Heraldry for German Princes by a Prince amongst German Painters


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Continuing the theme of our previous blog post, Dr Ben Pope of the University of Tübingen writes about his recent discovery that German MS 2 is from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Younger. We are delighted that Ben will be returning to Manchester as Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the John Rylands Research Institute later this year.


Arms of Bianca Maria Sforza, University of Manchester Library, German MS 2, p. 1.

I was initially surprised to find that such a visually splendid manuscript as John Rylands Library German MS 2 had not yet attracted the attention of researchers in any field. Admittedly, there was at first glance little evidence of its origins: simply the date 1565 and the initials ‘P.T.’ stamped on the rear cover. A later owner had mistakenly titled the codex ‘Deutsches Stammbuch’, or ‘Book of German Genealogies’, when it is in fact an armorial, or collection of coats of arms of German noble lineages. Closer inspection of the contents showed clear links to the fifteenth-century tradition of armorial production in the region which now comprises southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and to the Austrian Habsburg dynasty in particular. Yet physical and stylistic aspects of the manuscript pointed elsewhere: to the central German region of Saxony in the middle of the sixteenth century. Fortunately I was able to track down further sources which enabled me to solve this riddle, and to publish findings in the latest issue of the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library which I summarize here.


Arms of the elector of Saxony, University of Manchester Library, German MS 2, p. 101.

In 1565 Elector August of Saxony (1526–86) commissioned the renowned Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515–86) to produce a copy of an ‘old armorial’ which Cranach had inherited from his father, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553). This armorial was almost certainly being used in the Cranachs’ workshop in Wittenberg as reference material in the production of other artworks. August was initially interested in an unspecified matter of Saxon heraldry, but he requested a ‘true copy’ of the complete armorial, plus any further coats of arms known to Cranach. In several letters to Cranach (preserved in the Saxon state archives in Dresden) August gave detailed instructions for the making of this copy, which enable us to identify Rylands German 2 as this armorial.

From the initials ‘P.T.’ we also know that the rolled, stamped and gilded white leather of the covers was created by the bookbinder Paul Thiele, who was working in Wittenberg between the 1550s and 1575. Internally, the structure, layout and labelling of the heraldic material correspond exactly with August’s instructions, and the main depiction of the Saxon electoral arms is especially lavish. A section which commences with this coat of arms was sent to August before the rest of the copy was complete, and the break in the copying process that this caused is still visible in the manuscript’s physical structure. Furthermore, we can identify at least some of the coats of arms which were added by the Cranach workshop and which are related to woodcuts and other heraldic artwork produced by both Cranachs.


Front cover of German MS 2, by the bookbinder Paul Thiele (fl. 1550s-1575).

The bulk of the manuscript’s content is clearly older than these additions, however. The coats of arms of identifiable individuals in Rylands German 2 refer to people who were all living only in 1499 or 1500. The armorial is also clearly related to multiple other armorials produced in fifteenth-century Upper Germany (present-day southern Germany, Alsace, Switzerland and Austria). In accordance with this tradition, Rylands German 2 has an introductory section featuring numerous coats of arms which represent historic figures, people said to exemplify particular virtues, and an idealized social and political structure of the Holy Roman Empire, which was in reality a complex and highly decentralized polity in which hierarchies of authority were far less clearly defined than in modern states.


Arms of the four churches and four pillars of the Empire: Trier, Masovia, Cologne and Bremen, University of Manchester Library, German MS 2, p. 40.

The Empire is presented in the main body of the armorial as a series of regional communities of nobles led by powerful princes, but also featuring associations or societies of lower nobles such as the ‘Society of the Ibex’. These associations were common in late medieval Upper Germany, but Rylands German 2 is only the fourth armorial featuring these societies to have been identified. The societies are not, however, always portrayed quite so prominently in Rylands German 2 as in the other armorials in which they feature. The artist(s) responsible for the ‘old armorial’ seem to have decided to downplay the importance of these societies, and thus the autonomy of the lower nobility which the societies sought to uphold, in favour of the power of certain princes. August of Saxony read the armorial as a series of principalities with their ‘incorporated’ nobilities, but in fact the relationship between the princes and lower nobles in Rylands German 2 is often ambiguous.


Insignia of the Society of the Ibex, University of Manchester Library, German MS 2, p. 259.

We can begin to understand why the nobility of the Empire is presented in this way by considering the context of the original armorial’s production. The Habsburg imperial dynasty is naturally prominent in many German armorials of this period, but Rylands German 2 displays a special connection to the house of Austria through features including a proverb closely associated with Emperor Frederick III (1415–93) and a picture of the imperial herald Romreich, which could indicate that Bernhard Sittich, who held the office of Romreich herald in 1499/1500, was responsible for compiling the original armorial. Frederick’s son Maximilian (1459–1519) is also represented, but the real focal point of the armorial is Maximilian’s second wife, Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan.


The herald Romreich, whose tabard bears the arms of King Maximilian, University of Manchester Library, German MS 2, p. 77.


Arms of Emperor Frederick III, University of Manchester Library, German MS 2, p. 21.

Bianca Maria’s arms fill the first page of the Cranach copy, and there is good reason to think that she was at the heart of the original armorial too, as her arms are followed by those of thirty-nine princely ladies of the Empire. This unusual collection of women’s arms depicts individuals living in 1499/1500 and is thus both an integral part of the original material and a clear statement of Bianca Maria’s status as the highest ranking woman in the Empire. This section’s presentation in Rylands German 2 suggests that Bianca Maria is the head of a separate ‘province’, a parallel Empire of women.


