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Every great hero of English history needs a zealous and over-enthusiastic biographer, and Matthew Parker is no exception. His champion was the English clergyman and historian John Strype (1643-1737), whose biography, The Life and Acts of Matthew Parker, published in 1711, represents the first proper, full length biographical study of Parker. [1] The work is not without its faults: Strype’s prose is, to say the least, colourful, his style is effusive, and his tone reverential, and yet there is something irresistible about the passion and sincerity that fills Strype’s near-hagiographical study of Matthew Parker (the Man, the Myth, the Legend).

Strype 1711_Title Page & Parker Portrait.jpg

Strype also offers invaluable insight into how Parker’s accomplishments and legacy had come to be viewed within the 150 years following his death:

“His Learning, though it were universal, yet it ran chiefly upon Antiquity, In so much that he was one of the greatest Antiquarians of the Age, And the World is for ever beholden to him for two things: Viz., for retrieving many antient Authors, Saxon and British, as well as Norman, and for restoring and enlightening a great deal of the antient History of this noble Island. … Indeed he was the chief Retriever of that our ancient Native Language, the Saxon I mean, and encouraged heartily the study of it.”                                                (Strype 1711: 528, 535).

Thus we find Parker’s many noteworthy accomplishments, as a conserver of History and a preserver of Learning, and as a retriever of ancient Language and an advocate for its study, celebrated as emanating from his merit and abilities as a historian and an antiquarian, the significance of whose legacy is neatly summarised in Strype’s memorably-phrased celebration of Parker as “A mighty Collector of Books, [who] preserved as much as could be, the antient Monuments of the learned, Men of our Nation from perishing.” (Strype 1711: 535).

In his quest for documentary evidence of the unbroken continuity of the English Church from the earliest times, Parker particularly sought out chronicles and histories, especially those concerned with the early Church in England. These were texts greatly valued by the Elizabethan antiquarians, alarmed that recorded knowledge of Britain’s past risked being swept away with the closure of the monasteries and the dispersal of their libraries. Parker gathered together a remarkably rich range of works by a number of the best-known historians and chroniclers of England from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries.

Parker collected together many of the standard primary sources of early English history, including Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, in Latin (MS 264) and in Old English (MS 41), the earliest copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MS 173), Nennius’ Historia Brittonum (MS 139) and copies of the works of Eadmer (MSS 371, 452 and 457). His library included copies of the historical writings of Matthew Paris (his Chronica Maiora, in MSS 26 & 16, and a 16th-century transcript of his Historia Minor, MS 56), together with works by Henry of Huntingdon (MS 280), William of Malmesbury (MS 43), Geoffrey of Monmouth (MSS 281, 292 and 414), Simeon of Durham (MS 139), John of Tynemouth (MSS 56), Nicholas Trivet (MS 152), and Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, both in Latin (MSS 21, 164 and 259), and in Trevisa’s English translation (MS 354). Parker also assembled a remarkably rich range of works by minor premodern chroniclers and local antiquaries of England, including Florence of Worcester (MS 92), William of Newburgh (MS 262), Richard of Devizes (MS 129), Gervase of Tilbury (MS 414), Gervase of Canterbury (MS 438), Radulfus Niger (MS 343) and Roger of Wendover (MS 264).

Furthermore, Parker gathered books which emphasized the role of the English kings in promoting or protecting the Church. For this reason the library contains manuscripts owned by or associated with an impressive variety of English monarchs, including Alfred (MS 12), Aethelstan (MS 183), Edward II (MS 20), Richard I (MS 339), Richard II (MS 61), Henry V (MS 213), Henry VIII (MS 432) and Elizabeth I (MS 114A), not to mention Parker’s manuscript showing the wedding feast in 1114 of Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England, and the German Emperor Henry V featuring one of, if not the earliest, known illustrations of a pretzel in Western art (MS 373).

Alexander Devine

Sub-Librarian

ad523@corpus.cam.ac.uk

 

Scala Mundi (MS 194)

early fourteenth century, England

The Scala Mundi, or Ladder of the World, is a diagrammatical chronicle of universal history from the Creation to the early fourteenth century, when this manuscript was made. It includes the earliest known depiction of Stonehenge, shown here, which is described as having been built by Merlin the magician who brought the huge stones magically from Ireland. This copy is part of an anthology of historical texts which belonged to the Hospital of St. Mary without Bishopsgate in London.

