One of our precious manuscripts has been featured in two recent publications. The first is a book in the Penguin Monarchs series: “Richard II: a brittle glory” by Laura Ashe. The second is an online exhibition “Pipeline from Heaven: 800 years of Dominican books” hosted by Cambridge University Library.
The manuscript in question is Roger Dymmok’s refutation of the twelve heresies of the Lollards (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.17). According to Professor Nigel Morgan in his recent talk to the Supporters of the Old Library it is “the most lavish copy in existence of this treatise” and is linked stylistically to other manuscripts most likely produced in London. The manuscript is illuminated in glowing colours and gold leaf, further embellished with incised patterns.
As a presentation copy to King Richard II, the manuscript is resplendent with the symbols of kingship. The first folio bears an image of King Richard II who is enthroned, robed in blue and ermine, wearing his crown and holding the royal sceptre. At the foot of the page are two white hart, Richard’s badge (which also features prominently on the Wilton diptych). In the border on the right of the folio are Richard’s arms of the lion of England crossed with the fleur de lys of France. To reinforce the message, these arms are also painted on the fore edge of the manuscript.
It is obvious that only the best would do for Richard II! The young king’s formative experience was his dazzling coronation at the age of 10 in 1377. It took place with spectacular pageantry – the fountains flowing with wine and gold coins cast at the king’s feet – and set the tone for his reign. According to Ashe “Richard invested in majesty, in the display of wealth and intricate ceremony”. Indeed the king’s conspicuous expenditure and the financial (and political) problems it brought are elucidated in Laura Ashe’s work.
As king, Richard was guided by two main principles: his unshakable belief in the divinity of kingship and his demand for the complete obedience of every subject to his will. His choice of badge is telling: the white hart is depicted as seated on a bed of rosemary, collared with a gold crown and a long chain. Laura Ashe tells us that the hart is a symbol of Christ in suffering. Richard thus identifies his royal duties with both divinity and suffering, bearing majesty as “a noble burden, the deer’s white coat a sign of purity, the rosemary for remembrance of sorrow”.
The text of the manuscript is by the Dominican, Roger Dymmok, and contests the views of John Wycliffe which had become popular in all echelons of society. Amongst other views, Wycliffe criticised the Church for its wealth and property, saying that it was contrary to Christ’s teaching of poverty. His heretical views were condemned by the Pope. Richard II had no sympathy with the Lollards (as the followers of Wycliffe were called) and in 1395 he demanded that his Lollard knights abjure the heresy on pain of death.
Among the images featured in the online exhibition “A pipeline from heaven” is one from MS.17 folio 8r showing John Baptist holding a lamb and preaching to four people. John the Baptist had special significance for Richard II and can also be seen in the Wilton diptych as one of the king’s patrons. The exhibition, curated by Professor Nigel Morgan and Father Richard Finn, is based on books and manuscripts held by Cambridge University Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the Cambridge colleges.
The forthcoming monograph on “Charles II” in the Penguin Monarchs series is by Clare Jackson, Senior Tutor, Trinity Hall.
“Richard II: a brittle glory” by Laura Ash. (Penguin Monarchs series. London: Allen Lane, 2016. ISBN 978014197989)
“A pipeline from heaven: 800 years of Dominican books” online exhibition https://exhibitions.lib.cam.ac.uk/dominicans/
Wilton Diptych can be seen at the National Gallery London