manuscripts internetted; and, “a superfluity of nuns”

Two excellent new-ish sites for manuscript studies on the web:

Parker Library on the Web elegantly showcases the amazing collection of the Cambridge, Corpus Christi College Parker Library, founded by the Master of the College from 1544-53, Matthew Parker (1504-75). After facilitating the Reformation which mercilessly dissolved all the medieval monasteries of England, he then took many of their most beautiful and important manuscripts for himself. When he gave his library to Corpus Christi in 1574 he stipulated that if any more than a dozen volumes were found to be missing, the entire collection would revert to Gonville and Caius College. Now it is carefully curated by Christopher de Hamel, one of the greatest paleographers and codicologists of our time.

Unfortunately, it requires a hefty subscription, but one that your institution may consider worth buying.

Scriptorium: Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Online is a brilliant project coming out of the University of Cambridge English faculty. Laudably, it makes a growing archive of digital images available free to anyone without subscription, thereby offering a great teaching and research tool to the broadest possible audience. Their mission:

We are constructing a digital archive of manuscript miscellanies and commonplace books from the period c. 1450-1720; our website will provide unrestricted public access to these images. We will also develop and publish a set of online pedagogical and research resources supporting late medieval and early modern manuscript studies.

Perhaps most exciting about the project is the timespan, going right across the perceived “medieval/renaissance” divide of anywhere from 1485 to 1539. I always lean towards the Dissolution of the Monasteries as a convenient demarcation between the two periods because of its profound disruption of religious life in England, and its physical manifestation of the dramatic changes happening politically, socially, and doctrinally in the 1530s and 40s. But none of this upheaval would have changed how somebody like Sir Thomas Smith in the 1560s would have compiled his fascinating inventory book now known as Queen’s College, Cambridge, MS 49. These kind of manuscript practices evolve very slowly over time and should be examined as part of a continuum extending before and after print, before and after the Reformation.

A little late-fifteenth-century nugget: Cambridge University Library MS Ll.1.18, ff. 44v-45r, item 10, a list of company terms, with a detail here:

Image copyright Cambridge University Library, and Scriptorium: Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Online

A demanding but lovely cursive anglicana script (the classic capital ‘A’, initial ‘s’ and ‘w’, and inner ‘e’), with very few secretary features (only the occasional horned ‘g’).

And the transcription, by Rachel Corner, ‘More Fifteenth-Century “Terms of Association”‘, Review of English Studies, 13:51 (1962), 229-44; pp. 231-2.

Corner 1962, pp. 231-2

Some of my favorites, modernized as much as possible:

“an iee (?) of pheasants”
“an unkindess of Ravens”
“a lure of maidens”

and from the next page, all in a delightful row:

“a cluster of grapes”
“a cluster of cats”
“a cluster of churls”
“a superfluity of nuns”

If “a superfluity of nuns” does not make your day, I don’t know what will.

This all reminds me of James Lipton’s book An Exaltation of Larks, which I bought my husband several years ago. But seeing the real thing in a fifteenth-century manuscript is inestimably more satisfying.


One thought on “manuscripts internetted; and, “a superfluity of nuns”

  1. Pingback: Fifteenth-Century Collective Nouns, from Lydgate’s Horse, Goose, and Sheep | MedievalKarl

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