On Giving Scribe B a Name and a Clutch of London Manuscripts from C.1400

By Roberts, Jane | Medium Aevum, Fall-Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

On Giving Scribe B a Name and a Clutch of London Manuscripts from C.1400


Roberts, Jane, Medium Aevum


This article seeks to review the recent controversy over the identification of the main scribe of the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales with Adam Pynkhurst, a London scrivener. I should like to take as my starting point a small piece of personal reminiscence. Back in early zoo4 I was looking for a document in Middle English to include among the examples of different scripts in my Guide to Scripts. (1) My first thought was to visit the National Archives, to see what the Petition of the Folk of Mercerye [MP] actually looked like. (2) I had long known it as an important document, linguistically as well as intrinsically fascinating. (3) My initial reaction on looking at it was huge excitement: a hand spot-on for comparison with the scribe of the Ellesmere manuscript, San Marino, California, Henry E. Huntingdon Library, MS EL 26.C.9 (Chaucer, Canterbury Tales), which is among the manuscripts illustrated in the Guide. Then two immediate problems occurred to me. First, the Petition at c.542mm x c.348mm was far too large for reproduction in the Guide, where whole-page illustration is general (for a reproduction of part at actual size, see Fig. 1). For the Ormulum plate, which is the most heavily reduced page included, a correcting slip gives a decent impression of Orm's large script, whereas the full page itself is reduced to 46 per cent of actual size. Even the Ellesmere page, reduced in the Guide to 62 per cent, is too small for comfortable reading, so the full sheet that is the MP would have proved unreadable. Secondly, Anglicana formata was well enough represented in the pages I'd already chosen. So, I put the Petition aside for the time being, and went back to getting the Guide to press. I did, however, happen to show a xerox of it to Jeremy Smith, who mentioned it to Linne Mooney, who got in touch with me and began searching for documents in similar handwriting in the National Archives, the Guildhall, and the Mercers' Hall. Regrettably, despite a summer filled with the excitements of chewing happily over her discoveries, it turned out that we were not in agreement as to the relationship between scribe B and his growing portfolio. The Adam Pynkhurst entry in the Scriveners' Company Common Paper (see Fig. 2) did not convince me as the hand of scribe B (see Fig. 3), (4) and I was uncertain of the validity of the criteria put forward in explication of the new identifications. I felt strongly that fuller consideration of all the writings being placed together as the output of a single hand was needed. (5) The linguistic profile was not a problem, because the MP is itself a key document in LALME terms and, as the longest of the documents for the London area late in the fourteenth century, a central component within the evidences for Samuels's Type III, (6) but I remained unconvinced that Adam Pynkhurst, the scribe responsible for a flamboyant entry in the Common Paper, was necessarily also the scribe of the MP, let alone Hengwrt, EHesmere, and the other manuscripts in play.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

But I run ahead of myself, assuming that the terms Type III and scribe B are both instantly recognizable. Type III, a term going back to Samuels's 1963 paper 'Some applications of Middle English dialectology', describes a form of English written in the London area late in the fourteenth and early in the fifteenth century, at a time when 'any form of written standard is conspicuous by its absence'. (7) Samuels's Type III, although by no means nearly so fixed in orthography as Type I, the incipient standard of the Central Midlands and vehicle for the majority of Wycliffite writings, is more securely evidenced than Type II, to be found in a small number of manuscripts written in the greater London area before c.1360-80. London documents played a major part in the establishment of criteria for delineating Type III, among them the Petition of the Folk of Mercerye. Samuels saw this type of English as represented also by the language of Chaucer 'as vouched for by a consensus of the best MSS' and 'corroborated by the evidence of' the documents examined, by the language of Hoccleve 'as established by a consensus of the MSS', and by the text of Piers Plowman in Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B. …

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