You can’t help avoiding Shakespeare and the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of his death, especially when entering Senate House and its ceremonial staircase. Each morning I am greeted by the playwright’s staring eyes and, each morning, I think I ought to write a post. So here goes.
Knowing I loved my books, he furnished me / From mine own library with volumes that / I prize above my dukedom.
Senate House Shakespeare celebration
Shakespeare has 1860 references on BBIH, surpassing Elizabeth I (1158 references), Winston Churchill (1273) and Geoffrey Chaucer (650). But, as I alluded to in my title, there is more to Shakespeare than drama.
A Person as subject search for “Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616” brings up the aforementioned 1860 references. However if I add in Subject tree “Representations of politics” there are over 200 references.
For this blog post, we wanted to present the global scope of the Bibliography. Despite being called the Bibliography of British and Irish History, material covering the rest of the world makes up a significant proportion of our resources. Using data visualization tools, we mapped the number of resources available onto a global frame using the figures from the latest update in June 2016 and the place names listed.
The expansion of the British Empire explains the large amount of resources concerning North America, the Indian Subcontinent, Australia, South Africa, but other less obvious areas also feature prominently. Russia has 2,257 resources, China has 1,674, and Japan 876.
As expected, European relations account for a large chunk of material, with France being the highest European candidate with 9,337 resources, followed by Germany (5,222), Italy (2,808), and Spain (2,384). Interestingly, these figures highlight the close links that Britain and Ireland have had with the continent, and shows that our political and cultural relationship with Europe has continuously shaped our nation, as part of a wider historical legacy.
The 23rd June is the feast day of Æthelthryth, an Anglo-Saxon queen and founder of a double monastery at Ely, who took a vow of celibacy despite being married twice. She was born c. 636 near Newmarket, Suffolk, and died at her monastery in 679 where she had been abbess for seven years, and is sometimes known as Etheldreda, or Audrey. She lived at a time when Christianity was really taking a foothold in England, and the story of her fiercely-protected virginity made her an ideal icon for spreading the message of the new church. According to Bede, her body remained uncorrupted after death, a sure sign she had not been defiled. In Signs of devotion : the cult of St. Aethelthryth in medieval England, 695-1615, the long-standing popularity of Æthelthryth is explored from its origins in the seventh century through to the early modern period. The story of the Northumbrian queen preserving her chastity as a sign of her devotion to God, fleeing from her second husband Ecgfrith when he tried to rape her and travelling back to her homeland to found the monastery at Ely in 679 obviously struck a deep chord in the medieval psyche, and her royal lineage propelled her to cult status. She also had a sister who succeeded her as abbess at Ely, and The Kentish Queen as Omnium Mater : Goscelin of Saint-Bertin’s Lections and the Emergence of the Cult of Saint Seaxburh explores the importance of themes such as maternity and sanctity in medieval hagiography.
Æthelthryth’s life has been well-documented in medieval sources such as Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, Ælfric’s Lives of Saints and Goscelin’s Lives of Female Saints, and her elevated status is also apparent in the tenth-century manuscript, London, British Library, Add MS 49598. The manuscript contains the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, written in a beautiful caroline minuscule and sumptuously decorated with gold initials. The article The Structure of English Pre-Conquest Benedictionals discusses the possibility that Æthelwold himself wrote the blessing for the feast of Æthelthryth. As Æthelwold was a pioneer of the tenth-century monastic reform, it is easy to see how the promotion of the cult of Æthelthryth would have suited his agenda. Ely had been destroyed by Viking raids and was refounded in 970 by Edgar and Æthelwold as part of their rebuilding programme.
The writing on the leaf pictured above (fol. 90r, using the Latinised version of her name yet retaining the Anglo-Saxon letter forms), highlights her sanctity, declaring the blessing for the feast day of saint Æthelthryth the perpetual virgin: Benedictio in natale s[an]c[t]e Aethelðryþae perpetue virg[inis].
