Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2012
The fenland abbey of Ramsey was founded in 966. From the outset it was richly endowed by its two founders, Æthelwine, ealdorman of East Anglia (d. 992), whose residence lay adjacent to the land on which the monastery was built, and Oswald, bishop of Worcester (961–92), who, with the support of King Edgar, provided funds for the construction of the monastic buildings and staffed the monastery with monks from his earlier foundation of Westbury-on-Trym (in modern Bristol). The ample endowment of the original foundation continued to grow through legacies (especially from Æthelwine’s family) through the following century, so that by the time of the Domesday surveys (1086), Ramsey was the tenth-richest abbey in England. This wealth was probably employed, inter alia, in the acquisition of books for the monastic library. As an entirely new foundation, Ramsey will have had no books at all in 966; yet a mere fifty years later its most famous native son, the monk Byrhtferth (c. 970 – c. 1020), was able to draw on the resources of a library containing slightly in excess of 100 titles, bound presumably in somewhat fewer volumes. From these beginnings, the library at Ramsey continued to grow in the period after the Norman Conquest, as a number of late medieval inventories demonstrate.
We would gladly know the ways and means by which the pre-Conquest library of Ramsey was assembled during the first fifty years of its existence. Unfortunately, evidence for this process of acquisition is almost wholly lacking. There is no surviving pre-Conquest inventory of books from Ramsey. Although it must undoubtedly have had its own scriptorium, no identifiable ‘house style’ of script has ever been recognised, and no library book certainly written at Ramsey has ever been identified. (Unlike at Fleury, on whose model the abbey was founded, the Ramsey monks did not write ex libris inscriptions in their books.)
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