One imagines fairy tale stories to be written in elaborate books or manuscripts with delicate drawings surrounding the words on all the pages. But these are not just fantasy, they’re called illuminated manuscripts and the drawings are said to have a lot of meaning.
Before the Medieval period, when literacy was not commonplace, manuscripts and books had elaborately decorated pages. The drawings and paintings were sculpted around the outer edges of pages, forming intricate and elaborate borders – or marginalia.
The marginalia included elaborate opening letters which today are known as drop caps and often still used in magazine articles and books.
Illuminated manuscripts actually told stories beyond the words written on the pages, and many of them share a common theme: knights fighting snails. In the video above ephemera* correspondent Phil Edwards from the website Vox explains why so many manuscripts depict knights fighting snails.
Edwards looks at research by book historian Lilian Randall, who in 1962 wrote a paper entitled The snail in Gothic marginal warfare. In the paper she looks at how the snail motif appeared in northern French illuminated manuscripts and later in Flemish and English marginalia and explains her theory around its origin.
Watch the video above to find out where the knights fought snails in illuminated manuscripts could come from. And if you’re interested in reading Randall’s paper, click here.
*In case you’re unsure what ephemera is, these are things that were created to only be enjoyed for a short time, like written or printed items of memorabilia. These are also known as transitory or short-lives items. Today there are many who collect ephemera such as letters, signs etc.
Video credit: Vox