The popularity of William of Malmesbury in the sixteenth-century

The popularity of William of Malmesbury in the sixteenth-century

The Gesta Regum Anglorum, compiled by William of Malmesbury in the thirteenth century had an interesting role to play in the English reformation as well as England’s refocused history.  A search of Early English Books Online (EEBO) suggests that in the first fifty years of the sixteenth century the Gesta Regum Anglorum featured in only five printed texts.  In the last fifty years of the century it featured sixteen times.   The figures from EEBO are however not a fair judge.  Although EEBO contains over 100,000 out of 125,000 printed texts listed in the ESTC the search will only bring up references found in associated metadata (titles, author, publisher etc.) and for those texts which are searchable via a transcript (a small proportion of the entire database).  We therefore need to dig a little deeper.

According to Antonia Gransden, William of Malmesbury was the first man since Bede to produce a corpus of historical works.  Gransden tells us that he absorbed both Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman traditions of historiography and added ‘his own individual genius’ (Gransden, v.1, p. 167).  However, since the thirteenth century other histories had taken its place often, but not always absorbing the contents of their earlier progenitors including Malmesbury.  Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon is the prime example and was, in the earlier portion of the sixteenth century, the standard medieval history upon which all contemporary histories were built.  The English reformation changed all of that as a new need to revisit older histories became paramount to establishing the new church order.

The reformation posed a problem for those who studied the past; England’s history was largely written by Monks and as such revealed a very Roman Catholic view of the past.  Protestant writers therefore looked beyond the Polychronicon and other recent histories in the search for clues hidden between the lines of older histories in the hope of showing that the Roman Catholics had hidden, corrupted or even lied about various truths.  The works of William of Malmesbury were one such text.

Whether or not scholars realised the extent of William of Malmesbury’s corpus is however debatable.  Whilst lists of works by John Bale in his Catalogus cannot be fully trusted as accurate, his list of 21 works for William of Malmesbury (Bale, 1559, 186-7) suggests that scholars were at least aware of his prolific nature.

On William of Malmesbury’s historiographical compunction, John Foxe (in his Acts and Monuments) appears to have realised that, for the most part, William could be trusted to show a critical awareness of his evidence, but that he could fall short sometimes when dealing with monastic origins.  William of Malmesbury’s source base was equally prolific as his own written corpus.  The Gesta Regum Anglorum and Gesta Pontificum Anglorum were derived from a careful reading of nearly all historians, biographers and hagiographers from the Anglo-Saxon period up to his own.  In a sense, Malmesbury provided Foxe with a clear amalgam of anglo-saxon scholarship, helpfully divided between church matters (Pontificum Anglorum) and secular events (Regum Anglorum).

William of Malmesbury also provided Foxe with a version of history at once hostile to the Anglo-Saxons.  Gransden describes the conception of the Anglo-Saxons in the Regum as a lustful and gluttonous race, lacking in religious observance (Gransden, p. 173).  Helpful for Foxe also was William of Malmesbury’s preference for Canterbury over York during the controversies over the supremacy of those two archbishoprics.  It was important for Foxe to support his chief patron, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker by declaring the supremacy of Canterbury in older histories.

On the surface it would seem, therefore that William of Malmesbury had a resurgence in popularity (and therefore of knowledge) in the latter half of the sixteenth-century. His history of the papacy and history of English kings was noted by John Bale, used by John Foxe, William Hollinshed, and John Stow, and was collected and examined by Matthew Parker. We must be careful, however, in this argument. The use of William’s works also by Polydore Virgil in the late 1520s suggests that this use was nothing new. William of Malmesbury also appears as a source in the fifteenth-century Fabyan Chronicles and, vitally, in Higden’s Polychronicon.

The alteration, it would appear, is largely a mirage. The sheer number of scholars working on history by the end of the sixteenth century, compared to its beginning, skews the evidence. William of Malmesbury was used more – and in different ways – by these later scholars only because history was again viewed as important. In the earlier portion of the century only a few scholars – primarily Polydore Virgil – bothered to write officially about the past. Some other histories did return into favour – such as Matthew Paris – but it would appear that William of Malmesbury had always been popular.

The evidence in sixteenth-century histories suggests that most scholars still looked at William’s manuscript chronicles where possible, rather than to simply rely upon later citations in the Polychronicon and elsewhere.





John Joscelyn’s Old English dictionary – its construction

John Joscelyn’s Old English dictionary – its construction

Archbishop Matthew Parker had his Testimonie of Antiquitie published using a special Anglo-Saxon font, developed by the printer John Day on his behalf (and through the archbishops own pocket).  The font was reused in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments and various other works designed to support the Protestant viewpoint of early medieval Britain.  Creating such a font was an expensive business.  Peter J. Lucas estimates these fonts to have cost Parker in the sum of £200.  It was a highly technical and complex job.  John Day was, however the appropriate printer to be approached as he already employed a large Dutch workforce, well-known for their technical skill as type-founders.  This has been discussed in detail by Elizabeth Evenden in an article about the ‘fleeing Dutchmen’. Continue reading “John Joscelyn’s Old English dictionary – its construction”

Using Moodle to create a publicly facing online training website

6660068989_42915e9f3dIn January 2015 the School of Advanced Study officially launched its new online research training website for arts and humanities postgraduate studies. The purpose of this site is to part-fulfil the School’s remit to offer research facilitation services across the country and in part to make more use of the work that SAS staff already do on a regular basis. Continue reading “Using Moodle to create a publicly facing online training website”

Sixteenth Century Scholars – back online

Sixteenth Century Scholars – back online

After a long period without posting, I’m back. Why the long gap and why am I back now, you might ask? What it basically comes down to is too much other work and an uncertainty about what it was I was doing with my blog and my research in general.

