Neglected Old English in Trinity College Dublin

Among European countries, Ireland and England hold the accolade of having explored the possibilities of writing in their vernacular languages earliest and most extensively. Over three million words of Old English, the major language of England from around 500 to around 1100, survive, largely in manuscripts now in English libraries. But Trinity has one medieval manuscript containing Old English, TCD MS 174, a codex in Latin but which appears to pronounce its origins in the vernacular.

TCD MS 174, folio ir: ‘of searbyrig ic eom’: “from Salisbury I am”.

It also has a number of copies made by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century antiquarians of Old English texts, most famously William Lambard’s 1563 transcript of a now-all-but-conflagrated copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

TCD MS 631, folio 11r: King Alfred’s accession in annal 871 is marked with a three-line-high capital, presumably copied by Lambard from the manuscript he was transcribing.

While three million words may sound like a lot, it is still insufficient to answer some major questions about the Old English language and its literature, and the discovery of new texts in the language, even if only a few words in length, is a cause of interest. It was therefore with some excitement that examining a twelfth-century Trinity manuscript in October last year with Immo Warntjes, Ussher Assistant Professor in Early Medieval Irish History, I spotted some annotations in the margins of several leaves that appeared to be in English.

TCD MS 492, fol. 4r: the beginning of the first book of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with English annotations in the outer margin.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r: the beginning of the first book of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with English annotations in the outer margin.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r (detail of annotation from outer margin, enlarged and rotated): ‘hronas’, “whales”.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r (detail of annotation from outer margin, enlarged and rotated): ‘hronas’, “whales”.

Further research revealed that if not entirely unknown, these annotations – seven in all – were seriously neglected. This prompted a full investigation, the results of which have just been published in the German journal, Anglia: Zeitschrift fur Englische Philologie.

The first challenge was to decipher the annotations. Transcribing Old English is not difficult, whatever master’s palaeography students may tell you. However, these annotations presented several idiosyncratic challenges: first, the vast majority of them were written in the outer margin of the leaves, perpendicular to the text block, a position where readers’ fingers are liable to have rubbed any writing; second, the script was extremely small, almost wilfully inconspicuous. Thus one of the annotations in the margin of fol. 4r had formerly been transcribed as ‘seolas scaelie’, just about recognisable as Old English, but not intelligible as such because no word ‘scaelie’ exists; in good light and with patience, I was able to recognise the word intended as ‘weolocscælle’.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r (detail of annotation from outer margin, enlarged and rotated): ‘<w>eolocscælle’, “whelks”.

The next challenge was to explain what the annotator was up to. Fortunately, I was well positioned for this task, having written my PhD on the ways in which medieval readers used manuscripts. One thing that immediately struck me was that the spelling of the annotations was at odds with their twelfth-century date. This suggested it would be worth checking if they had been taken from an earlier work. Investigation revealed this was indeed the case, with all having come from an earlier translation of the Latin work being annotated, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. The annotation of a Latin work with equivalent phrases from an English translation might suggest a student cribbing his way to the understanding of the original Latin (my copy of Virgil’s Æneid still has my annotations from when I first encountered it as a sixteen-year old schoolboy). But closer consideration of two of the annotations suggested the actual situation was more complex.

TCD MS 492, folio 8v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘munuc’, “monk”.

TCD MS 492, folio 8v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘munuc’, “monk”.

Both of these annotations concern Bede’s account of St Alban, the man he celebrated as the first English martyr and the man who gave his name to the monastery and later town of St Albans in Hertfordshire. Both annotations give details found in the English translation not present in the Latin: that a visitor Alban received was a monk and that the place of Alban’s martyrdom was half a mile from the town wall. They suggest that the annotator was not a student struggling to understand Bede’s Latin, but a scholar making a detailed comparison of the Latin text and its Old English translation and, perhaps surprisingly, according them equal weight.

TCD MS 492, folio 9v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘half mile <em>a muro</em>’, “half a mile <em>from the wall</em>”.

TCD MS 492, folio 9v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘half mile a muro’, “half a mile from the wall”.

The annotations in TCD MS 492 are therefore a witness to the authority that the vernacular held in England before 1200, an authority paralleled in the Europe of this time only in Ireland. The publication of these neglected seventeen words of Old English adds just a little to the more than three million words of Old English already known to have survived, and it doubles the number of codices known to contain Old English in Trinity, but more importantly it tells us that Old English works continued to be read and studied well into the twelfth century, just as we still enjoy the novels of Dickens and Trollope today.

Mark Faulkner
Ussher Assistant Professor in Medieval Literature

The Wycliffite Bibles in the Library of Trinity College Dublin

In the later half of the fourteenth century a group of Oxford scholars, associated with the theologian John Wycliffe (c.1330-84), set out to translate the Bible from Latin into English. This Bible, known as the Wycliffite Bible, was banned by the hierarchy in the early 1400s and for the next 125 years anyone caught owning such a Bible could, in theory, be condemned for heresy. Despite these restrictions, the Wycliffite Bible was one of the most extensive productions of the Middle Ages, of which there are over 250 extant manuscripts. The Library of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) holds nine of these manuscripts.

