Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Manuscript of the Month: The Making of a Medieval Codex

October 27th, 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. 

We have very little information about the past history of Kenneth Spencer Research Library MS C195. When, where and by whom it was made are unknown. This is not surprising; the origins of many medieval manuscripts are uncertain. Scholars utilize different evidence to determine the circumstances in which a manuscript was produced as well as its history since its production. The only hint about the past of MS C195 comes from  a note dated to 1841 glued onto the front pastedown according to which the manuscript previously belonged to the library of the Charterhouse of Montrieux (Chartreuse Notre-Dame de Montrieux) in Méounes-les-Montrieux in southeastern France. This Carthusian monastery that was originally built in 1137; yet even if MS C195 was in their library at some point, it does not mean that it was made there, although it could suggest the general region in which it was created.

MS C195 contains a copy of Petrus Riga’s Aurora, a verse commentary on the januvia-sitagliptin.net. Also known as Peter Riga (approximately 1140–1209), Petrus was a canon of the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Reims and later a Canon Regular of the Order of St Augustine at St Denis, also in Reims, France. It is thought that the Aurora was written over a long period of time at the end of the twelfth century, between 1170 and 1200. The modern editor of the Aurora, Paul E. Beichner, argues that there were three different editions of the work, all by Petrus Riga, over this thirty-year period as well as two later redactions by Petrus’s disciple, Aegidius of Paris (also known as Egidius or Gilles de Paris, approximately 1160–1223/1224). The text as it is contained in MS C195 is a copy of the third edition of the Aurora except that the beginning is missing and it does not include the chapter titled “Recapitulationes.”

Identifying the text contained in a manuscript only takes us so far in terms of understanding and appreciating the book as an object. On the other hand, a detailed physical examination, although it will not provide all the answers about the origin of a manuscript, allows us to discover the circumstances in which the manuscript was produced and used. When it comes to understanding the history of a manuscript, codicology, the study of manuscripts as physical objects, is as vital as the study of the texts contained in the manuscripts. When we look at MS C195, the first thing to be noticed is that the manuscript is no longer in its original binding. The current binding, which is probably early modern, is leather over paper boards, with both of its covers and spine blind-tooled. That the manuscript was rebound at some point requires one to be more careful when conducting an examination of the bookblock as there might be alterations such as added leaves or reorganized gatherings that were introduced—both knowingly and unintentionally—during the rebinding.

Scraped off writing still partly visible on folio 64r on the right. Petrus Riga, Aurora, Spain or southern France, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS C195.
Scraped off writing still partly visible on folio 64r on the right. Petrus Riga, Aurora, Spain or southern France, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS C195. Click image to enlarge.

MS C195 is a parchment manuscript. As we leaf through the manuscript, we see that some leaves are thicker than others, some have yellower tint than others, several leaves have holes and cuts, and dozens of stubs are visible in the gutters. Furthermore, there are at least a few leaves that are palimpsests, still bearing visible traces of former writing on them. The variety of thickness and color of the parchment may indicate that these were made of different animal skins or prepared at different times or in different ways. Holes and cuts in the parchment usually occur during the preparation of animal skins, especially when hair was being scraped off with a knife. The existence of stubs mean smaller, single parchment leaves were added or inserted into the gatherings instead of using bigger sheets of parchment (or, in some cases that the existing leaves were cut out). Taken together with the existence of palimpsests in the manuscript, these features all indicate that the manuscript was made at a time and a place in which the resources were limited and that the scribe (or the compiler) of the manuscript made use of whatever material was available. 

Holes and cuts visible on folios 107v and 108r of Spencer Library's copy of Petrus Riga, Aurora, Spain or southern France, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS C195.
Holes and cuts visible on folios 107v and 108r. Petrus Riga, Aurora, Spain or southern France, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS C195. Click image to enlarge.
Stub conjoint to folio 130 visible in the gutter between folios 124 and 125 of Spencer Library's copy of Petrus Riga's Aurora (Call # MS C195).
Stub conjoint to folio 130 visible in the gutter between folios 124 and 125. Petrus Riga, Aurora, Spain or southern France, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS C195. Click image to enlarge.

