Looking at fragments

The exterior of Utrecht Univrersity Library, location Utrecht Science Park

In December bloggers face the perennial challenge of the seasonal post. In my view 2020 has hardly had any regular season. The world has changed in many ways. What seemed certain has become the object of doubts, and uncertainties have come into the spotlights. I will not pretend to see things better here than anyone else. My Dutch view is no cure for everything!

Like someone standing outside Utrecht University Library you cannot look directly into what’s inside. Our visions are often fragmented, and thus it seems appropriate to look here simply at some fragments of charters and manuscripts I could recently study at the Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Reporting from field work may not have the same status as presenting glorious final results, but it is in a way closer to tangible objects. Fragments offer a glimpse of a larger whole, and sometimes they are a kind of time capsule. Faithful readers know about my penchant to bring in here every now and then a very particular location, but this time it comes just briefly into view, perhaps only as a possible sequel in 2021.

History in fragments

Once upon a time it was clear a library contained books and an archive archival collections, but this nicely organized world seldom existed in real life. Archives can have a substantial library collection, and a research library can have important archival collections in its holdings. The history of a number of archival collections from medieval institutions and manuscripts held at Het Utrechts Archief and Utrecht University Library is a good example. Generally archival collections can be found now at the combined municipal and provincial archive, and most manuscripts are held at the university library, but some remarkable exceptions exist. Luckily Utrecht University Library created an online repertory for its archival collections. The manuscripts at Het Utrechts Archief can be found in the online library catalogue. Some of these manuscripts have been digitized.

Sometimes there is another explanation. The Wttewaal van Stoetwegen family brought the papers of the Wickenburg estate (‘t Goy, now part of Houten) into the care of Het Utrechts Archief [toegang (finding aid) 254], but other papers and charters are kept since the early twentieth century at the university library. Its inventory lacked descriptions of the charters, After a frst foray it became only natural to describe these charters as a sequel of the fruitful cooperation between both institutions in recent years, in particular for the exhibition and essay volume Perkament in stukken [Parchment in pieces] (2018).

Fragments of charters came also into view in my project which thus goes beyond the eighty charters of the Wttewaal family. A number of charter fragments had been described summarily in Latin in the manuscript catalogue [P.A. Tiele, A. Hulshof and B. Kruitwagen (eds.), Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum Bibliothecae Universitatis Rheno-Trajectinae (2 vol., Utrecht-The Hague, 1887-1909; online, UB Utrecht, vol. I and II)]. The manuscript catalogue and later additions have been integrated into the online library catalogue; a guide for special materials helps you to use the catalogue and other resources efficiently. A substantial number of fragments has been taken from the bindings they once reinforced, some of them without due reference to the host volume, others with clear references to their origin.

Other fragments can in particular be found in situ in bookbindings made for Hubert van Buchel (1513-1599), a canon of the collegiate chapter of St. Mary’s at Utrecht. In 1569 Buchel fled to Cologne. In his will he donated his books to the parish of St. James’ at Utrecht, but no doubt the church wardens must have influenced the final decision to add them to the collections of the city library founded in 1584, the nucleus of the university library founded in 1636. My project was restricted to charter fragments. Vito Santoliquido (ENNSIB, Lyon) recently looked for Fragmentarium at the entire corpus of maculature fragments in books with a Van Buchel provenance, a collection with some 1,000 relevant volumes. I dealt with just over one hundred charter fragments.

For strengthening the bindings of his books Van Buchel provided the bookbinder with parchment and paper from books which might have belonged to the chapter of St. Mary’s. He even jotted down the costs of many bindings. Few manuscripts from this collegiate chapter survive nowadays. The fragments might offer a kind of window on the books held and read by the canons of St. Mary’s at Utrecht. At Fragmentarium Vito Santoliquido gives a sketch of his research project Maculature in the Van Buchel Collection.

It is tempting to continue here with a paragraph about the aims of fragments research. In the past years it has become a discipline with a name of its own, fragmentology, and even a journal with this title, thus claiming its own distinct place next to codicology and palaeography. In the second part of this post I will look at some fragments with a clear connection to legal history. At my blog Glossae. Middeleeuwse juridische handschriften in beeld I published a few days ago a succinct account of these fragments in German, ‘Utrechter Fragmenten und Urkunden’. At Glossae you can find also an overview of projects and catalogues concerning medieval manuscript and charter fragments.

Some legal fragments

Two parts of fragment Hs. fr. 6.92 reunited

Two parts of fragment Hs. fr. 6.92 reunited – Utrecht UB, Hs fr. 6.92

Legal history is the focus in the second part of this post, but it is necessary to remember other perspectives can be equally interesting and important. I would like to start with Utrecht UB, Hs fr. 6.92, coming from a Van Buchel volume (108 O 12), not just one fragment, but two sets of cuttings, group A with ten larger and one small scrap, and group B with ten cuttings. Of course I started trying to fit the parts of group A together, but this did not work. Combining the two sets was the obvious solution, but actually they still are kept as distinct sets, with a notice on the combinations I worked out for them.

