Archives: The Journal of the British Records Association

BOOK REVIEWS

Archives: The Journal of the British Records Association (2009), 34, (120), 56–90.

Abstract

BOOK REVIEWS Edited by Professor William Gibson Michelle P Brown, Manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon Age. London: The British Library, 2007. Pp. 184. £25. ISBN 9780712306805. This extremely useful and attractive book contains a collection of 145 photographs (140 in colour) showing many of the most significant surviving Insular and Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Although ninety one photographs are from sixty three manuscripts now in the British Library, which published the book, this ref lects the wealth of the Cottonian, Harleian and Royal fonds relative to the period covered. Other external collections are not ignored, however, and exceptionally important items from the Bodleian and Parker Libraries are included as well as from Durham Cathedral, Cambridge University Library and some non-English locations such as the Archives Nationales, Paris; the State Library, St Petersburg; and the John H. Scheide Library, Princeton. The colour plates provide an excellent introduction to the variety of decorative styles and palettes discernible in the manuscripts chosen. They are grouped within four chronological periods, each group preceded by a succinct summary of the cultural and political context in which the artefacts were created and used: the ‘Insular World’, the ‘Rise of Mercia and Wessex’, the period ‘From Alfred to Ælfric’ and ‘The Second Viking Age’. It is good to have the detailed treatment of the second of these periods, often less well covered in ‘popular’ surveys than the others. This ref lects Michelle Brown’s research on the ‘Tiberius Group’ of manuscripts with their ‘whimsical zoomorphic initials’ (p.53) and distinctive minuscule scripts, coming from what she has elsewhere termed an early ninth-century Mercian ‘Script Province’; included here are the Book of Cerne and similar private prayer-books as well as an important manuscript of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica (plates 46–51). A welcome feature of Professor Brown’s book is the inclusion of archival documents and historical texts in addition to the more familiar biblical and literary remains. Some of these exemplify the crucial comparative evidence they may supply for the dating and sometimes the localisation of codices, or groups of codices. Thus, the dating of a manuscript of saints’ lives, now in Paris, is established as c.805–25 by comparison of its script with the so-called ‘mannered minuscule’ found in a Mercian royal diploma in favour of Archbishop Wulfred of Canterbury, where the scribe was probably trained (plates 56–7). Elsewhere, the frontispiece to the New Minster Refoundation Charter of 966 (plate 84), represents the earliest datable example of the ‘Winchester Style’ of decoration. Overall the collection illustrates well the variety of physical features found in surviving documents from the period. An original single-sheet diploma, written in ‘high-grade Uncial script’ and recording a grant by King Hlothhere of Kent to Bishop Berhtwald of Reculver in AD 679, constitutes the earliest dated example of handwriting from England (plate 5). Later original documents include two wills (plates 59 and 116; the second a chirograph), a sealed writ of Edward the Confessor (plate 132) and a diploma with attached memorandum of witnesses (plate 63). Other documentary texts take the form of inscriptions into existing codices, ref lecting something of the history and provenance of the latter. Two such inscriptions (the second in Welsh) ref lect the temporary alienation of luxurious gospel books from Archives - April 2009.indb 56 04/02/2009, 15:13:20

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