One of the most important works of English ecclesiastical law, William Lyndwood's Provinciale (1430) comprised an edition of and commentary upon the laws made in the provincial councils of Canterbury from 1222 to 1416.Footnote 2 The Provinciale quickly became an authoritative piece of jurisprudence. The failure to implement the proposed revision of canon law following the break with Rome meant that the work long remained relevant. That the Provinciale is a mine of information about the lore of the English Church has been generally recognised. The work has less often been viewed as a physical book. We know the Provinciale as a printed volume. The full work was printed six times: first in 1483 and last in 1679, on both occasions at Oxford. The edition of 1679 is thus the received text.Footnote 3 It has been the standard version for centuries; it is also the only edition to have been reproduced in facsimile in modern times (in 1968). The preface explained how the edition was based on the collation of three prior printings and of three manuscripts.Footnote 4 Yet many more manuscript copies have survived: in a seminal piece (first published in 1961 and updated in 1973), Christopher Cheney identified 57.Footnote 5 These manuscripts have been little studied since and they deserve a deeper and more expert examination than can be offered here. Nevertheless, my survey does shed light on how the Provinciale was received in the decades immediately after its composition.
Interest in provincial legislation had revived in the later fourteenth century. The production of manuscript copies peaked in the final phase of Thomas Arundel's archiepiscopate (1396–1414) and at the beginning of Henry Chichele's (1414–1443).Footnote 6 The Provinciale represented the culmination of this development. Lyndwood had begun work before 1422, completed the main text in 1430 and finished the index four years later. He dedicated the work to Chichele, at whose behest it had supposedly between written. The preface emphasised the trouble that Lyndwood had taken to compile the constitutions: he had had to gather, correct and date a corrupt, muddled and scattered set of texts.Footnote 7 He had consulted the registers of previous archbishops and studied collections of their laws in old books.Footnote 8 Like a modern editor, he re-dated certain constitutions, included others whose attribution was doubtful, and collated variant phrasings.Footnote 9 Rather than presenting the constitutions in chronological order, Lyndwood reorganised them in accordance with the decretals of Pope Gregory IX (the Liber Extra).Footnote 10 He adopted the decretals’ five-book structure and distributed the constitutions between 75 of their 185 titles.Footnote 11 To achieve his rearrangement, Lyndwood omitted unnecessary sections of a constitution (such as its preamble) and inserted the same constitution more than once if different parts related to discrete titles. The extensiveness of his editorial intervention needs emphasising. As we shall see, it helps to explain the considerable variation between the different manuscripts.
To his selection Lyndwood added a vast commentary. He did so, he explained, with the aim of making the constitutions easier to understand.Footnote 12 Lyndwood may have been inspired by the commentary that John of Ayton had composed a century earlier on the constitutions promulgated by the two papal legates to England in the thirteenth century, Otto and Ottobuono. Although the commentary showcased Lyndwood's formidable erudition, his purpose was practical. Were someone enjoined bread and water as a penance, one gloss explained, then he or she must eat and drink accordingly rather than fast entirely.Footnote 13 The Provinciale contained much guidance of this kind, which would have assisted someone exercising cure of souls. The longest title (5.16) covered the penitential process. The Provinciale thus reinforced the pastoral approach to canon law of popular manuals for the parochial clergy, such as the Oculus sacerdotis (1320s) and the Pupilla oculi (1380s), with which readers of the Provinciale would have been familiar.Footnote 14 Lyndwood stated that he was writing not primarily for the well educated but rather for those ‘simply learned and understanding little’. In his own mind, at least, this meant the average parish priest and also those administering lower-level jurisdictions (such as rural deaneries).Footnote 15 Nevertheless, the language and complexity of his work did limit its audience. A law graduate was moved to write a vernacular instruction manual for priests when he read Lyndwood's ‘golden and famous glose’ on Archbishop Peckham's Ignorantia sacerdotum and himself found it (so he said) ‘diffuse, intricat with lawe, and hard of intellecte’.Footnote 16
