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Ancient manuscripts - Introduction to the catalogue 2

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

c. Oxford University Press 1963. Reproduced with permission.


2. William Gray and his Books

There is one contemporary notice of Gray, a short memoir in the Vite di uomini illustri of the Florentine bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci: ed. L. Frati (1893) 280, ed. G. Vita (1938) 230; English translation in W.G. and E.Waters The Vespasiano Memoirs (1926). A careful account of him is given by James Bentham in The History and Antiquities of the ... Church of Ely, ed. 2 (1812) 176-8; there is a life by R.L Poole in the DNB, and an invaluable collection of references in Emden ii.809-10. For the background we are fortunate in having both W.F. Schirmer, Der englische Frühhumanismus (Leipzig, 1931), and R. Weiss, Humanism in England during the Fifteenth Century (Oxford, 1941, new ed. 1957).

William Gray, who gave or bequeathed more than half the surviving library of medieval Balliol, was a member of the Northumbrian branch of a family with a distinguished record of service to Church and State which has continued into our own time. The third son of Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, he was a great-grandson of the author of the Scalacronica, and a nephew of William Gray who became bishop of London in 1426 and of Lincoln in 1431. [1] His mother, Alice Neville, was one of the twenty-three children of a remarkable man, Ralph Neville first earl of Westmorland, and among her half-sisters were Anne, wife of Humphrey Stafford duke of Buckingham, and Cicely duchess of York, mother of two kinds - Edward IV and Richard III. The date of his birth is still uncertain; it cannot be later than the early months of 1416, for Sir Thomas gray was beheaded at the north gate of Southampton on 2 or 3 August 1415 for his part in the conspiracy of the earl of Cambridge, and it probably lies in the two or three preceding years. As a younger son who was also the nephew of an influential churchman, it was natural that he should turn towards the Church for a career, and the way into the Church lay through the University. When we find him, in the course of 1431, given the prebends of Kentish Town in his uncle's cathedral of St Paul's, of Rampton in Southwell, and of Buckland Dinham in Wells, the natural inference is that they were intended to assist his studies at Oxford. The noble student was well maintained. In May 1434 his uncle preferred him to the archdeaconry of Northampton, and forthwith ordained him to all minor order; in that same year and the next were added the rectory of Amersham (Bucks.) and the prebends of Thame in Lincoln and of Woodford in Salisbury. [2]

It would thus be not later than 1431, the year of Thomas Chace's new library, that Gray went up to Oxford and established himself as a sojourner at Balliol College, a house of scholars with strong Nortumbrian connexions which no doubt was anxious to increase its cash revenue. It seems likely that he had with him there a personal servant or 'bear-leader' named John Ashton; for so one might interpret a grant entered in Gray's register as bishop of Ely under date 11 August 1456, of a suit of livery as worn by the bishop's gentlemen and a pipe of wine annually at Christmas ob gratiam amicitiam ac laudabilia obsequia per dilectum nobis in Christo Iohannem Assheton de comitatu Oxon. armigerum nobis constitutis tunc in minoribus multipliciter impensa. That he had rooms in College, and there began to collect books, we know from a chance remark of Thomas Gascoigne's. [3] Otherwise all we hear of the ten years he spent in Oxford is that he duly proceeded master of arts, and later, as befitting his standing in society, was called to office in the University; at some date after 24 April 1440 and before 21 February 1441, when he presides in Congregation, he succeeded Richard Rotheram as its chancellor. If we could be sure that the University statute was exactly followed, we should credit him with a two-year tenure of the office from Whitsuntide 1440, ended by resignation before 15 May 1442. [4] Before the end of that year, he was in Cologne.

During these years in Oxford the foundations of his library were laid. The Oxford stationers had for sale books of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries from monastic scriptoria, which through channels authorized or unauthorized had come on the market, and books of the thirteenth and later which had been written in academic centres in England or on the Continent for the use of students in the universities. When we come to draw up a list of Gray's surviving library and see which volumes have previous monastic or Oxonian connexions, we shall be free to suppose that these are acquisitions of his own Oxford period, although explicit evidence is usually lacking. We are on safer ground with volumes written specially to his order, and it will be worth while to look at two groups of these in detail.

