Manuscript Archives (2): Lambeth Palace Library

Lambeth Palace is the London seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the records centre for the Church of England. Thus its focus and strength as an archive is post-Reformation documentation relating to the church and ergo is a critical repository of material on early modern England and its neighbours. With this in mind, it is somewhat surprising to find that the archives contain over six-hundred medieval MSS, and particularly surprising that this collection contains such a definitively pre-Reformation text as the Vita S. Eadwardi regis et martyris. It was to access this version of the life of Edward the Martyr that I had cause last year to attend Lambeth Palace Library. The text of the Vita contained in MS 149 dates to c. 1250 – 1350 and, as an artefact of the saints’ cults that the reformers so emphatically rejected, we are fortunate it survived the Reformation. That it is now owned and protected by the church those reformers founded is just wonderfully incongruous.

Like the majority of Insular archives containing medieval MSS, the medieval texts contained at Lambeth Palace do not reflect a historically homogenous collection. The dissolution of the monasteries from c. 1536 dispersed MSS amongst many private collections and their re-consolidation into public archives has taken centuries and provided for rather erratic collections. In Lambeth’s case, the MSS have found their way to their repository either through the bequeathal of private collections, the archive’s efforts at MS acquisition, or the Archbishops’ own endeavours to the same end. While much of the medieval MS collection has been at Lambeth for a significant period – and thus appear in the published descriptive catalogues – what can make searching the Lambeth collection a little more difficult is the continued acquisition of MS. Most notably the archives came into the possession of the majority of the MSS held by Sion College library in 1996, and have also added numerous individual MS or small MS collections over the years. As such, there is no integrated descriptive catalogue of the full Lambeth collection as it stands – thus I must refer you to the Lambeth Palace website. May God bless your digital catalogue searches in the CalmView system – for he has only cursed mine.

The archives themselves are one of the most pleasant I have had the satisfaction of being granted access to. Once you find the hidden door and buzz in, the archivists and librarians are most helpful and efficient in reviewing identification and providing a reader’s card. MSS are accessed upon demand and, for a scant £5, unlimited self-digitisation is allowed. I found the archival practices extremely up-to-date, and the small reading room for the consultation of MSS is an ideal and intimate space. They even have tea and coffee facilities in a separate area. In many ways it was unfortunate I had only one MS to consult – both the helpful staff and the pleasant facilities made for an ideal study environment.

Turning now to that single MS I examined, I once again do not intend to do the job of the descriptive catalogues (LP MS 149 – James, vol. 1, pp. 24 – 25), especially considering the complicated custodial history of the manuscript. Rather I will make some general observations on the MS in regards to its history as an artefact, its contents, and construction.

MS 149 comprises of two distinct codices, the first of which has garnered extensive scholarly attention. The scribe(s) used a very clean Anglo-Saxon script (insular half uncial perhaps? – picture of f.23 v. below), and the resulting codex is locatable as a text owned by Leofric – the bishop of Exeter between 1050 and 1072. Leofric’s person, his known interest in MS acquisition, and his geographical and temporal location in the transition from Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman rule, are what bring this codex to scholarly attention. The contents are far from innovative, despite the lovely script, containing Bede’s commentary on John’s Apocalypse, and Augustine’s treatise on adulterous marriages. Despite the different topics of the two texts it contains, the scribe (or commission) seems to have conceived this codex as a single volume, with the script consistent throughout and the latter text starting immediately after the former, halfway through a quire.

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The second codex, which was that of interest to me, was written around two centuries later and shows significant changes in scribal standards in the adoption of book hand (? – picture of f.164 v. below). It was originally owned by the Augustine priory of Lanthony in Gloucestershire. That this is bound with the Leofric codex from Exeter exemplifies the nature of Insular archives in microcosm. The codices were created in geographically and temporally disparate locations, yet in the MS dispersal after the dissolution of the monasteries, both monastic texts made their way into a single private collection. I have been unable to locate precisely when the two codices were bound together, however this was not an uncommon practice of the post-Reformation MS collectors and it was likely done in the 16th or 17th century. It is not difficult to see why they would have been joined by a later collector – bracketed by the Enchiridion of Augustine, and his de penitencia, the Vita is anomalous within the second codex. Both codices give primacy to the works of Augustine and it is likely this that brings these two distinctive books together in one binding.

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In content, the text of the Vita S. Eadwardi regis et martyris in MS 149 reflects the ‘wicked stepmother’ narrative described in my post on Edward the Martyr, and is largely the same as the text I viewed at Trinity College Dublin. As such it assists in the thoroughness of my research, but only insofar as I can state that Lambeth Palace MS 149 does not innovate upon the text of the Vita.

Once again it was a pleasure to be able to handle the historical artefact, and needless to say I spent a fair amount of time examining and appreciating the craftsmanship of even those passages of no relevance to my research. Lambeth Palace Library itself, and its reading rooms, are an intimate and functional space conducive to research. The staff are friendly, the MSS accessible and the archival practices excellent. The online catalogue is not ideal as it stands and is rather particular, though in writing this blog I have noted that it seems to have improved over the past six months, so given time it will grow to serve its purpose. Undoubtedly my favourite of the archives I have visited.

-Matt Firth

Summary, Lambeth Palace Library:

Accessibility:

Reading tickets are granted with ID upon arrival at the Lambeth Palace reading room. There is no requirement for a letter of introduction, making the archive more accessible than most.

Access is quite simple once you find the door! Access is from Lambeth Palace Road which runs along the Thames – look for a small black door in the wall with a sign alongside indicating hours of operation (see feature photo). Use the intercom to speak to the duty-librarian who will buzz you in and meet you at the inner doors. I recommend sending an introductory email before attending.

MS Access:

MSS are retrieved upon request and collection is quick and efficient. It is possible to email in advance to confirm MS availability; however, the MSS will only be retrieved upon attendance.

Cost:

No cost for access.

Digitisation:

Available as self-service – £5 per day for unlimited digitisation.

Catalogues:

The Lambeth Palace online catalogue is incomplete and somewhat finicky – I have yet to get it to provide an accurate hit. However, the archives are regularly updating it with digitised content and, unlike the below volumes, it theoretically catalogues the acquisitions from Sion College library.

General Catalogue: H. J. Todd, A Catalogue of the Archiepiscopal Manuscripts in the Library at Lambeth Palace, London, 1812.

Descriptive Catalogue: M. R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Lambeth Palace, 2 vols, reprint, Cambridge, 2011 (1932).

Further information:

Lambeth Palace Library:

http://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/manuscripts

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3 thoughts on “Manuscript Archives (2): Lambeth Palace Library”

  1. Many thanks for the kind and generous comments about the library. The staff here very much appreciate them.

    Just one correction if I may: there is no general requirement for researchers to present a letter of introduction or recommendation. To issue a reader’s ticket we just require two forms of identification, one with a photograph and the other with a current address. Further details are available on our website:
    http://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/hours-and-tickets

    Matti Watton (Mr)
    Archivist
    Lambeth Palace Library

    Liked by 1 person

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