Shrine and relics of Æthelthryth. Image from Wikipedia
Æthelthryth’s popularity has continued to the present day. She is often depicted with a crown of flowers or a book, and is the patron saint of throat ailments. Her church in Holborn, known as St Etheldreda’s church, is the oldest Roman Catholic church still surviving in England, and she continues to be worshipped in her hometown of Ely at St Etheldreda’s church, where her shrine and relics are contained. Lace and silk necklaces are associated with her cult, and were sold on her feast day in Ely at St Audrey’s Fair. The work ‘tawdry’ derives from this, referring to the inferior quality of these tokens.
An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 9 June 2016. There are 3,762 new records, some 486 new records relate to Irish history while 147 deal with the history of London, 237 with the history of Scotland and 112 with the history of Wales. The overall total of records available online is now 574,494.
We usually list the number of new records for each update and we thought it would be interesting to plot the number of publications over the course of the history of the Bibliography (1909-present). This is the resultant graph. Note the small dip for the First World War and the more significant dip during the Second World War. There is a post-war peak and then the seemingly inexorable rise in publishing.
Click on the graph for a more detailed view.
The data was compiled by simply searching on the Advanced Search and the Year of publication field.
We expect the next update to be released in October 2016.
Portrait of John Dee Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
To complement the popular exhibition of Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians, it seems an opportune moment to showcase the resources listed in the BBIH. John Dee was a man of many interests, and his expertise in subjects such as navigation, astronomy and mathematics is demonstrated in the wide variety of resources available.
Dee’s early interest in mathematics is established in the article On the Origins of Dee’s Mathematical Programme: The John Dee–Pedro Nunes Connection, which explores the connections between Dee and Pedro Nunes, a Portuguese cosmographer and mathematician. Although little is known of their relationship, Nunes had a great influence on Dee, who become interested in his work in the early 1550s, and may have inspired Dee to pursue his interest in the nautical sciences of navigation and cartography.
Dee is renowned for his spiritual interests and they had clearly developed by 1564, when he published a work titled Monas hieroglyphica, a treatise on a glyph he invented made up of esoteric and astrological symbols, incorporating the sun, moon, Aries and the cross. This work is widely regarded as perplexing and obscure, yet The Reception of John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica in Early Modern Italy: The Case of Paolo Antonio Foscarini (c. 1562-1616) demonstrates the influence that Dee’s work had on Italian scholars in 1592. Foscarini’s Scientiarum et artium omnium ferme anacephalaeosis theoretica is a booklet comprising 344 theses, some heavily drawn from the Monashieroglyphica and placing extreme importance on Dee’s monad, citing it as a symbol of the ‘word of God’, although he does not elaborate on the extensive allusions to alchemy present in the original work.
However, the following chapter in Supernatural and Secular Power in Early Modern Englandtitled John Dee, Alchemy and Authority in Elizabethan England provides an in-depth account of the alchemic interests of prominent Tudors, including William Cecil, Thomas Smith and even Elizabeth I. The machinations of courtly life are outlined, with Dee’s fall from grace after the reception of the Monas hieroglyphica; as a Catholic priest he was a prime target for the evangelic Protestants who surrounded Elizabeth and they orchestrated rumours that Dee consorted with the Devil. Elizabeth’s interest in alchemy inhibited Protestant reformers such as John Whitgift and Christopher Hatton from outright denunciation, but they certainly discredited Dee by using whispering campaigns to sabotage his royal patronage.
John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Fortunately, Dee was a man of many talents and in Cartography as a Tool of Colonization:Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 Voyage to North America, he plays an important role in the burgeoning discipline of cartography during Elizabeth’s reign. Maps began to move from objects of symbolism to objects of function, providing important visual details to guide colonists’ ships across to North America. Dee created two nautical charts for the expedition in the early 1580s, drawing on the wide resources he had amassed in his personal library, and from gathering information from European travellers, and even pirates. It is clear from this article that Dee strongly supported the idea of colonization, as he listed over twelve British claims to the territory of North America on the back of the map, ranging from King Arthur to Frobisher’s recent voyage in 1577. The political intentions of the maps are clear, ‘fantasy’ islands were omitted and meticulous detail paid to the coastline, yet the interior of North America is left blank, to signify to Elizabeth the potential for colonization. The academic merit of Dee is certainly something to be admired; he produced these resources purely from his own research, as he was not a seaman, and never travelled to the Americas. Interestingly, Dee signed one of these charts with his personal glyph mentioned above.
