A Right Pain (Mmm… Marginalia #105)

As faithful fans of Terry Pratchett know well, the hedgehog can never be buggered at all. Behold, a poor marginal monkey who just learned that the converse does not hold:

Though, I suppose he might’ve just mistaken the hedgehog for a tuffet. Painful either way.

The manuscript in which the pair appear can today be found in the British Library (MS Royal 15E iv), a late fifteenth century edition of Jean de Wavrin’s Anciennes et nouvelles chroniques d’Angleterre probably comissioned by Louise de Gruuthuse, a Flemish courtier who was gaga for illuminated manuscripts. Louise’s annual bill from the finest Flemish manuscript houses was second only to Phillip the Good’s,* and between the two of them, they accounted for almost all the business the most skilled Flemish illuminators could possibly handle. Louise so loved grand multi-volume histories, he would’ve been a sucker for travelling encyclopedia salesmen–if only they’d** been invented–or the Time Life series as seen on TV.***

Jean de Wavrin’s chronicle begins with an adaptation of material from Geoffrey of Monmouth, who I understand is all the rage these days with the in crowd. The breakdown in hedgehog-monkey relations depicted in the margin may have been intended as a bit of a commentary on the main image on the page, which shows Cadwallo, one of the last kings of Britain according to Geoffrey, losing to the well-armed Saxon soldier, an ass kicking that may have suggested a different sort of rear-entry pain to our clever illuminator.

Overall, this illuminator was fairly sparing with the marginal critters. Most of the time it’s just leaves and pinwheels and fruit and such. So any deviation from the pervasive dullness calls out for attention, just as a monkey with a butt full of spines might. Poor guy. Will he ever be able to play the trumpet again?

[Thanks to my secret spies deep within the BL for tipping me off to this one.]

  1. * The Duke of Burgundy who’s way more famous than Louise on account of his troops’ having captured Joan of Arc. []
  2. ** Imprecise pronoun reference? Not at all. Neither encyclopedias nor travelling salesmen had been invented. []
  3. *** Likewise, medieval TV advertisements were far too primitive for infomercials, of course, and bankers would not perfect the technology of pricing in easy installments of $19.95 until the end of the Restoration. []

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  • Anonymous

    Wonderful stuff! (Found you via Guardian link — took ages to read all the back posts). BTW shouldn’t that Flemish courtier be Louis, if he’s male?

  • Jen Grinnell

    Is that a monkey, or a bear? I guess many scribes had to use their imagination to conjure a monkey.

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    Arrived via BoingBoing.

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