Lyndwood intended that the Provinciale should circulate. His will (made in 1443 and proved in 1446) stipulated that one manuscript be chained up in St Stephen's Chapel at Westminster (where he was to be buried) as the base text against which copies could be checked, and that another be given to its scribe, who could recoup his labour by lending it out for copying.Footnote 17 Manuscripts proliferated in individual and institutional libraries in the later fifteenth century. An autograph manuscript was sent by Lyndwood's executors to Oxford in 1448.Footnote 18 A fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, donated a copy to the college library.Footnote 19 At Cambridge, King's Hall purchased a copy in 1461–1462 and the university library possessed one by 1473. Successive masters of Peterhouse, Cambridge, gave the work to their college.Footnote 20 The religious orders also acquired manuscripts, including Bisham Priory (Berkshire), Osney Abbey (just outside Oxford) and an unidentified Cistercian house.Footnote 21 Clergymen owned personal copies, which they might pass on to each other in their wills. In 1485, the rector of Loughton (Buckinghamshire) left a copy to Dr Abell of Oxford.Footnote 22 Dr John Cloos, Dean of Chichester (d 1501), bequeathed his ‘lynwode’ to a relative in holy orders.Footnote 23
For Lyndwood, the English Church ‘in its totality imports a kind of universality in respect of itself’.Footnote 24 Yet it was not his subject, for the Province of Canterbury was neither exclusively English nor comprised all of England. Thus Lyndwood included Wales but barely mentioned the Province of York.Footnote 25 The decision of the northern convocation in 1462 to adopt Canterbury's legislation made the Provinciale much more relevant to York.Footnote 26 One manuscript contains an uncomplimentary allusion to the late fifteenth-century Archdeacon of York and Durham Ralph Booth.Footnote 27 In 1499, Richard Fox, then Bishop of Durham, gave a manuscript copy to the collegiate church of Bishop Auckland; that the scribe attributed the commentary to Sherwood (the surname of Fox's predecessor) may imply a lack of familiarity with the Provinciale.Footnote 28 Evidence that laypeople owned the work is much scarcer; none of the existing manuscripts can be shown definitively to have been owned by a layperson in our period. The famous judge and author Thomas Littleton (d 1481) did leave to the parish church of Halesowen (Shropshire) a book containing the provincial constitutions, which could have been Lyndwood's arrangement.Footnote 29 The serjeant-at-law Richard Heigham (d 1500) referred in his will to ‘my booke called lynwode’. Heigham may, however, have acquired this book as a pledge from his brother William, a doctor of divinity.Footnote 30 Overwhelmingly, the Provinciale was a book written for and read by clergymen.
Manuscript copies of the Provinciale fall into two main types: full versions, containing the constitutions and Lyndwood's commentary; and text-only versions, containing the constitutions but omitting the commentary. The most obvious difference between the two types is their size. The complete work required substantial, folio-sized volumes, which presented either a chapter surrounded by its glosses, or a chapter and then its glosses, or the whole text and afterwards the commentary.Footnote 31 Abridging the commentary was a means of producing smaller volumes: one manuscript gave only Lyndwood's ‘conclusions’.Footnote 32 Separating the glosses possibly encouraged the production of text-only versions. These handy volumes make up the majority of the surviving manuscripts. They preserved Lyndwood's distribution of the constitutions into five books, but sometimes modified his selection by inserting more constitutions either under appropriate titles or at the end. Five common additions were laws on the authority of provincial constitutions, the purgation of defamed persons, the absolution of offences beyond the competence of parish priests, the abjuration of fornicators on pain of marriage (sub pena nubendi) and the observance of particular feast days.Footnote 33 Readers of manuscripts lacking these additions might think them deficient and supply the missing constitutions.Footnote 34 The most systematic editing reproduced only those constitutions that were ‘in daily use’ and hence removed 100 chapters.Footnote 35
