Green oceans in Matthew Paris

Copies of Matthew Paris’ History include maps of England with Scotland and Wales that are oriented north, show the ocean green and use blue pigment for fresh waters.

They may be termed ‘mappa’ but they are none of them in the mappamundi style as such: no reference to fabulous creatures, bizarre half-humans, biblical figures or events. The landscape is bare except for structures as landmarks and indications of dense or sparse population. They are more clearly allied (save the last mentioned below) to the pragmatic style of the maritime charts or (much to the point in this case) military and administrative purposes.

The map first of these depicts Wales and England pretty well, though Scotland’s form is not quite as we show it now.

B.L. Cotton Claudius D vi (f. 12v).

another example in B.L. Royal 14 C vii (f. 5v) which you can see here.

and finally, in the same manuscript that shows Ireland alone: BL Harley 3686 (f. 13).

By contrast, one known as the Gough Map is orientated as a traditional mappamundi was, with east at top. It paints even the rivers green – which I think shows unfamiliarity with the convention.  Bodleian MS Gough Gen. Top. 16.

A blogpost in which all these images are brought together was written by Sarah Peverley, and I do recommend it:   ‘Medieval Maps of Scotland’ .

(Needless to say, Matthew Paris didn’t draw all these maps himself; it would be fascinating to find out more about the persons who did!)

But you can see why most of the early appraisers of the manuscript shown them by Wilfrid Voynich, by his wife or by their amenuensis Anne Nill gave it as their opinion that the work was early, possibly thirteenth century, and from England or Spain or ‘somewhere southern’ – those are the places where the new type of chart was made in that century.


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