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This book is the foremost example of an English deluxe ‘computus manuscript’ to have survived to the present undamaged and (almost!) intact. I say ‘almost’, because in about 1623 four folios were removed by the antiquarian Sir Robert Cotton, and these leaves are now in the British Library where they form part of MS Cotton Nero C.VII (fols. 80r–84v). (Books of this type were often dismembered and pillaged, sometimes for their stunning illustrations and diagrams, but often for their annalistic texts: compare, for example, the Caligula A.XV / Egerton 3314 computus.) This example was produced in about 1110 at Thorney Abbey in Cambridgeshire, and it remained in use there for a period of over three hundred years, until 1427.
Like other computus manuscripts, St John’s 17 combines texts concerned with the reckoning of dates and the measurement of time with works on astronomy, geography, medicine, weights, and other sciences. It is illustrated with many diagrams. It is thought to be largely based on a book of the same type assembled by Byrhtferth, an Anglo-Saxon scholar active at Ramsey Abbey between c.980 and c.1020. He certainly used a similar book when he produced his Enchiridion, a manual for teachers and students of ‘computus’ largely written in Old English, and certain items in the present volume bear the imprint of his distinctive approach to the discipline.
The most significant of the historical texts in this book is a series of annals which appears in the margins of the tables of the ‘Great Paschal Cycle’ that occupy St John’s 17, folios 139r–155v, and Cotton Nero C.VII, folios 80r–84v. (The Cotton-Nero leaves belong between fols. 143 and 144 of St John’s 17.) This table sets out the computistical data required for reckoning the date of Easter across the period 532 to 2612! The annals in the margins of the ‘Great Paschal Cycle’ fall into three groups:
These are not the only annals in this manuscipt. There are also in the margins of a second Easter table on folio 29r–v (a table that covers 1083–1150) a few items for the years 1085–1111, most of which pertain to the history of Thorney Abbey. The manuscript also has a copy of Bede’s De temporum ratione, ‘The Reckoning of Time’ (fols. 65v–123r) which incorporates, as most do, that author’s Chronica maiora, a history of the world down to Bede’s own time. To this chronicle some annals, most of them relating to the lives of Christ and the apostles, have been added in the margin at the foot of fol. 111r–v. Since these additions were made by one of the main scribes (Wallis’s ‘Scribe A’), it seems likely that they were carried over from the exemplar.
Facsimiles: There are two online facsimiles of this manuscript, one in a website called ‘The Calendar and the Cloister: Oxford, St John’s College, MS 17’, housed at McGill University in Montreal, and another housed in the Oxford Digital Library. The former offers extensive commentary on the manuscript, including a useful essay about its annalistic components and transcriptions of all the annals. The ‘site map and navigation’ link offers the most direct access to the relevant images. The other site offers no commentary, but provides quicker acccess to images of the manuscript. The McGill also has images of the leaves now found in Cotton Nero C.VII. One page from this section, folio 82r, is also available via the British Library’s Online Gallery.
Texts: For the annals covering 538–1081, see C. R. Hart, ‘The Ramsey Computus’, English Historical Review, 85 (1970), 29–44, at pp. 38–44; for the annals in the Easter table on folio 29r–v, see ibid., p. 44. The annals for 528–1016 are printed again with corrections in C. R. Hart, ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of Ramsey Abbey’, in J. Roberts, J. L. Nelson and M. Godden (eds), Alfred the Wise: Studies in Honour of Janet Bately on the Occasion of her Sixth-Fifth Birthday (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 65–88, at 78–86 [MVCR]. Hart also prints the annals entered in the lower margins of folio 111r–v in ibid., pp. 77–78.
Text and Translation: The annals for 1085 to 1412/22 (and those from the other Easter table on folio 29r–v) are edited and translated in C. R. Hart and T. M. Halliday, ‘The Thorney Annals’, Peterborough’s Past: The Journal of the Peterborough Museum Society, 1 (1982–83), 15–34, at pp. 18–33. This article also has a reproduction of Cotton Nero C.VII, fol. 82r.
Note especially the sample annals from St Johns 17, fol. 29rv, and Cotton Nero C.VII, fol. 83r, that have been transcribed and translated on the Moodle Site.
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