Librarian’s Pick #7: The Brittany Gospels

Charter & Another Illustration

The Christ Church, Canterbury, link is strengthened by the Latin and Old English versions of a charter from 979 in which King Æthelred granted land at Sandwich and Eastry, Kent, to Christ Church, Canterbury:

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 194, fol. 2r
Oxford, St John’s College, MS 194, fol. 2v

Unfortunately, however, these texts do not date from the 10th century and can thus not be used as the terminus ante quem for MS 194’s arrival at Christ Church.

According to the database of Anglo-Saxon charters (The Electronic Sawyer) there are nine surviving copies of this charter (S 1636), all of them post-Conquest: seven Latin copies and two vernacular ones. St John’s MS 194 is the only surviving medieval vernacular text witness. The oldest Latin copy is from the 12th century (now Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, 189, fol. 200v).

The Electronic Sawyer dates both St John’s versions to the 13th century. For some reason, Hanna dates the Old English text to the mid-12th century and only the Latin text to the late 13th century (Descriptive Catalogue, p. 280). Would the Latin text, which clearly existed before the Old English one, really have been added to MS 194 over a century after the vernacular version? Hanna also describes the Old English text as written in an Insular minuscule, as it includes Insular letter forms and even the letter wynn to represent the w-sound (ibid.). However, if it was written in the 13th, it is clearly an imitation of the Insular minuscule, which had been replaced by then with other scripts.

Probably in the 15th century the figure of the robed king was squeezed to the left of the Latin charter on fol. 2r:

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 194, fol. 2r, detail

Hanna rightly points out that the figure gestures to the word ego ‘I’ in the text but identifies it as ‘perhaps Edward the Confessor’ (ibid., p. 281). As the charter was issued in the name of King Æthelred II, also called Æthelred the Unready, i.e. the Ill-advised, is it not more likely that he is illustrated here as the robed king rather than the mid-11th century king?

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