Arms of princely ladies of the Holy Roman Empire (the first of four pages), University of Manchester Library, German MS 2, p. 2.

Rylands German 2 thus offers insights into a sixteenth-century prince’s heraldic interests and artistic patronage; an artist’s use of heraldic materials in his workshop; the south German armorial tradition of the fifteenth century; and the heraldic and artistic programme of the Habsburg court in the reign of Maximilian. It depicts an Empire of regions dominated by certain princes: some of these regions can be understood as the ‘territory’ of the prince at their head, but others are regional communities connected through the princes to the imperial centre. At this centre we find, surprisingly, not Maximilian, but his often overlooked second wife, Bianca Maria Sforza. This gives cause to reappraise not only her queenship, but also the wider relationship between women and heraldry in the later Middle Ages.

Dr Pope’s extensive and richly illustrated article is available to read for free for one week (18-24 February 2019). The manuscript has also been fully digitised and can be viewed online (at any time) here.

Unknown Cranach Work Discovered in the John Rylands Library


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Issue 94.2 of the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, published by Manchester University Press, contains a very special article by Dr Ben Pope. Titled ‘The Empress, the Elector and the Painter’, the article examines Rylands German MS 2, a sixteenth-century armorial in the Library’s collection that Dr Pope has identified as a previously unknown work by the workshop of renowned Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Younger.


Arms of the elector of Saxony, John Rylands Library, German MS 2, p. 101.

Dr Pope shows that the armorial was produced for Elector August of Saxony, and that it was copied from an earlier armorial of c.1500 that had been in the possession of Lucas Cranach the Elder. Much of the original content and structure of this ‘old armorial’ has been preserved in the Cranach copy, and on this basis it can be located in a late-fifteenth-century south German tradition of armorial manuscripts.

The old armorial was also closely linked to the Habsburg dynasty, and appears to have been dedicated to Bianca Maria Sforza, second wife of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Cranach’s copy therefore opens significant new perspectives on the relationships between aristocratic women and heraldic knowledge, and on the artistic patronage of Maximilian and Bianca Maria’s court.

Dr Pope’s extensive and richly illustrated article is available to read for free for one week (18-24 February 2019). It draws attention to a previously unstudied item from the Library’s extensive collection, which continues to be a source of inspiration to scholars from around the world.

The manuscript has also been fully digitised and can be viewed online (at any time) here.


Arms of the four churches and four pillars of the Empire, Trier, Masovia, Cologne and Bremen, John Rylands Library, German MS 2, p. 40.

The Hidden Gems of dsh


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Post by Karen Jacques and Clare Baker, Collections Assistants at the John Rylands Library:

Over the last 12 months we’ve had the privilege of working on the Archive of Dom Sylvester Houédard or dsh as he preferred to be known; and what a challenge it’s been! The archive, well Accession 1 of the archive, consists of 97 boxes of material with only a handwritten list to accompany it. Our project was to discover in more depth what was held inside these uncatalogued boxes.

Clare & Karen in the Stacks.

Clare & Karen discussing material.

dsh was born in St Peter Port Guernsey.  He read history at Jesus College, Oxford and served his National Service in British Intelligence in India.  He became a monk at Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire in 1949.  As a monk he embraced the reforms implemented by the Catholic Church through the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965. The need to encourage dialogue between religions, especially non-Christian faiths, was a cornerstone of his belief system.  At the same time he contributed to biblical studies and became the literary editor for the Jerusalem Bible, 1961.

He also became a leading figure in the avant-garde Concrete Poetry Movement.  His work appeared regularly in exhibitions and ’zines. The Rylands holds his collection of poetry and art magazines from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, which Fran Horner, a placement student at The  John Rylands Library blogged about last year. And it’s this juxtaposition of Benedictine monk, serious theologian and hipster, deft exponent of conceptual art and concrete poetry that makes him such a fascinating character.

Photograph of Dom Sylvester Houédard. By kind permission of Prinknash Trustees.

Although the collection is mainly made up of dsh’s theological writing, it quickly became apparent that there is a wide breadth of material, topics and formats included.  There were many sheets of paper covered in tiny spidery, almost illegible, writing, but we also discovered art works, typestracts, reversals, concrete poetry, photographs as well as contributions from other artists and poets.  This isn’t a collection rooted in the personal; unlike his fellow archive companion and friend, Li Yuan Chia, this is an eclectic and intriguing mix of religious and ‘arty’ material.

Of particular interest to us were the seemingly random objects lurking between the theological musings, which we would like to share.  It’s unclear why these items are in the collection – were they used to inspire his artistic practice or like us, did he find these quirky items amusing or perhaps he just mislaid them in amongst his papers? I think the gentle aromatic aroma of minty chocolate will live with us for a while, not the usual musty bookish wafts you expect from an archive, but a squished After Eight mint sandwiched between sheets of paper; a  or monk-ish nibble maybe?

Enjoyable highlights were the solid jelly baby and the petrified liquorice torpedo – both transformed into works of art.  Alas these are no longer part of the archive and have been removed by our Conservation Department, although captured here for posterity by the Imaging Team.

