This summer Christie’s auctions off a priceless manuscript – The Gospels of Queen Theutberga – from c. 825 – 850.
Last seen nearly twenty years ago a pristine early medieval manuscript – the alleged Gospels of Theutberga – from c. 825 – 850 will be auctioned off in mid-July by Christie’s. Somewhat conservatively valued between £1 – 1.5 mill, it is probably worth much more.
It is not likely to be bought up by a publicly owned collection. Hopefully, though, a new owner will allow a digitization of the manuscript in order to make it available to scholars as well as the general public.
The manuscript is a beautiful Gospel, probably written in Metz, or possibly at Murbach in 727 . Tradition has it that the Gospel was part of Queen Theutberga’s valuables, which she brought with her to the abbey at St. Glossinde in Metz, where she took refuge in the 860s (see below). However, no form evidence may be found for this claim.
It holds 200 leaves and is in a remarkable condition. It is written in a dark brown ink in a fine Carolingian minuscule very slightly sloping to the right, with with the opening line of each chapter written in red capitals and line initials in alternating red or trees. The canon pages are in full colours (but no gold) including pale and dark green, slate grey, black, yellow-brown, red, pale and dark blue, white, etc. The manuscript was bound in 1933 in blind-stamped alum-tawed skin over wooden boards with sides tooled in a Celtic interlace pattern. The bind was made by Douglas Cockerell (1870-1945) and carries with his stamp inside the lower cover.
The book is thought to have travelled with Queen Theutberga to the abbey at St Glossinde, Metz. Notes still visible in the manuscript show that it was later housed with Benedictine nuns 30 miles away in Poussay, in the 11th century, before disappearing from the records for around 500 years.
It resurfaced in the early 19th century library of Luxuei. From there, it passed through some of the greatest book collections of their kind, from Sir William Tite, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, to the first Lord Peckover of Wisbech, and Charles Hornby.
By 1997, it was owned by the Beck Collection and sold for around £1million at Sotheby’s. From there, it passed on to an anonymous European collection.
Theutberga was a daughter of Boso the Elder, a member of the Bosonide clan, a powerful and well connected force in Lotharingia/Lorraine. Her brother, Boso, married the daughter of emperor Louis II and empress Angelberga. Her sister, Richild, was married to Count Biwin, an Austrasian noble; their daughter, also Richild, became the second wife of Charles the Bald.
Lothar II of Lotharingia was a great-grandson of Charlemagne. He ruled the middle kingdom North of the Alps between France and Germany. He had a mistress, Waldrada, with whom he had four children. However, in 855, he was compelled to marry Theutberga, whose brother was in the position of blocking an attack over the Alps. Nevertheless, soon after the threat of war faded Lothar went back to Waldrada and Theutberga remained barren. In order to have his children with Waldrada legitimized, Lothar tried repeatedly to have his marriage dissolved and in this connection he accused Theutberga of an incestuous relationship with her brother Hugobert. After the accusation, Hugobert and Theutberga fled to Lothar’s uncle, Charles the Bald, who took them in and gave her refuge in a nunnery. She proved her innocence of incest by ordeal within the year and Lothar was forced to take her back. Immediately afterwards, he imprisoned her until she asked to have her marriage dissolved that she might enter a convent.
At this point Lothar renewed his accusations and demanded a public confession, which she apparently conceded to out of fear of torture. The king also convened an ecclesiastical tribunal, while Theutberga once more escaped to her brother.
The bishops of Lotharingia wrote to Hincmar of Reims to ask if a woman could conceive a child and remain a virgin, to which he answered that with witchcraft the female vulva could attract sperm without copulation, but he did not accept that her guilt had been established as prescribed in canon law; he did however say that a man’s lover (in this case Waldrada) could by sorcery prevent the man from impregnating a woman, so he recommended the exorcism of Lothar rather than divorce from Theutberga.
Nevertheless, the bishops declared his marriage null and void in 862 and again in 863. But the Pope, to whom Theutberga had appealed, did not accept it.
Under pressure from his uncles, Lothar returned to Theutberga in 865, but he continued to pressure her for a separation on the grounds of her barrenness. When Lothar died in 869, on his way back from a visit to a later pope, Hadrian II, she had already retired to the abbey of St. Glossinde of Metz, where she remained until her death on 11 November 875.
According to the description made by Sotherby’s in 1997, the manuscripts “has an apparent provenance in Metz in the ninth century. After the death of Charlemagne, the great centres of illumination moved from Aachen to Tours, Rheims and Metz, the latter under the rule of the outstanding Bishop Drogo, bishop 823-55, who commissioned there some of the most impressive manuscripts of the century. In 1974, the late Professors Carl Nordenfalk and Bernhard Bischoff both compared the style of illumination of the present manuscript with that of the astronomical manuscript in Madrid (Biblioteca Nacional Cod.3307), illuminated at Metz between 820 and 840 for Drogo himself (W. Koehler, Die karolingische Miniaturen, III, 1960, pls.53-60; F. Mutherich and J.E. Gaehde, Carolingian Painting, 1977, no.XIII). These manuscripts use the same almost sketchy figure style with coloured washes and free brushstroke shading, clearly modelled on antique prototypes. Similar figure style and colouring occur in the great Drogo Sacramentary, one of the most important extant books of the mid-ninth century (Paris, B.N. ms.lat.9428, reproduced in facsimile, Drogo Sakramentar, ed. F. Mutherich, 1974). Other books written at Metz during the rule of Drogo include three further Evangeliaries (Paris, B.N. mss.lat 268, 9383 and 9388), a manuscript of St.Augustine on John, signed by the scribe Adelhart (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek MS.Phill.1662); and at least four further manuscripts once in the Bibliotheque de la Ville in Metz were destroyed in 1944 (mss.7, 76, 134 and 209). LITERATURE H. Engelhart, Die Wurzburger Buchmalerei im Hohen Mittelalter, 1987 (Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Bistums und Hochstifts Wurzburg, XXXIV), p.56, pl.205.” (The Gospels of Queen Theutberga of Lorraine, In Latin, Manuscript on Vellum by Sotherby’s). The new description of the manuscript presented by Christie’s concur in this provenance.
All are © of Christie’s 2015
Valuable Books and Manuscripts including Cartography
London, King Street
A full presentation of the manuscript may be had from the Christie’s catalogue
The Divorce of Lothar II, Christian Marriage and Political Power in the Carolingian World
By Karl Heidecker
Ithaca: Cornell University, 2010).
Dissolving Royal Marriages. A Documentary History, 860 – 1600
By David d’Avrey
Cambridge University press 2014