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Inventing History : forgery: a great British tradition (British History)
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Boreades


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Is it pushing the analogies too far to say that the Art Scholar(s)' adherence to the belief that these things are Old and Genuine is a like a Religious Act of Faith?

Like the Turin Shroud?

And even when they can be persuaded to get it radiocarbon dated, there are still lots of "Ah, but..."s

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiocarbon_dating_of_the_Shroud_of_Turin
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Mick Harper
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Well, let's see now. The Shroud was a profitable part of the tourist industry for centuries and nobody was allowed to examine it. Then the Vatican went through one of its periodic 'let's clean house' episodes and permitted it to be carbon dated. It came back, as expected, fourteenth rather than first century, now it's bigger than ever as a part of the tourist industry!
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Hatty
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The Head of Research at The Courtauld, a medieval art historian called Alixe Bovey, is happily concocting an iron gall ink brew on her windowsill. She understands that iron gall ink is indelible...

I’m no chemist but my understanding is that the chemical reaction between the iron sulphate and the tannic acid creates a solution that oxidises and bites into the parchment, hence its indelible quality.

but iron gall ink's corrosiveness according to Dr Bovey is a) not inevitable and b) a very slow process

I think there are two different processes - the oxidisation of the pigment (which I think happens pretty quickly - like, days not years) and the by-no-means inevitable destruction of the support, which is almost certainly a v slow, contingent process

This is a get-out for historians and their 1,000+ year old manuscripts, but not necessarily a conscious ruse as Alixe Bovey is an art historian not a manuscript scholar. She replied 'no' when asked whether iron gall ink has been dated and clearly doesn't think it necessary in any case

Re dating the ink - no, not to my knowledge. In any case it’s generally possible to date western mss to at least a quarter century using evidence like text, script, codicology, decoration.

We're back to the same old subjective "stylistic" modus operandi.
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Boreades


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I am also keenly interested in the interface between art history and practice, especially the ways that historical understanding can be enhanced by creative experience. This has inspired a diverse programme of activities under the #CourtauldDraw umbrella, including regular life drawing classes, collaborative drawing events, practical workshops (including metalpoint drawing, which is a particular enthusiasm of mine), artist talks and research events in the Research Forum programme.

A commendable enthusiasm for getting your hands dirty and seeing how people might have done things. Although a degree in Forensic Chemistry might be useful.

My current research project explores the mythic history of Britain, focusing especially on the material legacy of the indigenous race of giants who were (according to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s mid-12th century history) exterminated by the refugees from the Trojan war who founded the British nation. This project focuses especially on their material presence in the pageantry, legends, and identity of the City of London, and considers why and how they have been made, and reimagined, over hundreds of years.

Should AEL inmates refrain from contacting her with tales of Iman Jacob Wilkens, or Gog and Magog, and the Lord Mayor's Parade?

http://www.troy-in-england.co.uk/
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Mick Harper
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Re dating the ink - no, not to my knowledge. In any case it’s generally possible to date western mss to at least a quarter century using evidence like text, script, codicology, decoration.

Ironically, we are able to get within a quarter century using our methods! Since Dr Bovey uses the word 'generally' I wonder what method(s) she uses when she can't. And I think that 'western' reference is hiding some unconscious racism.
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Mick Harper
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Should AEL inmates refrain from contacting her with tales of Iman Jacob Wilkens, or Gog and Magog, and the Lord Mayor's Parade?

It is a strategic error trying to engage academics with tales of wonder, much better to try to persuade them to apply their own basic rules. Nor is it much use going down the copy-of-a-copy road. The fact of the matter is that not a single 'early medieval' manuscript has ever been scientifically dated, and for an AE reason. Once it is declared to be that old it is simultaneously declared to be too valuable to be tested! You've got to hand it to them, it's brilliant.

One day, some hero (more likely, heroine) will rise from their ranks and decide that calling a halt to the entire charade is worth sacrificing their career, their friends and (this is the hard part) their own most cherished beliefs. And that would be just for asking for one carbon test. They'd be escorted out of the British Library before closing time. The gall!
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Mick Harper
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You think we've got troubles?

Linguistic Nationalism and Kabbalistic Scripts in Nativist ...

Threatened by Japanese colonialism, Korean tiolists and members of new religions, such as Taejong-gyo, forged scriptures and histories that told of an ancient script created by the mythical founders of the Korean volk. This alleged script was used to record the earliest scripture, the Ch'onbu'gyong. A kabbalistic alysis of these scriptures ...
https://experts.griffith.edu.au/publication/n1d0a2a1187b3d4311ad5be330a4b721a
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Hatty
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Re conflating the original with copies, the Life of Alfred, popularly believed to have been written in 893, is a particularly good example

Wiki intones
The Life of King Alfred by Bishop Asser is the earliest known source about an Anglo-Saxon king, a king often known today as ‘Alfred the Great’ (r. 871–899 CE).

It's a British first! Except, as per the British Library, the original early manuscript doesn't exist and wasn't 'widely known'

The early manuscript of the Life does not appear to have been widely known in medieval times. Only one copy is known to have survived into modern times. It is known as Cotton MS Otho A xii, and was part of the Cotton library. It was written about 1000 and was destroyed in a fire in 1731.

Only one copy? Of the best-loved ruler in British history, the only monarch dubbed 'Great'?

The one surviving manuscript of Asser's Life of Alfred predates the 1731 fire but isn't as early as we might expect

The manuscript (Cotton MS Otho A XII/1) is dated second half of the sixteenth century

The provenance provided by the BL states the manuscript was written in 1574 by Stephen Batman [or Bateman], who according to Wiki was "one of Archbishop Parker's domestic chaplains". Matthew Parker is the only person known to have been in possession of the manuscript

What you can see here is a copy of the manuscript made in the second half of the 16th century by Stephen Batman (1542–1584), who was a Church of England clergyman.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/assers-life-of-king-alfred

Why are there no other early manuscripts? Apparently Asser ran out of time...

The lack of distribution may be because Asser had not finished the manuscript and so did not have it copied

...and for some reason until the Tudors came along nobody even bothered to copy, let alone print, the Life of Alfred

In 1603 the antiquarian William Camden published an edition of Asser's Life
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Mick Harper
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The early manuscript of the Life does not appear to have been widely known in medieval times.

It would be interesting to know whether this is code for "completely unknown". Since a mention of it at any time early doors would be major, major news I think we can assume so. This is an interesting application of the 'inverse world record law'. As a) Alfred is the only 'Great' b) Asser is the earliest source for him and c) is the earliest biography of any English king, the lack of anybody knowing anything about this epochal document for the first half-millennium of its existence is more rotting fish than rotting manuscript. Especially as

What you can see here is a copy of the manuscript made in the second half of the 16th century by Stephen Batman (1542–1584), who was a Church of England clergyman.

So that would mean Asser writes a manuscript c 900. This has disappeared but not before being copied in 1000 AD. The copy plods along unheralded, presumably uncopied, but carefully preserved until c 1580 when the reverend Batman copies it. Not, mind, prints it which when all kinds of lesser British historical marvels were pouring off the presses is both pointless and weird. Just laboriously copies it out word for word in Anglo-Saxon even though he's got a perfectly serviceable copy already.

It's as if he knew, because the first copy, being early medieval, perishes as per normal in a Cottonian conflagration in 1731, leaving Batman's copy as now our only link to the glories of Alfredian greatness. However we don't know it's a copy because the Asser copy is unique and nobody has or can compare it to the Tudor copy. "Oy, Steve, you've left out the cakes." "Oh, did I? Giss it 'ere."

PS I may be remembering wrong but I think the Asser bio is the one that is obsessed with transubstantiation, a topic of more interest to the 1580's than the 880's.
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Boreades


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Batman was born at Bruton, Somerset and, after a preliminary education in the school of his native town, went to Cambridge

So, was a Wessex lad, exposed to Wessex legends from an early age.

during the reign of Edward VI (1547–1553) .. restrictions on publishers were relaxed, and a wave of propaganda on behalf of the English Reformation was encouraged by the government of the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset.