(a) MS 28, Thomas Docking OFM on Deuteronomy, declares itself finished on 16 March 1442 by a Dutch scribe, Tielman Reynerszoon of Geertruidenberg in North Brabant. [5] Gray was probably still in Oxford - we know that he had been in action as Chancellor three weeks before; the author is an Oxford Franciscan, whose works were voluminous, and hard to come by outside the range of his own house; the ornament is English. MS 28 was surely written to Gray's order in Oxford. So then were MSS 29 and 30, Docking on Isaiah and the Pauline Epistles (together, no doubt, with another volume now lost, containing Docking on Luke), which have equally scarce texts, running titles by the same hand as those in MS 28, and English ornament, and are written by another Netherlandish scribe who does not sign his name; perhaps it was in the summer of 1442 that this set of Docking was seen and annotated by Dr Thomas Gascoigne. So too is British Museum Royal 7 F.xii, Ockham's Dioalogus and his Contra errores Iohannis XXII, which is written by the same foreign scribe as MSS 29 and 30, and has English ornament by the same illuminator. So probably are MSS 16, 17 and 18, three volumes (no doubt part of a larger set) of the biblical commentaries of Hugh of St Cher OP, for though their text-hand and illuminator are different, the contemporary running titles are by the same hand as those in MSS 28, 29 and 30. All these volumes have or had Gray's coat of arms in the border on the first page. What then of MS 35B, the Moralitates of Robert Grosseteste? This is signed by the same Dutch scribe as MS 28, but dated 3 April 1443, when, as we shall see, Gray was established in Cologne; and both capitals and ornament are north Italian. It is possible that the scribe accompanied Gray to Coogne and finished the volume there, which might explain the omissions of Almani and in Hollandia from his colophon, for he would be within a hundred miles of home. But the Moralitates is another text not easily to be found outside Oxford, and the book was more likely commissioned before Gray left England, and delivered in time to be illuminated on his arrival in Italy but not before. Another monument of this transition is MS 279, an anonymous dictionary of English origin, which is written in a good England hand, but has coloured capitals and an illuminated frontispiece in Rhenish style. Unless this was written in Germany by some English member of Gray's household - and again it is not clear how he could have come by an exemplar - it must have been made in England (presumably Oxford) and received its ornament after arrival in Cologne.

