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The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain
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Book description

This is the first comprehensive survey of the history of the book in Britain from Roman through Anglo-Saxon to early Norman times. The expert contributions explore the physical form of books, including their codicology, script and decoration; examine the circulation and exchange of manuscripts and texts between England, Ireland, the Celtic realms and the Continent; discuss the production, presentation and use of different classes of texts, ranging from fine service books to functional schoolbooks; and evaluate the libraries that can be associated with particular individuals and institutions. The result is an authoritative account of the first millennium of the history of books, manuscript-making and literary culture in Britain which, intimately linked to its cultural contexts, sheds vital light on broader patterns of political, ecclesiastical and cultural history extending from the period of the Vindolanda writing tablets through the age of Bede and Alcuin to the time of the Domesday Book.

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Contents


Page 1 of 2


  • 1 - From Vindolanda to Domesday: the book in Britain from the Romans to the Normans
    pp 1-10
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Covering more than a millennium of the history of the book in Britain, this book deals with a longer period than do all the rest of this series put together. Extending from Roman Britain to the first generation of the Anglo-Norman realm, it embraces both of the two memorable dates in English history. Stretching in bibliographical terms from the Vindolanda Tablets through the Lindisfarne Gospels to the Domesday Book, it includes some of the most famous and fascinating artefacts of written culture ever produced in these isles. The book establishes comparison and contrast between the worlds of books in the main periods such as Roman, pre-Viking, post-Viking, early Norman. The Christian missions from Rome and from Ireland defined the earliest channels for the importation of books to Anglo-Saxon England. Many of the books used in Roman Britain are likely to have been imported from elsewhere in the Roman Empire, arriving via well-organised routes of communication.
  • PART I - THE MAKING OF BOOKS
  • View abstract

    Summary

    As this famous Riddle from the Exeter Book of Old English poetry teasingly records, medieval books were made from sheets of parchment which were cut to size, folded and gathered into groups to form quires. The basic material of the medieval book was, as the Riddle advertises, animal skin. A potentially important factor here, however, was the circumstance that the manuscript was prepared with wide margins on both sides of the main text-block to provide space for glosses. The aesthetic of the page, not to mention the important practical detail of how much text it could contain, was established by the dimensions of the written area as well as by the size and shape of the volume as a whole. Anglo-Saxon books were composed of more regular quire structures than their Irish equivalents. The sheets were marked with prickings to guide the rulings, which in their turn guided the script.
  • 3 - Anglo-Saxon scribes and scriptoria
    pp 94-120
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Ædiluulf 's encomium of Ultán provides one set of answers to questions that are central to the study of Anglo-Saxon scribes. Some writing implements have been recovered from Anglo-Saxon contexts at various sites, including Barking, Flixborough, Jarrow, Whitby and Winchester. Some of the handful of scribal colophons found in our manuscripts makes this explicit: the Rægenbold and Farmon who added the Old English gloss to the MacRegol Gospels describe themselves as priests. The first relatively clear reference to a scriptorium in the sense of a communal writing-room relates to the generation after the Conquest and the special circumstances of the professional scribes hired by Abbot Paul of St Albans. The extant material reveals diverse patterns of collaboration in the task of writing a book. Some volumes are holographs, which are entirely written by a single scribe.
  • 4 - Writing in the Insular world
    pp 121-166
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The books made by Insular monks and nuns during the earlier fifth century stand as monument to their contribution to the transmission of scripture, to the preservation of elements of the cultures of northern European prehistory and of the Graeco-Roman world, and to the transition from late Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Display scripts are a striking feature of Insular book production. The illuminated incipit page reached its zenith in the great Insular gospel books, wherein it formed an essential part of the programme of decoration. A successive fusion of Uncials and New Roman cursive would similarly give rise to fully developed half-Uncial as a more economical solution to the need for a legible, prestigious book script. The use of minuscule scripts also characterises the later members of the Southumbrian Tiberius group of manuscripts such as the Royal Prayerbook, the Book of Nunnaminster and the Book of Cerne.
  • 5 - Script in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall
    pp 167-173
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Impression of Insular manuscript production tends inevitably to concentrate on Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England. In the absence of early manuscript evidence from Celtic Britain, there is epigraphic evidence in the form of inscribed stone monuments: those from Wales and Cornwall provide an almost continuous record of letter-forms from the end of the Roman period onwards. The earliest manuscript for which a Welsh origin has been hypothesised is the Lichfield Gospels, a magnificently decorated eighth-century gospel-book. A second gospel-book for which a Welsh origin has been proposed is the Hereford Gospels. There are just three pre-Conquest manuscripts for which a Pictish or Scottish origin has been posited. Paradoxically, one of these is one of the best known Insular manuscripts in the world: the Book of Kells. The other pre-Conquest manuscript that might be considered Scottish is the Book of Deer, a small gospel-book which was at Deer (Aberdeenshire) in the eleventh century.
  • 6 - English vernacular script
    pp 174-186
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In Tudor England, access to the written word was constrained not simply by an individual's acquisition of letters, by his/her linguistic knowledge, but by mastery of script and print types. In the regions to the north and west of the former Roman Empire, writing in the vernacular developed by a process of subordination to Latin. In this period many vernacular texts appear to have been produced and multiplied outside the confines of disciplined scriptoria where house styles are evident. While Neil Ker's masterly comments offer general guidance for the dating of vernacular script. Indeed, all the evidence suggests that Vernacular Minuscule was the native script of scribes and scholars in the eleventh century. Vernacular Minuscule survived for a generation after the Norman Conquest in a number of monasteries. The history of Old English vernacular script proper, therefore, only begins in the century before the Conquest.
  • 7 - Latin script in England c. 900–1100
    pp 187-224
  • View abstract

    Summary

    English Square Minuscule is a formalised development of the compressed angular minuscule scripts in use in England in the eighth and ninth centuries. The translations of the Latin originals were presumably copied at Alfred's court using the compressed pointed minuscule. The morphology of Square Minuscule owes much to the competing influences of all these earlier forms of writing. This chapter presents a brief survey of notable manuscripts copied in Square Minuscule and suggests something of the evolution of the script. It conveys both the diversity of extant examples and the role of as yet unidentified writing centres in their production. The chapter describes a manuscript of the letters of Alcuin which should probably be dated to the start of the tenth century and is written in a very large and rather clumsy Square Minuscule. Square Minuscule was pioneered and preferred as the basic script of greater Wessex during much of the tenth century.
  • 8 - The design and decoration of Insular gospel-books and other liturgical manuscripts, c. 600 – c. 900
    pp 225-243
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Gospel-books produced in Ireland, Britain and Insular centres on the Continent constitute an important phase in the history of medieval book design. These books were elaborately decorated and written in formal script, and were impressive witnesses to the sacred and authoritative nature of Christ's words and actions. Insular manuscripts display greater variety in their layouts, scripts and decorations than the Mediterranean counterparts which served as their immediate or ultimate exemplars. In Codex Usserianus Primus, projecting semi-circles on the corners and red dots surrounding the monogram are the only elements that presage later developments in Insular decoration. Although Kells' gospel text was copied carelessly, in one instance a page was written twice, aesthetic qualities of script and decoration appear to have been of the highest concern to those producing the book. The presence of more than 2,000 decorative motifs within the text, however, distinguishes Kells from other Insular gospel-books.
  • 9 - The decoration of the earliest Welsh manuscripts
    pp 244-248
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The earliest illuminated manuscripts that have a definite or possible association with Wales are two gospel-books: Lichfield Gospels and Hereford Gospels. Art-historically the Lichfield Gospels may be placed somewhere between the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. The Hereford Gospels is a rare surviving example of a non-luxury gospel-book which primarily functioned as a lectionary. Each framed page is set out on a fairly grand scale consisting of an ornamental monogram comprising three letters followed by decorative geometric capitals. The form and layout of the decoration in both manuscripts is part of an Insular continuum dating back to the eighth century. There is evidence for the continuing use of Insular illuminated exemplars in Wales as late as the mid thirteenth century. The earliest version of the Welsh law book Llyfr Iorwerth includes some heavily cropped drawings including winged evangelist symbols, in the lower margins of three pages.
  • 10 - Book decoration in England, c. 871 – c. 1100
    pp 249-293
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The book decoration that was practised in England during the two centuries between the reigns of Alfred the Great and William Rufus ranges from isolated decorated initials in modestly conceived volumes to elaborate full page miniatures in luxurious ones. This chapter outlines the main chronological development of this artform, and examines aspects of its patronage, production and purpose. Crude pen-drawn letters and their descendants composed of whole or part animals and birds, interwoven with sprigs of foliage were the dominant form of book decoration during the first half of the tenth century. The number of English centres that were producing fine decorated books seems to have expanded slightly in the early eleventh century. The three gospel-books of Judith of Flanders's were decorated by English illuminators seem to have been designed to look as different as was possible within the canons of late Anglo-Saxon manuscript art. In service-books, the decorations inspired man and sometimes arguably also glorified man.
  • 11 - Bookbindings
    pp 294-310
  • View abstract

    Summary

    There are four main operations in binding a manuscript: first, sewing the quires together; second, attaching the boards; third, covering the boards; and, last, decorating the covers. Medieval bindings with wooden boards can be divided into three main types such as Carolingian, Romanesque, and Gothic. This chapter provides an account of the Stonyhurst Gospel and its relatives, of English Carolingian and early Romanesque bindings, followed by a discussion of some other kinds of evidence concerning pre- and post-Conquest bindings. The boards of Victor Codex are Carolingian, covered with red skin decorated with small blindstamped tools of Carolingian type. Two of the four mid-eleventh-century English gospel-books made for Judith, later countess of Flanders, still have early silver-gilt treasure bindings. A ninth-century Continental manuscript with a limp cover of skin was at Malmesbury, and it was still there in the early twelfth when it was used by William of Malmesbury.
  • PART II - THE CIRCULATION OF BOOKS
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Italian and Frankish forms of Roman script were introduced by the missionaries into the areas of Britain occupied by the English. This chapter focuses on a period when contacts with the Continent and English and Irish contributions to Continental affairs were particularly notable. These contacts, furthermore, have to be set against the background of links with the Continent throughout the period of English settlement in sub-Roman Britain. Aside from the ever-growing quantity of archaeological evidence, the surviving books and texts considered in the chapter constitute the bedrock of evidence. Links between the British Isles and the Continent during the seventh century should first be considered within the context provided by Bede in his Historia ecclesiastica for England's connections across the North Sea. The chapter looks only at the eastward direction of the exchange of texts between England and the Frankish kingdoms.
  • 13 - The circulation of books between England and the Celtic realms
    pp 338-343
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The career of Lichfield Gospels, one of the most magnificent surviving manuscripts from the British Isles, may be used to illustrate some of the certainties, and also the insuperable ambiguities, surrounding the circulation of books between England and its Celtic neighbours: Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Scotland and Brittany. Certain historical events have stimulated the passage of books between England and one or more of its Celtic neighbours such as the accession of Alfred the Great to the throne of Wessex. The majority of Celtic manuscripts from Anglo-Saxon England are Brittonic, whether Welsh, Breton or Cornish. The clearest evidence for the circulation of books from England to one of the Celtic regions comes from Brittany. The MacRegol Gospels, also known as the Rushworth Gospels, is an Irish manuscript, which reached Northumbria by the tenth century, where it received Old English glosses.
  • 14 - The circulation of books between England and the Continent, c. 871 – c. 1100
    pp 344-372
  • View abstract

