12.09.35, Hanna and Turville-Petre, eds., The Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts

Main Article Content

Joyce Coleman

The Medieval Review 12.09.35

Hanna, Ralph and Thorlac Turville-Petre. The Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners and Readers. Woodbridge: York Medieval Press with Boydell and Brewer, 2010. Pp. xi, 146. ISBN: 9781903153345.

Reviewed by:
Joyce Coleman
University of Oklahoma

The Wollaton manuscripts are of major importance for multiple reasons. They comprise items crucial in widely different areas of study, from Anglo-Saxon book-history (leaves of a Ceolfrith Bible) through English art history (the Wollaton Antiphonal), devotional history (a single leaf from the unique English life of St. Zita), and romance studies (the unique copy of the Roman de Silence). As the largest surviving library of a late-medieval English gentry family, the collection--most of it housed at the University of Nottingham Library--opens a window on book-ownership patterns of the fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries. And thanks to the extensive family archive surviving in the associated Middleton Collection, also held at Nottingham, scholars are able to situate the family's book acquisitions within a complex web of professional and kinship relations.

The present volume combines essays on the collectors and some of the most important manuscripts with catalogues giving full details of "Wollaton" materials currently held at Nottingham or elsewhere. The preface explains the institutional history and sometimes confusing nomenclature of this complex set of books and fragments. The material was assembled by the Willoughby family, resident from the late fifteenth century at Wollaton (Notts.). Sir Thomas Willoughby (d. 1729) became the first Baron Middleton, taking the name from another family manor. In 1925, the eleventh Lord Middleton sold off hundreds of printed books and a few manuscripts. From 1947, most of the remaining Willoughby manuscripts and archives were placed on deposit at the University of Nottingham Library, as the Middleton Collection. A 2003 grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled the library to purchase and conserve eight manuscripts, two fragments, and forty-two early printed books from the Middleton Collection; it is this material that is now known as the Wollaton Library Collection. The research project inspired by this acquisition and resulting in the present book was led by Prof. Turville-Petre and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

In the first essay, "The History of a Family Collection," Hanna and Turville-Petre trace the Willoughbys from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, noting the known or possible points at which various books came into the family. The Willoughbys' fortune was founded on the law, with father and son justices, both named Richard, establishing the family estate at Willoughby-on-the-Wolds (Notts.). From the early fourteenth century survive fragments of legal texts that must have been read to pieces over the years. The death of Hugh Willoughby in 1448 left his second wife with a life- interest in Willoughby-on-the-Wolds. As a result, Richard (d. 1471), Hugh's heir by his first wife, took up residence in the family manor at Wollaton. This move led to one of the family's first, and most notable, manuscript acquisitions: the Wollaton Antiphonal (Nott. 250), obtained by Richard for use in his new family church, St. Leonard's. The manuscript came from the estate of Sir Thomas Chaworth (d. 1459), along with a copy of John Trevisa's On the Properties of Things and a now-lost English translation of Guillaume de Deguilleville's Pèlerinage de la vie humaine.

The bulk of the family's manuscripts seem to be associated with Richard's nephew and eventual heir, Henry Willoughby (d. 1528), and with Henry's offspring. Many or most of these "acquisitions" are older manuscripts that entered the collection at this time via marriage or other interactions. Among the interesting books are copies of the Estoire del Saint Graal (early thirteenth century); Robert of Gretham's Mirur (later thirteenth century); John Trevisa's Polychronicon (c. 1420); John Gower's Confessio Amantis (c. 1420s); John Lydgate's Fall of Princes (late fifteenth century); and a volume containing the Speculum vitae and The Lay Folk's Catechism (early fifteenth century).