The Venerable Bede, Vita Cuthberti (MS 183)

c.934, England

This is one of the oldest English royal manuscripts, made for King Æthelstan (927-39), grandson of Alfred the Great. It is a copy of the life of Saint Cuthbert, bishop of the island community of Lindisfarne written by Bede. When the monastery was sacked by the Vikings in 875, the monks dug up the saint’s body and carried it with other sacred relics in a journey lasting several centuries to Chester-le-Street, Ripon, and eventually to Durham (1104), when Cuthbert was finally interred. Æthelstan probably presented the monks from Lindisfarne with this magnificent copy of the life of their patron saint in or soon after 934, when he stayed with the exiled community, then at Chester-le-Street between Durham and Newcastle, on his journey northwards to fight the Scots. Here, the dedicatory frontispiece shows Æthelstan standing in the presence of Saint Cuthbert.

The Parker Chronicle (MS 173)

ninth – twelfth centuries, Winchester & Christ Church, Canterbury

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is one of the most famous historical texts from Anglo-Saxon England. This copy, known as the ‘Parker’ Chronicle, is the oldest version of the text and one of the earliest manuscripts in the Old English language. It was probably mostly written at the court of King Alfred in Wessex, perhaps in Winchester, in the late ninth century. It describes historical events by the years in which they took place. The opening here shows the entry for 1066, recording the burning of Christ Church, a comet in the sky (as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry) and the Battle of Hastings: ‘In this year King Edward passed away, and Earl Harold came to the throne and ruled for 40 weeks and a day; in this year came William and conquered England; and in this year Christ Church was burned, and a comet appeared on 18 April’.

MATTHEW PARIS, CHRONICA MAIORA (MS 16.I) [fols. i v-ii r]

mid-thirteenth century (c.1250s, before 1259), England, St. Albans

The Chronica Maiora, or ‘Greater History’ is the two-volume history of the world compiled by Matthew Paris (c.1189-1259), artist monk of St. Albans. This is the author’s own copy, with corrections and beautiful illustrations throughout in his own hand. It is one of the major sources for the history of the Crusades. The opening here shows the earliest depiction of the first elephant in England, which was sent to King Henry III as a diplomatic present from King Louis IX of France in 1255. The illustration is remarkably accurate, and for good reason, for it was drawn from life. Upon learning of its arrival in London, the ever-curious Matthew Paris promptly dashed off to London to see and study this strange new animal at the Tower of London. Paris records detailed descriptions of particularly noteworthy features of its appearance and behaviour. He notes that the elephant was ten feet high, was grey-black in colour and had small eyes in the upper part of its head. He also notes that its hide was not furry but rather very hard and rough, and that it used its trunk to obtain food and drink. Paris also illustrated the elephant’s keeper, named “Henry de Flor’”, who is described as “magister bestie”, or ‘the master of the beast’, and whose figure offers the viewer a useful comparison of scale in illustrating the elephant’s size. Unfortunately this spectacular beast’s life on English shores was short and likely unhappy, since, unsurprisingly, its captors had neither the knowledge nor the skills to properly care for it. They fed it on meat and wine and thus the poor creature died in 1257 and was buried at the Tower.

 

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[1] John Strype, THE LIFE AND ACTS OF MATTHEW PARKER, The First Archbishop of CANTERBURY in the Reign of Queen ELIZABETH. Under whose Primacy and Influence the Reformation of Religion was happily Effected; And the Church of England Restored, and Established upon the PRINCIPLES whereon it stands to this Day (London: John Wyat, 1711).

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The Parker Library is celebrated as one of the finest libraries of its kind in the world. Its holdings of medieval manuscripts and early printed books constitute a resource of unparalleled international importance for the study of Britain’s premodern past, and a repository of historical materials of exceptional importance to our nation’s culture and heritage.

Of special significance for scholars of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic is the library’s treasure-trove of extremely early manuscripts. The Parker Library is home to significant portion of all surviving manuscripts older than the year 800 in British collections, including the world-famous Gospels of St. Augustine (MS 286) and our 8th-century Northumbrian Gospel Book (MS 197b). Furthermore, we also hold about a quarter of all extant manuscripts in Old English; our holding is surpassed only by The British Library and The Bodleian. Our shelves hold many of the most celebrated volumes in the entire canon of all surviving Old English manuscripts, such as the earliest text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, today known as The Parker Chronicle (MS 173), the Aethelstan copy of Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert (MS 183), and The Corpus Glossary (MS 144). The collection contains several of the translations from Latin made at the instance of King Alfred, including St. Gregory’s Dialogues (MS 322) and his Pastoral Care (MS 12) and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (MS 41), while the biblical translation of Abbot Ælfric is represented by The Bath Old English Gospels (MS 140) and MS 449, which contain his Grammar and Glossary. The Parker is one of the principle sources of the Homilies of both Ælfric and of Wulfstan (MSS 198 and 190). Our collections also include rare examples of pre-Conquest laws (in the second half of MS 173 and in MS 383) and of early English monastic rules (in MSS 178, 191 and 201). We also hold the earliest surviving example of polyphonic music in the eleventh-century Winchester Troper (MS 473).

