Parker’s Scribes

It’s well-known that Matthew Parker did more than just collect books and manuscripts. He lent and borrowed, read and studied, had them copied, collated and edited, disbound and rebound. And of course, there’s plentiful physical evidence for all these practices in the books themselves.

Perhaps the clearest evidence of the ways in which Parker’s books were used and read lies in the numerous annotations, underlinings and pointing hands added to the manuscripts by Parker himself and by other members of his circle. Writing about the annotations in 1953, C. E. Wright suggested that ‘a careful and exhaustive study of these is long overdue’.

Flyleaf of CCCC MS 389
Flyleaf of CCCC MS 389

Here’s the flyleaf of CCCC MS 389, a late tenth-century copy of the Lives of St Paul the hermit and of St Guthlac. A fourteenth-century hand has added a note of ownership, ‘Liber sancti Augustini Cant.’, that is, St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury. Below that, in his distinctive red chalk, Parker has correctly observed, ‘Hic liber scriptus ante conquestum’ (‘This book was written before the Conquest’).

Much work has been done in the sixty years since Wright, in particular by the former Fellow Librarian, R. I. Page and by Professor Timothy Graham, both of whom had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in the Parker Library. But now, the availability of digital images of all the manuscripts makes it possible for scholars around the world to conduct such research.

The library recently hosted a workshop for an ongoing research project called Parker’s Scribes led by Professor Alexandra Gillespie of the University of Toronto and Professor Simon Horobin of the University of Oxford. The project aims to create an index of all the sixteenth-century annotations in Parker’s manuscripts in the library. They hope to identify the individual hands, both well-known members of Parker’s circle such as John Joscelyn, Stephen Bateman and John Stow and scribes whose names are now lost. The digital images of these scribal hands in Parker Library manuscripts will later serve as useful reference points in attempting to trace these scholars’ annotations in other manuscripts and printed books.

Here’s Simon Horobin (left) and Alex Gillespie (seated) together with members of the project’s Advisory Board (Paul Patterson, Lawrence Warner, Michelle Warren, Jeffrey Todd Knight ) looking at some annotations in a Parker Library book.

Parker's Scribes project visit
Parker’s Scribes project visit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: