A time capsule from the Middle Ages

In the Book History class I am running with the book historian Paul Hoftijzer we recently discovered the remains of a medieval archive. It concerns 132 notes, letters and receipts from an unidentified court in the Rhine region, jotted on little slips of paper. Such objects rarely survive from medieval society because they were normally thrown away after use.

In fact, the same happened with these slips, be it that an early-modern bookbinder fished them out of the bin and recycled them as boards. The importance of the notes is not just connected to their low survival rate, but also because they tell us every-day things that we normally rarely hear about in historical sources. “Could you please send me 6 guilders?,” writes the Steward to the Chamberlain. “Could you please send me some wild roses, preferably not yet in bloom?,” says a note from the duke himself.

Here are five samples from the large pile, charming and vulnerable stowaways that traveled through time hidden inside a binding. The book with the archive is part of the Bibliotheca Thysiana, a seventeenth-century library in Leiden, established by Johannes Thysius (d. 1653). Thysius bought the volume second-hand and had likely no idea of the hidden treasures it contained. The discovery featured in Dutch and Flemish national newspapers on 25 April, 2013. More information is available on the website of Leiden University’s Arts Faculty (in Dutch).

The images in this blog were taken by Giulio Menna (@sexycodicology). Check out some other discoveries made in our Book History course on our Flickr stream. I am tweeting new discoveries via #thysiana (@erik_kwakkel).