Medieval manuscripts from France and England united

Banner France-Angleterre 700-1200

The future of the relations between Europe and the United Kingdom can at times seem darkened by current politics. As if no Brexit of whatever nature lies ahead a new online project has been created giving online access to some 800 medieval manuscripts kept at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris and the British Library in London. These manuscripts were produced between 700 and 1200. At least a number of them belongs to the period the dukes of Normandy had conquered England and established connections that would last for centuries. In this post I want to look at the project France-Angleterre 700-1200: Manuscrits médiévaux entre 700 et 1200, and in particular at the manuscripts connected with law and justice. You can view the project in French, English and Italian.

Manuscripts in two cities

Logo The Polonsky Foundation

The two libraries cooperating in this project would sorely miss the support of a Dritter im Bunde, The Polonsky Foundation, which supports projects concerning cultural heritage. Medieval manuscripts receive a fair share of its attention, in particular for the digitization of manuscripts held at the Vatican Library in cooperation with the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. The France-Angleterre website is supported by a website hosted by the British Library, Medieval England and France, 700-1200, viewable in English and French, where you will find articles on subjects such as medieval historians, manuscript illumination and the libraries of medieval monasteries. For both the BL and the BnF the website offers an introduction about the history of their manuscript collections and a selection of 115 manuscripts. The selection contains two decorated manuscripts of the Decretum Gratiani (BnF, Latin 3888 and BL, Arundel 490), a copy of Justinian’s Digest (BnF, Latin 4454) and a volume with legal texts concerning London, a description of England and Ranulph de Glanville’s legal treatise (BL, Add 14252). You can read also about six themes: art and illumination, history and learning, science and nature, Christian religion and belief, manuscript production and the modern care of medieval manuscripts in library collections. There is a glossary and a series of videos about the making of medieval manuscripts. You can also watch a video touching on legal history, The role of law in governing medieval England. At the resources page the blogs of the BL and BnF can tell you more about the project. Several conferences will be held, too.

The main manuscripts website of France-Angleterre offers four filters to approach the digitized manuscripts: themes, authors, locations and centuries. I assume here you would like to explore a particular theme, canon and civil law; nine other themes are presented as well. With 70 manuscripts of the 800 on this website the score for legal texts is higher here than in the selection, just four among 115 manuscripts, but this is better than the other way around. The presentation of the manuscripts at France-Angleterre looks familiar for regular visitors of the Gallica digital library of the BnF. When you look at the languages of these seventy manuscripts the number of 69 for Latin clearly means some manuscripts contain texts in two languages. The range of dates is from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, with 24 manuscripts from the twelfth century. The presence of Bl, Royal MS 8 E XV with Alcuin’s letters is justified by the presence of fragments of a tenth-century charter. Each manuscript is not shown in the viewer used at Gallica, but in the IIIF compliant viewer increasingly used nowadays. With the heading Canon and civil law you would expect a filter to distinguish between legal systems, but this is not provided for. For canon law I mentioned already the Decretum Gratiani, and you will find a number of older canon law collections, such as the Collectio Dacheriana (BL, Harley 2886 and 3845) and the Dionysio-Hadriana, the Rule of St. Benedict, the Pseudo-Isidorean decretals, and also the Institutio canonicorum Aquisgranensis, the Aachen rule for canons. The detailed description of BnF Latin 13908 mentions another text in this volume, the Statuta Adalhardi abbatis, the reason why this manuscript with Boethius’ De institutione musica has been included in this section. The Statuta Adalhardi abbatis are a variant title for the Constitutiones Corbeienses or Statuta seu Brevia Adalhardi abbatis Corbeiensis from 826, information easily found at the Monastic Manuscript Project. This manuscript is the oldest one to contain this text.

Image of London, BL. Egerton 2901, f. 1v

The Collectio Francofurtana – BL, Egerton 2901, f. 1r – image British Library

My interest was in particular awakened by the presence of the Collectio Francofurtana in BL, Egerton 2901, a twelfth-century collection of papal decretals, verdicts in the form of letters to delegated judges. During my period in Munich in 1997 and 1998 at the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law I had the chance to look at Walther Holtzmann’s card index of twelfth-century decretals, and also at the microfilms of the four manuscripts of the Collectio Francofurtana, an early systematic decretal collections created in or around 1183. Gisela Drossbach has successfully dealt with both the card index, now available online, and this decretal collection. Twenty years later it is only natural to look for the online presence of the other three manuscripts as well. Within the Digitale Sammlungen of the Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main you will indeed find the manuscript Barth. 60, the manuscript which gave its name to this decretal collection. The manuscript BnF, Lat. 3922A is present in Gallica, and the manuscript Troyes, BM 961, has been digitized in the Mediathèque of the Bibliothèque municipale in Troyes. It is quite a change from the black-and-white microfilms to four manuscripts at your screen in full colour.

