Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Moving on from vernacular texts, the next case sets to explore the differing readership practices of classical works in Latin and Greek. It displays books from the early twelfth to the late fifteenth centuries and seeks to show different layers of knowledge in these languages after late Antiquity. As this array of material was especially aimed at catching the attention of our undergraduates, I tried to gather as many familiar authors as possible, though their acquisition was often unrelated to an appreciation of the literary quality of these works. For instance, Parker collected our copies of Homer and Euripides because he thought they belonged to Theodore of Tarsus, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the late seventh century, who had taught Latin and Greek to Anglo-Saxon students. In fact, Parker did not demonstrate a particular interest in classics as much as he did in history or theology, though he would have been taught Greek as an undergraduate. Some evidence of this training comes from the volume of Homer, which shows a Greek annotation on the title page. Written in Parker’s characteristic red, this note is also the first line of a sixth-century poem ascribed to Stephanus of Byzantium, in which each book of the Iliad is described in a single verse. [1]


Indeed, knowledge of Greek had been scarce in England up until Parker’s time, and our thirteenth-century bilingual psalter from Ramsey Abbey is an example of this lacuna. Whilst the psalms appears on two facing columns in both Latin and Greek, the latter is transliterated in Roman script, and the etymological annotations found on the flyleaves show that the scribe was copying them from another book, rather than spontaneously reflecting on the roots of the Greek language. Both these aspects strongly suggest that the scribe did not actually have any alphabetical or grammatical knowledge of Greek. An analogous problem can also be found in our Euripides, where Orestes is erroneously entitled Elektra, again suggesting the popular unfamiliarity with Greek texts. In contrast, the current opening of our copy of Terence shows some fifteenth-century marginal annotations, and the hand of a later twelfth-century scribe that has traced over faded portions of text, which offers an opportunity for comparison between readerships of Latin classical texts and their Greek counterparts in the same case.


Finally, I picked one of our fifteenth-century copies of Virgil to show how the format that was once used for biblical study – the appearance of the main text in a larger font, and a standard commentary surrounding it laid out on the page – was implemented in the scholarly study of other texts such as, in this case, the Aeneid. Despite lacking the glow of the illuminated initial of the Iliad, this opening also contains an etching portraying the Trojans as they carry the horse inside the city walls, a visually stunning addition to this section, and one of the many etchings in this volume.


[1] I would like to thank Professor Richard Hunter for his assistance in identifying the source of this annotation.


Carlotta Barranu

Library Assistant



Classics case


fifteenth century, England, possibly Canterbury (more likely Christ Church than St. Augustine’s)

Just above the beginning of the column of text, we see where Parker added his own signature (‘Matthaeus Cantuar:’), followed by a note in Greek in his characteristic red pencil. The book’s contents were recorded and made identifiable through the addition of the text ‘Homerus grece’ on the fore-edge of the book itself, offering a pleasing insight into the ways and methods in which books were stored on shelved during this period. The cartouche at the bottom reads, in Greek characters, ‘Theodoros’, which led Parker to believe the book once belonged to Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury (602-690), originally from the Greek-speaking Cilicia, now south of Turkey. For this reason, this book was thought to be 900 years older than it actually is.



fifteenth century, possibly Canterbury

Despite the new interest in Greek literature brought about during the Renaissance, it would have been unlikely for an English scribe to be familiar with Greek script. Yet this copy of three of Euripides’ plays seems to have come from Canterbury, which could bespeak of existing links with the East. Displayed here is Orestes, wrongly entitled ‘Elektra’, pointing perhaps at the failure of reading Greek or negligence on the part of the rubricator, i.e. the scribe who would have been in charge of inscribing titles in red in medieval manuscripts. On the other hand, the fact that the text is heavily annotated is indicative of an intended scholarly readership, which would have made sense among the circles of Canterbury. Like for the case of the volume of Homer, Parker believed this belonged to Theodore of Tarsus. This would have of course been impossible, as he died in 690 AD whilst the book dates to six centuries later.



early twelfth century, the continent (possibly Germany)

Copies of what we now call ‘classical’ literature were not widely transmitted during the Middle Ages due to their ties with paganism. There were some exceptions, however. Terence’s Comedies, for instance, were used as an aid to teach Latin grammar and style, which made them uninterruptedly popular from late antiquity to the Renaissance. This scenario is confirmed in the copy now housed at Corpus:  four scribes worked on this manuscript, and at least another three recognisable hands can be identified annotating the text. As the annotators can be dated between the twelfth and the sixteenth centuries, it is clear that there was a consistent interest in reading Terence, and maintaining this copy functional and legible. Here you can see where a later twelfth-century scribe traced over portions of faded text.



