Medieval Studies The Findern Manuscript (CUL Ff.i.6)
by
Cynthia Rogers
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0248

Introduction

CUL MS Ff.i.6, commonly called the Findern Manuscript, is a scrapbook of secular Middle English literature created in the late 15th to early 16th centuries by gentry families and their associates in and around rural Derbyshire. Because of the names inscribed into the manuscript, including five women’s names, it appears that members of the Cotton, Findern, Francis, and Shirley households were its primary audiences. The manuscript is a paper quarto originally created as individual booklets that circulated separately before being bound into a single volume at a later time. Most of the booklets begin with a substantial work by well-known authors, such as Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, John Lydgate, Thomas Hoccleve, and Richard Roos. Blank pages within and at the ends of the booklets have largely been filled with lyrics, two dozen of which appear to have been written by the Findern’s gentry creators. The extant manuscript contains roughly sixty-two literary items, as well as three household notes, two musical fragments, and an array of pen trials, names, and alphabets. It is written in over forty hands, clearly indicating the collaborative nature of its creation. Most of these hands appear to be amateur scribes, in that they do not write in book hands, rule their texts, or use catchwords. Scholars have noted that the manuscript is predominately filled with secular love literature with an unusually coherent thematic thread centered on women’s eloquence, agency, and suffering.

General Overviews

Beadle and Owen 1978, an introduction to the facsimile edition of the Findern Manuscript, provides a quick factual account of its provenance and composition. The authors provide a list of the items in the manuscript, a collation chart, and an overview of the manuscript’s scribal hands. This straightforward description is an excellent point of entry into the study of the manuscript, largely superseding an earlier description in Robbins 1954. However, because Rossell Hope Robbins’s article was the first sustained analysis of the manuscript, it shaped much of the later scholarship on the Findern. Scholarship has tended to follow him in focusing attention on the lyrics unique to the manuscript, and in continuing to debate his initial assessments of the manuscript’s method of construction and furthering his genealogical analysis of the names within the Findern—including his speculation on women’s possible participation in the manuscript’s production on the basis of the five women’s names within it.

  • Beadle, Richard, and A. E. B. Owen. “Introduction.” In The Findern Manuscript: Cambridge University Library MS Ff.i.6. Edited by Richard Beadle and A. E. B. Owen, i–xxxiii. London: Scolar Press, 1978.

    E-mail Citation »

    Beadle and Owen present a brief overview of the manuscript’s known provenance and production. They describe its scribal hands, formatting practices, the types of texts selected for inclusion, and the names inscribed into it. These indicate the manuscript was produced collaboratively by amateur scribes connected to a provincial gentry family and their associates in or near Derbyshire. This introduction contains a collation chart, a list of items, and citations for published editions of the items.

  • Robbins, Rossell Hope. “The Findern Anthology.” PMLA 69.3 (1954): 610–642.

    DOI: 10.2307/460075E-mail Citation »

    Robbins emphasizes the manuscript’s importance as one of only a few secular Middle English lyric anthologies. He provides the first complete contents list, discussion of provenance, and codicological description of the manuscript, as well as transcribing the household notes and unique lyrics not printed elsewhere. He suggests various possible methods for the manuscript’s compilation and speculates whether two women’s names inscribed after Sir Degrevant might be scribal signatures.

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