Among the texts concerning canon law at France-Angleterre you will find texts from several church councils.and also monastic regulations, in particular the Coutumes de Cluny (Constitutiones Cluniacenses) in BnF, Lat. 13875. The Decretum of Burchard of Worms is present in BnF, Lat. 3860.

For Roman law we encounter not only the Digesta but also the Codex Iustinianus, the Codex Theodosianus and the Epitome Gaii Instutionum, a shortend version of the Institutes of Gaius. A number of Late Antique texts collectively known as the leges barbarorum or the Volksrechte are also present, among them the Leges Visigothorum and the Breviarium Alarici, the Lex Salica and the Lex Ribuaria. These texts are found in manuscripts surrounded by other texts. The French and Italian version of the website specifically mentions this fact for the section on law, “mais aussi tout recueil de lois” and “così come ogni altro compendio di natura giuridica”, but this has been omitted in the English version.

The language filter of France-Angleterre invites you to explore the use of other languages than Latin. For the first manuscript with one or more texts in Old French , BL, Cotton Tiberius E IV, it is not immediately clear which text is written in Old French. The manuscript catalogue of the British Library makes clear two only two separate texts at f. 28v and 29v were written in Old French, one of them the abdication of John, king of Scots on July 10, 1296. The same story can be told for BL, Cotton Vespasian B XX, with only some notes in Old French at f. 25r. I was afraid this story would continue for the three manuscripts with texts in Anglo-Norman, for example BL, Add. 24006 with as its main text the Tractatus de legibus et consuetudines Angliae by Ranulph of Glanvill and the first version of the Leges Edwardi Confessoris. The entry for the Early English Laws project does not mention any Anglo-Norman text in this manuscript. However, BL Add 14252 with again Glanvill’s treatise does contain several legal texts in Anglo-Norman, among them laws for London (f. 101-104r, 113r-117r, 119r-124r), and for weavers and fullers in Winchester, Oxford and other towns (f 111r-112r). In BL, Sloane 1580 the text in Anglo-Norman is not a legal text, but the oldest translation in medieval vernacular of a scientific text, the Comput (Computus) by Philippe de Thaon (f. 162v-178r). The manuscript contains only one legal treatise (f. 182r-184r), a kind of prologue connected with the Epitome exactis regibus. BL, Cotton Otho E XIII, has glosses in Breton for the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis. The Comput of Philippe de Thaon can be read in four other manuscripts within France-Angleterre.

A rapid tour

With just seventy manuscripts out of a total of 800 for France-Angleterre it is clear the sample taken here deals with less than ten percent of this digital collection. The impression seems clear that the selection contains for the field of law mainly Roman law texts, Late Antique laws, a wide choice of texts touching on canon law, and only a few examples of texts concerning English law. I did not readily find any text on French customary law or French royal acts. Before you might divine this has to do with the division of manuscripts in this selection, I should add that this selection contains thirty-five manuscripts from each library, a perfectly balanced choice with regard to numeric values. The choice for the period 700-1200 could have led to the presence of multiple texts in Anglo-Saxon in this selection, but in fact there is just a single manuscript in this language, the Heliand in BL, Cotton Caligula A VII. The advanced search mode of France-Angleterre allows you to search for several basic fields, for particular languages and time ranges.

I found it very important to see at France-Angleterre how texts we tend to single out were transmitted alongside sometimes very different other texts. It reminded me we should not see medieval law and justice in isolation. For all its qualities the IIIF viewer does not immediately show you how to go quickly to the end of a manuscript, but the gallery view does this for you. In a number of cases there is a side panel at the left which helps you to navigate to particular sections of a manuscript. The detailed description of items is often sufficient, but anyway all items are connected either with the archives and manuscripts catalogue of the British Library or with the catalogue for archives et manuscrits of the BnF. This joint venture supported by The Polonsky Foundation affirms the reputation of both libraries. France-Angleterre seems to me a great gateway for exploring medieval manuscripts, both for beginners and for scholars with their own questions and wishes.

A postcript

Klaus Graf, archivist of the RWTH (Aachen), has checked on Archivalia at random some of the links to manuscripts at France-Angleterre, and he found serious problems. Graf fights for the durability of links, in particular permalinks . It is only reasonable to create a reliable website which can function correctly for many years. Link rot is not a new phenomenon. It would be bad to have weak links right from the start. The team of France-Anglettere should deal quickly and constructively with this matter.

At the introductory website of France-Angeleterre hosted by the British Library Joanna Fronska has published an article on legal manuscripts in England and France with much attention to manuscript production and artistic influences.


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