Tag Archives: Codicology

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.


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.


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:


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.


No cost for access.


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


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:


Manuscript Archives (1): Trinity College Dublin

There is little I enjoy more than getting my hands on a centuries-old piece of vellum and researching the written records of the medieval world. For me this almost always takes the form of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Anglo-Latin manuscripts, which takes me into the wonderful, varied and frequently frustrating world of manuscript archives. Even the most seasoned researcher, upon wandering into a new archive, can be surprised by the foibles and odd rules specific to that institution, and such information is not always readily accessible before showing up. Thus I will be providing a short series on archives within our blog, and detailing my personal experiences. In part I will be providing some practical information about the archives I have visited, with details of the accessibility of materials, cost and logistics of access, and ease of digitisation; in part I will be enthusing somewhat over the MSS I deal with. The terminology may get technical.

When I first started manuscript research, my supervisor offered this sage piece of advice.

“You will encounter two types of archivists: 1) those who facilitate research and are eager to make available to you the riches of the repository and 2) those who view themselves as guards who see their duty to keep your grubby hands off of his/her precious MSS and get rid of you ASAP.”

As a researcher you of course wish to encounter the former, but as an archivist I suspect I would be the latter.  It will be immediately evident which type of archivist you are dealing with and, fortunately, the good people of the Trinity College Dublin Manuscripts and Archives Research Library have been extremely helpful from the outset.

I am currently drafting my PhD proposal, much of which focuses on the Anglo-Saxon royal martyrs, Æthelberht of East Anglia, Kenelm of Mercia, and Edward the Martyr. Trinity College holds two MSS that, according to the Abbott Catalogue of 1900 contain material on Edward, TCD MS 171 & 172 (I think Abbott was mistaken on 172, but more on that later). According to their website, the team at Trinity only access their MS archives once a day, so it is imperative to order in advance (see summary below), and I emailed to ensure I would be able to book them in. A positive reply was forthcoming, with a hitherto unseen caveat that, ‘due to difficulties in obtaining the optimum humidity levels for consultation of vellum material, it may only be possible to consult each manuscript for a limited time.’

It all makes sense when you walk into the echoing hall of the Old Library. The place looks and feels right for the consultation of seven-century-old MSS however, even though the MSS reading rooms are a smaller space within the complex, from a conservation perspective the building is entirely impractical. This contrasts with somewhere like the British Library with atmosphere controlled reading rooms, or a smaller archive like Lambeth Palace that has easily controllable and intimate areas for MS consultation. The staff speak hopefully, if dubiously, of a new MSS building in the future.

While I will not do the job of the descriptive catalogue (TCD MS 171 – Colker, vol. 1, pp. 304 – 310; TCD MS 172 – Colker, vol. 1, pp. 310 – 320), I will make some basic observations on each of the MSS I consulted today. I will provide photos in future archive blogs, but not today. Trinity does not allow self-service digitisation.

TCD MS 171 is a 13th C. Anglo-Latin codex containing the saint’s lives for the months March – May, presumably once one of a set of volumes that spanned the year. The codex was clearly conceived as a single work with narratives spanning quires – each quire is identified both by number and catchwords. The vellum is in good condition, the imperfections noted at pp. 81 and 83 were present within the vellum production process as some effort had been made to repair the holes. The MS is largely free of marginalia, the markings are very heavy, and though the scribe has a nice hand, he has struggled to stay within the markings. The scribe has also had to make repairs on the run, scraping and rewriting. The illuminated lettering at the start of each new section is very delicate, largely in blue and red, with some green, and small examples of gilding throughout. I focused very much on pp. 82 – 93 (the codex has been paginated), which contains both the Passio S. Eadwardi Regis et Martyris, and Miracula S. Eadwardi.

TCD MS 171 is a 14th C. Anglo-Latin codex and a miscellany that could be characterised as a compendium of early-medieval Anglo-Latin literature’s greatest hits. But there is nothing on Edward the Martyr, Abbott frankly got it wrong and confused him with Edward the Confessor. Far be it from me to get put off by the fact that the codex had no relevance to my study though, I enjoyed it for what it did contain. Which included extracts from Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, an impressive collection of prophecies taken from both Gildas and Geoffrey of Monmouth, along with a selection of hagiographies. There are some cracking marginalia, with the sketched faces on pp. 362 – 367 a highlight. There is some illuminated lettering throughout, though where gilt appears (eg. p. 394), the artwork is quite exemplary in contrast to other examples in the MS. This codex is comprised of three separate codices that have been combined at some point after the 15th C., and I suspect there is at least half a quire missing from the middle one. The last section is a single quire and the vellum is in pretty bad nick, and probably has been for the past five-hundred years; interestingly, it contains material in French.  Considered as three independent works, there is little surprise each contains a different hand, yet there are multiple scripts even within the sections – granted the varied texts copied within, it is of little surprise that there are multiple scribes at work here. Nice to see the different styles of script, but ultimately for the modern researcher, the volume lacks the clear purpose that MS 171 has. I could speculate, but I won’t (but I want to).

Needless to say it was a joy and privilege to handle these artefacts of the thirteenth- and fourteenth-centuries, representing months of labour by dedicated scribes now long dead. I would hope that they would be delighted to see their works still be handled and studied and brought to life, whether in research, or in an overly long and slightly dull blog entry. Though I do hope my enthusiasm and the extraordinary nature of these artworks is coming through!

Ultimately a beautiful library with some remarkable examples of Anglo-Latin MSS culture and, as a bonus, you gain access to the long gallery and the Book of Kells for free. The staff are welcoming and friendly. However, as seen in my below summary, some of the archival practices from a researcher’s perspective are outdated and put significant restrictions on accessibility of MSS, either for digitisation or transcription.

-Matt Firth

Summary, Trinity College Dublin – Manuscripts and Archives Research Library:


Reading tickets are quickly granted with ID at the Berkeley Library. This is required to access the Old Library, where the ticket is countersigned upon provision of a supervisor’s letter of introduction.

The physical accessibility of the reading rooms is labyrinthine. Into the Book of Kells shop, past the security guards, up the stairs, through the famous long gallery (pictured), past the velvet ropes, through a door, down the stairs, through another door, back up in a lift, turn left to find an unmanned desk.

MS Access:

Their website indicates they will only retrieve MSS once per day, but granted the humidity issue noted above, they will collect vellum MSS on demand. As the reading room sits within the Old Library structure, the infrastructure does not support an environmentally controlled space, so length of access will vary dependent on conditions.

Cotton gloves will be provided (a rarely required archival practice).


No cost for access.


Not available as self-service. There is a digital service provided by Trinity College, however the costs are prohibitive: €25 for the first page, €2 for each page thereafter.


General Catalogue: T. K. Abbot, Catalogue of the Manuscripts in Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, 1900.

Descriptive Catalogue: M. L. Colker, Trinity College Dublin: Descriptive Catalogue of the Mediaeval and Renaissance Manuscripts, Dublin, 1991.

Further information:

Trinity College Dublin Manuscripts and Archives Research Library: http://www.tcd.ie/library/manuscripts/research-visit.php