When I arrived in New York thirty years ago, one of the first assignments I gave myself was to make sure to meet Mary Erler, an English professor at Fordham who had published an important article elucidating the care for books at Syon Abbey as it was described in the sacristan's account rolls of the early sixteenth century. Mary and I have stayed in touch ever since, sharing our common interest in Henry V's two great religious houses, that of Brigittine nuns and brothers at Syon, northwest across the Thames from Richmond Palace, and the Carthusian monastery of Jesus of Bethlehem at Sheen, on the southeast bank of the Thames, to the west of the palace grounds. Much of Mary's work has been on women's readership, spirituality, and associational networks (particularly through the medium of book production, ownership, gift, and bequest) in the later medieval and early modern period in England – with Syon Abbey as a constant thread in the web of her interests. A major part of my own interest has been in the production, transmission, and ownership of books among the later medieval English Carthusian monks – the nexus of textual, material, and social connection that the surviving manuscripts and early prints of these works embody – and the critical edition of some of the texts in these books. One of the strongest of these nexus of connection has been Syon Abbey; and the present paper is a study of the nexus of Syon Abbey and The Scale of Perfection, for there is a strong link between the two, a link formed in large part by the affective reading of the Scale by the nuns of Syon.
Of the twenty-one surviving manuscripts originally containing the complete English text of the Scale, three have connections to Syon Abbey. These manuscripts are all affiliated with what I have termed the “Carthusian Group” of manuscripts of Scale II, although, to be fair, it could just as well have been given the somewhat more cumbersome title the “Carthusian-Brigittine Group.” This group comprises nine manuscripts and the 1494 Wynkyn de Worde editio princeps of the Scale (STC14042: all later printings in fact derive from this one), plus two manuscripts that represent conflation of the Carthusian group with some other. All manuscripts of the Carthusian group contain both books of the Scale.