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Picture-books, Politics & Pedagogy: Illustrating Histories for a Young Reader, 1338-40 (British Library, Egerton MS 3028)

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Jeffs, Amy 


Egerton MS 3028 (dated 1338-40, hereafter Egerton) contains three illustrated Anglo- Norman poems: the Roman de Brut (Wace’s translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain) and two Fierabras narratives, set in the age of Charlemagne. The former is continued to the years 1338-40 and its conclusion is partisan, celebrating Edward II and the Despensers and praying for Edward III’s victory. Egerton’s poems span 118 folios and are illustrated with 120 pen and wash miniatures. The use of the royal heraldry of England and France throughout encourages the volume to be read in the light of the contemporary Anglo-French conflict.

The present study reviews and builds upon the little scholarly attention Egerton has received to date. It explores its close relationship with Hannover MS IV 578, the nature of the Brut’s textual adaptations, how these adaptations were shaped for its imagery, and for whom it may have been made. I argue Egerton was produced for a young male reader of the English nobility. I suggest that reader was Edmund Fitzalan, son of Isabel le Despenser and Richard Fitzalan, 3rd Earl of Arundel. Egerton’s political agenda reflects that of the small corpus of earlier illustrated Brut manuscripts. In appearance, however, it is most like manuscripts containing illustrated tales of ancient military adventure, which I argue preserve the legacy of Greek paideia. The effect of combining these traditions is to imply Edward III’s wars have legendary potential, while offering an entertaining catalogue of historical exempla. In several of the manuscripts I discuss, including Egerton, medieval readers have pierced images of traitors with pins and blades. The damage reveals sensitivity to contemporary metaphors surrounding kingship. Moreover, it reinforces the sense that Egerton is a member of a corpus of books defined not by textual genre but by intended function, a function to which images were instrumental.





Binski, Paul


Medieval, Medieval Literature, Medieval Art, Medieval Art History, Paideia, Reception, Manuscripts, Medieval Manscript, Manuscript Studies, Narrative Art, Illustrating Literature, Book Art, Illumination, Pen and Wash, Pedagogy, Chivalry, Medieval Children's Literature, Children's Literature, Chansons de Geste, Fierabras, Roman de Brut, Matter of Britain, Matter of France, Wace, Charlemagne, Arthur, Merlin, Models, Copying, Hundred Years' War, Brut, Geoffrey of Monmouth


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Full Scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)