The Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge owes most of its treasures to the efforts of one man: Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575). However, not all of the manuscripts now housed in the Library came from his original bequest to the College; there were other additions that continued to enrich the collection. One such example is CCCC MS 231, a modest-looking copy of the comedies of Terence from the early 1100s, which came to the Library in the late sixteenth century, possibly donated by the antiquarian and book collector Daniel Rogers (c.1538-1591).

Terence was a Latin author who wrote six comedies in the second century BC, all of which appear in our manuscript. It is not a deluxe edition: the parchment is often stained and shows evident scraping marks throughout, and the style of writing is not consistent. The text was copied by several scribes, and it is possible to distinguish at least two main scribal hands: H2 and H5.

Terence, H2

CCCC MS 231, f.6v (H2)

Terence, H5

CCCC MS 231, f.99r (H5)

Two further two hands (H1 and H6) also appear momentarily on single folios to complete certain sections.

Terence, H1

CCCC MS 231, f.1r (H1)

Terence, H6

CCCC MS 231, f.105r (H6)

Whilst H5 maintains a consistent style, H2 is much less disciplined, perhaps suggesting that he was a less experienced – and by extension, perhaps a more junior – scribe. Although there is no evidence to confirm that these two scribes were collaborating as they compiled the book, both hands may certainly be dated to approximately the same period, and the possibility that they were from the same institution cannot be discarded.

Other book hands appear in the manuscript (H3 and H4), both of a later date, which traced over portions of text that had, by their time, already faded. Whilst H3 was using the manuscript not long after it was first copied (possibly at the end of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century), H4 is visibly of a much later period (possibly from the fifteenth or even the early sixteenth century).

Terence, H3

CCCC MS 231, f.41v (H3)

Terence, H4

CCCC MS 231, f.67r (H4)

No evidence exists to indicate what use they made of the manuscript; however, the need to make the text legible again demonstrates that the text continued to attract interest into the Renaissance period.

The manuscript was also clearly extensively used throughout the Middle Ages. Signs of readership and use can be found in the interlinear and marginal gloss, as well as other later annotations. Although H2 is the main hand responsible for the gloss (which was likely copied from an exemplar) many other hands appear in the book. Two are particularly recognisable, A1 and A2, both of which can be dated between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Terence, A1

CCCC MS 231, f.21r (A1)

Terence, A2

CCCC MS 231, f.99v (A2)

Although these annotations are often hard to read due to the rapidity of their ductus, they seem to serve a similar purpose to the glosses added by H2, which are mainly aimed at the explanation of Latin terms and grammar, rather than providing a commentary on the plays. In a few instances, H2 even includes different readings of the same passages, which seem to suggest that he had access to more than one exemplar.

Terence, exemplars

CCCC MS 231, f.38r

However, this is ultimately impossible to assess, since the provenance information about this volume does not trace it back to a specific institution. This prevents us from determining what sources the scribe may have had access to, as well as who the intended audience of the book may have been. Our knowledge is limited to the fact that it was originally made on the continent, and brought to England around the sixteenth century, as is indicated by the current binding, which is typical of that period (and of Cambridge/Oxford).

In sum, the Corpus Terence offers an intriguing portrait of the use of classical texts as reference works and study tools during the Middle Ages. Whilst it seems likely that the book was used in support of the learning of Latin grammar, it continued to be valued and consistently consulted by generations of readers from the time of its production until its arrival at the Parker Library.

Carlotta Barranu



MS 373, f. 24r

This little early twelfth-century manuscript belonged to Matilda (c.1102-1167), daughter of Henry I of England, who married the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, in 1114. The text is a unique account of the imperial family, probably made in Würzburg. The picture here shows the first medieval emperor, Charlemagne, crowned in Rome on Christmas Day, 25 December 800.



Last year the Parker Library acquired a volume that once belonged to Archbishop Matthew Parker: the Apocrypha from the Bishops’ Bible. Curiously enough, it looks like it was never meant to be housed in the Library, as it was not among the books Parker bequeathed to the College. Instead, it was bought from a Sotheby’s auction, and now represents the newest, and arguably most obscure, item of the collection. As it is part of a five-volume set of the Bible, one would perhaps expect it to be a voluminous tome, but in reality it is instead rather little (203x145mm). A lavishly decorated binding makes up for its modest dimensions, presenting gold-stamped foliage and gauffered edges. It also contains one of the most puzzling features of the volume: two initials on both front and back boards, reading ES. Despite the efforts of more than one scholar, these are still waiting to be deciphered (and the Library welcomes any suggestions…!). These are also specific to our copy: the other three traceable volumes of the set (at the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, and the private collection of the Duke of Rutland) do not present any initials embossed on their bindings.


Unfortunately, we only know very little about our book since it left Parker in 1575, but some clues of its whereabouts can be traced thanks to the annotations found on its flyleaves and contents page. These seem to suggest that it was in Oxford between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, as one signature reads ‘:Jo: :Prideaux:’, which likely refers to John Prideaux, rector of Exeter College (1578-1650), and another is ‘Robert Gregory C.C.C. Oxon.’, which refers to a student of Corpus Christi College (1819-1911). Given Prideaux and Gregory’s scholastic interest, it is only fitting that they would own a book such as the Apocrypha (although there is no evidence to suggest they knew it was indeed Parker’s own copy!).

Since the American volumes do not have the same signatures, the set probably split at an early stage, but it is impossible to say why and when. In fact, not much more is known of the dwellings of the book prior to Prideaux, or between him and Gregory. One may speculate that Parker left it to his son John, as some (unnamed) books are listed in Parker’s will as part of John’s inheritance. John also had a connection with Christ Church, Oxford, which may explain how the book travelled from one city to the other. The book then must have left the city (possibly) around the end of the nineteenth century, as our Fellow Librarian, Dr Christopher de Hamel, identified the bookplate on the inside of the front board as being that of the Marquess of Crewe (1858-1945), who had no obvious connections to Oxford. One last clue may be hiding behind a very faint inscription just under Gregory’s signature, dated 1794. But for now, we can only hope to keep adding pieces to this fascinating jigsaw.

Carlotta Barranu


CCCC MS 7, f. 121r


This manuscript comprises chronicles and records of benefactions to St Albans Abbey, compiled in St Albans in the early fifteenth century. The picture here of the abbot and his monks illustrates the account of the death of John de la Moote, abbot of St Albans 1396-1401, who died on 11 November 1401.


MS 61, f. 1v

This is the finest surviving copy of Chaucer’s epic Trojan romance, Troilus and Criseyde, illuminated in London c.1415-20, perhaps for the royal prisoner in the Tower of London, Charles d’Orléans (1394-1465). The frontispiece shows Geoffrey Chaucer himself declaiming his poem to an aristocratic party, gathered in a landscape. Chaucer himself died on 25 October 1400.


September Image

CCCC MS 582, inside front cover

Matthew Parker had been chaplain to Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. His close relationship with their daughter, Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth, had an important part to play in his life, She was born on 7 September 1533. This coloured engraving of Queen Elizabeth was pasted by Parker inside his own copy of the statutes of Corpus Christi College.


August Image- MS 394, f. 15r

CCCC MS 394, f. 15r



This late thirteenth-century Apocalypse was owned by Thomas Markaunt (c.1382-1439), senior proctor of the University and Fellow of Corpus Christi College. The pictures here show the elders around the Throne of God. By his will of November 1439, Markaut bequeathed 76 books to the College. The Apocalypse was no. 72, valued at 2 shillings. The bequest was received by Corpus on 1 August 1440. MS 394, folio 15r.