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Ancient manuscripts - Introduction to the catalogue 1

Sir Roger Mynors: Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Balliol College Oxford, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.

c. Oxford University Press 1963. Reproduced with permission.


1. The Growth of the Medieval College Library

Of existing accounts, neither R Savage's Balliofergus ( Oxford, 1688( nor the volume by HWC Davies in a series of Oxford college histories ( London, 1899) is for our purpose quite satisfactory. The most recent summaries are in H Rashdall's Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, ed by FM Powicke and AB Emden ( Oxford, 1936) iii.179-184, and by RW Hunt and RHC Davis in the Victoria County History of Oxfordshire iii (1954) 82-95. What little remains of the medieval statutes is printed by HE Salter in the The Oxford Deeds of Balliol College (1913) 277-324 [= OBD]. On early Oxford library-history in particular Sir Maurice Powicke’s The Medieval Books if Merton College (1931) [=MBMC] is fundamental, and has been my constant companion.

The house of scholars founded outside the north gate of Oxford City, according to tradition in the year 1263, by John Balliol and Dervorguilla his wife, was at first little more than an endowed hostel for poor students in the faculty of arts, residing under the immediate jurisdiction of a principal elected by themselves and the governance of two external master, one of whom was a Franciscan. Of the three focal points of corporate life the scholars had one, a common table; but for a chapel they attended their parish church of St Mary Magdalene, and it is not known that anything was contemplated for them in the way of a library. The Foundress’ statutes, given in August 1282, which carefully prescribe for weekly disputations and the speaking of Latin at meals, mention no book except the breviary, portitorium, which she had given them for the benefit of her husband’s soul, the diligent custody of which is firmly enjoined upon them .[1] But books must soon have come in. Not only were they then, no less than now, found to be indispensable to any educational establishment whose students can never supply all their own needs; they were also, like plate, one of the recognized ways of holding capital in portable and negotiable form, and therefore an inescapable medium for benefactions in an age when gifts and bequests were made in kind as much as in money. It is further noticeable that whereas in the fifteenth century books are in general given or bequeathed to Balliol, as they still are, by persons having some particular connexion with the College, in the fourteenth it was a common practice for one and the same benefactor to distribute his possessions among several, or all, of the then existing institutions; so that even a small foundation might acquire books from the generosity of strangers. Unfortunately we have a no documents whatever for the history of Balliol library in the medieval period except a few wills, and can only put together the indications given by surviving volumes.

So far as now appears, the book which has been longest in the possession of the College is MS 317, a twelfth-century copy of Boethius De musica bequeathed by Peter de Cossington, who died before May 1276 and had taken his degree many years before the College was founded. Next come MSS 42, 43, and 212two volumes of St Thomas, probably Parisian, and a nearly contemporary copy of the Summa Theologica of Henry of Ghent, probably written in Oxford – the bequest of William Burnell, dean of Wells and perhaps younger brother of Robert Burnell the eminent bishop, who died in November 1304. He also left to Balliol valuable tenements in Oxford, and to Merton College library several books, of which two survive. [2] Other acquisitions can be assigned to the early Fourteenth century. MS 99, Albertus Magnus and Simplicius, was given by Robert de Clothale, chancellor of St Paul’s London, 1309-19, a friend to whom the College had already appealed for help in securing payment of a legacy towards the cost of building its first chapel. [3] William de Mundham had already taken his first degree by 1308, when he had MS 244 written to his order by Richard of Manchester, and some time before 1340, it seems, he must have given or bequeathed that book and MS 5, a volume of Robert Kilwardby’s patristic tables. Henry de la Wyle, chancellor of Salisbury cathedral, who died in 1329, and had once owned part of our MS 118, founded during his lifetime a chantry in the cathedral, which still possesses eight of his books. He also left ten volumes of theology to Merton College, where at least two still are. To Balliol he bequeathed four volumes of philosophy, none of them known to survive:

Item lego domui scolarium de Balliolo in Oxonia libros infrascriptos, uidelicet librum eticorum cum metaph. in uno uolumine. Item librum phisicorum et ce. et. mun. com. Item sententias super librum eti. retorice et pol. Item metaphisicam Auicenne.

In the following year, 1330, came by bequest from Edmund de Mepham, brother of the archbishop, MSS 118 and 119, two volumes of Aegidius Romanus which had been pledged several times in the previous fifteen years, possibly by fellows of Merton. One of them was actually lying in pawn at the time of his death in the Vaughan chest, and had to be redeemed by the College at its own expense; but it was not dear at 5s. 6d. In September 1334 a fine copy of the Latin Galen, MS 231, came by bequest of Simon de Holbeche MD, fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, in memory of his friend Stephen of Cornwall, who had been Master (magister) of Balliol thirty years before and then went on to take his MD at Paris. John de Pocklington, who was Master (custos) in 1332 and afterwards fellow of University College, gave or bequeathed MS 179, a volume of sermons by Bertrandus de Turre. It is clear that in the two generations following the grant of the Foundress' statutes, and especially in the first forty years of the fourteenth century, a valuable collection of books was building up.

