Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

A Merchant's Tales: A London Fifteenth-Century Household Miscellany

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

A Merchant's Tales: A London Fifteenth-Century Household Miscellany

Article excerpt


This article considers the contents of Westminster School MS 3, a fifteenth-century miscellany containing devotional and conduct material, written in Middle English. It explores the internal evidence, which points to the manuscript having been compiled for use in a lay household. Most of the collection is orthodox but some texts show evidence of Wycliffite influence. The manuscript bears an inscription with the name Richard Cloos and the date 1472. Cloos has been identified with a churchwarden in the parish of St Mary-at-Hill. This article reveals his activities as a London merchant and explores the difficulties of linking the man with the colophon.

Westminster School MS 3 is a fifteenth-century collection of devotional and conduct material written in Middle English. Copied onto vellum, the texts were compiled by three scribes. H. E. Allen dated the manuscript to c. 1420, (1) while Phyllis Hodgson described the first scribe as having a 'regular early to mid-fifteenth-century court hand', (2) and A. I. Doyle suggested that the hand of the first scribe could be as early as 1400. (3) The manuscript contains eighteen main items, as follows:

Booklet 1

1. fol. [1.sup.r] An exposition of the Lord's Prayer, '[thorn]e Pater Noster of Richard Ermyte'.

2. fol. [68.sup.r] A commentary on the Ave Maria.

Booklet 2

3. fol. [73.sup.r] The 'orthodox' commentary on the Ten Commandments.

4. fol. [88.sup.v] A translation of the Beniamin Minor of Richard of St Victor.

5. fol. [103.sup.v] An exposition of Psalm 26.

Booklet 3

6. fol. [105.sup.r] 'How men [thorn]at be[thorn] in heele schulde visite sekemen'.

7. fol. [112.sup.r] '[thorn]e chartir of heuene', a tract from the Pore Caitif.

8. fol. [115.sup.r] A translation of Chapter 3 of Pseudo-Bonaventura, Meditationes vitae Christi.

9. fol. [117.sup.v] 'How lordis and housbondemen schulden teche goddis comaundementis and [thorn]e gospel to her suggettis and answere for hem to god on domesday'.

10. fol. [119.sup.v] 'Diliges dominum [...] [thorn]ou schalt loue [thorn]i lord god of al pin herte'.

11. fol. [121.sup.r] 'Here bigynne[thorn] a tretis of weddid men and wymmen and of her children also'.

12. fol. [132.sup.v] 'A schort reule of lyf for eche man in general and for preestis in special hou eche schal be saued in his degre'.

Booklet 4

13. fol. [137.sup.r] 'Here bigynne[thorn] a noble tretys of maydenhode'.

14. fol. [153.sup.r] 'I write to [thorn]ee [thorn]is tretys in [thorn]ese fyue schort chapitres', concluding tract from the Pore Caitif.

Booklet 5

15. fol. [163.sup.r] '[thorn]e ten comaundementis of god'.

Booklet 6

16. fol. [181.sup.r] A translation of the Speculum Ecclesiae of St Edmund of Abingdon, '[thorn]e myrour of seynt edmound'. (fol. [204.sup.v] originally mostly blank, now with added lists of the 'sevene gostly werkis of mercy' and the 'fyue goostly wittis'.)

Booklet 7

17. fol. [205.sup.r] Richard Rolle's Form of Living.

18. fol. [225.sup.r] Rolle's Ego Dormio. (fol. [231.sup.v] originally blank, now with riddle on family relationships, with the initials R. C. underneath). (4)

Ralph Hanna has described how the texts appear to have been gathered in seven booklets, as indicated above. (5) Scribe 1 compiled most of the material--booklets 1 to 5--writing in an anglicana formata hand, booklet 6 was copied by the second scribe in bastard anglicana, and booklet 7 by the third scribe in textura. The booklets were bound together in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century to form the current codex. (6)

MS Westminster 3 may seem like a fairly 'typical' fifteenth-century miscellany but it has some interesting features that merit further consideration. First, it bears an inscription at the end of the manuscript, with the name Richard Cloos and the date 1472 (fol. …

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