Medieval Manuscripts in Law Book Bindings, no. 8

February 16, 2010


Fragment: Breviary (England)
Date: c. 1225-1325
Found in: [Year Books, Edward III.] Regis pie memorie Edwardi Tertii a quadragesimo ad quinquagesimum. London: Richard Tottell, 1565.


Here we find a good example of how 15th- and 16th-century bookbinders used fragments of medieval manuscripts as “strengtheners.” Strengtheners are strips of parchment or paper that were wrapped around the inner edge of the first and last sections of a book in order to protect them at the point where the paper might otherwise rub against rough portions of the binding. The Law Library has about twenty-five early books with visible fragments of medieval manuscripts used as guards in this way. While most are not large enough to be displayed well, some of the fragments can be identified. As we learn more about the bookbinding trade in the first several decades of print, even small fragments will become valuable pieces of evidence about the distribution of manuscripts in the late Middle Ages.

The strengthener seen here is from a breviary with both sides featuring elements of the Divine Office for Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter). On the left side we see a decorated initial “A” beginning the first reading for the service of Matins (Lamentations 1:1-2). On the right side we see pieces of the music and text for short liturgical chants called “antiphons,” which were used to introduce the Psalms during Lauds. Notice how the initials in the antiphons have been lightly decorated with little faces.

   – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

POSTSCRIPT: Thanks to Richard Rouse (UCLA) for clarifying the origin of the manuscript fragment.

Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .[at]>

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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