University of Virginia Library

The Date of Sir Degrevant's Copying

As it happens, H is the only securely datable quire in the whole of the Findern Anthology. At the end of this quire, after the completion of Sir Degrevant, a different scribe added a chronicle of the kings of England. On fol. 112v the chronicle lists the length of each English king's reign, but the space beside "herry vj" was left blank, suggesting, as L. F. Casson notes, that "he was therefore still reigning" when this was copied out.40 On fol. 113r, however, the chronicler provides a more precisely datable entry, something scholars of this manuscript hitherto have missed: "And fro þe incarnacion of Ihesu crist til þe xx [blank] of kyng herry vj ml iiijc xlvj 3er." The reference to "ml iiijc xlvj" years from the Incarnation clearly indicates that this text was copied out in 1446, assuming that this scribe was not slavishly copying an earlier chronicle entry at a later date. The first part of the entry, reading "þe xx [blank] of kyng herry," indicates that the scribe was unsure of the regnal year (which is, after all, more difficult to determine than the calendrical year), knowing only that Henry VI had been reigning for twenty-some-odd years. The most plausible explanation for these facts is that the blank space was left for the final Roman numerals of the regnal year (which, in 1446, would have been 24 or 25 Hen VI), but was never actually filled in. The scribe copied this chronicle at the end of the quire containing part two of Sir Degrevant; hence, the date of 1446 provides a terminus ad quem for this manuscript's copy of part two of this romance.

As I argued above, this quire likely was produced along with another quire containing the opening, now lost. Thus, 1446 would mark the terminus for the original production of the entirety of Sir Degrevant, with the replacement opening quire being added at some indeterminate later point in time. Most analyses of either the script or the watermarks employed in the manuscript as a whole suggest that it was produced in the second half, or even last quarter, of the fifteenth century.41 My own analysis of the watermarks confirms Harris's suggestions, which are the most thorough of previous studies of the manuscript, on almost all points. Of course, dating a manuscript via watermark identification is a tricky endeavor, but there are enough different marks in this manuscript to control for the pitfalls of relying on Briquet too heavily. In sum, almost all of the paper dates roughly


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from 1450–70, which accords with the earliest end of most attempts to date the manuscript on palaeographical grounds.42 Given the evidence of dating found in quire H, and given the fact that most of the rest of the manuscript seems to date from later in the fifteenth century, the Finderns' acquisition of Sir Degrevant most likely marked the opening of their compilation, with additional quires subsequently added around this romance. Richard Beadle and A. E. B. Owen hint at this when they note that "if [Sir Degrevant] is not the oldest text in the collection it is certainly the most archaic in diction and metre."43

So if the original copy of the entirety of Sir Degrevant arose differently from the majority of the Findern Anthology, where might it have been produced? I suggested above that the mutually dependent booklets in this manuscript were most likely produced by a team working within the region of the Finderns and their associates. My linguistic analysis of the second Degrevant-scribe reveals that he/she hailed from quite near the Finderns' home, which suggests that this romance was similarly a local production. Such an origin for these booklets accords well with Hanna's sense that the entire manuscript "seems typical of that informal creation of literary artifacts which one associates with the aristocratic menage, not the stationer."44 The "aristocratic menage," in fact, seems responsible for many of the surviving copies of Middle English romance from this period. It was, after all, a period in which anyone with access to paper, ink, and exemplars, and who was able to read and write, could produce his/her own books. Or, if one were disinclined to undertake the copying oneself, trained documentary producers and unbeneficed clerics were always at hand, often probably underemployed. The skills of reading and writing, of course, were limited, but the English mercantile classes and the landowning gentry—families like the Finderns—were the very sorts of people who would possess such skills. In the century before Caxton set up his press in Westminster, numerous such aristocratic menages gave rise to manuscripts of romance, as well as other sorts of vernacular literary texts. The Finderns and their associates were just a part of what Curt F. Bühler calls the "every man his own scribe" movement of the fifteenth century.45 The manuscript they left us is remarkable, for it shows us the wide range of gentry readers who handled this manuscript. But it also shows us, as I hope I have now shown, the central place that Middle English romance played in their literary and cultural world.


See note 17, above.


The Romance of "Sir Degrevant": A Parallel-Text Edition from MSS. Lincoln Cathedral A.5.3 and Cambridge University Ff.1.6, ed. L. F. Casson, EETS o.s. 221 (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1949s xii.


Hanna, "The Production," 62, suggests sec. xv3/4; Gisela Guddat-Figge, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Middle English Romances (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1976), 90, offers the wide range of "about i446–1550"; Aage Brusendorff, The Chaucer Tradition (1925; repr. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), 187, and Hammond, Chaucer: A Bibliographical Manual, 343, offer sec. xvex; and Robbins, "The Findern Anthology," 612, suggests sec. xvmed–xvimed.


See Harris, "The Origins and Make-up," 329–331. A few demurrals from Harris's findings: her Mark 1 cannot be Briquet 2821—it is definitely a boeuf, though there is no satisfactory match in Briquet. There are, however, a number of similar boeufs in the range of Briquet 2812–20, which all date from the middle of the fifteenth century. Likewise, Harris suggests Briquet 4641 for Mark 11, which is not a tight match. I found Harris's suggestion for Watermarks 2–4 and 6–9 to be excellent matches with her suggested Briquet numbers. Marks 5, 10, 12 and 13 are so obscured by the gutter of this quarto manuscript that I found them nearly impossible to identify, though her suggestions are reasonable, given what is visible of the watermarks.


Beadle and Owen, Introduction to The Findern Manuscript, xiii.


Hanna, "The Production," 70.


Bühler, The Fifteenth-Century Book: The Scribes, the Printers, the Decorators (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1960), 22-23