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A New Manuscript of Nicholas of Lynn's ‘Kalendarium’: MS Chapel Hill 522, fols. 159r–202r

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2016

Michael P. Kuczynski*
Tulane University


MS Chapel Hill 522, fols. 159r-202r, contains a hitherto unidentified manuscript of the Latin Kalendarium of Nicholas of Lynn, a medieval astronomical almanac known to and used by Chaucer. Sigmund Eisner has already identified fifteen MSS of the Kalendarium, none of them complete, and has published an edition for the New Chaucer Society. Although Chapel Hill's manuscript is also incomplete, it does contain important materials missing from Eisner's base text, MS Oxford, Bodleian Laud. Misc. 662 — namely, all the lunar eclipse figures and the tables of ascensions and equations of houses for Aries and Taurus. In this paper I provide a brief introduction to Nicholas of Lynn and medieval kalendaria, followed by a summary description of CH 522, fols. 159r–202r, which contains a list of the other astronomical and mathematical texts bound with Nicholas of Lynn's Kalendarium in the book. Then I present my reasons for believing that CH 522 was an early MS, perhaps one intended for use as an exemplar. Finally, I add two plates from the MS and a full list of textual variants for CH 522, collated against Eisner's edition.

Copyright © 1987 by Fordham University 

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1 I am grateful to the Rare Book Collection, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for access to and permission to quote from the MS. A shorter version of this paper was given at the Twelfth St. Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies (Manuscripta) in October 1985, and a brief note on the MS appears in Oxoniensia 51 (1986) 198200. Thanks are due to Eisner, Sigmund, Ganz, David, and Kane, George for helpful advice.Google Scholar

2 The Kalendarium of Nicholas of Lynn, trans. Mac Eoin, G. and ed. Eisner, S. (Athens, Georgia 1980). My indebtedness to this superb edition is obvious throughout this paper.Google Scholar

3 Some of the eclipse drawings and the tables of ascensions and equations of houses were probably on a missing half-folio. See Eisner, 3435 for a description of the Oxford MS.Google Scholar

4 Hereafter simply CH 522. Ganz, D. has already written a brief description, ‘A Medieval Astronomer's Handbook,’ for Library Notes 430 (January 1984), published by the Academic Affairs Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.Google Scholar

5 I summarize here information available, in more detail, in Eisner, , Kalendarium 255, and Gunther, R. T., Early Science at Oxford II (Oxford 1923) 62–64.Google Scholar

6 There is no evidence, however, that Nicholas was a fellow of Merton. For more on the Merton College school of astronomy, see Gunther, , Early Science II 4269, and Bennett, J. A. W., Chaucer at Oxford and Cambridge (Toronto 1974) 58–85.Google Scholar

7 Emden, A. B., A Biographical Register of the University of Cambridge to 1500 (Cambridge 1963) 370.Google Scholar

8 Emden, A. B., A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500 II (Oxford 1958) 1194.Google Scholar

9 Voyages (London 1907) 99101.Google Scholar

10 Or the four Metonic cycles 1387–1405, 1406–24, 1425–43, and 1444–62. A new Metonic cycle occurs every nineteen years. The cycle is named after Meton, a fifth-century b.c. Athenian astronomer, who discovered that nineteen years to the day after a given new moon another new moon would occur. See Eisner, , Kalendarium 5.Google Scholar

11 Elvedene (fl. 1360), a member of Gonville Hall, Cambridge, is referred to by Nicholas in his dedicatory prologue as ‘Reverend Teacher’ (Reverendi Magistri, fol. 195v). See Emden, , Biographical Register of the University of Cambridge 210–11.Google Scholar

12 Eisner, , Kalendarium 30. Because this information is not accurate in all Kalendarium manuscripts (ibid. 53 n. 39), it is possible to determine which MSS Chaucer might actually have seen. CH 522 is an early MS (ca. 1400; see 1. Date of the Manuscript, below) and contains the accurate information for April 18, so it is possible that Chaucer might actually have seen it.Google Scholar

13 See Eisner, , Kalendarium 4344, for the MS descriptions.Google Scholar

14 No other MSS are recorded. See Thorndike, L. and Kibre, P., A Catalogue of Incipits of Mediaeval Scientific Writings in Latin (Cambridge, Mass. 1963), col. 633.Google Scholar

15 A reference to Gnatsale appears on the first flyleaf (Johannes philipp loquebat cum gnat-sale), suggesting that the compiler may have known him. See Sotheby Sale Catalogue, Western Manuscripts, 7 December 1982, Lot 62, p. 55.Google Scholar

