College of St George Archives Blog

College of St George Archives

A (Windsor) Christmas Carol

December 16th, 2015

In April 1901 Major Charles Grantley Campbell Norton was admitted as a Military Knight. With him to Windsor came his wife, the popular guitarist, singer and songwriter, Mina Norton. Mrs Norton could sing in eight languages and had performed before the Royal Family.

The St George’s Chapel Archives holds a collection of the Nortons’ letters, notebooks and song lyrics written by Mina Norton [SGC M.1205]. Included in this is a Christmas carol that she wrote and set to music for their first Christmas living in the Lower Ward. The third verse is all about their new community of neighbours in the College of St George.

Oh! Christmas! time of joy and mirth,
The advent of our Saviour’s birth,
When all around breathes peace on earth,
Oh! happy Christmas-tide.
The time when heart-felt prayers ascend
To God for blessings on each friend;
Oh! may Thy holy joy descend
On us this Christmas-tide

God bless our King and Royalty;
May all his subjects loyal be,
And all unite in praising Thee
This joyful Christmas-tide.
And bless our soldiers now at war,
Guard those at sea when storm clouds lower;
May every nation feel Thye power
This glorious Christmas-tide.

God bless the Dean and clergy, too,
Who strive Thy holy will to do;
The organist and choir, who
Praise Thee this Christmas-tide.
And bless the gallant knights so bold,
And all within these precincts old;
Oh! may our present Governor hold
His post next Christmas-tide.

And bless, Lord, those now racked with pain,
Restore them soon to health again;
Oh! may Thy Heavenly peace remain
With them this Christmas-tide.
And when around dark shadows creep,
May angels soothe our long last sleep,
And bear our souls on high to keep
Eternal Christmas-tide.

Words by Mina Norton, Henry VIII Gateway, Windsor Castle, Christmas 1901.

Strange creatures in the Archives

November 17th, 2015

Strange creatures represented in medieval manuscripts are not uncommon. They can be seen mostly in the margins of many early European illuminated manuscripts and early books dedicated to animals are generally known as bestiaries.  Some of our own manuscripts at St George’s Chapel Library and Archives, although not bestiaries, contain images of strange creatures and as well as in manuscripts they can be seen, with a little difficulty, under the stall seats in the quire of the Chapel where the wonderful medieval oak-carved misericords feature many animals, both real and imagined.

A carving from a misericord in St George's Chapel

What readers may find more unusual is that strange animals appear again on old wax seals, and these are well represented in the fascinating collection of medieval wax seals attached to legal documents in the archives at St George’s Chapel, see images below.

The background to beasts as art in books, paintings, carvings, sculpture, and seals etc., is as interesting as many of the other incidental details of medieval artwork and gives rise to a specialised subject fairly well documented by scholars of history and nature.

A seal showing a hare with a trumpet riding on a hound

So many strange creatures are the result of stories and legends told by peoples hundreds of years ago all over the world and to this day never seem to lose their fascination and fear factor, especially to the young.

Bestiaries in medieval times were second only to the Bible in their popularity and wide distribution. They were catalogues of animal stories combining known zoological information as well as myths and legends of bizarre, exotic and monstrous creatures drawn from verbatim tales of scary imagined animals by creative storytellers. Homer was a very good proponent of them several hundred years BC, viz. CERBERUS the three-headed dog with sharp teeth who guarded the entrance to Hades, the underworld.

Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, creature known today is the DRAGON, of which we know something here at St George’s.  Our depicted dragon is almost certainly slain by our English patron Saint George and the two of them can be seen in various places around the Chapel and environs, including a fine gilt statue situated in the courtyard of the Dean’s Cloister. The Library and Archives have many representations of St George and the Dragon and perhaps the best images are on the Chapter seals attached by parchment tags to legal documents.

The seal of Elizabeth Rogers, from a lease in St George's Chapel Archives

Another strange creature to be discovered on a fine small seal is the CERASTES, a serpent with horns and a snake-like tail and a flexible spine-less body. According to legend it would cover itself with sand, apart from the horns, with which it would allure its prey, and then suddenly spring up, catch the victim and devour it.

A cerastes shown on a seal from a 15th century lease

MANTICORES appear frequently in medieval art; these are hybrids of various animals, including men and women, having the head of one creature and the body of another.

