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TCD MS 502, witness to an early stage in the composition of the Worcester Chronica chronicarum

The Worcester Chronica chronicarum (‘Chronicle of chronicles’) is a very important and ambitious text of the first half of the twelfth century. It purports to be a history from the origins of mankind down to the year 1140, where the principal manuscript copy—Oxford, Corpus Christi College MS 157, known by the siglum ‘C’—now ends. TCD MS 502, cited by its siglum ‘H’ and now available digitally online for the first time here, is one of 5 further copies of the Chronica chronicarum that descend either directly or indirectly from C (the copy preserved in the Almonry Museum in Evesham, known as ‘E’, is only a single leaf in its current form). H is thought to have been copied in the mid-twelfth century by a single scribe who may have been working at Coventry and whose last entry is for the year 1131. Annals for the period 1132-8 were added later and there are also entries written in hands that have been dated to the early thirteenth century and beyond. H formed the basis of an edition of the Chronica chronicarum composed in 1592 by the antiquary William Howard (whose mark of ownership can be found inscribed on fol. 1r in H, and also at the front of TCD MS 503, which contains a copy of John of Worcester’s Chronicula). The hand of Archbishop James Ussher has been identified as adding marginal notes in H, including against the record of the death of Florence of Worcester under the annal for 1118 on fol. 253v. As noted below, these 5 further copies descending from C are of vital importance for reconstructing the stages in which the Chronica chronicarum was composed.

A note in the margins by Archbishop Ussher on fol. 253v of TCD MS 502

From the late eleventh century to the middle of the twelfth century, the Worcester church was a major centre of historical writing and the Chronica chronicarum was one of several texts produced as a result of the impetus for research provided by Bishop Wulfstan II (d. 1095). It was composed with the help of a variety of sources, most notably the universal chronicleof Marianus Scotus, an Irish monk who spent time at various religious houses on the continent and died in the early 1080s at Mainz. Marianus, who thought that the date of the incarnation of Jesus had taken place twenty-two years before that given by Dionysius Exiguus, sought in his chronicle to re-date events from the incarnation down to his own time by twenty-two years. This new dating system by Marianus was admired by Robert, bishop of Hereford (1079-95), who was a friend of Bishop Wulfstan II and who was presumably responsible for its introduction to Worcester, where it was enthusiastically taken up and formed the core model for the way that the Chronica chronicarum is structured and set out. Until the entry for the year 450, the Chronica chronicarum relies wholly on the work of Marianus and from this point the Worcester author(s) begin(s) to insert details from a much wider range of sources, many of which concentrate on English events and which include the famous works of Bede, Asser, different versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Lives of saints, William of Malmesbury and Eadmer of Canterbury. 

The question of the authorship of the Chronica chronicarum is one of the greatest cruces of English medieval history. Its annal for 1118 credits the monk Florence with an authorial role, while noting also his death in that year. It is clear that Florence cannot have been the sole author because the chronicle in its current form continues to the year 1140 and under the year 1138 the monk John is also given authorial credit. John’s hand has been identified as making corrections and additions throughout C. Scholars have previously attributed the text variously to Florence and/or to John, but it is perhaps safer, given the number of scribes who can be seen at work in C (currently identified as at least 6 in number), and given the large period of time over which the text was produced, to refer to the work by its Latin title, the Chronica chronicarum and to recognise that these two named monks, and perhaps more, had roles in its production.

In its current form, C has numerous twelfth-century textual emendations, annotations and marginal additions which collectively show that the Worcester monks were actively updating it. Where C in its current form ends with its annal for 1140, H itself ends earlier, in 1131, and has different entries for the years 1128-31. The entry for 1128 in C coincides with a large amount of erased text which indicates that the version of the text now preserved in H (and in another manuscript copy, London, Lambeth Palace 42, known as ‘L’) must represent how C originally ended before it was updated. This discovery shows why H is so important in any reconstruction of the textual history of the Chronica chronicarum, for it contains an early version/snapshot of that text, before it had been updated as part of a stage of revision and augmentation.

fol. 12r of TCD MS 502, showing the Mercian royal genealogy

C itself begins with a very interesting set of episcopal lists, royal genealogies and summary accounts of the history of the different English kingdoms. H has some of these initial texts. H’s folio 12r, for example (shown below), attempts to recreate the rather beautiful Mercian royal genealogy as it is ultimately depicted in C. Such a visual representation of the Mercian royal line vividly shows how the twelfth-century Worcester monks attempted to create order from the wide variety of sources for English history that they were working from. A recent scholar has likened them to a ‘historian’s tool-kit’. The preliminary texts in C (and H) are being edited for volume one of the ‘Oxford Medieval Texts’ edition of the Worcester Chronica chronicarum. It represents a significant advance in scholarship that images of H can now be accessed directly by scholars around the world.

D. A. Woodman,

Robinson College, Cambridge

Virtual Trinity Library is a digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections. It will conserve, catalogue, curate, digitise and research these unique collections of national importance, making them accessible to a global audience, from schoolchildren to scholars.
https://www.tcd.ie/virtual-trinity-library/

The process of digitising Mathew Paris’s ‘Book of St Albans’

TCD MS 177 f37v-f38r the martyrdom of St Alban, Matthew Paris, the Book of St Albans

The digitisation of the Book of St Albans manuscript by Matthew Paris was quite possibly the most anticipated step within the Medieval manuscript digitisation project currently being conducted within the Library of Trinity College Dublin. This high value manuscript was first photographed as black and white collotype prints for the M.R. James Facsimile edition in 1924 and in the 1980s a selection of images from the manuscript were captured on colour transparency film and scanned. The colour transparency slides show the pastel green hues well. Furthermore, considering a comparison between the resolution of fine grain film and high-resolution digital imaging is still contestable, I do not believe I can immediately say the resolution of the digital surrogate images taken on a medium format digital back camera is well and truly above what can be captured with fine grain film in terms of image resolution. However, the high dynamic range, colour accuracy and ease of use and speed of a medium format digital back camera makes the true hues and gold highlights seen within the miniatures throughout the Book of St Albans manuscript much easier to render correctly.

Digitising a high value manuscript such as the Book of St Albans involves slightly more planning than other medieval manuscripts as multiple people need to be involved throughout the process to ensure the safety and security of the manuscript. My role first off was to calculate how long I anticipated the digitisation to take place and whether there was a possibility to be able to also capture extra images of a selected number of illustrations using raking light to show the texture within the illustrations. Considering multiple expertise needed to be involved throughout the process and the manuscript is permanently stored in high security, I had a limited amount of time to complete all the digitisation. Although, the fact that this manuscript only has 77 folios made the planning slightly easier. Overall, the most difficult part of the digitisation process was creating the correct lighting to accurately show the course gold highlights which are seen within many of the illustrations, whilst not washing out the pastel green colourisation.

Lighting set up for pastel colours and gold

For most of the photography conducted within our Digital Collection studios we use a standard twin lighting set up with one flash head placed on either side of the subject positioned 90 cm above the subject and placed at a 35-degree angle towards the subject plane. The standard lighting set up was used for the lighting set up whilst digitising the Book of St Albans manuscript. In addition, a large silver reflector was placed over the top of the camera and over the top of the two flash heads and directly above the subject plane. The large silver reflector covered the entire diameter of the subject area and lighting circumference. The large reflector was kept in place directly above the subject throughout the entire shoot. Whilst shooting the miniatures with gold illumination an extra light was placed in front of the subject and pointed directly upwards towards the large silver reflector, this light was also set to the lowest setting. The purpose of using the extra light whilst photographing the miniatures with the gold illuminations was to help bring out the gold highlights which are often hard to capture with the standard lighting set up alone. The large reflector was kept in the same position throughout the shoot to avoid image exposure and the white balance changing too much once the extra lighting was temporarily added. The extra light was kept on the lowest setting also for this reason and to avoid flattening the green pastel colourisation seen throughout the manuscript.

TCD MS 177 f57r, example of gold illustration

The raking light set up

There are some distinct features in the illustrations in the Book of St Albans that are not easily seen by the unaided eye and are not obvious on the collotype facsimile. These hidden features are the modeling of the surface of parts of the uncoloured vellum. This effect can be seen on the folds of draped clothing, the necks, and haunches of the horses (fol. 49r, Figure 3b.3) as well as the brick work of the abbey church (fol. 60r, Figure 3b.4) and on the laths of the boat (fol. 62r). These effects that were created by Matthew Paris can only be seen by casting a raking light across the illustrations. (Wogan-Browne & Fenster, 2010).

From left, raking light image of folio 60r and close-up of the hidden texturing in the brick work, which can only be seen when using raking light.

The idea behind the raking light set up was to show the hidden texture and detailing in the tinted illustrations which have hidden modelling effects that cannot otherwise be seen with standard lighting. When using the raking light set up the raised parts of the parchment and detailing in the illustrations facing the light are illuminated whilst the parts facing away from the light are shadowed. This allows one to see how rough and rigid parts of the illustrations are, which can give researchers a better insight into the techniques used to create parts of the detailing in the illustrations.

