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Reading the Historia Scholastica at the Close of the Twelfth Century: Nigel of Canterbury and Trinity College, Cambridge, MS B.15.5

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 April 2020

Huygens ING (KNAW), Amsterdam


Trinity College, Cambridge, ms B.15.5, contains a copy of Peter Comestor's Historia scholastica, donated by Nigel of Canterbury to the library at Christ Church. This article focuses on the exegetical content of its dense annotations. Heavily dependent on the writings of theologians associated with the school of St Victor, they offer an insight into the kinds of sources which were read alongside the Historia scholastica in this period. The article also queries a note made on the flyleaf which identifies Nigel as the compiler, examining its credibility and its implications for the presumed chronology of his life.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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This work was facilitated in part by a grant from the British Academy's Neil Ker Memorial Fund, which enabled me to carry out research in 2016 on copies of Peter of Poitiers’s Compendium, including that found in ms B.15.5. I also acknowledge the support of NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, which funded the ‘Art of Reasoning: Techniques of Scientific Argumentation in the Medieval Latin West (400–1400)’ project at Huygens ING, of which I am a member. Further thanks are due to the anonymous reviewer for this Journal whose detailed, thought-provoking and constructive comments made me consider my evidence with fresh eyes.

I am grateful to staff at the libraries of Trinity College and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, the British Library and Salisbury Cathedral Library for facilitating my access to their holdings. The figures to this article are reproduced by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge.


1 This catalogue was made during the priorate of Henry of Eastry (1284–1331) but was copied from earlier ones: James, M. R., The ancient libraries of Canterbury and Dover, Cambridge 1903, p. xxxixGoogle Scholar.

2 On Nigel's life see Boutemy, A., Nigellus de Longchamp, dit Wireker: Tractatus contra curiales et officiales clericos, Paris 1959, 1245Google Scholar; Ziolkowski, J., Nigel of Canterbury: the Passion of St Lawrence, epigrams and marginal poems, Leiden 1994, 642Google Scholar; and A. G. Rigg, ‘Canterbury, Nigel of [Nigel Wireker or Whiteacre]’, ODNB, <>.

3 James, Ancient libraries, 101. ms B.15.5 is digitised at <>.

4 On Peter see Clark, M. J., The making of the Historia scholastica, 1150–1200, Toronto 2015, 152Google Scholar. A title consistent with Eastry's list is given at ms B.15.5, fo. 1r – ‘Hystoria manducatoris Nigelli’ – while a barely legible inscription refers to the ‘secunda demonstratio’, the part of the library catalogue in which the book was listed.

5 ms B.15.5, fo. 174r. Ziolkowski transcribes this note as ‘Notescat uniuersis quod presens annus ab incarnatione domino mo .co. xciiiius, a passione eius m. c. lixus est, a origine mundi v.c.xlvus’: Nigel of Canterbury, 283.

6 ‘Otia cum fugerit studiosi cura Nigelli | textuit ex uariis presentis scripta libelli | quem superesse sibi uoluit post fata futurum | nominis et meriti memorabile non moriturum’: ms B.15.5, fo. 1r, trans. in Ziolkowski, Nigel of Canterbury at p. 282. Nigel also played on the assonant rhyming between his name and the word ‘libellus’, in ‘Epigram 1’, suggesting that this verse is eponymous: Ziolkowski, Nigel of Canterbury, 250–1, 268–9. The poem is added in a late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century littera textualis, by a hand not found elsewhere in the manuscript.

7 Boutemy claimed that the annotations were ‘denuded of originality’: Tractatus, 61–3. Ziolkowski described them as ‘not often ground-breaking’: Nigel of Canterbury, 283–5. He notes that they provide insights into Nigel's literary, classical and mythological knowledge, but treat exclusively their poetic content (pp. 286–302). Here and elsewhere ‘annotation’ is used as a neutral descriptive term to indicate all content (including schemata and nota signs) added to the manuscript and distinct from the primary text.

8 J. H. Morey describes it incorrectly as a ‘commentary’: ‘Peter Comestor, biblical paraphrase, and the medieval popular Bible’, Speculum lxviii (1993), 6–35 at p. 9 n. 7. Clark dismissed it as ‘not a commentary but a copy of the History with notes in the margin’: Making, 7–8 n. 31.

9 ‘The best way to get an insight into the historical study of the Bible at about the year 1200 would be to examine glosses on the Histories and the notes written in the margins of early copies’: B. Smalley, The study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 3rd edn, Oxford 1983, 214–15.

10 Clark, Making, 1.

11 Ibid. 171, 205–12; G. Lacombe, ‘Studies on the Commentaries of Cardinal Stephen Langton, part I’, Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire v (1931), 5–151 at pp. 18–51.


12 Peter Comestor, Scolastica historia: Liber Genesis, ed. A. Sylwan, CCCM cxci, Turnhout 2005. Sylwan estimated that the text survives in over 800 manuscripts, recording twenty-five twelfth-century manuscripts.

13 Sylwan suggests that, judging by the number of manuscripts in which it is omitted, the prologue was not regarded as an important part of the text: ibid. p. xxvii.

14 On these variants see ibid. pp. xxxviii–xxxix. On this version see Clark, Making, 159–60.

15 A. Sylwan, ‘Petrus Comestor, Historia scholastica: une nouvelle édition’, Sacris Erudiri xxxix (2000), 345–82 at p. 363; cf. Scolastica historia, pp. lxxvi–ii. For Stephen Langton as witness to the notes see Clark, Making, 161–2, 173-82. Clark argues that Langton's references to ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ glosses refer to their placement on the page, but Smalley notes that Langton uses these terms to make an exegetical distinction between literal and spiritual meaning: Study of the Bible, 217.

16 ms B.15.5, fos 11r–v, 12v, 13r, 14r, 15v, 17v, 18v, 19r, 23r–v, 24r, 26r, 30r, 33r, 34r–v.

17 The most accessible complete edition remains PL cxcviii.1053–722.

18 L. Cleaver refers to a ‘diagram of biblical genealogy’ without explicitly identifying the Compendium: ‘The monks' library at Christ Church Canterbury, c. 1180-c. 1250’, in A. Bovey (ed.), Medieval art, architecture and archaeology at Canterbury, Leeds 2013, 156–66 at p. 162.

19 This list appears in manuscripts from the early ninth century on. See, for example, Stiftsbibliothek, St Gall, Cod. Sang. 397, 141–4.

20 Ziolkowski, Nigel of Canterbury, 286-7.

21 M. R. James collates the manuscript as ‘a10, 1-268, 2710’: The western manuscripts in the Library of Trinity College: Cambridge, Cambridge 1900, i. 470.

22 Quire signatures are found at ms B.15.5, fos 145v (‘xvii’), 208v (‘xxv’).

23 S. Panayotova, ‘Peter of Poitiers's Compendium in genealogia Christi: the early English copies’, in R. Gameson and H. Leyser (eds), Belief and culture in the Middle Ages, Oxford 2001, 327–41 at p. 335.

24 Boutemy, Tractatus, 24; Ziolkowski, Nigel of Canterbury, 283.

25 ‘Explicit hystoria scolastica. Incipit libellus actuum apostolorum’: ms B.15.5, fo. 200v.

26 Short annotations are, in fact, present at fos 209r, 213v and 215r.

27 Boutemy, Tractatus, 44.

28 Ziolkowski, Nigel of Canterbury, 283, 43–51. Digitised at <>.

29 Cleaver refers to a decline in in-house book production in Canterbury in this period: ‘The monk's library’, 156–7.

30 ms B.15.5, fo. 11r = 355 x 260 mm; writing space per column = 220 x 75 mm. Width of intercolumnar space = 150 mm. The truncated penwork suggests that the leaf has been slightly cropped at the top and bottom.

31 Observed on ms B.15.5, fos 65r, 79r. An exception can be seen at fo. 177r.

32 Robert identifies himself at BL, ms Royal 7 F III, fo. 196r: ‘Hunc librum scripsit Robertus filius Radulfi discipulus et scriptor ultimus Magistri Roberti Bonni de Bedeford.’ The second colophon on fo. 196v refers to the date and destination of the manuscript: ‘Scriptus est liber iste anno tertio coronationis Regis Ricardi quem scribere fecit C[ecily] de Chanuill. bone memorie Abbatissa beate Marie de Helenestow’. in eruditionem et profectum conventus sui et ceterorum inspicientium.'

33 R. Thomson, Manuscripts from St Albans Abbey, 1066–1235, Woodbridge 1982, i. 71–4, 95–6.

34 R. Gameson, Manuscript treasures of Durham Cathedral, London 2010, 95; J. Greatrex, ‘Benedictine sermons: preparation and practice in the English monastic cathedral cloisters’, in C. Meussig (ed.), Medieval monastic preaching, Leiden 1998, 257–78 at p. 266.

35 By contrast, BL, ms Royal 7 F III measures 335 x 250 mm, and BL, ms Royal 4 D VII measures 380 x 250 mm.

36 Ziolkowski, Nigel of Canterbury, 284. In addition, fo. 187r refers to the return of ‘beatus Thomas’, i.e. Thomas Becket, to England alongside the account of Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem; fo. 196r refers to the so-called ritual murder of William of Norwich in 1144 alongside the account of the crucifixion.

37 Contra this speculation, I have not yet found another Historia scholastica manuscript with an identical set of annotations and, as noted below, the manuscript is unique in terms of some of the source material that it incorporates.

38 On the use of such ephemeral media in textual drafting and note-taking see M. Brown, ‘The role of the wax tablet in medieval literacy: a reconsideration in the light of a recent find from York’, British Library Journal xx (1994), 1–16 at pp. 10–11, and C. Burnett, ‘Give him the white cow: notes and note-taking in the universities in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries’, History of Universities xiv (1998), 1–30. On the challenges that our lack of definitive knowledge on drafting processes pose see M. Teeuwen, ‘Writing in the blank space of manuscripts: evidence from the ninth century’, in B. Crostini, G. Iversen and B. M. Jensen (eds), Ars edendi lecture series, iv, Stockholm 2016, 1–25 at p. 12.

39 Nigel de Longchamps, Speculum stultorum, ed. J. H. Mozley and R. R. Raymo, Berkeley, Ca 1960.

40 Ibid. lines 1521–2.


41 Ibid. lines 1547–8.


42 Ibid. lines 1551–2.


43 Ziolkowski, Nigel of Canterbury, 9–11. On Nigel's origins see A. G. Rigg, ‘Nigel of Canterbury: what was his name?’, Medium Aevum lvi (1987), 304–7, and R. Coates, ‘Nigel of Canterbury's surname(s) and a specious link with Guernsey’, Notes and Queries lxiv (2017), 24–7. On his activities at Canterbury see J. D. Cotts, ‘The critique of the secular clergy in Peter of Blois and Nigellus de Longchamps’, Haskins Society Journal xiii (2004), 137–50.

44 John of Salisbury, letter 284, in The letters of John of Salisbury, ii, ed. W. J. Millor and C. N. L. Brooke, Oxford 1979, 624–5.

45 On the role of Becket in Nigel's writings see Ziolkowski, Nigel of Canterbury, 11–22, and Boutemy, Tractatus, 35–45. See also n. 36 above.

46 Mozley and Raymo, Speculum stultorum, 123 n. 2.

47 Cf. John of Salisbury's Entheticus maior, which may derive from earlier drafts made during his time as a student: J. van Laarhoven, John of Salisbury's Entheticus maior and minor, Leiden 1987, 15–16. On the rhetorical use of ‘veteris’ in the dedication see Ziolkowski, Nigel of Canterbury, 6; cf. Speculum stultorum, 123 n. 1.

48 Ambrose is cited on a single occasion (fo. 11r) but the quotation is from Cicero, De oratore ii.36.

49 J.-P. Pouzet ascribes views on the derivation of language to Nigel based on a selection of these annotations, which are, in fact, quotations via the Gloss from Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram: ‘“Seli timinge”: traduction et “structure d'intention” dans Genesis and Exodus’, in J. Jenkins and O. Bertrand (eds), The medieval translator: traduire au moyen â ge, Turnhout 2007, 77–94 at pp. 82–5.

50 I have compared the annotations to the Editio princeps, ed. A. Rusch, Strassburg 1480–1, <>, and to the glossa reformata version, BnF, Paris, ms lat. 14399, xii4, provenance Saint-Victor, <>. The compiler refers to other books of the Gloss: In Genesim, fos 29r, 34r refer to the ‘Glosa’ on Isaiah; fo. 29 refers to the ‘Glosa’ on Abdias; fo. 38v refers to the ‘Glosa’ on Matthew.

51 Direct quotations from the Bible are rare. Only Hebrews xi.4–22 is quoted throughout ms B.15.5, introduced with the words ‘In epistola ad hebreos’ or ‘Apostolus ad ebreos’, demonstrating the role of various biblical figures as champions of faith.

52 This is translated in Smalley, Study of the Bible, 226.

53 ms B.15.5, fo. 12r = Hugh of Saint Victor, De sacramentis Christiane fidei, PL clxxvi.201A–C. There are further references to ‘mag<iste>r h.’ on fos 61v, 190v.

