The annals of Ulster’s (TCD MS 1282 f 46v) record of Æthelflæd’s death in 918 also reflects her status:
Eithilfleith, famosissima regina Saxonum, moritur
Æthelflæd, most famous Queen of the Saxons, died.
The inclusion of the death of an Anglo-Saxon royal in the Irish annals may have been due to Ӕthelflӕd’s position as an opponent of the Norse-Gael leader Ragnall Ua Ímair (d.920/921), one of the Vikings expelled from Dublin in 902. The fragmentary Annals of Ireland, (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 5301-5320) also suggest that she allied herself with Constantín Mac Áeda, King of Scotland, against Ragnall at the Battle of Corbridge in Northumberland in the year of her death.
Neither her father Alfred’s nor her brother Edward the Elder’s deaths are recorded in the annals, but Æthelflæd is referenced in Irish and Welsh sources as a most famous Saxon Queen. Although this title was not technically correct, the scribe’s singling out of Æthelflæd in such a way is in clear recognition of her unique position and the importance of her achievements from an opponent’s perspective.