Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Manuscript of the Month: An Unstudied Fragment of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae

September 15th, 2020

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings. 

Kenneth Spencer Research Library MS 9/1:A22 contains an unstudied fragment of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae [‘History of the Kings of Britain’]. Geoffrey of Monmouth (approximately 1095 – approximately 1155) completed his Historia, also known as De gestis Britonum [‘On the Deeds of the Britons’], sometime before January 1139. One of the most renowned works of medieval historiography, Geoffrey’s Historia received acclaim almost instantaneously and was very influential not only in Latin but also in vernacular writing throughout the Middle Ages. The Historia opens with a prologue in which Geoffrey claims to have translated into Latin “a very old book in the British tongue” that he received from Walter, archdeacon of Oxford. The reason why he decided to translate this work, Geoffrey explains, is because he was not able to find any information about the early kings of Britain in other renowned historical works he consulted. Thus, in the Historia, Geoffrey traces the history of Britain from its first king, Brutus of Troy, to the end of the reign of Cadualadrus (Cadwaladr, reigned from approximately 655 to 682) in the seventh century.

There are close to 230 witnesses of Geoffrey’s Historia but the version of the text contained in MS 9/1:A22 is found in only ten surviving manuscripts, including this fragment. This rewriting of Geoffrey’s Historia is conventionally called the First Variant. Scholars have argued that the revision was done by a contemporary of Geoffrey and was completed before his death in around 1155, within a mere fifteen years after the Historia began circulating. The extant manuscripts of the First Variant date from the beginning of the thirteenth century and later. We know that the First Variant must have existed by 1155 because it was one of the sources used by Wace (approximately 1110–after 1174) in his Roman de Brut, a verse adaptation in Anglo-Norman of the Historia regum Britanniae. In its broad outlines, the narrative in the First Variant corresponds to the original of the Historia regum Britanniae. The majority of the chapters, however, are shortened and almost entirely rewritten. There are also a few additions to the narrative, some of which are deemed significant in changing the storyline, such as supplementary information about the history of Rome that was derived from the Historia Romana [‘Roman History’] of Landolfus Sagax.

Recto side of a fragment of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae (First Variant), England, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS 9/1:A22.
Recto side of the fragment. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britanniae (First Variant), England, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS 9/1:A22. Click image to enlarge.
Verso side of a fragment of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae (First Variant), England, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS 9/1:A22.
Verso side of the fragment. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britanniae (First Variant), England, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS 9/1:A22. Click image to enlarge.

The portion of the Historia regum Britanniae in the fragmentary MS 9/1:A22 contains parts of Chapters 31–39. Based on the variations, the text as it is preserved in MS 9/1:A22 most closely matches with that of Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS 13210D, one of the eight witnesses that was collated for the edition of the First Variant by Neil Wright in 1988. The beginnings of Chapter 34 (begins with “Succedente …” on line 3 on folio 1 recto, column b), Chapter 36 (begins with “Quod …” on line 4 on folio 1 verso, column a) and Chapter 39 (begins with “Rex …” on line 1 on folio 1 verso, column b) are present in MS 9/1:A22. However, Chapters 34 and 36 continue with no break and only the beginning of Chapter 39 is signaled with a paragraph mark (the sign that looks like a capital letter “C”). The initial R of the Latin word rex (“king” in English) that begins the chapter is also highlighted in red ink, although it is now somewhat faded. This shows that the text in the Spencer fragment is divided differently than how it is presented in the modern edition, and perhaps the manuscript as a whole was laid out differently from the other existing witnesses.

Parts of the text preserved in MS 9/1:A22 deal with Cordeilla, the youngest of the three daughters of King Leir, who became queen after her father’s forty-six year reign. In the Historia, Leir is credited with building a city by the river Soar, named after him Kaerleir in British, and Leicester in English. According to the story, Leir had no sons but three daughters: Gonorilla, Regau and Cordeilla. When the time came to marry his daughters and split his kingdom, he put them to a test to decide who would receive the largest share and asked each of his daughters how much they loved him. The elder daughters, who responded as their father wished, were married off to dukes of Cornwall and Scotland. Cordeilla, however, did not resort to flattery like her sisters did, and despite being the favorite of her father, she was punished by being married off to Aganippus, king of the Franks and sent away from Britain with no land or money. Leir split his kingdom and his wealth between his two elder daughters. As the King got older, he had a falling-out with both his elder daughters who eventually deprived him of his kingdom and royal authority. Running out of options, Leir sought out his youngest daughter Cordeilla, who, with her husband Aganippus, helped her father restore his power in Britain. Three years later, when he died, Cordeilla became the queen of Britain. This story, which first appears in Geoffrey’s Historia, was picked up by many later authors and inspired several works, including the famous King Lear by William Shakespeare (1564–1616).

