Medieval Monsters Terrors, Aliens, Wonders… yes – really.

During the A&R Group’s research on the Bestiary, Eleanor discovered that the book has recently undergone conservation, including being re-bound, and as a result of this it will be discussed in Copenhagen at a conference on conservation of manuscripts.

In the introduction to the talk involving “our” Bestiary, Conservator Justine Provino describes it:

“The Fountains Abbey Bestiary (MS M.890) is dated circa 1325-1350 and probably executed in the Cistercian abbey of Fountains, in North Yorkshire, England. In 1959, the American collector, Alastair Bradley Martin (1917-2010), donated the book to the Morgan Library & Museum, in New York.”

Interestingly – and working in our favour – she also describes previous work undertaken on the book thus:

“…including 4 Early Medieval service book leaves that served as a wrapper. These leaves were turned into decorative “endpapers” when the book was fully rebound by the London firm Sangorsky and Sutcliffe in 1920 for a Sotheby’s sale. Sydney Cockerell (1867-1962), the British museum curator and collector, purchased the book at the time and tipped in extra blank vellum endpapers. He used the additional parchment to paste historic materials cut-outs and wrote bibliographical annotations.”

It is these Early Medieval service book leaves that have given rise to the name Fountains’ Bestiary and the notion that it was created there. Time will tell, and research is underway by our tiny group – but they are determined to discover more about the Bestiary, its origins and its owners. As it says itself “Mr. Merkynfeld owes [sic] this book”

An abstract of the paper to be given at the conference can be found HERE – it proves to be a fascinating talk and we are very much hoping that the paper will be published and therefore made available to the Hall.

The Bestiary will go on show at the Morgan this summer in an exhibition called,‘Medieval Monsters, Terrors, Aliens, Wonders’.



The finishing touches

Two days to go until we unveil our Caroline Norton exhibition to the world..

We are delighted that Caroline’s biographer, Diane Atkinson, agreed to write an introduction to the exhibition. Diane spent a number of days at the Hall, reading through the letters and other documents we have belonging to Caroline. Diane ends her introduction with the words:

“When she died in 1877 her once scandalous and then virtuous reputation faded fast. Now everyone should know about Caroline Norton and her life and work, and every time a woman makes one step forward in securing justice and freedom, thank Caroline.”

Diane Atkinson

We have found some real gems in the archive and we truly hope that this exhibition will be the first step in making Caroline a household name once more – and in granting her the recognition she deserves.



It’s not Fountains’ – it’s ours!

We are so incredibly lucky here at the Hall to have some truly dedicated volunteers. They arrive in all manner of different ways – some come with friends who are already involved with the Hall, some contact us to ask if they can help… and some just fall into your lap as if by magic.

During the Hall’s Open Days last year I was helping out on the welcome desk (aka a tiny table near the entrance) and a lady asked if we knew anything of the history of the northern branch of the Markenfield family as she had traced her family history back to them.

A conversation ensued in which she agreed to send on what she had discovered… little did we know that this lady would go on to re-write our history books – and inspire the strapline of this Blog.

Eleanor has been truly marvelous. She has found family connections that were unknown to us, burials we had been unable to trace and now… she has found “The Fountains’ Bestiary” – except it’s not Fountains’ – it’s ours!

The inside rear page of the “Fountains” Bestiary

An article on the Bestiary, written by Eleanor, can be found below:

The other day, quite by chance, I came across a reference to a Mr Markenfield having owned a Bestiary said to have come from Fountains Abbey. The manuscript was described in a 1956 Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Manchester, and at this time was in the private collection of Sir Sydney Cockerell – one-time director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Cockerell, who died in 1960, counted John Ruskin, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Burne-Jones as friends; and some of the most spectacular acquisitions he made for the museum include William Morris’ Kelmscott Press books and a superb collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts.

The trail went cold at that point, so I took a gamble that the manuscript might be known as the Fountains Abbey Bestiary – lo and behold, the name was correct and I discovered that the manuscript is now in the Morgan Library and Museum, Madison Avenue, New York.

The back page bears the inscription “Mr. Merkynfeld owes [sic] this book”.

This could be Thomas IV or Thomas V, depending on when the manuscript came into the family. The Morgan Library and Museum have traced the provenance of the manuscript, and state that it was “probably executed at Fountains Abbey”. They also confirm that it was owned by Mr. Merkynfeld in the 16th century, and then passed into the Ingleby family – they think by marriage when Thomas V married Isabella Ingleby; but it is more likely that it passed to the Inglebys following the Rising of the North. It was sold by the Ingilby family at auction in 1920, when it was bought by Sir Sydney Cockerell.