    Summary

    A compilation of Old Testament, liturgical and computistical texts that was written in northern France in the third quarter of the ninth century had apparently crossed the English Channel by the early tenth century when certain letters were retraced by an Anglo-Saxon hand. However, the volume ended up in Normandy, and subsequent additions suggest that it was there in the first half of the twelfth century and probably by 1100. This chapter deals with the books that were passed between England and the European Continent during the period c. 871 - c.1100. These include a copy of Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae, and the first stratum of the Leofric Missal. Anglo-Saxon use of imported books is variously attested by occasional glosses such as when a Continental copy of Prosper was supplied with a nearly continuous gloss in Old English. By the second half of the tenth century, the traffic in books had become a two-way street.
  • PART III - TYPES OF BOOKS AND THEIR USES
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Formulae are quoted by Gaius in the Institutes, the only ancient textbook of Roman law to survive entirely, and they show that legal hand books were available in Roman Britain. In Britain four or five hundred stilus writing-tablets have now been found, but few of them are legible. More relevant to the history of the book are three legal documents found in recent years, since they imply the presence of law books and other works of reference. Flavius Cerialis was well educated, despite his Germanic origin, and it is hardly surprising that several scraps of Vergil have now been found at Vindolanda. The first fragment in Vindolanda to be identified was a line from a little-read part of the Aeneid. Pelagius' Latin has been characterised as mostly clear and correct. The preface to Pelagius' Letter to Demetrias conventionally rates content above style, with the engaging image of whole meal bread rather than white.
  • 16 - The use of the book in Wales, c. 400–1100
    pp 389-405
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The student of the book in early medieval Wales, and also in those other areas that remained British-speaking, labours under a modest handicap: there are no surviving books known to have been written in Wales or Cornwall before the ninth century. English books survived somewhat better because they travelled along both routes to preservation, Francia in the eighth and ninth centuries and into the libraries of reformed English monasteries and cathedrals in the tenth century. Details of the Latin orthography used by the Irish, as well as the way they pronounced Latin, have confirmed the importance of the British role in their conversion. It has been proposed that the Hibernensis was intended for the British as well as for the Irish church. Yet the Latin culture of pre-Norman Wales remained very closely attached to the book. In a more general sense, lector could, occasionally, be used of the pupil himself.
  • 17 - The biblical manuscripts of Anglo-Saxon England
    pp 406-435
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The activities of Abbot Ceolfrith and the missionary Boniface give us valuable insights into the history of the Anglo-Saxon Bible. This chapter gives fair weight to part-bibles, from both the Old and New Testaments, and the less numerous complete bibles. The foundations of scripture in English were laid during the Anglo-Saxon period. Irish influence is especially visible in the style of decoration of Northumbrian gospel-books. A number of Uncial gospel-book leaves now bound with other books were probably also copied at Wearmouth-Jarrow. Lindisfarne, Durham and Echternach are characteristic of the complex story of the Northumbrian gospel-book. The chapter also deals with the beginnings of the vernacular Bible. The Latin Vulgate remained the official Bible of the English church from the Anglo-Saxon period until the Reformation, but the concept of the part-bible in the contemporary English vernacular was already established by the end of the tenth century.
  • 18 - Anglo-Saxon gospel-books, c. 900–1066
    pp 436-448
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In c.900-1066 Anglo-Saxon gospel-books are easily the most numerous of all surviving Latin biblical codices. This chapter considers their contents, their makeup and layout, their decoration and illustrations before examining where, when and why they were made. Two of the three plainer books are written in English Square Minuscule, an inheritance from the Insular past. In the Judith Monte Cassino Gospels the symbol was placed in the tympanum of the archon the facing initial page. The transmission of the Word of God is visually represented in these evangelist picture pages. In the York Gospels the hand of God replaces symbols, and is in direct contact with the evangelists. Grimbald has a capitulary different from that found in many other books, and it is similar to Arenberg's, another probable Canterbury book. Eadwig Basan also contributed to the York Gospels, whose evangelist portraits share features with those in Grimbald and Arenberg.
  • 19 - Liturgical books
    pp 449-459
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The mass-book fragments of eighth-century date suggest codices impressive in size, layout and script. These, along with the fragmentary office lectionary, enable us to suppose that at least the advanced centres of book production in England before the Viking incursions had the capacity to supply liturgical books. The Continental import that unquestionably sheds light on the making of liturgical books in England is the famous Leofric Missal. At heart this is a late ninth-century mass-book of the supplemented Gregorian type common in northern Francia by that time; it was brought to England, quite possibly to Canterbury. Evidence concerning liturgical books at the male monastic house in Winchester, the New Minster, exists in both direct and indirect witnesses. Earlier evidence for the New Minster comes in the extremely complex book nicknamed, the Red Book of Darley. The Benedictional of St Æthelwold, arguably the best-known late Anglo-Saxon liturgical book, is datable to that prelate's episcopacy at Winchester, 963-84.
  • 20 - Anglo-Saxon prayerbooks
    pp 460-467
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The six prayerbooks that have survived from Anglo-Saxon England fall into two groups, the first of which belongs to the late eighth or early ninth century, while the second dates from the eleventh. The Harley Prayerbook has been annotated by a hand which occurs also in the Royal Prayerbook, a manuscript with a Worcester provenance. The Harley and Royal Prayerbooks, and the Book of Nunnaminster, also include Greek transliterations of some Latin texts. All three begin with a series of extracts from the gospels, which would provide a basis for meditation. The Book of Nunnaminster and the Book of Cerne, like the Royal Prayerbook, include prayers attributed to named authors, for example Augustine, Gregory, Jerome, Hugbald and Laidcenn. All four early prayerbooks draw on Irish sources as well as Roman ones. The Ælfwine Prayerbook differs noticeably from the other Anglo-Saxon prayerbooks, including the contemporary Galba Prayerbook.
