British Library MS Harley 630: John Lydgate and Saint Alban’s

Journal of the Early Book Society, vol. 3: 36–58 (New York: Pace University Press, 2000)

By Larissa Tracy

There are eight more or less complete manuscripts of the Middle English Gilte Legende (GiL) and three additional manuscripts containing selections from it that date from the beginning to the latter half of the fifteenth century, before William Caxton’s printed edition of 1483. The GiL is a translation, via the French in most cases, of Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Aurea (LgA), written about 1260. Some of the manuscripts contain additional material not derived from the LgA. These eleven manuscripts are scattered in library collections throughout England, including the British Library, and in Ireland.

None of these Middle English manuscripts have been fully edited, though Richard Hamer and Vida Russell are producing a critical edition of the Gilte Legende for the EETS and have already completed their edition of the supplementary material found in some GiL manuscripts . Richard Hamer edited the lives of three male saints from all of the GiL manuscripts in 1978 . Auvo Kurvinen completed an edition of the life of Saint Katherine from seven manuscripts in 1958 for her Oxford D.Phil. thesis, which has never been published. In light of the work that has been done over the past twenty years on the GiL, I believe that my work on TCD MS 319 and Harley MS 630 provides valuable information about the medieval translation process and the work itself, namely the history and provenance of both manuscripts and their relation to Osbern Bokenham and John Lydgate respectively. However, in this paper, I will only be focusing on Harley MS 630 which, I will suggest, was put together for someone with a special interest in Saint Alban, perhaps someone from the monastery of Saint Alban’s in Hertfordshire.

The Life of Saint Alban and Saint Amphibal, found on folios 154v-168v, is one of the longest episodes in Harley MS 630 and Alban is the only English saint in the manuscript, apart from Thomas of Canterbury from the GiL proper. In other words, Alban is the only English saint that the scribe or monastery considered important enough to be included in this manuscript, whereas several GiL manuscripts, including Additional MS 35298, contain a large number of English saints’ lives. Saint Alban belongs to the corpus of the GiL and therefore is not unusual in its inclusion, but it is unique in its treatment in Harley MS 630.

  1. These are MS Addit. 11565, MS Addit. 35298, MS Douce 372, MS Egerton 876, MS Gloucester Cathedral XII, MS Harley 630, MS Harley 4775, MS Corpus Christi College, Cambridge 142, MS Lambeth 72, MS TCD 319, and MS Trinity College, Cambridge 0.9.1
  2. I would like to thank both Richard Hamer and Vida Russell for their guidance and advice. I would also like to thank Derek Pearsall, John Scattergood, and A.S.G. Edwards for their valuable imput.
  3. Richard Hamer, Three Lives from the Gilte Legende: edited from MS B.L. Egerton 876 (Heidelberg: UniversitaÂtsverlag Carl Winter, 1978).