1529, unknown publisher

Described by T.S. Eliot as ‘the classic of all Europe’, Virgil is among the most famous authors of Latinity. Since his death in 19 BC, Virgil’s literary works gained popularity as schoolbooks to learn Latin grammar and metre. After the consolidation of Christianism as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Aeneid in particular was reinterpreted as a proto-Christian text, with Aeneas taking resemblance of a Christ-like figure leading his people towards the foundation of Rome – like Christ did with the Church. It is indeed for this reason that Dante imagines to be guided by him through Hell and Purgatory in the Divine Comedy. The Renaissance period then witnessed an important revival of the study of classical literature, prompting new scholarship on these texts. This edition is a good example of this context: it includes significant portions of commentary surrounding Virgil’s verses, indicating this would have been a copy intended for scholarly use. Here is displayed a section of Book 2, where Aeneas recollects the events leading up to the siege of Troy. In this beautiful etching, the Trojan horse hosting the hidden Greeks is brought into the city.



late thirteenth century, Ramsey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

Before the Renaissance, knowledge of Greek in the West was sporadic and mainly associated with individual scholars or institutions, despite being one of the three sacred languages alongside Hebrew and Latin. In particular, England witnessed a period of hiatus in the study of Greek during the thirteenth century. This little volume, however, may seem an exception. Owned by Gregory of Huntingdon (fl.1300), prior of Ramsey Abbey, it is a bilingual psalter with facing pages in Latin, and Greek transliterated in Roman script. Instinctively, one would assume this indicates he had some knowledge of Greek, but clues in the book suggest the opposite. For instance, the nature of these notes is purely etymological – there is no evidence he understood Greek’s morphology or syntax. There are also clear signs in the notes themselves that demonstrate he was copying from another book rather than writing out of his own initiative. Therefore, he may not have had the skills to read the Greek portion of the psalter after all. What the volume depicts, however, is the beginning of a revived interest in Greek, as later expressed at the Council of Vienne where it was declared that Greek (and Hebrew) should be taught alongside Latin at university.


Read Full Post »

Our second exhibition case is currently dedicated to the study of English literature, which, unlike Theology, was not part of the university curriculum during Parker’s time (and it would have had to wait for another 350 years at least). I focused specifically on post-Conquest material, since we decided to keep our Anglo-Saxon books in a separate case. The four volumes I chose conveniently run in chronological order, from a thirteenth-century Apocalypse in Anglo-Norman to our copy of Chaucer’s Troilus and Cryseide from the second quarter of the fifteenth century.


I chose the Corpus Apocalypse as the first item because of its beautiful illuminations, and, more importantly, its language. Whilst medievalists are very familiar with the trilingual nature of English society during the Middle Ages, not all our visitors are aware that Anglo-Norman was one of the spoken vernaculars of England during this period. This is usually an excuse to talk about the polarised relationship between the French of the conquerors and the English of the conquered, as Ian Short suggested, in contrast with the omnipresent Latin, symbol of the authority of God and, most importantly, of the Church. The opening I have chosen strategically illustrates some basic scribal practices, such as the ruling of books, the erasure of text, and the use of the cloister as a possible setting for writing, thus allowing the viewer to visualise how our manuscripts were made.


The Apocalypse is then followed by the earliest surviving copy of Ancrene Wisse, a favourite of current university reading lists on medieval English texts. It is what we amicably refer to as a ‘brown manuscript’ – i.e. somewhat underwhelming to the untrained eye – and I have used this item to show how medieval reading practices sometimes resonate with modern habits, such as the underlining that you can see on the recto of the opening, and some ‘maniculae’ (literally meaning ‘little hands’) highlighting important passages – in short, the precursors of asterisks, exclamation marks, and the like in the margin of our own textbooks!


I then felt I should flaunt some of our classics – a copy of Piers Ploughman, and Chaucer’s Troilus. Piers shows some water damage over the edges, which is an excellent occasion to raise conservation concerns with our visitors, and explain why, as special collection librarians, we work under certain conditions to ensure our rare material is kept safe. Moving on to Chaucer, well, it speaks for itself. Yet I like to remind our visitors that this manuscript was not acquired by Parker because of his appreciation of Chaucer’s poetry per se – quite the opposite: he believed it to be a copy made for the king, and collected it as a ‘royal manuscript’ – little did it matter that it contained Chaucer rather than any other text!


