Scribes and manuscript production after the Norman Conquest

What happened to book production in England after William I’s invasion? Julia Crick examines two manuscripts that show Norman and English collaboration after the events of 1066.

I’ve chosen two manuscripts which come from the Abbey of St Augustine’s, Canterbury, which bears the name of the founder of the Christian Church in England, and I’ve chosen them, not particularly because of their texts. I’ve chosen them because they’re dateable manuscripts – they come from a generation after the Norman Conquest – and because they illustrate Norman and English scribes working together. In other words, they show how manuscript evidence illustrates the Norman Conquest. You have individual craftsmen working in tandem to produce new texts. Now, the texts in this manuscript I have in front of me here are very much close to the heart of the abbey. They are to do with the saints of the abbey. And the page I have in front of me shows a Norman and an English scribe working side-by-side and we can see them working together on the same page elsewhere in the manuscript and this gives us important evidence. It shows that English scribes are still active and are still being trained to write English script a generation after the Norman Conquest. And it shows that the French speakers and the English speakers are working together in a monastic context. 

The other manuscript I have chosen comes from the same period. It is related in terms of its script to this first manuscript and it again shows how Norman and English scribes worked together. It’s a copy of a Biblical commentary and it demonstrates how an English scribe is copying a French text. So, this is a work that was written by a Norman who died in about 1050 and here we have an English scribe writing his typically English script, copying in a very un-English way this text. He’s squeezing it onto the page. He’s using a lot of abbreviations. He’s using his native script, but in all other respects, this is a Norman kind of book. And so, this shows the Norman Conquest at work in the late 1090s. 

So, these two manuscripts, both from a single institution, both from a single generation, one generation after the Norman Conquest, show the workings of the Conquest at the local level, at the level of an institution, and they give us a sense of the relationship between the English and the Normans, which otherwise we simply wouldn’t have. 

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