The Parker Library acquired this magnificent collection through the benefaction of our namesake, Matthew Parker (1504-75), Archbishop of Canterbury under Elizabeth I and the greatest of the 16th-century English antiquarians, who bequeathed some 600 medieval books bequeathed to the College in 1575. This collection forms the heart of the Parker Library today; it represents the oldest intact private library in the world and enduring monument to Parker’s extraordinary achievements as a book collector, and a testament to his extraordinary generosity as an institutional benefactor and a sponsor of learning.

The explanation for the presence of so rich a collection of early English medieval manuscripts, and particularly such an extraordinary number of manuscripts in the Old English language, in Parker’s collection is foundational to Parker’s reasons for assembling his whole library. When Queen Elizabeth appointed Parker her first Archbishop of Canterbury, he was charged with a mandate to establish an English Church which would be utterly secure, legal and completely irrevocable. To this end, Parker’s sought to justify the ‘new’ English Church by referring to historical precedent; looking far back into early English history he argued that the original missionaries to Anglo-Saxon England had always intended to set up an independent English Church, speaking the English language and under the authority of the king, not the pope. That is why the Parker Library was formed; to support Parker’s interpretation of history and to justify the ‘new’ English Church.

Matthew Parker was a man of many talents, as witnessed in the many academic positions and ecclesiastical offices that he held at local and national levels over the course of his lifetime, not only as a theologian and later a prelate, as a scholar and an antiquarian, but also a translator and a publisher. However above all else, he was lifelong bibliophile, a passionate book collector, and he used his prodigious talent for book collecting to gather a magnificent library that would furnish tangible proof of incontrovertible precedent for each the clauses of the recreated Anglican Church. In 1568 Parker obtained a license from the Privy Council to gather into his own possession any “auncient recordes and monuments” from the old scattered monastic libraries which would provide evidence of the history of the original English religion. This of course meant especially those which were from or were concerned with the Anglo-Saxon period, and of particular importance for Parker were manuscripts in the English language, particularly those that showed or suggested that the vernacular was used rather than Latin in the religious life of the Anglo-Saxons. Nearly every one of Parker’s books was gathered for that reason, and it is for this reason that the library includes so large a section of early English medieval manuscripts.

Alexander Devine

Sub-Librarian

ad523@corpus.cam.ac.uk

 

Photo of CASE 4 (2).jpg

 

SAINT WULFSTAN’S PORTIFORIUM (MS 391)

c.1064-69, Western England, probably Worcester

This stout little book comprises a portable one-volume compendium of a Psalter and a Breviary for daily use by an eleventh-century bishop travelling around his diocese. Both historical tradition and internal evidence suggest that the manuscript was made in Worcester for Saint Wulfstan (c.1008-1095), bishop of Worcester 1062-95. Wulfstan was canonised by Innocent III in 1203. He is patron saint of vegetarians. The frontispiece displayed here shows King David as a harpist, playing music on a seven-stringed Anglo-Saxon harp, facing the opening of the Psalter, whose text (Psalm 1) begins: ‘Beatus / vir / qui / non / abiit / in consilio impiorum …’ “Blessed is the man who does not abide in the company of the ungodly…”.

THE CORPUS GLOSSARY (MS 144)

c.800, probably Canterbury

The Corpus Glossary is a list of words with synonyms in Latin, Greek, and Old English, arranged in more-or-less alphabetical order by the words’ first two letters. The manuscript’s importance lies in its inclusion of Old English, of which this volume is an early witness. Although this manuscript itself is quite short, in addition to the famous ‘Glossary’, the volume includes two supplementary texts, both grammatical in subject: a copy of the ‘Interpretations of Hebrew and Greek Names’ and an excerpt from the second book of Priscian’s Institutiones grammaticae, copied at a later date. Entries on the left-hand page of the opening shown here offer definitions for a number of book-related words, among them, in the left hand column, “Bibliotheca” or ‘Library’, here defined as a “librorum reposio” or ‘a repository of books’; while other words, such as “bitricius”, are given with their Old English equivalents, in this case, “stoepfaeder” or ‘step-father’.

