Matthew Parker as Collector: The ones that got away I

Although the Parker Library contains hundreds of manuscripts given by Parker to Corpus, he did give manuscripts to other people and institutions. Inspired by Cambridge University Library’s Shelf Lives exhibition, I thought I’d look at some of the ‘ones that got away’.

Perhaps the most significant Parker manuscripts elsewhere are those in the University Library, one of which is on display in the Shelf Lives exhibition. The University Library suffered greatly during the Reformation period due to neglect, theft and destruction. In 1574 Andrew Perne, the Master of Peterhouse and bibliophile, undertook to restore the University Library and called upon his old friend Matthew Parker, by then Archbishop of Canterbury, for support. As well as writing letters to others soliciting donations, Parker gave 25 manuscripts of his own to the University Library along with 75 printed books.

In many cases these manuscripts contain ‘duplicate’ copies of works found in Parker Library manuscripts, though of course, each manuscript copy of a text is unique. Of the six Anglo-Saxon manuscripts which Parker gave to the UL, MS Ii.2.4 contains a copy of Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care translated into Old English, as does CCCC MS 12; MS Ii.2.11 contains a West Saxon translation of the gospels, as does CCCC MS 140; Ælfric’s Grammar and Glossary are found in both CUL MS Hh.1.10 and CCCC MS 449; both CUL Kk.3.18 and CCCC MS 12 contain Bede’s Ecclesiastical History in Old English. The other two Anglo-Saxon manuscripts Parker gave to the UL (Ii.4.6 and Ii.1.33) principally contain collections of homilies, as do CCCC MSS 162, 178, 188, 198, 302, 303, 419, and 421.

An even closer relationship exists between CCCC MSS 66 and 66A and CUL MS Ff.1.27 – not the same text this time but they were originally the same book(s). Parker obtained two volumes  which mostly contained histories and some travel accounts, one originally from the Cistercian abbey of Sawley in Yorkshire and the other from the Benedictine abbey at Bury St Edmunds. He took both of them to pieces and rearranged their contents into two volumes; broadly speaking each contained the first half of one MS and the second half of the other. He then donated one of these composite volumes to CUL and the other to the Parker Library. Our volume has subsequently been rebound in two parts, MS 66 which contains half of the Sawley MS and MS 66A, half of the Bury MS.

If Corpus felt the loss of ‘the ones that got away’, insult seems to have been added to injury. As J. C. T. Oates records, Corpus agreed to repair and maintain ‘with clapses and byndinge necessarie’ the books that Parker gave to the UL, on pain of a fine of 3s. 4d per week. (See Cambridge University Library: A History. From the Beginnings to the Copyright Act of Queen Anne (Cambridge, 1986), p. 110.) There’s no record of such repairs even being carried out; I can only imagine how much we now owe the UL in arrears! Perhaps we’ll have to give them another manuscript in payment.

More information

For more about Parker and his books, see the invaluable Matthew Parker and his books by former Parker Librarian R I. Page (Kalamazoo, MI: Western Institute Publications, 1983).

More details concerning the books Parker gave to the UL can be found in M. R. James’ catalogue of the Parker Library and in E. Leedham-Green and D. McKitterick, ‘A Catalogue of Cambridge University Library, 1583’, in Books and Collectors 1200-1700: Essays presented to Andrew Watson, ed. by James P. Carley and Colin G. C. Tite (London, British Library, 1997), pp. 153-235.

2 thoughts on “Matthew Parker as Collector: The ones that got away I

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  1. Trinity Hall is very fortunate to have a manuscript from Parker too! It is a copy of his Register of manuscripts in Corpus Christi, which was intended for use in the annual audit of the Parker Library. It has Parker’s crest of three keys stamped on the front and back covers and is one of the treasures of our Old Library.

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