Journal of the Northern Renaissance

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Chetham’s Library MS A.4.15: an Inns of Court Manuscript?

Joel Swann[1]

[1] London’s Inns of Court have long been established as important centres for many aspects of cultural life in the early modern capital, and recent research has helped to extend our understanding of the Inns as a forum for literary activity (Finkelpearl 1969, O’Callaghan 2007: 10-34; Nelson & Elliot 2010; Archer, Goldring & Knight 2011). Poetry was a significant part of the cultural scene there: Finkelpearl claimed that around the middle of the sixteenth century ‘they were the literary center of England’, and although that status might have changed by the end of the seventeenth century, the Inns continued to play host to authors, readers, and anthologists who took a very active interest in verse (Finkelpearl 1969: 24). Such activities are attested by the compilation of the printed miscellany The Phoenix Nest (1593) ‘by R. S. of the Inner Temple’, and likewise by manuscript anthologies. Scholars have regarded a number of anthologies to be the work of compilers somehow involved with life at the Inns (Beal 1980; Pitcher 1981: 174; Hobbs 1992: 87-90; Marotti 1995: 36; Woudhuysen 1996: 166).[2] As such, the Inns form one of the key ‘social groupings’ so important to manuscript studies, whose encouragement of what Harold Love called ‘user publication’ are comparable to other institutions like the court, families, or colleges at Oxford and Cambridge.

[2] While scholars of literary manuscripts have associated such miscellany manuscripts with pre-existing networks, questions have been raised about the extent to which closed environments are responsible for manuscript dissemination and the production of anthologies. Indeed, as Jason Scott-Warren (2000) has pointed out, there is much to be learned from manuscripts that do not readily match with any easily described institutions; and Love himself recognised the limitations of matching miscellanies and social groupings as a one-to-one mapping (1993: 83). Where established networks do exist, they intersect, and Michelle O’Callaghan has described how texts could travel ‘through established social networks that testify to the commerce between London, the counties and the universities’ (2007: 105). Yet while we now seldom think of the Inns as a ‘sealed-off’ centre of cultural activity (Finkelpearl 1969: 31), the multiple connections of MC15 – one of a handful of texts described as an ‘Inns of Court manuscript’ – have not been sufficiently considered. Indeed, the idea of an ‘Inns of Court’ anthology may be more tenuous than those connected to other social groupings, since there is comparatively little social or occasional verse in manuscript associated with the Inns, unlike the universities. While MC15 retains a clear metropolitan orientation, the manuscript was crucially engaged with the provinces, a setting for the circulation of texts that is increasingly understood as a significant feature of early modern manuscript culture (May & Marotti 2014). As much as the Inns connections are demonstrated by MC15’s collection of now-scarce texts that especially address members of that environment, both internal and external evidence invites us to reconsider the background from which the manuscript is likely to have emerged. Not only does MC15 contain some poetry closely associated with communities in Norfolk, but a case can be made for stronger connections with East Anglia more widely, even for ownership in the region. A conclusion of this kind shows how a better understanding of the phenomenon of manuscript circulation can be developed through more intensive work on even relatively well-known documents, as scholars have recently shown (Estill 2013; Rayment 2014), especially combined with the recovery and revaluation of neglected evidence.

[3] MC15 is best known through Alexander Grosart’s edition, published in 1873 as The Dr Farmer Chetham MS, which offers a generally competent transcription but effaces one of the defining features of the manuscript: the complicated evidence for its material production. Several scribes represented by as many as seven hands helped to copy the 45,000 words or so of prose and poetry into MC15.[3] The consistent ‘pot’ watermark throughout the quarto volume may suggest that it began from a single stock of paper, and possibly as a bound blank book. However, some stretches of copying and collection coincide closely with the structure of gathering – for example, an important section of poetry begins with the 7th gathering and ends with the 13th (fols. 42v-81v). As such, in its earliest stages MC15 may have been begun in separate smaller booklets, only to be brought together after some of the copying had been completed. The hands do not offer any obvious points of close interaction, such as collaboratively transcribing longer texts, but the hands all seem to contribute to a limited number of themes, suggesting some moments with a joint sense of purpose. MC15 could have been a kind of joint-owned ‘coterie’ manuscript; the work of a single compiler giving instructions to professional scribes and their associates; or the result of several generations of amateur copyists.

[4] The manuscript’s texts are grouped in approximately four major sections, each clearly separated by blank pages. A substantial selection of prose begins the volume (fols. 1r-42r) begun and mainly copied by hand A, but with contributions from B, C, D, and E. A section of assorted poetry follows (47v-82v) again begun by hand A, but with D as the major transcriber, and joined by G and F. The poetry continues in a section of epitaphs and elegies (86r-101r) begun by hand D, with additional significant input from hand A, and smaller contributions from C and E. The manuscript ends with a shorter section that mixes prose and poetry (106r-118v), copied by hand A and hand E. Most of the letters and reports in the long early section involve major courtiers, especially those whose fame was sustained by manuscript circulation, including the second Earl of Essex, Walter Ralegh, and Francis Bacon (Marotti 1995: 94). The heterogeneous poetry section includes the work of a number of significant poets and Inns of Court figures, including Sir John Davies (48r-50r), John Harington, John Hoskyns, Benjamin Rudyerd (57r-60r), Ralegh, Donne and Jonson (61r-66v); epitaphs; verse libels; and, importantly for the aims of this article, poetry by the Norfolk farmer Henry Gurney (69r-80r). Separated by a few blank pages the short final section includes an unusual mix of genres and topics, including texts by Inns of Court men: they include Richard Martin’s speech on King James’ accession (106r-109r, printed in Martin 1603), reports from the 1621 parliament (109v-112r), and versified psalms by Francis and Christopher Davison (112v-118v). The manuscript finishes with a few blank leaves. Most of the texts in MC15 were written between the 1590s and the early 1620s, and are likely to have been copied during this period, too, probably in stages over a significant period of time. The two major hands (A and D) offer important focal points for this issue: the texts in hand A tend to be earlier, only going as late as 1603, while those by hands clustering around D stretch to the end of James’ reign. A and D may have been working at approximately the same time during the 1620s or later, copying contemporary texts as well as those that had been in circulation for decades. Alternatively, A may have copied texts written in the early 1600s close to the time when they were written, while D only starting making contributions to the collection significantly later. This overview should give the important impression that MC15 bears many signs of a potentially complex and drawn-out process of compilation.