Münster’s map of America 1561 (Image from Wikipedia)
Magic in the Cloister: Pious Motives, Illicit Interests, and Occult Approaches to the Medieval Universe is a fascinating account of magical texts that were owned by the monks at St Augustine’s of Canterbury during the thirteenth and fourteenth century, that came into Dee’s possession after its dissolution. It explores the use of these manuscripts, and the monks attitudes towards them; they were not hidden away as dangerous objects, but shelved in the main collection of the library. The monks had a positive attitude towards magic, combining it with other intellectual interests, although perhaps the somewhat sheltered environment of monastic life allowed a more liberal approach to these texts. It is apparent from Dee’s annotations in the margins that he made use of these texts after he acquired them, and even practiced some of the rituals to seek spiritual advancement, although it is emphasized that he did this for philosophical reasons. For a more thorough review, see Reviews in History.
The final article John Dee’s Ideas and Plans for a National Research Instituteprovides another aspect to Dee’s life. Concerning his desire to established academic institutions at his home in Mortlake and St Cross, the plans are analyzed and explore Dee’s ideas on shaping the social and intellectual role of natural philosophers. The article surmises that Dee’s plans differed from other projects of the time, and compares his proposal to Francis Bacon’s.
As spring is traditionally the season associated with new life and fertility after the long winter months, now seems a timely moment to explore the latest academic publications on the subject of Motherhood featured in the Bibliography of British and Irish History. The vast majority of material produced recently on this topic covers the Tudor and early modern period, but the first resource presented here, Performative Rituals for Conception and Childbirth in England, 900–1500concerns the medieval period.
Birth and death took central stage in medieval life and thought, and the practice of rituals for conception and safe pregnancy highlight a maternal (and paternal) concern that is easily understood today. The rituals range from verbal charms and religious benedictions (a popular charm was the peperit charm, that invoked the Holy Mothers of Mary and Elizabeth), to ingesting words written in cheese or butter, or placing physical objects upon the body. There is evidence that manuscripts were used as ‘birthing girdles’, wrapped around a woman’s midriff during pregnancy and possibly even labour, as can be seen in the manuscript Wellcome MS. 632. Most of these practices were largely in the female domain, but the article also includes medical charms advised by medieval surgeons and mendicant friars. The rituals highlight a medieval belief in the power of the spoken word, through incantations and charms; and the written word, through the haptic relationship between manuscripts and the body.
Moving away from the medieval period, there are two resources covering Tudor queens: Regarding Catherine of Aragonand Unanswered Prayers : A Cistercian Missal At York Minster Library. The first examines the life of Catherine, a women with a complex cultural heritage whose legacy as queen of England has rarely been scrutinised, yet strongly influenced the reign of both Mary and Elizabeth. The relationships between her mother,Isabella I of Spain, mother-in-law Elizabeth of York, and great mother-in-law Margaret Beaufort are also discussed, in terms of how their roles as ‘queen-as-mother’ impacted on Catherine’s public and private persona. The second resource discusses a manuscript containing handwritten Latin prayers for the safe pregnancy of Mary I, divided into three sections, oratio, secreta and postcommunio. The prayers were almost certainly disseminated from a printed book now held at Lambeth Palace Library. This dates the prayers from late 1554, when Mary was assumed to be pregnant with Philip of Spain’s child, and stands as a sad reminder of Mary’s (and catholic England’s) anticipation of a child that never came.
A special issue of Women’s History Review features an article titled Social Negotiations in Correspondence between Mothers and Daughters in Tudor and Early Stuart England, examining mother-daughter relationships within the strict social confines of epistolary etiquette. These letters offer an intriguing glimpse into the social realities of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, with many offering maternal advice on specific situations regarding childbirth, marriage and inheritance. Interestingly, more letters from daughters than mothers survive, which may indicate that a mother’s advice is always much sought after! However, this article demonstrates that letters could also convey anger, and daughters could make their opinions perfectly clear, managing to defend their honour whilst still portraying the appropriate respect, through the templates provided in letter-writing manuals. The same journal issue also features From ‘Dearest Mama’ to ‘Dear Mother’ : changing styles in early twentieth-century letters from daughters to mothers, examining how letter writing changed in one generation, by looking at the correspondence between two members of the Strachey family, Philippa Strachey and her niece Elinor Rendel, written home to their mothers whilst travelling. Both articles reflect the social etiquette of their time, whilst underlining the importance of the mother-daughter bond.
