Monday, 24 June 2013

A fourteenth-century lawyer's handbook

Your blogger’s favourite item from Worcester Cathedral Library’s law collection is a fourteenth-century lawyer’s handbook. Unlike the law textbooks studied by the monks at Worcester Cathedral priory, this handbook was in day-to-day use in the courtroom. The manuscript, as a result, displays signs of heavy usage. Most eye-catching are the “medieval sticky notes” protruding from the pages. These are called parchment place-markers. The parchment place-markers are pictured below. They are very dark in colour, probably because the vellum has absorbed a lot of dirt from being touched.

Photograph, Statuta Anglie. Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

It seems probable that it was the lawyer himself who made these sticky notes. Upon inspection they appear to be small, rectangular pieces of vellum, folded in half vertically. Whereas modern day sticky notes have adhesive on one side, these parchment place-markers are doubly glued. That is to say, the left hand side of parchment-marker is pasted to the recto and the right-hand side is pasted to the verso. As a result a tiny loop is created that protrudes from the page, and it is this that the user touches to find certain sections. That the parchment place-markers are glued to both recto and verso may well be why they are, quite literally, hanging on almost six hundred years after they were made.

These parchment place-markers are, moreover, significant in so far as they reflect a different way of highlighting sections of a manuscript to what we usually encounter with monks’ textbooks. Tamsin Rowe, predecessor to your blogger, in her exhibition on Worcester’s manuscripts discussed the way in which monks used marginal illustrations and drolleries to highlight and refer back to important sections of texts, during their hours of private study. Here is a good example of a way in which a monk would highlight a section of a text. This little pointing hand is found in a fourteenth-century textbook, Averroes' commentary on Aristotle's physics, used at Oxford:

Photograph, Averroes, Commentum magnum on Aristotle, Physica. Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

By comparison, the parchment place-makers in the Statuta Anglie serve as more of a physical marker which would allow the medieval lawyer to quickly flick to the right law when in the courtroom. Unlike the Benedictine monks, the medieval lawyer who owned the handbook probably did not have time to casually browse to find the section he was looking for. The Statuta Anglie contains 37 different law texts, the first being the Magna Carta, the second being the Charter of the Forest. With such a large number of texts in a relatively small book (210 mm x 145 mm), finding a page could well have gotten you in a tizzy in the medieval courtroom.
Another aspect of this manuscript that I enjoy are the humorous illustrations that decorate its pages.  For instance, on  f.156 there is evidence that the lawyer may well have had a dull day in the courtroom, for he draws little pictures of sausage dogs in the margins and, what appears to be, an imp-like man who is either pointing at himself or on the cusp of picking his nose!

Photograph, Statuta Anglie (f. 156). Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Equally intriguing is how this fourteenth-century handbook found its way to Worcester. In the catalogue of Worcester Cathedral’s manuscripts, it is noted that the handbook was probably “used in the Hereford diocese, coming to Worcester after the reformation.”  The first few folios are dated at Bosbury in 1334. On f.286 v the name “Rocheford” appears written in a formal hand, and the signature has been dated to 1400.

Photograph, Statuta Anglie (f. 286). Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).

The next information on the manuscript’s ownership is not until the seventeenth century; on f,.7 r in a seventeenth-century hand is written the name “Fransisci Harewell armigeri” of Birlingham. Birlingham is parish located roughly twenty minutes away from Worcester. The name Sir Francis Harwell appears on another book at Worcester Cathedral Library, a sixteenth-century printed law book.
Both books are thought to be donated by Sir Francis Harewell in 1676. A Thomas Harewell, possibly the son of Francis, is known to have donated books to the library in the 1690s. We know very little about either of the Harewell’s mentioned. An interesting area for research  would certainly be the Harewell family; an exploration of who they were, how they obtained this medieval law book, and whether they had any particular affiliation with practicing law (given that both books they donated to the Cathedral relate to practicing law). The pursuit of answers to these questions could possibly yield some interesting results.
If you enjoyed this week’s blog and would like to see the lawyer’s handbook up close then might enjoy taking a tour of the library. From 5th-31st of August, we will be running two tours daily. The cost is £5.00 per person (£2.50 for under 16s).
See the August 2013 events section for more details.

No comments:

Post a Comment