In 1340 came the first major change in Dervorguilla's foundation, when Sir Philip Somerville with the gift of Long Benton in Northumberland increased the number of places in college from sixteen to twenty-two, and established six fellowships to enable regents in arts to proceed to the stufy of theology, which had previously been forbidden. And in April 1343 the Pope gave leave to approproate the church of Abbotsley (Hunts.), the gift of Sir William Felton, whose purpose was to increase the number and value of places in college, ac ordinare quod scholares ipsi libros diuersarum facultatem habeant in communi. [4] This is the first explicit mention of the common ownership of books by the fellows. No doubt at this period they were kept not in a library room, but in chests; and we must remember that normally nearly all the books belonging to a foundation such as this might at any time be found in the chambers of the individual fellows, to whom they were issued on long loan under the system of electiones, so well illustrated by the documents at Merton. There are traces of this at other colleges also - Exeter, Lincoln, Magdalen, Oriel; and no doubt it was in force at Balliol, although an erased note in MS 5 is the only evidence that has so far come to light. [5]

But for one reason or another the middle forty years of the fourteenth century are, so far as we can now tell, exceptionally barren of acquisitions. One can point only to MS 114, a handsome copy of Averroes, the bequest of Laurence de Thornhill, who had pledged it in Oxford during the years 1324-8 and died after 1361. [6] It is not until the seventies that books again come in in some quantity. Early in 1372 died Simon Bredon, canon of Chichester, the well-known writer on arithmetic and medicine, who had been a fellow of Balliol before going on to Merton College. In his will he left numerous bequests of books to friends and foundations, among them 'Item lefo Auicennam scriptum de ragg et librum Boicii de arsmetrica et rethoriam Tullii aule de Balliolo Oxonie. [7]

MS 89 is an Avicenna (but not on paper) which came from him; MS 306, a Boethius De arithmetica of uncertain provenance, might be the second volume, though this is quite uncertain; the Cicero is lost.William Wilton, who was later fellow of University College and of Queen's College, and was chancellor of the University 1373-5, was the donor of a volume of Walter Burley (MS 91) and bequeathed Ockham on the Sentences (MS 299); both books had earlier been pledged by him jointly with another Balliol fellow, William Feriby. [8] Thomas de Farnylawe, chancellor of York, whose will was proved 13 December 1379, bequeathed his best piece of plate, and a Bible, now lost: 'Item lego aule de Balliolo bibliam meam in rubeo coopertam et meliorem peciam argenteam non coopertam.'

He also left a few books to Merton, of which he was a fellow in 1340. [9] In January 1383 comes a pecuniary bequest, by the will of Geoffrey le Scrope, canon of Lincoln, who left £20 of good money to Balliol Hall for the purchase of necessary books, to be applied to the perpetual uses of the fellows; no trace survives of any book known to have been bought with this handsome gift. [10] The following summer, in August 1384, John Waltham, subdean of York, who had been a fellow five-and-thirty years before, bequeathed five volumes, all Biblical: 'Bibliam meam, Librum accordanciarum, Nothyngham super euangelia, Liram super psalterium et Liram super epistolas Pauli.' [11]

Of these only one remains, a good copy of William of Nottingham (MS 33). Next year, in 1385, died the man who had got together perhaps the largest, to us at least certainly one of the most interesting, private libraries that an Englishman had ever yet formed, William Rede, bishop of Chichester. His bequests to numerous colleges in Oxford included ten books, 100s., and one cup to Balliol Hall. [12] Unlike New College and Merton, Balliol has no record of Rede's bequest; but two of his books survive, Averroes on the Physics (MS 94) and a composite volume, mainly medical in content (MS 285), which seems in the second half of the thirteenth century to have been in Ireland. Two other volumes of Averroes were acquired at unknown dates in the fourteenth century: MS 106 from a former fellow called John Donkes, and MS 112 from Elias de Ashby.

[1] ODB 279. The breviary is not heard of again, and the only surviving book connected with Dervorguilla is in the Bodleian, MS Fairfax 5 (3885), a twelfth-century patristic volume given by her to her abbey of Sweetheart in Galloway.

[2] Emden i. 446; OBD 336; MBMC, no.518. Quaestiones by him are recorded in the library catalogue of the Austin Friars at York (no.223).

[3] Historical MSS Commission no. 55, Reports on MSS in Various Collections i (1901) 376. Emden i.565; MBMC, nos. 129-137. His Quaestiones on the De anima survive in Oxford, Magdalen Coll. MS lat. 63.

[4] OBD 299; cf. College Archives E.7.17.

[5] MBMC, pp.12-18 and 247-52. A reference to the Electio in Antwerp Plantin-Moretus 131 (see below, p.375) may been entered in that volume when it formed part of the circulating library of some other college and had not yet come to Balliol.

[6] Emden iii.1866.

[7] MBMC, p.84; ibid. nos. 363-88 for his bequests to Merton College. See Emden i.257-8; but Cambridge Univ. Lib. MS Ee.3.61 merely contains a copy of his summary of the Arithmetic of Boethius, and is not one of his gifts to Balliol.

[8] Emden iii.2055.

[9] His will is printed in Testamenta Eboracensia (Surtees Society ii, 1836) 101-2. Emden ii.668; MBMC, nos. 526-8

[10] Lincoln Wills i (Lincoln Record Society v, 1912) 11-19.

[11] Printed by Miss B Smalley in MARS iii (1954) 215; Emden iii.1973.

[12] MBMC, p.88; Emden iii.1556-60.

[13] Mundham's other gift (MS 5) has unfortunately lost just that part of its first leaf on which the inventory-mark would normally have been entered.

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