Sketch of a manticore copied from the Black Book of the Garter

Perhaps the most well-known kind of manticores are MERMAIDS. They would be beautiful women from the waist up, but instead of having legs and feet their bottom half would be a fish’s tail, and in some ancient stories they could be found helping people at sea in distress, but more often than not their siren calls would lure seamen to a watery grave.

The heraldic beast of King Edward III (the creator of the chivalric Order of the Garter in 1348) is the UNICORN, a mythical creature resembling a small horse with one spiralled horn growing out of its forehead. According to medieval writing the horn represented the Gospel of Truth. The Unicorn was an untameable beast that could only be captured by a young virgin. It supports the British Royal coat of arms, along with its traditional enemy, the lion.

There are more strange creatures to be seen, if one cares to look, at St George’s Chapel, or by appointment at the Chapel Library and Archives.

Copies of dragon heads incorporated into initial letters in the Denton Black Book

You could also take a look at an interesting article by Dr Alixe Bovey, Head of Research at The Courtauld, on the British Library’s website, which includes videos of strange creatures. For further reading on this topic, Julia Cresswell’s book Legendary Beasts of Britain (Shire Library, 2013) can be purchased from the St George’s Chapel shop.

My grandson Oliver assures me that scary new creatures continue to terrify in the forms of the Basilisk and Aragog (Harry Potter), Azog (The Hobbit) and Godzilla (Godzilla) etc., so the myths and legends are out there… be very, very afraid!

Peter Eley, Library and Archives volunteer

An Agincourt veteran at St George’s

October 14th, 2015

‘Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,

But he’ll remember, with advantages,

What feats he did that day’ – Shakespeare, Henry V

Sir John Trebell – The Story of an Agincourt Veteran at St George’s

This year celebrates the 600 year anniversary of a particular English triumph: Henry V’s great victory over the French at Agincourt. While the efforts of a small handful of English lords, knights and archers captivate the public’s attentions, it is perhaps fitting to celebrate the life of one such individual with a strong connection to St George’s and Windsor: Sir John Trebell. Trebell receives little attention in the historical record – few accounts of his military activities come to light in the documentation – but he is particularly interesting as a former military knight of St George’s (then known as poor knights), and a veteran of Agincourt. Sir John served at Agincourt in the retinue of Sir Thomas West, 2nd Baron West. He later took out letters of protection to return to the French wars in 1417, this time serving under the admiral of the fleet, Sir Walter Hungerford. His previous master had died in unfortunate circumstances in 1416. Before West had even had a chance to don his armour for battle, a large stone fell on him from a nearby catapult in the process of being loaded. The resulting injury left him mortally wounded and he died shortly after in England.

In appreciation of his past services, Trebell was appointed a poor knight of St George’s, Windsor on 23rd May 1430. In his appointment he was described as a ‘King’s Knight’, and he had thus probably at some point entered the monarch’s service. It is possible that Sir Walter Hungerford may have had an influence in the appointment of a fellow Agincourt veteran. As Treasurer of England in 1430, and a Knight of the Garter from as early as 1421, Hungerford was in the perfect position to support his former retainer in his old age. As one of only two poor knights at the time of his appointment, Trebell received a house and garden within Windsor Castle, an annual salary of 40 shillings, and further payments for attendance in chapel three times a day. At the time of his appointment, there were significant tensions between the knights and the dean and canons who controlled the college’s finances. It is a sign of Trebell’s status and good behaviour that he was paid regularly throughout his time at Windsor. This was in comparison to his fellow poor knight, Sir John Kiderow, who was barred from payment at the same time on account of his outlawry, and in 1431 was forced to consider a return to active service.

Trebell died at some point between September 1437 and 11th June 1438, when his garden was appropriated by one of the college’s canons, John Deepdene, for the notional annual rent of one rose on Midsummer’s Day. His final years appear to have been peaceful. In the aftermath of the bloodshed of Agincourt, Sir John Trebell settled down to quiet retirement at St George’s, where he was rewarded and respected as befitted a veteran of the king’s wars. It is unlikely that he ever forgot the brave feats he was part of in 1415, but instead, remembered them with advantages!