  • 21 - Psalters
    pp 468-481
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter discusses psalter manuscripts and their uses, and argues that the Book of Psalms was a living text for the Anglo-Saxons and the Irish. A manuscript copy of the psalter was itself a tangible manifestation of Christian worship, a primer for the recitation of the office, and a set of personal devotions. An Anglo-Saxon psalter manuscript could vary in size from the palm of the hand to over half a metre in height. Glossing was one of the most interesting of the Anglo-Saxon responses to the psalter. Almost from the earliest of times, the Anglo-Saxons glossed the psalter in the vernacular. Traditionally, the psalter glosses have been divided into two groups, named for their earliest and most coherent exempla: the A tradition, from the Vespasian Psalter; and the D tradition, from the Regius or Royal Psalter. The chapter also examines the substantial evidence for scholarly study of the psalms in Insular centres.
  • 22 - Music books
    pp 482-506
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The book containing texts intended to be sung should be considered a music book, when the passing on of music from one generation to another depended on a combination of oral and written transmission. An account of music books in Britain should therefore begin with one copied before Bede wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. The Winchester style of Insular notation may have used a type of script developed at Corbie as its immediate model; the wider context of its model was certainly northern French. Although a great deal of palaeographical work remains to be done, it is already possible to discern habits of writing which suggest identifiable scriptoria. Several classical or late antique texts included songs: in Anglo-Saxon England, the most widely circulated of these were Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae and Prudentius'Cathemerinon.
  • 23 - Anglo-Saxon schoolbooks
    pp 507-524
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Anglo-Saxon pedagogy derives from late Roman and provincial precedents, extant booklists or books, and descriptions of monastic routines, both English and Continental. In a Roman school a boy would learn both language arts and arithmetical calculation in the elementary curriculum. Many of Isidore's derivations are fanciful, but their occurrence in texts and glosses may reveal a linguistic precision covered in grammatical study. Science in the Anglo-Saxon classroom took the form of computus and natural history. Elementary computus was found in the Anglo-Saxon curriculum and may be best represented in Bede's De temporum ratione or De temporibus. The advanced curriculum in the Anglo-Saxon monastery may have included a significant amount of Latin verse. Prosper's Epigrammata may be thought of as superseding Cato's Distichs a thoroughly pagan work. Production of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the translations of Bede's Historia ecclesiastica and Orosius' Historia adversus paganos suggest the prominence of the subject.
  • 24 - Law books
    pp 525-536
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The volumes written in pre-Conquest England which contain the laws of lay society are devoted for the most part to non-legal texts. A numerous and important class of post-Conquest law book covers books that might be characterised as legal encyclopedias. Post-Conquest volumes provide suggestive clues to the way that law-codes were disseminated in the Old English kingdom. Archbishop Wulfstan's Institutes of Polity gives each segment of a Christian society its role and standards. Æthelred's codes are labelled Be Angolwitena gerednesse, or Be cyricgriðe, just like homilies or sections of the Institutes. Allowing for the possible exception of the case, one of the messages of pre-Conquest pairs is the consistent integration of Anglo-Saxon secular law-making with the yet more binding law of God in various manifestations. The preface of Alfred-Ine's domboc (law-code) put Anglo-Saxon law beside God's. All in all, extant pre-Conquest law books represent a distillation of the new kingdom's formative ideology.
  • 25 - Manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
    pp 537-552
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The systematic analysis of manuscripts containing versions of the text known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle originated during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, as part of an attempt to assemble and organise information about the available sources for English history. The seven manuscripts, and one fragment, have been known since 1848 by letters of the alphabet (A-H), symbolising the continued recognition of their collective identity as a group of related texts. The oldest extant manuscript of the Chronicle, was written in the late ninth or early tenth century. The Old English translations of Orosius' World History, and of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, seem to have formed part of King Alfred's reform and regeneration plan. The two earliest editions of the vernacular text were published in the seventeenth century: Abraham Whelock's edition of manuscript G, and Edmund Gibson's edition of manuscript E, both furnished with translations into Latin.
  • 26 - Old English homiliaries and poetic manuscripts
    pp 553-562
  • View abstract

    Summary

    From the surviving eleventh century manuscripts, one can find a use of the vernacular unparalleled in any other Western European language until the later Middle Ages. Two books date from the 970s, the Exeter and Vercelli Books. The Exeter Book is large in scale and written in a bold clear hand; a few of its poems are long. The Vercelli Book's contents are entirely religious, mainly homilies and saints' lives. In The Husband's Message, The Wife's Lament and Wulf and Eadwacer we have the closest that Old English verse comes to love poetry. The poems also include The Dream of the Rood, perhaps the most famous Old English religious poem. Thirty-six other manuscripts or manuscript fragments have copies of all or part of the Catholic Homilies. The majority of Ælfric homilies are in large-scale codices with bold handwriting, clearly designed for public reading.

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