As it stands, MS 9/1:A22 is less than half of the original leaf. Based on the stitch holes visible on the fold in the lower margin of the fragment, we can speculate that it was somehow bound in its current form, probably used as a flyleaf of another manuscript or printed book. We do not have any information about the origin or the early history of MS 9/1:A22, other than it was part of the famous library of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872), a detail which seems to have escaped notice until now.

On one side of the fragment there are annotations in pencil in modern hands that were inscribed prior to its acquisition by the University of Kansas: an encircled number “18” on the upper right corner and “XIth century” to the right in the lower margin. Based on other existing examples, it is possible to determine that the “XIth century” inscription was left by Ralph Lewis of William H. Robinson Ltd, a bookseller based in London that in 1946 purchased a thus far unsold portion of the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps. The fragments purchased from Phillipps’s library were sorted by Lewis, who noted down the century to which he thought a fragment was dated as well as a valuation. On his website, Peter Kidd, former Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library, provides further examples of ownership marks and bookseller annotations, specifically those that are found on Phillipps manuscripts.

Only the note on the date remains on MS 9/1:A22; Lewis’s eleventh century date, however, must be wrong given that this text did not even exist before the mid-twelfth century. This tells us that the bookseller had not yet identified the text and was making an educated guess. In addition to the date of the work, there are paleographical features, such as the consistent use of the crossed Tironian et sign (⁊) and round r after the letter o, which would indicate that this manuscript was copied at the earliest in the second half of the twelfth century. Features such as the letter a with a double bow, however, make it more likely that MS 9/1:A22 dates from the thirteenth century. The encircled number “18,” on the other hand was probably made by Bernard M. Rosenthal, a bookseller who operated first from New York and later from San Francisco, from whom the University of Kansas purchased several manuscripts and early printed books. I have not yet been able to locate an acquisition record for this fragment but it is likely that it was purchased from Bernard M. Rosenthal or one of his relatives, who were also renowned booksellers operating in Europe and who had regular dealings with the University of Kansas.

Kenneth Spencer Research Library also holds a 1517 edition of the Historia regum Britanniae printed in Paris, which is essentially a reprint of the first edition dated to 1508 apart from minor corrections (Summerfield B2889). Both the early edition and the manuscript fragment are available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

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Manuscript of the Month: A Previously Unknown Witness to a Medieval Dictionary and the Origins of Librarians

April 29th, 2020

In memory of Richard Sharpe (1954-2020)

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings.

MS 9/2:16 is one of dozens of fragmentary medieval manuscripts that are part of the holdings of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Originally part of a larger manuscript, this single parchment leaf was cut to size to be used as the cover of another book. Since the fragment was folded to fit this new host and the folds left quite an impression on the parchment, it can be estimated that the dimensions of the book our fragment was covering were about 156 x 96 x 43 mm. We do not, however, know what this book was.

Image of a manuscript fragment (recto) possibly from Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning]. France? Netherlands? 13th century? The fragment had been repurposed as the cover of a codex.
Recto of a manuscript fragment containing a list of terms, which was used as the cover of another book. Call #: MS 9/2:16. Click image to enlarge.
Image of a manuscript fragment (verso) possibly from Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning]. France? Netherlands? 13th century? The fragment had been repurposed as the cover of a codex.
Verso of the manuscript leaf, which served as the inner side of the cover of the book. Call #: MS 9/2:16. Click image to enlarge.

As it stands, 27 lines of text in three columns on both sides of the leaf remain. The three-column layout with ample margins on either side suggests that this fragment was part of a manuscript of substantial size. The widest part of the width of the fragment measures approximately 290 mm. We can therefore estimate that the original manuscript leaf perhaps measured something like 450 x 300 mm. That is to say, this parchment leaf is now perhaps half the size it used to be. A reading of the text immediately reveals that this is some kind of glossary, dictionary or encyclopedia, as it contains an alphabetical list of terms with explanations. The part we have includes terms that begin with the letter L, and that is why there are repeated decorated initial Ls on both sides of the leaf, two of which are pen flourished in red and the other two in plain blue. We can see that not all the terms begin with a decorated initial but only the ones that have relatively lengthier explanations.