Senior Digital Photographer Caroline Harding with raking light set up and with TCD MS 177 the Book of St Albans on the motorised cradle,

At the very end of the shoot where I was using the original lighting set up, I still had a small bit of time with the manuscript to capture a selected number of folios with a raking light set up. Alison Ray, the Archivist/Project Manager on the Carnegie Medieval Manuscript digitisation project created a list of the selected folios with illustrations showing the unique surface modelling, which I referred to. To capture the raking lighting images the manuscript was positioned on the motorised conservation cradle in the exact same way as it was in the previous set up, whilst only one flash head was used with the diffusing soft box removed. The flash head was positioned to one side of the manuscript 15 cm (about 5.91 in) above the surface of the manuscript. The raking light was pointed downwards slightly, for the light to be skimming across the page. To carry out a raking light shoot it is ideally best to have a light set up on either side of the manuscript and take a shot with each light individually. The two shots would then be comparable in what extra detail and texture they show. Unfortunately, we were quite limited in our lighting set-up and extremely limited on time with the manuscript, therefore we did not have the flexibility of using an extra raking light at a different angle. However, in future this would be our raking light set up of choice. In addition to having two flash heads set up on either side of the manuscript with extra time I would like to experiment with capturing raking light images with the flash heads set up at slightly different angles and distances from the subject to determine which set up produces the most ideal results.

By Caroline Harding

Senior Digital Photographer Manuscripts for Medieval Studies Project

The work of the Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project has been supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation New York.

Virtual Trinity Library is a digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections. It will conserve, catalogue, curate, digitise and research these unique collections of national importance, making them accessible to a global audience, from schoolchildren to scholars.
https://www.tcd.ie/virtual-trinity-library/

References

Wogan Browne, J., Fenster, T. S., (2010), The Life of St Alban by Matthew Paris, Vol 2.

John of Worcester’s ‘Chronicula’, TCD MS 503

TCD MS 503 is principally comprised of John of Worcester’s ‘Chronicula’, a text which describes itself as having been derived from the more celebrated and much more elaborate Worcester Chronica chronicarum, a twelfth-century chronicle, the authorship of which has been attributed variously to Florence and/or John, both Worcester monks. As the diminutive form of its Latin title suggests, the Chronicula itself is of diminutive size, perhaps designed to be easily portable. Its text has never been printed before and those interested in its contents have previously been obliged either to order a microfilm copy or to visit the archives attached to the magnificent Long Room of Trinity College, Dublin (not a hardship!). The manuscript has now been digitised and made available online https://doi.org/10.48495/000004234.   Sixteenth-century annotations in the manuscript, as shown in the image below, record that in 1573 the manuscript was sold to the antiquary William Lambard and then, in 1594, Lambard gave the manuscript to another English antiquary, William Howard. Both men were connected to a circle of antiquaries who had various interests in the literature of the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman periods, including such figures as William Camden, Laurence Nowell, Henry Spelman and Robert Cotton. William Howard had, in 1592, published an edition of the Worcester Chronica chronicarum,which presumably indicates why he was also interested in TCD MS 503.

TCD MS 503 1r showing sixteenth-century marks of ownership

Although we do not know the exact date of the Chronicula’s composition, the late 1130s has recently been suggested. For the most part the work is derivative of the main Chronica chronicarum, a text which, itself depending on a range of sources, gives in annalistic form a history of the world to the year 1140. In deriving its information from the Chronica chronicarum, the Chronicula heavily summarises and abbreviates events and omits much detail. The Chronica chronicarum is set out in annalistic form, whereas the Chronicula is arranged according to the reigns of the Roman emperors and the year in which they came to power (reckoned according to a system developed by Marianus Scotus in his Chronicon who sought to re-date the Dionysian system by 22 years, a chronicle which itself provides an important model for the Chronica chronicarum). Information that can be found in separate annals in the Chronica chronicarum can therefore seem lumped together in the Chronicula.

