A dissertation and delving into the Caius Library’s historic collection

  • 13 November 2023
  • 2 minutes

When Abigail Stewart (History 2021) began researching for her dissertation, she discovered the Gonville & Caius College Library had a 700-year-old manuscript to which she could refer.

Abigail’s third year dissertation is on medieval political saints, comparing Simon de Montfort and Thomas of Lancaster, who were both medieval noblemen who rebelled against the Crown and were killed before being treated as popular saints. Thomas of Lancaster was the heir and political successor of Simon de Montfort, champion of parliament and government reform.

“In some of the reading I was doing it mentioned there were two poems in a manuscript in Caius Library, so I thought it would be worth going and having a look,” she says.

“They were two fairly short poems written on the back of other manuscripts, scribbled on the back of the page.

“I’d already got the translations of them elsewhere. It was really nice for my own research to view them, to actually see them and handle the original manuscript. It feels a bit more real when you do that. It was a really good experience.”

Caius students are able to access the Library’s historic collection of manuscripts, housed in the Lower Library, by asking in the Upper Library. 

Abigail adds: “I just emailed the Library and the Librarians were super helpful. They emailed back straight away and had everything ready.” 

Caius Fellow Dr Andrew Spencer, the Senior Tutor, has published extensively on the nobility, politics and constitution of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England. He is an expert on Thomas of Lancaster and is Abigail’s dissertation supervisor.

“It’s been brilliant to have him as a supervisor. He just knows so much about this area,” she adds.

“I can go to him with any ideas about what I’ve been reading and thoughts about which direction to take the dissertation. He has such a wealth of knowledge about it that he is able to give really good ideas about what I could look into next.”

An historic manuscript with ancient writingAn historic manuscript with ancient writing

Two poems which feature in Caius Library's historic collection