All Saints Church, Claverley

These unique wall paintings in All Saints Church, Claverley were painted in the early thirteenth century. The fighting knights are thought to allude to the Charlemagne myth of the Battle of Roncevaux (Roncesvalles in Northern Spain). The best-known version of this narrative is found in an early twelfth-century chanson de geste (French epic poem) which survives in an Anglo-Norman manuscript (Bodley Library Digby 23). Narratives like this were not stable in the Middle Ages and what is depicted here may be the version recounted in the prose text of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle.







The images include what appears to be a flowering lance: in the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle the knights, before a battle in Spain, stuck the shafts of their lances In the ground; the next morning some of the lances had burst into flower; these were the lances of those who would be martyred in the battle. There is here also an image of a knight blowing an outsize horn: the ‘horn scene’ of the Song of Roland is central to the narrative and common in the iconography relating to the battle.




Genealogical and Biblical Roll

Leeds, Brotherton Library, BC MS 100


This illuminated manuscript chronicle is nearly 18 metres long and is made from 39 large pieces of vellum pasted together. It is written in Anglo-Norman French and decorated with 64 painted roundels. It was produced in Paris during the reign of Louis XI (1461-1483).


Across the head of the roll stretch a row of miniatures depicting the six days of the Creation. The content begins with the Old Testament, the life of Christ, Greek and Roman history, and Western European history. After the life of Christ, the text divides into four columns. The line of popes is given in the first column, the line of Roman emperors in the second, and the line of French kings in the third. In the fourth column (when it occurs) is the history of Britain, and the history of the crusades and the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. The text ends in one broad column with French history of the 1460s. The text is accompanied in places by genealogical trees.


Roundel 29 depicts Charlemagne enthroned, holding a sword and wearing a papal triple tiara.


The manuscript was bought by Lord Brotherton of Wakefield during an intense period of collecting between 1922 and 1930. Lord Brotherton is Leeds University Library’s greatest benefactor. His most public gift was the Brotherton Library building which opened in 1936, built at his expense. However, the presentation of his own magnificent collection of rare books and manuscripts to the University after his death, in accordance with his wishes, was equally generous.


Brotherton welcomed visitors to his private library and when he offered to build the Brotherton Library for the University, he undoubtedly saw it as the future public home for his ever-growing collection. In 2016, thanks for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant and a substantial donation by the Brotherton Ratcliffe Trust, the University opened a bespoke exhibition space to showcase highlights from its collections. The first item on display in the new space is BC MS 100, the illuminated Biblical and genealogical chronicle from Adam and Eve to Louis XI of France.



Adam de la Halle's 'Or est Baiars'




Adam de la Halle, also known as Adam le Bossu (Adam the Hunchback), was probably born in the 1240s and died around 1288. He was a major figure in the culture of Arras, the north-eastern French city where he spent most of his life before joining the court of Charles I of Anjou, King of Naples, in the early 1280s.


Arras was one of the most important cities in France during Adam’s lifetime. It was economically powerful, culturally vibrant, and politically turbulent. Its literary activity was quite experimental, and was supported by the so-called Carité (Charity), a mutual association in which professional entertainers of different kinds (known collectively as jongleurs) played an important part.


Although we have very little factual information about Adam, we know that he was a prolific, innovative, and multi-talented poet. He composed a wide range of songs, as well as longer poems on historical or moral subjects, and two plays in verse. His plays are highly original, and have been widely studied by historians of medieval literature. The Jeu de la Feuillée (Play of the Bower, from c.1276) is a kind of sketch show, deeply rooted in the life of Arras. By contrast, the Jeu de Robin et Marion (Play of Robin and Marion, from c.1281) is set in the countryside and adapts elements from well-known songs for dramatic performance. (The play has nothing to do with the English folk hero Robin Hood, but his legendary love interest Maid Marian probably evolved out of Adam’s character of Marion.)


In the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, Adam was best known for his songs. For the high culture of the time, love songs – which were conventional rather than based on personal experience – were the most prestigious kind of song. Adam composed well over thirty of these, as well as eighteen debate songs (in which two characters hold an unresolved argument about a topic relating to love). The Bayard song represents a different genre: the rondeau (roundel), a short song with a refrain. Adam composed fifteen more of these, and music historians see him as an important early contributor to the rondeau’s evolution.




Adam de la Halle wrote this lyric about ‘Bayard’, a horse which features in texts about the ‘Quatre Fils Aymon’, the four sons of Aymon, who rebel against Charlemagne. You can hear it sung here by the Bristol Early Music Group Nova.


