Seminar VIII: The Medieval Miscellany

This week’s session puts the theme of ‘the book as evidence’ firmly in the foreground. Among the most fascinating of all medieval manuscripts are those that bring together a set of diverse but carefully chosen texts for a purpose. Depending on the range of the materials which they assemble and the way in which they are arranged, miscellanies of this kind can provide precious insights into the cultural worlds and concerns of their makers. They speak to the ingenuity of their sponsors, to their ability to re-direct earlier materials to meet new needs and purposes, to the changing priorities of religious communities and literary patrons, and to the ways in which materials circulated to the centres where these books were assembled and copied.

In this week’s seminar, we will discuss three very famous but contrasting examples of books of this kind: the first is an 'educational' miscellany from the tenth century, the second a complex historical miscellany from the twelfth century which itself contains at least two earlier assemblages of material, and the third an exceptionally famous and rich fourteenth-century collection of poems, literary and historical texts in Anglo-Norman (‘the French of England’), Latin and Middle English.

Topics for Discussion

  1. For what purpose were each of the three examples below put together?
  2. To what extent is it possible to distinguish stages in their compilation?
  3. Can we detect changes in the uses to which they were put?

Note: to answer these questions you need to think about the concerns or themes that contect their contents and the ways in which the texts ‘complement’ or, perhaps, ‘comment’ on one another.

Texts for Discussion

  1. Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Auct. F.4.32 / St Dunstan’s Classbook
  2. Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 139
  3. London, British Library, MS Harley 2253

Sample texts should be downloaded from the Moodle website.

Some Other Examples which Might be of Interest

  • London, British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius B.V/1: ‘an Anglo-Saxon miscellany, possibly made at Canterbury in the mid-11th century, with some later additions’. See P. McGurk (ed.), An Eleventh-Century Anglo-Saxon Miscellany, British Library Cotton Tiberius B.v Part 1, Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile 21 (Copenhagen, 1983).
  • London, British Library, Harley MS 913: ‘A small, battered 14th-century Anglo-Irish manuscript full of ribald and taboo poems and stories holds the key to unlocking a medieval community’s troubled social, devotional and political history.’ Compiled by a Franciscan, it also preserves the ‘only substantial body of verse... composed in the English of medieval Ireland.’ For the poems in English, see Poems from BL MS Harley 913: ‘The Kildare Manuscript’, ed. T. Turville-Petre, Early English Text Society, orig. ser. 345 (Oxford, 2015); for discussion, see D. L. Moore, Medieval Anglo-Irish Troubles: A Cultural Study of B.L. MS Harley 913, Texts and Transitions 8 (Turnhout, 2017) [MYBG], and also the essay by J. Scattergood listed below.
  • New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.926. See K. D. Hartzell, ‘A St Alban’s Miscellany from New York’, Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch, 10 (1975), 20–61.
  • Oxford, Bodleian Library, Digby MS 86: ‘A late thirteenth-century “common-place book” containing French, Latin and eighteen English texts of various genres including fabliau, romances, devotional and didactic texts, prognostications, charms and prayers, among others [usually thought to have been] written between 1271 and 1283.’ For a catalogue description, see also Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries. For a printed facsimile, J. Tschann and M. B. Parkes (eds), Facsimile of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86, Early English Text Society, Supplementary ser. 16 (Oxford, 1996). Y6.