Euan C. Roger, Royal Holloway, University of London

The Longest Reign

September 10th, 2015

On Wednesday 9th September 2015, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning British monarch. This record was previously held by Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years and 7 months (or, to be precise, 23,226 days, 16 hours and 23 minutes) from her accession in 1837 at the age of 18 until her death in 1901.

Throughout her reign, which began on 6th February 1952, Queen Elizabeth has had a close association with Windsor – both the Castle and St George’s Chapel – and even prior to becoming queen, she and her sister visited Windsor often as young princesses.

These images, held in the photographic collections of St George’s Chapel Archives, illustrate some of the Queen’s involvement with St George’s throughout her reign. (Click once on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip process through the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle with the other Companions of the Order of the Garter in 1948, the year of their installation to the Order and of the Order’s six hundredth anniversary.

At a Garter Day ceremony in the late 1950s the Queen passes the Galilee Porch of St George’s Chapel where her sister, Princess Margaret, and two eldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne are waiting to curtsy and bow to her.

Queen Elizabeth, Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret leave the Deanery with Dean Hamilton, carrying bouquets presented to them after an Easter Day service in St George’s Chapel.

The Queen is saluted by the Military Knights of Windsor as she arrives with Dean Woods at the opening of St George’s House in 1966.

Queen Elizabeth II and Dean Fleming with other members of the Royal Family and Canons of Windsor on the west steps of St George’s Chapel following a service to celebrate the Chapel’s Quincentenary in May 1975. On the occasion of the Chapel’s 500th anniversary the Queen wrote to the Dean saying, “I join in thanksgiving to Almighty God for the building of St George’s Chapel. Over the centuries it has borne witness to God’s Sovereignty and to the Gospel of Christ,” and recalling “the many associations which my own family, at our home in Windsor Castle, has with this Chapel.”

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh with Dean Mitchell at the fountain in the Dean’s Cloister. The Queen switched on the fountain, with its golden statue of St George, in 1998, marking 650 years since the foundation of the College of St George.

The Queen unveils a plaque at the official opening of the new building to house the Archives and Chapter Library of the College of St George in 1999.

A photograph of the Lay Stewards of St George’s Chapel with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, taken in 2006 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the stewards.

Queen Elizabeth has continued the tradition which her father re-established in 1948 of celebrating the Order of the Garter every year. This photograph shows The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh leaving St George’s Chapel after the Garter Day service in June 2015.

An exhibition celebrating The Queen’s reign opens in the Dean’s Cloister from Thursday 10th September. Normal opening hours are Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm; Castle admission charges apply.

The man behind the Black Book

August 18th, 2015

Illumination is a key feature of the Black Book of the Garter which, commissioned by King Henry VIII in 1534, documents the Knights of the Order of the Garter from its origin in 1348 until 1551.

Accounts of the household for the King contain regular payments to Lucas Hornebolte (an anglicised form of his real name: Horenbout), a Flemish painter described in the accounts as a “pictor-maker”. He was appointed King’s Painter, and worked as court miniaturist to Henry VIII from 1525 until his death, painting several famous miniature portraits including those of Henry’s wives and children. Horenbout’s miniature portraits appear to use a technique very similar to that in the illumination of manuscripts, thus it has been identified that Horenbout was the illuminator for the Black Book.

Lucas Horenbout was born in Ghent around the year 1490 and trained with his father, who was a manuscript illuminator. In the 1520s Lucas, along with his father, Gerard, and sister, Susannah, moved to England. It has been suggested that they moved to this country in order to help the attempted revival of English manuscript illumination, but there is no definite evidence for this. Nevertheless, Horenbout is considered by many as the founder of the English school of portrait miniature painting.

While the ensuing two volumes of the Register of the Order of the Garter are also decorative in keeping with a similar style, the Black Book is undoubtedly illuminated to a higher quality. Not only does it contain several pages on which the Sovereigns since the start of the Order are represented, surrounded by beautifully designed borders, but decorative initials are a continuous presence throughout.

Elaborately illuminated page for the start of King Henry VI's reign

On the whole, the use of the colours red, blue and gold are most prominent, with each initial of the start of each paragraph or title of Sovereign or Knight, written in gold and backed by a square of blue or red alternately.

Due to the highly decorative nature of the Book in comparison to the other registers of the Order, King Henry VIII may have commissioned it as a status symbol to display his wealth and power as King of England and Sovereign of the Order of the Garter. The ornate use of the colour gold throughout conveys the sense of wealth, and the more extravagant decoration for the Sovereigns sets Henry VIII’s pages apart from the rest of the book, suggesting its purpose wasn’t merely to document the statutes and the foundations of the Order. Likewise, toward the centre of the Book on a double page spread are four illustrations depicting a Garter procession and Henry VIII surrounded by the Knights of the Garter, further exhibiting his status, and emphasising his involvement in the creation of this first volume of the Register of the Order of the Garter. By comparison, all other monarchs who appear in the Black Book have only one small miniature portrait to mark the start of their reign.

Lucy Brown, Archives work experience student

Conservator’s eye view: wax seals

July 23rd, 2015

The Medieval Seals at St George’s Chapel Archives or a Geek’s blog

My background has been rich in the conservation and restoration of many historical artefacts mostly on paper and parchment, books and paintings and in the service of the most prestigious of clients. But rarely have I encountered wax seals, those mostly little red things hanging from the bottom of documents, so my introduction to them four years ago by the gracious Librarian & Archivist, Dr Clare Rider at St George’s Chapel Archives was met with not a little apprehension. Since then I have offered my voluntary service on Tuesdays to help clean, repair, survey and protect some 2,000 plus fascinating medieval wax seals. When I relate what I have been up to for the past four years to some of my family and all of my friends I am met with a glazing-of-the-eyes and pathetic attempts to suppress their yawns. I have morphed into, not a Navy Seal, but a Geek Seal and very proud of it I am too! So let me try to explain what treasures we have at St George’s Chapel Archives and to begin with a short background to the subject.

Four wax seals attached by parchment tongues to a deed from 1530

A seal attached to a legal document is a device for authenticating the document. It may be attached by a tag (a strip of parchment threaded through slits made in the folded foot of the document) a tongue (a strip cut laterally across the foot of the document with the seal attached at the end) or a cord (made from wool, silk and often plaited, threaded through the foot of the document) or applied directly onto the document. Most early seals are made of coloured beeswax, although some are left uncoloured and they generally have an impression stamped into them, though again, some are just wax blobs. The impression is created by a hand-engraved matrix or die, which in principle is the personal property of its user, i.e. the person accepting responsibility for what the document says. In England prior to the early 11th century the solemn grants of lands and rights bore no seal and their authority was written and signed by eminent witnesses along with the sign of the cross for sacred and divine significance. The earliest English documents known to be authenticated by attached seals are the writs of Edward the Confessor (1042-66). This is possibly the period when wax or metal seals were introduced as a permanent form of document authentication in England.

Whilst there are many thousands of medieval wax seals, some broken but many intact, within the archives of British libraries and institutions there are sadly very few of the matrices remaining. This is a pity because the study of the subject is enhanced if a well impressed seal has its matching ‘partner’ complete, like two hands coming together in prayer. Nevertheless, the real importance is the document together with its attached seal. The matrix would have been engraved and made by hand, some of the best were done by gold or silversmiths, and the materials used were copper alloy, gilt or silver and most had a handle made of metal or wood which would be held and pressed into the soft wax. Some smaller seals were made of precious metals in the form of a signet ring.

The front of King Edward III's Great Seal from 1333

The reverse of King Edward III's Great Seal from 1333

The broad categories seals and their respective documents take are as follows:

  • Royal seals or Great Seals (very often double-sided);
  • Aristocratic and heraldic seals;
  • Secular clergy seals, e.g. Bishop’s seals of dignity;
  • Personal seals (mostly un-heraldic);
  • Seals of corporate bodies, e.g. monastic and town seals

My four years of experience at St George’s Chapel Archives has enabled me to experience all of these categories, but the overriding majority of seals here are personal seals, belonging to the seal owning public. The great spread of personal seals in the 12th/13th centuries and after reached out to virtually all landholders, from the largest to the smallest. It seems that virtually no one, including villeins, such as tenant farmers, was denied the use of a seal to authenticate a legal document – either their own or a borrowed seal. Therefore the plethora and complexity of designs and motifs impressed into the wax for us to study today is astounding. The collection of personal seals at St George’s Chapel Archives is no exception.

A seal depicting a grotesque head. Sketch by Peter Eley.

A seal depicting a phoenix rising from the ashes. Sketch by Peter Eley.

A seal depicting a two-faced man. Sketch by Peter Eley.

Peter Eley, Library and Archives volunteer

A ‘Spiflicating’ Time

July 15th, 2015

The unique and humorous letters of Colin McCallum, a young St George’s School chorister, who, in 1902, took part in special Royal services at the Royal Mausoleum, Private Chapel at Windsor Castle and the coronation of King Edward VII at Westminster and shared his perspective on events in letters home to his mother.

The hard life of a chorister…

25 January 1902

My Dear Mother,

I received all the things you sent off quite safely thank you. There is a lot of news this week. On Wednesday we went to the Mausoleum; it was lovely. I will send you a form of the service. We had the Accession service at 10 ‘o’ clock and the Mausoleum a quarter to twelve. We had to stand the whole time even in the address and we had work before Breakfast at quarter to 7 and then you wonder at me getting run down – I don’t!!! Well as it is I have come out of it alright and then on Thursday there was the confirmation work a quarter to 7 and also on Friday when we sang at the Private Chapel the service was at 9 ‘o’ clock… Think I have put this letter as short as possible because you will see half the information in the papers.

I remain ever your loving son: Colin.

A budding archivist…?

18 May 1902

My Dear Mother,

Thank you very much for your nice long letter. I am reading ‘The Dilemma’ now. It is by ‘the Author of the Battle of Dorking’… I, MacBean major and MacBean minor went to the Private Chapel today. The King, the Queen, the Duke of York, the Prince of Wales, and Prince Albert of York and Prince Arthur of Connaught were there. With the King we have to sing the whole of the psalms, the Te Deum and Jubilate when with the old Queen we used to say them all. It is simply frightfully tiring. I enclose a letter from the dean to Sir Walter [Parratt, St George’s Chapel organist] keep it and put it in my Windsor box as it is the dean’s signature. I wish you would send me an autograph book and I could get some very nice autographs. Now I think I must stop.

I remain your loving son


The whole Choir are going to the Coronation!

The coronation of Edward VII…

10 August 1902

My Dear Mother,

Thank you very much for the telegram I got it in when I was in bed. I saw the Coronation splendidly and I saw the King actually crowned but not anointed, and I only saw the Queen going up to be crowned under a rich pall of gold. I saw all the procession.

I will give you a short account of what we did: called at 5am, breakfast 5.30, caught 6.30 and took bus to dean’s yard. On the way saw Bengal Lancers, Japanese regiments and Irish Guards. We went through the last part of the [Hubert] Parry Anthem twice because the Westminster Scholars shouted Vivat Rex Edvardus before the King came so they had to shout it again. We saw Peeresses put on their coronets. An Indian dropped two diamonds which delayed the ceremony somewhat.

We had a spiflicating time.

I remain ever your loving son

His Highness

Colin Duncan McCallum

[SGC M.18]

Gemma Martin, Archives Trainee

Conservator’s eye view: book bindings

June 23rd, 2015

Once the scribes and illuminators had completed their exemplary work on the vellum pages the quires were re-assembled in the correct order and the binder would start to sew each quire with linen thread around upright thicker leather thongs within a binder’s frame, tying up on each leather thong in turn. He then continues sewing through the leaves of the quire and onto the next quire until all the gatherings were sewn together to form the text-block. A book with say 40 quires would take a skilled binder a day to stitch a text-block together.

Released from the binder’s sewing frame the text-block would then be, literally, knocked into shape to form the familiar convex/concave profile. The text-block would likely be clamped into a laying-press to enable the binder to treat the edges of the pages with gold leaf using a soft guilder’s-tip brush. He would lift the fine fragile gold leaf by passing the brush once through his hair to obtain enough static to gently lift and place the gold into place on the vellum edges. The gold leaf is finally burnished with a ‘dog’s tooth’, a smooth hard stone such as agate to dress the three exposed edges with lustrous gold.

