16.02.31, Rollason, ed., The Thorney Liber Vita

Main Article Content

Elisabeth Okasha

The Medieval Review 16.02.31

Rollason, Lynda, ed. The Thorney Liber Vitae (London, British Library, Additional MS 40,000, fols 1-12r): Edition, Facsimile and Study. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2015. pp. xxx, 317. ISBN: 9781783270101 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Okasha
University College Cork, Ireland

At the heart of this large and impressive work is the actual edition of the Thorney Liber Vitae (ThLV), which takes up pages 81 to 114 of the volume. To anyone who has worked on ThLV from the previously available partial editions, this volume comes as a most welcome addition to scholarship. Not only does it contain the edited printed text, but it also has a facsimile text, comprising coloured plates 2-7 and 12-17 inclusive. In addition, the black and white plates 1-12 repeat the facsimile text but with the addition of lines indicating the stints as the editors envisage them, as is carefully explained (xxxi). In view of this wealth of material, is it perhaps churlish to wish for some cross-referencing of numbering between the coloured and the black and white plates?

The remainder of the coloured plates are facsimiles of folios of the continental gospel text, BL Additional MS 40,000, into which ThLV was inserted. The volume also contains four introductory essays, three commentaries, and four notes on individual entries and pages. As is explained in the preface (xxix-xxx) there are, or were, ten authors altogether, three of whom did not live to see the publication of this handsome volume: Olof von Feilitzen (ob. 1976), Neil Ker (ob. 1982) and Cecily Clark (ob. 1992). They would surely have been proud of it.

Essential for working with and using the printed edition is Richard Gameson's detailed manuscript commentary (115-124). Gameson sets ThLV carefully in its manuscript context, arguing that the project was begun "with a degree of foresight, some provision being made for future growth" (116). Meticulous and convincing as his arguments are in general, there is the occasional instance of possible over-statement, as when Gameson states that the placing of "Abbas Rodbertus" in fol 10r "leaves no doubt" as to the Abbot's identity (117). Gameson's conclusions in this section are most interesting and shed light on the evolution of twelfth-century handwriting and scribal practices in Thorney and further afield.

Placed earlier in the volume is Gameson's detailed account of the continental gospel-book into which ThLV was inserted (20-52): such a detailed description of this gospel-book has not previously been published. This makes it of particular value to those interested in medieval manuscripts, their production and their history. Indeed this chapter surely deserves separate publication in its own right. Gameson concludes that the original version of the manuscript probably emanated in the early tenth century from "an unknown western Frankish writing-centre in the orbit of Brittany" (31). It was then revised on a number of occasions as well as being marked up for use as a lectionary and having Old English glosses added. The four appendices to this chapter list the glosses, the lection marks, the textual corrections, and the canon tables.

The first of the introductory essays is by Lynda Rollason, the editor of the volume. She begins with a brief history of Thorney Abbey, concluding that the evidence to support the existence of a pre-tenth-century foundation is inconclusive. The history of the monastery from its founding (or re-founding) under the auspices of the Benedictine reform movement is described with clarity, as is the post-Conquest history of the abbey. An interesting discussion follows on possible reasons for the production of ThLV. Rollason argues convincingly that it may have been started as part of Thorney's defence against the "well-orchestrated attack by Peterborough Abbey on Thorney's independence and rights" (10). While only two other libri vitae survive from early medieval England (from Durham and from Hyde/New Minster), others probably existed, as do some from the continent. Rollason uses these examples to set ThLV clearly in its context.

To those interested in the study of names, the four chapters on the onomasticon and the prosopography will be of particular interest, especially as this material has not previously been readily accessible. Exactly why the chapters are divided in this way, with two on the onomasticon and two on the prosopography, is not entirely clear. Still less obvious is why, in both cases, one chapter precedes and one follows the LV text. This results in the reader's being obliged to continually flick forwards and backwards through the volume. This having been said, both parts, the onomasticon and the prosopography, are enormously interesting.

The two chapters on the onomasticon are by Olof von Feilitzen and John Insley. Insley describes the work as "fundamentally" that of von Feilitzen, but re-organised and, where necessary, up-dated (53). The names are arranged into: Celtic; Continental Germanic; Old English, both monothematic and dithematic; Latin, Greek and Biblical; Scandinavian; and unassigned. Different readers will of course have their own particular interests; this reviewer is especially interested in Old English names and a wealth of material is presented here. Despite the necessity, for each name, of consulting simultaneously two pages of facsimiles, one page of edited text, and two separate pages of onomastic commentary, the effort is well rewarded. The cross-references to names discussed in the prosopography sections, as well as to those names appearing in the Durham Liber Vitae, are also very useful. There are only seven unassigned names and in most cases a valiant attempt is made to explain their origins. It is to be regretted that Insley and von Feilitzen assume that they can identify a female name on sight and therefore mark it unequivocally as "fem." For an alternative view, see works by Fran Colman, in particular The Grammar of Names in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press, 2014), and also Elisabeth Okasha Women's Names in Old English (Ashgate, 2011).

The two chapters on the prosopography are by K. S. B. Yeats-Rohan. The introductory material discussing identification and context is clearly presented, as is the "daunting" task of identifying particular persons named in the text (58). Many of the identifiable names are of post-Conquest date and clear tables of some of these persons and their descendants are helpfully supplied (62-71, figures 2-6). Identifications of the pre-Conquest persons are made with judicious use of "probably," :possibly," and "perhaps," which is essential, but is not something that can be said of all prosopographical works dealing with Old English material.

An interesting, and useful, feature of the volume is the addition of notes on individual entries by various authors (269-283). The additional contributors are Julia Crick, Tessa Webber and Rory Naismith. The short note by Naismith on Turstan the Stamford moneyer (270-271) and the longer piece on the language of fols 9 and 10 by Insley (271-277) are of particular interest. Naismith uses Turstan's inclusion in the ThLV to sustain his argument that some late Anglo-Saxon and Norman moneyers were men of wealth and status. Insley gives a careful analysis of the spellings of the early names. Using linguistic evidence he demonstrates, for example, that the scribe of fol 9v1 was working "possibly as late as c.1120" but using earlier lists of names, perhaps dating even as early as the late tenth century (277).

This volume contains much material of high quality: the excellent facsimile pages, the clear printed text, the thoughtful accompanying essays. It is a work that will surely be used by many scholars working in the fields of Old English and Middle English, not only in onomastics but also in language and in history, and not only by scholars currently working but also by those in generations to come. In brief, this volume is an enormous contribution to scholarship.

Article Details