English Medieval Books: The Reading Abbey Collections from Foundation to Dispersal

English Medieval Books: The Reading Abbey Collections from Foundation to Dispersal

English Medieval Books: The Reading Abbey Collections from Foundation to Dispersal

English Medieval Books: The Reading Abbey Collections from Foundation to Dispersal

Synopsis

This history of the books of Reading Abbey covers the period from the abbey's foundation to its dissolution, and follows up the dispersal of the book collections to c.1610. It provides valuable material on the use ways in which books were used, and about the intellectual life of a medieval monastery. By continuing the story beyond the Dissolution, and charting the initial stages of the dispersal of the Abbeys books (many into the large institutional collections which are their homes today), Alan Coates makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the fate of monastic books and book-collecting in the post-Dissolution period.

Excerpt

The Oxford thesis from which this monograph is derived was originally conceived as a study of the twelfth-century manuscripts and an assessment of the evidence for the existence of a monastic scriptorium at Reading Abbey. This would have complemented similar studies of the period between the Norman Conquest and c. 1250, carried out on the books of St Albans by Thomson (R. M. Thomson , Manuscripts from St Albans Abbey 1066-1235, 2 vols. (Woodbridge, 1982)); of Rochester by Waller (K. M. Waller, 'The Library, Scriptorium and Community of Rochester Cathedral Priory c.1080-1150' (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Liverpool, 1980)); of Bury St Edmunds by McLachlan (E. P. McLachlan , The 'Scriptorium' of Bury St Edmunds in the Twelfth Century (New York, 1984)); of Buildwas by Sheppard (J. M. Sheppard, 'The Twelfth- century Library and Scriptorium at Buildwas: Assessing the Evidence', in England in the Twetfth Century, ed. D. T. Williams (Proceedings of the 1988 Harlaxton Symposium; Woodbridge, 1990), 193-204; The Buildwas Books: Book Production, Acquisition and Use at an English Cistercian Monaster, 1165-c.1400 (OBS, 3rd ser., 3; Oxford, 1997) [this work appeared after my book had already gone to press]); and of Salisbury and Christ Church, Canterbury, by Webber (T. Webber, Scribes and Scholars at Salisbury Cathedral c.1075-c.1125 (Oxford, 1992); T. Webber , 'Script and Manuscript Production at Christ Church, Canterbury, after the Norman Conquest', in Canterbury and the Norman Conquest: Churches, Saints and Scholars 1066-1109, ed. R. Eales and R. Sharpe (London, 1995), 145-58). However, an examination of the later manuscripts from Reading Abbey suggested that the history of its book collections, from its foundation to their dispersal at the Dissolution, would provide interesting evidence of monastic intellectual life in the Middle Ages; and that to chart, where possible, the dispersal of the books and the stages by which they reached the large collections, in which so many of them are now housed, would make a contribution to the study of the fate of monastic manuscripts and of book collecting in general in the post-Dissolution period. Given the rather uneven survival of the manuscripts, with many more from the twelfth and thirteenth than from the succeeding centuries, the absence of a full late-medieval book list and the abbey's customary, but with a greater quantity of later 'external' evidence such as university records, an assessment of the whole history of the book collections would allow inferences to be drawn from periods where a particular type of evidence existed for other periods where they did not. To my knowledge, this is the first time that such an extended examination of an English monastery's book collections has been attempted. This study is neither a textual analysis of particular works to be found in the Reading book . . .

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