As the seasons turn so do the pages of books on display in the Galleries, and Amelia, Galleries Events and Marketing Assistant, takes a closer look at the History Roll.

Currently on display in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery is the Biblical and genealogical chronicle which shows a pagan and Christian history of the world that stretches right the way from Adam and Eve to King Louis XI of France, who ruled from 1461. This is fondly known as the History Roll.

The manuscript was bought by Lord Brotherton of Wakefield, one of the University of Leeds’ greatest benefactors. Brotherton’s interest in collecting books and manuscripts began in 1922, with an attempt to buy the ‘Towneley Mysteries’, a medieval manuscript which contained a cycle of plays with Wakefield associations. This was sadly unsuccessful, but it led him to begin a collection which eventually included 35,000 books, 400 manuscripts, 4000 deeds, and 30,000 letters.

Crowning of Pepin. Biblical and genealogical chronicle from Adam and Eve to Louis XI of France [BC MS 100]. Image credit Leeds University Library Galleries.

This particular illuminated manuscript, purchased by Brotherton, is a staggering 18 metres long and is made from 39 large pieces of vellum pasted together. It is written in Anglo-Norman French and decorated with 64 painted roundels. At the beginning of the roll is a row of miniatures depicting the six days of the Creation. Starting with the Old Testament, the life of Christ, Greek and Roman history, and Western European history. After the life of Christ, the text divides into four columns; a line for popes, Roman emperors, and for French kings and their genealogical trees. The fourth column is the history of Britain and the history of the crusades. The text ends in one broad column with French history of the 1460s.

To make sure that it’s kept in tip-top condition, our conservation team regularly move the roll along to reveal a new section. And this time a delicately painted roundel is now visible, depicting the crowning of Pepin the Younger, the king of Franks from 751 – 768 AD. Although Pepin was undeniably one of the most powerful and successful rulers of his time, reforming the legislation of the Franks and given the title of Patricius by the Byzantines, his reign is largely overshadowed by that of his more famous son, Charlemagne, the “Father of Europe”.

As well as seeing the History Roll in person in the Gallery you can also see the whole Biblical and genealogical chronicle on the Special Collections website and see every detail with the deep zoom capability:

Charles VII of France. Biblical and genealogical chronicle from Adam and Eve to Louis XI of France [BC MS 100]. Image credit Leeds University Library Galleries.