[5] The number of authors in the manuscript who can be linked to Inns of Court are extensive, and include Francis Bacon, Sir John Davies, John Hoskyns, Benjamin Rudyerd, Ben Jonson, John Donne, Christopher Brooke, Richard Martin, and Francis Davison. Many were admitted to the Inns between 1587 and 1593, and there are closer links between some of them – Davies, Hoskyns, Rudyerd, and Martin were all contemporaries at the Middle Temple, and were actively involved in the literary social life there (Finkelpearl 1969: 46; O’Callaghan 2007: 10-34) while Hoskyns and Martin are also thought to have been close to Donne and Brooke, from Lincoln’s Inn (Shapiro 1950: 10). Davison stands further outside this group of known associates, but he may have been known to them in other ways, as he was at Gray’s Inn between 1593 and 1594, during the others’ residence in other Inns, and may have been known through the masque he wrote for the 1594/5 revels (Gesta Grayorum: 59-67). However, looking at this body of texts, some of those by Inns authors – especially Bacon, Donne, Jonson, and Martin – circulated very widely, or were printed.[4] They could have been acquired without a close connection with the Inns of Court, or any particular environment, and cannot easily be used to establish the provenance of the manuscript.

[6] As such, the case for MC15’s early connections will begin by discussing the evidence offered in texts by Davies, Rudyerd, Hoskyns, Brooke and Davison; it will also contrast these to the poetry of the farmer, Henry Gurney (1549-1616). The texts by these authors were less extensively circulated, and in some cases are unique to MC15. Overall the most valuable texts in MC15 are those that offer a combination of evidence, including authorship by Inns figures, unambiguous reference to Inns interests, and scarcity of circulation: such a combination is offered in texts by Davies and Rudyerd. Others texts authored by Inns of Court writers are valuable simply by their presence in the manuscript.

[7] The significance of MC15’s inclusion of texts by these poets is not obvious. One explanation is offered by Michael Rudick, who suggests that the compiler of MC15 was personally familiar with Davies and Hoskyns (1999: 224-5). However, every aspect of MC15 invites us to consider the manuscript not as a snapshot of a singular moment in the history of an institution, but as evidence for a much richer narrative which is now difficult to grasp. The evidence presented here points towards incomplete moments of the complex processes in which in MC15 is involved, processes that are being shown to be so important to amateur manuscript collections (Gibson 2010). The mere presence of these texts places MC15 in a broad locus surrounding their authors, but the precise way the manuscript connected to authors and their social environment can only be guessed at.

[8] John Davies’ nine ‘Gullinge Sonnets’ (fols. 47v-50r) parody the commonplaces of the love poetry and sonnet sequences, with two that focus specifically on legal language and customs. As familiar as this vocabulary would have been to members of the Inns, overblown use of legal language was a common feature of 1590s sonnet sequences (Davies 1975: 303, Anon. 2003: 190). Recognising a parody may have been part of the task demanded of the legal audience; a difficult task, given that even the intentions of the language of Zepheria, one of Davies’ specific targets, have proved challenging for modern critics to work out (Muir 2005, 20). Davies’ seventh sonnet writes of the heart as a ‘midle Temple’, and Cupid as a misbehaving new arrival:

Into the midle <Te> Temple of my harte
the wanton Cupid did himselfe admitt
and gaue for pledge yor Eagle-sighted witt
yt he wold play noe rude vncivill parte
Longe tyme he cloak’te his nature wth his arte
and sadd, and graue and sober he did sitt
but at the last he gan to reuell it
to breake good rules and orders to peruerte
Then loue and his younge pledge were both conuented
before sadd Reason that old Bencher graue
who this sadd sentence vnto him presented
by dilligence yt slye and secreate knaue
That loue and <I> witt, for euer shold departe
out of the midle Temple of my harte. (MC15, 49v)[5]

The language here is not so abstruse or specialised that it could not be understood by a canny lay-reader, especially for its play on the conventional ‘temple’ image, found in Astrophil and Stella (sonnet 5) and elsewhere. However, it includes a number of specific references (such as the ‘younge pledge’, ‘conuented’, and ‘old Bencher’) that cast conventional ideas in very specific terms, making them more resonant with an Inns audience. Part of the poem’s parody relies on using the banal material of everyday life for supposedly elevated subject matter.

[9] While the seventh sonnet could be understood without any expertise, the eighth of the ‘Gullinge Sonnets’ is much harder to make sense of without a ready knowledge of legal language:

My case is this, I loue Zepheria brighte.
of her I hold my harte by fealtye:
wch I discharge to her perpetuallye,
yet she thereof will neuer me accquite.
for now supposinge I wthhold her righte
she hathe distreinde my harte to satisfie
the duty wch I neuer did denye,
and far away impounds it wth despite
I labor therefore iustlie to repleaue
my harte wch she vniustly doth impounde
but quick conceite wch nowe is loues highe Sheife
retornes it is esloynde not to be founde
Then wch the lawe affords I onely craue
her harte for myne in withername to haue (MC15, 49v)

The sonnet presents courtly love in terms of feudal land law, now especially targeting Zepheria. Some of this language might be relatively familiar to a broad audience, but without specific knowledge it can be very difficult to unpick (for explanations of the language, see Baker 2002: 224-237 and Davies 1975: 303; on the language of legal and property law, Zurcher 2007: 54-60). The octave gives background to the speaker’s case. The mistress is the landowner, the speaker her tenant; for the possession of his heart, he expects to pay the duties of fealty to her. As much as he claims to do this service ‘perpetuallye’, she does not recognise it; and the second quatrain reports that she has taken the course of action appropriate to the non-observance of feudal duties, and forcefully taken that heart, or ‘distrained’ it. So in spite of all appropriate service paid by him, the speaker has had his own property taken away from him. The sestet then introduces the complications of the case at hand. Having served a writ of replevin against mistress-as-Lord, the Sheriff ‘quick conceite’ announces that the heart has been taken away, or ‘eloigned’ (here spelled ‘esloynde’). The course of action the speaker aims to take in this situation is ‘withernam’ – to have restored to him goods of equal value to his own heart. He wittily chooses the only thing he wants, the heart of his mistress. Whereas a comparable poem like Shakespeare’s sonnet 87 (‘Farewell – thou art too dear for my possessing’) dispenses with its use of legal language in the final couplet, Davies’ parody insists that law terms are used throughout, saving one of the more obscure terms for the very last line. Without understanding the terms, the poem makes little sense.

[10] In this period legal knowledge was beginning to be organized and printed in volumes that specifically targeted lay readers (Prest 1986: 190), while legal language was pervasive in imaginative writing (Cormack 2008, Zurcher 2007, 2010), factors which might have made legal language more accessible to a wider audience than is immediately obvious from the poems in MC15. However, an epigrammatic sonnet by Davies (not included in MC15) suggests he used language in his ‘Gullinge Sonnets’ that he considered to be inaccessible to an untrained reader. The sonnet presents an interaction between its urbane speaker and one Gallas, a name playfully suggestive both of a ‘gallant’ and a ‘gull’, whose conversation is littered with Dutch and militaristic jargon. Davies’ speaker replies with his own legalese:

… to requite such gulling termes as these,
With wordes of my profession I replie:
I tel of foorching, vouchers, counterpleas,
Of Withernames, essoynes, and champartie.
So neyther of us understanding eyther,
We part as wise as when we came together.
(Davies 1975: 139, ll. 9-14)

Two of the more obscure words named ‘gulling termes’, ‘Withernames’ and ‘essoynes’ are found in the ‘Gullinge Sonnet’ above, with ‘withername’ especially important for the final line. It would seem, then, that from Davies’ point of view, then, the language of the parodic sonnet was designed to be almost impossibly dense, without more advanced legal knowledge.

[11] Overall, the two legally-focussed ‘Gullinge Sonnets’ invite us to place MC15 within the reaches of a legally trained reader. Not only is the sonnet extremely rare, it is quite likely to have remained so because of the highly specialist nature of its language and wit. Poems that evoke this culture and language so explicitly are unusual and it is difficult to imagine these poems receiving a wider readership among an audience who were not already fully conversant in its terms.

[12] The other poems in MC15 that give significant evidence through their combination of authorship, institutional interest, and scarcity, are found in a set of twenty-two Martial-style epigrams, attributed in the twentieth century to Benjamin Rudyerd (Sanderson 1966); in MC15 they are anonymous, though the short texts are unified by the title ‘Epigrammes’. Their only other major witness is Rosenbach MS 1083/15 (PRF 15), another manuscript sometimes associated with the Inns of Court. The topics they discuss, along with what we know of their author and circulation, suggest a connection between MC15 and the Inns (and especially the Middle Temple) in or around the 1590s. Many of these cynical short poems could appeal to the broad concerns of educated urban readers, dealing as they do with friendship, manners, learning and love; the epigram was important as a city-based form, in general (Manley 1995: 409-413). However, the special relevance of MC15’s ‘Epigrammes’ for readers from the Inns is marked in the inclusion of four epigrams attacking one ‘Mathon’ – a character usually taken to represent John Davies, who was a major target of satirical attacks between around 1598 and 1603 (Grosart 1873: 1.106; Sanderson 1966; O’Callaghan 2007: 31-32). Where the Rosenbach manuscript only has two epigrams on Mathon (‘Matho the dauncer with the maple face’, and ‘Matho doth all his epigrams compare’, PRF 15: 49), MC15 has four.

[13] MC15’s Mathon poems begin with a joke on his physical ugliness – that when buying a ‘vizard’ in preparation for ‘to revell in a maske’, he cannot tell the difference between his face reflected in the mirrors hanging in the shop, and the masks they are selling (MC15: 57v, ‘In Mathonem. 8 // Mathon, the dauncer wth the maple face’, l. 2). This poem is followed up with an attack against his legal accomplishments:

Mathon hath got the barr and many graces
by studdyinge, noble men, newes, and faces
(MC15, 57v, ‘In eundem. 9.’)

Whatever Mathon’s attainments, they are the results of studying flattery and superficial chatter, instead of the serious matter of the law itself. In the next poem, his work as an epigram writer is criticised, proposing that Mathon’s poorly-observed critical attacks are more suitable for himself than anyone else (MC15 fol 58r, ‘In Eundem. 10. // Mathon doth all his Epigrammes compare’). Finally in this series of criticisms, his unusual walk and revelling are used to outwardly criticise his legal work with a direct address:

Mathon why sholdst thou thincke or Comon Lawe
none can into an ordered method drawe
Since thy rude feete, whose gate confusion wrought
weare by greate paynes to ordered dauncing brought
(MC15, 58r, ‘In eundem. 11.’)

Such jokes on the law and personality need not have been enjoyed only by an audience well-acquainted with the persons involved. But with special emphasis on a shared skill in the law and an observable problem, Davies’ walking, it is easy to imagine these being much more vivid to those in the immediate vicinity of the author and target. Indeed, these jokes seem to have been popular in their context, and similar criticisms were circulated by other authors (Sanderson 1966: 253; Finkelpearl 1969: 53). It is possible to imagine circles of readership taking different things from these poems: those who knew Davies personally; those who may have recognised Mathon as a type of unlikeable lawyer (a familiar figure from verse satire of the period), and those who had no special interest in the law. Nonetheless, as with Davies’ ‘Gullinge Sonnets’, the attacks on Davies in the ‘Epigrammes’ invite us to place the manuscript relatively close to the scene of their action.

[14] The details of MC15’s handwriting allow the ‘Gullinge Sonnets’ and ‘Epigrammes’ to have been copied relatively close to their time of composition. The sonnets are copied in italic, and the epigrams in secretary, but a number of features indicate that both scripts are likely to have been the work of hand A.[6] In general, A seems to have a leading role in the manuscript, appearing at the very beginning of three sections of texts (fols. 1r, 47v, 106r). The majority of hands compile texts that follow after the work of A. Only hand D is otherwise responsible for starting a section of poetry (86r). Regardless of the complex processes that brought MC15 to the state it is in now, A is likely to have contributed texts before anyone else, a hypothesis supported by the early dates of the texts copied by A. Although MC15 includes some texts into the 1620s and 30s, including an elegy on King James from 1625, the latest text A copies is the speech by Richard Martin, on the accession of James in 1603. There is nothing to directly discount A from undertaking its copying in the first years of the seventeenth century, and potentially at a relatively short distance from the authors of MC15’s texts.

[15] The poems by Davies and Rudyerd offer strong evidence for MC15’s connections with some of the most interesting aspects of Inns life around the end of the sixteenth century. In terms of authorship, language, style, and circulation, they are all oriented towards the Inns to an extent that is seldom seen in manuscript texts. The host of other Inns-related texts in MC15 offer much more ambiguous evidence, as we will see through the examples of Hoskyns, Brooke, and Davison.

[16] While MC15 is an important source of John Hoskyns’ poetry, the significance of his poems for the manuscript’s provenance are, again, not obvious. The poems in MC15 attributed to the middle templar John Hoskyns occasionally refer to Inns interests, with one epigram sarcastically satirizing Jonson as ‘Sophocles the great’ (51r), and an epitaph attributed to ‘Mr Hoskynes: medy Tempi’ (96v).[7] However, most of the lyrics, epigrams, and epitaphs attributed to Hoskyns in MC15 engage very little with intellectual or cultural interests particular to the Inns. Some of his poems in the MS are unique, such as the poem ‘If life be time yt here is spent’ (51r) and three short epitaphs. Others, such as the lyric ‘you nimble dreames wth cobweb winges’ (51v) can be found in nine copies, and the epitaph on a bellows maker (96v) seems to have had an almost unlimited circulation. Yet given the topical accessibility of his verse, even the poems unique to MC15 might have had a much wider dissemination.

[17] Two hands copy Hoskyns’ poetry: hand D, who transcribed lyrics and epigrams towards the start of the manuscript’s first poetry section (51r-52v), and hand A, who copied epitaphs later in the manuscript (96v-97v). Both copied texts in continuous stints, suggesting that the Hoskyns poems here could have been copied from other existing collections. Both hands are keen to attribute texts to Hoskyns, whether as ‘J: Hoskins’, ‘J H’, or ‘eundem’ among the short epitaphs. However, these attributions are often difficult to take as read. One poem, ‘Put of thy buskins Sophocles the greate’, is attributed elsewhere to ‘I D’ (PRF15, fol. 12) and printed in Henry Parrot’s Laquei Ridiculosi (1613) – in her edition of Hoskyns, Louise Osborn included this poem among those of ‘doubtful’ attribution (1937: 299-300). Another two (‘Who would live in others breath’ (book 7, epigram 35) and ‘And was not death a lusty strugler’ (book 6, epigram 29)) appear in Chrestoleros, the 1598 collection of epigrams by Hoskyns’ Winchester school contemporary, Thomas Bastard – an attribution accepted by Louis Osborn (1937: 220). Others are simply difficult to verify, and in six cases MC15 offers the only recorded attribution to Hoskyns.[8] The epitaph on a bellows maker was so widely circulated, with attributions of authorship so variable, it is difficult to authoritatively assign it to anyone. Overall, the evidence given here is problematic because we have no real way of testing its reliability. The compilers seem to have been interested in Hoskyns’ name, but may not have been close enough to him to know for sure whether one text was actually his product or not. As close as the manuscript seems to the legal world represented in the sonnets and epigrams, the poetry of Hoskyns does less to assure us of that early provenance.

[18] Another pair of suggestive but problematic texts are two elegies written by the major Lincoln’s Inn figure Christopher Brooke: in memory of Elizabeth Crofts, the wife of Charles Crofts, who died in 1597 (95r) and of Merialis Crompton, who died in 1600 (95v). The poem for Elizabeth Crofts was once displayed at a church in London (Stow & Strype 1720: 2.65; the church was rebuilt in 1792), so could have received a public readership that way; however, MC15 preserves the only known manuscript copies of both poems, where they are attributed to ‘C. B.’. The families Brooke was addressing here were patrons of his, and had roots outside of London: the Cromptons hailed from Yorkshire, Brooke’s native country, while the Crofts were East Anglian. Charles Crofts was born in Ixworth Thorpe, Suffolk (a few miles to the east of Bury St Edmunds) in 1545, and kept up a connection to the area throughout his life: after his death in 1616, a memorial was put up in the church at Ixworth. The poem is manifestly a ‘London’ poem, and could well have circulated in the capital, but other than the author, there is nothing to connect it back to the Inns of Court environment.

[19] The poems of Brooke, Hoskyns, Davies, and Rudyerd all suggest that MC15 is linked, however ambiguously, to a relatively specific historical moment. MC15’s copies of seven metrical psalms by Frances and Christopher Davison (112v-118v) are slightly different. Although Frances had been at Gray’s Inn between 1593 and 1595, he wrote his psalms at least sixteen years after leaving, in 1611 and 1612 (Bod. Rawl D 316, fols. 122r-128v). These would only be meaningful as ‘Inns of Court texts’, then, if the social circles operating at the Inns in the 1590s persisted decades later. The psalms themselves are influenced by the Sidneian models (Sidney 2009: xvii), and have little that obviously attaches them to the Inns of Court. However, they do survive in later copies made in the 1620s by Ralph Crane, whose acquisition of manuscript texts has sometimes been associated with the Inns (Wilson 1929: 199; Burke & Ross 2001: 150; Woudhuysen 1996: 193). It is possible that the copies in MC15 were made at a similar time to Crane’s. Copied into the miscellany by hand E, the third most extensive hand of the manuscript (behind A and D), E’s more extensive contributions generally come at the very end of major sections of texts, as though it was following on from sections and patterns established by other compilers. E copies texts into MC15 from as early as 1603, but their transcription of the psalms are immediately adjacent to their transcription of parliamentary tracts from 1621. Overall, the Davison psalms offer tantalizing evidence, since they rarely survive in copies from manuscript miscellanies.[9] However, the chain that links them back to the Inns – both biographically and textually – is so convoluted that using the poems to link MC15 to the Inns is difficult.

[20] A provisional link between MC15 and the Inns is based on strong and unusual evidence, and supported more loosely in a number of ways. Even if much of the content in MC15 is not obviously bound by an institutional setting, enough is distinctly evocative of a particular environment that an ‘Inns of Court’ narrative is highly persuasive. However, one set of texts in MC15 offers very different kinds of narrative and connections: the poetry of Henry Gurney. Gurney’s poems are found around the middle of MC15’s main poetry section, when the style of entries makes an unexpected change, shifting from metaphysical, urbane, and metropolitan texts to those that are overtly didactic, practical, and rural. After poems by Donne, Jonson, Ralegh and a libel on Frances Howard, the collection suddenly features a long poem about the perils that may face families and ‘The chiefest meanes yt houses overthrowe’ (69r-v), another ‘Of Prodigall or Couetous / Wch is the more iniurious’ (70r). These poems by Gurney go on and on, covering topics like astrology, animals, seasons, advice on wives, family government, and general manners and conduct, in a way that would be most at home among the readings of Thomas Tusser ventured in early modern ‘household books’ (May & Marotti 2014: 9-10).

[21] The creative and critical writings of this amateur poet have only recently re-surfaced through Steven May’s work on Gurney’s manuscript in the Tanner collection (May 2005: 186-7). Gurney wrote poetry during the 1590s – having started writing poetry aged 43 – at the manor of Great Ellingham, Norfolk, just under 20 miles south west of Norwich, around 100 miles north east of London. He circulated his poetry and lent his books to a circle of least two dozen people living around him, the most distant being some 30 miles away in Suffolk (May 2005: 198-201, 223, appendix II). Outside of MC15, Gurney’s poems are only found in his own personal notebook, though other copies were produced at some point; Gurney himself prepared copies of his poetry for friends and relatives. As May records, the long section of Gurney’s verse in MC15 derives from poems ‘scattered’ across Gurney’s anthology, and represents thirteen out of the seventeen agricultural poems found there (May 2005: 202; Bod. Tanner 175, fols. 49v-232v). The copies of Gurney’s poems in MC15 are carefully executed, and represent a version of these poems that appears more coherent and organized than their ‘originals’. This suggests that there are likely to be some intermediaries between Gurney’s own manuscript and MC15, sorting the difficult verse into more orderly forms. Gurney himself may have had a correspondent in London (May 2005: 198), providing a way to transmit his verse to the capital.

[22] The handwriting of Gurney’s texts in MC15 invites two observations: that the poems were copied by one of the hands which was integral to the development of the manuscript; and that they could have been copied much later than their comoposition. Gurney’s poetry was copied into MC15 in a neat and precise shift of hand D. D’s contributions are quite varied in background and dating. They include the lyrics by John Hoskyns, among others; Latin epitaphs, anti-libels on the death of Robert Cecil in 1612 (98v); and one of the later texts in the manuscript, a copy of the elegy on King James, ‘All that haue eyes now wake & weepe’ (100v). The copyist of Gurney in MC15 is not an outsider to the manuscript, but a contributor of importance to the overall character of the collection.

[23] Although Gurney’s poetry originated outside the capital, and was most likely intended for a rural audience, the presence of his poetry in MC15 does not necessarily contradict the manuscript’s associations with the Inns. The Inns did generate poetry and writing aimed at specific groups of readers, but they also assimilated influences from all over the country. Different Inns attracted students from different parts of England (Finkelpearl 1969:7), and provincial figures could occupy significant positions in the cultural life of the Inns: the Prince of Purpoole for the 1594/5 revels at Grey’s Inn was Henry Helmes, ‘A Norfolk-Gentleman’ (Gesta Grayorum 1688: 2). Alternatively, members from the country could be treated contemptuously, as in John Davies’ epigram on a law student’s visit to a bear-garden, after which he appears ‘like his Fathers cuntrey hall, / Stinking with dogges, and muted all with haukes’ (Davies 1975: 148, ll. 9-10). As much as this satirist saw a division between the urban and the rural, it nonetheless shows that the Inns were a place that could accommodate influences from all over the country. Even if their physical geography was limited, it may not have been unusual for the Inns to be a forum for circulating poems by an author from a long way outside their confines.

[24] A description of MC15 as an Inns manuscript could be adequate for the varied contents it includes. However, the external evidence surrounding the manuscript shows that MC15’s contents could be the result of a more geographically varied history of ownership and use. In particular, the interest MC15 has in Norfolk texts could be related to its ownership within the Norfolk area during the seventeenth century. This could mean that the manuscript was not just an interesting documentation of a kind of ‘melting pot’ in London, but more immediately embodies connections between texts and a variety of places. The history of the manuscript’s ownership has never been investigated, no doubt partly owing to the lack of obvious provenance information. The personal identities of MC15’s earliest owners, scribes, or readers, are unknown; whatever information the original binding or flyleaves might have carried was removed by re-binding some time in the nineteenth century. Even in the early 1870s the manuscript’s editor knew nothing more of its origins than we do now (Grosart 1873: 1.iv). However, a more circumstantial method of enquiry, placing MC15 in context with other manuscripts once owned by Richard Farmer, shows that a non-metropolitan ownership for MC15 during the seventeenth century is viable.

