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Western Medieval Manuscripts : William of Malmesbury, Gesta pontificum Anglorum

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript contains a late twelfth-century copy of the <i>Gesta pontificum Anglorum</i> (<i>The deeds of the English bishops</i>) by the monk and historian William of Malmesbury (c. 1090-c. 1143). The text is an ecclesiastical history of England from the arrival of St Augustine in 597 up to the 1120s when the work was being written. William saw himself as the successor to Bede, and drew on both Anglo-Saxon and Norman sources and traditions. For the period after the death of Bede in 730, William's account is 'the most important single source for the history of the English church' (Preest (2002), p. x). He used many of the works which he copied and collected for the library of Malmesbury Abbey, but also travelled widely, including in the text numerous topographical observations that he had gained at first-hand. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The text is arranged as a survey of the bishops and saints of all the dioceses of England. The first Book covers Canterbury and Rochester, the second London, East Anglia and Wessex, the third York, Lindisfarne and Durham and the fourth Mercia. The <i>Gesta pontificum Anglorum</i> was popular with William's contemporaries and 19 medieval copies of it survive, including one written by William himself (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Oxford, Magdalen College, MS lat. 172</a>). Although the work was completed in 1125, the numerous authorial alterations and corrections to Magdalen MS lat. 172 show that William continued to revise the text over the next decade or more, often removing the more scurrilous and potentially offensive comments about his contemporaries. William also wrote a fifth Book, which recounted the history of his own abbey of Malmesbury. This survives in its fullest form only in the autograph manuscript. One other medieval copy contains an abbreviated, probably not authorial version - London, British Library, Cotton MS Claudius A.v - entitled therein as a Life of St Aldhelm, who was the founder of Malmesbury Abbey. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript shown here was once in the possession of Matthew Parker (1504-1575), archbishop of Canterbury. Parker was not only a collector of manuscripts: he also used them, annotating and cross-referencing, rebinding and rearranging the books that he owned. Before donating this manuscript to Cambridge University Library in 1574 (along with 24 others), he augmented it with additional works by William and other chroniclers, including copies that he commissioned himself, among them a copy of the fifth Book (for which, see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>MS Ff.1.25(2)</a>). The text of the <i>Gesta pontificum Anglorum</i> was first edited in 1596, using this manuscript, by the antiquarian and book collector Sir Henry Savile (1549-1622). Savile elected not to include the fifth Book in his edition, despite its immediate availability. Although MS Ff.1.25(1) is an early production, nevertheless as a distant copy of the autograph, the text's modern editors have judged that it 'has no virtue apart from its age' (see Winterbottom and Thomson (2007), p. xxv).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The description of the manuscript in the <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>list of Parker's donations</a> confirms that these additions were at that time bound together with this copy of the <i>Gesta pontificum Anglorum</i> in a single volume. They remained in this state until 1862, whereupon they were divided into five separate volumes, all of which are now available to view on the Cambridge Digital Library: <ul><li><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>MS Ff.1.25(2)</a>: William of Malmesbury, <i>Gesta pontificum Anglorum (Book 5)</i></li><li><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>MS Ff.1.25(3)</a>: William of Malmesbury, <i>Historia novella</i></li><li><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>MS Ff.1.25(4)</a>: compilation of crusade texts</li><li><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>MS Ff.1.25(5)</a>: Geoffrey of Monmouth, <i>Historia regum Britanniae</i></li></ul></p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Suzanne Paul<br />Keeper of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts<br />Cambridge University Library</p>

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