Exclusive excerpt Warrior’s Surrender:

She fingered the titles as she walked by—Bibles, stories of saints, legends of yore and local histories. Frey had a decent command of Latin thanks to nearly six years in Scotland. There had been precious little else to occupy her days and the scholars paid to keep the exiles’ offspring out of mischief did not care if one more joined in their studies.

At the far end of the library, her attention was caught by a raised platform upon which a stood a beautifully carved desk. On it, in turn, sat a large, elaborately bound leather volume.

Frey opened the cover. The beautifully illuminated frontispiece was decorated in vivid red, green, and blue inks, as well as gold leaf. It read Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum—The Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

A beautiful illuminated manuscript

A beautiful illuminated manuscript

Up until the era of moveable time, books were expensive and handcrafted.

It might be assumed that because they were written by hand, they weren’t accurate, subject to errors and interpretation.

That concept comes close to being a medieval myth, but alas it didn’t make the cut for this week’s Mythbusters.

Here is how books were copied.

Until the 9th century, there were no divisions between the words in either Greek or Latin manuscripts. In other words, thereaderwouldhavetoknowwhenonewordleftoffandanotherbegan. The text would be checked for scribal errors only, corrected, and then the rubricator would add the titles, initial capitals and paragraph marks. Rubric comes from the Latin word for red, because these important headings were often inked in red. After the rubrics were added, the manuscript was ready to be sent to the illuminator.

Owning a book, indeed the ability to read, was something to be celebrated and great pride was taken in accurately copying the source text:

Before the invention of mechanical printing, books were handmade objects, treasured as works of art and as symbols of enduring knowledge. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, the book becomes an attribute of God.

Every stage in the creation of a medieval book required intensive labor, sometimes involving the collaboration of entire workshops. Parchment for the pages had to be made from the dried hides of animals, cut to size and sewn into quires; inks had to be mixed, pens prepared, and the pages ruled for lettering. A scribe copied the text from an established edition, and artists might then embellish it with illustrations, decorated initials, and ornament in the margins. The most lavish medieval books were bound in covers set with enamels, jewels, and ivory carvings.


A medieval psalter – look at the beautiful illustrations!

The book, as we know it today, started in the Roman era.

Eventually, in an important innovation, the Romans substituted parchment for the wooden leaves of the tabula to form the notebook (membranae), which was the prototype of the modern book. Parchment was folded in half to yield a gathering (or quire) of two leaves or four pages, one-half the width of the original (folio). Folding the sheet again gave four leaves or eight pages (quarto); and yet again, eight leaves or sixteen pages (octavo), which was the size of most notebooks. Papyrus also could be used to make books, but the sheets were not large enough to be folded more than once, which meant that a papyrus book had to be formed from a number of single-sheet quires.

And, there are some issues which transcend time and technology…