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 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.
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).
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