THE foundations for wide-ranging interest in and discussion of Oxford, BodL, MS Digby 86 in relation to its context of production and early use were laid in the researches of Brian Miller, who assiduously collected and collated contemporary documentary records of individuals and families represented in marginalia and other entries within the manuscript. Publishing a facsimile of the manuscript for the Early English Text Society in 1996, Judith Tschann and Malcolm Parkes were able to bring out more of the complex and fascinating codicological process by which the manuscript was compiled. A number of subsequent studies have approached and applied these data from more literary – interpretative and critical – viewpoints, while Peter Coss has complementarily evaluated these insights from the point of view of a social historian's interest in the culture of the gentry and, in this case, also the ‘sub-gentry’ of the late thirteenth and earlier fourteenth centuries. This chapter's consideration of the societal context of the manuscript builds on all of these observations, using Network Theory to explore the sociopolitical networks of the area and considering the archaeological and geographical context of this region of Worcestershire.
The background: settlement and society in Worcestershire west of the Severn
Tschann and Parkes were prepared to speculate that the principal scribe and compiler, who completed his work during or shortly after the period of November 1281 to November 1283, was Richard de Grimhill (d. 1307/8), whose daughter Amice married Simon (of) Underhill. Death notices for Alexander of Grimhill, possibly a son of Richard who died young, and for Amice and Simon themselves are included in a Calendar within the manuscript (art. 25; fols. 68v–74r), and autograph pen-trials in the hand of William, the son of Simon and Amice, appear on several leaves. Further marginal pen-trials on the leaves of the manuscript are in the hands of a Robert and a John of Pendock, while a large marginal addition is the will of one Robert (son of Robert) of Pendock, stipulating that he should be buried at Redmarley, and leaving a young horse to William of Underhill. These references locate the manuscript, by the early fourteenth century at least, very precisely.