restricted access Four: The Auchinleck Manuscript and the Writing of History
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T T he Auchinleck manuscript has been called many things by many critics, and read in many different ways, but no critic has ever called the book unimportant. It is a thick book, preserving some fortythree items in Middle English and one piece in Anglo-Norman in the 331 folios that survive intact in the codex.1 In contrast to the thirty-six items spread across 123 folios in Royal 12.c.xii, or the 121 items of Harley 2253’s 140 folios, the Auchinleck manuscript features a large number of long texts, most notably the romances for which the book is best known. The codex has been described as “unique, without precedent or emulator” but also as a book that “recalls and resembles the behaviours of legal book-producers.”2 At once sui generis and recognizably a textual and cultural product embedded in the practices of book-making and illumination in the first half of the fourteenth century, the Auchinleck codex mixes a large number of “unique” 1. There are fourteen stubs in the codex, and ten folios preserved under three different shelfmarks at Edinburgh University Library, St. Andrews University Library, and University of London Library. See the online facsimile, “Physical make-up,” at editorial/physical.html. All quotations of texts in the Auchinleck manuscript will be from the facsimile, and the line numbers will correspond to the online transcriptions, unless otherwise specified. 2. See Julia Boffey and A. S. G. Edwards, “Middle English Literary Writings, 1150–1400,” in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 2: 380–90, esp. 388; and Ralph Hanna, London Literature, 1300–1380 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 79. 146 The Auchinleck Manuscript and the Writing of History four The Auchinleck Manuscript and the Writing of History • 147 Middle English texts with other items well attested in other manuscripts. The book has been the object of studies focussed very narrowly on particular texts (frequently editions) and of philological analyses both partial and more comprehensive.3 This chapter aims to reimagine the processes of composition for derivative texts preserved in the manuscript. In particular, the chapter will situate the Auchinleck manuscript and several connected historiographical texts amidst the challenges posed by source study when textual stability and transparent textual transmission are not assumed to be the only form of scribal practice. The second half of the chapter will turn to the technologies and processes of medieval composition, interrogating how texts were written and what is actually preserved in manuscripts. The Auchinleck Short Chronicle bears very little resemblance to the Royal Short Chronicle considered in Chapter 3. At about 2400 lines (roughly two and a half times the length of the Royal 12.c.xii text), the Auchinleck Short Chronicle narrates the history of the island not from Brutus onwards, but from Albina, an eponymous founder of the island who was inserted into the historiographical narrative before Brutus. Albina’s place in the historiographical and literary record has occasioned much study recently, remedying long neglect. She and her sisters were, however, anything but neglected soon after their first appearance. Dating the appearance of the Albina story is challenging, as it seems to appear in both Anglo-Norman and Middle English in the late 1320s or early 1330s. The earliest Anglo-Norman text that narrates the story of Albina and her sisters, known as Des Grantz Geanz, survives in BL, MS Cotton Cleopatra D.ix, dated to c. 1333–4.4 There are in fact several versions of the poem, though only two have been edited: that in Cotton Cleopatra D.ix and a closely related shorter version that serves as a prologue to the Anglo-Norman Brut.5 Although it is possible that some 3. For example, see Emily Runde, “Reexamining Orthographic Practice in the Auchinleck Manuscript through Study of Complete Scribal Corpora,” in Studies in the History of the English Language, vol. 5 (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2010): 265–87 and Alison Wiggins, “Are Auchinleck Manuscript Scribes 1 and 6 the Same Scribe? The Advantages of Whole-Data Analysis and Electronic Texts,” Medium Ævum 73 (2004): 10–26. 4. MS Cotton Cleopatra D.ix is in fact a composite volume, bound by Robert Cotton in the early seventeenth century, combining at least five separate manuscripts, including a book associated with a vicar for Lichfield Cathedral, one from Fineshade Priory (Northamptonshire), a short chronicle potentially from the Welsh Marches, the “Epistola ad regem Edwardi III” mistakenly...