It is probably the derivative and abbreviated nature of the Chronicula that means it has so far attracted relatively little attention. But there are important reasons why it deserves further notice. The first is that it seems to have been written, for the most part, in the hand of John of Worcester himself. Given John’s authorial role in the writing of at least parts of the Chronica chronicarum, we are therefore being given access to an associated work, a text that is less formal than, but nevertheless complementary to, the main chronicle. A second is that the Chronicula is not entirely derivative in form and actually contains unique information. Its main text opens with a geographical description of Britain, not found in the Chronica chronicarum and which is closely connected to a similar passage in the F manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It also invokes the work of Hugh of Fleury to a greater extent than the Chronica chronicarum, and, perhaps most strikingly of all, contains a range of poems that cannot be found elsewhere. Three poems in particular stand out: those that celebrate the deaths of Edward the Confessor in 1066, of Harold, son of Godwine, also in 1066, and of Bishop Wulfstan II in 1095, the very man who was credited in Worcester texts with initiating various historical projects. The poems are not accomplished in literary terms. But they are striking for their wistful attention to the Anglo-Saxon past and for a degree of anti-Norman sentiment. If they were composed by John himself, some 70 years after the Norman Conquest, they provide important evidence for the sort of nostalgia for the past and the sort of anti-Norman hostility that could continue to be voiced by at least one Worcester inhabitant. We are left to wonder why they were not included in the main Chronica chronicarum.    

TCD MS 503 95r showing the poem about Edward the Confessor

For whatever reason, John ceased writing his Chronicula once he reached the annal for 1123, on line 23 of fol. 113v. A new hand (one of four in total that have been identified as working on TCD MS 503) continues the story, copying annals down to 1141. Because the annals from 1123 to 1141 have material with a clear Gloucester focus, it is possible that the Chronicula had travelled to Gloucester where it was then updated. John’s motivations for writing the Chronicula remain elusive. At one point in the manuscript he says that anyone wanting to find out more details about a certain historical episode ‘will find them written in chronological order and more fully in the chronicle of chronicles [i.e. the Chronica chronicarum]’, suggesting that he anticipated that the Chronicula would reach at least some kind of audience. Was this an audience within Worcester itself? Or, given the later connection with Gloucester, was it designed to be sent there? We will probably never know John’s precise motivations, but the Chronicula is important as an extra example of this twelfth-century historian’s working methods. Scholars are at present re-doubling their efforts in connection with Worcester historiography. An edited volume on the cartularies and chronicles (and other texts) produced at Worcester in this period is forthcoming in May 2022, entitled Constructing History Across the Norman Conquest: Worcester, c.1050-c.1150. And the Chronicula itself is actively being edited for the Oxford Medieval Texts series. In the meantime it is an enormous boon for scholars around the world to have access to these high-quality images of TCD MS 503 so that they can engage directly with John’s work for themselves.

D. A. Woodman

Robinson College, Cambridge

Virtual Trinity Library is a digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections. It will conserve, catalogue, curate, digitise and research these unique collections of national importance, making them accessible to a global audience, from schoolchildren to scholars.
https://www.tcd.ie/virtual-trinity-library/

‘Babbling in the Vernacular’: The English Language in the Middle Ages

Among the riches being digitised as part of the Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York are three codices containing English, one eleventh-century, one thirteenth- or fourteenth-century and one fifteenth-century. Collectively, these three manuscripts give us an interesting snapshot of the status of English in the Middle Ages and the complex history of its emergence as a written language.

We now take reading and writing in English for granted. Netflix sends us emails telling us what we should next stream, we can buy a range of daily newspapers, or browse their websites, to find out what is going on in the world, and we can visit a library to borrow a novel to make the commute seem painless. Our primary and secondary educations habituate us to reading, writing and a life mediated through the medium of text.

All this rests, however, on a long process of technological, linguistic and ideological innovation that, for English at least, took perhaps 1,500 years. It requires a conviction that English ought to be written; an alphabet; a set of accepted mappings between the sounds of speech and these symbols of writing; upgrades to the vocabulary and syntax of spoken language so that abstract concepts can be conveyed clearly and without circumlocution; and a highly-developed set of conventions for the presentation of text on the page.

Continue reading “‘Babbling in the Vernacular’: The English Language in the Middle Ages”

Digitising Medieval Manuscripts: Common challenges in the studio and insights into using the conservation book cradle

Greetings everyone! I am the Project Photographer for the Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project. My role within this project is to use my photography expertise to create digital surrogates of 16 medieval manuscripts selected from the Manuscripts and Archives Research collections within the Library of Trinity College Dublin. The photographic process for the Medieval Digitisation Project may be quite unfamiliar to most, especially the unique and large equipment we use. This blog will provide a brief introduction into our digitisation process for medieval manuscripts as well as some of the challenges encountered and give an insight into the most unique piece of equipment we use within our studios, a motorised book cradle.

Continue reading “Digitising Medieval Manuscripts: Common challenges in the studio and insights into using the conservation book cradle”