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Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 139, is an intriguing example of how historical materials were endlessly recycled in order to build new history-themed compilations. Its contents, leaving aside early modern additions, may be listed as follows:
This collection has many interesting features, not the least of which is the way in which it begins with two universal histories, the Historia omnimoda and the Chronicon of Regino of Prüm. The former is a compilation drawn from diverse sources—from the Bible, Augustine, Ambrose, Origen, Epiphanius, Arnobius, Hrabanus Maurus, and so on—which combines biblical and ecclesiastical history with classical mythology. Jerome, significantly, described his translation and continuation of the Chronicle of Eusebius as a chronicon omnimodae historiae, and the opening item in Corpus 139 is a work of a similar kind, constructed as a way of correlating diverse forms of history. It also survives in Oxford, Magdalen College, MS lat. 8. The other chronicle in this opening section is a history of the world from the birth of Jesus Christ to 906 (in its original form). Its author, Regino of Prüm was active in the Rhineland until his death at Trier in 915. The presence of these items may represent an attempt to place the English/British contents which follow in a larger framework of Salvation History, but the Historia omnimoda’s inclusion may not have been envisaged when the book was first conceived.
The exact process by which Corpus 139 was put together is obscure. Almost every major item is written by late twelfth-century hands. The layout and decoration are also broadly similar. The text is laid out in double columns of roughly the same size; they are ruled with 35, 36 or 37 lines. There are, however, variations in script and decoration which suggest that several ‘sections’ may once have existed as separate manuscripts. This much applies to the gatherings containing the Historia omnimoda (I–II), to the gathering containing the Cistercian material and the extracts from William of Malmesbury (XIX), and to the gatherings containing the Historia Brittonum and the Life of St Gildas (XXI–XXII). These sections certainly differ in their general aspect from the rest of the book. The incomplete gathering between folios 161 and 166 (XX) might also have been a separate unit. That leaves gatherings III–XVIII. These units are marked out by stronger continuities in design and content, and by a certain consistency in the style and palaeography of the rubrics which introduce and conclude the various texts. The items in quires III–XVIII were copied by several scribes, but their rubrics are the work of a single hand.
The most substantial item in these gatherings, if they may be taken to comprise the manuscript as first conceived, is the so-called Historia regum attributed to Symeon of Durham (no. 7). The name Historia Regum has gained wide currency since the nineteenth century, but it receives only limited support from the manuscript itself, being an abbreviation of a rubric which does not seem to have been copied from the exemplar used by the scribes (see below). This name nowhere occurs in the text proper. It misleads, more to the point, in as much as it suggests that the work is a coherent whole when it is itself a conglomerate of miscellaneous materials. It has some eight components, distinguished from each other by radical shifts of style, focus and derivation:
The final section is mostly derived from John of Worcester’s Chronica chronicarum, but it shows increasing originality from around 1070 onwards, and its treatment of northern events strongly suggests that it has been adapted by a writer based at Durham. But this author makes hardly any interventions in this compilation’s earlier sections. Indeed, it has been strongly argued that apart from two lengthy passages concerned with the Hexham saints, Acca (s.a. 740) and Alchmund (s.a. 781) which were intruded when this section of Corpus 139 was copied, §§ 1–5 were first collected and revised by an earlier author, Byrthferth of Ramsey. This much is strongly suggested by the Latinity of these sections, since they have all the stylistic peculiarities of this late tenth-century writer; but if so, it is well to note that Byrthferth was himself gathering together and re-writing earlier materials orginating from Kent, Wessex and Northumbria.
All of this might lead one to doubt whether the contents of folios 52 to 129 are indeed a single coherent work—to infer that the eight sections represent, say, four different works on the same level, as it were, as the other units in this book; but they are clearly marked out as a text of some kind by the rubrics which appear on folios 51v and 129v:
No small part of the debate about this manuscript centers on these somewhat confusing rubrics. It is in them alone that the work is attributed to the Symeon, a significant Durham-based historian who flourished between c.1090 and c.1128. He was responsible for a major work of rhetorical history concerned with that church, the Libellus de exordio atque procursu istius, hoc est Dunhelmensis, ecclesie (‘A little book on the origin and rise of this the church of Durham’), which was written at some point between 1104 and 1109. But Symeon can only be the author of our ‘history’ in a limited sense, not just because it is manifestly a loose compilation of works by diverse authors, and there are contradictions in their Durham-related contents which make it improbable that the same author was responsible for both the Libellus de Exordio and these elements in the text. It appears that the Durham elements in our text are the work of some other monk of the cathedral priory. It remains possible that Symeon was involved in the gathering together of the compilation as a whole, but it seems unlikely that he contributed any of the content. It has been suggested, therefore, that this history might represent an attempt by Symeon to gather together material for a more ambitious historical work, but there is no hard evidence to show that a further work was contemplated.