We came across a tiny clay bird’s nest containing even tinier eggs carefully wrapped in tissue paper with no note of explanation.  We decided this was another element of dsh’s quirky nature.  This item was accompanied by a lone marble overshadowing the nest and eggs.  To us this was just another example of objects within the collection having no rhyme or reason for their inclusion, but we find interesting none the less.

dsh Collection - Balloon

dsh Collection – Balloon

We were intrigued by the solid ‘balls’ balloon attached to silver card with the words ‘inflate ’n knot’ n shake’ n rotate’; the disintegration of the balloon and it’s firmness adding poignancy to the item as it contrasted with the usual expectations and nature of a balloon.


Discovered in the midst of dsh’s works was a plastic spanner, cheekily attached is a note that reads: ‘Take this flexible little spanner and fling it into the works of various institutions throughout the land.  CAUTION: The manufacturer accepts no responsibility if this spanner bounces back’. Gosh!  Anarchy on the shelves in the Rylands!

And we were amused to see that an everyday envelope containing screws wrapped in a disintegrating elastic band had been preserved – such an ordinary find, one that will resonate with many, but why has it been saved among dsh’s papers? Or is it an oversight?

Through this collection we saw a very serious side to dsh through his theological research and teaching, a creative side through his poetry and artworks, but also a lighter more playful side demonstrated by these everyday items.  It’s intriguing to ponder on why he had kept them and what significance they had to him. What would the objects you keep or fail to throw away tell future researchers about you?

Permission has been granted by the Prinknash Abbey Trustees to use images from the dsh Collection.

With many thanks to the imaging staff at The John Rylands Library for the brilliant photographs too.

Opening up the Peterloo Collections at the University of Manchester Library


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Dr Janette Martin writes:

The University of Manchester Library has digitised a second tranche of unique documents and rare printed material relating to The Peterloo Massacre.  These include a collection of handbills, placards and handwritten letters gathered by the notorious Rev. William Robert Hay (1761-1839). Rev. Hay was one of the ten magistrates present who ordered mounted soldiers into a crowded field to arrest Henry Hunt on 16 August 1819. That afternoon at least 15 people were killed and around 700 were injured by sabres and truncheons or trampled by horses or the panicking crowds. As evening fell Hay hurriedly wrote to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, setting out the magistrate’s version of events. In it he seriously downplayed the number killed and the types of injuries inflicted on the crowd.  Not only were Hay and the other magistrates praised by the Prince Regent for their part in the massacre, they were also rewarded financially. In January 1820, the Government appointed Hay as Rector of Rochdale, which was one of the richest livings in England. There was no public enquiry into the killings.

Rev Hay was an avid opponent of radicalism and made it his business to collect handbills issued by both those loyal to the government and those issued by reformers.  Two of my favourite items are oversized loyalist handbills, published in the days leading up to Peterloo, attacking what they see as outrages by radical agitators.  The language used is powerful but what is striking is how big they are. Such publications were designed to be pasted on the wall – measuring 29 inches by 20 inches they could not fail to attract the attention of those passing by! Note the final entreaty on the first handbill to ‘Fear God, Honour the King’.

Illegal meeting

Public notice issued by the magistrates declaring illegal the Public Meeting planned for 9 August 1819. The meeting was rescheduled for 16 August and became known as the Peterloo Massacre. English MS 1197/19. Copyright University of Manchester Library.

Military exercise

Notice issued by the Magistrates on 17 August 1819, the day after the Peterloo Massacre, warning the inhabitants of Salford Hundred to abstain from Military Exercise, “which in many instances has been connected with Seditious and treasonable Purposes…”. English MS 1197/43. Copyright University of Manchester Library.

How did these papers end up at The John Rylands Library? We know from correspondence between Dr Henry Guppy (the first Librarian at The John Rylands Library) and A. P. Wadsworth (then editor of the Manchester Guardian) that the collection arrived at the Library in 1940 as a way of keeping it safe and available to researchers. Chetham’s Library in Manchester also holds material collected by Rev. Hay including 17 scrapbooks of newspaper articles, letters, poems, advertisements and random ephemera.

Wadsworth letter

Letter from A.P Wadsworth to Dr Guppy providing a brief background to the Peterloo manuscripts, 8 August 1940. English MS 1197/1. Copyright University of Manchester.

Another highlight of our Peterloo collection is a recently acquired Report of the Metropolitan and Central Committee appointed for the relief of the Manchester sufferers … (London: printed for William Hone, 1820), ref. R233016.

This printed pamphlet documents the activities of the London committee who worked alongside the Manchester Relief Committee to coordinate the best distribution of aid. In the weeks following the Peterloo Massacre money was collected to help the injured and the families of the dead. There was no Welfare State to assist those whose health and livelihood had been destroyed and voluntary subscriptions were crucial in saving many of those hurt in the massacre from complete destitution. Many victims hid their injuries from unsympathetic employers and parish officers who refused to support destitution caused by political activity. The appendices of this volume record the names, addresses, occupation and injuries of those caught up in the violence. It offers a poignant reminder of the many lives that were blighted by Peterloo. But most of all, it’s an important corrective to the official record which downplayed the number of dead and injured and tried to pass off the event as a riot.

Those familiar with the streets and building of Manchester will surely be fascinated by the various maps and plans of the site. English MS 1197/85, Plan of St Peters Field with the Avenues leading thereto, shades the undeveloped area of Manchester known as St Peter’s Field as blue and intriguingly gives the height of the wall surrounding the Friends Meetings House (which was scaled by some of the escaping crowd).

