home Cycle of Success, Resources and Services, Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books Student work on the Notarial Registry of Bernard de La Turade

Student work on the Notarial Registry of Bernard de La Turade

Will Black, a student in Dr. Rabia Gregory's History of Christianity class, chose to write this personal reflection on his work with the fourteenth-century notarial registry in Special Collections. We're sharing his thoughts and images with his permission. – KH


On Thursday, October 29th, I walked into the Special Collections room in Ellis Library. I requested to see a notarial registry kept by Bernard de La Turade during the late fourteenth century. La Turade was a French notary, which meant he handled the wills, marriages contracts, sales, etc. for his town. It was a rather important position, considering it was the only form of recording that sort of information in the town during his day. People would come to La Turade for all different purposes, and it’s the surviving artifacts of common life that gives researchers a glimpse into the daily life of what France might have been like during the middle ages. It displayed prices of goods, legal documents, ages at which people were married, and all sorts of other little facts that expand upon the picture of daily life that ultimately end up completing the picture of history.

Upon first glance, the registry was unimpressive. It was roughly the size of my hand, slightly bigger. I’d estimate it was eight inches high, five inches across, and an inch and half thick. There were two volumes, the first of which had been aggressively chewed through by mice on the top left hand corner. Both books were a dark tan color, with the color and texture of the book resembling that of a pig ear treat one might give to their dog. According to Dr. Barabtarlo's lecture, the cover was likely animal skin for its protection and durability. Scrawled on the cover of Vol. 1 “1393”, the date of publishing by La Turade. According to a booklet on various binding methods put together by the special collections department at Yale University, the notary had a binding that was considered Gothic. The Gothic method closely resembles modern books of the day, with loose-leaf paper bound to a cover made of thicker parchment or skin. This method of binding was popular from the early fourteenth century until the end of the seventeenth century.


When I opened the first volume, it was in poor condition. Mice had eaten through the spine on the top left portion of the book, meaning the first 36 pages of the book had to be handled more delicately due to the lack of binding. There was plenty of water damage on the first pages of the book, but this faded about a third of a way through the notary. This book may have been face up in a damp or humid environment and years of water resting on its cover seeped through to the parchment. Before paper became easy to make, parchment was the choice for writing books. Parchment is made out of sheep’s skin and was chosen because it was super durable. During Medieval times, there was no way to have climate controlled rooms and traveling was harsh, so books were required to stand the test of the elements. On blank spaces between entries, one can see the watermarks from the making of the paper. This particular parchment maker had his frame set up so that lines supporting the paper were about two centimeters apart from each other.

By looking at the pages, it’s easy to tell that this book was used quite a bit. The fact that there are two volumes is telling in the fact that there were quite a bit of entries. The pages in both books were well smudged on the margins, resulting from the flipping of pages back and forth to find certain entries. There were also several pieces of scrap paper that had been added to pages via glue or other sticky substances. There were also many, many comments in the margins, entries crossed out, and various other edits to previous entries. This means that this book was used quite a bit over an extended period of time. Another indication that this book had extensive use comes from the fact that the ink recipe changes multiple times in the book. During my time examining the book, I asked Dr. Barabtarlo about the ink changes, and she said the ink recipe the author used a recipes alternating between being heavy in rust or lampblack.

More important than the book itself is the author and his uses for the book. Clearly, as a notary, Bernard de La Turade’s job was to simply be a record keeper. The local lord or other authority in the area likely employed him in the castle or other official building. According to the National Notary Association, notaries in the middle ages/medieval times could have had a role in the clergy. This would make sense considering a notary had to be of high moral character, but there’s no way to know if La Turade was a member or not. This becomes even more confusing as La Turade lived during the period when the clergy started to separate themselves and the role as notaries. Prior to his lifetime, notaries were exclusively clergymen, and after his lifetime it had become a secular business. La Turade was caught between these two eras. La Turade may or may not have been a clergyman, but we do know he was someone who was held in high moral regard. We can say though, that there’s a good chance La Turade got at least some part of his education from a person involved with the clergy in some way, considering they were the main teachers in the middle ages.


From what we know about social structures in Medieval France, where La Turade is from, he likely lived somewhere in the middle of the social ladder. La Turade could read, write, and do simple arithmetic, so he was obviously an educated man. This would save him from having to do hard labor in fields for the entirety of his life. La Turade also interacted with people in important positions, such as governors, lords, dukes, or even kings. His interactions with these people likely moved him up the ladder a couple of rungs. Even though La Turade did hold a position of importance within the town and he likely made a living better than other folk, he never would be confused with someone who would have been in the highest tax bracket. Books were still expensive during this time period, and were a labor to produce. Even though this book contained no writing or artistry when La Turade bought it, the parchment maker still had to skin a sheep, dry the skin, scrape it, and go through the whole tedious process of making usable parchment. The fact that La Turade was able to purchase this book says something about his wage, considering the price of books of the era.

The reality of this book is beautifully underwhelming. This was a simple notary written by a nondescript Frenchman in the late 1300’s. However, it gives insight into the daily life of the people of La Turade’s region. The documentation this book provides is the sole reason historians have jobs. The notarial registry also sheds light on the writing practices of the region and time period. Often these varied from place to place and era-to-era, and the book offers yet another link in the long chain of history. From a mice-bitten, water-damaged book, one infer as to how people of a completely era and culture survived.

– Will Black


Kelli Hansen

Kelli Hansen is a librarian in the Special Collections and Rare Books department. She teaches information sessions in Special Collections, does reference work, and maintains the department's digital presences. Contact Kelli

home Resources and Services, Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books On the Eleventh Day of Christmas in July…

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas in July…

… we give you The Singer of Tales written by Albert Bates Lord, a large part of whose library came to us in a donation in the Spring of 2011.


Gifted in 1960 by the author, this book contains a fun little surprise inside that we found when paging through it prior to this post:  the paper tag from a tea bag!


"There is no greater power than the power of the word."  This message is doubly appropriate when considering that Lord was a prominent scholar in oral composition and performance and this book in particular is about epic poetry and oral tradition.  A more fitting message on an impromptu bookmark would definitely be hard to come by.

Stay tuned for the final book in our 12 Days of Christmas in July series tomorrow!

On the Tenth Day of Christmas in July…

… we give you ten gems from a Bibliography of Rudyard Kipling.

"Ten Gems" as in Ten Gems from Kipling, a collection of ten stories from Kipling.  It is featured in an entry in this rather thorough bibliography of the author.


Interestingly enough, this book was given as a Christmas gift in 1927 from Flora Livingston (the author)  to someone who may have also been a Kipling enthusiast.


What's also interesting about this book is the gilt top edge.  While very pretty and eye-catching in itself, gilding the pages of a book (applying gold powder or leaf, or in some cases gold-colored paint to the edges of the page and sometimes the covers and spine as well) serves a practical purpose too.  When the gold powder is applied with glue it helps to protect the pages from dust, moisture, and browning.


Pretty and practical.  Check back tomorrow for more pretty and practical gift books in our 12 Days of Christmas in July series.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas in July…

… we give you this edition of Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales.  (No nines in this one, it was a really hard day to find a book to fit…)


Given to Bertie in 1884, this volume contains the collected works of Andersen's fairy tales, including the ever popular "The Little Mermaid."


Many other stories also have illustrations to go with them, like this one from "The Snow Man" about a snowman that melts in the sun.  Much like one would if it were outside in today's mid-July weather.


If you're melting in the heat today, come visit us in the cool air-conditioning of the library!  And check back tomorrow for Day Ten of the Twelve Days of Christmas in July series.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas in July…

… have a book gifted in 1888.  (Okay, it's a stretch, but that's a lot of eights.)  This copy of Mad Cap, a book of short illustrated children's tales was given either to or by Harry D. Silsby on Christmas 1888.


Though the pages are in a delicate condition now, the illustrations remain a beautiful example of a great Christmas gift, as you can see for yourself below.



Drop us a comment below and tell us your favorite book as a child.  And stay tuned for more in our Christmas in July series!

On the Seventh Day of Christmas in July…

… how about an adventure on (or rather under) the seven seas?  This edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was given to John from Babby and Ella in 1935.


This volume comes from our Frank Luther Mott Collection of American Best Sellers.  For those unfamiliar with the book, it was written by Jules Verne in 1869/70 and tells the story of Professor Pierre Aronnax and his eventual dealings with Nemo, the bizarre captain of the submarine the Nautilus.

This edition contains several wonderful illustrations of the odd and sometimes frightening sea creatures that those aboard the submarine come across in their travels, as well as some interesting designs on the endpapers.




For more of our Christmas in July series, check back here tomorrow!


On the Sixth Day of Christmas in July…

… here are six beautiful flowers, plucked from the pages of The Flowers Personified.  A favorite of the Special Collections librarians, this book was given to Mrs. Walter Burnham on December 25, 1912 because '"She" loved Flowers and loved this Book.'  Why the mysterious quotation marks?  We may never know.

Though beautifully bound, the real treasure lies inside this volume, with illustrations engraved on steel by J.N. Gimbrede from designs by J. J. Grandville.


If you've been to Special Collections before, you might recognize some of the prints below – we love to show off this book, and it's been in some of our relatively recent exhibits.

Flowers-Personified-17 Flowers-Personified-7

Flowers-Personified-20 Flowers-Personified-19

Flowers-Personified-18 Flowers-Personified-8

In order from top to bottom are:  Wild Rose, Lily, Dahlia, Forget-Me-Not, Thistle, and Grape Vine.

You don't have to worry about these flowers wilting in the heat – they're nice and cool in our stacks!  Check back here tomorrow for more of the 12 Days of Christmas in July Countdown.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas in July…

… we give you five illustrated ballads.  Pretty Peggy and Other Ballads is a collection of five songs for children, given to Nell Merrill in 1884 by 'Aunt Baba.'


The ballads contained in this volume are Pretty Peggy;  Pray Papa, pray Papa; The sailor lad; There was an old man who lived in a wood; and Robin.  Each section of the book starts off with the music of the song, then a series of illustrations of the events in the song.


As you can see, our copy has been well loved and even drawn in by a previous owner.  If you look closely in the picture below, you can see a pencil outline around the girl in the illustration.


Though not good for preservation, it's interesting to get to see the evidence that a book has been loved by a previous owner, perhaps even Nell herself.  What was your favorite book you ever received or given as a gift?  Comment and tell us (we'd love to know) and check back here for more of our Christmas in July series tomorrow!

On the Fourth Day of Christmas in July…

… we present a book by one of our four-legged friends.  Millie, the pet dog of Former President George Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, dictated the story in Millie's Book to Barbara, who then had it published.

Signed by both Mrs. Bush and Millie, our library's copy was originally gifted on the Christmas of 1990.



The book details a day in the life of the President's dog, as well as personal anecdotes such as the birth of Millie's puppies.  Photographs of the Bush family and pets abound, like this one below, which shows George Bush playing with Millie and one of her pups on the lawn of the White House.


To see this book and the others featured in our Christmas in July Countdown, pay a visit to us here in Special Collections and keep an eye out on our social media sites for the rest of our 12 Days of Christmas in July books.


On the Third Day of Christmas in July…

… we give you a book currently in its third library.  Previously owned by Fred A. Knapp, the Macrobius was gifted to Mary Lou Carlson Lord on Christmas in 1955 before her and her husband's collection came to be in our library.

The Lord Collection, donated to Mizzou in the 2010-2011 academic year, is a collection of nearly 2,000 books, articles, and artifacts, most of which are housed in our Closed and Rare stacks.  Albert Bates Lord, the original owner of the collection, was a professor at Harvard and a prominent scholar in the study of oral tradition.


The book itself is written in Latin, with a portion of the text in Greek.  A fold-out page in the back reveals several interesting charts, referenced to throughout the text.


Stay tuned for more of our Christmas in July countdown!