Monday, 29 July 2013

Conserving medieval registers

This week your blogger caught up with Katerina, our free-lance conservator here at Worcester Cathedral Library. Currently, Katerina is working on a project funded by a charitable trust to repair twenty medieval registers, and some post-medieval registers.  The purpose in repairing the registers is to make them more usable for researchers.

On Friday, Katerina was working on A. 24, a register from 1501-1510. A.24 is a register of leases and tithe payments, relating exclusively to land in Devon. There is a bit of a mystery  behind this register. The Cathedral priory, to our knowledge, never held any land in Devon, so we are all a bit stumped as to how or why this register which solely pertains to Devonshire properties has ended up at Worcester!

Nonetheless, I was interested to learn more about the construction of this register, and find out how Katerina will go about repairing it. Here’s what I found out.
Photograph, A.24. You can see the limp vellum cover and along the bottom of two tackets made of twilled parchment. These bind the quires to the cover. Photograph by K. Powell, conservator. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
 A.24 is a register is made up of two thick paper quires, tacketed or bound to a limp vellum cover, pictured above. The lower page has a flap on its outer edge. This flap would have originally wrapped around the register, and probably have been tied with an alum tawed skin tie, to offer additional protection. The vellum cover appears to have been re-used, and evidence of an earlier binding can be seen in holes on the front and back covers. This re-used vellum cover even has some earlier writing on it, which I have not attempted to decipher (yet.)

Photograph, A.24. You can see the severe curling of the edge of the leaves, and imagine the difficulty Caterina must have trying to unfold them all. Photograph by K. Powell, conservator. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

The binding was not done by a professional but more likely in house, perhaps at Worcester. It is an early type of stationary binding, a very basic construction. The tackets (the bits that hold the pages to its cover) are made from twirled parchment and run through two layers of parchment stays.
What I found interesting about A.24 is that, although the cover and the binding are made from parchment, the text-block or quires are all made of paper. This is probably because late medieval writers clung to using parchment as a binding material, often believing it to be far stronger than paper.

There is a large amount of surface dirt on both the binding and the text-block. Therefore, the first stage of conservation is cleaning. As a substantial portion of the text-block has edges that are severely curled, Katerina has to painstakingly uncurl the edges before she can begin the cleaning process with a smoke sponge. The cleaning process for A.24 will take Katerina one day.
Photograph, an earlier conservation project. Manuscript being undergoing treatment with gortex. Photograph by K. Powell, conservator. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
The next stage after cleaning is humidifying the paper. The pages will be humidified in a Gore-Tex and capillary matting sandwich. The matting is a polyester wadding like material which holds the moisture, Gore-Tex lets a small amount of the moisture through and gently humidifies the paper. Two pages can be humidified at the same time. The pages are then pressed between blotting papers until dry. This will flatten the curled edges.
The second issue needing attention is the tears that have resulted from the severe curling of the edges of the pages. These will be repaired by Katerina using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Japanese paper is especially useful in conservation because of its long fibres, which make it very strong and well suited to repair work.
Broadly speaking, Katerina uses Japanese paper along the grain on the tears because it shrinks less when used this way. For larger repairs to the text-block she often uses Japanese paper across the grain because this maximizes the strength of the repair.
A.24 will be completed over the next month, leaving around ten more registers to conserve. We are very grateful to Katerina and her colleagues for their continuing help and hard work. The medieval registers are one of a number of conservation projects we are currently involved in. The link below provides information on some of our other conservation work. If you feel that you would like to support the ongoing conservation work at Worcester Cathedral Library, click this link to find out how:

Friday, 19 July 2013

Richard III: The Tyrant King?

Researched and edited by Joshua S. Baker-Cox and Henry H. Partridge.
For the full names of authors mentioned, and their books used, see the bibliography.

Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Dean and Chapter
of Worcester Cathedral (UK).
This depiction of Richard is taken from Raymond's History of England

Richard III is frequently portrayed as this vilified, even dehumanized manner. However, is this really the case?
A great deal of our modern vision of this last Plantagenet king is due to anti-Plantagenet propaganda under the Tudor monarchs. Rous, a historian contemporaneous with both Richard III and Henry VII is a prime example of this Tudor-propagated image, having written of Richard that he was ‘a great man’ during his reign, and then later adopting the Tudor view of the corrupted monster who ‘disgraced’ the English throne. Another fine instance of Tudor propaganda that has affected the popular view of Richard III was the tampering of both contemporary and Tudor-era paintings to over exaggerate his physical deformities such as his crooked spine and withered arm. Given the anti-Ricardian bias presented by Shakespeare and historians since the Battle of Bosworth, it is easy to see why this image has crept into popular imagination. But, setting aside historical aspersions on his character and physical appearance, is this truly the real Richard III?
Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).
This depiction, also taken from Raymond, shows Richard III with his 'withered arm'. 

Evidence that supports the Tudor-endorsed view includes Richard’s threat to decapitate Lord Stanley’s son (whom he was given as a hostage) prior to the Battle of Bosworth due to his father’s reluctance to fight loyally for his king outright, and Richard’s only being prevented from this action by the pleas of councillors and the sentiment that he could potentially deal with opposition after the battle, as well as the multiple rebellions, social unrest, and executions of rival nobility like the Duke of Buckingham, beheaded without trial, that marked his reign. Of course, the most notable and infamous decision of Richard’s life is perceived to be his possible involvement in the deaths of his two princely nephews in the Tower. While it is implied in several letters (Raymond and Rapin both make reference to these letters) that Richard may have enquired into the possibility of removing potential threats to his rule such as the princes, this has never been proved for certain and was definitely emphasized by Tudor-era propaganda. Finally, popular opinion was against Richard even in his lifetime, as shown when, after his wife Anne died, he was accused of poisoning her for his own advantage, meaning that his unpopularity was rife even before the over exaggerations of the Tudor era took hold.

Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK). This is a monastic account roll from Worcester Cathedral priory belonging to William Dene, Master of the Chapel, 1483-1484, years 1-2 of Richard III 
However, despite Raymond’s depiction as a ‘tyrant’ and ‘usurper’, the emphasis placed on Richard’s darker qualities by Tudor historians cannot be relied upon for factual evidence. He was greatly loved in the north and particularly by the people of York. His attempts to engage Henry Tudor’s forces before their numbers could grown with additional support shows a strategic brilliance and excellent military command, whilst his laws to protect the poor and uphold the permanence of the law in England show a passion for justice. Much of the propaganda levied against him is unproven, and therefore choosing to go upon this view to construct any decision would not do the last English king true justice. At the end of Rapin’s ‘History of England’ (in the cathedral library) the writer shows a considerably modern approach to historical Ricardianism, stating that these aforementioned points would have perhaps led to a better kingship had he possessed a tighter grip on the throne and on popular opinion. All accounts of Richard’s death in battle agree on the point that he showed ‘uncommon valour’ and courage in the face of opposition, even unto the moment of his last breath. ‘Thus fell Richard of York, king of England, in the thirty-fourth year of his life’.’(Rapin).
Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK). This is a property document between three citizens of Worcester, John Broke, Richard Petur and his wife Alice, on the 28th of January, 1484, the first year of Richard III's reign. This is in the Worcester Cathedral Archives.


Rubin, Miri: The Hollow Crown.
Penguin Books 2006.
ISBN: 13 978-0—140-14825—1.

Raymond, George Frederick: A New, Universal and Impartial History of England, from the earliest authentic records, and most genuine historical evidence, to the summer of the year 1785.

De Thoyras, Rapin: A History of England, written in French, translated into English with additional notes by N. Tindal, N. A. Vicar of Great Walton in Essex. 2nd Edition, Volume I.

Richard III to Henry VII. Correspondences from the one to the other through letters written in Richard’s last year of rule.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Sir John Moore's Campaign in Spain

The book ‘Moore’s Campaign in Spain’, which is held by Worcester Cathedral Library, is an account of Sir John Moore’s actions in the Peninsular War of 1808-1809, in which Britain was allied to Spain and Portugal against Napoleon’s forces. The book’s author, James Moore, uses letters written to and by his brother to refute “ungenerous attacks and dark insinuations” that followed Moore’s death, regarding his military decisions during the campaign.
Photograph of Sir John Moore from Moore's Campaign in Spain. Photograph reproduced by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
Excluding his retreat and defence of Coruna, where he died, Moore is probably most famous for his role within army reform, as he introduced light infantry regiments such as the Rifles. Despite considerable criticism of his military decisions at the time of his death, Sir John Moore is now remembered for his valiant leadership in the Peninsular War, and throughout his military career. His bravery and courage were recognised, surprisingly by Marshal Soult, his French counterpart, who ordered a monument to be erected to his fallen enemy in respect and remembrance for a man whose campaign had been steeped in adversity.

Whereas modern warfare is largely governed by tactics, with military operations being decided based upon the likelihood of victory or expected casualties, early 19th Century warfare was predominantly governed by the availability of food and the conditions of transport routes, as demonstrated by Moore’s campaign.

The massive consumption of the British Army, exemplified by the prediction that in three months of warfare, “all the oxen would be consumed and very few hogs would remain in the country”, meant that the military convoy was forced to travel through the north of Portugal, where food supplies were more plentiful. Additionally, the need for rapid transport of weaponry to the front lines across the rugged Spanish and Portuguese landscape  limited transport to the main routes across the mountains, making them vulnerable to attack.

These decisions resulted in the massive loss of life, including that of Sir John Moore himself, at the battle of Coruna. It is therefore easy to see how the necessity of obtaining sufficient supplies determined the outcome of wars during this period.
Photograph of an engraving of Cornua. The caption reads "A view of the British and  French position". Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Although the content and intentions of this book are obviously serious, the descriptions of the Spanish do, in retrospect, prove amusing. James Moore says that “the disposition to exaggerate in Spain is such that it is difficult even now to ascertain what was the number of its army”, which contained “few officers who deserved the name”. Despite their shortcomings, when the British Army was forced to roll trunks containing £25,000 over a precipice as it was too heavy to transport when travelling quickly to try to outpace the French, it was apparently the Spanish peasantry who stumbled upon the money.

Why this book is held in the Cathedral’s Library still remains a mystery. The only significant link to Worcester is that Moore’s daughter married into the Dancy family, who have lived in and near to Worcester for many generations, so it is possible this book was donated to the Library by one of his descendents.

By Carys Aldous-Hughes.