Seminar on the Evidence Of Manuscripts (December 1989)

August 23, 2016 in Manuscript Studies, Seminars on Manuscript Evidence, Uncategorized

2. “Legal Manuscripts, Their Make-Up and Contents”

'Legal Manuscripts' Seminar on 16 December 1989In the Series of Seminars on the Evidence of Manuscripts
The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
(16 December 1989)
Invitation in pdf.

The previous — the first— seminar in the Series considered
“Anglo-Saxon Manuscript Illustrations as Evidence for Daily Life”
(Parker Library, July 1989).

[First published on 22 August 2016]

“We hope by choosing this topic to interest those whose concern is with texts as well as those who are primarily interested in manuscript make-up and lay-out”

The Invitation

The Invitation Letter (shown here and downloadable here) states the case:

  • What (The Subject) for consideration,
  • Which Manuscripts may be available for consultation (plus a facsimile in print from a manuscript in another collection), and
  • Who might “speak or intervene”,
  • plus a detachable RSVP slip.

On our custom-designed Letterhead, with our Logo, the Letter takes the then-Librarian’s customary form for correspondence, with double spacing in Courier type.  Subsequently, the Invitation Letters for the Series continue to appear on the Letterhead, which over time exhibits changes in the number of Names at head and foot, naming the Principals of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and, soon, the Associates of the Research Group, as they joined our number.  However, after the “Legal Manuscripts” Seminar, the Invitation Letters emerge in printed-out and photocopied form employing closer spacing between lines (single spacing by the Invitation for the 13 April 1990 Seminar onward), as well as the Adobe Garamond font which the Research Group chose as its official font (as described in our Illustrated Bulletin ShelfLife and in our Style Manifesto in its early forms).


Manuscripts on View

The Letter proposes these manuscripts for examination from the Parker Library, with contents described thus:

  • MS 173 (Parker Chronicle and Laws)
  • MS 383 (miscellaneous legal manuscript containing several unique legal texts)
  • MS 201 (a miscellany, containing, among other things, some laws)
  • MS 265 (again a miscellany with some laws)

“It will also be possible to look at the facsimile of the Textus Roffensis if needed.”

[Note: That means the printed monochrome facsimile in 2 volumes plus commentary, comprising the Textus Roffensis, edited by Peter Sawyer for the series Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile, volumes 7 and 11 (Copenhagen, 1957 + 1962).

[The Textus Roffensis itself, a volume combining 2 manuscripts copied between 1122 and 1123 CE, and having the pressmark Rochester Cathedral Library, MS A.3.5, is now kept at the Medway Archives and Local Studies Center in Stroud, Rochester, Kent. A full digital facsimile is now readily available.

[WebEditor’s Note:  Remember, these were the days, and years, before manuscripts were widely viewable on screen aided by digital photographic means.  Looking at the Real Thing was the Main Thing, and in many cases it could be a Good Thing, while photographic facsimiles providing images of manuscript pages, or even of the whole book, might serve the cause as well.  Photocopies, as well.  Some of those, reproducing parts of manuscripts and printed editions, were circulated as handouts at the Seminar, and jolly useful they were, too.]


EPSON001 MB Catalogue Front Cover Vol 1 cropped for WebGold stamp on blue cloth of the logo of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence. Detail from the front cover of Volume II of 'The Illustrated Catalogue'[Note: In time, 3 of these examined manuscripts came to figure in the Illustrated Catalogue (2 volumes, 1997) emanating from the long-term, integrated research work on selected Anglo-Saxon and related manuscripts at The Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. (The stages of the research work are recorded, for example, in the Annual Reports to the Leverhulme Trust, described in our Publications.)  The entries record, as reported in the catalogue itself, some results of the work of the Seminars.

  • MS 173, Part I = Budny Number 11 (The Parker Chronicle and Laws)
  • MS 201, Part I = Budny Number 29 (Wulfstanian Ecclesiastical and Secular Handbook)
  • MS 265, Part I = Budny Number 40 (Ecclesiastical Handbook from Exeter:
    A Witness to “Archbishop Wulfstan‘s Commonplace Book) ]



Invitations were sent to:

David Wilson, Christine Fell, Mildred Budny, Nicholas Hadgraft, Patrick Wormald, Richard Scharpe, Leslie Webster, David Parsons, Kathryn Lowe, Carole Hough, Richard Gem, Timothy Graham, and others unreported within the Invitation Letter as drafted for reproduction and circulation.


