Middle English Word of the Moment

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A study of Cleopatra D IX: MS IV, ff. 90-115. Epistola ad regem Edwardi III.

A manuscript of the Epistola ad regem Edwardi III, by William of Pagula (?-1332), written c. 1331, complaining of the practice of purveyance. The manuscript dates from the late fourteenth century (or early fifteenth), attributes the work to Archbishop Islip, and is unique in the volume in being the only manuscript in paper.



Paper, 26 ff. No description of the manuscript has been published.



A long complaint and advice tract against the practice of purveyance, particularly as it is imposed on the surrounds of Windsor Forest. Addressed to the young Edward III, it is in the form of a long list developing a formal argument, with most points beginning with the formula “O domine mi rex...”. Similar to the slightly later Speculum regis Edwardi III, it is sometimes referred to as Recension A of the Speculum. This label derives from Moisant, who published both works in 1891 and decided that the Speculum proper was merely a later revision of this Epistola. In labelling it the Epistola, I follow Boyle, whose work establishing the authorship, relationship and differing intents of both tracts is now considered definitive (Boyle, “Oculis Sacerdotis” & “Speculum”).



Judging by internal evidence - allusions to Edward’s youth, his sister, his recent assumption of full authority, recent treaties with France, contemporary local events and the author’s statement that forty years have passed since Edward I instituted the laws of purveyance in the eighteenth year of his reign – Tait and Boyle both judge that the Epistola was written early in 1331 and its companion Speculum a few months later (Tait 112-13; Boyle, “Oculis Sacerdotis” 107). William of Pagula died in 1332 (Boyle, “Oculis Sacerdotis” 100; Nederman, “William of Pagula”).

This particular manuscript, however, has not been the subject of discussion by either (or later by Nederman, who approaches the text as a legal historian and not a codicologist). Boyle mentions it in passing as a fourteenth-century witness (Boyle, “Speculum” 330), but specifies neither a more precise window of production, nor his reasons for judging it so. If he is correct, however, two things would point to a later date within that century:

-The attribution to Archbishop Islip dates it firmly after 1349 (the date of his provision to the see), and suggests a date still later, as the venerable blur of time obscured the fact that the Epistola had already been in circulation for some years, and possibly heightened the prestige of Islip’s name to the point where it would improve the reception of a text credited to him. I would tentatively suggest that this manner of attribution would increase in likelihood with the natural reverence following his death (1366).

- This manuscript is written on paper. According to Thompson, the first paper mills in France were those in Troyes, not built until 1348. England did not follow suit until shortly before 1490, although some paper made its way to the island via Gascony, largely from the mills of Bordeaux (634-35). Although Thompson gives dates neither for the earliest English uses of paper, nor the establishment of the earliest Bordeaux mills, this suggests that a date before the last quarter of the century would be very unlikely.

More precise dating could be achieved by consulting the manuscript, as a manuscript of 26 folios ought, by means of watermarks, to reveal at least a tempus a quo and place of origin for its primary materials.


Origin and authorship.

The Epistola was written by William of Pagula, as Boyle has established (“Oculis Sacerdotis”), though later manuscripts attribute it to Archbishop Simon Islip. Boyle calls it a “localized appeal from the location of Windsor Forest for letters of protection” against the practice of purveyance, written during William’s time as vicar of nearby Winkfield (Boyle, “Oculis Sacerdotis” 99 & 107).

The origin and scribe of the present manuscript, however, are unknown. Knowledge of the paper’s watermarks, in consultation with paper supply routes (if that information is available) could indicate some of the most likely centres of production, but is unlikely to yield any definite evidence due to the quantities of French-imported paper swamping the English paper market until halfway through the sixteenth century (Shorter 16) . A Gascon origin is perhaps more likely in any case, as paper was in commoner use in England’s continental holdings than on the island well into the fifteenth century (Thompson 634-35).

Whether the manuscript was made on the continent or in England, the use of paper (as expensive as parchment due to rarity) and the fact of its preservation long enough to be bound with the other manuscripts in this volume may suggest a reasonably high level of production, possibly for presentation or gift. The level of professionalism, of course, could be quickly determined by consulting the manuscript.


Later provenance and position within codex.

Whatever the date of the Epistola manuscript, it is undoubtedly the youngest in the codex, grouped with them and ordered according to its contents rather than its own age. While the concerns the Epistola expresses are tantalisingly similar to those of the chronicler of the previous manuscript, and the town of Pagula (Paull) is also in the Yorkshire region, there is no evidence to connect the two. Certainly the style of the short chronicle bears no resemblance to the formal, didactic Latin of William of Pagula. Given the discrepancy in their age, any thematic similarities are likely to be due to Cotton’s judgement, and their juxtaposition in the codex is adequately explained by the approximately chronological ordering of its contents up to this point.


Lacunae and potential.

The majority of the lacunae, in this case, can be filled by consultation with the manuscript, as they are largely codicological and a good deal is known about the circumstances of its contents’ composition. Such an examination would narrow, though not eliminate, the broader gaps in our knowledge of the origin and history of the manuscript itself, shedding light on the circulation and popularity of both the text and the medium of paper in fourteenth-century England, together with the social implications of both.




Boyle, Leonard E. “The Oculis Sacerdotis and some other works of William of Pagula.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th series 5 (1955): 81-110.

----- “William of Pagula and the Speculum Regis Edwardi III.” Mediaeval Studies 32 (1970): 329-36.

Moisant, Joseph (ed). De speculo regis Edwardi III, seu tractatu quem de mala regni administratione. Paris, 1891.

Nederman, Cary J. & Cynthia J. Neville. “The origin of the Speculum Regis Edwardi III of William of Pagula.” Studi Medievali 3rd series 38 (1997): 317-329.

Nederman, Cary J. “Pagula, William (d. 1332?).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford UP, 2004.  (03 Dec 2009).

Shorter, A. H. Paper making in the British Isles: An Historical and Geographical Study. Devon: David & Charles, 1971.

Thompson, James Westfall. The Medieval Library. 1939. New York: Hafner, 1957.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It seems to be a quite interesting manuscript. However, you made a quotation from Tait regarding that it was written in 1331, but did not revealed from which book/article it is. Would you be kind to do so?

Thank you very much!