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13.03.03, Brackmann, The Elizabethan Invention of Anglo-Saxon England

13.03.03, Brackmann, The Elizabethan Invention of Anglo-Saxon England

That Rebecca Brackmann's impressive study of sixteenth-century Anglo- Saxonist scholars Laurence Nowell and William Lambarde is published in a series titled Studies in Renaissance Literature is an ironic if unintentional authentication of a claim that serves as the book's foundation, how the "boundary between medievalists-who-study- manuscripts and early modernists-who-study-culture might be broken down" (9). Nowell's and Lambarde's extant printed books and manuscripts are exemplary of how problematic this boundary can be. Nowell's heavily annotated copy of Richard Howlet's Abcedarium Anglico-Latinum, for instance, is both print and manuscript, containing three sets of notes that "bring together in a single codex Nowell's chief research interests: learning to read the Old English language, studying the Anglo-Saxon laws, and describing English places and their history" (18-19). All the works surveyed in this study tangle materials (print and manuscript), subject matter (language, chorography, and law), periods (Anglo-Saxon and early modern), and disciplines (medieval and early modern). In this context, publication venue reinforces the boundary Brackmann interrogates, while her study undertakes, with notable success, to bridge it.

Nowell's and Lambarde's body of work serves as a test case; it challenges a number of assumptions that result from disciplinary differences. First, the impetus for Tudor Anglo-Saxon studies was not limited to Archbishop Matthew Parker's "polemical needs in his pamphlet wars," as scholars have tended to assume (8). Within the context of patronage circles and in the circulation of their works Nowell and Lambarde also participated in contemporary debates about the English language, topography, and English law. Second, both, albeit in somewhat different ways, sought to define that period of English history "between the Germanic invasions and the Norman Conquest as somehow essentially 'English' in nature" (3). In so doing, they forged linguistic, topographical, and legal connections between the pre-Conquest past and the Elizabethan present, and thus undertook the invention of Anglo-Saxon England and the forging of an early modern English identity.

The book is divided into an introduction (Chapter 1) and three parts based on the three projects represented in Nowell's copy of the Abcedarium and in the works of his friend and protégée William Lambarde--Anglo-Saxon Texts and Sixteenth-Century English, Chorographies and the Past of England, and Old English and the Common Law. Each part begins with painstaking description of and orientation to the books and manuscripts and concludes by contextualizing the materials within their historical and cultural milieu and within the author's body of work.

In Part I, Chapter 2 focuses on the lexical sources and methods of the glossary notes Nowell added to the Abcedarium and his manuscript dictionary, the Vocabularium Saxonicum. His principal source for the glossary's Old English words was Aelfric of Eynsham, whose pre-Scholastic descriptive approach aligned with Nowell's own interest in standardization of both the Anglo-Saxon and early modern English lexicon. The glosses illuminate Nowell's interest and participation not in religious polemic but in "debates about the standardization of the lexicon and of orthography" (31). Chapter 3 contextualizes the glossary within sixteenth-century Inkhorn debates over the standardization of the English language with attention to those reformers associated with Nowell's patron, William Cecil (Roger Ascham, John Cheke, Sir Thomas Smith, Arthur Golding, and John Hart). For example, Nowell's notes in the Abcedarium and Lambarde's notes in Sir Thomas Smith's De Recta Scriptionem express similar desires for a stable Old English lexicon as the foundation for Early Modern English (82). Their manuscripts and annotations support the contention that "medievalists' examinations of Old English lexicography and early modernists' studies of language debates need to intertwine, as the fields themselves did in the sixteenth century" (83).

Part II takes up Nowell's and Lambarde's chorographic works, examining in Chapters 4 and 5 respectively the place-name index interleaved in Nowell's copy of the Abcedarium, and Lambarde's Alphabetical Description, an uncompleted topographical dictionary, and his Perambulation of Kent. An exhaustive reconstruction of Nowell's sources reveals that despite his interest in Bede's Ecclesiastical History and in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, neither accounts for very many entries. Instead, he mined the post-Conquest works of John Leland, Henry of Huntingdon, and other Latin chroniclers to create a pre-Conquest alphabetical index. Brackmann suggests that these sources offered a nationalist potential that endowed "the Anglo-Saxon period of English history with a solid--indeed, a physical--identity which could be drawn on to provide the present with the same concrete notion of 'Englishness'" (91). In approach and aim Lambarde's chorographic works depart from Nowell's, aligning more closely with Parker's polemic than with Nowell's secular nationalism. In the Perambulation, for example, Lambarde "denigrat[es] monasticism and the Catholic hierarchy," narrating "with undisguised glee...monastic and episcopal squabbling" (131, 132). For Lambarde, the land itself is witness to the errors of Catholicism and to the "triumph of monarchy over Catholicism" (139).

Also in Part II, Chapter 6 concludes with Nowell's maps and chorographic notebooks (British Library, Cotton Domitian xviii). In a meticulous reading of manuscript sources and context, content, color, scale, and position, chiefly of the understudied Irish maps, Brackmann shows how omissions (Irish counties and important coastal features), unrealistic representation (as compared to the more representational England), and unusual details (a fierce dog sporting an inappropriate erection), juxtapose and emphasize Irish ferocity, unbridled sexuality, and backwardness against a progressive England (159-160). The notebooks, consisting of Nowell's maps and text copied from an unknown source, pursue this comparison. Brackmann argues convincingly that the text, packed with tactical information, is integral to the maps; together they warn of "a Catholic nation on England's doorstep" and tacitly support a military solution to a problem that occupied Elizabeth's government (165). In a concluding comparison of the notebooks with Edmund Spenser's View of the Present State of Ireland, Brackmann traces their shared interest in understanding reform in Ireland in the context of Anglo-Saxon England. Nowell's own "view" was of an English identity "stable throughout its history in order to solidify it against the island that, in his maps and in his mind, sat huge and intractable just to the west of Britain" (185).

Lambarde, too, understood the Anglo-Saxon period to be foundational to English identity, but his domain was law. Lambarde drew on the list of legal terms Nowell added to the Abcedarium's flyleaf with Latin equivalents drawn from the twelfth-century Quadripartitus, a Latin translation of Old English law codes, and on his transcriptions and editions of Anglo-Saxon laws. Part III, Chapter 7, attends to Lambarde's manuscript edition of Anglo-Saxon laws, Archaionomia; his chorographic history, A Perambulation of Kent; his handbook for justices of the peace, Eirenarcha; and his history of English courts, Archeion. "Lambarde," Brackmann explains, "believed law was crucial to English identity because it not only established differences between English and foreign, in its non-Roman origin, but policed them. English law's supposed development from Anglo-Saxon law also meant that law and Protestantism could both be traced back to England's past, and could support each other as focal points for English identity" (192).

In her brief conclusion, "The Invention of Anglo-Saxon England," Brackmann draws on the two senses of invention--creation and discovery--to characterize the implications of Nowell's and Lambarde's Anglo-Saxon studies. "[P]oised between uncovering what was hidden and shaping what did not previously exist," their works exerted profound influence on the future vision of Anglo-Saxon England in the works of such antiquarians as Edward Coke, Abraham Wheelock, Roger Twysden, and George Hickes (225).

In this volume Brackmann does, in fact, demonstrate what "medievalists' attention to manuscripts and codicology can reveal to early modernists, and what early modernists' sensitivity to intellectual and cultural currents can show medievalists, and what an approach modeled on literary studies can add to discussions of historiography" (20). She brings the two parties together in one volume by collecting and combining the wealth of medieval and early modern scholarship on Nowell and Lambarde, their works, and their world. Her modest characterization of the book as a series of "snapshots of early Anglo-Saxon studies," is something of a disservice to a rich and provocative investigation that requires a foot in each discipline. While it is perhaps a preliminary foray across disciplinary borders, this study of two important sixteenth-century Anglo-Saxon scholars demonstrates both the challenges and the payoffs of such attempts. It is simultaneously expansive in scope and painstaking in detail. Brackmann negotiates the delicate balance with meticulous care, and her conclusions are appropriately cautious when evidence warrants.

While the descriptions of the materials of this study, Nowell's and Lambarde's books and manuscripts, are precise and impressively clear given their complexity, it is unfortunate that only three illustrations, and those of poor quality, are included, two of the Abcedarium and one of Nowell's "General description" (his map of Britain and Ireland). If ever a book cried out for visual illustration of the textual, this is it; additional images of the manuscripts and maps, in particular, would have considerably enriched the discussion.