Ordinarily, a glossary would be at the end of a book or accompany a text and include terms particular to that work. It is, however, difficult to see what the terms in this fragment might have in common as they vary not only in the length of their descriptions but also in their subject matters. For example, the words included on the recto page range from “liber” (book) to “liberalis” (of or belonging to freedom), “libia” (Libya, a country in North Africa) and “libidinosus” (passionate).

As it is seen in the images of the manuscript above, the fragment has sustained significant water damage which caused some of the ink to bleed and smear on the page, especially on the recto side. In order to uncover the text on the parchment that was lost due to the water damage, I applied some digital manipulation techniques to the images before I began transcribing the text. Different contemporary image processing techniques can be applied to images of manuscripts to recover ink that is not visible to the naked eye. And, sometimes even only recalibrating the sharpness and the contrast of images will yield results, depending on the extent of the damage and the erasure. The images of this particular fragment required a little bit of more work than that but the results were really promising.

Image of a manuscript fragment possibly from Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning]. France? Netherlands? 13th century?, digitally processed to enhance the legibility of water-damaged text.
Recto of MS 9/2:16 after image processing with ImageJ/Fiji. Click image to enlarge.

As I was transcribing, at first I thought this was a copy of part of the Etymologiae [Etymologies] by Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636). Also known as the Origines, Isidore’s work is an etymological encyclopedia. Due to its comprehensiveness and the overall encyclopedic mindset of medieval scribes, authors and compilers, the Etymologiae was one of the most copied and consulted books throughout the Middle Ages. The entirety of the Etymologiae consists of twenty books but it is common to see selected books, chapters or even individual passages copied in medieval manuscripts. If you have read my last blogpost on MS C189, you may remember that I mentioned that another work by Isidore of Seville, the Sententiae (Sentences), also was fairly popular during the Middle Ages, and selected parts of this work were found in manuscripts as part of larger compilations.

When I compared the text of MS 9/2:16 with Isidore’s Etymologiae, I noticed that the fragment did not follow the order of books and chapters of the work, although individual passages certainly were directly taken from the Etymologiae. For example, on the recto side of the fragment, the text moves from the fourteenth chapter to the twelfth chapter of the sixth book of the Etymologiae in the first column with no apparent break and then on to the fifth chapter of the ninth book in the second column before going to the fifth chapter of the fourteenth book in the third.

These kinds of textual rearrangements are no surprise when it comes to medieval manuscripts. Many texts were not simply copied but reorganized and rewritten in the Middle Ages to better suit the particular needs of individual scribes or authors at given times. Moreover, in MS 9/2:16, I found out that there were sentences, albeit only a handful, that did not originate from Isidore’s Etymologiae. This phenomenon of additions to existing texts is also not uncommon in medieval manuscripts and could have been done by the scribe of this manuscript. Yet, in this case, I think the scribe of MS 9/2:16 was just following an existing exemplar and not necessarily making new additions. I now believe Spencer’s fragment is not directly from Isidore’s Etymologiae, but from a copy of Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning].

Described by Richard Sharpe as the “first fully recognizable dictionary,” the Elementarium was composed sometime before 1053, probably over several years in the 1040s. One of the sources for Papias’s Elementarium was the Etymologiae, and that is why we find passages that go back directly to the Isidore’s seventh-century encyclopedia in this fragment. A notable feature of Papias’s Elementarium is that it is organized in alphabetical order based on the first three letters of each word. We can easily confirm this by looking at MS 9/2:16, in which each entry starts not only with the letter L but also with the letters LIB before moving on to LIC and then to LID. Among other features of the work, this alphabetical organization in itself has been considered very innovative for its time.

It is very serendipitous that MS 9/2:16 as we have it begins in the middle of a chapter entitled “De librariis et eorum instrumentis” in Isidore’s Etymologiae (VI.xiv). We would be justified in reading the title of this chapter as “on librarians and their instruments” since the adjective “librarius” (“librariis” in dative) means a person concerned with or employed about books when it is used as a noun, and that is what librarians do! In the Middle Ages, though, “librarius” usually referred to a copyist, scribe, secretary or bookseller. Yet, the Latin word “librarius” is indeed the origin of the word “librarian” in English and all the way into the eighteenth century the word “librarian” still (also) carried all these meanings in English.

