The Medieval Review 14.04.16

Edwards., A.S.G. and Orietta Da Rold. English Manuscripts Before 1400. English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700 Volume 17. London: British Library Publications, 2012. Pp. vi, 302. $75.00. ISBN: 9780712358835.

Reviewed by:

Richard Gameson
Durham University

The volume begins (without Introduction or Preface) with George Young's discussion of a collection of homiletic and other texts in Old English that was copied in the mid-twelfth century; he suggests that it may have been designed either for new monastic recruits or for monks responsible for pastoral care, perhaps associated with Christ Church, Canterbury. Next, D. A. Woodman explores how "Anglo- Saxon" traditions were fabricated at Beverley in the fourteenth century (via a Middle English rhyming charter and a cartulary) in response to contemporary concerns; whereafter Michael Gullick continues his exploration of script at Christ Church in the generations after the Norman Conquest, here focusing on texts and documents in Old English. His contribution is the only one in the volume to be accompanied by images of relevant script that are reproduced at actual size.

Complementing his technical account in the recently published catalogue of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in Princeton University Library (Princeton University Press, 2013), Don Skemer treats a genealogical roll that belonged to a certain Frater Richard Bury. He argues that the individual in question was not the famous Chancellor or England and bibliophile Bishop of Durham of that name (d. 1345), associated with the Philobiblon, but rather the altogether obscurer precentor of the Benedictine abbey of St John the Baptist in Colchester. If the attribution is correct, this will be only the sixth book that is associable with that Essex house. Skemer further suggests that this and similar genealogical rolls "were intended to be portable outline histories for working monastic administrators" (77).

Lucy Sandler presents a late thirteenth-century versified manual of religious instruction in Anglo-Norman French, looking in particular sketches in its margins whose subject-matter ranges from knights and minstrels to biblical scenes and a studious cleric. The drawings make the further point that the iconographic interest of illustrations can be independent of their artistic quality--which is modest at best in this case. Philip Shaw then studies the metrical chronicle attributed to Robert of Gloucester, stressing the complexity of its textual tradition. Thereafter, Kathryn Lowe discusses the most frequently copied of Anglo-Saxon charters (S980, a forgery purportedly issued by Cnut for Bury St Edmunds, 1021x23), of which no fewer than thirty-six versions survive; she looks in particular at a single-sheet "facsimile" version made in the fifteenth century, relating its production to a contemporary dispute between Bury and Ely.

Andrew Prescott offers an engaging variation on a theme he has been promulgating for thirty years (cf. pp. 262 and 277, n. 1), namely the quantity of documentary records as opposed to literary manuscripts from medieval England, and the corresponding importance of the former as opposed to the latter as a measure of the country's levels of literacy. Jennifer Jahner looks at the transmission of works relating to the Second Barons' War of 1264-7; however, how far the juxtaposition of these texts with other material in their manuscript contexts (most famously the Song of Lewes with Sumer is icumen in) is the result of deliberate design as opposed to other factors, not least serendipity, is difficult to say.

The last few papers are even more varied in subject matter. Aidan Conti shifts the focus to antiquarianism, unearthing an instance of the seventeenth-century Cambridge linguist Abraham Wheelock, well known for his study of Old English, scrutinising a Middle English manuscript instead. Erik Kwakkel turns to codicology, surveying the deployment of smaller pieces of parchment (as opposed to whole sheets or skins) to make individual folios--be they as supports for notes, for inserts, or even for runs of pages in 'ordinary' volumes. Mark Chambers and Louise Sylvester then report on a linguistic project that is in progress, studying the vocabulary used for textiles and clothing in petitions to parliament and in accounts of the royal wardrobe. Finally, A. S. G. Edwards offers a few general reflections on recent trends in the study of English manuscripts c. 1200-c. 1350; this is a revised version of an address given in 2010 at a conference in Leicester that was presumably the catalyst for some of the other articles here gathered.

Special issues of a journal with a particular focus sometimes manage to be more than the sum of their parts. Such is not the case here. Relevant specialists will doubtless profit from each chapter; however, no-one but a reviewer is likely to read more than isolated articles in this pot-pourri of uneven interest, and nor will they thereby be impoverishing themselves. The one general theme that runs through several of the articles (Yonge, Woodman, Skemer, Lowe, Prescott and Conti) is changing attitudes to "old" texts and documents in subsequent eras, but even here the congruity is coincidental rather than synergistic.

Copyright (c) 2014 Richard Gameson

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