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Read, Watch and Listen

The Westminster Psalter, London, c. 1200 (Psalter) and 1250 (tinted drawings).

Owned by Charles II. Royal 2 A. xxii, f, 14v

A Psalter for Westminster the Coronation Church

This richly illuminated book belonged to the Benedictine abbey of St Peter, Westminster, and was probably commissioned by one of the community’s high-ranking brethren. The striking image on the left, King David portrayed as author of the Psalms, was painted by an unknown artist, probably an itinerant professional. The style shows the influence of some of the greatest artists working in southern England at the time. Further tinted drawings were added fifty years later during the period of heightened local artistic activity that accompanied Henry III’s rebuilding of Westminster Abbey.

The Henry VIII Psalter, London, c. 1540. Owned by Henry VIII. Royal 2 A. xvi, f.

Henry VIII Praying in his Bedchamber

Portrayed as we might expect him to appear at the age of 49 (his age when this book was made), Henry VIII holds a book that represents this book, his own Psalter. The writing in the margin is one of the King’s many annotations; he has written in Latin, ‘note who is blessed’. Placed at the beginning of the Psalms, Henry VIII’s portrait aligns him with King David, the supposed author of the Psalms. As seen in other copies of the Psalms in this exhibition, David’s portrait typically occupies this place in Psalters.

The Secretum secretorum, London, 1326–27. Purchased for the nation in 1952. Additional 47680, ff. 10v-11

How to be a King

Prince Edward’s Manual of Kingship

The king’s clerk Walter of Milemete commissioned this manuscript of the Secretum secretorum (Secret of Secrets) as a gift for the future Edward III. In the Middle Ages the Secretum compendium of knowledge for a king was believed to be a work that the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle had composed for his pupil Alexander the Great. Here, Alexander receives the book from a messenger who bears on his girdle the heraldic arms used by Prince Edward when Earl of Chester. In the lower margins, Edward’s arms are accompanied by those of his father, Edward II, and his two uncles.

La Grande histoire César. Bruges, 1479. Owned by Edward IV. Royal 17 F. ii, f. 9r

A Biography of Julius Caesar

The scribe of this manuscript wrote that it was made in Bruges in 1479 by order of the ‘treshault, tres excellent, et tres victorieux prince’ (very exalted, excellent and victorious prince) Edward IV. The copyist included a French biography of Julius Caesar, long popular with the nobility, as well as two additions that may have been made at the King’s request – an account of the reign of Augustus and a list of Roman emperors. The opening illustration shows Caesar’s fabled birth by Caesarian section, a term derived from this event.

Jean de Wavrin, Recueil des croniques d'Engleterre, vol. 1. Bruges, c. 1475.

Owned by Edward IV. Royal 15 E. iv, f. 14r

Edward IV: Founder of the Old Royal Library

A Chronicle of English History

Among the most impressive and lavishly illustrated of Edward IV’s collection of historical texts are two volumes containing part of the Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre (Chronicle of England) by Jean de Wavrin. Monumental in scale, this compilation in French prose told the history of Britain from its legendary origins to the reign of Edward IV. Its completion took the noble author the last 25 years of his life. In the first volume (displayed here) a large illustration shows Wavrin presenting his book to Edward IV.

Thomas Hoccleve, Regement of Princes, England, c. 1430–38

Owned by Prince Henry Frederick (d. 1612), Royal 17 D. vi, f. 40.

A Book of Advice for Prince Harry

The author Thomas Hoccleve is shown here presenting his book, the Regement of Princes, to the future Henry V. He completed this poem of instruction and political advice in 1410–11, when Henry IV was incapacitated by illness and Prince Henry governing on his behalf. None of the surviving copies of the Regement of Princes seems to be the book that Thomas Hoccleve presented to the Prince. This manuscript belonged to William Fitz Alan, Earl of Arundel, and bears his coats of arms.

Matthew Paris, maps from the Historia Anglorum and Chronica Maiora, St Albans, c. 1250.

Owned by Prince Henry Frederick (d. 1612), Royal 14 C. vii, f. 4v

The World’s Knowledge

Route-Map to the Holy Land

The St Albans monk Matthew Paris (died 1259) never made the journey to the Holy Land. He did however draw a fascinating map of the pilgrimage route from England to Jerusalem. It is displayed on four parchment sheets and divided in seven sections that allow the viewer to follow in the footsteps of a medieval pilgrim. The route begins in London and progresses from the bottom to the top of each page. The final destination is the Holy Land depicted on two leaves.

Jean Rotz, Boke of Idrography, Dieppe and England, c. 1535-42

Royal 20 E. ix, f. 28.

Henry VIII’s Atlas

Jean Rotz, an expert compiler of sea charts and navigator from Dieppe, left the court of Francis I of France to enter the service of Henry VIII. In 1542, he presented his Boke of Idrography to the English monarch, wishing to provide a ‘recreation of the king’s mind’. The volume was also a tool for learning some of the principles of navigation and discovering the countries of the world and their inhabitants. Rotz’s atlas contains 11 regional charts. Here, the map of the coast of Brazil includes an ethnographically precise depiction of a village and several activities of the Tupinamba tribe.

Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings. England (East Anglia?), c. 1300–07; (addition) c. 1340–42. Owned by Henry VIII Royal 14 B. vi

Royal Identities

Genealogy of the Dukes of Normandy

This royal genealogy gives unprecedented visual prominence to the ancestors of William the Conqueror. The family line of the dukes of Normandy extends from Rollo (died around 932), to Henry I, with Matilda (labelled Maud) to their left. By this means the creators of the genealogy highlighted the important dynastic change that resulted from the Conqueror’s invasion of England. They also integrated his Norman lineage into the line of English royal succession.

The Lancelot-Grail Cycle, Northern France or Flanders (St Omer or Tournai), c. 1315-25. Owned by Henry VIII. Royal 14 E. iii, f. 89

King Arthur and the Holy Grail

The Quest for the Holy Grail, the mythical chalice containing Christ’s blood, is at the centre of this beautifully illustrated collection of tales that ends with the downfall of King Arthur. The texts in this volume combine chivalric and Christian legend and omit frivolous exploits involving damsels, thereby appealing to a high-minded aristocratic patron. On the right-hand page, Lancelot is pictured taking leave of Arthur and Guinevere and later knighting his son, Galahad, who will complete the quest.