54 Andrew of St Victor, In Genesism, in Expositio super Heptateuchum, ed. C. Lohr and R. Berndt, CCCM liii, Turnhout 1986, 6–95. Smalley noted, but did not identify, two excerpts from Andrew's work in ms B.15.5: Study of the Bible, 183. As well as the excerpts discussed in detail, note ms B.15.5, fo. 12r = In Genesim i.11, lines 304–6; fo. 13v= In Genesim, i.26, lines 473–7; fo. 13v = In Genesim i.28, lines 572–6; fo. 14r = In Genesim ii.3, lines 690–4; fo. 14r = In Genesim i.27, lines 552–4.

55 ms B.15.5, fo. 14v = In Genesim ii.7, lines 792–3; fo. 15r = In Genesim, ii.11, lines 880–4.

56 ms B.15.5, fo. 13r = In Genesim i.26, lines 488–500; i.27, lines 520–4.

57 ms B.15.5, fo. 12r. Compare In Genesim i.6, lines 245–51.

58 ms B.15.5, fo. 15r = In Genesim, ii.9, lines 856–61.

59 Smalley, Study of the Bible, 176–8, 183–4. She refers (p. 184) to extensive excerpts from Andrew's commentary in a thirteenth-century HS owned by the Dominicans of Beverley Priory.

60 No other references to In Genesim are found in the rest of the HS's commentary on Genesis.

61 BnF, ms lat. 14417, <>; Lacombe, ‘Commentaries’, 20. Clark describes two partial manuscripts: Making, 127, and (pp. 166–72) dates it to pre-1176.

62 Comparing ms B.15.5, fo. 169v with the edition of this part of the reportatio in Clark, Making, 292.

63 LE ii.i.–ix, xi–xiv comprised the Allegoriae. On its circulation see Richard de Saint-Victor, Liber exceptionum, ed. J. Chatillon, Paris 1958, 28–49, 62–5, 83–6. BL, ms Royal 7 F III and ms Royal 4 D VII both contain the Allegoriae directly subsequent to the HS.

64 D. Luscombe, ‘The place of Peter Comestor in the history of medieval theology’, in G. Dahan (ed.), Pierre le Mangeur ou Pierre de Troyes, maître du XIIe siècle, Turnhout 2013, 27–45 at pp. 44–5; P. Moore, ‘The authorship of the Allegoriae super Vetus et Novum Testamentum’, New Scholasticism ix (1935), 209–25 at pp. 211–12, 223–4.

65 Compare Corpus Christi College, Oxford, ms 159, which is annotated with excerpts from Hildebert of Lavardin's Epigrams: R. Thomson, A descriptive catalogue of the medieval manuscripts of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Woodbridge 2011, 83–4.

66 Cf. Ziolkowski, Nigel of Canterbury, 287–8, who discusses a verse accompanying the treatment of Noah's ark on fo. 20r, drawing parallels with the writings of Hildebert and Peter Riga, but not identifying Richard as the source (LE ii.i.14, lines 25–31, 55–67, 44–5, 45–8).

67 For example, LE ii.i.11 is quoted in full on fo. 18r, with the exception of the concluding summary. Chapter titles are never cited. On the mnemonic function of the LE see I. van t'Spijker, Fictions of the inner life: religious literature and formation of the self in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Turnhout 2004, 133–4.

68 ‘Haec glosa est de operibus vi dierum supra'; ‘Glosa haec congrue ad aptatur operibus sex dierum supra Genesi a. b. c.’: ms B.15.5, fo. 32v.

69 Scolastica historia, prologus, 3.

70 Chatillon, Liber exceptionum, 68; Van t'Spijker, Fictions, 132–3; L. Smith, Masters of the sacred page: manuscripts of theology in the Latin West to 1274, Notre Dame, In 2001, 57–60.

71 James, Ancient libraries, 101.

72 P. S. Moore, The works of Peter of Poitiers: master in theology and chancellor of Paris (1193–1205), Notre Dame, In 1936, 25–50. Books i–ii are found in Sententiae Petri Pictaviensis, ed. P. S. Moore, M. Dulong and J. Garvin, Notre Dame, In 1943, 1950 (all subsequent references to books i–ii are to this edition). The full text is found in PL ccxi (all subsequent references to books iii–iv are to this edition). M. Colish dates the Sententiae to 1173: ‘The Pseudo-Peter of Poitiers Gloss’, in P. Rosemann (ed.), Medieval commentaries on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, ii, Leiden 2009, 1–33 at p. 3.

