I had made up my mind to skip my usual Friday blog-post this week, but a researcher in the searchroom has just shown me something which seems worth sharing right away. It was found in a book that would go right over my head: the legal precedent book of Sir Robert Drury of Hawstead, Suffolk (c1455-1535). Drury was a distinguished lawyer and royal servant, and for a time speaker of the House of Commons. The book was, according to our catalogue “apparently drawn up in Sir Robert Drury’s life for him or by a confidential clerk in his service”. However, although the catalogue originally mentioned the fact that the back flyleaf bears the name of one John Ryngsted, it did not mention (until I added it just now) the little portrait, which has been faintly inked on to the same page – so faintly, you may struggle to make the image out clearly.
A portrait of Mr Ryngsted, perhaps? Even a self-portrait? And what do you make of his get-up?
This small paper and parchment notebook dating from end of the fifteenth century was found amongst the Gresley family papers (D77), and was badly damaged by damp and mould. The item has since undergone conservation work, and has been packaged very carefully to protect it – it even has its own pillow! It is sometimes known as the John Banys dance notebook, because it contains a list of medieval dances, with choreography and dance melodies. The same book also contains other material which, unlike the dance sections, is written in Latin: some prayers; a treatise on physiognomy (the assessment of a person’s character from their outer appearance, particularly the face); and an intriguing treatise on chiromancy (palm reading) which includes this drawing of some hands:
If you arrive in the searchroom and ask to see the notebook (D77/4/25/25), we hope you won’t be too disappointed to be offered a look at a high-resolution copy (CD/133) instead – the original only comes out on special occasions!
Becky Sheldon, Archivist, writes:
In my first year or so as an archivist at Derbyshire, I spent a very significant amount of time working on the large Gresley family of Drakelow collection, and my ears prick up each time I hear the name Gresley mentioned… …the quaint looking book is incredibly charming with beautifully written text, intricately drawn hands to accompany the chiromancy, or palmistry, notes and an ironic comfortableness in the familiarity in form of the dance melodies.
The choreography sections of the manuscript continue to inspire modern-day experts in early dance. Here, by way of example, is a video of the Greensleeves group performing some of the dances.