The nine manuscripts in TCD offer some insight into the various stages of production. The first attempt at the Wycliffite Bible, for example, was a direct translation from the Latin and it reads rather awkwardly, more like a word-for-word translation because the Oxford scholars were keen to demonstrate that the English version was as trustworthy as the Latin text from which it came. It is usually referred to as the Early Version (EV). Towards the end of the fourteenth century, a later group of scholars decided it was time to improve upon this Early Version so that the English would read more fluently. Both the EV and LV version of the Wycliffite Bible can be found in the Trinity collection.

To talk about 250 manuscripts is a bit misleading because it indicates only the number of manuscripts that contain the Bible in whole or in part; it does not indicate the survival of so many complete Bibles. For example, MS 66 begins with Genesis, but concludes with the introduction to the Psalms. Mary Dove holds that its sister manuscript or the second volume of the same Bible, which begins with Proverbs and ends with Revelations, is London, British Library MS Additional 15580. It would be interesting to know how the manuscripts came to be separated and what became of the missing Book of Psalms.

Some manuscripts contain extra bits of information that illustrate the use that was made of the Bibles. For example, MS 75 is one of a hundred manuscripts to contain a set of tables setting out the sections of the Bible which are to be read at Mass each Sunday. [See images of ff. 9 & 100 below].

TCD MS 75, folio 9 r

Each table is laid out in a series of columns that lists the Sunday or feast day, the chapter of the relevant Bible passage, a letter of the alphabet to mark the passage in the main Bible, and the opening and closing words of the Gospel passage. If we compare the images of folios 9 [image above] and 100 [image below] from MS 75, we see that the ‘a’ in the margin of f. 100 occurs beside the words ‘be not ȝour hertes destorbled’ [marked with a red arrow].

TCD MS 75, folio 100r

This corresponds with the entry for ‘holy rode day’ on f. 9 of the table [green arrow], which indicates that the Gospel for that feast day is taken from John 14, where it will be highlighted in the main part of the Bible by the letter ‘a’ in the margin. We can also see that the opening words in the table correspond with those marked on f. 100, ‘be not ȝour hertes destorbled’ [blue arrow], which conclude with the closing lines of the Gospel passage ‘I schal do it’ [black arrow]. This kind of table opens up the debate on who were the actual readers and owners of the Wycliffite Bibles. Were these tables indicative of an enthusiastic lay readership, preparing the readings before or after the liturgical service as the translators intended? Do they suggest, on the other hand, that the Bible remained in the hands of the less Latinate clergy who were glad to access the Bible in English rather than Latin?

The Wycliffite Bible manuscripts in Trinity provide a valuable insight into the changing attitudes to religion among certain sectors of society in the lead up to the Reformation.

Further Reading:

Christopher de Hamel, The Book. A History of the Bible. Phaidon, 2001. Chapter 7 (pp. 166-90).

Mary Dove. The First English Bible: The Text and Context of the Wycliffite Versions. CUP, 2007.

Matti Peikola. ‘Tables of Lections in Manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible’ in Form and Function in the Late Medieval Bible. Eds Eyal Poleg and Laura Light. Library of the Written Word 27; The Manuscript World 4. (Leiden: Brill, 2013), pp. 351-78.

John Scattergood and Guido Latré, ‘Dublin, Trinity College Library MS 75: A Lollard Bible and Some Protestant Owners’, in Manuscripts and Ghosts: Essays on the Transmission of Medieval and Early Renaissance Literature. Four Courts Press, 2006. (pp. 163–80.)

Elizabeth Solopova. The Wycliffite Bible: Origin, History and Interpretation. Brill, 2016.

Dr. Niamh Pattwell, University College Dublin.

Dr. Pattwell is currently working on a volume of the Index of Middle English Prose for Trinity College Dublin with Prof. V.J. Scattergood.

Link to IMEP volumes: https://boydellandbrewer.com/index-of-middle-english-prose-index-to-volumes-i-to-xx-hb.html

 

 

Diversity and similitude in Middle English Ten Commandments texts

TCD MS 70, folio 144r

Religious miscellanies feature prominently among the Library’s holdings of Middle English manuscripts. Intended as manuals for religious instruction, they frequently contain texts of and commentaries on the Ten Commandments. A survey and analysis of the content and contexts of selected examples suggest that the creation of a flowing effect, whereby the various instructions almost ‘bleed’ into one another, was part of their aesthetic. Thus, the texts are arranged in order to suggest a way of reading whereby the reader becomes deeply familiar with essential religious knowledge. Contrasts in these texts shed light on a vibrant and heterogeneous creative culture of religious instruction, wherein a range of audiences and communities of readers engaged with catechetical material during the late medieval and early modern period.