[25] MC15 was one of seven manuscripts that came to Chetham’s Library from the collection of Richard Farmer (1735-97).[10] Farmer held positions as master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and Librarian of the Cambridge University Library. In his private life he collected books extensively, especially early modern poetry (Lloyd 1977: 532), an interest that was manifest in his Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare of 1767 (Sherbo 1992). Although most of his personal collection was of printed books, he also owned many manuscripts, which took up 101 lots in his posthumous sale catalogue in comparison to the 8001 printed lots. Such figures only offer an approximation of the shape of the collection, as the lots are sometimes vaguely described and may refer to multiple items (1977: 535). Two of the seven manuscripts that came to Chetham’s are collections of verse from the early seventeenth century broadly similar to MC15 (A.4.16 and A.3.47). Another is a collection of satires written and collected by Oliver le Neve from the 1660s (A.4.14). The final three are medieval manuscripts: a collection of thirteen poems from the late fifteenth century, including the Ipomadom (A.6.31); a collection of prose works including one by Jacobus de Cessolis (A.4.102); and an Italian copy of the third century historian Justin’s epitome of Pompeius Trogus (A.6.88).[11]

[26] The exact route the seven manuscripts took between the Farmer sale in May 1798 to Chetham’s Library is not known. In two surviving annotated copies of Bibliotecha Farmeriana, the sale catalogue of Farmer’s collection produced by Thomas King, the lots containing those manuscripts now at Chetham’s are listed as sold to ‘Leigh and Sotheby’ (including Bibliotecha Farmeriana 1798: §8053, 8062, 8055, 8075, and 8091).[12] ‘Leigh and Sotheby’ are also given as the buyers of another four manuscript lots that did not come to Chetham’s (Bibliotecha Farmeriana 1798: §8031, 8070, 8072, 8078), and they did not purchase any printed material in the sale. Commenting on the marked up catalogues, Neil Ker suggested that the company were ‘presumably acting for Chetham’s Library’ (Ker 1983: 394 n2), though there is no known tradition of Sotheby’s acting directly on behalf of third-party bidders.[13] Leigh and Sotheby were expanding their business capacities considerably in the 1790s, so it seems slightly surprising that they would be going after items like these in a rather piecemeal fashion. Wherever the manuscripts went after the Thomas King sale, they had arrived in Chetham’s by 1826, when the library’s catalogue of manuscripts was printed.

[27] These manuscripts realised very mixed prices at Farmer’s sale. The two lots that between them contained the four early modern manuscripts were sold for £1 3s (§8053) and £1 5s (§8056); and for two of the medieval manuscripts, £1 2s (§8003), and £1 9s (§8075). By comparison, the Ipomadon manuscript was very costly – at 14 guineas, the most expensive item of the sale. This potentially represents a kind of purchasing tactic by the Leigh and Sotheby buyer; maybe the Ipomadon was what drew them to the sale in the first place, these manuscripts could have been picked up as interesting bargains worth buying at their inexpensive price.

[28] Three of the Farmer manuscripts at Chetham’s, including MC15, carry no evidence for their point of acquisition by Farmer. It is difficult to trace Farmer’s sources or purchasing patterns in general (McKitterick 1986: 2.306, 326; Lloyd 1977: 526), but the various marks of ownership in four of the manuscripts give enough information to identify some of his sources and antecedents. Many of the owners of the Ipomadom manuscript (A.6.31) left their names on the flyleaf: it was owned in 1598 by the judge and antiquary Peter Manwood, who lived in Hackington, Kent, before his death in 1625 (Knafla 2008). The manuscript had been passed to a J. Hardres by 1732, possibly through a family connection in the Canterbury area – Sir Thomas Hardres (1609/10-1681) had married the widow of Peter Manwood of Sandwich in 1651 (a different Peter than the marked owner of the manuscript; Handley 2008). The Anglo-Saxonist Bryan Faussett (1720-1776) was the next owner, who having lived much of his life in Heppington, Kent, just two miles from the Hardres family home in Upper Hardres, again probably acquired the manuscript through a local connection. Farmer finally bought it at the sale of Dr John Monro’s library in April 1792, lot 3399 (Ker 1983: 364). A final inscription is made by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips, who also wrote down his guess at the date of the manuscript.

[29] One of the early seventeenth century verse miscellanies in the collection (MS A.4.16) gives useful ownership information. The inside cover features the distinctive signature of Thomas Martin (1697-1771), the book collector, who spent much of his life in Norfolk (Stoker 1991: 90). The 1826 Chetham’s catalogue indicates that the same signature is found in another of the Farmer miscellanies (A.3.47), though the actual inscription is now obscured by the library’s bookplate. Another of the Farmer manuscripts can be very plausibly placed in Thomas Martin’s possession: MS A.4.14, a book of original and copied Restoration satires, ‘collected & written’ by Oliver Le Neve (1662-1711). Oliver Le Neve’s better-known brother, the herald and antiquary Peter Le Neve (1661-1729) had a significant connection with Thomas Martin. In his teens, Martin became close friends with Peter Le Neve, some thirty years his senior (Woodcock 2008). This friendship eventually led to Martin’s appointment as the executor of Le Neve’s will (Stoker 1991: 94-5). After Peter Le Neve’s death in 1729, a good portion of his library was sold at an auction in which Martin made significant purchases (Stoker 1991: 97). Most of the remainder of Le Neve’s collection that was not put up for auction consisted of manuscript collections relating to the history of Norfolk. Le Neve had wanted these to be placed at public disposal, however, as David Stoker writes, ‘with no individual having any claim on the ownership, they were gradually amalgamated into Martin’s own library and all thought of their being housed in a public repository was soon forgotten’ (Stoker 1991: 98). That process of amalgamation was conveniently eased along by Thomas Martin’s marriage to Le Neve’s widow in January 1732.

[30] I have not found a record of the Oliver Le Neve volume in his brother’s collection: the sale catalogue of Peter Le Neve’s library (a copy of which was owned by Farmer, Bibliotheca Farmeriana, 1798: §102) is given largely to antiquarian records, both in print and manuscript, with no descriptions that approximate Oliver’s book of satires (A Catalogue, 1730/31). However, it is reasonable to suppose that A.4.14 was transmitted to Martin’s ownership via Peter Le Neve, through Martin’s underhand amalgamations. For this Farmer-Chetham manuscript, there is a plausible provenance trail that runs from an original owner, through to its current repository. This means that three of the four early modern manuscripts that came to Chetham’s could have been bought by Farmer as a lot, united by their shared Norfolk provenance. It is difficult to trace Martin’s point of acquisition of these manuscripts, as they are not obviously described in his posthumous sale catalogues – entries marked ‘Common Place Book’, ‘Latin and English verses’, ‘Old Poetry Temp. James I’ might hold answers, but could also be red herrings (A Catalogue Library of Mr. Thomas Martin 1772: § 85-89, 117, 90, 94 respectively). However, the locus of Thomas Martin and Norfolk is further supported through internal evidence in the contents of one of the Martin-Farmer-Chetham manuscripts, an octavo miscellany of English and Latin verse, prose, and other notes (A.3.47). This collection includes a Latin poem on Richard Redmayne, LLD, the chancellor of Norwich who died in 1625, a relative of the Bishop of Norwich William Redman (A.3.47: 32v); and an undated petition to the Bishop of Norwich from someone with the initials ‘A.B.’, resident of Wreningham, about the possible annexation of nearby Ashwellthorpe. Wreningham is 8.5 miles south west of Norwich, with neighbouring Ashwellthorpe a mile or so further. The detail of this latter petition especially, which gives a detailed summary of the charges that a dispensation would incur, seems unlikely to have circulated widely outside of the author’s most immediate circle. While the manuscript contains a number of texts that would have circulated more widely in London, such as a paradox by Donne (A.3.47: 25v-26r) and a libel on Buckingham (A.3.47: 1r-2r), some kind of origin in the Norfolk area seems highly likely. Meanwhile, A.4.16 seems more likely to have been written in the vicinity of Cambridge, though some of its contents are inclined towards East Anglia; for example, in poems addressed to and signed from Francis Beddingfield (A.4.16: 33-34), who may have grown up in Hales before going to Cambridge in 1607 (Venn 1922-1927 [1922]: 1.124); and elegies on Edward Eldrington, from Suffolk, who died at Gonville and Caius college, Cambridge, in May 1603.

[31] Overall, the Martin-Farmer-Chetham manuscripts offer a tantalizing possibility for MC15. Two of the manuscripts (A.4.14 and A.3.47) have strong connections with Norfolk going back to their first compilation. Those two were then collected by Thomas Martin, together with another miscellany (A.4.16). These three manuscripts were bundled together with MC15 by the time of Farmer’s sale. It is likely that they all came together to Farmer from Martin, as Farmer was not a repeated collector of these kind of books. If MC15 had been owned by Martin, as is quite likely, it is possible that it was initially acquired by Martin within the Norfolk area.

[32] This opens up the possibility that MC15 was actually owned and compiled in a similar area to that in which Henry Gurney was active. In this case, London becomes rather less important. Instead of being a London-based collection that happened to take an interest in texts from further afield, MC15 could be a record of metropolitan texts compiled by someone whose life was primarily based outside the capital.


[33] This article has attempted to establish a historically plausible context for reading the manuscript miscellany MC15. Given the patchy evidence for the early provenance of this manuscript, it is difficult to put forward hypotheses for the identity of its earliest compilers or owners. It is no surprise that most commentators have identified it with a primary metropolitan context, as some of its content points so clearly towards the Inns. Studying the literary evidence shows how the manuscript includes poems whose intended readership was likely to have been very narrow, limited to those with the social and intellectual interests of legally-trained members of the Inns of Court. The limits of the actual readership of those texts might be further demonstrated by the very few copies that survive today; the fact of their survival in MC15 may suggest that these copies of ‘Gullinge Sonnets’ and ‘Epigrammes’ might have been transcribed close to the original time and place of their composition. On top of these poems, MC15 includes a host of texts that could more loosely support a link between the manuscript and authors from the Inns of Court. With all these texts making the case for a distinctly urban and institutional context, it is difficult to know what to do with the manuscript’s inclusion of a long section of poetry by Henry Gurney, whose rural interests could hardly be further from the wit and satire of urban verse which characterises much of the collections in MC15. 

[34] The provenance trail of MC15 offers one explanation for its inclusion of the Gurney poetry. When we trace the manuscript’s ownership prior to its arrival at Chetham’s Library in the early nineteenth century, London does not appear as its likely point of origin. Instead, it seems likely that MC15 entered the book trade in Norfolk, suggesting that its earliest owners had strong connections with the area. What we know of MC15’s provenance could encourage us to think of Gurney’s poetry as representative of the social background from which the anthology emerged, rather than as a strange exception in an urban collection.

[35] Studying MC15’s ownership may offer alternative contexts for its earliest compilation, but the host of literary and bibliographic evidence associated with the manuscript does not combine in such a way that conveniently reveals a single limited context for its earliest production. Norfolk and London both come forward as potentially significant regions. Yet evaluating this body of evidence on its own could fall prey to the fallacy that manuscript anthologies were ‘copied by one person from one source in sequence over a relatively short and continuous period’, a problem necessarily addressed by Ernest Sullivan (1993: 289). Nothing could be further from the truth in the case of MC15, whose handwriting shows it to be a manuscript copied by several people, from many sources, over a potentially protracted period of time.

[36] The material history of MC15 means that the whole project of locating MC15 in a specific time and place could be based on a mistaken premise. The compilation of MC15 in fits and starts means that there would have been plenty of opportunities for the book to move around in the process; and to identify one single institution or place as proper to the manuscript would ignore the very real possibility that it moved around. Thus, while we cannot disregard the significant influence the Inns of Court had in forming this particular collection, they are most relevant as one element in the historical narrative of MC15’s production.

[37] Even with the evidence surveyed in this essay, it is difficult to sketch a fully satisfactory narrative for the way the manuscript came to be as it is now. Without information that unambiguously links the manuscript to any specific figures, dates, or places, the way we make connections remains challenging. A narrative for MC15’s context should involve London, the Inns and Norfolk, in some combination. The book could have been owned by a London-based lawyer, whose anthology just happens to be better than others in representing the full range of texts available to people associated with the Inns. Alternatively, it could have been the property of a Norfolk-based law student, who spent much of his time in the capital, but necessarily returned home to family interests there. Or it could have been the product of a well-connected Norfolk resident, whose contacts enabled him to acquire popular and hard-to-find texts circulating in London. 

[38] This article is not able to fully close down on these possibilities: but it is important that the existing evidence clearly makes us raise these questions at all. MC15 points to a range of connections which helped produce the manuscript, one way or another. Any narrative must deal with the fact that there are several poles around which MC15 can be seen to operate, showing the capital was only one centre among many for manuscript circulation. As such, a typology for manuscript miscellanies based principally on London institutions is insufficient to describe the richness and variety of ways in which texts were disseminated, collected, and read in the early seventeenth century. 

Appendix 1: The hands and contents of Chetham’s Library MS A.4.15

Appendix 1: The hands and content of Chetham’s Library MS A.4.15

Appendix 1: The hands and content of Chetham’s Library MS A.4.15

Appendix 2: Scribe A in Chetham’s Library MS A.4.15

The copying of the ‘Gullinge Sonnets’ was done in an elegant script that is not found elsewhere in MC15. However, there are good reasons to suppose that the scribe responsible for the sonnets was the same as that of hand A, the mixed secretary that copies a great deal of prose and poetry throughout the manuscript. The dedicatory sonnet to Anthony Cooke (48r) uses an ‘M’ (as in ‘Muse’) very similar to that of ‘My Ladye Rich’ (58v), with an ‘I’ much like that from ‘Ireland’ (28r). That end of that sonnet is also marked with a curlicue, in much the same way as was used amongst A’s prose. Further comparisons are worth drawing with the hand of the sonnets with that of the ‘Epigrammes’, whose slightly rushed secretary script is very likely to be hand A. This is marked by its use of italics for headings and emphasis in the body text (58v, 57r, 59r), a majuscule ‘E’ made of two interlocking ovals (57r and 13v), and the use of a curlicue (60r). In both sonnets and epigrams, an unusual form of ‘g’ is used, with the descending bowl preceded by a sharp joint (as in 48r); on which, see also ‘In Norgum’ (59r).

Appendix 3: Farmer manuscripts at Chetham’s Library, Manchester

Appendix 3: Farmer manuscripts at Chetham’s library, Manchester.


[1] My research on this article was assisted immeasurably by the staff of Chetham’s library, especially Michael Powell and Jane Muskett; I am also very grateful for encouragement and comments on earlier drafts by Lucy Munro, Naomi Baker, Steven May, Laura Swift, and the meticulous anonymous reviewers for JNR.[back to text]

[2] These include Philadelphia, Rosenbach MS 1083/15; British Library MSS Add. 21433, Add. 25303 and Sloane 3910; and Bodleian MS Add. B. 97.[back to text]

[3]Appendix 1 gives fuller details about the hands and content of MC15. The hands of MC15 are complex, but in several specific cases are of immediate relevance to the concerns of this article. As such I will pay closer attention to issues in hands more fully as relevant in the discussion of texts.[back to text]

[4] The text by Martin is the only one whose wide dissemination has not been comprehensively demonstrated; as well as its printings in 1603, manuscript copies can be found in SPD 14/1/71; BL Add. MS 25707; and BL Egerton MS 2877. Add. MS 15903 is a collection of Norfolk MSS showing something of the geographical range of the text.[back to text]

[5] Transcriptions from MC15 are my own.[back to text]

[6] For a full defence of this position, see appendix 2. Even if these scripts are regarded as the work of two separate scribes, the two scribes collectively enjoy the joint primacy that I attribute to just one figure.[back to text]

[7] On the connections of Ben Jonson to the Inns, see O’Callaghan 2007: 35–59[back to text]

[8]This is based on a combination of Osborn, and of[back to text]

[9] The only psalm attributed to Davison that circulated more widely in miscellanies was 137, not included in MC15, which Lara Crowley (2008) has re-attributed to Donne.[back to text]

[10] See appendix 3 for a list of these manuscripts.[back to text]

[11] The Chetham’s Library handlist of manuscripts has previously suggested that the Farmer collection includes several books of miscellaneous poetry from the eighteenth century (MSS A.4.7-A.4.13). This is a mistake, likely to have arisen by a carelessly extended line in the handlist made by the librarian Charles Phillips in July 1925: see Chetham’s Library, C/LIB/LIST/1/4.[back to text]

[12] Copies of Farmer’s catalogue annotated with buyers and prices are held at Glasgow University Library and at the British Library, S.C. 1048.[back to text]

[13] For discussion of this point I am grateful to Gabriel Heaton and David McKitterick. [back to text]


Manuscripts and specific copies of printed books

Where used, alternative sigla are given in brackets after the full shelf mark.

Glasgow, Glasgow University Library, Bibliotecha Farmeriana

London, British Library MSS Add. 21433, Add. 25303, Sloane 3910; S.C. 1048 (Bibliotecha Farmeriana)

Manchester, Chetham’s Library MSS A.3.47, A.4.7-A.4.14, A.4.15 (MC15), A.4.16, A.4.103, A.6.31, A.6.88 ; MC C/LIB/LIST/1/4

Oxford, Bodleian Library Rawl. D 316; Tanner 175; Add. B. 97

Philadelphia, Rosenbach MS 1083/15 (PRF15)

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A Catalogue of the Valuable Library Collected by That Truly Laborious Antiquary Peter le Neve Esq; …. . 1730/31 (London: John Wilcox)

A Catalogue of the Library of Mr. Thomas Martin, of Palgrave in Suffolk, lately Deceased. 1772 (Lynn: W. Whittingham)

Bibliotheca Farmeriana. A Catalogue of the Curious, Valuable and Extensive Library, in Print and Manuscript, of the Late Revd. Richard Farmer, D.D. 1798. (London: Thomas King)

Brooke, Christopher. 1872. The Complete Poems of Christopher Brooke, ed. by Alexander B. Grosart, 2 vols (Blackburn: Private Circulation)

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_____. 2010. Shakespeare and Law (London: Arden)

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