British Library, Royal MS 2 B VII
(The Queen Mary Psalter)


Produced: England, c 1310-1320
Current Location: British Library, London, England, UK
Manuscript Type: Psalter
Bestiary Family: First : Transitional
Language: Latin/French
Folios: 319
Illustrated: Yes
Media: Parchment
Script: Gothic
Dimensions: Height: 27.5 cm Width: 17.5 cm
Sample page - British Library Royal MS 2B VII (Queen Mary Psalter)
Folio 100v


The bestiary is on folio 85v-130r. It is a bestiary in pictures only; there is no bestiary text. All of the illustrations are in the bottom margin of the manuscript; they are pen drawings mostly tinted with subdued colors. The illustrations usually appear in pairs on succeeding pages, with different aspects of the animal depicted in each image. The ape and the wolf have four consecutive illustrations each.

Following the bestiary sequence, the marginal illustrations shift to scenes of animals fighting humans and animals fighting other animals; many of the animals are hybrids or grotesques, though some are recognizable. There are also numerous hunting scenes. This non-bestiary animal sequence is on folio 130v-196r. A selection of these scenes is included in this manuscript's gallery.

The artist of the bestiary sequence does not seem to have understood the nature of some of the beasts he was illustrating. He has a penchant for drawing any unknown animal as a dog, ass, or deer. The panther looks like an ass, with cloven hooves; the asp, viper, serra, Ethiopian ants, crocodile and tiger look like dogs; and the serpent fleeing the naked man is a deer. Other creatures, particularly birds, are drawn more realistically.

[From Payne, p.16]

The rich decoration of the Queen Mary Psalter includes a bestiary in pictures: 90 tinted drawings forming part of the series of illustrations that adorns the lower margins of the pages. ... The order of beasts follows almost exactly that of Guillame le Clerc with nine animals then added. ... Although his work is found in other books little is known about the anonymous artist... -

[Adapted from the British Library description]

Psalter, in Latin, with the Canticles, Litany, &c., executed in England, and profusely illustrated. From f.85 b onwards the lower margins contain a series of exquisite little tinted drawings... They include illustrations of the Bestiary...

[From Warner, 1912]

The earliest note of ownership appears in a sixteenth-century hand on a page originally left blank between the Calendar and Psalms. ... 'This boke was sume tyme the Erle of Rutelands, and it was his wil that it shulde by successioun all way go to the lande of Ruteland or to him that linyally succedis by reson-of inheritaunce in the saide lande.' It is not made quite clear which Earl of Rutland is here meant. ... the reference is more probably to Thomas Manners, Lord Roos, in whose favor the earldom was revived in 1525, or to Henry his son, who succeeded him in 1543. The latter, like his father, belonged to the Protestant party, and on the accession of Queen Mary in July, 1553, he was immediately imprisoned... If the Psalter belonged to him, whether by inheritance or otherwise, this fact, though he was soon released, may have had something to do with its subsequent fate; for a second note, written in Latin by a different hand on a fly-leaf at the end, records that, when on the point of being conveyed abroad, it was stopped by Baldwin Smith, a London customs-officer, and presented by him in October of the same year to the Queen. ... Its modern title being thus henceforth justified, the volume remained in the possession of Queen Mary and her successors down to 1757, when the whole royal library at St. James's Palace was made over to the nation... Queen Mary's Psalter may ... fairly claim to stand in a class by itself, for, although less splendid than some others in its purely decorative work, it excels them all not only from the unusual number and beauty of its colored miniatures, but still more on account of the multitude of exquisite tinted drawings which are its most remarkable feature. Its text, apart from the descriptions in French attached to the series of Old Testament drawings, represents an ordinary form of the liturgical Psalter, the hundred and fifty Psalms being preceded by a Calendar and followed by the twelve Canticles... the artist evidently had recourse to the thirteenth-century Norman-French poem of Guillaume le Clerc, printed under the title Le Bestiaire. But although, in the main, he follows this poem closely and with the same order of subjects, he adds a few others which do not appear in the published text, so that he either used a fuller MS. than any now known or supplemented Guillaume le Clerc from some other authority. This was probably the same Latin prose moralized Bestiary which seems to have furnished Guillaume himself with his materials, and which is contained in the first two of four books forming a composite collection on natural history printed as an appendix to the works of Hugh of St. Victor. This well-known author, however, was only responsible for the second book (the one most used by Guillaume), the first being by Hugh Folieto, while the other two are anonymous.

Additional Descriptions

Additional description

Editions and Facsimiles

Printed facsimiles

Warner, 1912

Digital facsimiles

British Library