Middle English Word of the Moment

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Page left Blank: the rest of MS BL Additional 54184.

When, probably in the late 1330s, the scribe of Ramsey Abbey finished copying what he had of Murimuth’s chronicle – up to 1334 – he had a few folios left in his quire. He, or someone with a similar hand, ruled up the remaining pages (ff 144v-146r) for an annal, assigning a year to each line – enough for very short notices. There is a broad margin to the left of the year, which became used for notices regarding the Abbey, with the main column to the right for notices on national events. It’s an impressive statement, bold in its very carelessness: he simply filled the next 4 pages with dates, down to 1478.

It seems not to have occurred to him that Ramsey might not, by that year, be using this book, or not be in a position to uphold and maintain its tradition of chronicle-keeping, for well over a hundred years into the future. Ramsey the Golden, she had been called, one of the very richest and most powerful monasteries in England once upon a time. And, if the expenses incurred by two of the early-fourteenth-century abbots, and the Great Famine and subsequent economic downturn, and the changing climate in England with regards to piety and attitudes towards monastic institutions, had perhaps tarnished her splendour a little, she was still Ramsey, one of the great Benedictine monasteries of the Fenlands, heir to a proud and ongoing tradition of scholarship.

But those pages were barely used. There are only a handful (sorry!) of hands there, jotting down – often some time after the event – those events that one always records as the turn of an age: the deaths and accessions of abbots and kings. And the very first entry written, in a mid-late 14C hand, is for 1349: “Hoc anno fuit magna pestilencia hominum”.

Looking at that entry, I was suddenly very personally moved, in a way that’s rare when I’m wearing my scholarly hat. There are notices of the changes of abbot in the left margin, but they were written later – much later, as the same hand (and the same ink) has written all the notices of the changes of abbot until that in 1395. And he got the first wrong. He puts the death of Abbot Robert Nassyngton in 1347. But he didn’t die in 1347 – he died in 1349, of the plague. Whoever wrote the notice of the plague was looking at the same page that I was – a little less faded, the leaves a little less stiff - but it was empty of entries.

All the page held, when this monk was looking at it, was the frame, the shape of the years to come optimistically marching on into the future, the ruling of the page as rigorously structured as the foundations of the Abbey itself - but blank. This monk, whoever he was, had lived through the plague. Ramsey was hit hard: I don’t have the numbers by me, but I do remember seeing a chart of their food expenses over this decade, and there is a dramatic plunge right there.

He also knew it wasn’t an isolated event. He wrote a notice for 1361: “Hoc anno fuit secunda pestilencia hominum.” Such a little phrase for something so catastrophic. The turn of an age indeed, even if not in a way that anyone might have thought to date by previously. The future was uncertain, and very different to whatever the original scribe had anticipated.

I transcribed the rest of the notices, because they were brief and easy and I had the time. For anyone who’s interested, I have included them below.

Incidentally, I find it curious that all the notices of the deaths and elections of abbots are in the left margin, while all the space in the main column is left empty except on the rare occasion of a national event worthy of recording.  And it’s not simply a matter of secular events being on one side and monastic on the other.  The left margin does function as a margin, not a narrower column – the notices are not simply written to the left of the date, but referenced with a lemma, a symbol by the date that corresponds with a symbol by the note.  Essentially, they’re like today’s footnotes.  The monastic events are literally marginalised, curious for a centre of power like Ramsey.

Transcription follows. Underlining indicates an expanded abbreviation. {text} indicates the bracketed text is faded or almost obscured by a stain. ^text^ indicates a superlinear insertion. *text* indicates that text is written over an erasure (by the same hand unless otherwise stated). I’ve only labelled the hands that recur.
f. 144v 
1342. Hoc anno Symon de / Eya obiit. Et Rober-/tus de Nassyngtonne / abbas efficitur. [“In this year Simon de Eye died, and Robert of Nassyngton was made abbot.” Added by lemma, outer margin. Similar to hand B, probably identical (B has gothic elements that appear self-conscious and not entirely consistent, which may account for the differences between this notice and the others by B).] 
1347.  Hoc anno obijt Robertus Nassyng-/tonne abbas. & Ricardus Schenyngtonne abbas / efficitur. [Lemma, outer margin. Hand B. NB: date is incorrect, should be ‘49.] 
1349. Hoc anno fuit magna pestilencia hominum. [“In this year was the great pestilence of men.” Main column. Hand A.] 