Lyndwood's arrangement of the constitutions was thus overlaid upon pre-existing manuscript versions. It was adopted, but also adapted. This process can be pinpointed in an older collection of constitutions that belonged to John Wortham, rector of Fowlmere (Cambridgeshire). In 1446 (the year of Lyndwood's death), Wortham's chaplain, John Wright, copied into his master's volume a table of the books, titles and chapters of the Provinciale.Footnote 36 This contents list discloses that two titles had already been re-ordered and that another constitution had been added at the end.Footnote 37 Wright supplied the names of archbishops responsible for particular pieces of legislation, which sometimes required multiple attempts: the chapter Item licet (5.14.4) was attributed to Mepham, then to Peckham and finally (as Lyndwood had) to Stratford. Wright adjusted the list of chapters: for example, by deleting the extra constitution about the purgation of people publicly defamed. Such divergence may have occurred because copies of the Provinciale were being compared with other manuscripts of the constitutions, whose alternative attributions, different selections and additional contents were sometimes preferred.Footnote 38 Several manuscripts restored ‘a certain lengthy harangue’ at the beginning of Arundel's constitution Reverendissimae synodo that Lyndwood had cut.Footnote 39 Copying also multiplied discrepancies. Archbishops’ names were added to a finished manuscript in a coloured ink (usually red: hence ‘rubrication’).Footnote 40 On one occasion, the chapter Ex scripturis (2.3.3) was misattributed to Mepham when the initial letter ‘I’, intended to aid rubrication, was taken to denote idem (that is, the same author as the previous constitution) rather than Islip.Footnote 41
Manuscript copies of the Provinciale also yield evidence of how and by whom the work was consulted. Lyndwood's constitutions frequently appeared alongside other texts, especially those relevant to diocesan and archidiaconal administration, such as visitation articles, guidance on procedure in church courts, and tracts on canon law. One manuscript contains the statutes and customs of the Court of Arches, Lyndwood's own tribunal.Footnote 42 Another manuscript was connected to the business of the consistory court of Hereford Diocese in the early sixteenth century.Footnote 43 Little slips of judicial business in a glossed volume associate it with the archidiaconal jurisdiction of the exempt abbey of St Albans.Footnote 44 Endleaves provided the space to jot down a specimen grant of probate made by the archdeacon's official at Stamford (Lincolnshire) on 14 January 1482.Footnote 45 Although most manuscripts were written professionally, some were personal productions. In 1453–1454, the Archdeacon of Coventry, Roger Walle, transcribed Lyndwood's constitutions and devised his own index to them.Footnote 46 Around 1481, a man called Giles Wright wrote out the constitutions together with instructions on will-making, preaching and the mass, which suggests that he was a parish priest.Footnote 47 The law bursar of All Souls, Walter Stone (d 1519), copied out the constitutions alongside other legislation and legal tracts.Footnote 48
The most revealing evidence of the work's early use comes in the form of readers’ annotations in the margins of their copies.Footnote 49 The majority of annotations drew attention to or summarised content. The commonest remark was the simple (and uninformative) nota. Other annotations offered more direction: for example, by drawing attention to a gloss for containing suitable sermon material.Footnote 50 Annotations may not necessarily reflect the response of an individual reader. Some were likely written by scribes from their copy text. An unfinished manuscript with marginalia supports that possibility.Footnote 51 Other annotations may not have been original entries either but rather copies of existing marginalia. The presence of similar annotations in two manuscripts suggests a derivative relationship between them: for instance, both mentioned the vicars of Bampton (Oxfordshire) at the same point in the text.Footnote 52 Therefore an annotation may reflect the engagement of more than one reader with the Provinciale. This layering of responses could itself indicate a broad interest in the work. The distribution of marginalia also suggests that some parts of the Provinciale seemed more pertinent to readers than others. The title on tithes (3.16) attracted the most annotation.Footnote 53 Such a concentration of interest would not have surprised the early Lutheran William Tyndale, who alleged in 1530 that the Provinciale was one of only two works that rural priests read, in order ‘to gather tythes, mortuaries, offerings, customs, and other pillage’.Footnote 54