As migration to America increased during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the article From Birthing Chamber to Court Room: The Medical and Legal Communities of the Colonial Essex County Midwifedraws attention to the issue of children born out of wedlock. Debunking the view that early modern midwives were regarded with suspicion and open to accusations of witchcraft, evidence from court records show that they held a respected position in the community. When attending the birth of an unmarried woman, it was their duty to repeatedly pressure the labouring woman to reveal the name of the father of the child. If successful, the midwife would then provide evidence in court against the accused father, with the authority of her statement seemingly being revered above all else. The calling to account of these men seems to stem from a worry that an economically fragile community would have to support these children born out of wedlock, rather than a sense of morality; although harsh punishments were meted out to both mother and father, in the form of fines or whippings. To bookend this article, Maternal Mortality in Six East Anglian Parishes, 1539-1619examines the outcomes of a cross-section of women who gave birth in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk and subsequently died, focussing on their community and social status, as well as the implications of multiple births, stillbirths and illegitimacy. Again, the role of midwives as respected and vital members of the community is highlighted, and the unwillingness of a parish to support an illegitimate child chimes with the previous article.
From the broad spectrum of resources above, the term ‘Motherhood’ embraces the themes of fertility, queenship, spirituality and economic realities. Search on the Bibliography of British and Irish History to discover more – try a simple subject search for ‘Motherhood’ (fig. 1), or use the subject tree on the advanced search to really drill down (fig. 2):
Fig. 1. Screen shot of simple search for ‘Motherhood’
Fig. 2. Screen shot of subject tree for advanced search
Fig. 3. Screen shot of latest resources for ‘Motherhood’
Although Samuel Foote and Ira Aldridge may seem an improbable pairing, both have featured in recent plays on the London stage. Foote, an eighteenth-century actor and playwright, is portrayed in Mr Foote’s Other Leg, played by Simon Russell Beale, while Ira Aldridge, the nineteenth-century African-American actor, appears in Red Velvet played by Adrian Lester.
Scene from Taste in a painting by Robert Smirke. Lady Pentweazel, played by Foote.
Both had dramatic lives to equal any play. Strangely, both performed Othello, Foote in 1744 to “universal applause” (although the run itself was ultimately unsuccessful), while 90 years later Aldridge made his West End debut in the same play to a favourable audience response but hostile press reaction. Foote went on to develop his own acting company and penned his own satires mocking the society of the day, fellow actors and the craze for auctions and the arts and antiquities market. His satirical and, not so subtle, attacks on society were to end in trouble when he crossed swords with Elizabeth Chudleigh, duchess of Kingston, during her trial for bigamy. The play, Mr Foote’s Other Leg, is an ironic reference to the loss of a leg after a horse riding accident. Undeterred, Foote continued to act and used two wooden legs; one a simple leg, the other decorated with a silk stocking and buckled shoe (for use on stage). Published rumours of homosexuality, followed by a charge from one of his servants in similar vein, wrecked his spirit. Though cleared of all charges he was to die soon after.
Ira Aldridge as Aaron in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.
Aldridge, born in New York City, moved to England in 1824, and in the following year he made his stage debut in The Revolt of Surinam, or, A Slave’s Revenge, playing Oronooko. After the failure of his 1833 Othello he toured much of Europe, returning to Britain to a much more respectful press. He died in Poland, while on tour, in 1867.
Both actors are represented in BBIH, coincidently with 16 references each. Using the Person as subjectserach.
Despite the danger of becoming a mere plugger for the London theatre scene, I can’t help but note that a play about the life of actress and royal mistress, Nell Gwynn, is also appearing on the London stage, so it may be that another post on actresses in the British theatre beckons.