 

A TESTIMONIE OF ANTIQUITIE: SHEWING THE AUNCIENT FAYTH IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND TOUCHING THE SACRAMENT OF THE BODY AND BLOUDE OF THE LORD HERE PUBLIKELY PREACHED, AND ALSO RECEAUED IN THE SAXONS TYME, ABOUE 600. YEARES AGOE. (S.P. 281 [1])

1566, London (John Day)

This is the first book printed with Anglo-Saxon types. It is an edition of Ælfrician homilies and related materials printed as part of Parker’s programme to use Anglo-Saxon scholarship to solidify the doctrinal and institutional position of the Church of England. The Testimonie, along with the other Old English imprints that Parker were intended to show that the Church of England shared the beliefs of the ancient Saxon church, and thus had a pedigree that was both long and insular. The first Anglo-Saxon type designed for Parker – that which was used to print the Testimonie – had twenty-six sorts, and was based on Old English manuscript models, probably of the eleventh century. The book is here open to the beginning of the homily “In die Sancto Pascae”, with the Old English appearing on the left and a facing-page modern English translation. The layout is clear enough to allow a reader to compare the two versions and presumably, therefore, to learn something of the language.

 

ÆLFRIC, ANGLO-SAXON HOMILIES (MS 198)

tenth – eleventh centuries, perhaps Worcester

Annotations of a text can narrate histories of their own, as witnessed in this collection of Old English Homilies. While many later readers have left notes in the margins which attest to their understanding of Old English at a time when it was no longer spoken, the opening displayed here shows annotations which indicate the manuscript’s role in the history of the early printing of Old English. On the right hand page we see the opening of the same homily as that printed in A testimonie of antiquitie, also displayed here – whose text begins ‘Men ða leofostan gelome eoƿ is gesæd’. The number ‘19’ can be seen next to the opening line which corresponds to the page with the same homily in the printed edition.

 

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William StukeleyCopyright National Portrait Gallery

William Stukeley, F.R.S.
Copyright National Portrait Gallery

Almost 400 years after the death of William Stukeley there is a resurgence of interest in his life and work. Stukeley studied medicine at Corpus, and was a contemporary and friend of Stephen Hales, inventor of the ventilator. His room at Corpus was, Stukeley records, “generally hung round with Guts, stomachs, bladders, preparations of parts and drawings… I sometimes surprised the whole college with a sudden explosion; I cur’d a lad once of an ague with it by a fright”. The Parker Library has a dozen or so Stukeley manuscripts, including notebooks and drawings, bought from the Sotheby’s sale of February 1963.

Stukeley was a member of the Royal Society, Royal College of Physicians, and the re-formed      Society of Antiquaries, and numbered amongst his friends and acquaintances Hans Sloane,     Edmond Halley, and Sir Isaac Newton. He travelled far and wide, and his best known works,  Abery and Stonehenge, resulted from extensive work on the stone circles there.

Stukeley was a distant cousin of the Stucley family of Hartland Abbey in Devon, where an exhibition, “William Stukeley, Saviour of Stonehenge” opens in May.  Have a look at Lady Stucley’s blog about Hartland Abbey here.

Stukeley medals (1)In the Modern Archive here in College are two medals, one with the head of William Stukeley, on the other, a picture of Stonehenge, together with Stukeley’s death date.  Because the Corpus medals are cast, rather than struck from a die – which is unusual for the time – they may be devices from which a medal, now in the British Museum, was made.  The Corpus medals are cast, rather than struck from a die, which is unusual for that time.

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Today is Candlemas which serves as the secondary feast-day of Corpus Christi College. The primary feast-day is of course Corpus Christi, generally in June. The Candlemas connection comes about because the college was founded in 1352 by a united guild of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded about a century before the college and celebrated its feast on Candlemas day.

To celebrate the feast, two of the items currently on exhibition relate to the guild. The first is a charter dated 1306 issued by Edward I confirming a grant of land in central Cambridge given to the guild by one of its members, Adam Elyot.

Charter of Edward I

Charter of Edward I (XXVII.16,1-2)

The charter still has its copy of Edward’s Great Seal.