The rubrics also provide evidence for the theory that the book was part of a larger campaign of book production which produced another late twelfth-century historical miscellany, that found in Cambridge, University Library, MS Ff.I.27, pp. 1–40 and 73–252 + Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 66, pp. 1–114. This book, now dismembered, includes a copy of Symeon’s Libellus de Exordio, and the way in which Symeon is described in the rubrics to this copy of that work closely resembles the words found in Corpus 139: i.e. Incipit historia sancte et suauis memorie Simeonis monachi sancti Cuthberti Dunelmi... (Cambridge Ff.I.27, p. 131). These parallels seem to imply that these manuscripts were produced in the same scriptorium at much the same time. The other book has, furthermore, an ex libris inscription in a late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century hand which shows that it was the property of the Cistercian monastery at Sawley in the West Riding of Yorkshire at that time: Liber Sancte Marie de Salleia (Corpus 66, p. 2). A similar inscription, now erased but still visible under ultra-violet light, also occurs in Corpus 139. It seems clear that both books were at Sawley by around 1200, but it need not follow that their core components were devised and produced there. Sawley was a monastery of middling status and wealth, and one which had no special reason to hold Symeon in high regard. Another possibility is that the core elements of Corpus 139 (gatherings III–XVIII) were manufactured at Durham and then passed off to Sawley after it had become clear that they were far from perfect.
The rubric on on folio 51v may also provide a clue in its chronological contradictions as to the date when this larger campaign of book production was carried out: it recognises, first of all, that ‘Symeon’s Historia’ ends in 1129 (‘almost up to the death of Henry I’), but if, as Hunter-Blair suggests, one adds 429 years and four months to the date of Bede’s death (May 735), the stated starting point, we get September 1164. This does not seem to make sense, but 1164 may have been a significant closing point for the makers of the book, for another item, perhaps the latest item in the book as first conceived, refers to an event which took place in that year, the death of Somerled. It follows that the rubricator may have regarded Symeon’s Historia as covering a certain portion of the period covered by the book as a whole—part of the period, that is, from creation to late 1164. That would imply that the makers of Corpus 139 in its original form were attempting to organise the book as a coherent compilation and that they were active soon after 1164. However, the digits .cccc(tor).xxix. might, as Derek Baker suggests, simply represent a misreading for .mc.xxix., the terminal date of the Historia Regum. Stronger evidence for the dating of this section is provided by the lists of abbots of York and Whitby which appear under the year 1074 in the final section of the Historia Regum. These lists were updated by the scribes and they refer to Clement and Richard as the present incumbents at York and Whitby respectively. The former reigned between 1161 and 1184, the latter between 1148 and 1175, giving a date of 1161 × 1175. Since the cleric mentioned in item 23 interrogates the spirit of Malcolm IV, this item must have been written after his death in 9 December 1165, making it the latest securely datable item in the manuscript and lending, perhaps, further evidence for the dating of this flurry of historical activity; but there is, unfortunately, some uncertainty as to whether this quire (no. XX) was part of Corpus 139 as first compiled.
Of the other components, gathering XIX would seem to have come from a Cistercian house, perhaps Fountains Abbey itself. The provenance of the other sections remains obscure, but since the quires were numbered by a contemporary hand, the whole must have been assembled before the end of the twelfth century, probably at Sawley.
The later history of Corpus 139 is quite obscure. It seems to have reached London by the beginning of the sixteenth century. Once there it passed through the hands of several owners—including a certain William Peryn (d. 1558), who held a prebend at Westminster Abbey late in the reign of King Edward IV, after its secularisation—before coming into the possession of Nicholas Wootton, the first dean of Canterbury (d. 1566). Wootton gave the book to Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504–75), who bequeathed it to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
Facsimile: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 139.
Editions and Translations: The so-called Historia Regum is printed in T. Arnold (ed.), Symeonis Monachi Opera Omnia, Rolls Series 75, 2 vols. (London, 1882–5), ii, 3–283. MU5. Arnold also prints a number of the minor items in Corpus 139, such as the account of the Siege of Durham. For translations of the Historia regum and its continuations, see J. Stevenson, The Church Historians of England, vol. 3, pt. 2 (London, 1855). There is an excellent edition of Regino’s Chronicon by F. Kurze: Reginonis abbatis Prumiensis chronicon cum continuatione Treverensi, Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 50 (Hannover, 1890).
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