The theme of graffiti seems to be a popular topic of late, and a search on the Bibliography reveals the interesting array of material that has been published recently. The term ‘graffiti’ often has negative connotations in our modern society as an act of vandalism, but the OED definition of a graffito is ‘a drawing or writing scratched on a wall or other surface’, and, as the following resources show, represent a number of different purposes.
A book chapter inEngland and Rome in the Early Middle Ages titled Anglo-Saxons Underground: Early Medieval Graffiti in the Catacombs of Rome explores the Anglo-Saxon trend of pilgrimage to the sacred burial tombs of the early Christian martyrs. As the catacombs of Rome were manipulated architecturally and visually to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of worshippers, pilgrims added their own marks by way of graffiti; creating an eternal link between themselves and the saint, long after they had returned to their homeland. From the four hundred or so medieval inscriptions identified, twenty-six Anglo-Saxon names have so far been recorded, including one female name. The names have been written in an uncial script with insular letter forms (four in runic letters), suggesting they were etched between the 7th-9th century. In the catacombs of Commodilla, twelve Anglo-Saxon inscriptions have been found grouped together on the fresco of St Luke, suggesting a band of English pilgrims travelling en masse. In the tombs of SS Marcellinus and Peter, the female name Fagihild was found written in runic letters among ten Anglo-Saxon names. From sources such as theThe English Correspondence of Saint Boniface, it is clear that women often made pilgrimages to Rome, yet it is still satisfying to find physical evidence of Anglo-Saxon women travelling alongside their male peers. Further analysis is required to discern whether the name was inscribed by the woman herself or by a companion, raising further questions of literacy amongst women in this period
However, not all acts of inscription had a spiritual purpose. The book chapter Amiatinus in Italy : The Afterlife of an Anglo-Saxon Book in Anglo-Saxon England and the Continent charts the story of the Codex Amiatinus, a vulgate bible created in Wearmouth-Jarrow under the abbacy of Ceolfrith in the eighth century. Intended as a gift for Pope Gregory II, the codex disappeared shortly after Ceolfrith’s death en route. The huge manuscript, measuring almost twenty inches high, re-emerged in the ninth century in an abbey in Tuscany. Close scrutiny of the dedication page in the Amiatinus has revealed that the original name ‘Ceolfrith of the English’ was deliberately erased, and replaced with ‘Peter of the Lombards’, concealing its Anglo-Saxon origins for centuries (pictured left, click to enlarge).
Medieval graffiti in churches has inspired much academic interest of late, with the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey documenting a growing corpus of inscriptions that have formed the basis of several articles. Matthew Champion has produced an abundance of material, such as Medieval Graffiti : the Lost Voices of Britain’s Churches, The Graffiti Inscriptions of St Mary’s Church, Troston and Medieval Ship Graffiti in English Churches : Interpretation and Function. The ship motif features significantly in medieval churches and is explored further in Graffiti and Devotion in Three Maritime Churches. While it is clear that these etchings have an apotropaic function, serving as a symbol to avert evil, these marks are open to multiple interpretations. Are they requesting protection for or giving thanks for a safe voyage? Could they be associated with a maritime guild? Churches are intrinsically linked to the nautical world, with the word ‘nave’ coming from the Latin word ‘navis’ meaning ship, which may go some way to explain why so many ship images appear in churches so far inland. To modern tastes, the act of carving a personal image (particularly in a church) may seem like an act of vandalism, but to medieval thinking it was an act of piety; a way of interacting with very fabric of the church. This is demonstrated in primary sources such as The Life of Christina of Markyate, where Christina is recorded as scratching the sign of the cross on a monastery door with her fingernails to mark her devotion to the church.
While most graffiti in churches serves as an act of piety, there is a dark side. The article Ill Wishing on the Walls: the Medieval Graffiti Curses of Norwich Cathedral highlights three inscriptions found in different locations in the cathedral, written in pre-reformation script with inverted lettering. Of the three inscriptions, one is particularly well preserved, clearly spelling the name ‘Keynfford’ upside down and back-to-front, with an astrological symbol underneath (See NMGS image 37). Whilst examples of book curses from this period have been well documented, curses in churches may prove an interesting new area of research.
