In 1996 Raymond J.S. Grant noted three principal originators of the study of Anglo-Saxon in Elizabeth’s England: Laurence Nowell, William Lambarde, and John Joscelyn. Nowell and Lambarde are well known as originators of Anglo-Saxon studies and as pioneers in the field However, John Joscelyn, Matthew Parker’s principal Latin secretary, has been largely ignored until fairly recently. Joscelyn found his way back into the roster of Anglo-Saxonists largely through the work of Timothy Graham.
Joscelyn’s contribution has been partly hidden from us. Nevertheless it is now believed that Joscelyn was responsible for writing the introduction to Parker’s A Testimonie of Antiquitie (1566), for providing the research in The Gospels of the Fower Euangelistes (1571) and Asser’s AElfredi regis res gestae, and as drafting the text for Parker’s genealogical De antiquitate Britannicae ecclesiae (1572) that listed all of the archbishops of Canterbury from Augustine through to Parker himself.
Behind the scenes Joscelyn was highly involved in the archbishop’s gathering, ‘amendment’ (more on that later) and researching of old monastic manuscripts as part of his programme of re-assessing and revising the English past through its manuscript heritage.
It is hard to say exactly how vital Joseclyn was to Parkers manuscript gathering and research although the unpublished texts that he has left to us suggests that it was substantial. Joscelyn’s hand is found in several annotated lists of manuscripts derived from various sources with the obvious purpose of guiding the archbishops manuscript gathering exercise. He also produced for Parker an Old English grammar and dictionary. The dictionary survives as British Library MSS Cotton Titus A. xv and A. xvi. but unfortunately the grammar – minus its index now found in Bodleian MS Bodley 33 – has failed to reach us having disappeared sometime in the seventeenth century. For those who are interested William Camden (the famed antiquary of the early seventeenth century) is the prime candidate for having lost it having had it on loan from Sir Robert Cotton who himself had inherited the manuscripts after Joscelyn’s death in 1603 (Graham, 2000, p. 85).
In the 2000 study John Joscelyn, pioneer of Old English Lexicography Graham boldly argues that ‘Joscelyn outstripped his contemporary by the larger scope of his efforts and succeeded in producing a dictionary that was fuller and more finished than Nowell’s’ Vocabularium Saxonicum (Graham, 2000, p. 133). As stated by Graham Nowell’s list contains over six thousand entries but Joscelyn’s – which made use of the Vocabularium Saxonicum – ‘goes far beyond Nowell’s by drawing upon a greater repertory of sources and by using the sources more extensively’ (Graham, 2000, p. 94).
It is worth noting here that the dictionary is not entirely Joscelyn’s sole work. If Humfrey Wanley (librarian and scholar of Old English) is to be trusted John Parker (the archbishop’s son) collaborated with the Latin secretary in its compilation. Wanley noted in 1705 that MS Titus A. xv was the ‘paper volume, in-quarto, written by John Joscelyn and John Parker, the son of Matthew (as it seems)’. Graham has further endorsed this claim by noting the signature of ‘Jo. P.’ in a preface to Bodley 33 claiming the grammar index as his own. The presumption is that ‘Jo. P.’ in this instance stands for ‘Johannes Parker’ (Graham, 2000, p. 86) and therefore ascribes both the dictionary and grammar to a collaborative enterprise between Joscelyn and John Parker. Furthermore, Parker’s hand is the dominant one in the manuscripts although Graham has adequately argued and shown that whilst the copying was largely carried out by the neater hand of Parker, the underlying work – and thus the primary claim to its authorship – remains with Joscelyn.
Nowell never published his dictionary and neither did Joscelyn. Indeed, the only published Old English word list in the sixteenth century was a glossary found in Lambarde’s Archaionomia. The evidence that Joscelyn and Parker planned to publish theirs is only circumstantial. Graham notes John Parker’s preface in Bodley 33 as evidence he was working towards publication. Here he also included an elaborate title; common in sixteenth-century title pages of published works. If Parker planned to publish the grammar then no doubt there were plans to publish the dictionary as well. Graham suggests that it was the archbishop’s death in 1575 that removed the impetus and financial ability for the dictionary and grammar to be published, though again this is only guess work (Graham, 2000, p. 96).
Joscelyn and Parker’s dictionary may not have been published but it was nonetheless used in the seventeenth century by scholars meaning that it had an afterlife and relevance beyond the circle of Matthew Parker during the reign of Elizabeth I. It was consulted, transcribed and added upon by German philologist Friedrich Lindenbrog (1573-1628); antiquarian Sir Simonds D’Ewes (1602-50); and the publisher of the first proper Old English dictionary William Somner (1606-69).