The Life of English in the Mid-Twelfth Century: Ralph D’Escures’s Homily on the Virgin Mary

  • Elaine Treharne
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Throughout the post-Conquest period, manuscripts written in English continued to be produced,1 usually at monastic centers, in much the same way as they had been during the Anglo-Saxon period. The preponderance of surviving material based on Old English exemplars that was copied and adapted from ca. 1100–1200 is homiletic and hagiographie in nature. Its recontextualization in the twelfth century provides opportunities for investigating textual transmission and dissemination, for codicolog-ical and paleographical analyses, for assessing the uses of English texts, and for determining the characteristics and aims of the native literate elite.


English Version English Text Twelfth Century Latin Text Medieval Literature 


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  1. 2.
    All the texts are edited by R. N. Warner, Early English Homilies from the Twelfth-Century MS. Vesp. D. XIV, EETS os 152 (London: Oxford University Press, 1917 for 1915).Google Scholar
  2. For the contents and description, see N. R. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957; repr. with supplement 1990), item 209; and Jonathan Wilcox, Wulfstan Texts and Other Homiletic Materials, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in Microfiche Facsimile 8 (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies. Tempe: Arizona, 2000), pp. 53–64. For the Diets of Cato, see E. M. Treharne, “The Form and Function of the Old English Diets of Cato,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 102.4 (September 2003): 65–85. On the possible origins and purposes of the manuscript, see Mary P. Richards, “On the Date and Provenance of the MS Cotton Vespasian D.XIV, ff. 4–169,” Manuscripta 17 (1973): 31–35, which argues for a Rochester origin; Rima Handley, “British Museum MS. Cotton Vespasian D. xiv,” Notes and Queries 219 (1974): 243–50, which argues for a Christ Church, Canterbury origin; and Elaine Treharne, “The Dates and Origins of Three Twelfth-Century Manuscripts,” in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts and Their Heritage: Tenth to Twelfth Centuries, ed. P. Pulsiano and E. M. Treharne (Ashgate, 1998), pp. 227–52.Google Scholar
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  4. 7.
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  5. 14.
    For which, see, for example, Michael Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record (Oxford: Blackwell, 2d ed., 1993), pp. 212; Seth Lerer, “Old English and its afterlife,” chap. 1 in Wallace, Cambridge History of Medieval Literature, pp. 7–34Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    R. C. Love, states that: “The relics [of St. Neot] were inspected in the late eleventh century, and certified to be authentic by Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury;” see R. C. Love, “St. Neot,” in Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Michael Lapidge, et al. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), p. 331. Tentatively, this might assist in the attribution of Cotton Vespasian D. xiv to Christ Church.Google Scholar
  7. 20.
    See the discussion in Mary Clayton, “Homiliaries and Preaching in Anglo-Saxon England,” Peritia 4 (1985): 207–42; repr. in Old English Prose: Basic Readings, ed. Paul E. Szarmach, Basic Readings in Anglo-Saxon England 5 (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), pp. 151–98, where the use of the vernacular in homiletic writing is consistently associated with the laity, and Latin texts with the educated monastic environment.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 21.
    Clayton, “Homiliaries and Preaching,” 151–98; for a description of this manuscript, and Plate 26 for a portion of the text, see Rodney M. Thompson, Catalogue of Manuscripts of Worcester Cathedral Library (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1999).Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    For the cult of the Virgin Mary generally in Anglo-Saxon England, and the Feast of the Assumption particularly, see Mary Clayton, The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 232–44.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    See Giles Constable, Three Studies in Medieval Religious Thought: The Interpretation of Mary and Martha, The Ideal of the Imitation of Christ, The Orders of Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 3–141, esp. 8–10, 45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 33.
    See, for example, Denis Renevey, “Enclosed Desires: A Study of the Wooing Group,” in Mystidstn and Spirituality in Medieval England, ed. William F. Pollard and Robert Boenig (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1997), pp. 40–62, at 50–52.Google Scholar
  12. 39.
    Malcolm Godden, ed., “l6fric’s Catholic Homilies, Second Series, EETS ss 5 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), Homily p. xxix, 256, lines 38–40: “On ö isum twam geswustrum wæron getacnode twa lif. pis geswincfulle ỗ e we on wunia ỗ. and påt ece ỗ e we gewilnia ỗ;.” For the commentary and sources of this homily, see Malcolm Godden, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies, Series I and II: Commentary, EETS ss 18 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 588–92.Google Scholar
  13. 43.
    For this thematic focus in twelfth-century hagiography, see E. M. Treharne, ed., The Old English Life of St Nicholas with the Old English Life of St Giles, Leeds Texts and Studies 15 (Leeds: University of Leeds, 1997).Google Scholar
  14. On these emerging trends, and on theological and scholastic emphases in general in this period, see M.-D. Chenu, Nature, Man and Sodety in the Twelfth Century, ed. and trans. Jerome Taylor and Lester K. Little, Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching 37 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997).Google Scholar

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© Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones 2006

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  • Elaine Treharne

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