Tag Archives: Henry Bradshaw

A Persian-Indian crowning jewel at King’s

In 1788 a letter of benefaction was received by the Provost and Fellows of King’s from Patna in India. A Kingsman by the name of Edward Ephraim Pote (1750-1832) was announcing that he had ‘acquired a collection of Persian Manuscripts amounting to more than five hundred and fifty volumes’ and was arranging to have them shipped to England to be divided between the colleges of King’s and Eton. This, he said, was ‘to shew my gratitude to those Foundations to whose institutions I am indebted for my education’ (King’s College Archives: KCAC/6/2/23 or LIB/10.2).

Our recent research confirms what has long been suspected, that the Pote manuscripts had formed the bulk of the collection of Colonel Antoine-Louis Polier (1741–1795). As Henry Bradshaw noted, Polier’s seal appears on a large number of the manuscripts and his autograph is on several of them. Polier was an officer and agent of the East India Company, assimilated into the Mughal Courts, and, later in his career, an orientalist, collector and patron of the arts in Lucknow. The collection is dominated by Persian manuscripts, but it also contains codices in Hindustani and Arabic.

At the invitation of Professor Jean Michel Massing and with the support of the Apelles Art History Fund we have recently catalogued the half of the Pote Collection belonging to King’s and made the records globally accessible via the union catalogue of manuscripts in British collections from the Islamicate world known as Fihrist (www.Fihrist.org.uk). The Apelles Art History Fund was established by King’s in 2016 to support original research in the history of art at the College, patrimonial acquisitions and the restoration of art works owned by the College. It commemorates Professor Massing’s contribution to the field and encourages continued exploration and discovery in the arts. In the first years, one of the priorities of the Fund is research on the College’s works of art, including the Pote Collection of Islamic manuscripts and the Keynes Art Collection.

To help raise awareness of the little-studied Pote Collection, this post introduces one of its highlights: King’s Pote MS 186. This manuscript, comprising a collection of poems, is a feast for the eyes: the lyrical verses are arranged in a calligraphic layout, penned by the famous ‘Royal Scribe’ (Kātib al-Sulṭānī) Mīr ‘Alī Haravī (flourished 915–951/1509–1544), framed by exquisitely decorated margins, and enclosed in a beautiful lacquer binding and doublures (inside bindings).

Left half of the double-page frontispiece, Dīvān of Hilālī, penned by Mīr ‘Alī Haravī, dated 938/1531-32 (King’s Pote MS 186).

Each page consists of a central text block with a narrow illuminated border, mounted within a frame (passe-partout) decorated either with drawings of flora and/or fauna in gold or with multi-coloured paintings with charming depictions of animals. Based on the artistic style and type of paper, the remounting was very probably executed in Mughal India.

Illuminated margins, floral decorations in gold (King’s Pote MS 186).

Mīr ‘Alī was an acknowledged master of calligraphy, especially prominent in a script known as nastaʿlīq. He worked in Herat and was moved to Bukhara around 935/1528–29.[1] His calligraphy was much prized in later centuries, especially at the court of Shah Jahan in India, and it is probable that the manuscript was remounted and decorated (and rebound) at the latter’s command. Although further research is required, there are signs the manuscript was once in Shah Jahan’s Royal Library: it bears an inspection note and the seal impression of ‘Abd al-Ḥaqq Amānat Khān, who might well be the calligrapher of that name (d. 1054–55/1644–45)[2] who designed the calligraphy on the Taj Mahal, and whose seal impression appears in other manuscripts from the Mughal Royal Library.

Lacquer binding showing fantastic landscape with dragon and simurgh (King’s Pote MS 186).

The manuscript has a lacquer-decorated binding depicting a hunt scene of fantastic and naturalistic animals, including a simurgh (a benevolent, mythical bird in Iranian mythology), a dragon, foxes, hares and birds of prey, all painted in glittering and bright colours on a blackground. The doublures, with a gold and ochre background, carry a diamond-shaped medallion (turanj) in black and gold, pendants in black and reddish brown, and corner pieces, all decorated with floral motifs. The ground depicts animals including a lion, a leopard, a fox, an antelope and a deer in a setting of sparse shrubs and flowers. The front and back covers and doublures are identical. The binding seems to be contemporary with the marginal illuminations and illustrations, and a product of the same Mughal royal atelier.

Lacquer doublure (inside front binding, King’s Pote MS 186).

Similar animals, in different poses, are illustrated among trees and flowers in some of the margins on both dark and light grounds. The palette used in these illustrations includes gold and a variety of vivid colours.

Illustrated margins showing flora and fauna in rich palettes on tinted paper (King’s Pote MS 186)

Illustrated margins showing flora and fauna in rich palettes on tinted paper (King’s Pote MS 186)

Illustrated margins showing flora and fauna in rich palettes on tinted paper (King’s Pote MS 186)











The textual content is a selection of lyrical poems (ghazals) by a prominent poet, Badr al-dīn Hilālī of Astarabad (d. 936/1529–30 or 939/1532–33). Hilālī had been in the literary circle of the Timurid Sultan Ḥusayn Bāyqarā (842–911/1438–1506) as a protégé of his bibliophile vizier, ‘Alīshīr Navā’ī (1441–1501), in Herat. Our manuscript, completed in 938/1531–32, is the earliest copy of Hilālī’s poetry and the closest to his time. To my knowledge, the second oldest manuscript from the same poet is dated 957/1550 (now in the Tehran Majles Library), almost two decades later than the King’s manuscript. Our manuscript was penned by the most prominent calligrapher of the time, Mīr ‘Alī Haravī, the Royal Scribe. The borders were illuminated and illustrated under the Mughals.

Although the poet’s date of death is a matter of debate, it is possible that this was copied before the poet was put to death for his religious beliefs, in which case he could have been involved in selecting his poems for this collection. Unfortunately, the first folio (right half of the double-page frontispiece), with the heading and title inscription, which could have contained some clues about the poet, has been lost and was replaced in the Mughal era (the first extant ghazal, i.e. a form of lyrical poem, begins partway through). We do not find any indication in the colophon that the poet had recently passed away. We know that the poet and the scribe were once companions at the court of the last Timurid Sultan in Herat in the late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-centuries, before both were moved to Bukhara to serve an Uzbek khan. Whether the poet was alive or not when the manuscript was penned is a question that requires further investigation. However, there is no doubt the textual content remains a significant early source for future editions of the ghazals of Hilālī’s dīvān.

Signed by the scribe, Mīr ‘Alī al-Kātib al-Sulṭānī, the Royal Scribe (King’s Pote MS 186, colophon).

There is a closely-related manuscript, which was also penned and compiled by Mīr ‘Alī Haravī, in 935/1529 in Bukhara (two to three years prior to our manuscript), and which contains a selection of poetry by eleven poets from the same courtly circle. That is MS C-860 which is housed in the Russian Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg, and comprises 56 folios with seven verses per page, arranged in a similar format to King’s Pote MS 186.[3] In that anthology, the dimensions of the text panels are smaller and the margins are not illuminated or illustrated but simply gold speckled. However, it contains two subsequently added illustrations. ‘Judging by the poem in the colophon, written by the author of the compilation [Mīr ‘Alī Haravī], the copy was intended for the Uzbek sovereign of Bukhara, the Shaibānid ‘Ubaid-Allāh Khān (died in 1533 [actually 1539]), an avid bibliophile.’[4] Based on the fact that the scribe Mīr ‘Alī Haravī was moved to Bukhara by ‘Ubayd-Allāh Khān (c. 935/1528–29) and the completion date of the King’s manuscript (938/1531–32), it is very likely that the patron of Hilālī’s dīvān was the same Shaybānid ruler ‘Ubayd-Allāh Khān. There is little doubt that the unnamed place where our manuscript was copied is again Bukhara.[5]

Poetry anthology, penned by Mīr ‘Alī Haravī, dated 935/1529 (MS C-860 in the Russian Academy of sciences, St Petersburg).

Poetry anthology, penned by Mīr ‘Alī Haravī, dated 935/1529 (MS C-860 in the Russian Academy of sciences, St Petersburg).













King’s Pote MS 186 is the crowning jewel of the Pote collection at King’s. There is beauty in the masterful sixteenth-century penmanship from Bukhara, and in the exquisite decorated margins and binding that were probably added in a Mughal royal atelier around a century later. There is also great textual value in this early collection of verse by a noted contemporary poet. Of course, not all of Colonel Polier’s Lucknow manuscript collection was of this quality and value. But there are lesser treasures too, now in Cambridge, thanks to the efforts and generosity of Edward Pote.

Shiva Mihan

All manuscripts of the Pote Collection are on permanent loan at Cambridge University Library.

[1] O.F. Akimushkin listed a number of manuscripts in the hand of Mīr ‘Alī on p. 333 of his article on the Shaibānid library at Bukhara: ‘Biblioteka Shibanidov v Bukhare XVI veka’ in Bamberger Zentralasienstudien: Konferenzakten ESCAS IV, Bamberg 8-12. Oktober 1991, ed. I. Baldauf and M. Friederich (Berlin, 1994), pp. 325-41. See http://menadoc.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/iud/content/pageview/347600 .
[2] http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/amanat-khan-sirazi-abd-al-haqq
[3] For more details and reproductions of the manuscript, see Y. A. Petrosan et al. Pages of Perfection: Islamic paintings and calligraphy from the Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg (Lugano, 1995), pp. 226–29.
[4] Ibid., p. 226.
[5]For information on the Shaybānids (or Abū al-Khayrids) see http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abul-khayrids-dynasty. For Bukhara see http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/bukhara-viii.



Bradshaw’s Bullet

Richard Beadle gave the Sandars Lectures at Cambridge University Library this year on ‘Henry Bradshaw and the Foundations of Codicology’. Bradshaw was a Fellow of King’s from 1853 onwards, and University Librarian from 1867 until his death in 1886. Richard Beadle began his lectures with a gunshot fired from the Queens’ Lane direction into Bradshaw’s rooms at King’s in 1872, and Bradshaw’s enquiries to try to find who had fired it. Over the course of the lectures he showed Bradshaw acting as a detective in examining manuscripts, working from significant details of physical evidence, very much like Sherlock Holmes—but Bradshaw got there first. Bradshaw inspired awe and devotion amongst his colleagues in King’s, in Cambridge and the wider book world. His friend the historian George Prothero, Tutor at King’s, produced A Memoir of Henry Bradshaw in 1888, based largely on the correspondence of Bradshaw, his friends and collaborators. The Memoir has a facsimile of a letter from Bradshaw to Mr G.L.F. Tupper of 6 May 1870 tipped in opposite page 360 where other letters to Tupper are mentioned. In the 1870 letter Bradshaw explains how his codicological method could also be applied to woodcuts found in early printed books. His addressee Tupper was a lithographic printer, but also a keen student of early printing, who produced excellent facsimiles of early editions for Bradshaw.

photo of portrait2

Portrait of Bradshaw by Hubert von Herkomer, 1881

Two copies of this Memoir in the Library at King’s were ‘grangerised’, that is original letters by Henry Bradshaw were inserted within the printed text, rather on the model of the Tupper letter. ‘Grangerising’ was a common practice amongst Victorian book owners, a way of personalising as well as supplementing biographies, or extra-illustrating histories and antiquarian works. Both these copies of the Memoir were purchased by King’s in 1955. One copy is quarter-bound in leather and cloth by the firm of Zaehnsdorf for its owner William Tuckwell, whose bookplate is inside the front board. Tuckwell (1829-1919) was educated at New College, Oxford, and became a friend of Bradshaw when they both taught at St Columba’s College near Dublin in 1853-4. Tuckwell is best known today for his Reminiscences of Oxford (1900). Inside the Memoir Tuckwell inserted a letter from Arthur Hugh Clough (son of the poet of the same name), of 16 February 1886 describing the last hours of Bradshaw’s life, as well as another portion of a letter from Clough listing obituaries of Bradshaw. There is a letter from Prothero asking Tuckwell for information about Bradshaw, manuscript ‘Reminiscences sent to Mr Prothero’ by Tuckwell, and Prothero’s letter of thanks. Then follows a printed review of the Memoir by Tuckwell, from The Spectator on 6 July 1889, with Prothero’s letter of thanks for sending it to him. Five letters from Bradshaw to Tuckwell dating from 1854 to 1865 are inserted. Apart from school matters at St Columba’s College the letters deal with Bradshaw’s responses to reading Wordsworth and college reform at King’s. These letters were selectively quoted by Prothero in the Memoir. The final insertion is of a copy of the auction catalogue of Bradshaw’s library by John Swan & Son of Cambridge in November 1886.


Click on image to see full letter

The other ‘grangerised’ copy of the Memoir must have been in the possession of the historian and banker Frederic Seebohm (1833-1912). No less than 31 letters from Bradshaw to Seebohm are inserted, some attached, some now loose. Seebohm’s work on The Oxford Reformers (1867) seems to have first put him in touch with Bradshaw, who helped him by superintending a transcript of the lectures on St Paul’s Epistles to the Romans by John Colet (1467-1519), CUL MS Gg.IV.26, and by trying to procure a decent photograph of an illuminated portrait of Colet in MS Dd.7.3. A second batch of letters deals with Seebohm’s innovative research on early field systems, which resulted in The English Village Community (1883), his most influential book. Seebohm had worked out the size of the average ‘virgate’ or villein’s holding of land, which Bradshaw was able to illustrate from a 14th century manuscript terrier of the West Fields of Cambridge which he had bought himself in 1878, and was bequeathed to the University Library (Additional MS 2601). Seebohm’s letter to Bradshaw of 13 September 1878 (Additional MS 2592, no.504) reads: You are a splendid fellow! Your letter has interested me much for, as the enclosed paper will show you, you are describing the field system in the very terms in which it is described incidentally in the Saxon descriptions of the boundaries added to the Latin charters of the 10th century aBradshaw’s own transcription of part of the manuscript dealing with ‘Grythowefeld’ survives as Additional MS 4228, and is mentioned in his letter to Seebohm of 25 September 1878. Bradshaw also performed the service of introducing Seebohm to the great Russian historian Paul Vinogradoff, as we see from his letter of 8 October 1883. IMG_5733_crop0The most poignant letter inserted in Seebohm’s copy of the Memoir is Henry Bradshaw’s letter of condolence on the sudden death of Seebohm’s daughter Winnie, a student at Newnham College, on 20 December 1885. Winnie’s life and her letters is the subject of Victoria Glendinning, A Suppressed Cry: Life and Death of a Quaker Daughter (1969). Other sources: C.W. Crawley, “Sir George Prothero and his Circle: The Prothero Lecture”, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 20 (1970), 101-127 ‘Introduction’ to John Colet’s Commentary on First Corinthians, ed. Bernard O’Kelly and Catherine A.L. Jarrott (Binghampton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1985) Robin Myers, “George Isaac Frederick Tupper, Facsimilist, ‘Whose ability in this description of work is beyond praise’ (1820?-1911)”, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 7 (1978): 113-34 Paul Needham, The Bradshaw Method: Henry Bradshaw’s Contribution to Bibliography (Chapel Hill: Hanes Foundation, 1988) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Bradshaw, Prothero, Seebohm, Tuckwell)