19.09.36 Clanchy, Looking Back from the Invention of Printing

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Elisabeth van Houts

The Medieval Review 19.09.36

Clanchy, Michael. Looking Back from the Invention of Printing: Mothers and the Teaching of Reading in the Middle Ages. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols , 2018. pp. xii, 211. ISBN: 978-2-503-58083-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Elisabeth van Houts
Emmanuel College, Cambridge UK
emcv2@cam.ac.uk

Well known for his classic study From Memory to Written Record (first published in 1979 and now in its third edition), Michael Clanchy is a distinguished historian of Christian Latin literacy in the Middle Ages. The present book consists of six previously published articles gathered together with a new introduction. The book is lavishly illustrated with 49 color images from all main manuscripts and early printed books discussed here. Broadly, the papers are concerned with how young people learned to read and write Latin (and the vernacular) and what role the mother may have played in this process. This might have been as a teacher (direct instruction of the child), as an employer of the child's teacher (indirect instruction) or being responsible for the provision of moral and religious education in the household.

The collection opens with an interesting piece (Chapter Two) on the layout and presentation of early printed books, which had a clear didactic function. Hand painted illustrations and marginalia guided the reader, including children, through the texts of Books of Hours and Psalters. Much more mundane were the relatively slim volumes of Donatus' Latin manual for the teaching of Latin grammar. Many of the early printed Donatus' texts were cut up and used as membra disiecta for the binding of books in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Chapter Three is its logical successor in that manuscripts of parchment and paper are here discussed as books used for reading with special attention given to the development from reading in an institutional monastic and cathedral context to that of the home. Here also we find the first discussions of psalters and Books of Hours as the most common books in private lay ownership, especially that of women. Whereas understandably Clanchy concentrates on surviving books, we may note the early post-conquest reference to a woman's psalter in England. Goscelin of St Bertin, the reviser of Hermann's Miracles of St Edmund, incidentally tells us how the noble Seitha, a recluse, at Bury St Edmund's was praying at night in the monastic church when her psalter fell off her lap on the ground (ed. Tom Licence, Oxford 2014, pp. 184-5).

From Chapter Four onwards the ownership of books by women takes centre stage as this is the first step on the road in Clanchy's quest to understand the role of women in teaching children to read. The spectacular Psalter of Clementia von Zähringen, now in the Walters Art Gallery at Baltimore, contains a full page image of its female owner datable to c. 1150. Several other famous Books of Hours in female ownership are discussed such as the so-called Braille Hours and the Psalter of Yolande of Soissons now in New York, Pierpont Morgan Library. Clanchy also draw attention to the effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine (d. 1204) at Fontevraud which depicts her as lying down and reading a book. Chapter Five provides a historical context for the extraordinary fifteenth-century wall painting in the village church at Tuse in the province of Zealand (Denmark) which is reminiscent of several late medieval book illustrations. They are similar in that they show the Virgin Mary taking her son Jesus to school. Invariably mother and child are depicted on their way to the school, outside the school building or inside the classroom. Where the school or classroom is depicted there is always a master visible with teaching attributes such as pens or books. They indicate that despite the maternal initiative for the child's instruction, the master did the actual teaching.

The mother-son-master dynamic is followed in Chapter Six by an exploration of what, once a child is at school or still educated at home, might be his reading. The ABC primer manuscripts and early printed books were initially composed for the teaching of Latin, but Clanchy makes a persuasive case for the fact that they were developed for teaching in the vernacular too judging by the existence of several fifteen-century English primers. The seventh and last chapter brings us to the actual teaching role of the mother in which Clanchy draws on two famous cases of King Alfred (d. 899) and King Louis IX (d. 1270). Alfred's biographer Asser tells us how Queen Osburh had set her sons a competition of learning some Old English poems by heart with as prize the volume with those poems. Only Alfred rose to the challenge and with the help of a master won the coveted book. Like Osburh with the occasional help of a tutor Queen, Blanche of Castile, Louis' mother, was responsible for his education. We even have the Psalter that, according to an inscription, belonged to Louis himself, inherited it from his father. As this psalter was made in England Clanchy speculates that Louis VIII (d.1226) may have brought it back from England during his quest to acquire its throne following the death of King John in 1216. An illustration in an early fourteenth-century Book of Hours (now in Leiden, University Library) shows Blanche overseeing Louis being taught by a schoolmaster. A rubric in the manuscript reveals that the book contained the very text of the Book of Hours from which Louis himself was taught.

The testimonies from Asser and the manuscripts emanating from the French court are clear testimonies to the maternal involvement of queens in their sons' education. At the same time they reveal unambiguously that the actual instruction in reading and writing was done by male tutors. However, throughout this volume with Clanchy's collected essays we find hints of women's responsibility for the education of their daughters (the mothers of the future) in terms of reading and writing. The role model for the maternal initiative to teach daughters the skills of literacy was the Virgin Mary's mother Anne, a person invented in the later Middle Ages.

This richly illustrated book is a tribute to the scholarship of Michael Clanchy. Inevitably, there is a fair amount of overlap between the chapters as the limited numbers of medieval books of hours, psalters and ABC primers attributable to named individuals is relatively small and is brought to bear in different contexts. Between them the chapters range widely across the Middle Ages and into the early Reformation period showing a clear development from modest manuscript books to lavish illuminated volumes well into the period when printing became the norm. Whether in print or in hand written form the books (and their texts) used for teaching children to read and write Latin and the vernacular remained remarkably stable as did the role of the mother to initiate these skills.

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