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21.03.03 Tucker, Reading and Shaping Medieval Cartularies

The Medieval Review

21.03.03 Tucker, Reading and Shaping Medieval Cartularies


Narrower than the title suggests, this book is a close codicological analysis of two early Scottish cartularies, that of the cathedral of Glasgow, which became a bishopric in the early twelfth century, and that of the Tironian house of Lindores, founded at the end of the twelfth century. Both cartularies were initially composed in the thirteenth century but were added to extensively over the decades by a multitude of hands, down to the end of the Middle Ages. The Lindores cartulary, held in a private collection, was edited once, over a century ago. The Glasgow cartulary was edited even longer ago, although a number of its charters have also been printed individually. Joanna Tucker does not propose here new editions, but rather analyzes the physical structure, composition, and purpose of both cartularies and puts them in the context of how scholars have studied medieval cartularies.

The first thirty pages of the book are an overview of how such codexes have been studied during the last three decades, as scholars have gotten away from seeing them simply as transcriptions of all the charters in an archive. Instead, cartularies have increasingly been studied as productions in their own right and as tools of memory formation. This initial chapter will be the most significant portion of the book for many; it would serve as a good introduction to the topic for someone just beginning to investigate cartularies. Interestingly, as this chapter makes clear, most of the serious scholarship on cartularies has focused on French manuscripts, although Tucker keeps trying to bring the analysis back to British sources. She has read extensively in the scholarly literature on cartularies, and her bibliography of manuscripts, printed sources, and secondary works is a fairly thorough look in its own right at the current field of manuscript studies, covering far more than Scottish cartularies.

Tucker argues, as have many recent scholars, that cartularies need to be examined as physical objects, not merely as collections of texts. Paleography and codicology, she rightly indicates, need to be more than "auxiliary" disciplines. Her particular focus is the ways that a cartulary manuscript would be used and added to over the years, and she suggests that one should not neglect the scribes who made later additions to a cartulary in favor of the first scribe. She surveys the many explanations that have been given for why a cartulary would have been created, and attempts, following French scholars, to define and differentiate various sorts of cartularies. The clear point to be drawn here, although she never states it explicitly, is that scribes were not following any single model in putting together their cartularies, but rather selecting, organizing, and transcribing charters in ways that worked best for them and their religious houses.

The close analysis of the structure of the two cartularies considered here, which are discussed essentially folio by folio, raises several interesting and novel ideas. Even modern scholars examining a cartulary manuscript as a subject for analysis in its own right rarely try to determine who would have composed it or even where it was kept in a medieval church. Tucker notes the tendency to take the binding of a cartulary for granted, whereas the confusion of gatherings in some volumes, and the many indications that an original cartulary might be expanded after its original composition, demonstrate that cartularies would have existed at some point, perhaps for an extended period, in an unbound state. Remains of what must have been an early binding of the Glasgow cartulary, now used as a leaf within it, allow her to postulate dates for the manuscript's revision and expansion. In addition, Tucker notes that the cartulary's origin as a collection of unbound gatherings means that one cannot assume that the documents now in it were all copied in the order in which they now appear, after they were bound in the late Middle Ages. She also discusses the difficulties and necessity of distinguishing the different hands in a multi-scribe manuscript, where the same scribe would not always shape the letters identically, and two or more different scribes trained together might have extremely similar hands. To distinguish the different scribes of the Glasgow manuscript Tucker develops an elaborate set of criteria by which each can be identified (62).

The biggest drawback of the book is that, once past the first chapter, it is extremely narrow and seems to assume that the reader is as involved in the minutiae of the two cartularies as is the author. Some basic information, such as the shelf number of the Glasgow cartulary in the Aberdeen University Library or even whether the contents of the two cartularies have ever been published, is never explicitly stated, although these details can be determined with close reading of the list of abbreviations and the bibliography, once one determines that the Glasgow cartulary and the RV are the same thing. Tucker acknowledges the assistance she received from the "Models of Authority" research group, in which she participated for several years, but never explains exactly what this group is or what they are working on. The painstaking discussion of the binding, the folios, the ink, and the different hands reads like the introduction to a new edition of the two cartularies, but Tucker does not indicate that she plans such an edition.

Rather, Tucker asserts that her work will produce a new methodology for studying multi-scribe cartularies, one that incorporates both their physicality and their use by many people after their initial composition, as indicated especially by the many hands found in later folios. Again, she may assume the reader understands more than is likely, for exactly how this methodology differs from how modern scholars study such codexes is never fully spelled out. She argues that her approach will break ground by combining codicology, paleography, and textual analysis, but those of us who work closely with cartulary manuscripts have long been doing so. Introduction of supposedly new analytic terms for studying cartularies, "relative dating," "lineal sequence," and "series" (34), may confuse as much as enlighten.

Still, a great many of Tucker's insights should be considered by those working with any cartulary, whether or not written by multiple scribes. She notes that it is common to have a folio with some documents copied in a later hand in between folios written by the original scribe, suggesting that additions were anticipated and prepared for by leaving blank pages. Both the impetus for the creation of the original cartulary and for systematic additions need to be considered, she argues, especially since there might be a long delay between when a later charter was issued and when it was copied into an existing cartulary. The number of different, though contemporary, hands that might copy later additions into a cartulary indicate that the codex had gone from being the project of one scribe to being of concern to the whole community. She suggests that a cartulary would have been considered, at least by the first scribe, as more like a literary composition than a reference work, because nothing such as document numbers, an index, or even running heads would originally have been included. An emergent theme, which dominates the conclusion, is that a cartulary was meant to be read the way a literary work would be read.

Most discussions of cartularies focus on the content of the documents contained within them, whether one is using a printed edition or the original manuscript--or increasingly, these days, a digitized image. Tucker reminds us that the how and why of the preservation of those documents can be as significant as the actual contents, and for that one needs to consider the physical manuscript. Although she does not directly address the issue, digitized manuscripts (of which she references quite a few) separate the scholar from this crucial physical link to the medieval scribe.

This book, in spite of its extremely narrow focus and rather awkward launch of a supposed new methodology, is an important contribution to the study of the making and preservation of medieval records. It should find a place in academic libraries so that it can be recommended to all graduate students beginning to use charter collections. The first chapter should be read by anyone planning to consult the records preserved in a cartulary. The thoughtful comments on the function and use of cartularies, comments scattered throughout the book, especially chapter 5, also need to be widely considered. And for anyone who might edit either of these two Scottish cartularies, the preliminary work has all been done.