The Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge




“Matthew Parker… the Library owes far more to him than to any other benefactor, and there have been many benefactors.” – B. Dickins [4, p.19]

The Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge is named after Matthew Parker (1504-1575), who donated a significant portion of his collection to CCCC in 1574. When the college was founded in 1352, the library began to form. Dickins (1972) seems to me to use the term “Parker Library” interchangeably with “Upper Library”. I am curious as to the history of the names of this library.

The library was kept in “a first-floor room adjoining the Master’s Lodge” (now M3) until the 16th century when a garret above the old kitchen and buttery was constructed to hold it. The next place that the collection was held was above the chapel, which had a room constructed above it to serve as a new, larger library than the one above the kitchen. The chapel’s construction began in 1579 and was finished by 1585. The shelving in the library above the chapel was completed by 1593 when John Parker finally gave his father’s selected collection to Corpus. It was in 1827 that the library was moved to its present location, Corpus’ New Court.

“Little is known of the appearance of this 16th-century library.” – Dickins [4, p.28]

The library had 55 volumes in (or soon after) 1378. They are now all lost and untraceable. Thomas Markaunt (c.1382-1439) donated 76 volumes, of which only 3 remain. They were mostly about scholastic philosophy, theology, and canon law. John Leland visited the college in the 1530’s.

When was it named the Parker Library? This still remains a mystery to me. Possible names: Corpus Christi College library, Bene’t library (?) [7, p.1066].

Willliam Stanley’s Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum in Bibliotheca Collegiis Corporis Christi in Cantabrigia: Quos legauit Matthaeus Parkerus Archiepiscopus Cantuariensis (London, 1722) is “the first modern catalog of Parker’s collection” [9].

“In fact there is needed a more detailed history of the development of the Corpus library in the late sixteenth century than has so far been attempted.” – Fletcher & McConica [10, p.191]

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Matthew Parker began collecting his collection around 1559, when he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. The purpose of his work “was to provide a firm historical basis for the Church of England Catholic and Reformed”.

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS 575 is the Parker Register. It is Matthew Parker’s library’s book catalog master copy. There are two other copies of this catalog and they remained in better condition than the Parker Register. The Parker Register was rebound in the late 17th or early 18th century. The other two are the Cauis copy (MS 710/743) and the Trinity Hall copy (MS 29). Both of the latter two still have their original bindings.

“The ‘audit’ has been revived as an annual occurrence since 2004 after a long period when it did not regularly take place.” – June 22, 2020. Parker Library on the Web.

How long of a “long period” are we talking here? Like 3 years? 30? 300?

The Parker Register, as well as the other two are dated August 6th, 1593. This dating is based on a note from John Parker (Matthew’s son) from when he “went through the list deleting books which were not to be found when he came to deliver the library up to the college” [8, p.2]. This means that the earliest surviving catalogs of the Parker Library (August 1593) are dated some 18.5 years after Parker’s death (May 1575). From the internal evidence covered in [8], the Parker Register does appear to represent what was present in Parker’s library just prior to his death.

Lambeth Palace Library MS 723 is a catalog of the Parker books, but it’s different from the 3 MSS listed above. Also, the 3 MSS listed above all have differences and according to Page, they need “an extended comparison of the three texts” [8].

“Anyone who wished to gain the Archbishop’s favor knew what gifts would be most welcome…” – Dickins [4, pp.20-21]

In the 17th century, there were multiple complaints (T. L. and John Smith) about how limited the access to the collection was. Hardly anyone was able to view it. Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach visited in 1710, had some luck viewing the collection, was critical about some of the MSS, but did note that they were in better condition than some from other collections.

Despite the complaints, the college has helped some scholars throughout its existence. James Ussher visited it and spoke highly of it. In 1612, Lancelot Andrews invited Isaac Causabon to visit, although the latter declined the invitation. For more examples of good reviews, check [4, p.28].

“It is certain too that no obstacle was placed in the way of the Oxford scholar Humfrey Wanley, who made, at George Hickes’s bidding, ‘A Catalogue of the Saxon MSS in Benet College Library’ (British Museum Harley 7055, ff. 125a-141b), to be printed at pp. 101-51 of the second volume of Hickes’s Thesaurus (1705); this was an aid indispensable to Anglo-Saxon scholars till 1957 when Dr N. R. Ker’s Catalogue of Manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon was published by the Clarendon Press.” – Dickins [4, pp.27-28]

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According to Dickins (1972), there are 6 major catalogs of the MSS in the Parker Library. The CCCC website [9] lists only 4 main catalogs, which are numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5 below.

1 – John Parker’s Inventory of his father’s library (1593).

2 – Thomas James’ Ecloga Oxonio-Cantabrigiensis (1600). Pages 70-98.

3 – William Stanley’s 1722 catalog.

4 – James Nasmith’s 1777 catalog.

5 – Montague Rhodes James’s 1909-1913 (1912) catalog.

6 – Richard Vaughan’s 1960 catalog.

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[1] –

[2] –,Corpus%20Christi%20College%20in%201574.

[3] –

[4] – DICKINS, BRUCE. “THE MAKING OF THE PARKER LIBRARY: (Sandars Lecture for 1968-9, 25 April 1969).” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, vol. 6, no. 1, 1972, pp. 19–34. JSTOR, Accessed 9 June 2020.

[5] – WRIGHT, C. E. “THE DISPERSAL OF THE MONASTIC LIBRARIES AND THE BEGINNINGS OF ANGLO-SAXON STUDIES: MATTHEW PARKER AND HIS CIRCLE: A PRELIMINARY STUDY.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, vol. 1, no. 3, 1951, pp. 208–237. JSTOR, Accessed 10 June 2020.

[6] – John Strype’s Biography of Matthew Parker

[7] – Robinson, Benedict Scott. “‘Darke Speech’: Matthew Parker and the Reforming of History.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 29, no. 4, 1998, pp. 1061–1083. JSTOR, Accessed 11 June 2020.

[8] – PAGE, R. I. “THE PARKER REGISTER AND MATTHEW PARKER’S ANGLO-SAXON MANUSCRIPTS.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, vol. 8, no. 1, 1981, pp. 1–17. JSTOR, Accessed 11 June 2020.

[9] –

[10] – FLETCHER, JOHN M., and JAMES K. McCONICA. “A SIXTEENTH-CENTURY INVENTORY OF THE LIBRARY OF CORPUS CHRISTI COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, vol. 3, no. 3, 1961, pp. 187–199. JSTOR, Accessed 25 June 2020.

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