Book Destruction from the Medieval to the Contemporarycontains an extremely entertaining chapter titled Belligerent Literacy, Bookplates, and Graffiti: Dorothy Helbarton’s Book, concerning a 16th-century text of the Brut Chronicle, with the interesting addition of more than 60 marginal inscriptions bearing the name Dorothy Helbarton. While marginalia or glosses were considered helpful additions to the understanding of texts, as in the C version of Piers Plowman pictured on the right, in this instance the scrawling of Dorothy (or rather her scribe), seems to be an aggressive act of declaring ownership, with little interest in the textual material.
Moving on from early modern times, Graffiti of British Ships at La Aljaferia Castle details the intricate inscriptions left behind by prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars on the walls were they were held captive, and Gendered Graffiti at Kilmainham discusses the graffiti left by the women prisoners during the Irish Civil War. Words and phrases of nationalist sentiments were feminised by the women to represent their involvement, and perhaps as a way of avoiding being airbrushed out of the historical narrative. Finally, ‘Hitler Loves Musso’, and Other Civilian Wartime Sentiments : the Archaeology of Second World War Air-Raid Shelters and their Graffiti in Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology gives an insight into how air-raid shelters served as communal places to while away the time during the bombings; amongst the anti-Hitler daubings, there are drawings of Disney characters, mathematical sums for children and games of noughts and crosses.
Through all of these resources, what is notable is that while graffiti marks serve a wide and varied purpose, they also represent the often unrecorded story of the ordinary people, who may have been illiterate or poor, but have nevertheless made their voice heard through the scratchings on a surface. For a comprehensive list of all resources available, please visit the Bibliography of British and Irish History.
An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 23 February 2016. 4968 new records have been added. Some 633 new records relate to Irish history while 238 deal with the history of London, 325 with the history of Scotland and 262 with the history of Wales. The overall total of records available online is 570,747.
As most users know searches can be conducted through the Subject tree on Advanced search. Users can drill down the subject hierarchy to search for terms that interest them. After user feedback and discussion we decided that “Miscellaneous terms” included too many terms and have added two broader terms. “Materials” which contains, amongst other terms, Ceramics, Fuel, Leather, Metals, Stone and Textiles, while “Other major themes” includes Cultural relations, Emotions and mental states, War, impact of and Women.
The feast day of St Brigid is celebrated on the 1st February, and in honour of this, we have delved into our resources to give a taste of the material available on the Bibliography of British and Irish History.
St Brigid of Kildare is one of the main patron saints of Ireland, along with St Patrick and St Columbus. Brigid was born into slavery in the mid-5th century but became a nun and abbess, founding several monasteries. Her vitae was written by Cogitosus in the 7th century, and is translated in Cogitosus’s Life of St Brigid : content and value. As our range of resources show, the myth of Brigid has associations with an earlier pagan deity of the same name, explored in Brigid : goddess, druidess and saintand Brigit : from goddess to saint. Brigid was also strongly connected with the symbol of fire, as Gerald of Wales recounts in his Topographia Hibernica how the sacred fire of St Brigid burned continually around the monastery at Kildare even after her death, yet never accumulated any ashes. It was tended by the nuns of Kildare for nineteen nights in turn, and on the twentieth night left for Brigid to tend herself. According to Gerald, the scriptorium at Kildare produced an illuminated manuscript so sumptuous it was thought to be the work of angels. Unfortunately this manuscript is now lost, but it would probably have been of a similar quality to the Book of Kells.
The image on the right is from London, British Library, Royal MS 13 B VIII, and shows the scribe creating the heavenly manuscript. This copy of the Topographia Hibernica was produced in Lincoln in c. 1196-1208, and most probably was overseen by Gerald himself. The image shows the tools of a scribe, a feather quill (probably goose), and a knife. The knife was used to sharpen the quill and also to correct mistakes, by scraping the ink off the parchment. In this image, it also seems to be used to hold the quill-hand steady and secure the parchment. According to Gerald, the book was composed with the angel presenting the designs, while Brigid prayed, and the scribe copied – ‘sic igitur angelo praesentante, brigida orante, scriptore imitante.’ (fol. 22v).