Dr Christopher de Hamel, former librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, has won the £40,000 Wolfson History Prize for his book on why medieval manuscripts matter.
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts (Allen Lane), is part travel book, part detective story, part conversation with the reader, which conveys the fascination and excitement of encountering some of the greatest works of art in our culture which, in the originals, are to most people completely inaccessible.
The author introduces us to kings, queens, saints, scribes, artists, librarians, thieves, dealers, collectors and the international community of manuscript scholars, showing how he and his fellows piece together evidence to reach unexpected conclusions.
The Wolfson History Prize was established in 1972 in recognition of the best historical writing being produced in the UK, reflecting qualities of both readability and excellence in writing and research.
Sir David Cannadine, chair of the prize judges, said: “Christopher de Hamel's outstanding and original book pushes the boundaries of what it is and what it means to write history. By framing each manuscript of which he writes as the story of his own personal encounter with it, he leads the reader on many unforgettable journeys of discovery and learning. Deeply imaginative, beautifully written, and unfailingly humane, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts distils a lifelong love of these astonishing historical treasures, which the author brings so vividly to life. It is a masterpiece.”
De Hamel triumphed over fellow shortlisted authors Daniel Beer's The House of The Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsar (Allen Lane), Chris Given-Wilson's Henry VI (Yale University Press), Sasha Handley's Sleep In Early Modern England (Yale University Press), Lyndal Roper's Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (The Bodley Head) and Matthew Strickland's Henry The Young 1155-1183 (Yale University Press).
The prize was awarded at a reception at Claridge’s in London last night (15th May).
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts has also won the Duff Cooper Prize, and was shortlisted for Waterstones Book of the Year 2016.