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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.
Two authentic works have survived to the modern era, an Epistola ad milites Corotici, and a Confessio in which Patrick explains himself to those whom he had converted in Ireland. As Patrick contrasts the behaviour of Coroticus with that of Romano-Gaulish Christians dealing with pagan Franks, his mission probably preceded the conversion of the Franks, perhaps in 496. He composed in cursus rhythms which, like his biblical orthography, diction and syntax, are faultless. His prose, arranged per cola et commata, by clauses and phrases, exhibits varied forms of complex word play. The Synodus Episcoporum or First Synod of St Patrick, is extant in a single manuscript copied from an Insular exemplar and written at the end of the ninth century or the beginning of the tenth in a scriptorium under the influence of Tours. Patrick's works remain the oldest extant literary texts written by a native of these islands, in these islands, for inhabitants of these islands.
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.
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.
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.
A certain enemy cut me off from life, robbed me of my mortal strength, then dipped me and dunked me in water, took me out again, and set me in the sun where I utterly lost the hairs that I had. Then the hard edge of a knife cut me, scraped clean of impurities. Fingers folded me, and the bird’s joy repeatedly made tracks across me with lucky droppings; across the burnished rim it swallowed dye from the tree, a measure of liquid, then stepped on to me again and journeyed with black tracks. Then a man clad me in protective boards, covered me with hide, adorned me with gold. Thereupon the wondrous work of smiths made me radiant, encased in filigree.
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 sheets were marked with prickings to guide the rulings, which in their turn guided the script. When the sheets had been written, rubricated and (if appropriate) decorated, the quires were finally sewn onto cords which were laced into wooden boards, to form a codex. Each stage of this process was subject to variations according to the time and place of manufacture, and to the nature and grade of the manuscript itself. The volume described in the Riddle was probably a gospel-book (as the text goes on to reveal): accordingly, its functional binding of wooden boards clad in leather was ornamented with a treasure cover of gold and filigree work. The same luxurious process is described in the Life of St Wilfrid (d. 709), who ‘ordered jewellers to make for [his gold-on-purple gospel-book] a casing fabricated entirely of the purest gold and [adorned] with the most precious gems’, and is alluded to in the colophon of the Lindisfarne Gospels: ‘Æthelwald … impressed [the book] on the outside and covered it, as he well knew how to do. And Billfrith the anchorite forged the ornaments which are on it on the outside and adorned it with gold and with gems and also with gilded-over silver – pure metal.
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.
The present volume stands as the latest contribution to a distinguished tradition of scholarship on the manuscripts of early Britain that stretches back to Matthew Parker (1504–75). In the last fifteen years of his life, Parker not only collected and salvaged manuscripts but studied them, he and his entourage scouring their pages for material that could inform his intellectual concerns and buttress his ecclesiastical standpoints. A range of works that he owned in manuscript can be shown to lie behind his De antiquitate Britannicae ecclesiae cum 70 Archiepiscopis Cantuariensibus (1572), for example. Parker’s intention may often have been polemical – justifying his views and the Elizabethan church settlement in general by tracing them back to an early English church that had been purer, he could claim, than the Roman Catholic one of his own day – but the material was nevertheless scrutinised and published after a fashion. Indeed, his revealingly named A Testimonie of Antiquitie shewing the auncient faith in the Church of England touching the sacrament of the body and bloude of the Lord … (1566/7) included the first edition of any Old English texts – namely the Lord’s Prayer, Creed, Ten Commandments, two Ælfric letters and a homily – printed (by the enterprising John Day) using a typeface specially created for the purpose.
A survey of antiquarian work on early British books should include the contribution of the remarkable palaeographer, Humfrey Wanley. His Librorum Veterum Septentrionalium qui in Angliae Bibliothecis extant. Catalogus provides a conspectus of relevant manuscripts that was not superseded until 1957. In 1910 and 1912 W. M. Lindsay issued his path-breaking handbooks on Early Irish Minuscule Script and Early Welsh Script, and three years later he reported British scribal practices among his exhaustive descriptions of early patterns of abbreviation, Notae Latinae. The number of early British manuscripts that have received detailed scrutiny is comparatively small. Fuller data concerning the survival of particular texts, and more accurate estimates as to the dates of individual manuscripts had facilitated the labours of scholars such as Clemoes, Cross, Godden, Hill, Pope and Scragg in exploring the sources, circulation and dissemination of Old English texts.
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.
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.
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.