R.I. Page, Mildred Budny, W. Cozens, Richard Dammery, Christine Fell, Leslie French, Timothy Graham, Nicholas Hadgraft, Carole Hough, Kathryn Lowe, Rosamond McKitterick, David Parsons, Alex Rumble, Richard Scharpe, David Wilson, Patrick Wormald


A 12-page handwritten report by Timothy Graham survives in the Research Group Archives with the 3-line title

Legal manuscripts, their make-up and contents: Report of a
meeting of the Seminar on the Evidence of Manuscripts
held in the Parker Library on Saturday 16th December 1989.

This text records the names of those present, reports the sequence and contents of the discussions, cites the other manuscripts with legal contents brought forth by the Librarian from the Parker Library’s collection (MSS 96, 190, 201, 265, and 398), in addition to those cited in the Invitation, and sums up the conclusions.

The opening of the Report sets the scene:

The meeting was opened by the Librarian who sounded the key-note for the day’s proceedings by saying that the aim was to focus on the significance of text within manuscripts and so provide a balance to the previous meeting of the Seminar, which had concentrated on pictures.

The closing paragraph closes the curtain:

As the meeting dispersed, it was apparent that a great deal of ground had been covered in the day, and that through the pooling of specialists from the fields of legal history, linguistics and manuscript studies in the presence of the manuscripts themselves, progress had been made towards a more sensitive appraisal of the documents on which our knowledge of Anglo-Saxon Law rests.

The Report described the presentations and discussions in detail, allowing the knowledge at the distance of time and space of much of the character and sequence of the proceedings, with presentations (followed by discussions) by Carole Hough and by Christine Fell before lunch, and by Patrick Wormald after lunch, when the manuscripts themselves emerged into view.

Thus is recorded the essence of

  • Carole’s presentation focusing on 2 of the Laws of King Æthelbert (King of Kent from circa 589 – 616 CE),
    contained in the Textus Roffensis:
    his Laws now numbered 84 and 74.
  • Christine’s cautions concerning the importance of recognizing the ” ‘interventionist’ editions of the Anglo-Saxon legal codes”, whereby silently adopted editorial approaches, from the addition of numbering and paragraph divisions, through modern forms of punctuation (English vs. German) to the very order of the printed codes, “can seriously affect our assessment and interpretation of the text”.
  • Patrick’s detailed consideration of the physical layout and structure of the legal texts in the Textus Roffensis (represented by facsimile and photocopy) and in the original manuscripts brought out for examination.
  • The full list of those manuscripts on the day:
    Corpus Christi College, MSS 173, 383,  96, 190, 201, 265, and MS 398
  • And the observations on various points also by other participants:
    Milly Budny
    Alex Rumble
    Patrick Wormald
    R.I. Page
    Rosamond McKitterick and
    Richard Dammery.

The notes on the day flesh out the elements sketched in the Invitation Letter, adding living tissue to its skeleton framework.  For example, they add these 2 further manuscripts to those listed in the Invitation Letter: MS 96 and MS 398.


The Research Group Archives also retain a copy of the printout of Christine Fell’s presentation, entitled “Some questions of layout-and legal manuscripts”, composed or shaped — as some of its asides indicate — specifically for this meeting of the Seminar.

'Legal Manuscripts' Seminar on 16 December 1989

And thus, with the first 2 Seminars in the series accomplished in 1989, there followed a steady stream of Seminars on a richly varied range of topics, as well as manuscripts.


Cover for "Selected Pages from Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: A Palaeographical and Textual Handbook" by Mildred Budny, Leslie French et al.'Facsimiles, Diplomatic Texts and Editions' Seminar Invitation 17 March 1990.

The next Seminar considered

Facsimiles, Diplomatic Texts and Editions”
Parker Library, March 1990

That meeting of the Series previewed, or showcased, a publication in preparation by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence for instructing students in manuscript studies.

The manuscripts selected as case-studies, or specimens, for the Palaeographical and Textual Handbook included 3 of the manuscripts considered in the Seminar on “Legal Manuscripts”:

Some subsequent meetings in the Series focused specifically upon one or another of the manuscripts tabled at the “Legal Manuscripts” Seminar:

At that meeting, Patrick Wormald was the “main speaker”.  It was the only meeting in the Series which featured, and named, a single speaker.

At that meeting, Patrick, although planned as one of the speakers, was unable at the last minute to attend, and so his intentions about the subject had to be represented by proxy.  Thus unfurled the various colours and designs of the flags flown at our different Seminars.