According to A Census of Medieval Latin Grammatical Manuscripts by G. L. Bursill-Hall, over a hundred manuscripts of Papias’s Elementarium survive. There are also at least four print editions dated before the fifteenth century, the first of which was published in Milan in 1476. (Three of these incunabula dated to 1485, 1491 and 1496 respectively are digitized by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Germany.) Perhaps the high number of the witnesses in addition to the complexity of the work are the reasons why a full edition of the Elementarium has not been undertaken in modern times. Since there is no modern edition of the text with which our fragment can be compared, I soon will make available an annotated transcription of MS 9/2:16.

For an introduction to medieval dictionaries, read Richard Sharpe, “Vocabulary, Word Formation, Lexicography.” In Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide. Ed. by F. A. C. Mantello and A. G. Rigg (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996). 93–105.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Manuscript of the Month: A Manuscript, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma

April 1st, 2020

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings.

A small quarto manuscript, MS C189, previously belonged to Alpha Loretta Owens (1877–1965), a graduate of the University of Kansas. Born in Rockwell City, IA, her family moved to Lawrence, KS, after she finished high school. She completed her first degree over a century ago, in 1901, at the University of Kansas and went on to receive an MA in 1903, also from KU. She then attended the University of Chicago, where she later worked at the John Crerar Library until 1918. Following a brief post teaching French at the University of Kansas ROTC, between 1919 and 1926 she taught French at Baker University in Baldwin City, KS, where she became Head of the French Department. In 1929, she completed her PhD at Johns Hopkins University and became Professor of Modern Languages in West Virginia at Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston). She taught French, Spanish and German there until her retirement in 1947. Subsequently, she returned to Lawrence, where she resided until her death. Owens also was the previous owner of another manuscript currently in the holdings of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, MS J1:2, a fragmentary Torah scroll. Paul Mirecki from KU Religious Studies has been working on the history of this manuscript, the details of which were outlined in an article last year in the KU Alumni Magazine.

Portrait of Alpha Loretta Owens (1877–1965) when she was part of the faculty at Morris Harvey College in 1933. Source: The Harveyan, 1933.
Portrait of Alpha Loretta Owens (1877–1965) when she was part of the faculty at Morris Harvey College in 1933. Source: The Harveyan, 1933, courtesy of the Internet Archive. Click image to enlarge.

MS C189 is one of three manuscripts that were listed under “The Library of Miss Alpha Loretta Owens, Barboursville, West Virginia” in the famous Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada prepared by Seymour de Ricci with the assistance of W. J. Wilson and published between 1935 and 1940. According to the Census, all three manuscripts were examined by Wilson in 1935, when Owens was working at Morris Harvey College and living in Barboursville, WV, where the University of Charleston was originally founded and based. This is all we know about the history of MS C189; that the manuscript was purchased by Owens sometime before 1935. It is not known when, where and from whom she acquired the manuscript. Nor do we know any other previous owners or the origin of the manuscript.

A sample opening from MS C189, displaying the end of Porphyry’s Isagoge on folio 18v and the beginning of Aristotle’s Perihermenias on folio 19r.
A sample opening from MS C189, displaying the end of Porphyry’s Isagoge on folio 18v and the beginning of Aristotle’s Perihermenias on folio 19r. For more detailed information on the texts and for additional images of the manuscript, please see the record for MS C189 in the Digital Scriptorium. Click image to enlarge.

MS C189 is a remarkable object beyond the texts it contain. The textblock of the manuscript is homogeneous; that is, MS C189 is composed of a single codicological unit which was produced in one process and most openings look pretty much like the example provided above. It does not look like there are any missing leaves or like there were more gatherings either in the beginning or at the end. Parts of other manuscripts, however, were used as practical means to preserve this small book of 34 leaves as well as to support it. The binding of MS C189, which is presumably original, comes from another manuscript, as do the flyleaves in the front and the back from two others. Thus, we have one medieval manuscript that is placed inside fragments of two different medieval manuscripts and then wrapped with another one.

Front cover of MS C189 showing re-use of a manuscript bifolium Back cover of MS C189 showing re-use of a manuscript bifolium

Left: Front cover of MS C189. Right: Back cover MS C189.

MS C189 has a limp binding, in which a bifolium (that is, two conjoint leaves) from another manuscript is used as a cover in the form of a case. The repurposed parchment cover is attached to the bookblock by means of split lacing double sewing supports made out of leather. The sewing-support slips are laced out of each side of the cover through three single exit slits and then each double support returns through two separate slits, one at approximately 45 degrees above and the other at 45 degrees below the exit slits, creating a V shape. What used to be the upper margin of the bifolium (now the fore-edge turn-in of the front cover) is trimmed, with all edges of the cover left large enough to allow for turn-ins. The cover has lapped mitres; the fore-edge turn-ins lie on top of the head and tail turn-ins at the corners. There is no lining or any kind of other reinforcement and the sewing-support slips, which are mostly intact, are fully visible.