A good time for more stirring tales of valiant Englishman valiantly saving their cakes and their country. (John Day was busy printing them).

Afterwards Archbishop Parker selected him as one of his domestic chaplains, and employed him in the collection of the library now deposited in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Batman asserts that he collected 6,700 books for the archbishop, though this is probably an exaggeration.

Or might not be an exaggeration as Corpus Christi College (and others) grew muchly on assets seized/liberated from dissolved monastories. Books, land title deeds, etc.

Wessex archaeos have long been frustrated that they can't find where Alfred lived. But Neil Oliver is convinced he's found Alfred in a cardboard box.

After the remains of Richard III were identified last February after being dug up in a Leicester car park archaeologists grew nervous about the safety of an unmarked burial ground at St Bartholomew’s Church in Winchester believed to contain the body of the ninth-century Saxon king.

Last spring the Winchester community project, Hyde900, which had long been trying to get permission to exhume the mysterious grave, finally got permission to go ahead with the dig. But great disappointment was to follow, when all the skeletons turned out to be much too young to fit the dates of Alfred.

What a bummer - but lo! ....

In their disappointment, the archaeologists returned to examine the contents of a cardboard box sitting in a local museum containing bones that had been dug up in a 1999 excavation of what would have been the high altar at Hyde Abbey. A bone expert identified one of the bones – previously dismissed as animal bones by the amateur team – as a the pelvis of a man. Radiocarbon dating has shown the bones date to the “late 800s to early 900s”. The dating was correct; the main reason to support the identification of the bones as belonging to the House of Wessex was the location.

“Hyde Abbey is a Twelfth Century church, there’s no historic evidence to support the fact that any 10th-century burials would have been made on that site, apart from Alfred, his wife and his eldest son,” Oliver said, adding that the evidence was so compelling that it would “stand up in a court of law”.

Only one person from “late 800s to early 900s” - it must be Alfred! Praise be! Wishful thinking is now established as forensic evidence.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/10579696/Alfred-the-Great-find-overshadows-the-discovery-of-Richard-IIIs-remains-says-TV-archaeologist.html
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Mick Harper
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Good stuff.
Batman asserts that he collected 6,700 books for the archbishop, though this is probably an exaggeration.

This has been an area of Hattian/Harperian concern for some time now. We constantly come across quite obscure gentry libraries that were able to put together 'thousands' of rare manuscripts and books in quick time apparently as a matter of routine. However, this is the very first time I've ever come across 'an expert' evincing even the mildest scepticism.

Or might not be an exaggeration as Corpus Christi College (and others) grew muchly on assets seized/liberated from dissolved monasteries. Books, land title deeds, etc.

I wonder. It is true that Corpus Christi was (and is) the chief bailiwick for this kind of dubious historical material -- currently under the baleful care of our nemesis, Christoper de Hamel -- but 6,700 books from dissolved monasteries still seems an awful lot. After all, they weren't considered particularly valuable -- downright dangerous to own for the most part -- at that early date.

Unless as part of a considered programme but that raises a different problem: they must have been taken in 1536-40; they must have been somewhere for the next ten years, they must have been somewhere between c 1550 and c 1580. On yer bike, Borry. To Athelney and beyond!
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Hatty
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The manuscript of The Life of Alfred hadn't yet been written in the 1530s/1540s. The British Library doesn't put it so baldly of course, instead they summon up a couple of likely names to have been previous owners

The history of the Cotton manuscript itself is quite complex. The list of early writers above mentions that it may have been in the possession of at least two of them. It was owned by John Leland, the antiquary, in the 1540s. It probably became available after the dissolution of the monasteries, in which the property of many religious houses was confiscated and sold. Leland died in 1552 and it is known to have been in the possession of Matthew Parker from some time after that until his own death in 1575

The point is, Leland and his fellow antiquarians never mention the Life but since the manuscript itself conveniently disappears 'in the 1731 fire', no-one can prove or disprove ownership. But why pick on Leland? Because he was the 'King's antiquary' and he's famous for his Itineraries 1538-43. Though it's not certain that he itinerated, leastways not in our book

Although Leland's Itinerary notes remained unpublished until the eighteenth century, they provided a significant quarry of data and descriptions for William Camden's Britannia (first edition, 1586), and many other antiquarian works.

Hang on. If the Itinerary remained unpublished for two centuries, how do we know the notes were written by Leland? Because there's a letter...

In the mid-1540s, Leland wrote a letter to Henry VIII in which he outlined his achievements so far, and his future plans. It was subsequently published by John Bale in 1549 (with Bale's own additional commentary) under the title The laboryouse journey & serche of Johan Leylande for Englandes antiquitees. The letter has traditionally (following Bale) been regarded as a "New Year's gift" to the King for January 1546, but James Carley has shown that it must have been composed in late 1543 or early 1544 (so that if it was presented at the new year, which is not certain, it would have been in 1544).

...and we owe the knowledge of its existence to a Protestant polemicist, John Bale. Bale may have been the main (only?) cataloguer of British writers and the inventor of the English History play, but even so one wonders how he got his mitts on a letter to Henry VIII purportedly written by Leland

He wrote the oldest known historical verse drama in English (on the subject of King John), and developed and published a very extensive list of the works of British authors down to his own time, just as the monastic libraries were being dispersed.

The play about King John may not have been written by John Bale, being of dubious provenance, i.e. listed by Bale himself in his work on illustrious writers, Illustrium maioris Britanniae scriptorum... summarium (1548), and subsequently thought to be 'lost' until it was bought by Frederic Madden, Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum. (We've come across Madden already as the person who 'identified' a roomful of charred documents as the remnants of the Cotton Library 1731 fire)

Kynge Johan is now signalled principally for its 'importance' and is certainly more studied than read; but before 1832 it was no more than a title.

... In January 1832 Frederic Madden, visiting the collector Dawson Turner at Yarmouth, was shown a manuscript belonging to an unnamed friend of Turner's, which he identified as 'a Morality called King John, written at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign'. Turner's friend, who had lent the manuscript to him for an opinion six years earlier, was William Stevenson Fitch of Ipswich, a self-taught Suffolk antiquary and -- in an era of light-fingered amateurs -- a remarkably brazen rogue.
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Boreades


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Mick Harper wrote:
We constantly come across quite obscure gentry libraries that were able to put together 'thousands' of rare manuscripts and books in quick time apparently as a matter of routine.


I do appreciate your scepticism, accustomed as you are to "all good libraries" being in big city centres.

But consider this as a scenario:

In our own lifetimes, we've witnessed some nationalised industries being privatised. The employees, at least to begin with, all stayed with the industry. But what happened back in the time of Henry VIII when he dissolved the monasteries, abbeys and priories? What happened to all the bishops and monks? That's the ones that had been gainfully employed in the scriptoriums producing (some might say) a fine mix of great works of art, copies of old stuff, and a proportion of forgeries on demand.

Where did they go? Were they turfed out on their ears, no longer holding a bishopric (or any kind of *ric). Perhaps forced to work in private industry (infamy, infamy), or just roaming the countryside, clerical odd-jobbing? They probably didn't get issued with a wheelbarrow to take away their favourite books.

13 January 1556 ... John Dee sent a supplication to Queen Mary imploring "the recovery and preservation of ancient writers and monuments". Wisely couching his request in terms of the desecration of the old religion, Dee probably hoped that Mary would be as willing to restore the old learning as she was to restore the old faith.


Dee writes:

Amongs the exceeding many most lamentable displeasures, that have of late happened unto this realm, through the subverting of religious houses, and the dissolution of other assemblies of godly and learned men, it has been, and for ever, among all learned students, shall be judged, not for the least calamity, the spoile and destruction of so many and so notable libraries, wherein lay the treasure of all Antiquity, and the everlasting seeds of continual excellency in this your Grace's realm.


Academic pleading and begging bowl perhaps - more finance required? But, whoops!...