Some annotations show readers absorbing Lyndwood's views on sensitive subjects in which ecclesiastical law rubbed up against lay sensibilities. Several readers noticed his trenchant criticism of London's tithing custom, whereby inhabitants claimed to be excused from paying personal tithes.Footnote 55 Advice on how to frame libels (bills of complaint) in church courts so as to evade writs of prohibition from the common law earned marginal notes.Footnote 56 What may be Lyndwood's best-known gloss stated that ‘an anointed king is not a pure lay person, but mixed’.Footnote 57 For two readers, this was a ‘good gloss’.Footnote 58 It sought to explain how the king, though a layman, appeared to institute the head of a royal free chapel, the collegiate church of St Martin le Grand in London.Footnote 59 A possible solution was that the deanery had a dual nature: it was and was not a benefice. As lay patron, the king could give the temporalities of St Martin's but not its spiritualities. The fact that the two were inseparable might be resolved if the bishop's sufferance were tantamount to tacit institution. But Lyndwood rejected this line of argument: everything else about the deanery proved it to be a benefice. Only a papal grant, not prescription, could enable laypeople to institute to spiritual things; this remained the case, Lyndwood added, even though an anointed king was a mixed person. One reader condensed this gloss to the statement that the king ‘was supported by the pope's authority’.Footnote 60 Lastly, at least one reader noted the general point that constitutions bound everyone within the province.Footnote 61 This was not a proposition that commanded the automatic assent of common lawyers.Footnote 62
Sometimes a user applied what he was reading to particular individuals or institutions. One annotator observed for Master Fisher's benefit a chapter stipulating the church equipment for which parishioners were responsible.Footnote 63 Another believed a constitution pertinent to his lord's dispute with someone called Rose (possibly an invader of ecclesiastical property).Footnote 64 A gloss made a member of Peterhouse think of the acquisition by the college next door, Pembroke, of Linton church (Cambridgeshire).Footnote 65 In one manuscript, marginalia may have concerned the annotator personally. The individual who noted against the relevant chapters the tithes withheld from the mill at nearby Queenhill and the names of parishioners who had defaulted on other tithing obligations may have been the rector of Ripple (Worcestershire) himself.Footnote 66
Other pieces of marginalia show readers bringing their own legal knowledge to bear. One appears to refer to a tract that the annotator himself had written on the oil and chrism in baptism.Footnote 67 A reader added an opinion on pluralism given by the English canonist Thomas Chillenden (d 1411).Footnote 68 Another copied out the penance for bestiality supplied by an earlier English theologian, Thomas of Chobham (d 1233×1236).Footnote 69 Not every reader was uniformly impressed. ‘That gloss is very absurd’ someone remarked of Lyndwood's discussion of how many times a person could receive extreme unction.Footnote 70
The emergence of manuscripts without the commentary meant that some readers must have encountered the constitutions without the benefit of Lyndwood's advice on their interpretation. Other readers were, however, aware of the relationship between these manuscripts and the full Provinciale. They checked their copies, noticing omissions, misattributions and mistaken words. They spotted where chapters diverged from Lyndwood's order and attempted to clarify the correct sequence.Footnote 71 Text-only versions with wide margins offered a reader who had sight of Lyndwood's commentary the opportunity of creating a bespoke Provinciale, in which select glosses of interest could be transcribed, paraphrased or summarised.Footnote 72 One extensively enhanced manuscript had four paper leaves inserted in order to squeeze in more commentary.Footnote 73 It was when adding glosses on the controversial subject of tithes due on timber (silva cedua) that one reader ran out of space and continued on the endleaves; otherwise, he preferred to concentrate on Lyndwood's conclusions.Footnote 74 Excerpts from Lyndwood's glosses show readers consulting his commentary in order to understand the constitutions. An abbreviated version of Lyndwood's name (such as ‘W. Lyn.’) denoted the source of such marginalia. This type of annotation required greater critical engagement than remarks upon existing content. For instance, a generalisation in Book III (ecclesiastical judges may not imprison) was qualified with an exception taken from Book V (other than in cases of heresy).Footnote 75 Glosses helped readers decide which constitutions were important and which not.Footnote 76 Therefore text-only manuscripts could facilitate a kind of parallel reading and excerpting.
