Month: October 2015

The Itinerary of the Itineraries of William Worcestre

This post was originally published on this site

Welcome to the latest issue of Aperçus & obiter dicta, that entirely virtual (that is to say, non-existent) journal, devoted to recherché discoveries. This instalment comes to you from the Brewhouse of Oxford’s Christ Church, a building which has been – o tempora, o mores – transformed from its original use and is now home to that institution’s archives. In revising the introduction to the catalogue of Christ Church’s western manuscripts, I have had reason to visit there more often than the patient Archivist would probably like (though she is too generous ever to admit it). I have, I must admit, come under the records’ spell. The Disbursement Books, which present in glorious detail the termly expenditure of the institution, are so rich in information that they repay the sort of repeated and close reading that one could only afford if allotted more than one lifetime, with each day offering more working hours than are allowed to a human being. We learn from them the dining habits of the House (as Christ Church is known to its members): the rewards regularly given to the servant who brings a doe; the changing fashions in meat (with turkey being often supplied – and thus presumably reared locally – from the very start of the seventeenth century). We discover the names of the men and the women who were employed for everyday tasks, and see them sign their names, or leave their mark when they are illiterate. We are also appraised of the running of the various elements that make up Christ Church: the ‘church’ which is Oxford’s cathedral (and which is the reason it is a solecism to call the House a college: it is a dual foundation); the array of buildings which occupy its curtilage, and – most relevant for my research – its library.

The library has its own section in these Disbursement Books but that is often sparse in contents; to learn more of activities related to it and to manuscripts we have to look elsewhere, as the following example demonstrates.  It comes from the first months of 1617 and appears in the section listing the costs of ‘Law and Iornies’. It reads:

To the Carrier for carrying our letter to Cambridge and carrying and recarrying William of Worcester — 2s 6d

The entry is, sadly, unsigned, so we do not know who made this trip or, rather, trips, to Cambridge, back to Oxford and then repeated the exercise. What is interesting is the reference to ‘William of Worcester’. The description of him being carried demonstrates that it was not a person who travelled; instead, this must record an object given the name, presumably, of its producer. That object was surely a book, for William Worcestre will be known to you, learned reader, as the fifteenth-century proto-antiquary who was long-suffering secretary to Sir John Fastolf and who, perhaps in posthumous revenge, plagues scholars with his spidery, inelegant handwriting. He is probably now best remembered for The Boke of Noblesse, which survives in a manuscript in the Royal Collection of the British Library. He was, in addition, an inveterate note-taker. One of those compilations was edited in 1969 with the title of Itineraries from the unique manuscript which belonged to Archbishop Matthew Parker and is, thus, in the collection of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, as MS. 210. It is a holster-book, so called for its long, thin shape which made it particularly portable and with which Worcestre himself travelled. Patently, its peregrinations did not end with his death or with its ownership by Parker and subsequently Corpus for, being the only book in Cambridge that can answer to the name of ‘William of Worcester’, this must surely be the object that was being carried and recarried between Cambridge and Oxford.

This previously unnoticed entry is notable for two reasons. First, famously, Archbishop Parker had been very careful in drawing up instructions for his library intended to minimise losses. They involve annual audits which, if the care of the books is found wanting, would mean Corpus would lose the rights to the whole collection – these continue today, under the anxious eye of Christopher de Hamel, and are also the occasion for an impressive dinner in the hall of Corpus. Despite the archepiscopal injunctions, by the 1640s, a few Cambridge scholars were able to remove temporarily a volume from the collection for study elsewhere in the university. This example, though, comes over two decades earlier, and involves a loan over a much greater distance. One wonders what the late Archbishop would have thought of it.

We also might wonder what the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church wanted with this volume. The fact that the transaction is recorded in the Disbursement Books shows that this was an official matter, not a private arrangement for the sake of a solitary scholar. It would seem likely that the authorities at the institution wanted to consult Worcestre’s notebook because they thought there was something of relevance to them in it. With the endowment provided by its founder, Henry VIII, Christ Church had rights to lands in various parts of the country and there is other evidence to show that, in the second and third decades of the seventeenth century, attempts were being made to ascertain precisely what was due to the institution. These researches involved an interest in medieval manuscripts, as shown by the importuning of Sir Robert Cotton first to borrow and then to gain ownership of the cartulary of Osney Abbey, a house most relevant to the House for it had been the site of Oxford’s first cathedral before that honour (and all of Osney’s holdings) were transferred to the new foundation of Christ Church. Colin Tite has reconstructed the move of that codex to Oxford with remarkable accuracy, considering he did not have access to the records – also in the Disbursement Books – which corroborate his dating of the transaction: it was taking place in 1620. A decade later and another entry in the relevant Book (under ‘Expenses Extraordinary’) shows one of Christ Church’s number being paid for a journey which had a parallel purpose:

for searching records att lincolne to Mr. Burton — 25s

The entry is signed by Robert Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy and, at this point, Librarian in Christ Church. The size of the payment shows that he was not crossing the High Street to the college of that name but must have travelled to the cathedral city after which the college was named.

It is, in conclusion, my supposition that Worcestre’s Itineraries were requested from Corpus, Cambridge for similar practical reasons – evidence, in other words, that this antiquary’s writings were not of merely antiquarian value in the early seventeenth century.

Tagged: Christ Church Oxford, Christopher de Hamel, Corpus Christi College Cambridge, Judith Curthoy, Matthew Parker, Robert Burton, William Worcestre

Beginnings and Endings: History Carnival 150

This post was originally published on this site

It’s been one month since I started my new job at the University of Essex. Settling in has been a busy and fun process. The moving company now tells me that my boxes should be in England by the weekend. One month and a new start in life has simply become life… Being in a reflective state of mind, I’ve chosen to focus this month’s History Carnival on the theme of beginnings and endings.


Let us begin, then, with a voyage. Over at Halley’s Log, Kate Morant has started blogging Edmond Halley’s third voyage on the Paramour (1701), this time to observe the tides in the English Channel–and maybe do some spying.

The ultimate traveller just might be Morrissey… or Richard III… who appears to have been doing some time travel. This is possibly my favourite tweet of the month. (Well, it’s technically from October rather than September, but it arrived just as I was writing this post.)

And there is a great introduction to the artist Sonia Delaunay over at Art and Architecture, mainly where we learn about how she began a new life in a new city and took up new ways of doing art.

A big welcome to Sheilagh O’Brien who has just started blogging at Enchanted History! Her first post on marriage to the Devil couldn’t be timed more perfectly, being on the Essex witch trials and mentioning–of course–Colchester. There is more witchy history over at The Witch, the Weird and the Wonderful, where HJ Blenkinsop considers how the black cat became the witch’s familiar.

Jan van de Velde, 1626. A witch at her cauldron surrounded by beasts. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Jan van de Velde, 1626. A witch at her cauldron surrounded by beasts. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A cracking criminal tale from Catherine Curzon at A Covent Gardern Gilfurt’s Guide to Life. In 1807, Strasbourg residents were being subjected to a new and elaborate con in which a gang of thieves played the roles of exorcist, devil and prophetess to dupe their victims.

Where there are thieves, there must be those who pursue them. Margaret Makepeace at Untold Lives tells us the story of the Metropolitan Police’s first-ever day on the job… that came complete with a review of their performance in the Morning Post the day after!

There are some great posts from historians reflecting on the profession and practice of doing history. Brodie Waddell at The Many-Headed Monster has a series of posts considering what problems exist in the history profession–specifically about training doctoral students and the casualisation of labour. In this post, he has “Seven Practical Steps” for what we can do to improve it.

Johann Staininger, a man with a very long beard. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Johann Staininger, a man with a very long beard. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. Sometimes it’s a bit fuzzy. Congratulations to Alun Withey who has just launched his new project on beards in history, which he introduces over here.

From Victorians’ facial hair, it is but a short hop to Jacob Steere-Williams’ post at Renaissance Mathematicus, in which he critiques the “privileged hipsters living the solipsist dream of a phantasmagorical Victorian world in the twenty-first century.”

Steere-Williams argues that simply wearing nineteenth-century clothes and using nineteenth-century technology is an insufficient–even dangerous–start to understanding Victorian experience. This is “far from an inocuous appropriation of powerless objects from the past. There is a very real danger in a cherry-picked, tunnel-vision of history, one that ignores power, inequality, racism and privilege.”

Along the same lines, Matt Champion’s evocative post at the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey points out that

it isn’t enough to simply record what we find on the walls. It is a start. No more than that. The key though has to be understanding what we are seeing. To try and find our way into the mindset and motivations of the long-dead who left these tantalising messages for the future.

Silences as a way into a field of study, or a block to that study, is the theme of “The Truth about Child Sexual Assault” (1900-1950) by Mark Finnane and Yorrick Smaal at The Prosecution Project. What might be a tantalising start when studying graffiti is the frustrating (possible) end here. As Finnane and Smaal note: “The consequences of this silence continue to frustrate scholarly research.”

Henry Heath, 1841. Three dandies smoking and drinking coffee. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Henry Heath, 1841. Three dandies smoking and drinking coffee. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

It is Welcome Week here at the University of Essex and my mind is filled with thoughts of the teaching to come next week. The Recipes Project has been running a great series on teaching historical recipes throughout the month of September, but let me draw your attention to Carla Cevasco’s post on “Teaching High School American History with Cookbooks“. It’s a fascinating post about introducing students to recipes for the first time, as well as the intersection of (for example) immigration policy, food cultures and anxiety.

But who needs university anyway? (Shhh. Let’s not tell the government, who is already in the process of dismantling UK academia.) Thony Christie looks at “The Penny Universities”, or how the first coffee houses in Britain became places where one could attend lectures by paying a penny–the price of a cup of coffee. While I like coffee (occasionally), I’m not sure that this would put bread on my table.

As every teacher knows, term time has its ups and downs. At some point, stimulants and tonics will be needed. D. Brooks at Friends of Schoharie Crossing takes a look at Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters, good

For the cure of Dyspepsia, Indigestion, Nausea, Flatulency, Loss of Appetite, or any Bilious Complaints, arising from a morbid inaction of the Stomach or Bowels, producing Cramps, Dysentery, Colic, Cholera, Morbus, &c., these Bitters have no equal.

Pharmacy jar, used for nerve ointment, The Netherlands, 1730. Credit: Science Museum, London.

Pharmacy jar, used for nerve ointment, The Netherlands, 1730.
Credit: Science Museum, London.

And with some 47% alcohol. A better bet than (at least the initial runs of) The Cereal Beverage” offered by the Chemung Beverage Company in 1927. Kelli Huggins (Chemung County Historical Society blog) discusses how the cereal beverage rapidly became a bit more high-powered, despite it being illegal. The “near beer” of Schenectady, as described at the Grems-Doolittle Library Collections blog, would also be a bit disappointing… Coffee it is, then. And maybe some bitters, too.

While thinking about the rhythms of the academic year, it’s worth reading this post on the traditional calendar in West Virginia by Danna Bell at the Library of Congress on “Finding Traditions: Exploring the Seasonal Round“. What is beginning now will end in only ten weeks, followed by grading, research and Christmas holidays, only to begin again in January…

And next month, there will be yet another History Carnival, this time hosted by Sharon Howard over at Early Modern Notes… so start saving up your posts, just as the West Virginians will be preserving foodstuffs. See you there!