Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Robert Thornton and his Books

Robert Thornton and his Books: Essays on the Lincoln and London Thornton Manuscripts

Susanna Fein
Michael Johnston
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 325
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt6wp9ff
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Robert Thornton and his Books
    Book Description:

    The Yorkshire landowner Robert Thornton (c.1397- c.1465) copied the contents of two important manuscripts, Lincoln Cathedral, MS 91 (the "Lincoln manuscript"), and London, British Library, MS Additional 31042 (the "London manuscript") in the middle decades of the fifteenth century. Viewed in combination, his books comprise a rare repository of varied English and Latin literary, religious and medical texts that survived the dissolution of the monasteries, when so many other medieval books were destroyed. Residing in the texts he copied and used are many indicators of what this gentleman scribe of the North Riding read, how he practised his religion, and what worldly values he held for himself and his family. Because of the extraordinary nature of his collected texts - Middle English romances, alliterative verse (the alliterative Morte Arthure only exists here), lyrics and treatises of religion or medicine - editors and scholars have long been deeply interested in uncovering Thornton's habits as a private, amateur scribe. The essays collected here provide, for the first time, a sustained, focussed light on Thornton and his books. They examine such matters as what Thornton as a scribe made, how he did it, and why he did it, placing him in a wider context and looking at the contents of the manuscripts. Susanna Fein is Professor of English at Kent State University; Michael Johnston is an Assistant Professor of English at Purdue University. Contributors: Julie Nelson Couch, Susanna Fein, Rosalind Field, Joel Fredell, Ralph Hanna, Michael Johnston, George R. Keiser, Julie Orlemanski, Mary Michele Poellinger, Dav Smith, Thorlac Turville-Petre.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-273-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xii)
  7. Introduction: The Cheese and the Worms and Robert Thornton
    (pp. 1-12)
    Michael Johnston

    Why an entire essay collection on one manuscript compiler, who has left us but two manuscripts? Or so might the sceptical reader justifiably ask. And yet the value in sustained, focused and collective analysis of Robert Thornton and his manuscripts lies in the amazing wealth of detail we can find – details about the compilation and scribal practices of an identifiable historical figure; about the diversity and contours of vernacular and Latin literary culture in a provincial fifteenth-century English locale; about one specific instantiation of lay piety; about one individual’s understanding of literary genres and verse forms; about medieval medicinal beliefs...

  8. 1 The Contents of Robert Thornton’s Manuscripts
    (pp. 13-66)
    Susanna Fein

    In keeping with the purpose of this volume, I offer here an overview of Robert Thornton of Yorkshire’s surviving corpus and an updated list of contents. The Thornton manuscripts – hereafter called ‘Lincoln’ and ‘London’ – have been frequently described in terms of content and makeup. The treatments still considered the definitive starting-points for any new work are by Derek Brewer and A. E. B. Owen, in a 1975 facsimile of Lincoln, and by John J. Thompson, in a 1987 book that examines London.¹ Supplementing these authorities is a plethora of descriptions over the years, dating at least from 1844 (James Orchard...

  9. 2 Robert Thornton: Gentleman, Reader and Scribe
    (pp. 67-108)
    George R. Keiser

    The establishment of a private chapel in 1397 by the Thornton family of the manor of East Newton in Ryedale, Yorkshire, initiated a series of events that likely culminated in the copying of the two important and well-known Middle English miscellanies, Lincoln Cathedral Library, MS 91, and London, BL, MS Additional 31042. Piety and prosperity are the obvious explanations for the desire to establish this chapel. Apparently, the Thornton family had attained a sufficient level of prosperity to afford the costs of establishing and furnishing a chapel, where they could engage in celebration of formal liturgical exercises and also participate...

  10. 3 The Thornton Manuscripts and Book Production in York
    (pp. 109-130)
    Joel Fredell

    The two manuscript anthologies inscribed by Robert Thornton of East Newton, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, remain crucial witnesses to literature in late medieval England. Lincoln Cathedral Library, MS 91 and London, BL, MS Additional 31042 provide much of what we know from this period about romances, about devotional literature, and about the relations between the two, given these manuscripts’ wide-ranging contents and their suggestive arrangements of texts. These gleanings about literary presentation and distribution have been applied to the North of England or the nation generally. However, our conclusions from the Thornton manuscripts about romance and devotional literature...