In most cases, the imperfections in the parchment in MS C195 are found in the margins. Other times, when it was not possible to arrange the leaves so that the holes and the cuts remained in the margins, the scribe worked around these defects to complete the text, as seen, for example, on folio 107v and folio 108v. As for the stubs visible in the manuscript, all of these seem to be additions of single leaves to the gatherings made by the scribe as part of the original design. As it stands, MS C195 consists of 233 parchment leaves arranged in 31 quires. There are some signs of rearrangement. For example, the first two leaves of the original second gathering (now the third quire) were dismembered and are missing, and the last two leaves of the same gathering were misbound (now the second quire). Nevertheless, most of the quires seem to be intact and in their original order.

Although it is not particularly complex, the collation of the manuscript displays the resourcefulness of the scribe. The collation formula of MS C195 is as follows:

14 + 24 (wants 1 and 2) + 34 + 48 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 58 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 610 (3 and 8 are singletons) + 78 (3 and 6 are singletons) + 88 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 98 + 1010 +1112 + 1 leaf after 10 + 128 + 1 leaf after 3 + 13-148 + 156 + 1 leaf after 1 + 168 + 178 (5 and 7 are singletons) + 188 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 19-208 + 218 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 228 + 238 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 242 + 1 leaf after 1 + 25-278 + 288 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 298 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 308 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 314 (wants 4).

Even for the trained eye, such a collation formula might be intimidating. Furthermore, as detailed as this formula is, it still provides limited information as to the materiality of the manuscript and how the manuscript was actually put together. As it is seen in the collation formula, the majority of the quires are quaternions, that is, gatherings of 8 leaves which are usually made up of 4 folded sheets. In MS C195, however, 11 of the 22 quaternions are formed by putting together 3 folded sheets, which make up six conjoint leaves, and two single leaves. In the seventh quire, the third and the sixth leaves are singletons, and in the remaining 10 quires the second and the seventh leaves; but the arrangement of the leaves with respect to sewing are not always the same.

Visualization of the collation of quires 4 and 5 of MS C195 (Petrus Riga's Aurora), which all include two added single leaves. Created using VisCodex
Visualization of the collation of quires 7 and 8 of MS C195 (Petrus Riga's Aurora), which all include two added single leaves. Created using VisCodex
Visualization of the collation of quires 4, 5, 7 and 8 of MS C195, which all include two added single leaves. Created using VisCodex.

A visual representation of the collation of the manuscript provides more information as to the arrangement of the leaves in each quire. In the visualization, it is seen clearly that even though quires 4, 5 and 8 are formulated in the same way, the manner in which they appear in the manuscript is not the same. An interactive version of the full collation of MS C195 can be viewed on VisCodex. Part of Digital Tools for Manuscript Study developed by the University of Toronto Libraries Information Technology Services and the Old Books New Science Lab at the University of Toronto, VisCodex is a web application based on VisColl, a system for modelling and visualizing collations of manuscripts created by Dot Porter and Alberto Campagnolo.

Writing collation formulas or indeed creating visualizations for collations is not a recent development, but as it is the case here, digital tools dedicated to manuscript studies can help us understand the physicality of artefacts better and share our knowledge with wider audiences. There are several other codicological aspects of MS C195, such as ruling and pricking, that can be examined and visualized in a similar manner to its collation in order to see what kinds of patterns can be detected. Findings of these examinations in turn can enable scholars to compare MS C195 with similar manuscripts, and perhaps even one day to pinpoint its date and place of production.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Bernard M. Rosenthal Inc. in January 1969, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

  • Edition of Petrus Riga’s Aurora: Aurora: Petri Rigae Biblia Versificata. A Verse Commentary on the Bible. Ed. Paul E. Beichner. 2 vols. Publications in Mediaeval Studies 19. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1965.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Follow the account “Manuscripts &c.” on Twitter and Instagram for postings about manuscripts from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

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

Follow the account “Manuscripts &c.” on Twitter and Instagram for postings about manuscripts from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.