The Belvoir Castle (Duke of Rutland) Manuscript of John Lydgate's Fall of Princes

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The manuscript of John Lydgate's Fall of Princes belonging to the duke of Rutland rarely comes under scholarly scrutiny, but we were recently allowed to examine and photograph it at Belvoir Castle in Lincolnshire. (1) The manuscript contains 178 parchment folios measuring 450 x 340 mm, with the full text of Lydgate's poem set out in two columns of 51 lines, the written space measuring 370 x 235 mm. It is illuminated, with a three-line gold initial on folio 1 at the start of the poem, on a ground of blue and rose leaves with white highlighting and full-bar border of gold, rose, and blue with acanthus leaves and flowers, bosses at the corners, and sprays into the margins around the border. Sprays on this first folio and those from frequent champ initials of gold on blue and rose grounds throughout the manuscript are black stems with opposing green leaf buds, gold balls, and gold wheat heads. These champ initials appear frequently, often with two or more per page. In addition, each stanza begins with a one-line red or blue initial with alternating red or blue (sometimes golden-brown) penwork. The scribe has written rubric headings in spaces within the text box left for them, beginning with a one-line blue initial with red penwork flourishing. There are in addition rubric marginal glosses for proper names and for finding aids, preceded by blue paraphs.

This copy of the Fall of Princes was copied by the same scribe who wrote the copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in British Library, Harley 1758, and the copy of Gower's Confessio Amantis in London, Society of Antiquaries 134, which were identified as being written by the same hand by Linne Mooney in the 2004 volume of the Journal of the Early Book Society.2 The handwriting of the Belvoir Fall of Princes corresponds in every detail to that of the other two manuscripts. Whereas in the other two manuscripts this scribe's hand is less formal--less tight--later in the volumes, here he maintains the kind of strict regularity of script one finds only in the best professional scribes.

As in the formal writing of the other two manuscripts by his hand, the scribe writes an unlooped d whose straight ascender is often bent almost horizontal over a squared lobe, so that the graph looks like a box with slightly opened lid (see fig. 1, line 11, "loude"; fig. 2, third line from bottom, "doun"). He often ends lines of verse with a point, or punctus (see fig. 1, all except 11. 9, 11, 12, 15 and 20; fig. 2, every line). He also often uses a less bold punctus for caesura in mid-line (see figs. 1 and 2). He has difficulty maintaining a straight bottom line along his ruled lines, often producing a wavy baseline for his text (see fig. 1, 1. 5; fig. 2, 1. 4). The letters i and sometimes y are dotted with a slanting sliver (see fig. 1, l. 19, "in"; fig. 2, 1. 9, "write"). Letters within words are tightly packed so as often to touch one another, but there are distinct spaces between words. One form of uppercase A is a square-topped version of modern printed A with an added approach stroke like a waving flag extending to the left from the upper-left corner and distinct feet at the base of the downstrokes, especially the left one (see fig. 1, 11. 2, 20, "And," and 31, "All"; fig. 2, 11. 1, 13, and 18, "And"). The descender of y tapers to almost a hairline, with a tight curl to the right at the bottom (see fig. 1, 1. 6, "storye"; fig. 2, 1. 4, "pryncis"). Anglicana g has a smaller lower lobe with a squashed appearance and a slight point to the left (see fig. 1, 1. 2, "flateryng"; fig. 2, l. 3, "hangyng").

The Duke of Rutland's Fall of Princes is also decorated by the same limner as the other two manuscripts, Harley 1758 and Antiquaries 134 (see fig. 3). The style of the grounds for his champ initials is the same in all three manuscripts, and all contain the unusual additional single tiny green leaf springing from the left side of the ground into the margin in addition to the short sprays extending upward and downward from the left corners of the ground (see champ initials "N" in figs. …