Great Seal of Edward I

Great Seal of Edward I

In 1350, the guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken over by the new guild of Corpus Christi which had been set up by Cambridge townspeople with the express purpose of founding a new college. To understand why that might have happened, take a look at the other document on show:

Bede roll of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Bede roll of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This is an extract of the bede roll of the guild, listing all the members of the guild who had died and were to be remembered in the prayers of the brethren. Names were added over the years but then, at the end of the roll are squeezed in the names of 92 members who died of the plague in 1349-50. At least one-third of the population of Cambridge died in the space of nine months and the guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary had very few members left to pray for their predecessors – but valuable land holdings in central Cambridge. This seems to be the reason behind the merger of the two guilds.

Within two years, the united guild had succeeded in founding a college and dissolved itself, handing over all its assets, including property and archives, to the college. The college also took on and has maintained the guild’s responsibility to pray for its proto-benefactors – including Adam Elyot, whose name can be seen on the bede roll between the splendidly named Argent Wolleward and Willelmus le spicer and his wife Elena.

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As well as being responsible for supplying images of books and manuscripts for research and publication, we also take care of image requests for some of the college’s other special collections, including the college portraits and the college silver collection.

We recently fulfilled a request for an image of the oldest and most famous item in the college’s silver collection, the Corpus drinking horn. It has been published in a fascinating article by Morgan Dickson on ‘The role of the drinking horn in medieval England’. The Corpus drinking horn was given to the college on its foundation in 1352, probably  by our founders, the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary and it’s still used today by the Fellows and students at college feasts.

Corpus Drinking Horn

Corpus Drinking Horn

The horn is an impressive size, about 70cm from tip to mouth, and holds more than three pints of liquid. It’s believed to come from an aurochs, an extinct ancestor of modern domestic cattle. It has a silver-gilt plaque with the college coat of arms engraved on it and a finial depicting the head of St Cornelius, patron saint of horns.

Corpus Drinking Horn 2

Corpus Drinking Horn from above

Dickson’s article traces the significance of drinking horns from demonstrating the generosity and patronage of Anglo-Saxon lords at feasts and among grave goods through their depiction at Harold’s feast on the Bayeux Tapestry to their roles as vessels of conviviality at college and monastic feasts, like the Corpus drinking horn, and symbols of land tenure, like the Pusey horn, supposedly given, along with the land it represents, by Cnut as a reward to one of his followers.

The article is in vol. 21, numbers 1/2 of the AVISTA Forum Journal, a  journal dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of medieval technology, science and art. This is a special issue dedicated to Medieval Brewing which includes everything from a ‘Blessing of Beer’ to a study of the medieval alewife and an investigation into medieval brewing receipts and recipes.

For more on the Corpus horn – including this excellent illustration of how not to drink from it, see Oliver Rackham’s Treasures of Silver at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (Cambridge, 2002).

Oliver Rackham and the Corpus horn

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A guest post by Dr Lucy Hughes, the College’s Modern Archivist:

At a time when Tate Britain is running an exhibition on Picasso and Modern British Art (until July 15), it is interesting to be reminded that a piece of work by one of Britain’s foremost surrealists, Sir Roland Penrose, survives as a mural in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The image of mythical beasts in combat is preserved behind perspex in a room in I staircase, where it was discovered during redecoration work in 1976. In the Modern Archive, a few steps from the mural itself, are preserved letters between Penrose and A. C. Clark-Kennedy, then Domestic Bursar, which shed light on how the mural came to be there in the first place. Penrose recalls that the architect T. H. Lyon, who was responsible for adding rooms to New Court in the 1920s, encouraged the young Penrose in his love of painting and invited him to decorate one of the new rooms. The mural is dated 1921. Penrose was an undergraduate at Queens’ College, where he studied architecture, and amused himself by creating similar murals in friends’ rooms, mostly in King’s College, during his student years. In his letter to Clark-Kennedy, Penrose writes that he thinks it unlikely that any of the other murals he created have survived, and that he is touched to be reminded of his youthful efforts, which he had all but forgotten.

Roland Penrose Mural in Corpus Christi College

Roland Penrose Mural in Corpus Christi College

Penrose’s archive of papers and books is now at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, but correspondence between Clive Bell and members of Penrose’s circle (including Picasso) form part of the ‘Charleston Papers’ at King’s College, Cambridge. Farley Farm House, Chiddingly, East Sussex – the home that Penrose made with his second wife, the photographer Lee Miller – is the subject of an article published in Country Life, June 13 2012. Farley Farm House, which is preserved as a museum, contains many artworks collected by Penrose, and became a centre for creativity, visited by numerous artists and writers over the years. The mural in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is an interesting example of an artist’s imagination awakening.

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