Carlotta Barranu

Library Assistant




c.1330, St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury


With no less than 106 pictures, this is one of the finest fourteenth-century illustrated copies of the Apocalypse, written in Anglo-Norman. Although England is often referred to as a medieval trilingual society, only a minority of the population could speak this variant of continental French. Moreover, throughout the Middle Ages it never came to displace English, and by the fourteenth century it was considered as an accomplishment that was in reality fast disappearing. By the end of the century, shifting attitudes to the two vernaculars of England also coincided with the increasing richness of Middle English literary composition, as witnessed in Chaucer and Gower’s works.



second quarter of the thirteenth century, Wigmore(?), Hertfordshire


The Ancrene Wisse or Ancrene Riwle is a treatise on the religious life intended for anchoresses or nuns. To this day, uncertainty surrounds its origins and authorship, although it was possibly written by a Dominican friar in the West Midlands during the 1230s. Alternatively, authorship has been assigned to an Augustinian canon, also writing in the same area in the first third of the century. This copy is one of the earliest that have survived, which is especially valuable considering that the text represents one of the first examples of Middle English prose after the Norman Conquest, and, as Cate Gunn has put it, ‘anticipat[es] the vernacular spirituality that developed in the fourteenth century’.



c.1425, England


Piers Ploughman is a Middle English alliterative allegory meant to inspire religiosity, and educate its medieval audience to key theological principles through the journey of its Christ-like homonymous character. Popular throughout the Middle Ages, it attracted special attention at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which similarly denounced the clergy’s corruption and inadequate pastoral care. Although it is no deluxe copy, it was collected by Parker himself, possibly as an example of popular vernacular religious literature. Here you can also see his hand paginating the book’s leaves, written in a characteristic red crayon.



c.1415-1425, England


Although the Parker Library is yet to acquire a copy of the Canterbury Tales, this copy of Troilus is usually referred to as the most beautiful surviving copy of the poem. It was planned as a luxury edition intended to have over ninety illustrations; however only the full-page frontispiece was painted, with blank spaces left at the positions intended for the other pictures. It is thought that the man reading from the pulpit represents Chaucer himself, and that the prominent male figure dressed in a gold-embroidered costume was the likely patron of the book. Although this figure remains unidentified, Parker believed this manuscript to be a royal commission, which would make Richard II a candidate for patronage. This was also the likely reason why Parker collected the book in the first place, rather than for the quality of the text itself (now the main source of modern editions).


Read Full Post »

An illustrated Dutch book on astrology from the early sixteenth century might not be a typical work one would expect to find in the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. How would a copy of Tscep vol wonders (Brussels: Thomas van der Noot, 1514) have ended up in the library of an English archbishop?

tscep vol wonders

Figure 1: Tscep vol wonders title page. CCCC SP 53

As scholarship in material philology has continued to demonstrate since the late twentieth century, the physical characteristics of a volume are a rich and fruitful source for unraveling how a book was used, and by whom. A particularly noteworthy feature of the Parker copy of Tscep vol wonders is a handwritten annotation on the title page, which will be discussed here.

But first, let’s briefly introduce Tscep vol wonders. The text is a compilation of astrological and medical knowledge, probably compiled by the printer Thomas van der Noot himself [1]. It is divided into short chapters discussing the qualities and influences of the planets; diseases and ailments caused by imbalances in the humours of the body; health prescriptions on food, bathing, bloodletting etc.; and other medical-astrological content. Some of the chapters start with a woodcut illustration. These depict, among other things, personifications of the planets and the four temperaments, bloodletting, and purging. After the first edition of 1514, Van der Noot published the work again in 1520. There is a third edition with a somewhat different layout and some different woodcuts (Antwerp: Claes de Grave, 1535).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Parker copy of Tscep vol wonders is bound with two learned theological works in Latin: Johannes Hug’s Quadruvium ecclesie (printed in Strasbourg by Johannes Grüninger, 1504) and a handwritten transcript of a disputation on the nature of the Eucharist held at Oxford in 1549 (MS 495). It is not known who combined these three texts in one volume, nor when and why this was done, but according to the catalogue entry, “this binding arrangement may well date from Parker’s time”.




