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Prosopography of the Book and the Politics of Legal Language in Late Medieval England

  • Kathleen E. Kennedy


This article explores the intersection of book history and prosopography. It uses several case studies of copies of the medieval parliamentary statutes translated into English, together with later copies of English statutes translated into French, to argue for both thick prosopographical study of individual volumes and large, statistically based studies of books drawn from the largest possible data sets. Together, these methods amount to a new “prosopograhy of the book.” The case studies analyzed here reveal a complicated politicized relationship not only between script and print but also between French and English in the early Tudor era.



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1 There is not a large body of scholarship on the shift from script to print and learned languages to “law English” in the statutes. For an overview of what exists, see Ingham, Patricia Clare, “Vernacularity, Nation, and Caxton's English Statutes,” in Caxton's Trace: Studies in the History of English Printing, ed. Kuskin, William (Notre Dame, IN, 2006), 275–98; Ross, Richard, “The Renaissance Debate over Printing English Law, 1520–1640,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 146, no. 2 (January 1998): 323462; Graham, Howard Jay, “‘Our Tong Maternall Maruellously Amendyd and Augmentyd’: The First Englishing and Printing of the Medieval Statutes at Large, 1530–1533,” UCLA Law Review 13, no. 1 (November 1965): 5998; Graham, Howard Jay, “The Rastells and the Printed English Law Book of the Renaissance,” Law Library Journal 47, no. 6 (1954): 625.

2 The discussion of prosopography in this paragraph is based on Lawrence Stone, Prosopography,” Daedalus 100, no. 1 (1971): 4679.

3 For current examples of the ways prosopography is practiced by medievalists, see the journal Medieval Prosopography.

4 For a classic example of such case studies used in social history, see Hanawalt, Barbara, Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History (Oxford, 1993).

5 This paragraph's discussion of prosopopoeia is based on Alexander, Gavin, “Prosopopoeia: The Speaking Figure,” in Renaissance Figures of Speech, ed. Adamson, Sylvia, Alexander, Gavin, and Ettenhuber, Katrin (Cambridge, 2007), 97114.

6 For text and translation of the largest cache of Anglo-Saxon riddles, see Williamson, Craig, The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill, 1977) and A Feast of Creatures: Anglo-Saxon Riddle Songs (Philadelphia, 1982). For recent studies of riddles, see Murphy, Patrick, Unriddling the Exeter Riddles (University Park, PA, 2011), and Bitterli, Dieter, Say What I Am Called: The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition (Toronto, 2009).

7 For examples one might consider the corpus of the Rouses or de Hamel, Christopher, Glossed Books of the Bible and the Origins of the Paris Booktrade (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1984). For a short example of a more quantitative approach with late medieval English sources, see Peikola, Matti, “Aspects of mise-en-page in Manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible,” in Medieval Texts in Context, ed. Caie, Graham and Renevy, Denis (New York, 2008), 2867.

8 While over eight hundred copies of the Latin Book of Hours remain from medieval England, these are substantially the same as would be used anywhere in Europe, with only small changes made for English use. Nigel Morgan, e-mail message to author, and Duffy, Eamon, Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers (New Haven, CT, 2006), 179 n2. For a sample both detailed and broad of the regional differences between one part of the Book of Hours, the Office of the Dead, see Ottosen, Knud, The Responsories and Versicles of the Latin Office of the Dead (Copenhagen, 1993).

9 For the count, see Skemer, Don, “From Archives to the Book Trade: Private Statute Rolls in England, 1285–1307,” Journal of the Society of Archivists 16, no. 2 (1995): n16, and a correction to these numbers in Reading the Law: Statute Books and the Private Transmission of Knowledge in Late Medieval England,” in Learning the Law: Teaching and the Transmission of Law in England, 1150–1900, ed. Bush, Jonathan A. and Wijffels, Alain (London, 1999), 115.

10 For the most recent listing of copies of the Wycliffite Bible, see Dove, Mary, The First English Bible: The Text and Context of the Wycliffite Versions (Cambridge, 2007), 281306.