A glance through the pages brings mediaeval life and beliefs vividly to life: the Bestiary, or Book of Beasts, is part religious text and part description of the world as it was known.

This page depicts an elephant standing in front of a Gatehouse – as Fountains Abbey never had a Gatehouse, it is tempting to think that perhaps Markenfield provided the inspiration – although maybe not for the elephant… Research into this peculiar, enigmatic and puzzling book is ongoing.

Further information, and images of all the pages, can be found on the Morgan Library & Museum website HERE



Our historic heroes

18.03 Markenfield Archive Volunteers
Dr Maryon Dougil & Janet Senior transcribing Caroline’s letters

They’ve battled the Beast from the East, the Whimper from the West and Fletcher the Hall’s homicidal pheasant – all in the name of Caroline Norton!

We would like to thank Janet and Maryon very much for all their tireless hard work, dedication to cause and boundless enthusiasm in the face of an ever-looming deadline.

Box clever…

When is a box not just a box? When it is going to house old, important and fragile documents – then it becomes a piece of conservation equipment in its own right

Boxes 03
One of the four English Oak display cabinets being lined

With thanks to The Friends of Markenfield Hall, the Archive & Research Group are now the proud owners of four wooden display cases, made on the Estate and specifically to fit on the bookcases in the Great Hall. These will house the Caroline Norton documents when the exhibition opens at the end of this month.

But as nothing in life is ever simple, the cases had to be lined before they could be used. Wood is one of the worst materials to store paper in, and oak is the worst wood of all. Subsequently, each box was painstakingly lined with a barrier paper that would stop the wood from “offgassing” (yes that is a word!) into the sealed case. Each case has a barrier membrane hidden under a layer of cork that is then covered with green baize. The cases were left to air for a month to ensure as much offgassing was done prior to the exhibition as possible.

We are delighted with the results and hope that this year’s exhibition will be just the start of things to come.

Caroline Norton

An amazing find…

Letter to Mr Lowther 03
Caroline’s letter to her lawyer Mr Lowther, in which she expresses her concern over her two remaining sons

We were amazed to find this gem of a document among Caroline’s papers in the Hall’s archives. It comes from later in her life when her two surviving boys were fully grown and living independent – if chaotic – lives.

Brin, her eldest, also suffered a fall from a horse as a child and as a result suffered what we would know of today as a Traumatic Brain Injury. This altered his personality for life, making him impulsive and somewhat reckless.

Mariuccia and Brin by CN
Mariuccia and Brin – a sketch by Caroline Norton

Brin met and subsequently married Mariuccia – a “peasant” girl – whilst in Naples, causing both his parents, but mainly Caroline, great anxiety. George Norton refused to allow his son to bring his new family back into London’s polite society, and as such Caroline spent many of her latter years living on the island of Capri with Brin and his family.

The letter to Mr Lowther, marked Private, shows how she sent her youngest son Fletcher out to Capri to try and stop Brin from purchasing a farm there. A transcript of the letter can be found below:


Dear Sir

My excuse for addressing you must be in the strange circumstances which requires it. I hear you have been very kind and taken a great deal of trouble for my reckless son Brinsley. I write to entreat that – if it is possible – no matter if business should be concluded before the arrival of Mr Fletcher Norton who will very soon be in Naples.
Fletcher will decide, he will settle arrangements about the farm which I understand Brinsley desires to occupy.

(I would ask of you to inform me(or Mr Lowther for me) what the rent for 6 months, month, or year would be of such a farm, furnished and fit for occupation)
I wish to know this, because, in the event of it, being purchased, I should wish to rent it if Fletcher for his brother and some stranger occupied it.

I entreat of you utterly to discard all notion of the possibility of my younger son being a responsible agent in this matter. He has not a farthing in the world, that is not dependent on his Father’s pleasure. He is at present (I hope not permanently) on such terms as to preclude the idea of assistance from his father.

My means are less than I thought they would be, owing to circumstances I need not allude to further. When I die, a very small portion of my income is all that Brinsley can inherit of my mother’s will, the rest reverts to my Brother’s children. I trouble you with these explanations to prove to you that it is impossible to reckon on this rash young man, and that any liabilities he undertakes must in fact fall upon me;- who am at a distance, who may not be able to meet them, and who cannot control them or him.