Eng MS 1197

Plan of St Peters Field with the Avenues leading thereto. English MS 1197/85. Copyright University of Manchester Library.

I particularly like the 1919 stylised Plan of Peterloo which not only gives the position of the relative groups of military, magistrates, hustings and people, but also depicts them in relation to buildings which are standing today.  I find this immensely helpful when trying to get a sense of where the site is – the wall of the Friends Meetings House that faces Bootle Street is one of the few built structures dating from that period that remains to this day.  The Portico Library is another.


Plan of Peterloo, from F. A. Bruton, The story of Peterloo, written for the Centenary (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1919). R46153. Copyright University of Manchester Library.

The University of Manchester Peterloo collection can now be accessed online.  We hope the sources will be widely used in the Manchester History Festival. If you require further information on any items in this collection please contact Janette Martin.

With many thanks to the imaging staff at The John Rylands Library and to our summer work experience student, Caitlin Rutherford from Brighouse High School, for her work on the project.


A comprehensive variety: the Chinese collections

From May to November 2018, Johannes Lotze worked on the library’s Chinese collections and produced a report covering the collection strengths and highlighting individual items of significance. The project was generously funded by the Manchester Confucius Institute. You can read the report in full here. In this blog Johannes introduces some basic characteristics and highlights of the collection.


Calligraphy tools, Chinese Drawings 40

What is perhaps most remarkable in particular is the diversity of the collection. Its roughly five hundred separate works, mostly printed between 1550 and 1850 (plus a few manuscripts), are a distillation of all aspects of traditional Chinese culture, as European scholars encountered it in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. While the precise books here today obviously found their way into the collection due to specific interests of individual collectors, it can safely be said that their overarching approach was comprehensiveness. Items include the authoritative works of the Confucian canon, known as the Four Books (Sishu) and Five Classics (Wujing); various Daoist and Buddhist scriptures; encyclopaedias (leishu); novels and stories; books relating to astronomy, history, geography, medicine, linguistics, calligraphy, music theory, court dances, games (such as chess or dominoes), painting, statecraft, administration, even dream interpretation; works and pamphlets resulting from Christian activities in China, especially translations made by Jesuits.

Another form of diversity can be seen in the materiality of items, as we find traditional Chinese books, European-style books, scrolls, and other material shapes specific to the Chinese context (for example, accordion-shaped books). Some items come as cheap everyday books, others as polished prestige objects.


Comparative vocabulary of the Chinese, Corean and Japanese Languages, Crawford 435

The collection is, furthermore, characterised by linguistic diversity. Several additional languages apart from Chinese play a role in the ‘Chinese’ collection, especially Manchu (the language of the Manchus who founded China’s last dynasty, the Qing), but also Tibetan, Korean, Japanese, and several European languages. These languages appear either on their own or as part of bilingual (e.g. Chinese-Manchu or Chinese-Tibetan) creations. Items such as the Collected Essentials, or Jiyao (a work listing the names of the Buddha in five different languages), point to the international aspects of Chinese traditions that transcended language boundaries.

While this diversity and the striking thoroughness in mirroring traditional Chinese culture—together with numerous works in other East Asian and European languages—already make the collection significant, that significance is further increased by a number of rare items. To give an example, the collection holds one of globally only three exemplars of an extremely rare Buddhist pronunciation guide, composed by monks of the early Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Moreover, many items are truly spectacularly manufactured, for example emperor Kangxi’s lavish birthday celebration scroll of 1717, depicting a bustling streetscape in the capital Beijing. Equally impressive is an excerpt from the Flower Adornment Sutra, originating in the Tang era (618-907), in the form of a beautifully illustrated scroll version of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). And there are many more items with fascinating illustrations. Woodcut blocks for printing reached a high standard in the Ming and were further perfected in the Qing dynasty. Illustrations were therefore a common practice and can be found in numerous items across all categories (mostly in black-and-white but occasionally in five-colour printing, which came in use by the early seventeenth century).


Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Painting and Calligraphy, Additional Chinese 1

Certainly, my report is far from being the last word on the collection. Rather, it aims to provide a stepping stone for further research efforts. Explorations of the report—and my bilingual bibliography of 569 separate titles in the appendix—will hopefully lead to the discovery of many more hidden treasures.

“Good Blood, Bad Blood”: A Petite Exhibit on Menstruation in the Rylands Gallery #2


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This is the second of two blog posts to accompany a display in Rylands Gallery. The first post focused on 19th- and early 20th-century material, this post explores 17th- and 18th-century attitudes to menstruation.

From ‘termes’ and ‘courses’ to ‘the flux’ and ‘flowers’, the variety of terminology used to refer to menstruation in the 17th and 18th centuries reflects the complexity of beliefs relating to it. With no single fixed definition, attitudes depended on context and were both positive and negative.

Medicine at this time was heavily influenced by ancient ‘humoral theory’, which held that health depended on the balance of four humours: blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. Menstruation was therefore seen by many as the body’s natural way of discarding excess blood, or ‘plethora’. Too much or too little menstrual blood, however, could disrupt the equilibrium and cause a vast array of ‘women’s diseases’.


