Rauner Codex MS 003183: The Beeleigh Abbey Brut at Dartmouth College

Article excerpt

Codex MS 003183 in the Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, is a fifteenth-century manuscript of the Middle English prose Brut (MEPB) that was in W. A. Foyle's private manuscript collection, housed at his residence at Beeleigh Abbey for much of the twentieth century. (1) Its purchase by Dartmouth College in 2006 has made the manuscript accessible once again, and there are significant observations to be made about the manuscript itself and about how this manuscript fits in to the large textual corpus of the MEPB. (2)

Rauner MS 003183 seems to be an independent revision and abbreviation of the Brut version that Lister Matheson, following Friedrich Brie, calls the Extended Version (EV) to 1419 (EV-1419). In the content of its 1377-to-1419 continuation, at least, MS 003183 likely derives from subgroup A of the EV, since it shares with EV-1419:A (and apparently no other EV group) a textual lacuna concerning Henry IV's early years (See Appendix 2 and discussion below). MS 003183 could be said to form a "fifth branch" that parallels the four recensions of the Abbreviated Version (AV) to 1419 (AV-1419:A, B, C, and D). The one trait that most dramatically identifies the AVs, the absence of four chapters after the death of King Arthur, is featured in MS 003183, where Conan rather than Constantine succeeds Arthur. Yet MS 003183 is not one of the recognized AV texts. In content, it is a fuller text than any one of the AV-1419 groups A to D, so its taxonomically significant details cannot possibly be derived from AV texts. (See Appendix 1 for selected transcriptions of Rauner MS 003183.)

In wording, MS 003183 is unusually idiosyncratic (even for the MEPB), to the extent that none of the AV-1419 texts could possibly be derived from MS 003183. As neither source nor product of the AV manuscripts, then, MS 003183 is a unique recension that is comparable to the AVs. If MS 003183 represents a unique recension or version, however, the physical manuscript has some intriguing company. London, British Library MS Royal 18.A.ix and San Marino, Huntington Library MS HM 131, two AV-1419:A(c) manuscripts of the MEPB, show rubrication styles similar to those of the second rubricator of MS 003183. If these three manuscripts, representing two different redactions of the Middle English prose Brut, were at some point in a common workshop setting or were farmed out to the same professional rubricator, then they suggest a book production milieu in which texts of the Middle English prose Brut were being abbreviated and revised from EV sources to produce individualized manuscripts. Linne Mooney and Matheson convincingly show that a common workshop produced numerous manuscripts of a single MEPB version, the AV-1419:B manuscripts. (3) Rauner MS 003183 helps make visible a slightly different production habit of multiple abbreviations of the Brut in which the same material "finish" could be applied to various narrative versions.

Description of the Manuscript

The fifteenth-century manuscript contains 121 unnumbered vellum folios in a limp leather binding of the sixteenth century. Dorothy Africa has assessed the binding as "a stationer's binding, the sort most commonly used for ledgers and business records, characterized by external bands, decorative lacing patterns, tackets and an overlap front flap." (4) Folios 1 to 5, which comprise the first quire, were added most likely in the sixteenth century; they contain a table of contents in a sixteenth-century hand. (5) This table-of-contents hand writes an occasional Elizabethan-style h and confuses letter forms for y and thorn, although otherwise the hand achieves a script eerily imitative of the fifteenth-century script of the rest of the manuscript.

The writer of the table of contents copied the chapter headings from within the manuscript itself rather than from any other source, as shown by this writer's replication of several errors made by the manuscript's rubricators, including five erroneously repeated chapter headings (see discussion under "Rubrication"). …