Opening with interior of the front cover of MS C189 on the left, displaying the lapped mitres and the exposed sewing-support slips, and on the right the first front flyleaf, a repurposed fragment from another manuscript.
Left: Interior of the front cover of MS C189, displaying the lapped mitres and the exposed sewing-support slips. Right: The first front flyleaf, a repurposed fragment from another manuscript. Click image to enlarge.

Considered original, in the Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, the binding of the MS C189 is described as made from two leaves of a twelfth century theological manuscript. There is no other information provided regarding the fragment. Furthermore, since then, neither MS C189 as an artefact nor this fragment now fashioning the cover of the manuscript seem to have attracted any attention from scholars.

The parchment leaf that now forms the outer cover (the recto side of the first of the two folios) of MS C189 is almost fully visible without any intervention. Except for the trimmed upper margin, it looks like the entire leaf is preserved. Moreover, there seems to be no loss of text due to trimming. Most of the text also is still readable on the cover and the turn-ins. I was able to identify the existing text as a part of Isidore of Seville’s Sententiae (Sentences). Composed in the early seventh century, the Sententiae employs the ancient and medieval literary form of collecting brief passages on a given topic. The work as a whole consists of three books (in thirty-one, forty-four and sixty-six chapters respectively) in which Isidore creates a compendium of essentials of theology in an organized manner.

Isidore of Seville’s Sententiae was fairly popular and there are many copies of manuscripts that survive from the Middle Ages. Indeed, we have another manuscript, MS C54, that contains the Sententiae. Therefore, when I identified the text, I was expecting the conjoint leaf whose verso is partly visible on the interiors of the cover to contain a different part of the same text. The text on the outer cover is from Book 10.11 of the Sententiae, a chapter entitled “De angelis” (On the Angels). The text on the inner cover, however, is not from the Sententiae but instead is part of a sermon attributed to John Chrysostom, who was the Archbishop of Constantinople at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries. The sermon is simply known by the title “De misericordia” (On Mercy) or by its opening words, “Tria sunt quae in misericordiae opera,” which are not visible in MS C189.

Further research revealed that this chapter of Isidore of Seville’s Sententiae was sometimes used as part of medieval homiliaries. A homiliary, or a book of homilies, is a collection of short texts consisting of lectures or discourses on a moral theme, which are also known as sermons. More research (and perseverance) revealed that there is at least one other manuscript in which both of these texts are found. In Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Latin 3783(2), known as the Moissac Homiliary, not only do they both exist in the same manuscript but they are also in the same order that we have them.

Image of folio 279v from Latin 3783 (2) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France Image of folio 286r from Latin 3783 (2) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Left: The portion of “De angelis” in Latin 3783(2), folio 279v that corresponds to MS C189. Right: The portion of “De misericordia” in Latin 3783(2), folio 286r that corresponds to MS C189. Source: Gallica, Latin 3783(2), Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits.

According to the description of the Moissac Homiliary, Isidore of Seville’s “De angelis” opens a gathering of eight folios and the pseudo-John Chrysostom’s “De misericordia” closes it, with a series of shorter texts with similar topics in between the two (folios 279 to 286). The Moissac Homiliary is dated to the mid-eleventh century and is thought to have been compiled in Moissac Abbey in south-western France. What is now the binding of MS C189 probably looked like this manuscript in its original form. Both the cover of MS C189 and the Moissac Homiliary are written in late Caroline minuscule and both are laid out in two columns on folios of approximately the same size. The cover of MS C189 has 38 lines to a page whereas the Moissac Homiliary has 37 but seems to be a little bit more compact and has large initials in the beginning of each section. (We do not know whether the cover of MS C189 originally had any illuminated initials in the same places.) If the biofolium we have as the cover of MS C189 was indeed part of a larger book with a similar arrangement with six bifolia in between the two leaves we have, the two texts would fall more or less to the same places. It seems more than likely, therefore, that MS C189 and the Moissac Homiliary are related, possibly one copied from the other.

Additional research on MS C189, with all of its features and fragments, would certainly yield further answers as to how the manuscript came to be and perhaps even how it ended up in Alpha Loretta Owens’s collection in the early twentieth century.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Book Nook in May 1966, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher