HERBERT OF BOSHAM (fl. c.1160-1180), Thomus (The Life of St Thomas Becket), in Latin, six leaves from a DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Flanders, Ourscamp Abbey?, c. 1185]
305 x 220 mm. 6 leaves, prickings in the lower and original outer margins (because the outer margins of the leaves were wider than the inner ones, Phillipps's binder made a crease down the outer margins and used these creases as the gutter, sewing the leaves with rectos as versos), the last leaf with part of an original gathering signature, ruled in leadpoint, two columns of 31 lines of text written in dark brown ink, above top line, the list of capitula in smaller script, rubrics, chapter numbers and running headers in red, in a fine formal protogothic bookhand, marginal cross-references in a fine small contemporary hand, chapters each with a two-line initial in blue with red flourishing, sub-sections each with a one-line initial in blue or red (outer edges of leaves somewhat ragged, running headers somewhat cropped on last leaf). Bound in typical pinkish 'Middle Hill boards', with handwritten title and printed Phillipps label on the spine. In a green fitted box with calf spine and gilt title.
FROM THE UNIQUE UNABRIDGED TWELFTH-CENTURY MANUSCRIPT OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BIOGRAPHY OF THOMAS BECKET, COMPOSED BY HIS CLOSEST FRIEND, DOUBTLESS COMMISSIONED BY, AND PERHAPS EVEN WRITTEN BY, THE AUTHOR
(a) THE CISTERCIAN ABBEY OF ST MARY, OURSCAMP, near Arras: the parent manuscript (Arras, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 375) has the late 12th-century ownership inscription of the abbey: 'Liber sancti Marie Ursicampi', where Herbert of Bosham lived in self-imposed exile in the mid-1180s, and where he wrote his Commentary on the Psalms; it is therefore likely that he gave the manuscript to his host institution, and Christopher de Hamel has repeatedly suggested that Herbert himself may be the scribe ('Manuscripts of Herbert of Bosham', Manuscripts at Oxford: An Exhibition in Memory of R.W. Hunt, 1980, p.41 ; Glossed Books of the Bible, 1984, p.57; Sotheby's, 1998, pp.56, 60). (b) In the 17th century the Ourscamp library was transferred to the BENEDICTINE ABBEY OF ST-VAAST, ARRAS; during the French Revolution the St-Vaast library was transferred to the BIBLIOTHèQUE MUNICIPALE, ARRAS, where the parent manuscript remains as ms. 375 (formerly 649). (c) SIR THOMAS PHILLIPPS (1792-1872): his MS. 16,865, inscribed by him 'A Fragment, bought out of Amiens, of the Life of St Thos of Canterbury, which had been cut out of the MSS of Arras by the Librarian himself, named Caron'; when Caron later published a catalogue he remarked 'la plupart des manuscrits ont tellement souffertet du temps et des hommes, qu'il nous a été impossible de constater d'une manière certaine s'ils sont, ou non, complets' (Introduction to the Catalogue des manuscrits de la bibliothèque de la ville d'Arras, 1860); Caron had cut random leaves from the manuscripts in his care and sold them as scrap vellum to a bookbinder in Amiens, where Phillipps found and bought them (for an account of the affair, and Phillipps's offer to return them to Arras, see Munby, Phillipps Studies, 1954, III, p.38-40); sold with the Phillipps residue to H.P. Kraus in 1977, with their pencil shelfmark 'A/III/12' on the inside front cover and stock number 'P1103' on the inside back cover. (d) MARTIN SCHOYEN, formerly with the bookplate of the Schoyen Collection inscribed 'MS 700'; Sotheby's, 1 December 1998, lot 79.
The leaves are bound both back-to-front and in reverse order; presented in correct textual sequence they contain: Book II, cap.18 and capitula for the opening of Book III, f.6v-r; Book III, cap.7, f.5v-r; Book III, capp.14-15, f.4v-r ; Book III, cap.20, f.3v-r; Book III, cap.30, f.2v-r; Book IV, capp.11-13, f.1v-r.
ONLY THREE SUBSTANTIAL MANUSCRIPTS OF THE TEXT SURVIVE, AND THE PRESENT LEAVES ARE WITHOUT A DOUBT THE MOST IMPORTANT CONTEMPORARY SOURCE FOR BECKET'S LIFE REMAINING IN PRIVATE HANDS. Their parent manuscript is at Arras; a copy from the Cistercian abbey at Aulne, Hainault, which is both incomplete and abridged is now Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, MS. IV.600, perhaps copied from the Arras exemplar; and an imperfect copy of c.1300 is in Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS. 146.
Herbert 'has been judged the most competent Hebrew scholar whom the Western Church produced between Jerome himself and Pico della Mirandola and Reuchlin in the late 15th century' (A. Duggan, 'Price of Loyalty', Thomas Becket: friends, networks, texts and cults, 2007, p.12). Born c.1120, he studied under Peter Lombard in Paris and by 1157 was in the employ of Henry II. He was Thomas Becket's closest friend, his confidante, his personal secretary, speech-writer, theological consultant, ambassador and companion.