73 Sententiae i, pp. x–xiii.

74 Moore, Peter of Poitiers, 25–50.

75 Ibid. 28–36. By comparison, there are estimated to be between 600 and 900 extant manuscripts of Peter Lombard's Sententiae: Rosemann, P., Peter Lombard, Oxford 2004, 55CrossRefGoogle Scholar.


76 The most extensive uses of the Sententiae throughout the manuscript include fo. 13r = ii.9, lines 3–6, 19–20, 21–8, 55–7, 59–65, 81–3, i.28, lines 15–18; fo. 16v = ii.19, lines 21–2, 44–52, 32–4, 23–6; fo. 17v = iv.20, PL ccxi.1218A; fo. 18r = ii.17, lines 121–6, 132–3, 126–9, 280–91; fo. 41v = iv.4, PL ccxi.1152A–C; fo. 48v = iv.3, PL ccxi.1147A–48B, iv.5, PL ccxi.1153A; fo. 49r = iv.3, PL ccxi.1148B–C; fo. 49v = iv.3, PL ccxi.1144B–C; fo. 58v = ii.12, lines 274–82; fo. 85v = iii.1, PL ccxi.1041C–D; fo. 180r = PL ccxi.871C; fo. 187r = PL ccxi.1146D–1147A; fo. 193v = PL ccxi.1218B-C.

77 Fo. 16v contains a schema entitled ‘status hominis’ presenting an enumerated passage (Sententiae ii.8) in the form of a tripartite list. Fo. 190v offers a schematic paraphrase of Sententiae iii.23 entitled ‘debemus diligere’.

78 Sententiae Petri Pictaviensis i, p. xx; i.15, i.22; i.30.

79 PL ccxi.1150C.

80 See L. Smith, The Ten Commandments: interpreting the Bible in the medieval world, Leiden 2014, 133.

81 PL ccxi.1147A–1148B.

82 On Paganus see Colish, ‘Pseudo-Peter of Poitiers’, 1. On fo. 44v the annotator refers to a ‘M. Petrus’, but uses the term reflexively to clarify the text of the HS.

83 Peter of Poitiers, Sententiae ii.19, lines 21–2, 44–52, 32–4, 23–6.

84 Ibid. ii.22, lines 78–105.


85 ‘Liberum arbitrium est habilitas rationabilis uoluntatis qua homo dirigitur ad bonum et declinat ad malum. et in christo uere fuit liberum arbitrium liberius quam in aliquo aliorum hominum. non tamen potuit per illud flecti ad malum, quia ille homo christus erat deus. Unde petrus [ieronymus] “Solus deus est in quem peccatum cadere non potest”’: ms B.15.5, fo. 16v; BM, Troyes (now Médiathèque du Grand Troyes), ms 964, fo. 127r–v (accessed via <>); A. Landgraf, ‘Quelques Collections de “Quaestiones” de la second moitié du xiie: premier classement’, Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale vi (1934), 368–93, q. 68 at p. 377. Landgraf dates the manuscript to the first quarter of the thirteenth century, while the texts it contains date to the second half of the twelfth; cf. Peter Lombard, Sententiae ii.7.2; Peter of Poitiers, Sententiae ii.4.

86 Brady, I., ‘Peter Manducator and the oral teachings of Peter Lombard’, Antonianum xli (1966), 454–90Google Scholar; F. Siri, ‘Les Quaestiones attribuite a Pietro Comestor’, in Dahan, Pierre le Mangeur, 191–223.

87 ‘Adam [secundus] de singulis statibus aliquid habuit. de primo innocentias. de secundo mortalitatem et passibilitatem. de tercio non posse peccare. Status Ade non fuit sine uetustate culpe et pene christi status habuit uetustatem pene non culpe’: ms B.15.5, fo. 16v; BM, Troyes, ms 964, fo. 134r–v; Landgraf, ‘Quelques Collectiones’, q. 74, at p. 377. See also Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, ms Pal. lat. 2499, fo. 43r, ed. Y. Iwakuma in ‘The Introductiones dialecticae secundum Wilgelmum and secundum G. Paganellum’, Cahiers de l'institut du moyen-âge grec et latin lxiii (1993), 45–114 at p. 85. Both quaestiones occur in multiple manuscripts, but BM, Troyes, ms 964 is the only one recorded by Landgraf as containing both.

88 Scolastica historia, Liber Genesis 23, lines 20–1.

89 I am preparing a separate study focusing on the phenomenon of schematic annotations to the HS.

90 On the persistence of such conservative approaches to scholastic theology in the thirteenth century and beyond see Colish, ‘Pseudo-Peter of Poitiers’.

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