Old English Textual Activity in the Reign of Henry II

  • Mary Swan
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The focus of this chapter and the one by Elaine Treharne which follows it is on the body of texts written in Old English during Henry’s reign. This Old English textual production could be seen as a kind of subculture, marginal to, and arguably competing with, the dominant literatures in Anglo-Norman and Middle English that form the focus of other chapters in the volume. It has often been obscured and overlooked by scholarly surveys of the literature of the period, and its very existence raises some important questions about the linguistic and literary map of twelfth-century England. In particular, this material highlights the importance of always envisaging textual production and use in the period in a plurilinguistic context, in which language choices are made by writers and readers for different reasons at different moments, in which those choices always carry implications for cultural identity, and in which the carrying forward of pre-Conquest English linguistic and literary traditions must bear very particular meaning.


English Text Twelfth Century Textual Production English Manuscript English Prose 
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  1. 1.
    Susan Irvine, “The compilation and use of manuscripts containing Old English in the twelfth century,” in Rewriting Old English in the Twelfth Century, ed. Mary Swan and Elaine M. Treharne, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 30 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 41–61 (at 47).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Details of manuscript dates and provenance are taken from N. R. Ker, A Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Old English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957; reprinted 1990) and Swan and Treharne, Rewriting Old English.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    For a detailed treatment of the possibility of resistance, see Treharne, Living Through Conquest: The Politics of Early English, forthcoming (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Mary P. Richards, Texts and Their Traditions in the Medieval Library of Rochester Cathedral Priory, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 78.3 (Philadelphia, Pa.: American Philosophical Society, 1998), and “Innovations in Ælfrician Homiletic Manuscripts at Rochester,” Annuale Medievale 19 (1970): 13–26.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    See Mary Swan, “Memorialised Readings: Manuscript Evidence for Old English Homily Composition,” in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts and their Heritage, ed. Phillip Pulsiano and Elaine M. Treharne (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 205–17.Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    Sarah Foot, Veiled Women: The Disappearance of Nuns from Anglo-Saxon England, 2 vols. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000).Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    See Mary Swan, “Constructing Readerships for Post-Conquest Old English Manuscripts,” in Imagining the Book, ed. John Thompson and Stephen Kelly (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006).Google Scholar
  8. 21.
    Richard Morris, ed., Old English Homilies and Hotniletic Treatises of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, EETS os 29 and 34 (London: Trübner, 1868).Google Scholar
  9. In the Notes and Emendations to his edition of the manuscript, Old English Homilies, Morris comments on some of the comparisons between items in Lambeth 487 and earlier Old English texts, but he does not provide thorough collations. Some of the manuscript’s contents are edited by Sarah M. O’ Brien, “An Edition of Seven Homilies from Lambeth Palace Library MS 487,” Ph.D. diss., University of Oxford, 1985. The prose items in the manuscript are described by Veronica O’ Mara in O. S. Pickering and V. M. O’ Mara, The Index of Middle English Prose. Handlist XIII: Manuscripts in Lambeth Palace Library (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999), pp. 40–43, and the manuscript has been published in the Early English Manuscripts in Microfiche Facsimile series, with an introduction by Jonathan Wilcox: Wulfstan Texts and Other Hotniletic Materials. EEMF 8 (Tempe, Ariz.: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2000). Dr O’ Mara and Dr Wilcox both generously made their descriptions of the manuscript available to me before publication. I am currently re-editing the manuscript for publication in the Arizona Medieval and Renaissance Texts Series.Google Scholar
  10. 25.
    For a discussion of how one element of the Cult of the Passion might have been developed in later Anglo-Saxon England, see Swan, “Remembering Veronica in Anglo-Saxon England,” in Writing Gender and Genre in Medieval Literature, ed. Elaine Treharne (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003), pp. 19–39.Google Scholar
  11. 26.
    For a fuller analysis of Item 9, see Mary Swan, “Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies in the Twelfth Century,” in Swan and Treharne, Rewriting Old English, pp. 62–82 (at 74–75). For a study of item 11, see Mary Swan, “Old English Made New: One Catholic Homily and its Reuses,” Leeds Studies in English, n.s. 28 (1997): 1–18.Google Scholar
  12. 27.
    See Peter Clemoes, ed., Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies. The First Series. Text, EETS ss 17 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 50 and 153. Peter Clemoes suggests that one alteration in item 9 implies that its intended audience may be nuns.Google Scholar

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© Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones 2006

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  • Mary Swan

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