11 Exceptions prove the rule. Skemer's work has already been noted. Kathleen L. Scott uncovers a group of artists specializing in decorating statute manuscripts in Mirrour of the Worlde: MS Bodley 283 (England c.1470–1480): The Physical Composition, Decoration, and Illustration with an Introduction by Kathleen L. Scott (Oxford, 1980); McGerr, Rosemarie, A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes: The Yale Law School New Statutes of England (Bloomington, IN, 2011); an edition of a unique translation of the statutes into English has been produced by Fennell, Claire, A Middle English Statute-Book: Part I. Statuta Antiqua. Edited from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS B 520 (Heidelberg, 2011).

12 For comparison of the decoration of statute collections with the decoration of Wycliffite Bibles, see Kennedy, Kathleen E., The Courtly and Commercial Art of the Wycliffite Bible (Turnhout, 2014), 2534, 168–71.

13 A standard introduction to the history of English law remains Baker, J. H., An Introduction to English Legal History, 4th ed. (Oxford, 2005).

14 For a concise overview of the Old Statutes especially, see Fennell, A Middle English Statute-Book, introduction.

15 The locus classicus for discussions of kinds of literacy and languages of literacy in medieval England is Clanchy, M. T.'s, From Memory to Written Record: England, 1066–1307, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1993). For explorations of auralities as levels of literacy, see Coleman, Joyce in Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France (Cambridge, 1996). For the most recent interventions in the area of French fluency in England, see the essays in Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn, ed., Language and Culture in England: The French of England, c. 1100–1500 (York, 2009).

16 Ormrod, Mark, “The Use of English: Language, Law, and Political Culture in Fourteenth-Century England,” Speculum 78, no. 3 (July 2003): 752.

17 Ormrod, “The Use of English,” 777–80. For Parliament's move to English, see Fisher, John, “Chancery and the Emergence of Standard Written English in the Fifteenth Century,” Speculum 52, no. 4 (October 1977): n37. Most recently, Gwilym Dodd discusses the use of English in petitions in Thomas Paunfield, the ‘heye Court of rightwisnesse’ and the Language of Petitioning in the Fifteenth Century,” in Medieval Petitions: Grace and Grievance, ed. Ormrod, W. Mark, Dodd, Gwilym, and Musson, Anthony (York, 2009), 222–41.

18 Fisher, “Chancery,” 880; Dodd, “Thomas Paunfield,” 239; Given-Wilson, Chris, ed., The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England (Leicester, 2005).

19 Ormrod, “The Use,” 785. Elna-Jean Young Bentley “The Formulary of Thomas Hoccleve” (PhD diss., Emory University, 1965): this is a dissertation, but provides the text.

20 Fisher, “Chancery,” 888.

21 The great boke of statutes [London: Robert Redman, 1533?], STC 9286. The boke of Magna Carta [London: Robert Redman, 1534] STC 9272.

22 The great boke of statutes [London: William Middleton, 1542?], STC 9287 and formerly 9288. “In this volume are conteined the statutes made and establisshed from the time of kyng Henry the thirde, vnto the fyrste yere of the reigne of our most gratious and victorious soueraine lorde king Henry the” [London: Thomas Berthelet, 1543], STC 9301, viii.

23 Nova Statuta [London: Machlinia, 1485?], STC 9264; Graham, “Our Tong Maternall Maruellously Amendyd and Augmentyd,” 67n19.

24 Graham, “Our Tong Maternall Maruellously Amendyd and Augmentyd,” 67n19. Graham identifies Pynson's edition rather than Machlinia's as the likely printed source. Nova Statuta [London]: Richard Pynson, [1500–01], STC 9265.

25 Graham knew of Harley 4999, but unfortunately he does not appear to have been able to examine it, or he surely would have noticed the similarity of the text. Graham, “Our Tong Maternall Maruellously Amendyd and Augmentyd,” 66–67.

26 Harley 4999 f. 32r–v, Great Boke, f. E6v–r. The Latin is drawn from STC 9264. OED, “earth-tiller,” and OED, “ploughman,” n1.

27 Baker, John, The Men of Court 1440–1550: A Prosopography of the Inns of Court and Chancery and the Courts of Law (London, 2012), 665–66.

28 The great Charter called i[n] latyn Magna Carta with diuers olde statutes whose titles appere in the next leafe Newly correctyd [London: Elizabeth Redman, 1541?], STC 9275, f. +2v.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.

