PETER COMESTOR (d. c.1178). Historia Scholastica, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
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PETER COMESTOR (d. c.1178). Historia Scholastica, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM

PETER COMESTOR (d. c.1178). Historia Scholastica, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM

[England, Rochester, 1190s]
330 x 230mm. iii + 237 + iv leaves: I3(of 6, i-iii cancelled blanks), 110, 2-78, 88(and a part-folio inserted between ii and iii), 9-198, 207(vii a singleton), 21-298, 304(of 6, v and vi cancelled blanks), plus four 15th-century leaves at end including two lifted pastedowns from a previous binding, COMPLETE, two columns of 39 lines written in dark brown ink in a protogothic bookhand on 39 horizontals and bounded by two inner verticals and two outer pairs of verticals ruled in brown, a further vertical in outer margin ruled in plummet, justification: 240 x 145mm, rubrics and running headings in red, gatherings 1-12 with two- to eight-line initials in red or blue, some of them with flourishing of the contrasting colour, gatherings 13-29 with two- to seven-line initials of green, red or blue, mostly with flourishing of a contrasting colour, LARGE ILLUMINATED INITIAL with stave of burnished gold, orange and blue (page-edges darkened, neat marginal tear to five leaves, strip of vellum lost from edge of margin on folio 203, and upper corner of first endleaf). Early 19th-century panelled calf (scuffed, worn at extremities, upper cover detached).



1. Benedict, vicar of Sutton, probably Sutton at Hone, in the diocese of Rochester, Kent: inscription 'Per Benedictu[m] Vicariu[m] de Suthton. Liber Historiar[um] de Claustro Roffens[i]' (f.1). The manuscript is written by a number of different scribes, some recognisably Rochester hands, and it seems that it was produced in the scriptorium of the priory at the expense of Benedict. It may always have been intended for the priory's use.

2. Cathedral Priory of St Andrew, Rochester, Kent: inscription as above, and an anathema opening 'Qui hunc libru[m] de Claustro Roffens[i] alienav[er]it' (f.iii verso), both written in a 13th-century hand. The inscription on f.i is preceded by the number II, perhaps a press-mark. Other manuscripts from Rochester have similar notes of gift and anathema written in the same hand. These include another copy of the Historia Scholastica (BL, Royal 2 C I). Since the present manuscript is the earlier and is likely to have been written in the Priory in the 1190s it is reasonable to assume that it was this book which was described as the 'Hystoria magistri Petri. in.i. volumine.' in the 1202 inventory of books -- the Comune Librarium -- of Rochester Cathedral: English Benedictine Libraries: The Shorter Catalogues, eds R. Sharpe, J.P. Carley, R.M. Thomson and A.G.Watson (1996), pp.497-529.

The overwhelming majority of manuscripts to survive from Rochester, which are now in the British Library, formed the largest single medieval component of the Westminster collection of Henry VIII. Carley has suggested that they may have been acquired with the personal library of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester when his goods were confiscated in 1534, or after his execution in 1535: J.P. Carley, The Libraries of Henry VIII, 2000, pp.xi-xli. While it is possible that the present manuscript shared this fate and is an escape from the royal library, it is perhaps more likely that it remained in the monastery at least until the house was surrendered in 1540. It was certainly there in the 26th year of the reign of Henry VIII (1534/35) when William Newton, 'boy in the monastery', wrote a dated inscription on the final verso naming Samson Philippot, cellarer, who had been custodian of the store-room under the hall in the days of Master Phillip.

3. Philip Mainwaring Esq. of Over Peover (d.1647), Captain of the Light Horse of Chester and Sherrif of Cheshire in 1639: his signature on f.i.
4. Sir Henry Mainwaring of Over Peover, Bart (d.1797): his armorial bookplate inside upper cover. At birth he inherited the baronetcy created for his uncle Thomas in 1660. When Henry died unmarried the baronetcy expired but the estates passed to his uterine brother Thomas Wetenhal who assumed the name and arms of Mainwaring and the baronetcy was recreated for his son Henry in 1804. The Peover Library was sold by R. Winstanley of Manchester for this Sir Henry Mainwaring (1782-1860) on 28 August 1837, and five following days. The present manuscript was lot 492 on the third day, 'Commentatio in Vetus Testamentum', the title on the spine.

5. Mr Beaumont: written in pencil in outer corner of upper cover.

6. Royal Archaelogical Institute, 15: circular label inside lower cover. The bulk of the Library of the RAI was included in Sotheby's sale of 17 and 18 December 1901, but the present manuscript does not appear to be included in the catalogue.

7. Warrington Public Library.


List of Capitula ff.i verso-iii verso; Peter Comestor, Historia Scholastica ff.1-237, with ff.204-5 blanks between the end of the Evangelists and the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles; followed by a leaf from a 15th-century English manuscript written in a heavily abbreviated documentary script and three folios from an early 15th-century English choirbook for the use of Sarum. These four leaves were pastedowns and endleaves of an earlier binding.

Peter Comestor (literally 'Peter the Eater' from his voracious appetite for knowledge) was first attached to the Church of Nôtre Dame at Troyes and became Dean of the Chapter before 1148. Around 1160 he was one of the Chapter of Nôtre Dame in Paris and was Chancellor of the University there until he retired to the monastery of St Victor in 1169. He wrote influential sermons and a gloss on the Gospels but the Historia Scholastica can be regarded as his principal work and he became known as the 'Magister Historiarum'. The work provided a continuous history from the Creation until the end of the Acts of the Apostles and was based upon the narrative books of the Bible, where necessary correlating different accounts of an event and marrying disjointed sequences. In spite of this scriptural primacy, the narrative was rounded out and gaps filled by drawing upon both Church Fathers and authors of classical antiquity. Often literal or allegorical explanations of Biblical events were also given. The text of the Historia on ff.1-235 of the present manuscript corresponds to Migne, PL, 198, 1053-1722, although without the 'additions' that were made as appendices to individual chapters, and not always with the same chapter divisions as the printed edition. The Prologue was not included as part of the original text-block and, when the three-folio list of capitula was added once the main text was completed, the Prologue was written in space remaining at the end of the list and facing the opening folio (f.iii verso). In the Prologue Peter Comestor dedicated his work to Guillaume aux Blanches Mains, Bishop of Sens (1169-1176), and explained that he had compiled it at the urging of colleagues who wanted a compact and coherent Biblical history that also provided information only briefly alluded to in the Great Gloss. The result was so successful that within a generation the work had itself become the subject of university lectures and was frequently annotated and commented upon. This copy was made soon after the composition of the work, and its continued currency and use is attested to by the variety of marginal additions, corrections and interpolations. These include a series of learned comments -- citing sources, expanding contexts or providing scholastic distinctions -- written in at least three elegant, if heavily abbreviated, early 13th-century hands, one of them surrounded or articulated by decorative red flourishing.

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