The BBC probe the Private Lives of Medieval Kings

Dr Janina Ramirez at British Library ®Oxford Film and TVBBC Four is to  tell the story of the Medieval monarchy as preserved through manuscripts from the British Library.

The collection, which contains some of the most priceless documents in our national history,were commissioned by the Medieval Kings to burnish their legacies. Other items were captured as war booty, and handed down from one dynasty to the next.

Together they make up a fascinating record of the role of the king and the role of the country as it became a major power at the heart of Europe. The three hour long episodes, presented by renowned art historian Dr Janina Ramirez, and produced by Oxford Film and Television will explore the extraordinary art and culture of the period. Many of these treasures have not been seen for hundreds of years so their secrets are fresh to the modern eye.

“There is no doubt that this collection held by the British Library provides us all with unique opportunities to explore in-depth the lives of our Kings from the medieval period. The beauty and ingenuity of these manuscripts, that have stood the test of time, also tells us a great deal about a relatively forgotten period of our history. We are delighted to be telling this fascinating story through the British Library’s exhibition and through this mesmerising series with BBC Four.” Says series consultant Dr Scot McKendrick, Head of History and Classics at the British Library.

Many important illuminated Royal manuscripts will be captured on film for the first time as part of the BBC’s ongoing collaboration with the British Library and in conjunction with the Library’s latest exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination.

Charles of Orléans in the Tower of London © British Library BoardThe series runs chronologically beginning with the unification of England under King Athelstan in the 10th Century, covering the 100 Years War with France, and ending with the brutal magnificence of Henry VIII. Spanning 800 years, the British Library’s Royal Manuscripts collection holds a clear message: a medieval king had to project a powerful identity to keep his place at home and to win abroad, and these amazing documents capture the dynastic struggles each ruler faced. From the rueful footnote detailing Edward II’s demise ‘I am called the tumbledown king and all the world mocks me’, to Henry VIII’s scribbled love notes to Anne Boleyn in the margins of his Book of Hours, we see a succession of kings battling to shape an unruly nation and battling sometimes for their lives.

Richard Klein, Controller of BBC Four, commented: “The story of the Medieval Kings was captured through beautiful manuscripts that remain as vibrant today as when they were first penned. BBC Four will recreate that world, drawing on Dr Janina Ramirez’ in-depth expert knowledge, to decode the manuscripts. It is a privilege to be able to offer viewers the first chance to see these manuscripts in all their glory on television through our collaboration with The British Library. “

The three-part series will be shown weekly from Monday 9th January 2012 at 9.00pm on BBC Four.