31 The printer John Rastell makes the argument that Henry supported statutes in English personally; however, the doyenne of early printed law scholarship, Katherine Pantzer, agreed that it was likely. Rastell, John, The statutes prohemium [London]: John Rastell, [1519], STC 9515.5, f. [A]2r; Pantzer, Katharine F., “Printing the English Statutes, 1484–1640: Some Historical Implications,” in Books and Society in History, ed. Carpenter, Kenneth E. (New York, 1983), 95n22. Patricia Clare Ingham's findings generally about the role of English in the printed law in rising English nationalism is sound: Ingham, “Vernacularity, Nation, and Caxton's English Statutes,” 275–98.

32 See Bennett, Michael, “Henry VII and the Northern Rising of 1489,” English Historical Review 105, no. 414 (1990): 3459.

33 Ibid., 50.

34 Ibid., see, for example, 50–51.

35 Hoyle, R. W., “Resistance and Manipulation in Early Tudor Taxation: Some Evidence from the North,” Archives 20 (1993): 160.

36 Cavill, P. R., “The Enforcement of the Penal Statutes in the 1490s: Some New Evidence,” Historical Research 82, no. 217 (July 2009): 482–92.

37 Ibid., 484.

38 Ibid., 485.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid., 485–86, 488.

41 Oxford, St. John's College, MS 257, New Statutes, 15thc; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Hatton 10, New Statutes, 15thc; and Corporation of London, Guildhall MS “Cartae Antiquae,” New Statutes, 15thc. Scott notes no breaks in copying within Henry's reign, and I can add no evidence to her findings, Mirroure of the Worlde, 49n2.

42 The volumes that extend after 3 Henry VII include those statutes in the same English of the printed editions. I have myself checked the text of St. John's 257 and Hatton 10 against STC 9348, Caxton's 1490 edition of the first three parliaments of Henry VII and STC 9355, Pynson's 1496 edition of 11 Henry VII, and the texts match.

43 Tucker, Penny, “Reaction to Henry VII's Style of Kingship and Its Contribution to the Emergence of Constitutional Monarchy in England,” Historical Research 82, no. 217 (July 2009): 520–22.

44 1 Henry VII and 3 Henry VII.

45 Elton admits that manuscript circulation, particularly of sessional statutes, must have continued to occur in manuscript, especially before sessional statutes came to be printed as a matter of course. Elton, G. R., “The Sessional Printing of Statutes, 1484–1547,” in Wealth and Power in Tudor England: Essays Presented to S. T. Bindoff, ed. Ives, E. W., Knecht, R. J., and Scarisbrick, J. J. (London, 1978), 74. As an example, Elton notes that London, Inner Temple Library, MS Petyt 511/6, includes 1 and 3 Henry VII in copies “transcribed from a source other than the prints,” and speculates circulating manuscripts as the source, 75.

46 1 Henry VII and 3 Henry VII; Pantzer, “Printing the English Statutes,” 71.

47 Such volumes are London, British Library, MS Hargrave 274, New Statutes, 15thc; London, Lincoln's Inn Library, MS Hale 71, New Statutes, 15thc; London, Inner Temple MS Petyt 511/6, New Statutes, 15thc; and Philadelphia, Free Library, MS LC 14.10, New Statutes, 15thc.

48 An artist who worked on Hargrave 274 also decorated “Cartae Antiquae,” and I believe the scribe of Hargrave 274 to be the same as LC 14.10 and St. John's 257. Scott, Kathleen L., Later Gothic Manuscripts 1390–1490, 2 vols. (London, 1996), 2:347.

49 Brodie, D. M., “Edmund Dudley: Minister of Henry VII,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 15 (1932): 152, 154.

50 Rastell, Prohemium, f. [A]2v.

51 1 Richard II (1377) to 20 Henry VI (1442).

52 For an example of the latter, see the Beaufort Hours, London, British Library MS Royal 2 A. XVIII, Beaufort Hours, 15thc.

53 For more standard examples of luxury statute volumes of the period, see London, British Library, Lansdowne MS 468, New Statutes, 15thc, or Stowe 387, New Statutes, 15thc.

54 Scott, Kathleen L., Dated and Datable English Manuscript Borders, c. 1395–1499 (London, 2002), 62.

55 Richard Cote, sheriff's clerk and attorney 1439–60. Tucker, Penny, Law Courts and Lawyers in the City of London, 1300–1500 (Cambridge, 2007), 300; Coote, Henry, Alderman and goldsmith, Beaven, Alfred, The Aldermen of the City of London, Temp. Henry III–1912, 2 vols. (London, 1908), 2:1–20.

56 Baker, Men of Court, 516; Tucker, Law Courts and Lawyers, 300.

57 Barron, Caroline, London in the Later Middle Ages: Government and People, 1200–1500 (Oxford, 2004), 168–70.

58 Baker, Men of Court, 401–02; Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages, 169.

59 Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages, 169.

60 Ibid., 168.

61 Baker, Men of Court, 401–02. For St. Bartholomew's properties on Duck Lane (one of which was held by John Shirley), see, for example, Kerling, Nellie J. M., ed., Cartulary of St. Bartholomew's Hospital Founded 1123 (London, 1973), 154.

62 For noncitizen scribes working from liberties, see Mooney, Linne, “Locating Scribal Activity in Late-Medieval London,” in Design and Distribution of Late Medieval Manuscripts, ed. Connolly, Margaret and Mooney, Linne (Woodbridge, 2008), 183204. For foreign artists working in liberties, see Curd, Mary Bryan H., Flemish and Dutch Artists in Early Modern England: Collaboration and Competition, 1460–1680 (Farnham, Surrey, 2009), especially 21–46. For the liberty this artist may have used, see Mooney, Linne R., “A New Manuscript by the Hammond Scribe Discovered by Jeremy Griffiths,” in The English Medieval Book: Studies in Memory of Jeremy Griffiths, ed. Edwards, A. S. G., Gillespie, Vincent, and Hanna, Ralph (London, 2000), 113–23.

63 Kerling, Cartulary of St. Bartholomew's, 154.

64 Barron, Caroline, “Ralph Holland and the London Radicals, 1438–1444,” in The Medieval English Town: A Reader in Urban Histroy, 1200–1540, ed. Holt, Richard and Rosser, Gervase (New York, 1990), 160–83.

65 Baker, Men of Court, 401.

66 For Forster as sheriff and fishmonger, see Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages, 342. For Agnes's notable work in prison advocacy, see Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages, 167. For an example of the occasional fish in Ff 3.1, see f. 139v.

67 Sutton, Anne and Visser-Fuchs, Livia, “The Provenance of the Manuscript: The Lives and Archives of Sir Thomas Cook and His Man of Affairs, John Vale,” in The Politics of the Fifteenth-Century England John Vale's Book, ed. Kekewich, Margaret, Richmond, Colin, Sutton, Anne, Visser-Fuchs, Livia, and Watts, John (Stroud, Gloucestershire, 1995), 101. For a map of medieval London, see Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages, 399–430.

68 F. 105r includes the name in the lower margin in a partial box, and Baker identifies this with the lawyer James Hobart. Baker, John and Ringrose, Jane, A Catalogue of English Legal Manuscripts in Cambridge University Library (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1996), 240.

69 For Hobart's biography, see Baker and Ringrose, Catalogue of English Legal Manuscripts, 240, and Baker, Men of Court, 877–78.

70 Baker, John, Oxford History of the Laws of England, 10 vols. (Oxford, 2003), 6:505.

71 Ff 3.1 displays the same translation as Oslo and London, Schøyen MS 1355, New Statutes, 15thc, copied by Richard Chetylbere, or Chedburgh, a Suffolk name. Both Ff 3.1 and Schøyen 1355 include 23 Henry VI (1445) in French. While Schøyen 1355 is an unilluminated volume, the flourished initials opening reigns are quite fine: they resemble Ff 3.1 more than the workmanlike initials in the other two volumes. Several sixteenth-century owners added their names to the volume, and all appear to be Suffolkmen. Indeed, the manuscript made its way into the famous Suffolk collection of Lord Tollemache. Box notes and images of Schøyen 1355, prepared in part by Jeremy Griffiths, were kindly supplied to me by Martin Schøyen. I have been unable to examine this manuscript myself.