Useful Reading

  • Anheim, É., L. Feller, M. Jeay, and G. Milani (eds), Le pouvoir des listes au Moyen Âge, vol. 2, Listes d’objets ⁄ Listes de personnes (Paris, 2020).
  • Babcock, R. G., The ‘Psychomachia’ Codex from St. Lawrence (Bruxellensis 10066–77) and the Schools of Liège in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries (Turnhout, 2017). Another educational miscellany.
  • Boffey, J., and J. J. Thompson, ‘Anthologies and Miscellanies: Production and Choice of Texts’, in J. Griffiths and D. Pearsall (ed.), Book Production and Publishing in Britain 1375–1475 (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 279–315. ZC3ea.B.
  • Cré, M., D. Denissen and D. Renevey (eds), Late Medieval Devotional Compilations in England, Medieval Church Studies 41 (Turnhout, 2019). ‘The texts considered here are works that invite readers to develop a personal relationship with the divine at a fairly advanced personal level.’
  • Corbellini, S., G. Murano, and G. Signore (eds), Collecting, Organizing and Transmitting Knowledge: Miscellanies in Late Medieval Europe, Bibliologia 49 (Turnhout, 2018).
  • Fein, S. G. (ed.), Interpreting MS Digby 86: A Trilingual Book from Thirteenth-century Worcestershire, Manuscript Culture in the British Isles 9 (Woodbridge, 2019). Available at Ebook Central. But see also N. P. Pope, ‘Notes on Possible Scribe-Compiler/Owner of MS Digby 86’, The Chaucer Review, 56.1 (2021), 80–87. Available at Project Muse.
  • Hanna, R., Patient Reading ⁄ Reading Patience: Oxford Essays on Medieval English Literature, Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies (Liverpool, 2017).
  • Lainé, A. (ed.), A Late Fifteenth-Century Commonplace Book: Edited from Cambridge University Library MS Gg.6.16, Textes vernaculaires du moyen âge (Turnhout, 2019). Cambridge Gg.6.16 is a miscellany of religious texts, dateable to the fifteenth century and localisable to the region around the border of Norfolk and Suffolk, and compiled by a parish priest to support his preaching activities.
  • Lendinara, P., L. Lazzari and M. A. D’Aronco (eds), Form and Content of Instruction in Anglo-Saxon England in the Light of Contemporary Manuscript Evidence: Papers Presented at the International Conference, Udine, 6-8 April 2006, Fédération Internationale des Instituts d’Études Médiévales, Textes et Études du Moyen Âge, 39 (Turnhout, 2007).
  • Nichols, S. G., and S. Wenzel (eds), The Whole Book: Cultural Perspectives on the Medieval Miscellany, Recentiores: Later Latin Texts and Contexts (Ann Arbor, MI, 1996).
  • Parkes, M. B., ‘The Influence of the Concepts of Ordinatio and Compilatio on the Development of the Book’, in J. J. G. Alexander and M. T. Gibson (eds), Medieval Learning and Literature: Essays presented to Richard William Hunt (Oxford, 1976), pp. 115–41 [MBM]; rpt. in M. B. Parkes, Scribes, Scripts and Readers: Studies in the Communication, Presentation and Dissemination of Medieval Texts (London, 1991), pp. 35–70 [LDea.B].
  • Pratt, K., B. Besamusca, M. Meyer, and A. Putter with the assistance of H. Morcos (eds), The Dynamics of the Medieval Manuscript: Text Collections from a European Perspective (Göttingen, 2017). Available from the publishers as an Open Access E-Book. Includes a number of useful essays about miscellanies, most notably W. Scase, ‘“Looke this calender and then proced”: Tables of Contents in Medieval English Manuscripts’ (pp. 287–306); J. Scattergood, ‘London, British Library, MS Harley 913 and Colonial Ireland in the Early Fourteenth Century’ (pp. 307–25); T. Summerfield, ‘“Aprendre e enseigner”: The Contents of Cambridge University Library, MS Gg.1.1’ (pp. 327–46).
  • Putter, Ad, ‘The Organisation of Multilingual Miscellanies: The Contrasting Fortunes of Middle English Lyrics and Romances’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 201 (2015), 81–100.
  • Taylor, A., ‘Historical Writing in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Scotland: The Dunfermline Compilation’, Historical Research, 83 (2010), 228–52. Available from Wiley Online. Examines an important historical miscellany preserved in the Royal Library in Madrid but written at the Benedictine abbey of Dunfermline in Fife, Scotland during the reign of James III (1460–88), i.e. Madrid, Biblioteca del Palacio Real, MS II 2097.
  • Taylor, A., ‘Manual to Miscellany: Stages in the Commercial Copying of Vernacular Literature in England’, The Yearbook of English Studies, 33 (2003), 1–17.
  • Taylor, A., Textual Situations: Three Medieval Manuscripts and their Readers (Philadelphia, PA, 2002).
  • Treharne, E. M., Living Through Conquest: The Politics of Early English, 1020–1220, Oxford Textual Perspectives (Oxford, 2012). Available online at MiLibrary.

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