Whatever my son Fletcher desires and decides, when he arrives; I will abide by or provide for:- but I ask it as one kindness more, to Brinsley himself on no account to allow his over sanguine views of possibilities, and probabilities, to weigh with you in any bargain proposed to be entered into by him on his Brother’s name, or in his own.

The marriage I understand he has made, will of itself form a plea for continued severity, if not of utter casting off, on his Father’s part; it will greatly increase all his difficulties I cannot too strenuously impress upon you the necessity of considering Brinsley as a complete cypher in any matter of business, which may be transacting. I know Fletcher imagined that the transaction was incomplete and awaiting his arrival. And if it is only by a note from Brinsley and his Brother received and opened by me this day. (Fletcher having started on his journey) that I gather that Brinsley is endeavouring to clinch the matter and pay the main sum stipulated, for the purchase of this farm.

All these little Neapolitan properties are extremely insecure: generally burdened with debt: and likely to be faulty in title: to say nothing of the very imminent chance if war or change of government rending and English resident title null and void.

I add a “codicil” to my letter – revoking my will- about writing to Wreford. I will not write to an utter stranger; but if you would have the kindness to write him a note saying you have heard from me and impressing upon him what I have marked in red ink you will do me a service. Before I heard of Brin’s mad scheme of marriage, I sent to Turner a hundred pounds to keep him “fed” – Fletcher in the over indulgence of his heart, had given him leave to draw another hundred upon him. I only hope this may not make it possible for him to conclude without Fletcher. If the place is purchased, it must be Fletcher, – if so I have told F. Brin would pawn it or do something wonderfully foolish – and his future I hope, ( in spite of past rashness) is not to be a farmer in Capri.

Will you do this also for me. Warn Brinsley, – whatever discontent instead of gratitude he may feel – to beware of fretting Fletcher’s opposition or passion. Fletcher has been singularly unwell and low – I do not think he has ever recovered his journey or his vexation – I think more shocks might be positively dangerous – and all my old cowardice about his health has returned.

If it were not for the doubts about Brin and present position, and the very awkward circumstance if he has married this poor girl, – and the necessity of my attending still to matters connected with the legal struggle between me and my cruel and dastardly husband, – I should have accompanied Fletcher to Naples.

As it is, – I still look forward to joining him and evidently he looks to making Naples his perpetual Winter quarters; whatever the Summer may permit, of pleasure or occupation in other countries. All this I must see to – and there are no dates yet in my plans.

Therefore, if you can spare the time with me how Fletcher seems in health after he arrives telling me the real truth, as about other matters I do not write to Brin as he has not yet written to me on the subject, I should therefore have to pass over in silence, – and which I wait to hear of from himself. I only want the message given to him to be careful of Fletcher , for I really think him very unwell – so if the dispute as to the wisdom of possessing this farm, or the means of selling it, it will be very hard upon F who is worried to death already and very week.

My very best, CN

I am with my sister Lady Dufferin in Claudeboye, Belfast, Ireland


Diary of an Exhibition – part one

One of a number of Caroline Norton’s letters held in the Hall’s Archives.

Yesterday was a landmark day for Markenfield, in that we held a planning meeting to discuss the forthcoming Caroline Norton Exhibition – scheduled to run during our 30 Open Afternoons this spring and summer.

The Hall has never held a true exhibition – containing original documents – before, and the excitement was palpable.

The Friends of Markenfield’s Archive & Research Group has been hard at work this winter sorting and transcribing the Caroline Norton papers that are held here. Caroline was a famous Victorian Society Beauty – but she was so much more than that, she was a poet and author, a campaigner and a social reformer.

She was already a talented writer when she met and married the Hon. George Norton (brother to 3rd Lord Grantley) but it was her marriage that made her become the campaigner.

Caroline was never happily married – George tried to isolate his beautiful, talented wife; and she rebelled against him, gathering admirers along the way. The most famous of her admirers was the Prime Minister of the time Lord Melbourne. George took Caroline to Court, accusing her of “Criminal Conversation” (today’s version of Adultery) and citing Lord Melbourne as the co-respondent.

As a result of this trial, Caroline lost access to her children and to her personal wealth – both considered the property of her husband. It was this that spurred her on to fight against the system – and she went on to win. Sadly, in her case, not before tragedy struck; but her tireless lobbying and campaigning changed the law for women and the way they were seen in the UK.