Looking at fitting underlinings and dates proved to be clues to find adjacent parts of the cuttings. Here the data helped me to find the right parts, January 13, 1528. Other parts contain information about a case concerning a house in Cologne, the question of the validity of a mandate, and a letter from the official of the archbishop of Cologne, his ecclestastical judge, to the plebanus of Bonn. Some of the acts in these cuttings have marginal annotations about an act. One of the questions around these cuttings is their nature: Are they part of a kind of trial file or are we looking at a legal consultation (consilium)? As for now I opt for the first interpretation. Apart from two dates in 1527 and 1528 the names of some lawyers appear. At least one of them, Bernhardus de Harderwijck, can be traced in the Repertorium Academicum Germanicum and the Repertorium Germanicum for papal registers at the Romana Repertoria portal (Deutsches Historisches Institut, Rome). He started his studies at Cologne in 1486 and got his doctoral degree in law in 1510, the year he also joined the tribunal of the Reichskammergericht, then at Speyer.

There is a second set with sixteen similar cuttings, Hs. fr. 6.77, from F. oct. 76, another Van Buchel volume. The year 1522 is mentioned in them, and also the word Coloniensis appears within a very similar layout and the same cursive script, which suggests they could belong to the other fragment. However, these sixteen cuttings did not fit together when I tried to repeat my actions with them.

Trial document in Utrecht 108 N 9

A fragment of a trial document bound with Utrecht 108 N 9

In the volume 108 N 9, also with a Van Buchel provenance, I saw yet another cutting which seems to stem from the document cut into pieces and now kept as fragments 6.92 and 6.77. The handwriting looks very similar, although the interlinear space here is larger. It seems safe to assume at least a datation between 1520 and 1530. It seems logical, too, to locate its origin in the German Lower Rhine region. This fragment mentions a dean and a church without any further indication of a specific location. It would be wonderful to trace yet another fragment still in situ within one of the volumes once owned by Van Buchel or among separately kept fragments, but with possibly three witnesses of the existence of a legal document the harvest is already interesting in itself. One of the immediate challenges facing me is to try to fit pairs of these cuttings into single folia. As for now for each act there are only beginnings, parts representing texts halfway and endings, a tantalizing state of affairs. It is a sobering thought other fragments need to be described first consistently, too, before starting a miniature quest to reconstruct these acts.

A canon law fragment bound with the volume E oct. 122

A canon law fragment bound with the volume E oct. 122

The third example I want to present here concerns two fragments of a lecture on canon law, bound with the Van Buchel volume E oct. 122. On one side of the fragment with two columns the words per osti. in su., “per Hostiensem in summa”, stand for Hostiensis, the nickname of Henricus de Segusio, cardinal of Ostia (around 1190/1200-1271). The first version of his summa was completed in 1250-1251, which provides us with a terminus post quem for dating this text which seems to be a lecture on the Decretales Gregorii IX. On closer inspection you can read at the top of the right column Spec. in ti., which I read as “Speculum – or Speculator – in titulo”. Guillaume Durand (Durandus) (1231-1296) finished the first version of his Speculum iudiciale around 1271, a second terminus post quem for dating the text and these fragments. Alas both columns of the original page have suffered when cut into pieces, making the number of clues for identification much smaller. The fragment bound at the front in this volume shows an allegation no. Pe. de Ve., a medieval lawyer I have not yet identified.

A story of fragments and history in fragments

Normally a scholar would probably thirst for much more information, daring hypotheses and smashing conclusions. In my view it is wiser to start just getting things right for each fragment. Creating consistent descriptions might seem straightforward, but already the fact fragments and volumes did not arrive at my desk at Special Collections in numerical order should make you pause a moment. I took photos in the order of inspection, and my notes follow the same order. It is a nice job to combine my photos correctly with the normal order of the fragments. By sheer luck I could view side by side as the very first and second Early Modern editions I consulted two volumes with in their bindings corresponding fragments of a charter referring to Hubert van Buchel himself!

In a period with restricted possibilities for research on location I feel lucky and even blessed with all efforts of my colleagues of Utrecht University Library to bring fragments, manuscripts and printed books to the reading room. I am sure I will look back at these months with Special Collections as one of the most extraordinary periods in my scholarly life. I could arrange and photograph objects using as much space as I liked, but working often alone in a reading room was a strange experience. The collection of the reading room with books about book history, manuscripts, palaeography and other relevant subjects was within immediate reach. In a year where so many people were forced to work at home, under sometimes difficult circumstances, I had the privilege of working on location, touching even historical artefacts, the very traces of past periods, sometimes susceptible to quick reconstruction, but more often just sign posts of a larger whole lost to us. Describing charters and fragments is doing fundamental research. For me doing this is among the solaces, the comforting things and rays of light in a period darkened by the pandemic which cut into our world as sharply as the scissors cutting manuscript pages into fragments.

At the very end of this project I saw a number of references to manuscript with fragments turned out to be small and medium-sized archival collections with a number of charters, not just single fragments. It would not do to hastily create descriptions of these charters, even when using Tiele’s descriptions as a starting point. They deserve equal attention as the other charters and fragments I described this year. When I noticed in one case charters and deeds referring to houses near and atthe Janskerkhof square in Utrecht I knew I could complete the circle of this year for my faithful readers! Between 1584 and 1820 the Janskerk was home first to the city library and later to Utrecht University Library. Instead of lamenting unfinished work it is better to look at the things which against all odds did succeed. I am not the only one much more conscious how vulnerable life is, and how many obstacles can hinder the completion of any project now and in the near future. Hopefully the kind of research you dream of or do normally can become (again) reality in 2021.

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