This post presents a small investigation into water damage in parchment and late Middle English verse. This project stems from a doctoral seminar in book history with Edward Wheatley at Loyola University Chicago.
Chicago, Newberry Library, Case MS 33.3 is a manuscript on parchment and copy of John Lydgate’s (c.1370-1451) Fall of Princes in London c.1470. Lydgate first composed The Fall of Princes sometime between 1431-1438 at the behest of his patron, Humphrey the Duke of Gloucester. Lydgate was a monk and poet who was later in his writing career by the time he composed this text. Some scholars speculate that he may have written Princes for a patron who was keen on stamping out heresy; in 1431 the threat to the church presented by Lollardy became more prevalent. In addition, literary manuscripts written in English (as opposed to French or Latin) had become common after Henry VI had initiated such conventions with the regimental spread of Geoffrey Chaucer’s courtly poetry.
Lydgate’s work is a poem in more than 36,000 lines, in decasyllabic stanzas, otherwise known as rhyme royal, a conventional poetic meter used in literary narratives in the Middle English period. Chaucer composed most of his poetic works in rhyme royal as well. Lydgate’s own source was Des was des nobles homies et femmes which was a work based on Boccacio’s De casibus (De casibus Vivorum Illustratum). Many of the fortunes and misfortunes of important men and women in history were used by other writers like Chaucer. Many scholars attribute Boccacio’s Latin text as a work of moral philosophy and one which started a De casibus tradition in its own right.
The copy was made c1470. The text which is contained in Case MS 33.3 is purely Lydgate’s with a translator’s note at the last folio (f.201r). The MS has 201 folios, trimmed to binding size except for prickings seen on f. 49. Quire sizes vary; most quires comprise of 6 bifolium but some are 8 and 10 bifolium long. Collation: 1(6), 2-18(8), 19-20(6), 21(8), 22(6), 23(10), 24(8), and 4-5 “are removed with loss of text,” according to Paul Saenger, p. 60.
There is consistent water damage throughout the MS, such that lines on the edges of the leaves become completely illegible. The ‘acanthus spray border’ work remains throughout in nicely created initials, thought sometimes more pronounced than others. the gold leaf seems to hold up well, even when water damage seems to impend upon it. The small gold initials are aesthetically pleasing as they are integral to the reading of the text; Meale notes that Lydgate MSS are known to be ‘handsome’ books from time to time without any clear ties to owners of higher social class (209). Thus, the gold initials could be more of a stylistic choice by the individual limner or illustrator. These
small gold dentelle initials with white patterning on grounds of blue and magenta accompanied by sprigs of floral decoration (Saenger 61)
throughout the MS seem to suggest to me to be the stylized work of an illustrator no matter the future use of the book. The stanzas themselves have red connecting brackets where rhyming occurs in the ababbcc scheme. Thus, the book is certainly made for sustained reading and attention, but clear intention for a de luxe look and feel as well.
Saenger notes that the illustrator for Case MS 33.3 was active in London c.1455-75, and worked in the same center as a known scribe, Ricardus Franciscus (active around the same time). Scholars investigating the London book trade in the fifteenth-century posit a number of compelling illustrators and scribes active in the market, along with known stationers. For the interest of this MS, I have narrowed down a few possible scribes as well as illustrators for Case MS 33.3:
John Preston (London)
(amateur, unlikely) John Shirley
Images of Case:
Image 1 (initial T with spray work)
ricardusimage2 (same type of initial T with spray work in Pierpont Morgan MS M 126)
ricardusimage (full folio Morgan MS M 126, showing Franciscus hand)
Image2 (Case MS 33.3 water damage)
image8 (Case MS 33.3 text example)
image3 (” ” gold leaf tarnish)
image5 (” ” note from translator)
image6 (” ” ink eating through)