Commentary provided by Dr Dagmar Paulus (UCL)


The Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire had been ascribed to Charlemagne for centuries, although it is in fact approximately 150 years younger. With its characteristic octagonal form, it is easily recognisable on many examples of paintings, sculptures, and public architecture. Throughout the nineteenth century and beyond, it remained an important icon of German collective memory, evoking images of a romanticised version of the Middle Ages in order to consolidate political power. Even the Nazis made use of it in a twisted effort to impart the halo of an eon-old tradition to their reign of terror.


Dr Paulus’s article ‘From Charlemagne to Hitler: The Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire and its Symbolism’ is now available on the Articles and Essays section of our website.


Nottingham Chanson d'Aspremont

Nottingham University Archives, MS WLC/LM/6


Commentary provided by Professor Alison Stones


The Nottingham compendium is the earliest surviving illustrated literary manuscript in French, datable most likely c. 1220. It was probably made in Flanders, perhaps at the town of Saint-Omer which was a flourishing centre of learning and book production in the period and home to a distinguished house of canons, the Collégiale de Saint-Omer, and the important Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Bertin. But close stylistic and iconographic parallels for the Nottingham manuscript are lacking and it remains isolated in format and content.

f. 259r

f. 259r

The miscellany clusters together several favourite stories of the Middle Ages – of the heroes of Troy by Benoît de Sainte-Maure, with 33 illustrations, the Fuerre de Gadres about Alexander the Great (10 illustrations), and the Chanson d’Aspremont about Charlemagne (15 illustrations), but lesser known romances are also included: Ille et Galeron by Gautier d’Arras (7 illustrations), La Venegeance Raguidel by Raoul de Houdenc (4 illustrations), the unique copy of Le Roman de Silence by Heldris de Cornuälle (14 illustrations), and finally some unillustrated Fabliaux by Gautier le Leu were added at the end.

WLC/LM/6 f294r

f. 294r



So the Charlemagne material falls in the middle, not the most fully illustrated text but far from being the most modest. The pictures are puzzling. There seems to have been a change of plan between writing the texts and inserting the pictures in the spaces left by the scribe. Opening capital letters were abandoned in favour of these small miniatures and the missing capitals were never added. Some of the illustrations are simply portraits like the opening picture of Aspremont where Charlemagne is shown facing frontally, crowned and enthroned, holding sword and a curious object, most likely an orb. Alexander is similarly depicted at the beginning of the Fuerre de Gadres, but with a sceptre, while Heldris de Cournouälle is shown holding open his book, and Dictis is depicted re-writing Dares’ story of Troy. Charlemagne is depicted a second time, crowned, standing and holding a fold of his cloak in one hand and a sceptre in the other; and King Manuel also sits frontally as he pleads for peace (f. 277v). Several of Charlemagne’s knights are shown on horseback like Roland and Graelans on f. 294, and there are pairs or groups of figures in conversation (ff. 304, 318), suggesting an interest in narrative, albeit repetitive and generalized. Occasionally a miniature is very specific, as where Namles presents Charlemagne with the huge claw of a bird that had attacked his horse (f. 259, a miniature badly scraped, for reasons that remain unclear). The programme of decoration also includes hybrid animals and birds which have no relation to the text. All the illustrations are presented in simple square or rectangular frames placed in half a text column and bounded with colour – red and orange, green and grey, blue and grey – and the figures and animals are set against gold backgrounds and often move onto or beyond the frames. The book was much used as many of the illustrations have been worn and damaged. It was a simple set of pictures which would be greatly elaborated upon as interest in depicting vernacular narrative grew in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Collection of French romances and fabliaux; n.d. late 13th century 09-7381m_raw, Thu Dec 03, 2009, 10:36:24 AM, 8C, 6718x8250, (2245+2476), 100%, Repro 2-2_flre, 1/30 s, R67.2, G49.7, B71.4

f. 277v

Bernard Gui, ‘Arbor genealogiae regum Francorum' (The Tree of the Genealogy of the Kings of France)

Trinity College, Cambridge, Trinity College Library, MS R.4.23.

(Copyright of the Master and Fellows, Trinity College, Cambridge).


