The lives of manuscripts and their makers

Mary Wellesley is a born storyteller and Hidden Hands is as good as historical writing gets. Wellesley draws on her deep scholarly knowledge of medieval manuscripts to weave a captivating tale, told through generations of ‘tremulous hands’ and forgotten artistic geniuses, whose works inform so much of what we know today about the Middle Ages. This is a sensational debut by a wonderfully gifted historian.’ – Dan Jones, bestselling author of The Plantagenets and The Templars.

Times Literary Supplement

Wellesley doesn’t just tell us about these manuscripts; she shows us, with fifty gorgeous colour plates that may motivate readers to search out additional images for themselves. She also includes a photograph of herself making parchment, because Hidden Hands is very much about the physicality of these very old books. It explores their existence as objects, and the myriad ways they survived to deliver their stories and liturgies and treatises to modern readers. In this way, it is also about the relationship over time between people and their books.

Nov 14, 2022

Hidden Hands

Bodleian Library, Oxford

Last year, at the Bodleian Library’s Annual Lecture, Mary traced the stories of the people who made, loved and sometimes destroyed medieval manuscripts, which are some of the most engaging artefacts ever made by human hands.

Other Projects


Mary’s next book Lost to the Flames: Women Executed by Fire (Quercus) examines the roots and symbols of a sentence largely reserved for women – particularly transgressive women.


Mary’s podcast series for the London Review of Books include the forthcoming ‘Medieval Laughter’ and last years’s ‘Medieval Beginnings’.


A regular contributor to the LRB’s Blog, Mary has written on subjects from medieval art and literature to how medieval minds continue to inform our present culture.

Writer and Historian

Mary Wellesley

Mary studied English Language and Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford, before gaining a PhD from University College, London in 2017. From 2016­ to 2018 she worked in the department of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library and was appointed a British Library Research Affiliate, 2019–20. She continues to teach courses on medieval language and literature as part of the library’s Adult Learning programme.