Apart from its inclusion in a volume with theological texts, other material evidence of how the Parker copy of Tscep vol wonders may have been used is scarce. Indeed, its pages are so pristine that we may wonder whether it was read at all. It contains only one handwritten annotation, which is in fact an interesting one because it seems to provide a clue of the book’s early provenance. On the title page, above the printed title Tscep vol wonders, is a handwritten translation: “The schip full wonders”.


tscep vol wonders detail

Figure 5: The English translation of the title

The handwriting is not Parker’s [2], nor that of the scribe of MS 495, but it is clearly from the sixteenth century. The annotation therefore indicates that the Dutch work found its way to an English owner early in its lifetime. Even more interestingly, the phrasing betrays a heavy influence from Dutch. Although the spelling “schip” for “ship” was not uncommon in sixteenth-century English [3], it might suggest that the annotator who wrote it was more comfortable in Dutch. This is implied even more strongly by the phrasing “full wonders”. These words are a literal translation of the Dutch “vol wonders”, whereas in English (even in sixteenth-century English) it would be more obvious to say “full of wonders”.

The annotation therefore points to the possibility that this Dutch book was handed to an English reader (to Parker himself?) by someone from the Low Countries who was more familiar with Dutch than they were with English. This suggestion still leaves many questions unanswered regarding the readership of the Parker copy of Tscep vol wonders, but it illustrates how even a single, unobtrusive annotation can prove valuable when attempting to reconstruct a book’s history.


 Andrea van Leerdam

Andrea van Leerdam is a PhD candidate at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, working on the project ‘Woodcuts as Reading Aids: Illustrations and Knowledge Transfer in Printed Books in Dutch on the Natural World, c. 1480 – c. 1550’


[1] More on Tscep vol wonders and the cultural context in which it originated: Arjan van Dixhoorn, ‘Nature, Play and the Middle Dutch Knowledge Community of Brussels in the late Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries’, in: Bettina Noak (ed.), Wissenstransfer und Auctoritas in der frühneuzeitlichen niederländischsprachigen Literatur (Göttingen 2014), 99-122.

[2] I thank Sub-Librarian Anne McLaughlin for examining the handwritten annotation with me during my visit to the Parker Library.

[3] The Oxford English Dictionary lists several medieval and early modern spelling variants starting with ‘sch…’, including schepe, schype, and schippe. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/178226?rskey=KfhUlF&result=2&isAdvanced=false#eid

Read Full Post »

Of all the extant copies of John Hayward’s The Life and Raigne of King Edward the Sixt (1630), the British Library Catalogue maintains that the only copy in England which escaped the cancels to which printer John Lichfield subjected the book, is housed in the Palace Green Library at the University of Durham (Routh Library SB 2427).[i]

Until now, however, it was unknown that the Parker Library houses the second extant copy which retains a full set of cancellanda. I was thrilled to discover, while collating multiple copies of the book for a larger project on its various states, that the Parker Library’s copy (K.8.14) had also eluded the cancellation process.

There are four cancels in most extant copies, all of which tone down sharply pejorative and frequently insulting characterizations of key political figures in Edward VI’s reign, including Richard Rich, Lord Chancellor, and the infamous Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector:[ii]

L3 Cancellandum_trimmed

L3 Cancellans_trimmed

Figure 1: L3v cancellandum (Parker K.8.14) versus L3v cancellans (C.11.39)


M3 Cancellandum_trimmed

M3 Cancellans_trimmed

Figure 2: M3v cancellandum (Parker K.8.14) versus M3v cancellans (C.11.39)


N3 cancellandum_ trimmed

N3 cancellans_trimmed

Figure 3: N3r cancellandum (Parker K.8.14) versus N3r cancellans (C.11.39)


Q4 cancellandum trimmed

Q4 cancellans trimmed

Figure 4: Q4v cancellandum (Parker K.8.14) versus Q4v cancellans (C.11.39)

These minor redactions are hardly surprising. On one hand, Lichfield is known to have been a staunch Royalist[iii] and, at a time of mounting political tension during Charles I’s reign, he must have been naturally eager to avoid printing anything controversial, no matter how historically distant. His censored version takes the removes the edge from some of Hayward’s choice disparagements, but selects phrases brief enough that their reduction does not affect the lineation beyond the page on which they occur. The reason that Lichfield agreed to print a book whose ‘politic’ characterizations evidently caused him some unease, is unknown.

On the other, Hayward’s reputation as what S.L. Goldberg has called a “politic historian”[iv] lent the act of acquiring and owning his books a certain status. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Parker’s copy. For perhaps the most singular thing about this copy, aside from the uniqueness of its full set of cancellanda, is the fact that it has been anthologized together with two of Hayward’s other biographical works, The Lives of the Three Norman Kings (1613) and The Life and Raigne of Henrie IIII (1599):

Table of contents

Figure 5: Table of contents on flyleaf (Parker K.8.14)

The binding of the three texts together, I have concluded, was carried out by its first documented owner, Thomas Mottershed, whose signature appears in a round hand on the first page of the dedication of Norman Kings:



Figure 6: The Lives of the Three Norman Kings signature on A2r (Parker K.8.14)

The volume was later acquired by a bookseller, who inscribed the table of contents above on the flyleaf, and priced it at 1 shilling and sixpence (Fig. 5).

