The Edmund-Fremund Scribe Copying Chaucer

By Horobin, Simon | The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

The Edmund-Fremund Scribe Copying Chaucer


Horobin, Simon, The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History


The "Edmund-Fremund scribe" was named by Kathleen Scott in an article describing his copying activities and particularly his specialism in the works of Lydgate. (1) To date all or part of a total of ten manuscripts have been attributed to the hand of this busy scribe, all containing works by Lydgate. Four are copies of the Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund; two are copies of the Fall of Princes (one of these now only a fragment); two preserve the Secrees of Old Philisoffres, left unfinished by Lydgate at his death in 1449 and subsequently completed by his "yonge folowere" Benedict Burgh; another is a copy of the Troy Book. (2) Scholars disagree about the full extent of the scribe's contribution to British Library MS Harley 2255, an anthology of Lydgate's minor verse, although all concur that this scribe was responsible for copying at least part of that collection. (3) The only one of these manuscripts to contain work by another author is British Library MS Harley 4826 which adds Hoccleve's Regiment of Princes to the more predictable combination of the Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund and the Secrees.

This focus on the works of Lydgate, particularly on his lives of the East Anglian saints Edmund and Fremund, suggests that the scribe was based in the poet's home town of Bury St Edmunds, more likely in a commercial workshop than in a scriptorium based at the abbey itself. (4) Kathleen L. Scott's study of the pictorial cycle employed for the lavishly illustrated manuscripts of Edmund and Fremund concluded that the model was that devised for the presentation copy of this work, now British Library MS Harley 2278, a manuscript produced to commemorate Henry VI's visit to Bury in 1433/4 and subsequently presented to the king. (5) The scribe's apparent access to this manuscript, or at least its model, implies proximity to Bury and connections with the abbey, where it is presumed Harley 2278 was produced. The provenance of some of the manuscripts copied by the Edmund-Fremund scribe adds further support to their suggested Suffolk origin. British Library MS Harley 1766, containing the Fall of Princes, was owned in the sixteenth century by a Suffolk native, John Walker of Willisham, Suffolk. Harley 4826 was owned by the prominent Drury family who also owned the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and two copies, or a two-volume copy, of the Fall of Princes. (6) There is further evidence for co-ordination in the decoration and illustration of these manuscripts, which is the work of a small group of provincial artists and decorators. Scott has shown that the border artists employed a strikingly similar style to that of British Library MS Additional 11814, containing the Middle English translation of Claudian's De Consulatu Stilichonis attributed to Osbern Bokenham, produced at Clare Priory in Suffolk in 1445. (7) Only British Library MS Arundel 99 employs a different decorative style, which Scott attributes to a London workshop.

As well as presenting deluxe illustrated copies of Lydgate's work, these manuscripts are also textually important, as several preserve variant or supplementary texts. Three of the copies of the Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund contain additional stanzas describing miracles of St Edmund that took place in London and Bury in 1441 and 1444, though these are not generally thought to be by Lydgate. (8) The version of the Fall of Princes attested by Harley 1766 and McGill 143 is an abbreviated version of Lydgate's lengthy work, with the text compressed into eight rather than nine books and supplemented with some additional material. (9) In his edition of the Fall of Princes, Henry Bergen attributed this version to a scribal redactor, arguing that, while the manuscript may have been made during Lydgate's lifetime, there is no evidence for his having seen it, or contributing to its reworking of the Fall. (10) A.S.G. Edwards, however, has argued that the intelligence with which the changes have been implemented raises the possibility that the abbreviated version may be an early version by Lydgate, or perhaps a later "compact version" made on demand for a specific patron. …

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