Dr Holly James-Maddocks

Photograph of Dr Holly James-Maddocks

Department of English Literature
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

Contact details

Arts Building, Room 437
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a book historian with a special interest in the illuminated manuscripts of works by Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Hoccleve, John Gower and John Lydgate. I analyse the production and dissemination of major Middle English poetic texts in order to better understand their place within the rich variety of late medieval and early Tudor textual culture.


BA (Warwick); MA (Toronto); PhD (York)


My PhD (2009-2013), which was fully funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, examined the collaborative practices of London's fifteenth-century communities of scribes and illuminators. Since 2013, I have worked within the Manuscripts Division of The British Library and I have held postdoctoral fellowships from the Society for Renaissance Studies (2014-15) and the New Chaucer Society (2015-16). I joined the Department of English here at Birmingham in May 2016 as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow (Project title: "The Illuminators of the Middle English Poetic Tradition").


I teach pre-1800 literature, particularly High Medieval, Late Medieval, and early Tudor literature. At PG level, I teach textual criticism, codicology, and Middle English palaeography.


I study manuscripts and early printed books illuminated in England from the late fourteenth to the early sixteenth centuries in order to see what they reveal about their production, dissemination, and use, and thus about literary and cultural history. To this end, I specialise in vernacular text illumination, a relatively neglected field compared to scribal, dialectal, textual, and provenance studies in this area. My current project, "The Illuminators of the Middle English Poetic Tradition", seeks to address the fact that the majority of manuscripts containing complete (or near-complete) copies of six major works by Chaucer, Hoccleve, Gower, and Lydgate - more than 130 manuscripts - were decorated at strategic textual moments with borders of gold and pigments. By identifying the work of these professional artists elsewhere, primarily within the comparatively extensive Latin book trade of the period, I aim to achieve a better understanding of the social and geographical contexts of the Middle English poetic tradition.

My interest in using the illuminator as a tool for locating different kinds of book-producing activity developed from my research on the collaborative practices of England's scribes and illuminators, and particularly in their methods for streamlining book production and supplying demand. My PhD thesis, "Collaborative Manuscript Production: Illuminators and their Scribes in Fifteenth-Century London", identified numerous regularly collaborating groups of book producers and questioned the standard account of book production as one based on ad hoc and temporary arrangements.

Research Funding

I acknowledge the generous support of the following organisations: Arts and Humanities Research Council, Fund for Women Graduates, Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, Society for Renaissance Studies, New Chaucer Society, visiting fellowship awards from the Houghton Library at Harvard and the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Leverhulme Trust.

Other activities

I am a member of the Early Book Society, the New Chaucer Society, the Society for Renaissance Studies and the Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections.

Upcoming conference papers include:

  • 11th July 2016: "The Illuminators of the East of England: Using Decoration to Localise Copies of Middle English Literature", The New Chaucer Society Congress, Queen Mary University.
  • 19th July 2016: "'Medieval' Illuminators in 'Early Modern' Books: Surveying English Illumination in Incunabula", Society for Renaissance Studies 7th Biennial Conference, University of Glasgow.
  • 10th December 2016: "John Bray, Limner-Binder, and the Oxford Book Trade c. 1450-1500", Manuscripts in the Making: Art and Science, University of Cambridge.


An Index of Images in English Manuscripts from the Time of Chaucer to Henry VIII: Cambridge II (with Ann Eljenholm Nichols), General Ed., Kathleen L. Scott (Turnhout: Brepols, forthcoming).

'The Illuminators of the Hooked-g Scribe(s) and the Production of Middle English Literature, c.1460-c. 1490', The Chaucer Review, vol. 51, no. 2 (Apr., 2016): 151 – 186.

'Stefano Surigone: The Integration of Alien and Native Book Craftsmen in Fifteenth-Century Oxford', England's Immigrants 1330-1550 website, January 2014 [http://www.englandsimmigrants.com/commentary/individual-studies/stefano-surigone/].

'A Petition Written by Ricardus Franciscus' (with Deborah Thorpe), Journal of the Early Book Society, vol. 15 (2012): 245 - 275.