She actually sent commissioners to the universities to ensure that no books prejudicial to the Catholic religion remained in their libraries.


Bit of a backfire, mentioning her grandfather's dissolution of the monasteries?

The antiquary John Leland had tried something similar, writing to Thomas Cromwell in 1536.

and begged for his assistance in the task of preserving the books that were being dispersed and destroyed during the spoliation of the English monasteries.


In a preface published with Leland's New Year's Gift 1546, John Bale wrote:

If there had been in every shire of England, but one solemn library to the preservation of these noble works and preferment of good learnings on our posterity, it had yet been somewhat. But to destroy all without consideration, is and will be unto England for ever, a most horrible infamy among the grave senyours of other nations. A great number of them which purchased those superstitious mansions, rescued of those library books, some to serue their iakes, some to scoure their candlesticks, and some to rub their boots. Some they sold to grocers and soapsellers. And some they sent overseas to the bookbinders, and not in small numbers, but at time whole ships full, to the wonderings of the foreign nations. yea, the universities of this realm are not all clear in this detestable fact.


The best pickings of these wholesale clearances or job lots from the dissolved monasteries would (surely) have gone to the best-connected gentry and squires closest to the dissolved monasteries. Not necessarily in the cities as we now expect.

Does Bale's comment "sent overseas to the bookbinders" perhaps mean places like Antwerp?
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Mick Harper
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I can't take serious issue with any of this, though I've never claimed that good libraries were in cities -- they were in monasteries, universities and palaces until well late. It's the "if you build it, they will come" syndrome I object to. As soon as some gent (or often a royal) demands a library, thousands of rare books turn up on cue. Rare books, remember, all libraries will have lots of books. So when you say

The best pickings of these wholesale clearances or job lots from the dissolved monasteries would (surely) have gone to the best-connected gentry and squires closest to the dissolved monasteries. Not necessarily in the cities as we now expect.

I quite agree but then how were they rounded up and taken off to Corpus Christi? Yes, Mathew Parker had a commission but the English gentry of the sixteenth century weren't in the habit of handing over their gear lightly, and Elizabeth wasn't famous for her glad-handing generosity. It's not a smoking gun or anything, just something that's needs sceptical enquiry.
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Hatty
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A British Library blog has an interesting perspective on Leonardo da Vinci's manuscripts. Da Vinci famously used mirror writing, from left to right, which some people have interpreted as a code.

The BL blog points out that da Vinci would have been well aware of the invention of the printing press

Leonardo had an intense interest in machines of all kinds and spent a lot of his time inventing new ones, both on paper and as actual constructions. It seems unlikely that the printing press, one of the dominant new technologies of the time, would have escaped his attention.

Ishmael pointed out how writing is reversed in the printing process so Leonardo might have prepared his notebooks for printing, by a publisher or self-publishing.

A drawing in the Codex Atlanticus shows us his improved version of a printing press, which would in effect have semi-automated the process and meant that only one ‘pressman’, rather than the normal pair, would have been needed to operate the machine. Curiously, there seems to be no reference in any of Leonardo’s work to Gutenberg’s principal invention of moveable type (the printing press itself was merely a variant of a wine or olive press, machines which had been familiar for many centuries).

If Leonardo did ever visit a printing house, it is intriguing to speculate what might have run through his mind as he watched compositors setting type line by line exactly as he himself wrote by hand, in ‘mirror script’, going from right to left, and reversing all the letters.

https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2019/09/leonardo-da-vinci-from-manuscript-to-print.html

Then, immediately following this insight, the blog states that Leonardo was left-handed and therefore felt 'most comfortable' writing from left to right. I couldn't tell if historians know or are simply guessing about Leonardo's left-handedness but whether or not the notebooks were written for publication, they could be read in a mirror and, along with his contemporaries, Da Vinci presumably knew about and used camera obscura. That's assuming of course the notebooks were written by Leonardo.

the manuscript itself disappeared from view for over two centuries

It's hard to say after two centuries in which they were variously arranged, 'dispersed', lost and eventually, yes, published.
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