The Brus, written by John Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen, in about 1375, covers the Wars of Independence waged by Robert the Bruce, and includes a vivid, early description of the Battle of Bannockburn, which will have its 700th anniversary this week.
It is one of the best-known works written in early Scots and its central theme - that freedom is a prize worth winning at all costs - has resonated in Scotland through the ages and is a poignant reminder before the Scottish Independence Referendum.
No edition of the 1,400 line poem written in Barbour’s own hand survives, but two early versions, transcribed in the 15th century, still exist. These are kept at the Library of St John’s College, in Cambridge, and at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. After centuries of use, the St John’s manuscript had become badly damaged. The great majority of its pages were torn, sections were difficult to read because of dirt and marking, and the volume was so tightly bound it could not be opened without damaging the pages further, making the document virtually unusable.
Last year, the College commissioned specialists from the Cambridge Colleges’ Conservation Consortium to conserve the text, with support from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust. Over months of painstaking work, it was systematically taken apart, cleaned, repaired and rebound in a style more appropriate to its age.
Credit: Kathryn McKee, Cambridge Colleges’ Conservation Consortium
The result is an expertly and sympathetically repaired manuscript of The Brus which scholars of the Scottish Wars, or medieval literature, will be able to use in full. Along with many of the other priceless materials in the Library’s special collections, it will also be available for visiting groups to examine, and will periodically go on public display.
“The 700th anniversary essentially gave us the impetus for doing the work,” Kathryn McKee, Special Collections Librarian at St John’s College, said. “It’s likely to result in a fresh wave of interest in Bannockburn and we wanted the book to be available in a fit state.”
The St John’s edition of The Brus was given to the College in the 1630s by Thomas, fourth Earl of Southampton. It was written in 1487, and is thought to have been transcribed by John Ramsay, Prior of the Carthusians at Perth. Quite unusually for a surviving manuscript of this time, it is written on high-quality rag paper, which, as the name suggests, was made from pulped textile rags. Unfortunately, at some point during the late 18th or early 19th century, the book was rebound rather poorly and exposed to considerable damage during the process as a result.
Although it was still regularly consulted in the years that followed, by the time the conservators were called in it was in a very fragile state. Many of the pages could barely be prised apart enough to take a photograph of their contents, without causing further damage still.
The delicate repair operation required the specialists to remove the binding, and lift the modern spine-liners and glue. Surface dirt was gently dry-cleaned from the pages, tears in the paper were repaired, and dog-eared corners flattened out. The manuscript was then resewn according to the original, 15th-century pattern, and rebound with traditional materials.
Source: Cambridge University
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Cruithne: Earth's Other 'Moon' Could Reveal Mysteries Of The Solar System
- What Does Your Gut Microbiome Have To Do With Your Immune System?
- Creepy IBM AI toy coming for Christmas—the Continuum paradox. Eerie IBM video link below.
- Men With Short Index Fingers And Long Ring Fingers Are Nicer To Women
- Big Data Tackles How Urban Movement Is Linked To Social Activity
- CRISPR: Bacterial Viral Defense Targets Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
- What Antidepressants Do To Healthy People
- "I was particularly taken with the Venera missions, sending probes into such a hostile environment..."
- "Maybe the Russian Revolution isn't such a good example. The Bolsheviks had something even more..."
- "As to self-incrimination, people cannot invoke the Fifth Amendment now to withhold certain purely..."
- "Face it, news in America took a death blow with the 2002-2003 war media love fest, The layman can't..."
- "Some interesting research out of Sweden noted that the composition of the microbiome greatly affects..."