A Middle English Miscellany

Reference: Brogyntyn MS ii.1

This mid-fifteenth-century miscellany of prose and verse, formerly known as Porkington 10, is one of the most important medieval English manuscripts at the National Library. Written on paper and parchment, it contains a remarkable variety of texts, mainly in Middle English though a few are in Latin. These cover subjects from political prophecy to instructions for computing the position of the moon, from weather lore to medicine, from an Arthurian poem relating the adventures of Sir Gawain to saints' lives, and from love poetry and drinking songs to carols. One text defines the qualities of a good horse, another gives lists of terms relating to hunting game - and to carving the game when it reaches the table. There is a practical treatise on planting and grafting trees, as well as instructions for making, choosing and applying various colours for use in decorating manuscripts. Taken as a whole, the volume provides a vivid glimpse of life in the Middle Ages.

 

Some of the lyric verses and other items are not found in any other medieval manuscript. Others, such as the famous Boar's Head Carol, were widely copied. Sixteen scribes were involved in producing this volume, one of whom might be the H. Hattun whose name appears on f. 52v, though this might rather be the person for whom the manuscript was produced, perhaps about 1470. Internal evidence suggests that the first section of the volume may have been copied soon after 1463, whilst the rest cannot have been completed earlier than 1453.

It is not known exactly where the manuscript was compiled, but Cheshire or Shropshire would be consistent with the West Midland dialect of the English works it contains. The manuscript was already in Welsh hands, however, by the early sixteenth century, when a John ap Dafydd ap Gruffydd ap Howell, who has not been identified, wrote his name on f. 26r. By the seventeenth century the volume probably belonged to the Owen family of Clenennau, Caernarfonshire, reaching Brogyntyn in Shropshire when the two estates were reunited. The manuscript, which had been rebound in the nineteenth century, was first deposited at the National Library in 1938 and in 1993 was bought for the nation, with fifty-four other manuscripts from the Brogyntyn library.

Further reading:

  • Daniel Huws, 'Porkington 10 and its scribes', in J. Fellows et al (eds), Romance Reading on the Book. Essays on Medieval Narrative presented to Maldwyn Mills (Cardiff, 1996), pp. 188-207.
  • A detailed catalogue of the Brogyntyn manuscripts is in preparation.

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