It’s now been five years since I completed my PhD in History and for most of that time I have been working for the University of London in one role or another. My own research has ebbed slowly through that period, without really making much substantial progress or impact.

So I’m changing direction  – well sort of!

When I think about my research topic – the study of scholars writing in the sixteenth-century about their history – what interests me is the idea of knowledge creation and capture. What makes a statement authoritative and how are sources used to conjure authority? This is a question that flows throughout most of my research, but by restricting myself to the writing of History, I realise now that I’m missing the wider context. I need to look elsewhere as well – I need to look at other kinds of writing in the sixteenth-century and understand how authority was earned there as well.

My day job has nothing to do with research itself. I’m a learning technologist, digital manager, and research facilitator. I think I prefer the latter title, but essentially what this means is that a lot of the time I’m focused on other things as well such as issues of open access, social media, and data management.

Therefore, as you can see, I’ve redesigned this blog (again) to act as a hub for my research and research facilitation interests. It focuses more on what it is that I am doing and attempts to connect the dots where ever they exist. This new Sixteenth Century Scholars will continue to contain posts about the sixteenth-century from time to time, but it will also include more about my research facilitation work and provide connections to my other blogs/websites. It’ll act as my own personal working space and online CV.

The idea is to make my own life easier by linking my online and offline work together in one place. I’ve got new plans for my own personal research which I’ll be sharing soon, new purposes for my Blogging for Historians website, and I am also working on CMALT accreditation (Certified Membership Association for Learning Technology).


The origins of Anglo-Saxon studies: John Joscelyn – the forgotten Anglo-Saxonist

The origins of Anglo-Saxon studies: John Joscelyn – the forgotten Anglo-Saxonist

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.

There are no images of what John Joscelyn might have looked like. Instead here is Folio 20r from the British Library ms Cotton Tiberius B.iv (aka Anglo-Saxon Chronicle version D, from Worcester). This particular page was annotated in the 16th century by John Joscelyn, who likely owned the manuscript before it passed into Robert Cotton's hands. (wikipedia)
There are no images of what John Joscelyn might have looked like. Instead here is Folio 20r from the British Library ms Cotton Tiberius B.iv (aka Anglo-Saxon Chronicle version D, from Worcester). This particular page was annotated in the 16th century by John Joscelyn, who likely owned the manuscript before it passed into Robert Cotton’s hands. (wikipedia)

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).

A beginners guide to writing a blog post

A beginners guide to writing a blog post

On Wednesday 29 October 2014, I opened the new series of Social Scholar lunchtime seminars for the School of Advanced Study by talking about how to write a blog post. I was keen to make this more of a training session rather than a straight forward talk and I was eager to stress that the advice I gave was not rules to be followed, but ideas and possibilities. There is no right and wrong way to write a blog post, but there are ways to improve a posts readability (although I don’t always follow those guidelines myself).

A beginners guide to writing a blog post
Dr Matthew Phillpott
(School of Advanced Study, University of London)
Social Scholar seminar
29 October 2014

Abstract: How do you write a blog post? This session offers suggestions for writing and structuring posts as well as providing ideas for promotion and getting your blog noticed. This session looks mainly at structuring a post for maximum exposure and to help enable readers to understand at a glance what it is you are talking about.

The Social Scholar is a series of lunchtime seminars from the School of Advanced Study, looking into the theme of Social Media. Each session includes a 20 minute presentation from an expert already using social media in the Humanities followed by discussion and Q&A. In these sessions we hope to learn together about how to better use social media in a professional capacity and what the difficulties and issues are. The series will look at blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services.

For full details about the Social Scholar check out the SAS Blog




Introducing Paper Machines

Introducing Paper Machines

REPOST: Digital History seminar blog

By James Baker

In the welcome surroundings of the refurbished Institute of Historical Research, Jo Guldi (Brown University) kicked off the 2014 Autumn Term programme of the IHR Digital History Seminar. In town to discuss The History Manifesto, her new open access book co-authored with David Armitage, Guldi’s talk ranged from the public role of the historians, the Digital Humanities and new model of publishing to impending environmental catastrophe, the need for deep history and data processing tools that can help citizen and scholars alike overcome the problems of modern bureaucracy. To see how Guldi weaved all this threads together, you’ll need to watch the video below. Here I just want to tease in no particular order at a few of threads that stuck in my mind, threads that pertain to most, if not all, digital history projects that pass through the seminar.

Tools as provocations: Paper Machines is a research tool. But it is also a provocation, an experiment with using large swathes of information to inform historical research in the longue durée, a vantage point – the tools makers argue – historians take not often enough. The tool, in short, is the argument.

What we need now: As we sit on the precipice of environmental catastrophe, does it not behove us to think about what digital projects we need? Do we want digital projects that analyse art for art’s sake, that recapitulate old research paradigms and do not address problems of a wider, public relevance?

Hypothesis generation: At the heart of Paper Machines is hypothesis generation. It allows the scholar to take a vast paper archive and facet that archive, make visualisations, select where to read closely. How that macro to micro scaling changes the history that is written, how scholarly debates mature to integrate the inevitable discrepancies between interpretations made at these scales is the challenge historians must re-engage with.

Being bold about method: Works that change the focus of disciplines usually open their accounts by stating ‘you missed this because your method was wrong’. Digital history can and should do the same, it can and should be bold about how it comes to the conclusions it does rather than hide the methods, ways, and means that underpin its particular take on historical phenomena.

My partial, incomplete, CC BY notes on the seminar are available on GitHub Gist.

The next Digital History seminar, ‘Interrogating the archived UK web: Historians and Social Scientists Research Experiences’, will take place on 4 November and a full listing of Autumn Term seminars is available on the IHR Website.

James Baker (Curator, Digital Research, British Library)

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