Hanna and Turville-Petre do a bravura job of tracking down marginal inscriptions and reconstructing potential provenances. The most elaborate exploration concerns the early fourteenth-century collection of romances and fabliaux that includes the only surviving text of Silence (WLC/LM/6). An inscription by a Madame de Laval suggests that the manuscript was looted from the Laval château when it was sacked in 1428 by John Talbot, later earl of Shrewsbury. Alternate speculative provenances travel via Talbot himself (in which case LM/6 becomes a source for the famous Shrewsbury Manuscript (London, British Library Royal 15 E.vi), a collection of romances and other texts presented to Margaret of Anjou in 1445); or through a Sir Thomas Rempston who was one of Laval's sackers and can be connected to "John Bertram de Thorp Kilton," whose signature also appears in LM/6 and whose niece married Sir Robert Harbottel, whose great-grandson married Jane Willoughby, Henry's oldest daughter. Q.E.D.? One can only bow one's head in wonder at the amount of prosopographical effort involved in such painstaking, and indubitably plausible, reconstructions.

Chapter 2, "Sir Thomas Chaworth's Books," by Gavin Cole and Thorlac Turville-Petre, reviews the books associated with this "intimate friend" (26) of Richard Willoughby. Along with the antiphonal and other books, noted above, which Richard obtained from Chaworth's estate on his death in 1459, Thomas' will also shows that he owned copies of John Lydgate's Life of St. Alban and St. Amphibal, Henry Suso's Orlogium Sapiencie (Seven Points of True Wisdom), and Ralph Higden's Polychronicon--none of which has been securely identified with surviving manuscripts. Nonetheless, these bequests reveal "a close-knit group of the county elite, united by joint interests and ties of friendship and kinship"--or, as Chaworth phrased it, by the "grete cordiall affeccion that he hath in thaym before alle other creatures" (29).

The close and productive links between the Chaworth and Willoughby families are further demonstrated in Alixe Bovey's contribution, "The Wollaton Antiphonal: Kinship and Commemoration." Most likely made c. 1430 for use in the Chaworths' private chapel at Wiverton manor (Notts.), the manuscript is one of only two surviving illustrated English antiphonals. It includes twenty-three historiated initials but is most noted for its borders. A special artist was brought in for these, to create elaborate heraldic displays involving seven different families, from those of Chaworth and his wife Isabella of Aylesbury through favored ancestors on both sides. The most exuberant page is folio 246v, Psalm 109, where the border explodes with coats of arms, helmets, crests, banners, and bugle-blowers. (A partial digitization of the Wollaton Antiphonal is available at www.nottingham.ac.uk/manuscriptsandspecialcollections/exhibitions/w ollaton/home.aspx.)

In "Two French Manuscripts: WLC/LM/6 and WLC/LM/7," Alison Stones brings her art-historical expertise to bear on two manuscripts featuring vernacular romance. LM/6 is significant for the history of art, Stones claims, "since its 83 illustrations are without antecedent among vernacular manuscripts in French" (42). Such assertions of course depend on the date assigned to the codex, and Stones argues that the accepted dating of the late thirteenth century should be replaced with the one favored by earlier scholars, the first quarter of the thirteenth century.

Stones' rationale for moving LM/6's date to the century's first quarter is not clear. An extensive comparison of LM/6 to the two earliest illuminated manuscripts containing parts of the prose Vulgate Cycle (Modena, Bibl. Estense, E 39 and Rennes, Bibl. mun. 255) establishes basically that all three contain French romances, have multiple illuminations, use bestiary creatures for some illustrations, and have text written "above top line," i.e., above the top guideline on the page. The differences seem at least as significant: LM/6 contains poetry not prose, is a miscellany not a single-text or –cycle manuscript, and has miniatures rather than historiated initials; its pages are in a different format and there is no suggestion of a common origin. As Stones notes, although Rennes and Modena "offer some analogies for WLC/LM/6, neither is stylistically comparable" (45). On the face of it, the comparison does not seem enough to justify placing LM/6 before 1325, nor does Stones engage with other relevant issues, such as the dating of the anthology's texts.