(b) MS 315 is in many ways obviously an English book: parchment with a very slightly furry or velvety surface, writing framed with a single line drawn in reddish-brown pencil, typical blue capitals with skilful red flourishing, much less skilful small gold initials on brownish-red and blue grounds diapered in white. Against an English origin might be set the hand, which shows strong humanist influence, and still more the contents: the Isagogicon of Leonardo Bruni and other humanist opuscula datable between 1418 and 1439, including the Panegyrici latini discovered by Giovanni Aurispa at Mainz in 1433. MS 122 is written on similar material and has capitals and initials by the same English craftsmen, the same semi-humanist hand, and contents again derived from the revival of learning in Italy, though this time a more common work: Valerius Maximus with the commentary of the late fourteenth-century scholar Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro. It is MS 276 which enables us to assign these volumes to a place and date. This is in the same hand, and looks much more like an English book in content: tracts on dictamen, of which one at least, the Ars versificatoria of Gervase of Melkley, is not known to have enjoyed any circulation outside this country. The initials here too are English, though the gold is characterized by a small incised patterm; the flourished capitals are English in quires i-vii (save for one that was overlooked) and thereafter unmistakably in the style of Cologne. We are in fact very close to MS 78A, Thomas Wallensis on the De civitate Dei; of this the frontispiece and first initial are English in style, with incised patterns on the gold and almost certainly by the same hand as those in MS 276, while the rest of the ornament is by the same expert craftsman as that in MSS 238A-E, and the red and blue capitals all through are Rhenish. MS 238 declares itself, at least in great part written in Cologne, and MS 78A is signed by Richard Bole, a member of Gray's household, who finished it in Cologne in 1442, the year of his arrival there. These facts can be thus explained. MSS 315 and 122 were written and decorated for Gray in Oxford, in or shortly before 1442. MS 276 was written in Oxford in 1442, but only seven quires had been decorated when Gray left later in that year for Cologne, where the decoration was completed. The writing of MS 78A was begun in Oxford in 1442, and had proceeded far enough for the insertion of the frontispiece and one initial; it was then taken to Cologne and finished there. It may seem early to find so much humanist influence in an Oxford hand; but we are not far from the well-known manuscripts written by or for Thomas Chaundler, round which the early story of this reform of handwriting will probably centre when the time comes to write it. More surprising would be the presence in Oxford of the humanist texts found in MSS 315 and 122, were it not for the arrival in the University, just in these very years, of the first gifts of Humphrey duke of Gloucester. [6] The consignment of November 1439 includes a Valerius Maximus cum commento, which is much more likely to have been Dionigi's work than anything else; and in his second benefaction, acknowledged in February 1443, are a copy of the Panegyrici latini (discovered ten years before) and a volume of which the first item is given as the Isagogicon and the other contents were, unless I am much mistaken, the other humanist treatises of our MS 315. We may guess that these two arrived in Oxford in time to serve as the scribe's exemplar for that MS; and this attractive conjecture is confirmed when we compare the Panegyrici-text of MS 315 with Duke Humphrey's, which by good luck survives in Paris as BN lat 7805. To which we may add that several of the tracts in our MS 315 recur in the humanist miscellany compiled in Oxford at or soon after this time by John Manningham, which is now Dublin, Trinity College MS D.4.24 (438).

There is thus ground for thinking that by the year 1442, when he was barely thirty, apart from his purchases from the Oxford booksellers, Gray was commissioning both standard works in theology and rarer commentaries from Oxford scribes, and actually that he may have been quick to take advantage of the opportunity to acquire texts of quite another kind provided by Duke Humphrey's gifts to Oxford. His departure in 1442 may well have been prompted by the desire to pursue his studies further afield; and indeed, had he staye din England, there was little prospect at that moment for a man of noble birth and Yorkist connexions. Whether he had already formed the design of studying in Italy we cannot say. Vespasiano tells us that he was attracted by the fame, in logic, philosophy and theology, of the University of Cologne, which lay on the road to Italy, and was attended at this period by a number of men from England and more from Scotland. And so, taking with him two fellows of his college, Nicholas Saxton and Richard Bole (of whom more in the sequel), the archdeacon of Northampton proceeded to Cologne, where on 1 December 1442 we find him and his two familiares matriculated. [7]


[1] A pedigree of the family is given in A History of Northumberland xiv (1935), facing p.328. Gray is, with the rarest exceptions, the contemporary form of the name; if one may ever use 'wrong' of medieval spelling of proper names, then Grey is wrong.

[2] The authorities for all Gray's preferments are now most conveniently assembled by Emden ii.810. His appointment to the archdeaconry evoked a protest from Eugenius IV, who had intended it for Andrew Holles: Correspondence of Thomas Bekynton (Rolls Series 56, 1872) ii.251.

[3] Magister Willelmus Grey habet idem opus (the Postilla moralis of Nicholas of Lyre) Oxoniae in camera sua in aula Ballioli (Loci e Libro Veritatum 185).

[4] HE Salter, Registrum Cancellarii Oxoniensis 1434-69 (OHS xciii, 1932) xxxvi; for the duties of the office, many of which could of course be discharged by commissary, see Statuta Antiqua Univ Oxon, ed S Gibson (1931) lxx-lxxiv.

[5] Not to be confused with the Tielman 'filius Clewardi' who was working in 1432 for the Cambridge scholar Walter Crome (Cambridge MSS Gonville & Caius College 114, and Corpus Christi College 68, of which part is now King's College 9).

[6] These are listed in H Anstey, Epistolae Academicae Oxon (OHS xxxv, 1898), i, and indexed by HHE Craster in Bodleian Quarterly Record i (1915) 131.

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