1361. Hoc anno fuit secunda pestilencia hominum. [“In this year was the second pestilence of men.” Main column. Hand A.] 

f 145r 

1377.  Hoc anno Edwardus tercius ^rex^ obijt cuit suc-/cessit Ricardus *filius eduuardi principis*. [“In this year ^King^Edward III died, to whom succeeded Richard son of Prince Edward”. Main column, two lines, both connected by a line to the date. Hand C (similarities with hand A).  The correction over the erasure is by D, a very different hand using paler ink.] 
1378.  Hoc an/no Ricardus Sche/nyngtonne ab-/bas obijt . & / Edmundus /Elyngtoni / abbas effi-/citur. [Lemma, left margin. Hand B.] 
1395. Hoc anno obijt / Edmundus / Elyngtoni ab-/bas. & Thomas / Boterwyke / abbas efficitur. [Lemma, left margin. Hand B. He (or a later hand) has also drawn a text box around these notices of abbot changes in the shape of a scroll. The ink is yellower than the text. Someone else has done similarly on the following pages.] 

1399. Hoc anno *R Ricardus rex obijt sine liberis*. / cui successit henricus quartus in regnum. [Added in the margin: per conquestum.] [“In this year King Richard died without issue.  Henry IV succeeded him to the kingdom (by conquest)”. Main column, two lines, underwritten with a single line which loops up to connect to the year. Hand C; amendments (over erasure and in margin) by D.] 

1412. *H*oc anno ob*ijt* henricus quartus rex. cui successit henricus .vtus. in regnum [Main column, in a small hand to fit on one line.] 

1415. [Lemma in margin + “hoc anno”, matching lemma by date over an erasure of three lines, but entry not completed. Possibly same hand as previous, sample too small to say.] 

f. 145v 

1419.  Hoc anno obijt Thomas /Boterwyke abb. Et E-/lectus est Johannes Tyche-/merche in abbatem. [Lemma, left margin. Small hand, E.] 
1421.  Hoc anno obijt henricus quartus rex [sic]. cui successit henricus .vj. [Main column. Possibly E – same ink. Differences may be accounted for by limited space available for previous notice.] 
1429.  xxxix / x [Probatio pennae. Main column.] 
1434. Hoc anno obijt Johannes Ty-/chemerch abbas & / Johannes Crolande / abbas efficitur. [Lemma, left margin.] 

1436.  Hoc anno o Johannes / Croyland abbas / & Johannes Stow / abbas efficitur.  [Lemma, left margin.] 

f. 146r 

1460.  Hoc anno fuit bellum apud norha{mtoniam} [Lemma in left margin, note at top of page. Edge of leaf damaged and blackened, so place name partly obscured.] 
1461.  Hoc anno Eduuardus quartus coronatur. [“In this year Edward IV was crowned”.  Note the lack of mention of Henry VI – there is absolutely no form for this! Main column.] 
1468. Hoc anno octavo decimo die augusti Dominus Johannes Stow / abbas huius locis propter inbesillitatem [sic] corporis ^suis^ resig-/nauit baculum pastoralem manus domini. Iohannes Schad-/worth episcopi Lincolniensis. Et. v. die septembris id est in die / sancti bertinis abbatis Electus fuit dominus Willelmus Wyttyl-/sey in abbatem. Et in vigilia sancti quintini / fuit stallatus [sic] littera dominicalis. v. ["In this year on the 18th day of August the Abbot of this place, lord John Stow, on account of the weakness of ^his^ body, resigned his pastoral crook into the hands of lord John Shadworth Bishop of Lincoln.  And on the 5th day of September, that is on the day of Saint Bertin the Abbot lord William Whittlesea was elected Abbot." Main column, ignoring the horizontal ruled lines – paragraph-style, with a dash from first line to year. Small hand, cursive elements. Final sentence added in different hand.]

1 comment:

jill said...

While you are in the UK you might be interested in the BBC series[available on the iplayer] 'Michael Wood's Story of England'. He is tracing the people of a Midland's village through history showing the changes in how they thought of themselves.
Just a bit of entertainment during a coffee break!