Commentary provided by Professor Catherine Leglu (University of Reading)



Trinity College Library, MS R.4.23, f. 53r


This image of Charlemagne clearly depicts him as the king of France. He is not wearing the imperial emblem or regalia (on this issue, see the forthcoming article by Adrian Ailes in the Further Reading section of this website). It is one of many copies of an illustrated genealogy of the kings of France compiled by the Friar Preacher (Dominican) Bernard Gui (c.1261–1331). It is one of two digitized copies of Bernard Gui’s genealogy in Cambridge college libraries. The other is in the Parker Library (Cambridge Corpus Christi College MS 45), copied around the year 1331.


Bernard Gui is remembered nowadays as an inquisitor, but in his lifetime he was a prolific and influential compiler of archival and chronicle materials, producing lists and summaries that he called cathalogus (‘catalogue’). One of these catalogues is an account of the kings of France from the foundation of their lineage by Trojan exiles to the current ruler. He assists the reader by including an illustrated ‘tree’. This is regarded as one of the first examples of a ‘family tree’ diagram.


Gui is known to have supervised and corrected copies of his books. He seems to have worked closely with one scriptorium, and this was in all probability either the Dominican convent in Toulouse, where he lived and worked for sixteen years as inquisitor (1307–23), or commercial book artisans associated with the university of Toulouse. After he left Toulouse and took up residence as bishop of Lodève (1324–31), Gui’s production of books slowed down considerably until the last years of his life, when he published new and expanded compilations.


The content is typical of Gui’s working method. Several catalogues are put together in no particular order: a chronicle of popes, a chronicle of emperors, three lists of kings of France (one of these is the illustrated ‘tree’), a history of the major councils and synods of the Church, a list of the priors of the orders of Grandmont and of Artige, a list of seventy saints, and finally an expanded chronicle that is entitled the Flores Chronicorum. In this manuscript, all the documents except for the Flores Chronicorum were copied in the interregnum period between the death of Pope Clement V on 20 April 1314 and the death of King Louis X of France on 5 June 1316 (his accession to the throne in 1314 is described). Some additional notes bring the chronicle up to date with the election of his successor, John XXII, on 5 September 1316. The Flores Chronicorum was copied after May 1320 (f.164v). The codex was given consecutive page numbers, and a later hand worked on its coherence by adding notes on a few folios that provide the reigns of kings and popes up to Clement VII (1378–94). This was the first of the ‘antipopes’ of the Great Western Schism, and his successor Benedict XIII is also added (1394–1423). There are no owner marks and no dedication to a specific patron.


The Arbor genealogiae regum francorum is derived from older schemes. It was probably incorporated into Gui’s compilations around 1314, as it appears in every copy of the catalogue of the kings of France that was produced under Gui’s oversight after that date. The design of these ‘trees’ and their extended families did not change. The kings ‘of the Franks’ are an unbroken line of fathers and sons, dating from the foundation by exiled Trojans who had founded the city of Sicambria, then moved into Frankland. Gui presents three dynasties. The first runs from the Trojan exiles to the Merovingians. The second is the Carolingian dynasty, and the ‘third genealogy’ is the Capetian line, from their founder Hugh Capet to the current ruler. The text opens by telling the reader that the Arbor’s line of kings of the Franks includes the kings of Burgundy, Italy and England (f.49v). The Arbor’s content and therefore its messages about the legitimacy and continuity of the kings of France were fixed. However, there was considerable freedom for artists in how they depicted the heads and full-length images.



Trinity College Library, MS R.4.23, f.49v.


The founding fathers are exiled Trojans and they rule in harmony as co-rulers. They are Thucytus/Lurchytus (normally spelt Turcus) and Francion, son of Aeneas. Beneath them a tiny Marcomirus and Genebaldus, rulers of Sicambria, open the first tree. In between, the prologue explains the Arbor’s scheme. A circle designates someone special for their nobility or holiness. A crown designates a king or a queen. These men have no crowns, so they are not kings.


On the facing page, however, is the first sole ruler, Pharamond (f.50r). He is draped in a cloak depicting the royal French emblem, the fleur de lys, on blue ground. Thereafter, each king is shown in the trunk of the tree, and each king is represented in the clothing of a king of France.


On f.53 Pipin is shown standing on a lion, Berte’s head is next to him, in a circle. The rubric reads: ‘Here opens the second genealogy of kings of France’. The illustration of this folio would have evoked the legendary stories of Charlemagne’s lion-killing father Pipin and his heroic mother, Berthe ‘of the big foot’. Adenet le Roi’s prose romance Berte au grand pied, dates from the later thirteenth century.



Trinity College Library, MS R.4.23, f. 53v


Charlemagne is depicted in an unchanging family group in the copies of the Arbor. He is set in the centre of the tree trunk, depicted full-body. In the left margin are two crowned heads: Charlemagne’s descendants Pipin and Bernard, king of Italy. In the right, in a circle, there is a picture of his crowned wife, named as ‘Ermangarde’ (Hildegard). Below her on the right are Charlemagne’s sons by an unnamed concubine, Hugh and Drogo, bishop of Metz. Beneath them are the names of Charlemagne’s daughters, Rotrudis, Bertha and Gisela. Beneath their names are their three heads, without crowns.

For example, here is a copy made around December 1314, probably corrected by Gui himself (it is available through Gallica). Charlemagne is clad in blue, without a cloak, and he carries the orb and sceptre of the Holy Roman Emperor. There is no fleur-de-lys:



Paris BNF NAL 1171, f. 139v


In the same section of text (this time unusually combining the section devoted to Pipin, above Charlemagne) in a copy produced in Toulouse around 1317, Bibliothèque municipale de Toulouse, Ms 450, f.187r (c.1317), Pipin is not associated with a lion and neither king wears the insignia of the King of France. Interestingly, all the other kings from Pharamond onwards wear a sceptre with the fleur-de-lys. The Carolingians from Pipin to Louis the Pious, however, are depicted as emperors. Charlemagne does wear a blue cloak trimmed with ermine, but it is plain and he carries the orb and sceptre. The same design appears in a later copy, probably from the years 1320-40: Paris BNF NAL 779, f. 172 v (1320-40). Once again, the emperor is dressed in royal blue, but there is no fleur-de-lys. An additional three daughters have been added in the right margin, but otherwise the design is the same.


Gui absorbs Charlemagne into a lineage of reges francorum, but in some copies, the Carolingians are shown to be emperors, not kings of Franks. The Trinity Library manuscript’s Arbor is different, because it makes Charlemagne a French king. It is different also because it clearly cost more to produce than these copies. It gives the impression of a book that does not quite reflect Gui’s ‘house style’. Charlemagne is depicted as a young king of France, bearing the fleur-de-lys emblem on his sceptre and wearing the French king’s cloak of fleur-de-lys on a blue ground. The same image appears throughout the Arbor, so it is used for the last king in line, Louis X, who had just come to the throne at the age of 24.


The image of Charlemagne in Trinity College Library, MS R.4.23. within his family group (f. 53r) raises an interesting question about how these images were created.



Trinity College Library, MS R.4.23, f. 53r


The design is unaltered but Charlemagne’s daughters, Rotrudis, Bertha and Gisela have been depicted by mistake as three young men. Mistaking the gender of the three daughters is a serious and unusual error. The daughters’ names are in red ink. The rubricator was a scribe who wrote captions in red ink, and this manuscript has a few folios where instructions to the rubricator have been jotted in a lower margin, for example, on fol. 42v (this is in a section of the catalogue of kings of France discussing the reign of Charlemagne).


It would be typical for rubrics to be written in after the main text was copied in black ink. An artist would likely have worked from both written and spoken instructions, and in this case, the fact that the scheme of the genealogy is fixed implies that they worked from a visual model. As was noted above, the compilation is not produced in Gui’s ‘house style’ and this mistake implies that the Arbor was created by a team that was not familiar with other copies of the genealogy.


Artists travelled between centres of book production in this period. It is therefore likely that these images were produced by artists who came from a number of regions, working for a while in places such as Toulouse and Avignon. The images of the kings follow a strict basic design, but the artists were clearly free to vary the physiognomy and clothing of the kings and their families. This particular copy is a luxury product, with an artist of higher quality than usual employed to illustrate the Arbor. It employs expensive gilding and puzzle initials. Above all it is unusual in its use of the French royal heraldic design of fleur-de-lys and azure for the kings. An updated presentation copy of the Arbor was produced for King Philip VI in 1331 and it contains less expensive illuminations (Madrid, Biblioteca nacional de España, ms. 10126, f.152r). Here, Charlemagne is not wearing the emblems of the French crown. He is holding a sword and he is wearing red.


It seems clear that whoever commissioned this luxury copy in 1314–16 wanted it to serve the prestige of the reigning king of France, Louis X. Charlemagne is depicted as an ancestor and model for that young king. Sadly, Louis X was destined to die within a few months of the copy’s completion.




The Talbot Shrewsbury Book

British Library, Royal 15 E VI

© The British Library Board


Commentary by Dr Jade Bailey coming soon…