Terribly sorry about the rain, but there really wasn’t any way around it. Oxford in 1444 is a soggy mess—I SAID, IT’S A SOGGY MESS. COME CLOSER SO YOU CAN HEAR ME. Good. And try to look like you fit in, the locals are already staring. Well, don’t stare back. You’ll make it worse. Eyes on me until we’re ready to move.

Okay. So like I said, it’s 1444. Henry the VI is on the throne, he’s just married Margaret of Anjou and it’s thought that this will bring a bit of peace between England and France. Of course it won’t, but no one knows that yet so don’t say anything. France and—my goodness, it’s really coming down. I can barely see across the courtyard. Anyway, England and France have been going at it for a hundred years—literally. That’s why it’s called the Hundred Years War. But Henry VI isn’t much into governing, so what do you think’s happening as we stand here in this growing mud puddle? You guessed it; the court favorites are running things in their own best interest. What does this have to do with the Bodleian library? Remember what I said last time?

It’s never a good time to build a library.

HumphreyGloucesterBut the Oxfordians (if that’s a word) are about to do it again. They’re about to build a new library—a real library, not just a storage closet next to a church. Here’s why: the King’s uncle, Duke Humphrey, is a keen book collector. Oh, here’s his picture on the right. Isn’t that a great hat? Anyway, in 1444 he—well, do you see those chests they’re carrying through those wooden doors? They’re filled with over 281 manuscripts, handwritten and illuminated, super expensive. Duke Humphrey just donated them.

Now, try and imagine for just a moment, never having seen more than twenty books in one place.

Your entire life. Twenty books.

Now you’re seeing over 281. These are precious, precious treasures. That’s why they’re building the new library over the Divinity School. You see, with the city flooding so often there’s no way they’re going to keep all these manuscripts at ground level. Now, let’s step inside the Divinity School and dry off a bit. Make sure to shake off your umbrellas.

Divinity School

Oh, what a hush after standing outside in the pouring rain! Just take a breath. Don’t you love the detailed stonework in this room? I could sit her all day. If it looks familiar it might be because you saw it in the Harry Potter films. It played the part of the hospital wing. Go ahead and take a seat on one of the benches and I’ll finish up the tour.

Everyone comfortable? Good, good. So these people don’t know it yet, but in three years Duke Humphrey will—wait, lean in, I have to whisper this: He’ll be murdered on the orders of one of the king’s advisors—or so the rumors will go. All we know is that he died while under arrest.

But the books are here, and the new Duke Humphrey’s library is being built right above us, though it won’t be finished and opened to students for another 44 years. But it didn’t last for too long. I’ll explain next Wednesday when we come back. The year will be 1550. It was a bad year for books.

All right, we should get back to 2016. Your co-workers and family will be wondering what happened to you. Gather around. Tight, tight, tight. We don’t want to leave anyone behind. Here we go.


Okay, let me count everyone…looks like we all made it. Please take the human exits out of the library, otherwise you run the risk of meeting a—stop.

No, no, no…this isn’t good. There’s a dragon coming down the left corridor. Everyone: into that nook, behind the dictionaries. That’s it. Why would a dragon come down here? They never come…wait, why is he looking this way? Quick, quick, out the back door.

Everyone out? That was odd; dragons aren’t supposed to spot us that easily. I mean, we’re fictional creatures to them. And it’s hard to see what you don’t believe in. I wonder if the Agreement has—that is, pay no mind to me. I’ll see all of you next Wednesday. You’ve been a great group!

What did you think of our time-traveling destination today? Have you ever had the chance to see a very old manuscript at a museum? What’s the largest library you’ve ever been too, or want to visit? 


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4 thoughts on “It’s 1444 and the Books are Here

  • August 17, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Love, love, love this week’s tour! I’ve seen old manuscripts in the Huntington Library in San Marino, Southern California. If I recall (it’s been some years), they have a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.

    I also saw potrions of the Dead Sea Scrolls at an exhibition but that was in a museum, not a library.

    Largest one? Hmmm, I don’t recall. I never counted the volumes when I was in the library! 😉 I’m not so drawn by size as I am by the books. I love, love, love books and access to them. I can get lost in libraries, looking at books.


    • August 18, 2016 at 3:06 am

      Oh, I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls too! They were at the San Diego Natural History museum. Aren’t they amazing?? And I love the Huntington Library. They have so many changing exhibitions. And the Gutenberg is stunning. Glad you time traveled with me today 🙂

  • August 17, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    What a creative way to teach history. I feel like I’m really there. The idea of the rain and the need for an umbrella makes it seem so real. The unexpected appearance of the dragons is frightening but fun. Love it.

    • August 18, 2016 at 3:07 am

      Thank you! I hope the time traveling didn’t disorient you too much 🙂


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