RICHARD ROLLE (c.1300-1349). Translation and Commentary on the Psalter with the Lollard Interpolations: Psalms 82-113, in Middle English, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[southern England, early 15th century]
400 x 275mm. 135 leaves: 1-168, 177(of 8, lacking vii), catchwords towards the inner vertical of final versos, two columns of 52 lines written in a gothic bookhand in black ink by three scribes, between two verticals and 53 horizontals ruled in ink, justification: 295 x 185mm, lemmata underlined in red, one-line initials alternately of red and blue (not supplied after gathering 15), two-line initials of blue with extensive flourishing of red open each Psalm, spaces left for five- and seven-line illuminated initials to open Psalms 97 and 109 not supplied (staining to margin edges of first few folios). Modern antiqued brown vellum.
THE LOST SECOND PART OF ROLLE'S PSALTER FROM THE LIBRARY OF HENRY VIII
This is the second part of a manuscript which has been in the royal library since the reign of Henry VIII: BL, Royal 18 D I, Rolle's Translation and Commentary on Psalms 1-79, was in the Upper Library of the Palace of Westminster when it was recorded as no 1285 in the 1542 inventory: James Carley, The Libraries of Henry VIII (2000), p.213.
The size and page lay-out of Royal 18 D I and the present manuscript are identical, and any doubt that they were originally intended to be a single integral volume is dispelled by a comparison of their respective end and beginning. Royal 18 D I finishes in the middle of Psalm 79 with a catchword on the final verso, and the present manuscript begins on the first leaf of a gathering, written in the same distinctive hand as the end of the Royal manuscript, in the middle of Psalm 82. A single missing intervening gathering must have carried the text from the end of Psalm 79 to the beginning of Psalm 82. The scheme and type of decoration -- the flourished two-line initials and the allowance for illuminated initials that were never supplied -- are continuous across the two sections.
The dissolution of the monasteries resulted in an enormous expansion of the King's holdings; if Royal 18 D I was acquired in that way it may have been then that it became separated from its second half. It is, however, impossible to be certain from the inventory description -- Psalterium Ricardi Hampole -- that the volume was not then intact and still included the present manuscript. Carley discusses the various ways in which volumes left the Westminster library (op. cit. pp. lxxvii-lxxxi): interestingly, one such manuscript was the first part of another copy of Rolle's Psalter commentary which went to Lambeth Palace (now Ms 34) while the second part (Royal 18 C xxvi, and inv. no 1274) remained in the royal collection.
Richard Rolle, Translation and Commentary on the Psalter, Pss 82-113 ff.1-135v, lacking the opening half of the commentary on Ps.82, one folio within the commentary on Ps.112 and all but the opening column of the commentary on Ps.113
Richard Rolle was one of the major mystical writers of the 14th century. The call to become a hermit led him to abandon his studies in Oxford and return to Yorkshire: the rest of his life was devoted to contemplation, ecstasy and devotional writing. He died at Hampole and it was to one of his followers from the Cistercian nunnery there that he addressed a number of his major works. He wrote in Latin and Middle English -- in a vigorous and direct northern dialect which was tempered in copies, like this one, made in the south.
In his English Prose Treatises Rolle recommends the 'Sauter -- a sekyr standarde that will noghte faile: who so may cleue therto he sall noghte erre'. His earliest commentary on the Psalms was in Latin (published Cologne, 1536: Adams R.678) and the translation was the earliest of his English works, probably begun around 1340. A manuscript in the Bodleian (Laud Misc. 286), copied in the reign of Henry VI, has prefatory verses explaining that Rolle wrote the work at the request of Dame Margaret Kirkby, a recluse at Hampole, that the autograph copy was still at the nunnery there chained to the author's tomb, and that this was the exemplum of which the Bodleian manuscript was a faithful copy.
Altogether forty or so manuscripts of Rolle's Middle English commentary are known (R.E. Lewis, N.F. Blake & A.S.G. Edwards An Index of Printed Middle English Prose, 1985, no 271 to which may be added Bodleian Laud Misc.321 and several fragments). The preface and text of the translation of the Psalms are constant but the commentaries themselves differ remarkably one from another. The earlier version is relatively brief but later expansions and interpolations increase it three- or four-fold and modify the northern dialect. If Rolle's original was part of the incipient movement in favour of vernacular scriptures before Wyclif, one version of the longer commentary seems more overtly Lollard: it has often been suggested that if not composed by Wyclif himself, it was written by one of his followers: J. Forshall and F. Madden, The Bible in the Earliest English Versions, I, p.v.
The present manuscript, covering Psalms 82-113, is part of this longer version. The section that immediately preceded it, covering Psalms 1-79, is in the British Library (Royal 18 D I). It is probable that only a single intervening gathering, covering Psalms 80-81, has been lost and it is clear that the two parts were written as a single continuous volume. The rubric that opens the British Library section reads 'Here begins the prologue of the sauter that Richard heremyte of hampole translated into English after the sentence of doctours and resun'. On the analysis of Dorothy Everett the British Library section, once integral with this manuscript, is the expanded commentary with the Lollard interpolations: H E. Allen Writings Ascribed to Richard Rolle Hermit of Hampole (1947), p.173. Another manuscript in the British Library, Royal 18 C xxvi, also with an 'exceedingly enlarged' commentary, was described as differing from any other manuscript that Dorothy Everett had seen: this intact and independent volume contains only Psalms 89 to 117 and has been proposed as a textual continuation of Royal 18 D I. It is similar in scope to the present manuscript and sample readings suggest that the text is the same.
In spite of its evident wide circulation few substantial portions of Rolle's Psalter have been offered at auction in the post-war years. Two small fragments were sold at Sotheby's: 8 July 1974, lot 59 and 17 December 1991, lot 9.