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  • Vernacular Manuscript Culture, 1000–1500ed. by Erik Kwakkel
  • Hannah Morcos

Manuscript Studies, paleography, codicology, vernacular languages, medieval

Erik Kwakkel, ed. Vernacular Manuscript Culture, 1000–1500. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Book Culture 4Leiden: Leiden University Press/University of Chicago Press, 2018. 278 pp. + 21 color plates, 25 black and white illustrations. $45. ISBN: 978-908-72-8302-5.

C urated by the dynamicErik Kwakkel, this wide-ranging collection of essays on vernacular manuscript production belongs to a series that "aims to discuss material features of manuscripts in relation to the cultural context of their production" (11). Featuring contributions by eminent scholars as well as early career researchers, the chapters focus primarily on the vernaculars of northern Europe, but also include traditions less familiar to the mainstream of manuscript studies, namely Frisian and Icelandic book production. Moreover, the textual contents comprise material often at the peripheries of literary studies, such as prayers and legal texts. Together this contributes to a broader and more nuanced presentation of book production across Europe.

The collection begins with Kathryn A. Lowe's intricate study of the copies of Gregory the Great's Regula pastoralisassociated with the cathedral church of Worcester. By placing the philological and paleographical evidence in historical context, Lowe provides new insights into the reading and copying of this important patristic text in Latin and Old English. In particular, she demonstrates the important role of Wales for its transmission in Latin, [End Page 214]offering further evidence of the strength of Latinity in Wales during the ninth-century Viking raids. Lowe's principal focus is Glasgow, University Library, MS Hunter 431, a Latin copy of the text started in the early eleventh century and completed (and corrected) in the early twelfth century. Among the additions to the manuscript page are thirteenth-century annotations by the so-called Tremulous Hand of Worcester, who referred to it while working through two tenth-century Old English copies of the text. Lowe demonstrates how the exemplar of Hunter 431 was probably Welsh, containing a system of abbreviations unfamiliar to the original scribes. Lowe thus reveals how even at Worcester (a "bastion of learning") they "had to look elsewhere in order to acquire copies of key patristic texts in their original language" (44).

In the subsequent chapter, Nigel F. Palmer provides a magisterial overview of manuscripts and fragments containing Middle High German prayers copied between 1150 and 1250. Palmer distinguishes this corpus from the later vernacular prayer books that "assert themselves as a major component of German literature" (54). He traces the beginnings back to the insular tradition epitomized by Anselm of Canterbury, who played a key role "in the emergence of the 'prayer book'" (55) and whose Latin prayers were circulated and translated in German-speaking lands. In the twelfth-and thirteenth-century manuscripts under investigation, Palmer discovers a small "network" (70) of widely circulating German-language prayers often added to existing Latin collections. He traces evidence of female ownership and identifies a context of close interaction between wealthy families and the monasteries where the books were copied and illuminated. The chapter includes a useful inventory of the thirteen manuscripts in the corpus (73–85), as well as numerous figures and four-color plates. Through this important contribution, Palmer lays the groundwork for more extensive investigations of the corpus, while demonstrating its significance for our understanding of early medieval German literary culture.

The third chapter jumps forward to consider rubrics in the manuscripts of Jean Froissart's Chroniques. Godfried Croenen challenges the assumption that rubrication was a standard feature of late medieval manuscripts and calls for "a better understanding of the precise dynamics, chronology, and geography" of their "generalized" presence in books (105). Beginning with [End Page 215]a useful survey of the medieval and modern (scholarly) uses of the term "rubric," he goes on to explore differences in practice across France. Croenen argues that Froissart did not compose the rubrics found in the manuscripts of his historical works. The impetus to introduce them is linked to Parisian modes of book production. Croenen compellingly articulates how rubrics became a conventional feature of Parisian vernacular manuscripts from the thirteenth century onward...


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pp. 214-218
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