In Illuminations: The Private Lives of the Medieval Kings BBC Four will tell the story of the Medieval monarchy as preserved through stunning illuminated manuscripts from the British Library’s Royal Manuscripts collection which contains some of the most priceless documents in the country’s history. Some of these manuscripts were commissioned by the Medieval Kings to burnish their legacies. Others were captured as war booty, and handed down from one dynasty to the next. Together they make up a fascinating record of the role of the king and the role of the country as it became a major power at the heart of Europe. This new 3×60 series presented by renowned art historian Dr Janina Ramirez, and produced by Oxford Film and Television will explore the extraordinary art and culture of the period.
Many important illuminated Royal manuscripts will be captured on film for the first time as part of the BBC’s ongoing collaboration with the British Library and in conjunction with the Library’s latest exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination (www.bl.uk/royal). Dr Ramirez will decode and contextualise the manuscripts and in doing so will bring the monarchy of the Middle Ages back to life with the help of Library experts and series consultant Dr Scot McKendrick, Head of History and Classics at the British Library and lead curator of the exhibition. Many of these treasures have not been seen for hundreds of years so their secrets are fresh to the modern eye.
For Dr Scot McKendrick: “There is no doubt that this collection held by the British Library provides us all with unique opportunities to explore in-depth the lives of our Kings from the medieval period. The beauty and ingenuity of these manuscripts, that have stood the test of time, also tells us a great deal about a relatively forgotten period of our history. We are delighted to be telling this fascinating story through the British Library’s exhibition and through this mesmerising series with BBC Four.”
The series runs chronologically beginning with the unification of England under King Athelstan in the 10th Century, covering the 100 Years War with France, and ending with the brutal magnificence of Henry VIII. Spanning 800 years, the British Library’s Royal Manuscripts collection holds a clear message: a medieval king had to project a powerful identity to keep his place at home and to win abroad, and these amazing documents capture the dynastic struggles each ruler faced. From the rueful footnote detailing Edward II’s demise ‘I am called the tumbledown king and all the world mocks me’, to Henry VIII’s scribbled love notes to Anne Boleyn in the margins of his Book of Hours, we see a succession of kings battling to shape an unruly nation and battling sometimes for their lives.
Across the series Dr Ramirez will discover some of the most remarkable art works in our history. These were the elite artefacts of their day made by the premier artists. Embellished with gold, painted in jewel-like colours, they took months, even years to produce, and were priceless beyond compare. One of the books she encounters, the Liber Regalis has powerful contemporary relevance because it has been used in every Coronation service since 1380, including that of our present Queen. Dr Ramirez will argue that some of these pieces deserve to be ranked with the Tower of London or Westminster Abbey as treasures of our cultural heritage and Royal legacy – they are as stunning and as important.
Richard Klein, Controller of BBC Four, commented: “The story of the Medieval Kings was captured through beautiful manuscripts that remain as vibrant today as when they were first penned. BBC Four will recreate that world, drawing on Dr Janina Ramirez’ in-depth expert knowledge, to decode the manuscripts. It is a privilege to be able to offer viewers the first chance to see these manuscripts in all their glory on television through our collaboration with The British Library. ”
“The story of the Medieval Kings was captured through beautiful manuscripts that remain as vibrant today as when they were first penned. BBC Four will recreate that world, drawing on Dr Janina Ramirez’ in-depth expert knowledge, to decode the manuscripts. It is a privilege to be able to offer viewers the first chance to see these manuscripts in all their glory on television through our collaboration with The British Library. ”
The BBC creates partnerships with the arts sector that go beyond broadcast, from sharing expertise to widening public engagement in UK arts. BBC Four’s relationship with the British Library is part of an on-going programme of collaborative work agreed in 2009 by Mark Thompson and Dame Lynne Brindley. The relationship’s aims include developing new ways of integrating access to nearly a million hours of BBC TV and radio content and more than 150 million British Library items – which will significantly increase access to research material for the benefit of researchers and the wider public.
The first episode examines the illuminated manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon rulers who created a united England. It will air on BBC 4 on Monday, January 9th.
Source: British Library