While no biographical information about Mottershed seems to be available, this act of anthologizing suggests not only a particular interest in Haywards oeuvre, but therein, perhaps, an active political awareness and an interest in political controversy. For, though Goldberg credits Hayward with developing a style of biography less didactic than that of his contemporaries, “untangling of the terminology of analysis from that of morality in both psychology and politics,”[v] the textual redactions illustrated above demonstrate that “Hayward’s final terms of explanation are the characters of the actors”[vi] – and these were sometimes controversial for their derogatory foregrounding of baser character traits, as well as the way they were perceived to parallel contemporary figures and events. Indeed, Hayward’s writings carried a reputation for political controversy during his lifetime: parallels between Bolingbroke in his First Part of the Life and Raigne of King Henrie IIII (1599) and the Earl of Essex were perceived by Elizabeth I to encourage the Essex rebellion, causing Hayward to be imprisoned in the Tower.[vii]

The Parker’s volume, then, hints at an interesting story – one whose details remain enshrouded in mystery. Why does anyone anthologize a collection of texts? Typically, they are interested in an author’s body of work, in ideas threading through it, in continuity or evolution of style and form, in the recurrence of certain themes or viewpoints. These three biographies were published at quite disparate dates (Edward VI having been published posthumously by John Partridge)[viii] and not printed to be bound together. As such, Mottershed’s anthology indicates an ethos of collecting, of gathering Hayward’s texts into one place. Perhaps he was interested in themes of political controversy, or in the parallel between historical and current political events which Hayward’s writings had already evoked. At least three of the biographies – those of William the Conqueror, Henry IV, and Edward VI – deal with themes relating to the overthrow, or attempted overthrow, of an incumbent monarchical regime. In the decade leading up to the English Civil War, anthologizing such a body of texts was an extremely suggestive act.

Vanessa M. Braganza



[i] British Library, <http://explore.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/display.do?tabs=moreTab&ct=display&fn=search&doc=BLL01001627685&indx=1&recIds=BLL01001627685&recIdxs=0&elementId=0&renderMode=poppedOut&displayMode=full&frbrVersion=&dscnt=1&scp.scps=scope%3A%28BLCONTENT%29&frbg=&tab=local_tab&dstmp=1492513903250&srt=rank&mode=Basic&vl(488279563UI0)=any&dum=true&tb=t&vl(freeText0)=john%20hayward%20life%20and%20raigne%20of%20edward%20the%20sixt&vid=BLVU1> accessed 18 April 2017

[ii] Images of the cancellans are taken from the copy at St. John’s College, Cambridge (C.11.39). Each pair of images displays the cancellandum above, followed by the corresponding cancellans immediately below. All images of St. John’s College C.11.39 are reproduced with the kind permission of the Master and Fellows of St. John’s College, Cambridge; all images of Corpus Christi College K.8.14 are reproduced with the kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

[iii] See Gadd, Ian, A History of the Oxford University Press, 3 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), v. 1, p. 68. Other bibliographic historians also attest to Lichfield’s Royalist leanings, and those of his son and successor, Leonard Lichfield: see Plomer, Henry R., A Dictionary of Booksellers and Printers Who Were at Work in England, Scotland and Ireland from 1641 to 1667 (London: Blades, East & Blades, 1907), p. 117; see also Bracken, James K. and Joel Silver, British Literary Booktrade, 1475-1700 (Detroit: Gale Research, 1996), pp. 153-156.

[iv] Goldberg, S.L., “John Hayward, ‘Politic’ Historian,” The Review of English Studies 6.23 (1955), 233-244.

[v] Ibid., 234.

[vi] Ibid., 238.

[vii] Ibid., 236. See also “Hayward, Sir John,” < http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/12794?docPos=2>; see also Dowling, Margaret, “Sir John Hayward’s troubles over his life of Henry IV,” The Library 4.2 (1930), 212-224.

[viii] Arber, Edward, A Transcript of the Stationers’ Registers, 1554-1640 A.D., 5 vols (London: Printed privately for the University of Cambridge, 1875), v. 4, p. 197.

Read Full Post »

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


Read Full Post »


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.


Read Full Post »


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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »