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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Moore Bede

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Bede’s <i>Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum</i> (<i>HE</i>) is the earliest surviving account of English history. Its central theme is the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to Christianity and the establishment of the English Church. It was Bede’s last major work; he finished writing it in 731, and died a few years later on 25 May 735.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript is the earliest extant copy of Bede’s History, and may well have been copied at his own monastery, at Wearmouth or Jarrow, within a few years of his death, perhaps as early as 737. It is usually called the <i>Moore Bede</i> because, prior to entering the collections of the University of Cambridge in 1715 as a gift from George I, it had been owned by John Moore, bishop of Ely (1707–1714). Moore had acquired it sometime between 1697 and 1702, and before that it had been in France, in the library of the cathedral of St. Julien at Le Mans. The <i>ex libris</i> of St. Julien can be seen at the foot of the last complete folio (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(264);return false;'>128v</a>). Other evidence on that same page shows that the manuscript had been in France for a very long time, perhaps even since the reign of Charlemagne (r. 768–814). The travels of the book, as well as its very early date and proximity to the life of Bede himself, make it one of the most important surviving medieval English manuscripts.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The book was written by a single scribe using a form of script known as insular minuscule. This type of script facilitated rapid writing, and it may have been deployed at Wearmouth Jarrow in order to service demand for copies of Bede’s works. It made more economical use of the page than the higher-grade uncial script that was used there for the production of elite, biblical manuscripts, such as the <i>Codex Amiatinus</i> (now in Florence) or the <i><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>St. Cuthbert Gospels</a></i> (now in the British Library). Uncial is used in the Moore Bede occasionally (e.g. fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(55);return false;'>24r</a>), for the dating clauses of some of the papal letters that Bede had transcribed into his History. This variation in script for the dating clauses reflects the practices of the papal chancery, and it is another indication that Bede had taken great care to copy his papal sources extremely accurately.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The scribe of the Moore Bede wrote in long lines and without word breaks, picking out the beginnings of chapters with simple, large initials, that were sometimes decorated with red dots; book and chapter headings are also rubricated, and longer quotations are marked out with horizontal red bars in the margin (eg: <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(51);return false;'>22r-v</a>). There is no other form of decoration in the manuscript, and there are no illustrations. The scribe also made many small spelling mistakes. All of these features, alongside the choice of script, add to the impression of a manuscript that was produced at speed, perhaps in response to demand for the works of the great scholar. This is a high quality manuscript, but not a deluxe copy.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The last complete folio (fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(263);return false;'>128</a>) is especially important, because it contains several clues to the date of the manuscript and to its subsequent history.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The main text finishes near the end of fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(263);return false;'>128r</a> with the <i>explicit</i>, written in red, to the entire work. After this the same scribe wrote six more lines, describing events that took place in 731, 732, 733, and 734. These are called the ‘Moore Annals’, and they provide additional information to Bede’s text, which had concluded (on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(261);return false;'>127r</a>) with news of the death of Archbishop Berctuald of Canterbury in 731 and the consecration of Tawine in his place. These ‘Moore Annals’ add new, tantalizing information for the year 731, saying that ‘King Ceolwulf was captured, tonsured, and restored to the throne of Northumbria, and Bishop Acca fled from his see’. Bede had dedicated the <i>HE</i> to Ceolwulf (fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(9);return false;'>1r</a>) and Acca was his most important patron. The events of 731 that are described in the Moore Annals, but which are not mentioned in the <i>HE</i> proper, must have been a rupture in Bede’s world, and may even hint at why he concluded his great work in that year. The date of the last of these extra annals, records an eclipse of the moon on the second kalends of February 734 (30 Jan), showing that the manuscript cannot have been written before that date.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Turning over the page (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(264);return false;'>128v</a>), readers are confronted with an abrupt change; the main text scribe wrote the uppermost 12 lines, using two grades of insular minuscule. But the second part, the lower 18 lines, is in a different script, known as Carolingian (or Caroline) minuscule. Both parts are important.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The first scribe copied three texts on this page: <i>Cadmon’s Hymn</i>, in the Northumbrian Old English dialect, on lines 1–3 (this is one of the earliest surviving pieces of English verse); an ascription of the <i>Hymn</i> to Cadmon, plus three glosses on line 4; a <i>Memorandum</i> relating to Northumbrian history. This last item incorporates a Northumbrian kinglist from the accession of Ida in 547 to Ceolwulf (r. 729–737), who it says had reigned 8 years, plus a set of calculations giving the number of years since an event had happened (e.g.: ‘the monastery at Wearmouth, 63 years ago’). All these calculations work back from a common date, 737. Because both <i>Hymn</i> and <i>Memorandum</i> were written by the scribe who had also copied the main part of the manuscript, this set of calculations provides the earliest possible date for the copying of the book. Also, since the <i>Memorandum</i> would have made little sense had it been transcribed very much after the common date which it provides, most scholars have concluded, on palaeographic as well as textual grounds, that the scribe of the Moore Bede worked in or not long after 737.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The remainder of the folio reveals what happened next. The texts on the lower part of the page were written by a Carolingian scribe, whose hand, Bernhard Bischoff thought, was very similar to those that had worked on manuscripts linked to Charlemagne’s court, c. 800 (e.g.: <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>British Library, MS Harley 2788</a>). This suggests that the manuscript had left Anglo-Saxon England before the end of the eighth century. The Carolingian scribe copied two texts: an extract from Isidore’s <i>Etymologiae</i> on consanguinity, and part of the decree of Pope Gregory II from the Roman council of 721, which had also discussed the prohibited degrees of marriage. This continued onto the next page, of which only a stub now survives, and which had been lost before the St Julien <i>ex libris</i> was added to the foot of fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(264);return false;'>128v</a>. These additions concerning acceptable marital relationships were doubtless added to the Moore Bede as commentary on Gregory the Great’s contentious discussion of exactly these issues in the <i>Libellus Responsionum</i>, which Bede had quoted in full in <i>HE</i> I.27.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>There are other Carolingian interventions in the book, which show that Frankish readers were using it carefully. In the early pages there are many interlinear glosses made by a Carolingian scribe. These glosses often expand idiosyncratic insular abbreviations, or spell out words made difficult by unfamiliar ligatures. For example, on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(51);return false;'>22r</a> the text scribe had used a hooked ‘h’ which the Carolingian scribe correctly glossed with the word ‘autem’. These interventions show a scribe working through the strange insular script, and making notes to make it easier for others to follow. Twice a Carolingian scribe used a late antique system of shorthand, known as Tironian notes, to make a longer annotation; in the outer margins of fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(42);return false;'>17v</a> these read <i>de consanguinitate</i> referring (yet again) to answer 5 of Gregory’s <i>Libellus Responsionum</i> alongside, and on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(48);return false;'>20v</a> they are used to rectify an extensive scribal omission from Gregory’s ninth answer.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The Moore Bede left another important footprint in Francia; the vast majority of the continental copies of Bede’s <i>HE</i> can be shown, through collation of textual variants, to have been derived from a handful of early exports. The Moore Bede dominates the ‘Continental stemma’, and multiple copies were made of it, including the supplementary material on permissible marriage. This suggests that the Moore Bede was kept (initially at least) in a place which had the capacity to make and distribute authoritative copies. Charlemagne’s court, or a scriptorium associated with it, would make sense in this context, and a scholar, such as Alcuin of York, might well have been responsible for supplying a book of this type, to be copied and transmitted throughout the churches of Francia.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Professor Joanna Story<br /> University of Leicester</p>

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