72 1 Edward III through 20 Henry VI. This volume is described in Hanna, Ralph and Turville-Petre, Thorlac, The Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners, Readers (York, 2010), 123.

73 For Coote's life records, see Calendar of Patent Rolls: Henry VI, Vol. 3. AD 1436–41 (London, 1907), 291, 495; McGerr, Rosemarie, “A Statute Book and Lancastrian Mirror for Princes: The Yale Law School Manuscript of the ‘Nova Statuta Angliae,’” Textual Cultures 1, no. 2 (Autumn 2006): 25n42 Baker, Men of Court, 516.

74 City Recorder, Thomas Ursewyk, Tucker, Law Courts and Lawyers, appendix 7.2.

75 See Kew, National Archives, SC 8/251/12535. John Perche, perhaps a member of a local collegiate church, was also part of the foundation, as were John Belle, priest, and John Smyth, merchant.

76 Griffiths, R. A., The Reign of Henry VI (Stroud, Gloucestershire, 1981), 796.

77 The register is not complete for the fifteenth century, and people named Coote were admitted in 1444, 1476, and 1482. Cootes are not regularly apparent in the fifteenth century at other inns. Baildon, William, ed., The Records of the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn, vol. 1, Admissions from A.D. 1420 to A.D. 1799 (London, 1896), 9, 19, 22, 55.

78 I wish to offer thanks to Christie's for providing me several images of this manuscript with which to begin my research before I was able to examine the volume itself at the British Library.

79 For dated examples of manuscripts showing both green on squiggles and green lobes, see Royal 2 A. XVIII.

80 Scott, English Manuscript Borders, 60.

81 Ibid., 68.

82 Ibid., 78. For a manuscript showing striations dating to 1436, see Cambridge, Magdalene College, MS Pepys 16, Wycliffite New Testament, c1436, f. 72v. The first volume of this two-volume New Testament, MS Pepys 15, Wycliffite New Testament, c 1436, f. 194v, includes a date of 1436.

83 Eleanor Hammond identified this scribe with several Chaucer manuscripts, and Linne Mooney and others have named the scribe after her and added to his oeuvre. Hammond, Eleanor P., “A Scribe of Chaucer,” Modern Philology 27, no. 1 (August 1929): 2633; Mooney, “A New Manuscript,” 113–23. It is Mooney who named him “the Hammond Scribe” after Hammond's first identification. For dating, see Mosser, Daniel, “Dating the Manuscripts of the ‘Hammond Scribe’: What the Paper Evidence Tells Us,” Journal of the Early Book Society 10 (2007): 4244.

84 In fact, all of the Hammond scribe's remaining work is on paper: Mosser, “Dating the Manuscripts,” 31.

85 I have been unable to examine Schøyen 1355 myself, and so my remarks about it are limited to the materials generously provided by Martin Schøyen.

86 Edward III does not begin with a large initial, just the usual three-line initials used for secondary textual divisions, though Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI all have the larger initials.

87 The volume extends from 1 Edward III to only 18 Henry VI.

88 Mooney, Linne, “The Scribe,” in Sex, Aging, and Death in a Medieval Medical Compendium: Trinity College Cambridge MS R 14. 52. Its Text, Language, and Scribe, ed. Tavormina, M. Teresa (Tempe, AZ, 2006), 60. On the Hammond scribe's output, see Mooney, Linne, “John Shirley's Heirs,” Yearbook of English Studies 33 (2003): 182–98, and Mooney, “A New Manuscript,” 113–14. The sole consideration given to the translated statutes is in a footnote in Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, “The Provenance,” 109n162.

89 Mooney, “Scribe,” 60.

90 23 Edward III

91 Mooney, “Scribe,” 58, 60. Though he had an estate in Essex, and for a time in Suffolk, which means we cannot rule out an eastern origin for the translation. Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, “The Provenance,” 95.

92 Mosser, “Dating the Manuscripts,” 42–44.

93 Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, “The Provenance,” 73–126.

94 Ibid., 107.

Prosopography of the Book and the Politics of Legal Language in Late Medieval England

  • Kathleen E. Kennedy


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