Once in a life time…

As an historian I have been trained to regard the word unique with the greatest possible mistrust. Uniqueness in the past cannot be verified, and in the present too many things and events share the epitethon “unique”. Bearing this in mind I would like to write about a rather special exhibition at Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen. The fifteenth-century book of hours of Catherine of Cleves, the duchess of Guelders, kept in two parts at the Pierpont Morgan Library of New York (M-917 and M-945), has been lifted from its bindings. Thus it is possible to show several of the 158 surviving miniatures at the same time. It will not be an unique exhibition, because from Februay 5, 2010 on this beautiful manuscript will be shown in New York after its return. The uniqueness of the Nijmegen exhibition is the accompanying exhibition at the same museum near the Valkhof, a former Pfalz of the dukes of Guelders where the old chapel is said to date from the Carolingian age. It shows the duchess at her table. Her husband, Arnold of Egmond, made in 1451-1452 a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; a Venetian safe conduct for him has been preserved. Luckily accounts survive which show how and where the duchess lived during her regency, and in particular her expenses for food and cookery, registered by the ducal toll of Lobith. The price of her book of hours must have been an immense sum, surely the greatest expense of Catherine’s life. In the Stratemakerstoren near the river Waal  in the old city of Nijmegen, a sixteenth-century former rampart, a small exhibition is held on Catherine’s travels through the duchy of Guelders.

The Vereniging Gelre, the society for the history of Guelders, has been very active since its foundation in 1897. Its journal, de Bijdragen, and the Werken, its publication series, contain many contributions for the legal history of the duchy of Guelders and the province of Gelderland. The links page of this society’s website guide you to information on the parts of Guelders which are situated now in the province of Overijssel and Limburg, and also in Germany. The Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis has published a research guide to the archival records concerning the administrative, economic and social history of the counties Holland, Zeeland, Guelders and the diocese Utrecht edited by Michel van Gent and Marie-Charlotte Le Bailly, Gids voor de landsheerlijke archieven van Gelre, Holland, Zeeland en het Sticht. Bestuurlijke, economische en sociale geschiedenis voor 1500 (The Hague 2002; also available online). Many records for the history of Gelre are kept at the Gelders Archief in Arnhem. At the site of the Institute for Dutch History you will find an online database on the landdagen (diets and official meetings) of Guelders from 1423 to 1584, with digitized images of the records. Charters have been carefully edited in the eight volumes of the Oorkondenboek van Gelre en Zutphen tot 1326, edited by E.C. Dijkhof, E.J. Harenberg and M.S. Polak (The Hague 1980-2003), now also available online.

For those unable to visit either Nijmegen or New York  a popular book has been published on the Catherine of Cleves Hours (available in Dutch, English and German), together with a book on her table expenses and travels – Ruud Priem (ed.), Op reis en aan tafel met Katherina van Kleef 1417-1476 (Nijmegen-Antwerpen 2009); only in Dutch – , and a splendid full catalogue on the exhibition, Rob Dückers, Ruud Priem (ed.), The Hours of Catherina of Cleves. Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century (Antwerpen 2009); only in English. For some reason no images of this famous manuscript are shown on the remarkable Corsair website of the Morgan Library. Instead there is now a complete online digital version of the Catherine of Cleves Hours on the main website of the Morgan Library.  Among the over twenty thousand images from medieval and renaissance manuscripts on the Corsair website surely some will be of interest to you. You will find in the Morgan Library legal manuscripts and documents, too, for instance a Codex Justinianus, a Summa Institutionum, the Decretals of Gregory IX and the Clementinae, a Bolognese register of creditors, a Livre de gouvernement des rois et princes, Italian city statutes and an English register of writs.

Books on medieval manuscripts are often announced on the e-journal Bifolium. The earlier printed version was founded by the late Jos Hermans, professor of paleography at Groningen University.


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