Lollards and Their Influence in Late Medieval England

By Fiona Somerset; Jill C. Havens et al. | Go to book overview
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English Biblical Texts before Lollardy
and their Fate

Ralph Hanna

The following pages are excerpts from a book in progress, tentatively entitled London Literature, c.1310―c.1380. In this project, I examine works, primarily English ones, composed, disseminated, and read in the capital in the years immediately preceding the formation of a national literary tradition. The study (and this particular rendition) is always engaged in enacting analytical modes necessary to reformulate the literary history of late medieval England. And this current form of my fascination with Middle English as a literature of the locality, not the nation, allows me one considerable rhetorical frisson, the paradox that the metropole is, for much of the Middle Ages, just another locality.

The beginning of my study is constrained by the documentary record: until just the end of Edward I's reign, there's no surviving vernacular literature from London. I conclude at the temporal confluence of three widely acknowledged revolutions. Primary is, of course, the appearance of new "Chaucerian" literature, The Parliament of Fowls in 1381, Troilus in 1386. These productions are contemporary with the fairly abrupt demise of an older variety of written London English (M.L. Samuels's "Type II”) and the appearance of a new sort (his "Type III, Chaucerian English); "Type III” is first recorded in the writings of Thomas Usk c.1384―88 and in the London guild returns of 1389. 1 Finally, the very writing system changed at this moment: just after 1375, a new variety of book-hand, "Secretary," was introduced into England. This presumably occurred at Lambeth, since Secretary first appears in documents produced in the Chancery of the Archbishops of Canterbury (the wills recorded by the Prerogative Court from 1383 begin in the script). 2

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1
The identification of Type II, and most of the MSS providing evidence for it, is dependent on the research of M.L. Samuels, particularly "Some Applications of Middle English Dialectology, English Studies 44 (1963): 81―94 at 87―88 and 87 n.7; Linguistic Evolution with Special Reference to English (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1972) at 166. The first examples of Type III are the initial selections in R.W. Chambers and Marjorie Daunt, A Book of London English, 1384―1425 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1931).
2
See M.B. Parkes, English Cursive Book Hands 1250―1500 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969), xx and plate 9; for the first of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury volumes, see Public Record Office, MS Prob. 11/1 (formerly PCC Rous).

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