16 De loco lunae, Thorndike, and Kibre, , col. 1282.Google Scholar

17 The scribe of the tract by Campanus signed his work, Expliciunt tractatus quadrantis. Deo gracias, quod Wilton, on fol. 155r.Google Scholar

18 Because they are separate from the prologue and canons, and their authorship is not indicated, Sotheby fails to attribute the monthly calendar and supplemental tables to Nicholas of Lynn. See Sale Catalogue 55.Google Scholar

19 Some of the passage (in bold type here) remains. Most of the erased text is recoverable under ultra-violet light (angle brackets indicate illegible words and conjectured readings): Nota quod altitude solis in isto kalendario assignata computari debent ab orizonte diversus occidentem consimili modo 〈illegible〉 in longitudine regionis quia computari in longitudine regionis computari d〈ebent〉 a gradibus in occidente et hoc est directe in orizonte ut superpono et ibi incipit computando longitudine regionis et similiter computando altitudinis solis in meridie. Google Scholar

20 In the margin of fol. 196v someone has written, in red, 〈kalendari〉 us modus operandi (cropped), signaling the computing instructions added to the first canon in CH 522. (Compare the same note, in the same hand, on fol. 144r.) In the margins of fol. 201v, another glossator has added to Nicholas' comments on the good and bad influences of certain planets: vel infortunatus and fortune sunt Jupiter/Venus si sint retrogradi, sunt infortunati.Google Scholar

21 Sotheby Sale Catalogue (above, n. 15) 53.Google Scholar

22 See Appendix, Textual Variants. Many of the saints' days in CH 522 were probably listed after the MS had begun circulating, since they are in different and sometimes later hands than that of the MS.Google Scholar

23 It is probably coincidental that the dedication took place on the feast of St. Frideswide, the patron saint of Oxford, although it is possible that the church may have been the Dominican priory church in Oxford.Google Scholar

24 Rede, later Bishop of Chichester, was a fellow of Merton College 1344–57, and served in various administrative capacities at Merton thereafter. Many of his astronomical books were bequeathed to Merton. Maudith was a fellow of Merton 1309–19; Bredon, Simon, 1330–41. See Emden, , Biographical Register of the University of Oxford I 1556–60, II 1243–44, and III 257–58, respectively.Google Scholar

25 Knowles, D. and Hadcock, K. N., Medieval Religious Houses (London 1953) 185 and 187.Google Scholar

26 Jarrett, B., The English Dominicans (New York 1921) 52. Jarrett's information here is from MS London, B.L. Add. 6716. On the Dominican priory and convent at Thetford, see The Reliquary, n.s. 3 (1887).Google Scholar

27 See Pollard, G., ‘The pecia System in the Medieval Universities,’ Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts, and Libraries: Essays Presented to N. R. Ker (edd. Parkes, M. B. and Watson, A. G. [London 1978]) 145–61. Pollard's comments do not address specifically the copying of scientific MSS. Nervertheless, his discussion of the various stages of copying a MS went through under the pecia system, which allowed for the fast and accurate production of copies of university texts, warns against the danger of assuming that at each stage of a manuscript's copying history it would have been a finished, ‘coherent whole’ (160–61).Google Scholar

28 See 4. Accuracy of the Manuscript, below.Google Scholar

29 The terminus a quo of any Kalendarium MS is 1386, the year in which Nicholas tells us, in his prologue, that he compiled the calendar.Google Scholar

30 See Provenance, above.Google Scholar

31 Watson, A. G., Dated and Dateable Manuscripts c. 435–1600 in Oxford Libraries II (Oxford 1984), pl. 227. Another photograph appears in Minio-Paluello, L., ‘Two Erasures in MS Oriel College 15,’ The Bodleian Library Record 4 (1952–53), pl. xiiib. The hand of MS Oriel College 15, however, is of a distinctly higher grade and is written more uniformly than the works of either William Rede or Nicholas of Lynn in CH 522.Google Scholar

32 ‘Chaucer's Use of Nicholas of Lynn's Calendar,’ Essays and Studies (ed. Donaldson, E. T. [London 1976]) 67. I think it plausible that a later (i.e., post-1387) scribe might have mechanically preserved Gaunt's title, especially if copying quickly, and CH 522 does refer to Gaunt only as ‘King of Castile,’ whereas the other MSS address him as ‘King of Castile and of León.’ As Eisner points out, however, ‘In the late fourteenth century the King of Castile was also the King of León’ (7 n. 1), so that the scribe's failure to include León is not necessarily significant.Google Scholar

