Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bringing Light to the Dark Ages

The trouble with writing about the Dark Ages is that the primary evidence can often be fragmentary and hard to find. For example, even today, we are still not completely sure of the names of the kings who followed Halfdan in the Kingdom of Jorvik. Or we know that the second battle of Corbridge happened in 962 between the Vikings and the Scots but we have no idea when the first battle happened or indeed if it happened at all.

However our general knowledge of the Anglo Saxon period is better than it could have been – thanks to one man – Matthew Parker. He worked for Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries and amassed a huge collection of illuminated manuscripts and Anglo-Saxon writing. When someone is called a nosy Parker, it is Matthew Parker they are referring to.  When he died, he left his personal library to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge where he had been Master. It remains today one of the most important resources for early Medieval manuscripts and rare books.  Among other treasures, it has the Corpus Glossary which is the earliest dictionary in English and dates from around 800 AD. It also has the Anglo Saxon Chronicles.

It used to be that you had to apply to the Parker Library to able to see various books (which they might or might not grant)  but thanks to a cooperation between Stanford University and the Parker Library, various manuscripts are on the web. You can subscribe or you can take the more basic option. For example, you can see the Corpus Glossary  online. For me, it is incredible to think that monks were busy writing this just after the Vikings had invaded Lindesfarne in 793.  The Corpus Glossary was on display when I recently the Parker -- turned to the word Musica or the first time music was written in English. There are Latin and Greek defnitions of the words running next to them.

If you are interested in learning more about the library and its books. They do run a blog.   It is also full of interesting information about various up and coming television programmes which have used the Parker library as a backdrop. They also have interesting information about more unusual pieces in the Corpus Christi collection, including the medieval drinking horn which is still used when students become members of the college —something which shocked the V&A a few years ago when it was sent for cleaning.
Horns used to be used in the giving of lands. It was called cornage.  The Pusey horn which is in the V &A museum was reputedly given to the Pusey family as a thank you for a warning about an impending attack from the Danes is probably the most famous surviving example. You can see a picture of it here.

If you want to see the Parker Library, Visit Cambridge does run tours on a Thursday afternoon but they have to be booked in advance. The tour also includes parts of Corpus Christi College.

But it is thanks to Matthew Parker’s foresight that we have more of a glimpse into the hidden Anglo Saxon world than we would have otherwise. And thanks to the web, it is easier for authors of Viking historical romances to find out about the period... The amount is research which is involved in writing is much more than the factiods which appear on the page. And it can be very frustrating when you want to know more but the information just has been lost.

My next book, Paying the Viking’s Price is released on 1 November 2013 and takes place in Northumbria in 876.  And because of the Parker Library’s collection, my research was made easier.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods. You can visit her website to learn more about Michelle and her books.

1 comment:

Pat Cochran said...

Interesting information! Many thanks
to Matthew Parker for his saving ways!

Pat C.