Archive for the ‘Library visit’ Category

We recently hosted a visit by the High Sheriffs of Cambridgeshire and the six surrounding counties in full ceremonial court dress. High Sheriffs are appointed by the Crown in each county of England and Wales and serve for a single year.

The High Sheriffs looking at an Anglo-Saxon law book (Photo: Phil Mynott)

The High Sheriffs looking at an Anglo-Saxon law book (Photo: Phil Mynott)

The office is a very ancient one, dating back to the Anglo-Saxon period. The ‘scir-gerefa’ (shire-reeve, sheriff) or ‘scirman’ was responsible for maintaining law and order in the ‘scir’  (shire) and collecting taxes. As part of a special display of legal manuscripts, we were able to show the High Sheriffs a reference to ‘scirmen’ dispensing justice in an Anglo-Saxon law code associated with Ine, the seventh-century king of Wessex. This text, written in the early tenth century, is the earliest surviving record of English royal legislation. It is found in CCCC MS 173 which also contains the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The entry in the Laws of Ine regarding 'scirmen' (CCCC Ms 173, f. 47v)

The entry in the Laws of Ine regarding ‘scirmen’ (CCCC Ms 173, f. 47v)

Sheriffs are prominent in Magna Carta and the exhibition included several examples of the charter as ratified by various English kings. Also in the display was a list of the High Sheriffs of England in 1563 compiled for Matthew Parker, showing that the office was still an important one in Tudor times. The High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire for that year is listed as Clemens Chichelye who lived at Wimpole Hall just outside Cambridge. The hall was rebuilt in the seventeenth century and was at one time the home of the famous bibliophile Edward Harley (d. 1741) and his magnificent library. It’s now a National Trust property.

Detail from a list of the High Sheriffs of 1562 (CCCC Ms 100, p. 379)

Details from a list of the High Sheriffs of 1562 (CCCC MS 100, p. 379)

Over the centuries High Sheriffs have lost their powers to dispense justice and collect taxes. Their main roles now involve supporting the Crown and the judiciary in the county. It is an unpaid, independent and non-political appointment. This year’s High Sheriffs have a strong sense of the history of their office and it was fascinating to reflect with them on what our manuscripts can reveal about its continuity over a thousand years.

The High Sheriffs in the Parker Library with Dr de Hamel (Photo: Phil Mynott)

The High Sheriffs in the Parker Library with Dr de Hamel (Photo: Phil Mynott)


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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

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We had the pleasure recently of hosting a visit by the historian and presenter  Michael Wood and his team. The Parker Library and its manuscripts, including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, will be featured in three programmes that the team  are filming for a new BBC series. The trilogy of films, scheduled for broadcast in Autumn 2013 will cover the lives of Anglo-Saxon kings from Alfred through to Aethelstan.

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Jon Culshaw and Dr Rory Naismith

Jon Culshaw, Dr Rory Naismith and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

This was the scene in the library last week when the impressionist Jon Culshaw visited with a TV crew to talk to Dr Rory Naismith of the ASNC department and to look at some of our Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Jon is filming a series called  Britain’s Secret Treasures for ITV about various hoards and other archaeological finds that have been discovered over the past few years and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The filming in the Parker Library was part of an exploration of the context of the Silverdale Hoard, discovered by a metal-detectorist in North Lancashire in 2011.

Silverdale Hoard. Photo by Ian Richardson.

Silverdale Hoard. Photo by Ian Richardson. Copyright: British Museum.

Among the 201 objects in the hoard is a silver coin inscribed on one side REX and on the other side AIRDECONUT which is evidence for the existence of a previously unknown Viking ruler, Harthacnut, in Northern England, probably around the year 900. Rory showed Jon the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MS 173), one of the very few contemporary written records from Britain in this period and also MS 383, a collection of Anglo-Saxon law codes. Although this manuscript dates from the late 11th century, it contains a copy of a treaty made c.890 between Alfred the Great and the Viking ruler Guthrum which established a boundary between their two kingdoms and regulated relations between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes in both legal matters and trade.

The programme will air on ITV1 in mid-July.

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We had a visit this week from various early medievalists from the University of Leicester who came to see some of our Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, as well as the early medieval coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Leicester medievalists

Leicester medievalists

Several of the group were part of the ground-breaking interdisciplinary project, The Impact of Diasporas on the Making of Britain: evidence, memories, inventions. Although some of them are scholars of early medieval history or historical linguistics and thus very familiar with our manuscripts, other members of the team have backgrounds in population genetics, social psychology and archaeology. Looking at our manuscripts and understanding the context in which they were made, written, read and circulated plays a part in their wider investigations into British history and identity in the first millennium AD.

Leicester medievalists examining a Wulfstan manuscript

Leicester medievalists examining a Wulfstan manuscript

The project started in January 2011 and runs for 5 years.

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Of course we know that the Parker Library is ‘not just any library‘ but it’s lovely to have the fact recognised by others.

We recently hosted a visit to the college from a group of young people who had all been finalists in the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge, organised by the Speakers Trust. The highlight of their visit was a trip to the library – and their visit was also the highlight of our day. One of them, Mahatir Pasha, wrote up his experience.

Speak Out Challenge finalists

(It’s probably worth clarifying that the ‘monstrous book’ I let him hold wasn’t one of our manuscripts but a huge 18th-century printed atlas!)

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The annual Parker Library audit was carried out on Friday 9 September by Dr John Pollard, the Fellow Librarian of Trinity Hall. As I mentioned in last year’s post, we’re required to check the contents of the library under the terms of the indenture by which Matthew Parker donated his books to the library. If a certain number of books have been lost, the whole collection is forfeit to Gonville and Caius College. If they should be similarly neglectful, the collection passes to Trinity Hall and, if necessary, back to Corpus. In this way, the three colleges were set to watch over each other – and each was provided with a copy of the Parker Register, the checklist of Parker’s books.  Our copy is MS 575.

Dr Pollard recalled at the audit dinner that two years ago when he last came to inspect the books, we told him that NONE of the manuscripts were present. They were all being stored safely in the vault of the Churchill Archives Centre at Churchill College while we were having some refurbishment work done in the Parker Library itself. Luckily he was happy to take our word for that – and to see some of Parker’s printed books. This year the manuscripts were all present – except for one of those that Dr Pollard wanted to see – MS 373. It’s still on exhibition in Speyer – but we were able to show him a picture of it in the exhibition catalogue for the Die Salier exhibition to prove that.

CCCC MS 373 in Speyer catalogue

The auditor was satisfied and he received his fee – an Elizabethan sixpence. We were then able to enjoy the audit dinner, which also marked the end of the Parker Library Keio EIRI conferenceon digitization.

A guest visiting the library before the Audit Dinner

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