Jaunts, Jottings, and Jetsam in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

Jaunts, Jottings, and Jetsam in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

Pulsian, Phillip

Florilegium, Volume 19 (2002)


A pageant of curiosities and dynamic images inhabits the margins of manuscripts, sometimes ornamenting, sometimes competing, sometimes commenting on the text they surround. They are a commonplace of codicological study, even more so since the publication of Lilian Randall’s Images in the Margins of^Gothic Manuscripts in 1966 and of Michael Camille’s Image on the Edge in 1992, which has done much to bring us to understand and interpret this panoply in ink and paint. The images these writers treat, of course, are late, and it is the more rich and entertaining margins that command the attention, such as the copulating figures in the top margin of a book of hours (New York,
Pierpont Morgan Library, M. 754, f. 65v),2 or the Christ-like figure showing forth his buttocks to a spear-wielding, monkey-like creature mounted on an ostrich in the Rudand Psalter (London, British Library, Additional 62,925, ff. 66v-67r).3 The margins of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts seem, by comparison, rather barren fields. There are certainly some notable exceptions, such as the illustrations in the Bury St Edmunds Psalter (Rome, Vatican Library, MS Reg. lat. 12),4 or perhaps those in the Exeter Book (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, ff. 78r, 87v, 123r).5 But in truth, such examples are few in number and rather sober occasions in any case, lacking the spirited, immensely entertaining, and often surprising creations that fill the margins of later manuscripts. But if the Anglo-Saxons possessed vastly different conceptions of space, margins, and response to text than later generations, we nevertheless often find in their manuscripts a quiet, typically hidden or overlooked world of text and image entered into manuscripts by Anglo-Saxon and later users of diese codices.

Click here to read this article from Florilegium

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine