The Oddest Accidents We Have Found in Medieval Books

Impish designs like this were common in medieval books
Featured image by Erik Kwakkel via Twitter

Many decided their manuscripts were the best place to practice doodles…

It’s where medieval scribes practiced their doodles and tested their quill pens. Many of these doodles were quite whimsical, Erik Kwakkel, a professor of Book History at the iSchool at the University of British Columbia notes. Perhaps the artist above was having a good laugh. Or perhaps he was testing his quill. Bird feathers were the common writing instruments of the day and scribes in medieval times waxed elegant and humorous. As in the drawing above these drawings were often incorporated inside capital letters.

But in many cases, that last page is a beginning, rather than an ending. Kwakkel notes this is the page where we find out the most about the book’s author. The place where the scribe informed readers where he gleaned his information. This page was also where writers tested that new quill, which needed to be cut several times a day.

And beautiful images like the one below were the result.

This book was blessed with elegant ink sketches
This author tested a new quill by drawing some elegant ink sketches. Image phot by Erik Kwakkel via Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL MS 111 I, 14th-century doodles

That last page of the book was the place for artistic flights of fancy, Kwakkel notes.

“Thus the last page of the book becomes a test ground for artistic creations; it makes for an attractive last thing to glance at before closing the book,” he writes.

These wondrous medieval manuscripts provide us with a glimpse into a world long vanished. Full of familiar things and yet so far removed from the lives we live today. Our beloved books now have safe harbor in our public libraries, and on our night tables and bookshelves. Precisely where they belong.

 

Where did we find our stuff? Here are our sources:

Bodleian Library University of Oxford

History of the Bodleian

“Unusual things found in medieval manuscripts.” The Official Website for BBC History Magazine and BBC World Histories Magazine, March 19, 2018.

“‘Do Not Give Your Books to Children’ and other medieval tips for taking care of books.” The Dutch Anglo-Saxonist/Blog and Homepage of Thijs Porck, June 24, 2016.

“Centuries Ago, A Cat Walked Across This Medieval Manuscript,” Smithsonian.com, March 12, 2013

“Medieval Book Historian Erik Kwakkel Discovers and Catalogs 800-year-old Doodles in Some of the World’s Oldest Books.” Colossal, October 2, 2014.

“Young Hands, Old Books: Drawings By Children in A Fourteenth-Century Manuscript, LJS MS. 361.” Cogent Arts and Humanities, June 29, 2016.

“Medieval Eye Candy.” Erik Kwakkel/Tumblr, 2013.

“Serious Fun,” Erik Kwakkel/Tumblr, 2015

“Early Printed Book Contains Rare Evidence Of Medieval Spectacles.” Ransom Center Magazine, April 17, 2012.

“Medieval Glasses Hidden in A Book.” Erik Kwakkel/Tumblr, 2013.

“What Is The First Folio?” Folger Shakespeare Library

“The Making of A Medieval Book” (Getty Exhibitions)

Featured image by Erik Kwakkel via Twitter

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