  11. 4 The Text of the Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Prolegomenon for a Future Edition
    (pp. 131-156)
    Ralph Hanna and Thorlac Turville-Petre

    In one of the earliest publications of the nascent Early English Text Society, the alliterativeMorte Arthurebrought Robert Thornton’s miscellany, Lincoln Cathedral Library, MS 91, to critical attention. It was the alliterative poem most frequently edited in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and it has retained its cachet as the poetic centrepiece of Thornton’s scribal oeuvre. At this time, theeditio receptusof this impressively moving work remains Mary Hamel’s treatment of the poem, now thirty years old.¹

    Hamel’s edition has been justly praised. She offers some important innovations in considering the poem’s sources. However, her achievement...

  12. 5 ‘The rosselde spere to his herte rynnes’: Religious Violence in the Alliterative Morte Arthure and the Lincoln Thornton Manuscript
    (pp. 157-176)
    Mary Michele Poellinger

    Much can and has been said regarding Robert Thornton’s awareness of genre distinctions, and rightly so: the careful division of Lincoln Cathedral Library, MS 91 into three fairly clear sections for romance, sacred and medicinal pieces is remarkable for a household book of the fifteenth century.¹ Yet his selection of pieces, whether by plan or by accident, indicates something even more remarkable: how medieval readers such as Thornton appreciate not only genre distinctions but also genre cohesion. By recognizing generic tropes and signals across the manuscript’s texts, we may begin to understand the literary experience of its readers. A careful...

  13. 6 Constantinian Christianity in the London Manuscript: The Codicological and Linguistic Evidence of Thornton’s Intentions
    (pp. 177-204)
    Michael Johnston

    Of late, scholars have expressed an increased interest in the activities of scribes as interpreters of literary texts and as co-participants, along with authors, in the creation of meaning. No longer are such author-centric views of literary culture, like George Kane’s, taken asa prioritruths, with both errors and conscious emendations on the part of scribes mere white noise to be filtered out in the act of recovering the words of the author:

    To sentimentalize such scribal response or to dignify it by calling it ‘criticism’ is unrewarding. ... At the level of style it is the response of...

  14. 7 Apocryphal Romance in the London Thornton Manuscript
    (pp. 205-234)
    Julie Nelson Couch

    ‘Here Bigynnys the Romance of the childhode / of Ihesu Criste þat clerkes callys Ipokrephum’. So begins theChildhood of Christfound in London, BL, MS Additional 31042 (see Figure 1). Robert Thornton’s incipit, unique to this attestation of the Middle English stanzaicChildhood, flaunts the romance and apocryphal status of a poem that is in other manuscripts treated as a more authentic rendering of Jesus’s life on earth. It is instructive to note the contrast between Thornton’s presentation and the two other extant redactions of this poem, also found in fifteenth-century manuscripts. Those renditions gird the poem with Latin...

  15. 8 Thornton’s Remedies and the Practices of Medical Reading
    (pp. 235-256)
    Julie Orlemanski

    Robert Thornton’s Lincoln manuscript, Lincoln Cathedral Library, MS 91, falls into three distinct sections, constituted respectively by romances and other narratives, moral and devotional materials, and medical and pharmaceutical knowledge. In the pages that follow, I consider the medical section of Thornton’s book. At present it consists of a Middle English remedy collection known as theLiber de Diversis Medicinisand six paper fragments that are the vestiges of a Middle English herbal in Thornton’s hand (arts. 99, 100). The inclusion of these two works of practical and therapeutic knowledge in Thornton’s book takes on its full significance only in...

  16. Afterword: Robert Thornton Country
    (pp. 257-272)
    Rosalind Field and Dav Smith

    Robert Thornton, as is well known, lived at East Newton Hall in the parish of Stonegrave in the North Yorkshire wapentake of Ryedale. His identity as the copyist of the Thornton manuscripts was established in the middle of the last century, and much has been done by George Keiser, Michael Johnston and others to explore the networks, among local associates and clerics in particular, that provided Thornton with his materials for copying and indeed the intellectual stimulus for undertaking such a task.¹ There is still a need however to return to the matter of place, as Derek Brewer puts it,...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-296)
  18. Index of Manuscripts Cited
    (pp. 297-300)
  19. General Index
    (pp. 301-310)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-315)