Book Reviews

Book Review: Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination

By Scot McKendrick. John Lowden and Kathleen Doyle
British Library, 2011
ISBN: 9780712358163

In late 2011 and early 2012 the British Library hosted a special exhibition entitled Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. This treasure trove of illuminated manuscripts was collected by the kings and queens of England between the 9th and 16th centuries. In conjunction with this exhibition, the British Library has published a catalogue, which showcases over one hundred and fifty of the works from the exhibition.

The first part of the book contains three essays – the first by John Lowden, examines how English kings came to possess these manuscripts, many of which came as gifts. Scott McKendrick then focuses on the late medieval period, and the books and manuscripts collected from the European continent. The final essay, by Kathleen Doyle, details the efforts by English kings, notably Edward IV and Henry VIII to establish a royal collection and library, and how these invaluable manuscripts were preserved for centuries.


The second part of the book features 154 manuscripts, including gospels, psalters, chronicles and Books of Hours. Each item is given one to the three pages of description, plus at least one full page reproduction of an image from the work. These images reveal how beautiful and fascinating medieval art could be – one can see images of kings, depictions from the bible, maps of the world, and even scenes of daily life.

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination makes for a good compliment to those who have had the chance to view the exhibition, adding indepth details about this collection as well as dozens of wonderful images from the Middle Ages.


Click here to purchase Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination from the British Library

Click here to learn more about the Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination exhibition