A page from the index to John Pechey’s A General Treatise on the Diseases of Maids (1696). As can be seen, entries concerning ‘Courses’, another term for menstruation, are numerous. Ref: Medical pre-1701 1853

Sussex physician John Pechey’s medical compendium, A General Treatise on the Diseases of Maids (1696) refers extensively to illness caused by ‘excess’ or ‘obstruction’ of menstrual blood.  A “suppression of the courses”, Pechey warns, “is very dangerous and many desperate diseases arise from it”.  He recommends tailoring the cure according to a “variety of causes”.  If the patient simply has “too great a quantity of blood” to evacuate effectively, then the common practice of blood-letting is in order: “bleeding must be ordered in the Arm, and a large quantity of Blood must be taken away”. Such practices aimed to restore balance to the body.

Pechey also argued that a woman’s “sedentary and idle life” could cause an excess of blood.  Women experiencing excessive menstruation are prescribed a “sparing Diet and moderate exercise”.  Conversely, in the 18th-century midwifery lecture notes also on display (pictured below), exercise is considered to bring on menstruation:  “immoderate fluxes”, Robert Dobson writes, are sometimes caused by “too violent Exercise”.


“Too great a flow of the Menses”, Robert Dobson’s notes from a midwifery lecture by Thomas Young. Ref: MMM/1/4/1

Menstrual imbalance was also linked to mental illness. According to German physician Michael Ettmüller, menstrual ‘deficiency’ presents an assortment of symptoms and has many causes, including the “disorder of the Stomac”, undigested food, and “Affections of the Mind”, such as “Frights, Sadness, Grief, and the like”.


Searching for references to menstruation in the Rylands’ stacks. Etmullerus Abridg’d: or, A compleat System of the Theory and Practice of Physic (1699) contains a substantial section on ‘Disorders of the Menstrual Flux’. Ref. Medical pre-1701 779

Another manuscript on display, Manchester physician Charles White’s lecture notes (pictured below), makes reference to the case of a Margaret Bruce, who is reported as displaying “hysteric symptoms” alongside an “obstruction of the menses”.  It was common practice to note the menstrual regularity of female patients when considering certain disorders. In this way menstruation was used as a general barometer of health.


Medical theories linking menstrual disorders with mental illness persisted into the early 20th century. These notes by Manchester physician Charles White document the case of 19-year-old Margaret Bruce, who is troubled with “hysteric fits”. Ref. MMM/14/2/1


All these items and many more will be on display in the Rylands Gallery until the end of March 2019.  Come and explore for yourself!



Hidden Histories in John Rylands: LGBTQAI Icons

This blog post will explore some of the LGBTQIA+ community in the John Rylands Special Collections!

Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont

(Chevalier d’Éon)

Double Dressed

Chevalier d’Éon was a spy, a double agent and considered by some to be Europe’s first openly transgender person.

After rising through the military ranks, d’Eon was approached by a network of spies created by Louis XV called the Le Secret Du Roi (The King’s Secret). His first role was to work as a secretary to the French ambassador to Russia to foster good relations with Empress Elizabeth of the Russian Court to gain her support in putting Louis’ cousin, Conti, on the Polish throne.

Empress Elizabeth initially refused to host any French diplomats, so d’Eon gained her trust by presenting as Lia de Beaumont – d’Eon’s “sister”. Lia de Beaumont persuaded the Empress to write to the King Louis XV and invite a new ambassador to Moscow.

D’Eon was then dispatched to the Russian embassy and began a double life, presenting as Charles the ambassador, during the day and Lia at the Russian Court. In 1763 a peace treaty signed between France and England ended the Seven Years War. The King wanted revenge so Le Secret Du Roi had a new mission: to invade Britain.

In England, d’Eon presented as Charles in English Court and Lia on the social scene; siblings who were never seen in the same room. The mission was to scout the coast for invasion points, but when Louis XV died his successor disbanded Le secret du Roi and all their missions.

D’Eon attempted to blackmail the new king with threats to expose spy material to England. After many months of discussion, d’Eon signed ‘The Transaction.’ In exchange for the spy documents d’Eon would receive a pension and be publically recognised as female. Mademoselle la Chevaliere d’Eon was formally presented at the court of Versailles on November 21, 1777.

This offer was possible because d’Eon was armed with a fictional narrative, which was implemented slowly throughout d’Eon’s career. It described a young girl forced into the role of a son by a tyrannical father whose patriotism led her to dreess as a man to serve France.

D’Eon wrote has written about these experiences in a memoir called Lettres, mémoires et négociations particulieres.

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Lettres, mémoires et négociations particulieres, by D’Eon Beaumont, 1794, is available at John Rylands Library, reference number: R167565.


Scholars have discussed and argued over the sexuality of Michelangelo for many years.  Evidence of his homosexuality became apparent when it was discovered that Michelangelo dedicated over 100 poems to a man called Cavalieri Tommaso. The poems were published in 1623 by Michelangelo’s grand-nephew, Michelangelo the Younger. Before publication he changed the pronouns in the poems to female. (1) This not only erased the intended addressee of the poems but also erased an important aspect of Michelangelo’s identity.

His contemporary biographer, Condivi, said that Michelangelo often spoke exclusively of masculine love. In all of his correspondence he never hinted, even obliquely, at marrying. (2)

The real gender pronouns and recipients were identified in 1893 when John Addington Symonds investigated the Buonarotti archives and discovered the original versions.

The full poems can be read at the John Rylands Library, ref: R127001.

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Michelangelo can also be found within the architecture of the John Rylands Library. He adorns the ‘Art window’ on the south wall above the statue of founder Enriqueta Rylands.

Dame Ethel Smyth

‘Let me say here, that all my life, even when after years had brought
me the seemingly unattainable, I have found in women’s affection a
peculiar understanding…Thus it comes to pass that my relations with certain
women, all exceptional personalities I think, are shining threads
in my life.’

Ethel Smyth, Impressions that remained – 1919

Ethel Smyth rose to become one of the most prominent composers of her time and a lead figure in the suffrage movement. She wrote operas, piano and organ solos, and orchestral chamber music. At 54 she became part of the Women’s Social and Political Union and composed the suffrage anthem, The March of the Women, which she dedicated to Emmeline Pankhurst. She became Dame Ethel Smyth at the age of 64 and received an honorary music degree from The University of Oxford at 67.

Smyth has been described as a prominent LGBTQIA+ icon from the suffrage era. She preferred masculine dress and had very close intimate relationships with both men and women, including Emmeline Pankhurst, Henry Brewster, Edith Craig and Virginia Woolf. (3)

In her autobiographies, Female Pipings in Eden (1933) and What Happened Next (1940), Smyth describes romantic moments with her companions which are intimate but not overtly sexual in nature. However, this is not uncommon as homosexuality was seen as deviant and English society discouraged writers from explicitly mentioning their same-sex relationships in print. (4)

However, her romantic experiences can be traced through the letters she wrote, and the letters of Virginia Woolf and Quentin Bell.

She references her love of women in a letter to Henry Bennet Brewster in 1892: “I wonder why it is so much easier for me to love my own sex more passionately than yours. I can’t make it out, for I am a very healthy-minded person.’” (5) Here she may have been referencing her love affair with von Herzogenberg which Vicinus describes as an example of “eroticized mother-daughter love.” (6)

In 1910 Smyth joined the Women’s Social and Political Union. During this period Smyth and Emmeline shared a close and intimate relationship. When Smyth became friends with Woolf in 1930 she disclosed this information, which Woolf then passed on to Bell via letter.

“We have a memoir meeting next week; and I have Ethel Smyth and Rebecca West to tea to discuss the life of Mrs. Pankhurst. In strict confidence, Ethel used to love Emmeline —they shared a bed.” (7) 

During their friendship Smyth developed feelings for Woolf. Bell wrote of their relationship in letters to friends.

“D’you know, Virginia, I don’t like other women being fond of you’, Woolf replies, ‘then you must be in love with me Ethel.” Ethel explains: “I have never loved anyone so much… Ever since I saw you I have thought of nothing else… I had not meant to tell you this. But if you want affection. You may take advantage of this.” (8)

Although Bell states Woolf was ready to give her some affection, it is not clear if the depth of love was reciprocated.

Smyth’s work life can be traced through the letters she wrote to friends and colleagues. The John Rylands Special Collections contain letters sent to philosopher Samuel Alexander regarding her work (references ALEX/A/1/1/76 and ALEX/A/1/1/26). The Guardian Archive references her works in an article from 1993 entitled ‘Putting Music to Women’s rallying cry,’ reference R132084.1. References to Smyth and her various relationships can also be found in Virginia Woolf: A biography by Quentin Bell, reference R127916.

It has been a pleasure to explore our Special Collections to highlight a few items to celebrate historical LGBTQIA+ awareness.

Notes, Bibliography and References:

*I acknowledge the problems inherent in determining the sexuality of someone unable to speak for themselves. However, if one is part of the LGBTQIA+ community it is empowering to have the knowledge of those powerful historical figures that are part of social heritage.

The Beaumont Society, The incredible Chevalier d’Eon who left france as a male spy and returned as a Christian woman, available at: https://www.beaumontsociety.org.uk/downloads/Biography.pdfhttps://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-incredible-chevalier-deon-who-left-france-as-a-male-spy-and-returned-as-a-christian-woman

(1) Stern Keith, (2009) Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders. Paul Russell (1995) The Gay 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Rachel Lumsden, “The Music Between Us”: Ethel Smyth, Emmeline Pankhurst, and “Possession”, Feminist Studies, 41.2 (2015), pp. 335-70.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Christopher St John, Ethel Smyth: A Biography. London: Longmans, Green, 1959.

(7) Virginia Woolf, letter to Quentin Bell, The Letters of Virginia Woolf, 4: 171.

(6) Ibid.

(8) Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, London: Pimlico, 1972.

The Very Visible Suffragettes


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The greatest impulse of the suffragettes was to create a disturbance. To make themselves seen and heard so that the pressure mounting to give women the vote could no longer be ignored. Their deeds-not-words manifesto was the key to this, but also vital was the way in which news of these deeds spread, the massive publicity that was generated by their noteworthy tactics. The media coverage of suffragette activity was essential for the success of their campaign.

The tension between the more peaceful suffragists and the more vigorous suffragettes was certainly documented and often vilified in the mainstream press. Punch was particularly fond of depicting the suffragette as a withered and screaming harpy in its cartoons, suggesting that militant suffragettes were harming the suffrage cause rather than furthering it.

The University of Manchester Library holds a number of Women’s Suffrage Archives including those of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. The  IWSA cuttings volumes are filled with cuttings documenting both suffragist and suffragette activity, many containing photographs.  This striking image is of Manchester’s own Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in prison uniforms. It is shocking and is designed to be: a powerful visual representation highlighting their commitment to the cause.


Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in prison uniform, 1913

In fact, the Pankhursts were masters of publicity. They understood the power of the media and regularly corresponded with the then editor of the Manchester Guardian, C.P. Scott.  Deciding that support from mainstream media was not quite working for them the WSPU (The Women’s Social and Political Union) took matters into their own hands and started their own newspaper in 1907, Votes for Women.


Front cover of Votes for Women, February 1918

The suffragettes were very aware of marking themselves out and what we may call their brand. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence who co-founded Votes for Women with her husband Frederick is credited as selecting the WSPU campaign colours: purple for dignity, white for purity and green for hope. Members of the WSPU were encouraged to wear these colours and could purchase badges and ribbon in these colours to show their support. Sylvia Pankhurst’s artistic background also influenced the look of the WSPU and she designed all manner of flags, banners and gifts for sale, and used her artistic skills to decorate halls and meeting rooms for the suffragettes. [1]

Images of Sylvia Pankhurst’s work Courtesy of Museum of London.

Come to see more material relating to suffrage and suffragettes displayed as part of our Women who shaped Manchester Exhibition, on until the 10th of March.

All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence. With thanks to the Imaging Team.

[1] http://www.sylviapankhurst.com/sylvia_the_artist/sylvias_campaigning_art.php

The Pilkingtons: A Family on the Edge


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Written by Angela Petyt-Whittaker and Lorraine Coughlan, Specialist Library Assistants from the Reading Room at The John Rylands Library.

Continuing from our previous blog on Margaret Pilkington, this time we are taking a closer look at her equally fascinating family.

The family has its roots in the Manor of Pilkington in the Prestwich/Whitefield area and a distant ancestor fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Most people recognise the Pilkington name in relation to the famous glass company. However, Margaret’s father Lawrence (1855-1941) started his career as colliery manager in the Clifton and Kersley Coal Co. (branching out to train the colliery choir!) until the formation with his brother Charles of Pilkington’s Tile and Pottery Co. in 1891. Its famous Lancastrian Lustre ware was sold at Tiffany’s in New York; many pieces were later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their high-quality tiles earned them a Royal Warrant and the company commissioned designs from artists such as Walter Crane.

From childhood days, Lawrence and Charles shared a love of mountaineering, particularly in the Lake District, Scottish Highlands and the Alps. Lawrence was the first to scale many peaks and contributed to journals on the subject.  In 1884 he suffered an accident at Piers Gill, where a rock fall crushed his hip and caused permanent damage. This didn’t deter him from watercolour painting up in the hills! Lawrence’s character was described in anecdotes as energetic, a good manager, practical joker, music fanatic and art lover. He wrote four volumes of poetry and two lively stories of Lancashire Life – Tattlefold (1926) and The Chimneys of Tattleton (1928), which contained woodblock illustrations by Margaret.

In 1890 Lawrence married Mary (Mollie) Gavin Stevenson, one of the children of James Stevenson, founder of Jarrow Chemical Works. A week before their wedding, Mollie wrote, ‘We have had a most happy engagement… dear Lawrence I don’t think I could squabble with you.’ They went on to have a long and happy marriage, with Mollie being a great support to Lawrence’s many business and artistic activities. They went on to have two children, Margaret (1891) and Dorothy (1893).


Margaret and Dorothy Pilkington as children with their dog, c.1905, PIL/3/1/6/1

Mollie’s younger sister, May Margaret Stevenson, set an excellent (and radical) example to her nieces, attending Girton College, Cambridge (including a fourth year studying Science) where she achieved a BA, before embarking on a varied and independent life, generously working for women’s and children’s charitable organisations and serving on many committees in honorary positions. Like the rest of the family, she travelled a great deal, visiting Egypt, China, Japan and Ceylon. During the First World War, she joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, becoming one of the principal officers. In 1917 she was one of the first women to be awarded the OBE.

Margaret and Dorothy enjoyed a happy childhood and the family was very close. They lived first at Southgarth in Pendleton, then moved in 1907 to Firwood in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. This was a large yellow-brick Italianate villa in Woodbrook Road, halfway up the Edge. The Pilkingtons held an important place in Manchester society and associated with other leading families who lived in the fashionable neighbourhood.

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The sisters shared many of the same interests and a deep social conscience, which had a lasting influence on their adult lives. As Directors of the Pilkington Pottery Co., they were able to undertake a range of unpaid honorary roles in other organisations. Although much is known about Margaret’s philanthropic work, Dorothy was as equally involved, her activities including working as a hospital orderly in London during the First World War. In 1923 both Dorothy and Margaret organised and paid for 52 girls to have a week’s holiday in the Lake District as part of their involvement with the Manchester Girls Institute.  Dorothy was Founder President of the Manchester Soroptimist Club for professional women and she also served as Chairman of the Manchester High School for Girls between 1944-63. The sisters endowed the Pilkington chair in the History of Art at the University of Manchester in 1958. Dorothy was awarded an honorary MA by the University in 1964.

Tragically, Lawrence and Mollie Pilkington died within a few months of each other between October 1941 – January 1942. This loss deeply affected the sisters, who, both unmarried, continued to live together. They provided 75% of the money to purchase Alderley Woods, giving over 200 acres in 1943 to the National Trust in memory of their parents.


Margaret Pilkington with her parents, c.1930s PIL/3/1/6/8

In the 1960s, Margaret and Dorothy moved from Firwood to a modern house across the road, called The Dell, where they lived together during their retirement. They gave Firwood to the University of Manchester.

Dorothy died in 1971, the year Margaret celebrated her 80th birthday. As the last surviving member of this close-knit family, she must have felt lonely, but had many wonderful memories of their lives together.

Margaret Pilkington at home, c.1973 PIL/3/1/6/13

Margaret Pilkington at home, c.1973 PIL/3/1/6/13

Margaret died in August 1974 and obituaries praised this pioneering woman, whose character was shaped by those closest to her.

We end our tribute to this talented family with some lines of poetry from ‘Aspiration’ by Lawrence Pilkington –

There is a light beyond the hills,
A golden light which gleams
On lofty ridge and soaring spire
Beyond this world of dreams.

From The Hills of Peace by Lawrence Pilkington, 1930, R74679


P.S. We are feeling so inspired that we will shortly be visiting the Pilkington’s Gallery at Salford Museum and Art Gallery, which holds the largest Pilkington ceramic collection in the country.


All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence. With thanks to the Imaging Team.


“Peculiar and Marvellous”: A Petite Exhibit on Menstruation in the Rylands Gallery #1


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This is the first of two blog posts to accompany a display in Rylands Gallery. This first post explores 19th and early 20th century from the Library’s medical collections, currently being catalogued as part of a Wellcome project

Founder of the Manchester Babies’ Hospital and first female medical graduate of the University of Manchester, Catherine Chisholm (1878-1952) rightly takes her place in the current Library exhibition Women Who Shaped Manchester. She is also the inspiration for a new display in the Rylands Gallery exploring the history of attitudes to menstruation through a diverse mix of material from our medical collections.

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Catherine Chisholm (1878-1952) wrote her 1912 thesis on menstrual pain in school girls

Surveying Suffering

Until the early 20th century, there was no precise explanation of menstruation and medical definitions were largely informed by male specialists who had clinical contact with a small proportion of ‘unwell’ women.  Throughout the 19th century, therefore, menstruation was commonly cast in pathological terms.

Conducting a survey of 500 school girls, Chisholm’s pioneering thesis claimed that “no one but the sufferers can estimate the amount of pain.” Her findings challenged the notion that “incapacity” during menstruation was the norm and concluded that severe pain was uncommon.  Significantly, she also implicitly made the case for girls in higher education, finding that menstrual discomfort was not aggravated by “hard mental work”.

 “A Gloomy Little Specter”

Chisholm’s conclusions were significant in light of the widely-held assumptions about menstrual ‘disability’ at the end of the 19th century.   Arguments against co-education used menstrual ‘illness’ as evidence that girls could not withstand the same rigorous education as boys.  Sex in Education, an enormously popular and controversial volume by Harvard Professor Edward H. Clarke, claimed higher education was causing “physiological disasters” for young women, impeding the growth of “peculiar and marvellous” reproductive “apparatus” and disrupting menstruation:

There have been instances … of females who the special mechanism we are speaking of remained germinal … They graduated from school or college excellent scholars, but with undeveloped ovaries.

First published in 1873, Clarke’s treatise started life as a guest lecture at the monthly meeting of the New England Women’s Club in 1872, and was met with, as Clarke mildly puts it, “an unexpected amount of discussion”.  Despite its popularity, the book had little impact on the spread of co-education on both sides of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, as American educator and suffragist M. Carey Thomas stated, Clarke’s tome was a “gloomy little specter” that haunted early college women with its “clanging chains.”


Edward H. Clarke, Sex in education (1874), F8.1 C33

Satan in Society

Writing anonymously in 1874, American physician Nicholas Francis Cooke added religious concern to Clarke’s supposedly scientific arguments.  The impressively titled Satan in Society expressed moral outrage at “evils and dangers” of society’s “immorality and crime” in a comprehensive rebuttal of sexual ‘deviance’ in the form of masturbation, prostitution, abortion and women’s suffrage.


The forbidding cover of Satan in Society (1874), F8.13 P39

Women, Cooke writes, are “consecrated” by the arduous task of reproduction, which “dominates [their] entire being”.  The advent of the “periodical flow” therefore initiates “vast” physiological differences between men and women.  He also offers a grave (though fairly squeamish) warning against “intercourse during menstruation”:

“Sexual intercourse during the menstrual period … is dangerous for both parties, for reasons we will not dwell upon. It is sufficient to state the fact.”

“Sweet and Dainty”

In 1905 Emma Walker penned one of the first English guides for girls that addressed menstruation, offering stern advice to “keep a tighter grasp on your self-control” during the “periodic illness”.  Health advice literature proliferated at the end of the 19th century, and the health of girls was a regular feature of health periodicals and general domestic guides.  Increasingly, these guides were addressed directly to the girls in question, encouraging responsibility for their own health rather than the ‘traditional’ advice of their mothers.


Emma E. Walker, Beauty through hygiene (1905), F8.3 W9

Such guides framed the symptoms of menstruation as nothing alarming and urged a rational approach to hygiene and emotional stability. Though the new ‘menstrual rationale’ offered information and freedom not afforded to their mothers, much advice for girls in the late 19th and early 20th century still urged discretion.  “Too much care cannot be taken to keep yourself sweet and dainty”, Walker herself warned.


Ideas of menstrual ‘disability’ may have been successfully challenged by medical women like Catherine Chisholm, but notions of taboo and secrecy surrounding menstruation still persist to this day.

All these items and many more will be on display in the Rylands Gallery until the end of March 2019.  Come and explore for yourself!