The five, six or seven thongs (depending on the size and nature of the book) used for sewing the quires together are now cut off long enough to form the coupling of the text-block to wooden boards. Two wooden boards, made from oak or beech, would be cut, planed and smoothed to fit the front and back of the text-block to form its protective covers and to keep the leaves together. Grooves are cut into the boards to enable the thongs to fit into the wood and then are glued into place, thus forming the initial strength of boards to block. The thongs are left raised on the spine and glued again when the leather binding is adhered. A complete binding of tawed or tanned leather is cut and prepared to be stuck onto the boards, or just a partial covering for the spine and part of the boards.

We have a very good example of a partial leather binding on plain untreated oak boards at St George’s Chapel Library, see fifteenth century LIB MS 2 ‘Examples of Scriptures’. This book has five ‘raised bands’ on the spine.

SGC LIB MS 2 bound in leather and untreated oak boards

The advantage of leather bindings were the infinite variety of decoration that could be created; from blind stamping designs to gold-leaf embellishment to luxurious commissions from royalty or church, whereby precious gem-stones, smithed metal designs, miniature enamels and elaborate arms would be applied to the boards and spine, thus creating the most treasured contemporary possessions and, as has been proven, enduring and expensive works of art.

Other than leather bindings forming a tight covering around the book, a rather rarer protection was a chemise cover. Usually meant for a private devotional books such as Books of Hours; an expensive dyed and decorated fabric would be attached carefully to the book and be cut and finished off long enough to wrap around the entire illuminated manuscript to protect it.

The saying, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’…in the case of medieval manuscripts, is invariably wrong!

The interior of SGC LIB MS 2

For an informative and delightful Gresham College lecture from Dr Sally Dormer of the V&A speaking about the fascinating subject of manuscripts, please see ‘The Making of Medieval Manuscripts’ on YouTube.

Peter Eley, Library and Archives volunteer

My references for this series of blogs are as follows.

‘Making an Illuminated Manuscript’. Stella Panayotova and Teresa Webber (2005) Cambridge.

‘Collectors and Collecting’  Christopher de Hamel (2005) Cambridge.

‘The Wormsley Library’    Maggs Bros (2007) London.

Gresham College Lecture Series    Sally Dormer (2012) London.

My special thanks go to Dr Clare Rider and Kate McQuillian, Librarian and Archivist and Assistant Archivist respectively at St. George’s Chapel for their kindness, patience and help with my research on this project.

The ever memorable Battle of Waterloo

June 17th, 2015

In the month that witnesses the 200th anniversary of the British victory at Waterloo, it seems appropriate to mention two memorials in St George’s Chapel which commemorate the bravery of officers who took part in the famous battle.

Lt-Gen Sir John Elley, who survived the battle despite being severely wounded, went on to serve as Member of Parliament for Windsor from 1835. On his death in 1839 he was buried in St George’s Chapel, near the south door. Although his burial place is unmarked, a white marble bust was subsequently erected to him in the North Quire Aisle. It sits on a large white marble block engraved with a fulsome inscription written by the Revd William Cookesley of Eton College. This includes a reference to Elley’s participation in ‘the crowning and magnificent triumph of British valour’: the Battle of Waterloo.

Inscription: ‘Erected to the memory of Lieut-General Sir John Elley KCB, KGH, Colonel of Her Majesty’s 17th Regiment of Lancers, Governor of the Garrison of Galway; who was born AD 1764, died January 23rd 1839 and is buried in the Chapel……

Throughout the Peninsular War he was the companion in arms of the Duke of Wellington. To enumerate the various occasions on which he displayed conspicuous skill and bravery, would be to enumerate the several battles which have thrown an imperishable glory around that tremendous contest. In 1815 he fought and was severely wounded at Waterloo. In that crowning and magnificent triumph of British valour he added lustre to his former achievements; and his name is lastingly written in the records of that famous day which gave peace to the nations of the civilized world’.

Major Robert Christopher Packe, whose memorial may be found in the Ambulatory to the left of the door into the Dean’s Cloister, was killed at the Battle of Waterloo. Although he was not buried in St George’s Chapel his regiment, which was stationed in Windsor at the time, erected a memorial to him in the Chapel, which features the white marble figures of the fallen Major Packe and his horse, mourned over by a regimental companion, on a grey marble background. Originally in the Rutland Chapel (permission to erect it there was recorded in a Chapter Act of 16 April 1817), it was moved to present position c.1935.

Inscription: ‘To the memory of Major Robert Christopher Packe, second son of Charles James Packe esquire of Prestwold, Leicestershire, and Major in the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards Blue, who was killed at the head of his squadron when charging the French Cuirassiers at the ever memorable Battle of Waterloo on the 18th of June 1815 in the XXXIIId year of his age. This monument is erected by the officers of the regiment in which he had served more than fifteen years, in testimony of their high veneration for his distinguished military merit and of their sincere regret for the loss of a companion so long endeared to their affections by his amiable manner and private vertues’

Although these memorials were not paid for by the Dean and Canons, it is interesting to note that at a Chapter meeting on 25 July 1815, they agreed that ‘the sum of one hundred guineas be subscribed for the relief of the families of the brave men killed and of the wounded sufferers of the British Army under command of the illustrious Wellington in the signal victory of Waterloo and in other battles of the present Campaign’.

Clare Rider, Archivist and Chapter Librarian

Conservator’s eye view: illumination

May 22nd, 2015

As we have seen in my previous blogs most manuscripts were written before they were decorated. Scribes often doubled as page designers, planning the hierarchy of decoration in line with the articulation of the text. They left room for the illumination and prompted artists by inserting faint letters in the spaces where historiated initials were to be painted. The artist almost always painted the initials suggested by the scribe and also made use of the lines ruled across the space intended for the miniature when transferring compositions throughout the volume, as can faintly be seen in some of the illuminated miniatures in our precious holding, Liber Niger, the ‘Black Book’ [SGC G.1].

Illuminated miniature and historiated initial at the start of Henry VI's entry in the Black Book of the Garter

The artist would sketch out the design of his miniature with a plummet and then firm it up into an ink drawing. By following this under-drawing the illustration would be developed to a remarkable level of coloured detail, showing the confidence and fluidity of a truly accomplished artist.

Before leading on to the application of gold it is worth considering who these artists were. Manuscript artists in Europe were predominantly monks working in monasteries and we know many of them as masters of their art, eg Master Hugo, Virgil Master, Master of the London Pliny, Master of Ippolita Sforza, etc, etc. There were also some known women artists, nuns working in nunneries including Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) and Sussanah Hornebolt (1503-1545). I believe that the reason why we are not aware of many more female artists is because it was considered unseemly and against their religious vows to claim ownership of their work.

The next stage in the decoration of the manuscript is the application of gold. Sometimes liquid gold would be painted onto the vellum page to gain maximum impact under candlelight, this in the most precious and expensive commissions. But the less expensive option was to use gold leaf. Beaten into sheets thinner than tissue, loose gold leaf crinkles at the faintest current of air, dissolves into dust if handled roughly, and, most importantly, clings to painted surfaces. It was carefully laid over areas brushed with gum arabic, fish glue, or beaten and strained egg-white, known as glair. Flat gold leaf was often left unfurnished, as can be seen in the Black Book. For a raised effect, gold leaf was laid over gesso, a compound of plaster, white lead and glue, which was often coloured with salmon-pink to enhance the glowing warmth of the gold. The gesso formed a ‘cushion’ making the thinnest gold leaf look solid.

The Schorn Book of Hours (1430-1450) [SGC LIB MS.6] has wonderful examples of gold and coloured historiated initials and border decoration. The gold has been burnished with a ‘dog’s tooth’, a smooth hard stone such as agate to give it a lustre as bright today as it was five hundred and sixty five years ago.

Illuminations incorporating painted gold in the Schorn Book of Hours

Gold glows and shimmers with the light, revealing the dazzling beauty and true essence of an illuminated manuscript, and just as all the colours illuminated the pages of these sensational books so long ago, they continue to do so as well as illuminate the past for us today, and for others, well into the future.

Because the pages of illuminated manuscripts are kept closed most of the time, and indeed for hundreds of years, they are kept clean and safe from handling and light, and other than repairs to torn pages and minimal dusting, conservators are wise to maintain a ‘minimal intervention’ approach to these precious works of art.

Peter Eley, Library and Archives Volunteer