This is the sixth catalogue of historic British collections of medieval manuscripts from the pen of Rodney Thomson, who has thereby become the leading manuscript scholar in this field, as well as the quickest worker, and the true successor of Neil Ker, who raised the art of manuscript cataloguing to a thoroughly professional level. It is also his first of a Cambridge college. The Peterhouse collection of 277 manuscripts, not including fragments taken from the pastedowns of bindings, is not the largest among Cambridge colleges, but it is one of the most interesting and distinguished. Its accumulation throws some light on the Cambridge schools in general in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Curiously, there does not seem to have been an organised scriptorium in Cambridge before 1400; many of the Peterhouse books were made in Oxford and imported second-hand. Thomson’s comparison of some early fifteenth-century books at Peterhouse with others now at Pembroke and Caius Colleges reveals, however, the distinctive work of Cambridge scribes at a time when the university was beginning to match Oxford in size and vigour. Like other college libraries, the library of Peterhouse depended on the bequests of scholars; there was no systematic acquisition policy; though William Dyngley, between 1390 and 1440, does seem to have bought and sold books with some idea of improving the scope of the collection. At least one book, MS 115, Bonaventure’s commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, was given to the ‘scholars of St John’, the group of scholars settled about 1280 in the Hospital of St John by Bishop Balsham and who were the precursors of the fellows of Peterhouse. They already included, therefore, some students of theology. Another book, MS 115, a collection of medical texts, provides evidence of college teaching in that faculty too: it is annotated with directions to other scholars, ‘nota Ryde’, ‘Scharp lok Þis’, ‘lo Robyn’. By 1418, the date of the compilation of an extensive catalogue, there were 253 volumes, 168 of which were chained and therefore belonged to the reference library, while the remainder circulated among the fellows. By the end of the fifteenth century, the college owned 384 books, of which 171 still survive, mostly at Peterhouse. They were housed in a new library built in the second quarter of the fifteenth century, which is still standing. By that time, the college was receiving substantial bequests of books, from John Newton, Master 1382–97, John Holbroke, a notable writer on astronomy and Master 1421–37, and the royal physician John Marchall, a fellow in the mid-fifteenth century, among others. Some of these donors, including Holbroke, evinced a fashionable interest in the Latin classics. One, John Warkworth, Master 1475–1500 and donor of forty-seven books, seems to have been the author of ‘Warkworth’s Chronicle’, a text of which, partly in his own hand, is in MS 190. The attribution has been doubted, but Thomson gives good reason to reaffirm that the author of this primary source for the 1470s is indeed the Master of Peterhouse. Most of the texts in the Peterhouse library are, as one would expect, duplicated elsewhere. Some medical tracts in MS 178 may not survive in other copies, and William of Chelvestun’s commentary on Aristotle’s Physics in MS 192, fos 1–36, appears to be the unique text. Two canonical collections are of considerable interest: one, MS 74, is the copy of Lanfranc’s collection of canons belonging in the late eleventh century to William of St Calais, bishop of Durham, and once in the library of Durham Priory. The other is the so-called Collectio Peterhusensis, a collection of decretals made after 1194, now partly incorporated as flyleaves in MS 114, with some stray leaves in other Peterhouse manuscripts. The Aristotelian texts in MS 90 belonged to Thomas Arundel, and may have been his textbook when he was reading arts at Oriel about 1370; it seems more likely that he gave the book to Peterhouse when he was bishop of Ely and visitor of the college than that he left it as a bequest, as Thomson surmises. MS 223 is an Oxford manuscript which was made by or for Laurence Bedeman (or Stephen), briefly a follower of John Wyclif; its contents provide valuable evidence of the interests of the first generation of Wycliffite masters. The catalogue is elegantly produced and accompanied by 113 illustrations in colour. It would have been useful to have included a list of donors with their books; but, as it is, this is an exceptionally valuable catalogue and a worthy companion to Thomson’s catalogues of Merton and Corpus Christi College libraries at Oxford, and of the cathedral libraries of Lincoln, Worcester and Hereford. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 15, 2018
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