33 Here Eisner disagrees with the fourteenth-century catalogue date in Macray, W. D., Catalogi codicum manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Bodleianae partis quintae fasciculus secundus: Viri Munificentissimi Ricardi Rawlinson J. C. D. codicum classem tertiam, In qua libri theologici atque miscellanei, complectens; accedit in uniuscujusque classis codicum contenta index locupletissimus (Oxford 1857), section 467–68.Google Scholar

34 Aside from its earlier date, CH 522 could not have been copied from MS Rawlinson C. 895, which has many more omissions.Google Scholar

35 The column headings are Ciclus opposicionis and Tempus vere opposicionis (h. and m.).Google Scholar

36 With three exceptions: the first figure in the first column, Ciclus opposicionis, is recorded for February, March, and May. The figure for February is correct. Those for March and May are scribal errors peculiar to CH 522. In some of the previously identified MSS, these columns are erased and adjusted for later Metonic cycles.Google Scholar

37 See Eisner, , Kalendarium 11. Also, Eisner's frontispiece shows the first page of the monthly calendar for January.Google Scholar

38 The only candidate, among those MSS already identified by Eisner, is MS London, Sloane, B.L. 1110, since it too is early and has incomplete Metonic cycles for 1444–62 inclusive. It would be more likely that MS Sloane 1110 was copied from CH 522, however, since there would have been no advantage to separating the monthly calendar and tables from the prologue and canons if the exemplar had them inserted. MS Sloane 1110 also omits, from the dedicatory prologue, the statement that the canons appear at the end of the Kalendarium. If the scribe of MS Sloane 1110 was using CH 522 as an exemplar, he would naturally eliminate the indication in the prologue that the canons immediately follow, perhaps providing nothing in its place. Also, several data entries in CH 522 correspond to those in MS Sloane 1110 from which Eisner emends his base text when it is inaccurate, further suggesting a relationship between CH 522 and MS Sloane 1110. See 4. Accuracy of the Manuscript, below.Google Scholar

39 Of course, such an explanation needs to be tested against the format of all previously identified MSS, to determine whether or not more finished copies use the clearer format throughout. I have not seen or had access to films of these MSS. I should note, however, that the table recopied onto fol. 194r (see Description of the Manuscript, above), at the very end of the calendar proper, contains only two additions to the table canceled on fol. 193v: a few figures, whose recording would not have required recopying the entire table, and format changes similar to the ones I have been describing.Google Scholar

40 I am grateful to Kane, G. for the details of this explanation. Further evidence that the scribe was copying more quickly is the increased incidence of error corrected by marginal and interlinear insertions on the double-column pages.Google Scholar

41 Eisner, , Kalendarium 14.Google Scholar

42 There are more than twenty instances of cursive e in the first twenty-two lines of the treatise. Thereafter it is used very rarely.Google Scholar

43 All pages in the prose treatise. See Description of the Manuscript, above.Google Scholar

44 A dot after the y may indicate the -us suspension.Google Scholar

46 Eisner's base text, MS Bodleian Laud. Misc. 662, has the erroneous heading, and he emends accordingly.Google Scholar

46 See Appendix, Textual Variants, Prologue and Canons, for all the instances.Google Scholar

47 The time from sunrise to sunset, as compared to the ‘vulgar’ day, computed by adding the lengths of the morning and evening twilights to the length of the artificial day. See Eisner, , Kalendarium 12.Google Scholar

48 See Eisner, , Kalendarium 240–42, for the exact and inexact figures.Google Scholar

49 Eisner, , Kalendarium 38. Appendix A of Eisner's edition contains tables comparing the presumably accurate figures, the approximate figures, and the precise figures, arrived at by modern computing.Google Scholar

50 Also, approximate figures and exact figures always appear on sheets with facing halffolios.Google Scholar

51 Here I am, of course, assuming that Nicholas would not have compiled his calendar straight through before having it copied, writing out himself a complete MS. I have no evidence to support this assumption, except the common-sense inference that such calculating would involve some error, and therefore would not have been done initially on vellum, and the possibility that Nicholas was working fast. We do not know exactly when Gaunt requested that Nicholas compile the calendar, but assuming that he began some time in 1384–85 (Elvedene's calendar would expire in 1385), and that a finished, presentation copy had to be ready some time before September 1387 (when Gaunt renounced his claim to the Spanish throne), Nicholas might have been compiling while a scribe was making a working copy.Google Scholar

52 It seems unlikely that, without this textual inducement, a scribe would round off the figures for low solar altitudes for all twelve months on his own — even the sort of intelligent university scribe paid to copy such a text.Google Scholar

53 The block of text after this break appears on the following page, fol. 198ra.Google Scholar

54 Retentivam has a lower-case r in the manuscript.Google Scholar