The success of the Provinciale affected which constitutions were remembered. What Lyndwood excluded was possibly overlooked. Some readers may not even have realised that they were consulting an edited selection. One contents table misleadingly described itself as covering ‘all the provincial constitutions’.Footnote 77 Another unintended consequence of Lyndwood's work could have been the neglect of subsequent provincial legislation. The most recent constitutions in the Provinciale had been enacted in 1416. Later constitutions were added to manuscript copies. The latest that I have found dated to 1462: this was Bourgchier's constitution regulating clerical dress (Quamquam in hoc).Footnote 78 The commonest addition was Chichele's constitution of 1439 for the augmentation of poor vicarages (Cum propter nimiam). It came to be regarded as an integral part of the text with its own title (De augmentacione vicariarum).Footnote 79 The thematic structure of the Provinciale did not adapt well to the incorporation of new laws. While later constitutions could be integrated into the five-book structure, they were more usually inserted at the end.Footnote 80 These supplements were occasionally identified by the legal terms novellae and extravagantes.Footnote 81 Some of them derived from the archbishop's mandate to his bishops to promulgate the new constitution.Footnote 82
Certain readers tried to keep their work up to date. Roger Walle noted that a correction, modifying the general sentence of excommunication, had been made to a constitution in the convocation of 1460.Footnote 83 As an archdeacon, Walle had presumably attended this convocation; others were not so well placed to keep the text current. Another reader recorded how a constitution made by the then archbishop, Thomas Bourgchier (1454–1486), requiring the presence of the parish priest at the making of a testament, had superseded Lyndwood's gloss.Footnote 84 That this constitution is otherwise unknown exemplifies the potential drawback of reliance upon the Provinciale.Footnote 85
The first printed edition of the Provinciale appeared in 1483.Footnote 86 To the modern eye, the work seems to have defeated the printer, Theodoric Rood of Oxford. Far superior were the editions produced at Paris in 1501 and 1506 by the scholar–printer Jodocus Badius Ascensius. Subsequent English editions restricted themselves to printing the constitutions without Lyndwood's commentary: between them, Wynkyn de Worde and Richard Pynson published eight text-only editions from 1496 to 1517. Only one such edition, published by Pynson in 1499, appended Chichele's constitution augmenting poor vicarages; the others confined themselves to Lyndwood's selection.Footnote 87 Readers of manuscripts may have consulted printed editions. In one manuscript, prefatory glosses to five chapters (in which Lyndwood dated the law, summarised its content and explained excisions) could have been added from the first edition of 1483.Footnote 88 In another manuscript, an alternative reading for a single word (recipere) could have been sourced from the Parisian editions.Footnote 89
Printed versions were also personalised: into a copy of the 1506 edition belonging to a canon of Butley Priory (Suffolk) were transcribed two petitions to convocation and a spoof letter from the sultan.Footnote 90 While the availability of printed editions seems to have ended scribal production, manuscripts continued to be consulted. In one, the feast days abrogated in 1536 were erased.Footnote 91 The following year, a few months after the dissolution of his house, a monk of London's Charterhouse was given a manuscript.Footnote 92 A similar study of the marginalia in printed copies could shed light on how the Provinciale was read after the break with Rome and during the Reformation. Of particular interest would be the English translation of Lyndwood's constitutions published in 1534.Footnote 93
This survey of the manuscripts of the Provinciale establishes the work's extensive dissemination in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. More evidence of its proliferation can be found in library lists and in wills. The manuscripts’ contents illustrate the ways in which the Provinciale informed those carrying out the administrative, pastoral and legal functions of the English Church. Annotations reveal readers engaging with the work on personal, institutional and intellectual levels. The Provinciale consolidated a distinctive corpus of English ecclesiastical law, while grounding it firmly within the transnational ius commune. For some readers, the Provinciale may have reaffirmed substantive points of difference with common law; for rather more readers, it helped them to know their tithing rights.
Lyndwood was almost too successful in that his achievement seems to have discouraged further editorial work. In 1504, Ascensius proposed that ‘the provincial constitutions not yet (in so far as I see) sufficiently ordered be condensed in a proper volume’; but this did not happen.Footnote 94 The Provinciale remained a fitting climax to a period of heightened interest in provincial legislation. The fact that Lyndwood had no successors–at least, none until the seventeenth century–reflected the esteem in which his work came to be held. It is hoped that this article has shown the potential for further research into the Provinciale not only as a text but also as a collection of manuscripts and printed books.