London, Lambeth Palace 487 Homilies

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Jonathan Wilcox


317. London, Lambeth Palace 487


[Ker p. xix/282, Gneuss -]

HISTORY: The handwriting of the main scribe of this manuscript has been repeatedly dated to about the year 1200. Ker (Cat., xix) notes that the manuscript stands as one of the cases in which the boundary between OE and ME is blurred, that it "may have been written before 1200," and that it contains material that derives from extant OE sources. In an unpublished reassessment, he commented of the main scribe, "whether he was writing before or after 1200 who can tell? ... I don't see why it shouldn't be before .... there don't seem to be any features ... which would suggest that a post-1200 date is likely" (quoted in O'Brien 1985: 1 ). An earlier assessment had arrived at the same conclusion, as recorded in a loose-leaf note inserted at the back of the manuscript: "On purely palaeographical grounds I should be disposed to date Lambeth MS. 487 somewhere in the forty years 1185-1225. (ff 65b-67 later) The materials however for dating vernacular writing are so slight that any opinion must be tentative. I base the above mainly on the Latin scraps, the extent of which is small. J.P. G.". The note is dated in pencil to 1923 and attributed by Sisam (1951 : 105, n. 2) to J.P. Gilson, Keeper of Manuscripts in the British Museum.

The collection was copied from various different materials assembled in two different main exemplars, as has been inferred from variations in the orthography (Sisam 1951), including some from OE (see items 2, 9-11 below). Nevertheless, the dialect of the works of the main scribe is fairly homogenous; it is close to the A scribe's language of the so-called "AB" dialect of the "Ancrene Riwle" and is localizable to the West Midlands, specifically Worcestershire or somewhat more to the south-west (see Wilson 1935 and Hill 1977: 109). Item 19 was also added in a West Midland dialect (see Thompson 1958: !vi). That last item, "On Ureisun of Oure Louerde," might suggest female ownership of the book in the Middle Ages: it belongs to a large body of religious literature "written for (and perhaps, in some cases, by) devout women" (Thompson 1958: ·xv). There is little further evidence, however, for the medieval provenance of t)ie manuscript. Lambeth 487 was donated to Lambeth Palace Library by Archbishop Richard Bancroft (Archbishop of Canterbury 1604-1610) and is listed in two catalogues of his manuscripts from 1612 (Hill 1970-72: 271). Bancroft's ownership has led to the suggestion of a medieval provenance of Lanthony Priory, Gloucs., since many of his manuscripts came from there (Wilson 1935: 39), but Hill shows that such a provenance is unlikely since the manuscript is not identified in two Lanthony catalogues (Hill 1970-72: 278, n. 5).

The manuscript moved with the whole collection from Lambeth Palace to Cambridge between 1649 and 1664, where it was assigned the pressmark '#. C. θ. 12' that is now recorded on the inside cover (see Hill 1970-1972: 271-72 and Cox-Johnson 1955: 114-26). The manuscript was catalogued again three times in the 17c on its return to Lambeth, and in one of these listings is given the pressmark 185 which is written on the inside cover ('4'0 185') and on f. i recto (Hill 1970-1972: 272). From the evidence of these catalogues, Hill infers that the manuscript was repaired and rebound (probably reusing its existing cover) during the primacy of Archbishop Sancroft, 1678-1691, and possibly before 1688 (1970-1972: 272). This is the most likely time for the displacement of the "Finnsburh Fragment," which Hickes found and transcribed from an anomalous single leaf in a collection of homilies "Semi-Saxonicarum" in the Lambeth Library-most probably this manuscript (see Hickes 1705: 192 and Hill 1970-72: 272-73). No trace of the leaf remains today.



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