Medieval manuscripts in the Southeastern United States may seem to be few and far between, but thanks to the regional sleuthing of University of South Carolina professor Scott Gwara and others, more collections (mostly of single leaves) come to light regularly.
Between de Ricci’s 1938 Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada and Faye & Bond’s 1963 Supplement, however, there was only one collection in the state of Arkansas, the now-defunct private collection of Fred Allsopp in Little Rock (Census I:3). According to the Census, Allsopp owned three codices, here called MS 1, MS 2 and MS 3. MS 2, a fifteenth-century monastic missal from the Tyrol region of Austria, is untraced. Allsopp MS 3, a small Book of Hours, was sold by Parke-Bernet in 1947 with the other Allsopp manuscripts and was purchased by Hannah Rabinowitz of Sand Point, NY (Supplement p. 413, no. 2). It has come on the market several times since then (in 1976 and 1998), but its current location is unknown.
Allsopp MS 1 turns out to be a Book of Hours, not a breviary as titled by de Ricci, a not unimportant distinction that identifies the manuscript as a book for personal devotion rather than communal prayer. Evidence within the manuscript identifies two early owners: Elizabeth Shelford, Abbess of the Benedictine abbey of Shaftesbury (d. before 1529) is thought to have been the original owner of the manuscript; another nun of Shaftesbury, Alice Champnys, owned the manuscript next and recorded her acquisition of the manuscript on f. 132v:
“Iste liber pertinent domine Aliciae Champnys moniali monasterij Shasonie quem dicta Alicia emit pro summa Decem solidorum de domino Richardo de Marshalle Rectore ecclesie parochialis sancti Rumbaldi de Shastina predicta.”
[This book belongs to Lady Alice Champnys, nun of the monastery of Shaftesbury. Alice bought it for the sum of ten shillings from Master Richard Marshall, rector of the parochial church of St Rumbold in the aforesaid Shaftesbury.] (see Julian M. Luxford, The Art and Architecture of English Benedictine Monasteries, 1300 – 1540 (Woodbridge, 2005), p. 5).
The manuscript, which includes numerous references to female British saints such as Aelfgyfa and Edith, is a fascinating and oft-cited example of a prayerbook made for the use of a woman (see, for example, Women’s Books of Hours in Medieval England by Charity Scott-Stokes, where this manuscript is cited on pp. 21 and 156; Elizabeth News’ essay, “Symbols of Devotion and Identity in a Late Medieval Manuscript: Fitzwilliam Museum MS 2-1957,” in J. Cherry & A. Payne eds., Signs and Symbols. Harlaxton Medieval Studies XVIII (Stamford, 2009), 73-84; Ker’s Medieval Libraries, p. 177; and Wormald and Giles’ A descriptive catalogue of the additional illuminated manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum, II:516-21, among other references).
Little is known of the manuscript’s history after it left Alice’s hands until it resurfaced in the mid-nineteenth century in the collection of one Henry Walter of Windsor. A label inside the cover of the manuscript next places it in the hands of a London bookseller named J. Leslie. It was bought before March 1931 in Bournemouth by Missouri’s own Frank Glenn, the Kansas City dealer we encountered last week (the one who put together the travelling manuscript exhibit). Glenn must have sold it to Allsopp before 1938, when the Census was published. Sold with the other Allsopp manuscripts by Parke-Bernet (New York) in 1947, the manuscript was purchased later that year from the Boston bookshop Goodspeed’s by the great collector Philip Hofer (whose label is also inside the front cover), who placed it on deposit at Harvard University’s Houghton Library where it had the shelfmark MS Typ 102H. In 1957, Hofer gave the manuscript to the Fitzwilliam Museum of Art at Cambridge University, where it is MS 2-1957, thus sending it back across the Atlantic to return to its country of origin.
In case you lost track, here’s the manuscript’s dizzying journey from the early sixteenth century to today: Shaftesbury -> Windsor -> London -> Bournemouth -> Missouri -> Arkansas -> New York -> Massachusetts -> Cambridge. A long, strange trip indeed.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any public domain images of this manuscript available for me to share with you; the spectacular Fitzwilliam collection is in the process of digitization, but this one hasn’t been put online yet.
But enough about manuscripts that AREN’T in Arkansas anymore. Let’s talk about manuscripts that ARE.
The gap left by the 1947 dispersal of the Allsopp collection is beginning to be filled by the collection of leaves recently acquired by the University of Arkansas Special Collections Department. My thanks to U. Arkansas English professor Joshua Byron Smith for this selection of images from the group, leaves that together represent a teaching collection that will greatly benefit the University’s students:
A pencil annotation on no. 7, a partial leaf formerly used as a bookcover, suggests that it once passed through the hands of the great paleographer Bernhard Bischoff, giving this fragment a particularly esteemed provenance.
Next week, we head to one of my favorite U.S. cities, The Big Easy itself. Grab your Mardi Gras beads (just don’t tell me how you got them) and meet me in New Orleans!