26 April 2017

John Leland, and does the Devil break wind over Wales?

In the 1530s, as Henry Tudor attempted to gather evidence in his campaign for the annulment of his marriage - and later, his contest with the Pope - a tame intellectual called Leland was sent round the monastic libraries of England to pick up, in the years before the imminent dissolution, texts which might help the royal cause. He also did what he could to secure, for the royal collections, some of the choicest books harboured by the religious orders. He was not very successful in the former enterprise; when he got to the Oxford Greyfriars, where he confidently expected to secure a great haul of the works of Grosseteste, he found ... zilch ... I wonder why ... But in the latter business, he did rather better; there is in Bodley a preconquest book put together by S Dunstan, looted from Glastonbury, with a picture of a prostrate monk which might conceivably have been drawn by the Saint himself.

I hope you made your way through my recent post on the Middle Cornish plays written (probably) at Glasney College in Cornwall, and the iniquities of Bad King Tudor. Leland ... drole, yes? ... found it prudent to 'discover' in Cornwall evidence that Tudor was not so bad, after all; surprise surprise, he was a good religious king and a benefactor of the Church! 1984 and all that! Intellectuals, intellectuals!!

Incidentally, although nowadays racial ideologues within the soi-disant 'Celtic' nations (unaware still that research in DNA has disproved any possibility of a common genetic inheritance) are elaborately enthusiastic about a warm pan-Celtic solidarity, there is little evidence for this sensitive fellow-feeling in the Middle Cornish texts or in sixteenth century history. The sorceress Owbra, while collecting the magical substances whereby to get the amorous Tudor stuck in her bath (memories of Anne Bullen 'bewitching' Henry VIII?), includes in her pharmacology the 'noises' ('trosow': 'farts'?) which the Devil 'throws' over Wales.

And, after the Prayer Book Rising of 1549, while the regime's Welsh troops didn't quite manage the long journey to the battlefields until the Italian mercenaries had done most of the slaughtering, they certainly arrived in time to share effectively in the looting. A Exonian (and Protestant) chronicler recorded the contemporary witticism that the prices they charged for selling stuff back to the locals from whom they had stolen it were quite reasonable!

1 comment:

Jesse said...

There was made a few years ago, Father, a thorough study of the manufacture of "St Dunstan's Classbook" (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Auctarium F.4.32): Mildred Budny, "'St Dunstan's Classbook' and its Frontispiece: Dunstan's Portrait and Autograph", in Nigel Ramsay, Margaret Sparks, and Tim Tatton-Brown (eds.), St Dunstan: His Life, Times and Cult (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1992), pp. 103–42, with plates 1–8.

Budny concludes that Dunstan was not himself the artist of the line drawing of Christ on the frontispiece, but that he was responsible for the adornment of it with red lead pigment and perhaps some retouching in ink. He also added the distich over the picture of a prostrate monk who is either pointing to Christ in majesty or is reaching out to touch the hem of his garment. He evidently saw it as a portrait of himself.

Dunstanum memet clemens rogo christe tuere.
Tenarias me non sinas sorbsisse procellas.

He certainly endured some "Taenarian storms" in his career. So did the manuscript!