skip to content

Western Medieval Manuscripts : Treatises on the soul

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript offers an object lesson in some of the complexities that arise in the interpretation of evidence of origin and provenance. It opens with a series of Quaestiones, or discussion points, on Aristotle's treatise on the soul, <i>De anima</i>. These were composed in the early 14th century by Jean de Jandun (c. 1285-1328), a French scholar and theologian who studied and taught at the University of Paris. There then follows a translation of <i>De anima</i> itself, composed by the Greek philosopher and humanist, George of Trebizond (1395-1486), who was born in Crete and later settled in Italy. A colophon at the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(229);return false;'>end of the Quaestiones</a> appears to record that it was written out at Oxford in 1441 by a Thomas Clare, who identified himself as a monk from the abbey of Bury St Edmunds. The remaining portion of the manuscript is written by the same hand, in a similar script. The quires were formed from the same paper stock and likewise use sheets of parchment for the inner and outer bifolia. The pages were prepared for writing in the same way and indeed the Quaestiones end and <i>De anima</i> begins in the middle of the same quire. All of this points to the second text having been copied in near succession to the first - and for many years the manuscript was considered to be, according to Albinia de la Mare, a candidate for the status of 'the earliest dated English manuscript in humanistic script'.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>However, John Monfasani has shown that there is evidence that one of the prefaces to George of Trebizond's translation was completed only in late 1446 or early 1447, and the entire work is unlikely to have circulated in England until later. '[T]he possibility must be considered,' Antonia Gransden concluded, 'that the volume is not written in Clare's hand at all, but is a copy made by another, rather later scribe of a (now lost) exemplar containing Clare's transcription of the Quaestiones, and that this scribe simply copied Clare's colophon.' Recent palaeographical analysis by David Rundle lends further weight to this judgement: the script contrasts markedly with other English engagements with humanistic handwriting reforms in the 1440s, its 'combination of features [being] reminiscent of English adoption of humanist cursive as seen in Rome and elsewhere from the later 1450s'. He suggested that the colophon could also have been a mistake, with '1441' written in error for perhaps '1471'. Orietta da Rold's research into paper stocks used in Cambridge University Library manuscripts of English production likewise points to later production: paper bearing a closely similar or possibly identical watermark is known to have been of French origin, and circulated between 1470 and 1482, with examples found in England in the third quarter of the 15th century.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Ruling out Thomas Clare as the scribe of this volume, and proposing a later date of production, allows other connections to be suggested, however. A Thomas Clare inscribed his name in a copy of Robert Holcot's <i>Moralitates</i> (now <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS 8431 B</a>), which was made in the mid-15th century and not later than 1477. This Thomas Clare identified himself in different places in NLW MS 8431 as 'dompnus' and 'monachus', but unfortunately part of one of these leaves has been torn away, and perhaps with it any evidence of his native house. He could perhaps have been the copyist of the exemplar from which MS Add. 6190 was made, but cannot have been the copyist of MS Add. 6190 itself: the hand in the inscription and in the text of the Holcot manuscript are very different to that found in the one shown here. There is an earlier Thomas Clare, who was ordained deacon in 1387 and become Doctor of Theology at Oxford in March 1414, and was also a monk at Bury, but he lived probably too early to have been copying the exemplar manuscript in Oxford in 1441, and seems in any case to have returned to the abbey by at least 1429, at which date he was involved in the election of a new abbot. There is a later Thomas Clare, recorded in the early 16th century, but nothing connects him to Bury.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript has been discussed among the books owned by the abbey at Bury St Edmunds and at the time of writing (2024) continues to be listed as belonging there in the most recently updated, online version of N.R. Ker's <i>Medieval Libraries of Great Britain</i> (<i><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>MLGB3</a></i>). There was never any explicit evidence of MS Add. 6190 having been physically located at Bury - though, strictly speaking, property in the hands of monks belonged not to them but to their house, wherever the monks themselves might have moved (as Ker explained in his second preface to <i>MLGB</i>, p. xxvi). If we conclude that the colophon was merely copied from the lost exemplar, then the elimination of Thomas Clare as the copyist of this manuscript must lead in turn to the rejection of MS Add. 6190 as a Bury book (though the exemplar itself, <i>ceteris paribus</i>, would have been a Bury book, under the terms of monastic ownership explained above, and may also have been at the abbey at some point). If we conclude that the colophon was written in error, though, and should have read '1471', then MS Add. 6190 may tentatively remain linked to Bury. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr James Freeman<br /> Medieval Manuscripts Specialist<br /> Cambridge University Library</p>

Want to know more?

Under the 'More' menu you can find , and information about sharing this image.

No Contents List Available
No Metadata Available


If you want to share this page with others you can send them a link to this individual page:
Alternatively please share this page on social media

You can also embed the viewer into your own website or blog using the code below: