IT is more than 800 years old and was chronicled in the court of King Henry VIII but has remained largely hidden from view for centuries.

Now, however, the Aberdeen Bestiary has been digitally enhanced and reveals previously unseen handwritten notes and dirty thumb marks from Tudor times has shown.

The book, created in England in about1200 and first documented in the Royal Library at Westminster Palace in 1542, is one of the finest surviving examples of a medieval illuminated manuscript.

It is a teaching aid and uses animals to illustrate religious and moral tales, with the Majesty of Christ opening the manuscript before Adam names the animals in the next chapter.

The illustrations of animals are then used throughout as the basis for tales of morality and religion.

It has been in the care of the University of Aberdeen since 1625 when it was bequeathed to the University’s Marischal College by Thomas Reid, a former regent of the college and the founder of the first public reference library in Scotland.

Reid, who served as Latin secretary to King James VI and I, is said to have been given the book by his friend Patrick Young, son of the Royal Librarian to the King.

Now the book has been digitally enhanced and made available online for the first time in high definition – revealing details previously unseen to the naked eye.

Experts have long debated whether the Bestiary, which is lavishly illustrated in gold leaf, was commissioned for a high-status client or seized during Henry’s reign from a dissolved monastic library.

The new photography has also enabled experts to identify stress marks on the text and previously unseen fingerprints.

Siobhán Convery, head of special collections at the University of Aberdeen, said: “The Aberdeen Bestiary is the jewel in the crown of the University’s holdings and attracts interest from all around the world.

“A website was created for it back in 1996 allowing people around the world to get access to this extraordinary manuscript, but obviously since that time technology has moved on considerably and the quality of the new digital imagery is truly remarkable.

“All the pages have been photographed at high resolution so viewers can zoom in to minute details. It allows you to examine the precise brush strokes of the artist. “ Professor Jane Geddes, an art historian at Aberdeen University, added: “The Aberdeen Bestiary is one of the most lavish ever produced but it was never fully completed and so the edges of the pages were not finished and tidied up.

“This means that the tiny notes from those who created it still remain in the margins providing invaluable clues about its creation and provenance.”