The Brut or Chronicle of England, in Middle English, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[England, second quarter 15th-century]
293 x 203mm. 121 leaves: 15(of 6, i cancelled blank), 2-158, 164(of ?8, lacking iii-vi), and lacking one leaf of text at the end, 36 lines in brown ink in a semi-cursive anglicana between two pairs of verticals scored or faintly ruled, justification: approx. 195 x 125mm, marginal paraphs and rubrics in red, three-line initials alternately of blue or red with flourishing usually of the contrasting colour although the red initials are sometimes flourished in brown, illuminated border (opening folio defective and shrivelled with loss of text and illuminated border, one further leaf with outer third of folio lacking, four further leaves with sections of lower or outer margin excised or torn away not affecting text, vellum darkened and spotted throughout, a few tears or nibbles, condition rarely affecting legibility). English, mid-16th-century brown leather wallet binding, panelled with triple fillets and rolled in blind (roll not in Oldham), three bands attached with white leather strips cross-laced on covers and twisted and knotted on spine, strap with stamped and engraved brass clasp (lacking catch, worn and restored).
1. There are many marginal inscriptions in English in 15th- or 16th-century hands. Most are annotations to the text but many name early owners including: 'William Ewre of Bushopp Midleham Esqr oweth this Booke T. Clement Barnes' (below the end of the index), 'Thomas Wykyng of Cowden' (below the middle of the index) and, again, 'in the name of god Amen thomas wykyng god be thy spede wheresomevare thow go ar ryde' (below chapter clxxxxiii), 'Richard smyth of quodington' (beside chapter ccxiii) and, again, 'Theis is my good Brian Lupton Richard smythe' (beside chapter ccxli). The verse 'Iste liber p[er]tinet, beare it well in mynde, ad me ?nicelan hill bothe curteous and kinde a vinculo dolores the lorde doe him bringe ad vitam aeternam, to life everlastinge, Salutam ab authorae salutis' is written beside chapter cliii. Several other notes include names, without it being clear that they owned the book: 'Ryght trusty and wylbeloved broder ?haresby' (below chapter ii), 'Wyll[ia]m hewyt the baylogh, thomas methon the yeoman' (below chapter clxxxxiiii), 'Amen quod' wylliam' harper' (below chapter ccvi) and 'Rynnard Russel' (below chapter ccxxxviii).
In addition to the names and ownership inscriptions there are several rhymes or saws added to margins. These include: 'Yf S Paul day be sear and clear then shal be tide An happe year And yf yt chanc to snew o[r] rayn the[n] shalbe dear all kind of grayn And yf the clouds make dark the...', 'whear as I would my love parchase for to be bould I lake the grase for feare I dare not for shame I may not for bycuse I have not Wele let yt pase' (in chapter cc), the rather plaintive 'It ys to harde for my lernyng' (below chapter ccxii), and what appears to be a riddle 'in paule mier is, in myer eill is, in oke tymber is, in ferne non is' (beside chapter ccxxvii).
2. J. Murrell of Durham: inscription in a 19th-century hand on front endleaf'.
3. E.F. Bosanquet: bookplate on front endleaf and letter addressed to him concerning the binding from S. Gibson of the Bodleian Library of 3 July 1922. Sold Sotheby's 24 January 1944, lot 126.
Table of Contents, in a slightly later hand, ff.1v-5; Chronicle of England, lacking five leaves with the end of chapter ccxlii, the beginning of ccxliii and the end of chapter ccxliii ff.6-121v
This chronicle history of England -- known as The Brut because it starts with the legend of Brutus, his conquest of Albion and the naming of the land Britain after him -- was probably first composed in French early in the 14th century and intended for reading aloud to a knightly audience. It was soon translated into English and additions were made to update it, the latest to bring it up to 1436: Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England, II, c.1307 to the Early 16th Century (1982), pp.73-76 & 222-227.
The present manuscript is a copy of the version with the earliest continuation, believed to have been written around 1430, that takes it up to the reign of Henry V and the seige of Rouen. The final folio ends, defectively, with the preparations for the seige, but it is clear from the table of contents that no more than a single folio is lacking.
The Brut recounts both the fabulous -- including a long history of King Arthur -- and authentic history of Britain. Unsurprisingly, it becomes increasingly detailed and factual as it moves closer to contemporary events. Occasionally there are interjections of feeling, as in the account of the fall of Richard II in chapter ccxlii: 'and thus was King Richard brought doune and distroied and stode allone withoute conforte or consaille of anye man. Allas that slyke a kinge sholde be so alone and desolate'.
The Brut appears to have been the most popular secular prose work in Middle English: nearly 170 manuscripts and 13 early printed versions are listed in the most recent bibliography by E.D. Kennedy, A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 8 (1989), pp. 2818-21. The present manuscript is not recorded there.