Academic journal article Arthuriana

Caxton's Exemplar and a Copy from Caxton's Edition of the Chronicles of England: MS HM136 and BL Additional 10099*

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Caxton's Exemplar and a Copy from Caxton's Edition of the Chronicles of England: MS HM136 and BL Additional 10099*

Article excerpt

MS HM136 shows the traces of a copy-text used for printing Caxton's 1480 edition of Chronicles of England. By using HM136, one can extract the traces of techniques used by Caxton's compositor when he tried to fit a given portion of text to a given page. As a result, MS BL Additional 10099 has revealed its previously hidden trait: it derives from a text closer to Caxton's printed edition than his manuscript exemplar. (MT)


The state of William Caxton's exemplar is a familiar topic for those who are acquainted with Malory's Le Morte Darthur. Since the discovery of the Winchester manuscript (now British Library Additional 59678) in 1934 by Walter F. Oakeshott, Eugène Vinaver evaluated the works of Sir Thomas Malory, while uncovering anew that the oldest known text of Malory till that day, i.e., Caxton's edition, in fact contained many non-authorial emendations.1 William Matthews later challenged this view of Vinaver, saying that the most drastically amended Book V, the Roman War section of Caxton's Le Morte Darthur, could have been written by Malory himself.2

Nowadays, most scholars accept Vinaver's view that the abridged text of the Roman War section was probably rewritten by Caxton. Among many points of the discussion concerning the relationship between Winchester manuscript and Caxton's edition, the necessity of differentiating the scribal errors from the compositor's copy-fitting technique was advanced by Lotte Hellinga, Toshiyuki Takamiya, and Takako Kato, to name but a few.3 At the same time, it was pointed out that in the process of revising, Caxton made use of some texts of chronicles, among them possibly the Prose Brut or even his own edition of the Chronicles of England.4

This article is in a way an extension of the above-mentioned research into Malory's text, although the text in focus here is not Malory but the Prose Brut-the one on which Caxton based his publication of the Chronicles of England with his own additions. Interestingly enough, these two books-Malory and Brut-share some aspects in common: as has already been mentioned, the narrative of King Arthur in the Chronicles of England was probably used by Caxton to rewrite Malory's Roman War section, and both the Chronicles of England (1480 and 1482) and Le Morte Darthur (1485) mark the transition period of incunabula in England from manuscript to print. Malory scholars have long hoped to discover Caxton's exemplar for Le Morte Darthur because that would seem to be the clue to know what Malory really wrote. Even if it is a different text, specifying Caxton's English exemplar may help scholars re-evaluate the particular features of Malory's text and Caxton's work with more accuracy. It is with that hope in mind that I state my agreement with Daniel Wakelin, who proposes San Marino, Huntington Library MS HM136 (hereafter HM136) as the exemplar used by Caxton to publish the Chronicles of England in 1480.5 At the same time, I would like to propose that London, British Library Additional 10099 (hereafter 10099), which has been discussed as having some relation to Caxton's exemplar, has no direct connection to HM136-contrary to the belief currently held by many scholars of the subject.

After Friedrich Brie's publication of The Brut or the Chronicles of England in 1906 and 1908, there was a lack of research tools for English medieval chronicles until 1989 when Edward Donald Kennedy compiled the bibliographical guide to the Middle English chronicles as Chronicles and Other Historical Writing in Volume 8 of A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500. And then, in 1998, Lister Matheson published the corpus of extant Prose Brut manuscripts in 1998 as The Prose Brut: The Development of a Middle English Chronicle.6 These are the three essential sources for Middle English chronicles and Prose Brut studies today. Brie believed that 10099 marked the last example of the manuscript tradition of the Prose Brut, and thus edited its text of 'continuation' (narrative from 1419 to 1461) to be included in his edition. …

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