Archbishop Matthew Parker’s Manuscript Collection

“Our task in studying the Parker MSS. is very much facilitated by the fact that his collections were ‘immobilized’ at an early date and not dispersed like those of Cecil or Lambarde; they are preserved to-day for the most part in three blocks: (a) first, of course, at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, to which they were bequeathed in 1575 on the Archbishop’s death. (b) Secondly, in the Cambridge University Library to which they were given in 1574 by the Archbishop himself, largely at the instigation of Dr Andrew Perne, Master of Peterhouse, who was then busy with the reform of the library. … (c) Thirdly, there is a group at Trinity College, Cambridge, of which a convenient list is given by M. R. James in his Descriptive Catalogue of MSS. in the Library of C.C.C.C., Introduction, p. xxv.” – C. E. Wright [2]

“…Archbishop Parker did not employ any cut-and-dried plan in forming his collection.” – James (1899) [1]

Matthew Parker was the Archbishop of Canterbury and amassed a considerable collection of important manuscripts during his lifetime. As Archbishop of Canterbury, most of his manuscripts are from there.

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“I have within my house in wages, drawers and cutters, painters, limners, writers, and bookbinders.” – Matthew Parker to William Cecil in 1573 [3, p.1072]

“By “writers” he presumably meant his cabal of researchers, the majority of whom unfortunately remain to us only as names, with a scant record of their activities.” – B. Robinson [3, p.1072-3]

M. R. James refers to Parker’s collection as the Parker Manuscripts. He notes that almost all of the MSS were rebound at the end of the 1700s and that because of this, “all the evidence that might have been gleaned from old bindings, fly-leaves, or fragments of writing in the covers” was lost [1, p.3].

Parker donated 457 volumes total to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. However, M. R. James estimated that around 24 or 28 of those never made it to the college. Given that, only around 433 volumes really made it to the library when the collection arrived in 1593.

Parker had concluded that The Homer in his collection belonged to Archbishop Theordore in the late 7th century.

“… Stephen Batman … claimed in print to have obtained for the archbishop some 6,700 books.” – B. Robinson [3, p. 1071]

M. R. James only was able to identify two MSS (MS 61 and MS 194) in the Parker Library that could be linked to Batman. Of those two, he felt only one could be linked to Batman with certainty. Jennifer Summitt argues that out of the 6,700 books, Parker thought only two of them were appropriate for his collection. [4, p.563]

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“There is one particularly telling form of annotation that abounds in the archbishop’s library, and of which he was particularly proud. This was the work of counterfeiting ancient writing, in order to restore to damaged or illegible or partial manuscripts a semblance of completeness, and it seems to have been the special task of one “Lyly”.” – B. Robinson [3, p.1076]

“Parker is even accused of having invented “Matthew of Westminster,” supposed author of the Flores historiarum, and of securing his place in the canon of medieval historians: both Madden and Luard blame Bale and Joscelyn for accepting the existence of “Matthew” on the basis of a single MS reference, and Parker for twice printing the Flores under that name. Not until 1890 was this ghost finally dispelled.” B. Robinson [3, p.1078-9]

^Robinson’s reference for the above quote is:
Luard, Flores historiarum, 1:ix-xii, xli-xlii; and Madden, Historia Anglorum, 1: xxviii.

“Are we really to believe that Parker was ignorant of the alteration and disfigurement of the authors published under his sanction, or must we be reduced to the necessity of supposing him to have written what he knew to be false? It is a dilemma hard to determine, but I would willingly, if possible, throw the blame on the editor or printer, rather than on the archbishop himself.” – F. Madden, Historia Anglorum, 1: xxxvii [3, p.1079]

“Parker admits that he has published books containing “some monastic fragments, or rather old wives’ tales” and “myths and portents”; but he writes that the “ideal reader” that he addresses will know that it is better to publish Matthew Paris and “Matthew of Westminster” with their doctrinal errors and fables which no one any longer believes, than to deprive the English of their history. These histories, Parker goes on, have been “mutilated, perverted, and cut into pieces” by the Catholics, and yet for all of this they cannot be discarded, since the English have no histories, except that they are “erased, corrupted, altered, incomplete, bastardized.”” – B. Robinson [3, p.1082]

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[1] –

[2] – 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 16 June 2020.

[3] – 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 16 June 2020.

[4] – Horobin, Simon, and Aditi Nafde. “STEPHAN BATMAN AND THE MAKING OF THE PARKER LIBRARY.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, vol. 15, no. 4, 2015, pp. 561–581., Accessed 17 June 2020.

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