Stylistic similarities leads Stones next to compare LM/6 to some late twelfth-century psalters made in northern France and to a chansonnier traditionally dated to the end of the thirteenth century and attributed to Padua or Treviso but that Stones suggests could be redated and resituated. Stones' wide knowledge of medieval illumination has allowed her to raise a number of interesting connections for LM/6, but none seems determinative, and the basis for dating it to the first quarter of the thirteenth century remains weak. Stones also compares LM/7, an incomplete, unillustrated copy of the Estoire del Saint Graal, to Rennes 255 (which also contains the Estoire), and dates it similarly to c. 1220.

An appendix (49-56) gives the folio number and a short description of each miniature in LM/6, a feature that provides valuable information to students of this fascinating manuscript. The reproduction of twelve miniatures and one full page in color, and of two full pages in black and white, is equally appreciated. (One hopes that Nottingham will in due course make digitized images of all the pictures available online.)

Derek Pearsall adds the Wollaton Confessio to his ongoing catalogue of Confessio Amantis manuscripts in "The Wollaton Hall Gower Manuscript (WLC/LM/8) Considered in the Context of Other Manuscripts of the Confessio Amantis." Signed at one point "by me Henry Wylloughbye" (f. 16), LM/8 is "a grand manuscript of a familiar kind"; like eleven other similar manuscripts, all dated c. 1415-30, it has two forty-six-line columns on parchment. Its single scribe shaped the page according to a "meticulously planned ordinatio and programme of decoration and illustration" (59). In this case, unfortunately, the decoration and illustration were never completed.

Rob Lutton takes on the religious life of the Willoughby family, as reflected in their books and documents. In "Vice, Virtue and Contemplation: The Willoughbys' Religious Books and Devotional Interests," the most significant manuscripts are LM/4 (late thirteenth century), which contains the Manuel des péchés and the only surviving complete text of Gretham's Mirur; and LM/9 (early fifteenth century), which contains the Speculum vitae and Gaytryge's Lay Folks' Catechism. Lutton adeptly interprets sparse marginal notations (such as "Na" indicating a "narrativa" or exemplum in the Manuel) for evidence of reception. Together, he notes, the contents of LM/4 and LM/9 "represent some of the most important texts and defining moments in the vernacular dissemination of confessional, patristic, biblical, and catechetic material in late medieval England" (75). Lutton's examination of Willoughby bequests, inscriptions on items of plate and jewelry, and other clues further indicates the family's piety.

The last article, "Minding and Mending: Issues in Curating the Medieval Manuscripts," by Dorothy Johnston, focuses on the Wollaton Antiphonal, repair of which had begun before Nottingham acquired the Wollaton Library Collection. Decisions made for the Antiphonal were applied in due course to WLC manuscripts, namely to keep intervention "to the minimum necessary to stabilise [the manuscripts'] condition and repair what was immediately vulnerable." This approach--due to financial constraints, presumably, although Johnston does not say as much--leaves the volumes "in a very fragile state" that restricts access (85). Johnston closes by looking to digitization as the way to ensure future access.

The catalogue section, also supplied by Hanna and Turville-Petre, covers the Wollaton Library Collection, "Associated Manuscripts," "Additional Medieval Manuscripts in the Middleton Collection," "Dispersed Manuscripts," and "The Willoughby Early Printed Books." The volume is generously illustrated, with forty-eight images, including twenty-eight color plates.

Those interested in the Wollaton manuscripts should also be aware of the websites associated with the project. At www.nottingham.ac.uk/manuscriptsan dspecialcollections/index.aspx, one can click on "Learning Resources" to find "Wives, Widows and Wimples: Women in the University of Nottingham's Medieval Collections." The site uses Willoughby manuscripts and documents to illustrate topics such as "Nature or Nurture," "Marriage," and "Education and Accomplishments." It includes a timeline that places many of the manuscripts in their historical and social context. Under "Research Guidance," back at the homepage, one can find several useful teaching resources also using Willoughby material, including "Medieval Books," "Reading and Understanding Medieval Documents" (which offers an interactive paleography tutorial), and "Caring for the Collections."

Article Details

Author Biography

Joyce Coleman

University of Oklahoma