Humanities - In the spotlight

Royal Manuscripts

What is it?

The British Library's first major exhibition (which runs from 11 November to 13 March) of this treasure trove of illuminated manuscripts collected by the kings and queens of England will debunk the myth that these were the "Dark Ages".

Created between the 9th and 16th centuries, the exquisite artefacts form the best-surviving collection of medieval painting in England.

But they also unlock the secrets of the private lives and public personae of the royals who commissioned them, offering a vivid understanding of royal identity, moral and religious beliefs, learning, faith and international politics of the period.

Who will appreciate it?

Anyone with a love of history or art. But there are also specific workshops designed for primary and secondary students in history, art and religious education. Ninety-minute sessions take place in the exhibition space and include a series of activities led by a workshop leader.

There are also events for primary and secondary history teachers in November January. To register your interest, email

Anything else?

Highlights include:

- The manuscripts of Edward lV, now best remembered, if at all, as the father of the "little princes" (a medieval lion's skull found at the Tower of London is a quirkier exhibit), but who is regarded as the founder of the Old Royal library.

- Henry VIII's psalter (c 1540) in which the monarch, who wished to be identified with the biblical King David, is seen in a portrait in his bed chamber holding a book. He was 49 at the time and looking his age.

- There are numerous interactive elements to the exhibition: for example, visitors will be able to "turn the pages" of a 13th century bestiary - a book of real and imaginary beasts.

For more information visit or register for the online newsletter at



For more medieval musings, why not try Naomi Rowan's summary of secular or sacred music during the period. If you want to try a creative approach, marsoma has shared an adaptable scheme of work for illuminated letter designs.

In the forums

Teachers discuss original artwork, artefacts and illuminated paintings.

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