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Starting with the early Middle Ages and offering a broad survey through to the start of the early modern period, this essay examines a range of charms, incantations, prayers, talismans, amulets, recipes, and remedies. Many of these were certainly used for women and sometimes by women, such as charms on birthing scrolls or girdles. The analysis reveals the unexpectedly wide range of areas of expertise ascribed to medieval women, as is illustrated by Christine de Pizanߣs writings on warcraft and chivalry, and the guide to hunting, hawking and heraldry attributed to Dame Juliana Berners (The Book of St Albans). Finally, the essay looks at the extremely varied and encyclopaedic advice available to women found in the compendium known as The Kalender of Shepherds (c. 1490), an important source of folk belief, demonstrating the diversity of medieval womenߣs lore.
What makes an English book English in the fifteenth century? In our Index of Images catalogue, Michael Orr and I include a section called ‘Continental Manuscripts Made for the English Market’. These manuscripts, containing often extensive illumination and made in France or Flanders, have English features or English texts and, when provenance is known, were made for English owners. Three of these are Books of Hours now in the Pierpont Morgan Library & Museum, New York. In one Sarum Hours (Morgan M. 46), possibly copied in Ghent, English miniatures have been added to supplement already plentiful Flemish illustration, painted on versos with blank rectos; these are mainly of English saints, lending further appeal for an English reader or owner. Another Book of Hours in the Morgan (M. 314) shows evidence of similar interventions on a less grand scale, while a third, Morgan M. 105, was made for an English patron and painted by a French artist known to have worked for both French and English patrons. This essay examines these three manuscripts as examples of a larger impulse to adopt, adapt or claim books made in France and Flanders by fifteenth-century English readers and patrons, with a special focus on the hybridity or transnational character of such texts. Questions to be raised (if not entirely answered) are: Where were these books made? How were they made? For whom were they made?
Morgan M. 314, the first manuscript under consideration, has been little studied. This is an Hours of the Virgin for the use of Rome made in the late fourteenth century, probably in Tournai in Belgium (Flanders). This is unusual in itself, as the majority of Books of Hours made or intended for English readers are for Sarum or Salisbury use, and it is perhaps no coincidence that this little manuscript with its Rome Hours was later bound in seventeenth-century Italian calf and turned up in Naples by the eighteenth century. The prayers are preceded by a calendar for northern England that was appended later, likely in the fifteenth century. All are copied on vellum. The calendar script mimics that in the main text.
WHEN PETER C. BRAEGER wrote “The Illustrations in New College MS. 266 for Gower's Conversion Tales” in 1988 (published in 1989), he focused mainly on the stories highlighted by several of the nineteen remaining pictures. Before it was vandalized, the manuscript had at least thirty-two illustrations. For Braeger, the images in New College MS. 266 served to guide “readers of the manuscript in the process of understanding individual exempla and Gower's poem as a whole.” On the other hand, the illuminations in Morgan M. 126, the only other Confessio Amantis manuscript with a full picture cycle, introduce nearly every story – there are 106 miniatures – but do not act precisely as guides to Gower's meaning. Rather, they perform alternative readings or elaborate imaginatively on the stories they introduce. The content of these images is often fanciful and sometimes quite graphic. I would further contend that these pictures are consciously used to highlight some of Gower's own oddities in the text and to focus the reader's attention on aspects of Gower that are sometimes otherwise overlooked; for example, Gower's absolute fearlessness in addressing subject matter (none of Chaucer's prim pussyfooting around the story of Canace, for example) and the surreal transformation, often drawn from Ovid and other sources, of certain of Gower's characters. These themes are all reflected or perhaps refracted in the illustrations. This essay considers several stories and their illustrations in M. 126, a manuscript copied some eighty years after Gower's composition of Confessio. I also discuss briefly the making of M. 126, its scribe and artists, and its connections with two other contemporary manuscripts copied by the same scribe.
As is well known, Geoffrey Chaucer's “Man of Law's Tale” opens with the Man of Law's complaint that all the best stories have been already told by Chaucer, though Chaucer avoids telling stories about incest like “thilke wikke ensample of Canacee, / That loved hir owene brother sinfully” (ll. 79–80) or the tale of incest involving Antiochus and his daughter.4 These two stories, of course, are told by Chaucer's friend “moral Gower” in Confessio Amantis (and these references in the Man of Law's Prologue seem to serve as a form of self-reflexivity if the Man of Law is seen as a projection of Gower talking about Chaucer, as Chaucer writes him).
The study of the poetry of John Gower originated, one might fairly say, with the careful scrutiny of manuscripts and early printed books. G. C. Macaulay, Gower’s first and still foremost comprehensive editor, grounded his four-volume edition of the poet’s oeuvre (1899–1902) in a meticulous examination of the full complement of Middle English, Anglo-French, and Latin copies of Gower’s work known to him, both in manuscript and black letter. Much later, John Fisher likewise spent significant time with the manuscripts while producing the first scholarly monograph in English devoted entirely to Gower’s work, his John Gower: Moral Philosopher and Friend of Chaucer (1964). Ironically, perhaps, these pioneers may have done their work a bit too well: for decades, past the middle of the last century, with but a few notable exceptions scholarly studies of Gower’s poetry relied primarily on Macaulay and Fisher for paleographic and bibliographical details. Clearly, this was hardly sustainable practice.
A great deal of the credit for broadening the focus of scholarship to include the manuscripts and early printed editions of poets like Gower must go to the Early Book Society. Since its founding in 1987, the Early Book Society through biennial conferences and (since 1997) JEBS – the Journal of the Early Book Society – has been indispensable in bringing about the present resurgence of interest in manuscripts, incunabula, the scribes and printers who made them, and the libraries – ecclesiastical, common, and private – that housed them. Given the converging concerns of the Early Book Society and the Gower Society, the overlapping of many of their members, and their contemporaneity (the Gower Society was founded in 1984), it hardly seems surprising, in retrospect, that the two would find occasion to co-sponsor an international meeting – as they did in 2017.
In that year, the Fifteenth Biennial Conference of the Early Book Society and the IV International Congress of the John Gower Society convened jointly on the grounds of Durham University with the purpose of combining their members’ wide-ranging expertise to establish new approaches to the materiality of Gower’s work. The fourteen essays collected here represent substantial evidence of the profound success of that shared enterprise.
We must begin with names. ‘Tony Edwards’ is the person to whom this volume is dedicated, but it is not a name that everyone will immediately recognize, particularly those who know him only from his published work, for he has made himself known in public, from the first, as A. S. G. Edwards. When he began his career, this was the manner in which most scholars, most men at least, named themselves. Fashions have changed, and given names, one, two, or more, are now almost universal. But Tony has held on tenaciously to his initials, perhaps because he has three of them. We do not believe that he did so in any spirit of emulation of or desire to align himself with ‘Edwards A. S. G.’, the Edwards Active Strain Gauge well known to Google, an advanced form of technical engineering equipment which guarantees the vacuum conditions needed for the manufacture of certain precision instruments, such as aircraft engine turbine blades. It seems strangely apt as an analogous form of ‘A. S. G.’, whether one thinks of the ‘active strain’ involved as what he exerts upon himself or upon other people. The analogy fails, of course, when one comes to the creation of vacuum, where it works back to front, for Tony's work has essentially been to fill the vacuum that once existed in the study of manuscript history.