Continue reading

CERL Dublin Manuscripts Conference 25-27 May 2016

The 7th conference of CERL’s (Consortium of European Research Libraries https://www.cerl.org/) European Manuscript Librarians Expert Group, hosted by the cerl logoLibrary of Trinity College Dublin will take place 25-27 May 2016.

The primary aims of the Group are to act as a forum for curatorial concerns, and to enhance understanding and practical cooperation among curators across Europe. The conference will focus on these themes:

Commemorations and Anniversaries; Materiality; Post-digital issues and concerns.

Draft programme:

Wednesday 25 May, 1315 – 2000

  • Estelle Gittins, ‘Commemorating 1916 in the Library of Trinity College Dublin’
  • Bernard Meehan, ‘The Faddan More Psalter’
  • Susie Bioletti, ‘Early Results from the “Early Irish Manuscripts” Project’
  • Jennifer Edmond, ‘CENDARI: what next?’
  • Jane Ohlmeyer, ‘The 1641 Depositions: what now?’

Reception in Old Library with Book of Kells and exhibition of treasures

Thursday 26 May, 0930-1900

  • Ad Leerintveld, ‘Authenticating the coat of arms in a Gruuthuse manuscript’
  • Birgit Vinther Hansen, ‘Exhibition and fading of manuscripts: microfadometry and a lighting policy to increase exposure and reduce risk’
  • Nicholas Pickwoad, ‘Ligatus:  the importance of bindings and their description’
  • Claire Breay, ‘Commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015’
  • Allen Packwood, ‘The Churchill Papers: a modern historical epic’
  • Gerhard Müller, “Understanding Archival Metadata and Shaping Perspectives on the Benefits of Standards beyond the Simple Search.”

Reception at Royal Irish Academy and viewing of early medieval Irish manuscripts. Conference dinner, 1930

Friday 27 May, 0915-1200, private visits to Marsh’s Library and the Chester Beatty Library

FURTHER PAPERS WILL BE ADDED. FULL INFORMATION AND BOOKING FORM WILL FOLLOW SHORTLY.

Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin

Manuscript Miscellanies

Medieval miscellanies are manuscripts comprising separate articles, studies or literary compositions brought together in the form of a book. Their contents are varied and challenging to interpret. As a Visiting Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub I considered several manuscripts in the Trinity collection that might, for different reasons, be described as miscellanies. Three of these were explored in a recent workshop with postgraduate students of medieval literature.

TCD MS 69 folio 78r

TCD MS 69 folio 78r

TCD MS 69 was written by two scribes, but its mixture of Latin and English, prose and poetry is thematically coherent. Its fourteenth-century compilers were interested in religious instruction, selecting the psalms, the ten commandments, and a long English poem, the Prick of Conscience. Amongst this material is a single sermon, ‘A Tale of Charite’ (folio 78r), which properly belongs with a full sermon cycle called the Mirror. It is unusual for sermons from this cycle to appear individually, and it would be interesting to know what prompted its inclusion here.

 

TCD MS 432 folio 75r

TCD MS 432 folio 75r

The Middle English poetry and drama of TCD MS 432 are well-known through an early twentieth-century edition compiled by Rudolf Brotanek, but that edition also distorts our sense of the whole codex. It disguises the fact that this manuscript is a composite, of vellum and paper, in six separate sections, with some parts copied in the thirteenth century, others in the fifteenth; it also contains French and Latin. Now bound in three volumes, it is hard to imagine that for some of its history at least this functioned as a single book.

Both these manuscripts have later annotations that show they continued to be read long after their own period of production. For example, the list of medieval Christian kings in TCD MS 432 was extended up to Henry VIII, and another sixteenth-century hand has added a note of how many years Henry reigned (folios 74v-75r).

TCD MS 352 folio 169r

TCD MS 352 folio 169r

The third miscellany, TCD MS 352, is a commonplace book, a type of miscellany that comprises a series of extracts from religious writings. It was compiled by Edmund Horde, the last prior of Hinton, a Carthusian monastery in Somerset. Initially the extracts focus on matters of individual spirituality – how to be a better Christian, how to resist temptation, and so on. Increasingly quotations from the Bible and the Church Fathers give way to contemporary sources such as Thomas More, and the focus turns to the question of ecclesiastical supremacy: in this book Horde was marshalling evidence against Henry VIII’s claim to be head of the church (folio 169r). Thus, in this instance, the personal miscellany was simultaneously a very political collection.

The Manuscripts & Archives Research Library holds around 50 Middle English manuscripts. For further information please refer to the Collections section of our website.

 

Dr Margaret Connolly University of St Andrews