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The Collation

Interpreting Systems that Make Place

It’s not often that one has the opportunity to study a fully digitized, 420-ish year old, almost 750 page manuscript that never went where it was supposed to go. This manuscript, Folger MS V.b.182, is barely mentioned in scholarship, with only a handful of scholars interested in its contents. Instead, it mostly appears as a kind of footnote in the biography of an Elizabethan administrator whose influential relationship to Shakespeare’s plays, sixteenth-century English pageantry and theater history, and government censorship drives most interest in his life and work.

So what is this large manuscript book by Edmund Tilney, Queen Elizabeth’s Master of the Revels? And why take a closer look at it? William Streitberger, the scholar most dedicated to illuminating Tilney’s influence on Elizabethan drama through the Revels Office, makes his case for studying this unpublished tome:

No other individual not directly connected with the [theater] profession had so great an influence on the drama that has come down to us and there are few important individuals that we have known so little about. In 1568 Tyllney dedicated his only published work, The Flower of Friendshippe, a discourse on the duties in marriage, to his distant cousin, Queen Elizabeth. We have had little else until the discovery of his “Topographical Descriptions” to indicate the range of information and qualities of mind of this most influential man.1

If reasons for scholarly interest in Tilney’s unpublished manuscript are the large influence he had on Elizabethan theater; the paucity of documents about and from him; and curiosity about how an administrator with such family connections to court power may have managed his political life, we could continue using Tilney’s text as part of a biographical study, with cultural histories of the theater or courtier life enriched by interpreting his textual remains alongside life-writings and records of other influential Elizabethan courtiers, dramatists, and theater companies. This may be part of why the Folger Shakespeare Library has undertaken the significant labor of completely digitizing it.

But what most strikes me about this large manuscript is not its potential use as a window into the mind of Elizabeth’s Master of the Revels. Rather, Tilney’s tome attracts attention because it is a complex, mixed-media production that defies easy genre classification, even as it attempts to systematically order and present a massive amount of textual, visual, and possibly oral source material about “countries.” Streitberger describes Tilney’s manuscript as a “diplomatic encyclopedia,” intended for Queen Elizabeth’s potential use “in conducting chiefly foreign but also domestic policy.”2 However this characterization of the manuscript comes from a dedicatory letter in a different, 1604-5 Tilney manuscript—one Streitberger characterizes as the revised, “fair copy” version of V.b.182, held by the University of Illinois library.3 Hinted at by Streitberger, inclusion of England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland in this text problematizes any comfortable alignment of “diplomacy” with “foreignness,” inviting instead (I argue) our rethinking of the overly easy acceptance of presentations of knowledge about these “domestic” or “colonial” British places as already known and easily distinguished from knowledge of “the foreign.”

If Tilney’s book is meant to be a reference manual to guide the sovereign in perceiving and knowing countries, ruling families, political structures, and resources, what might it tell us about techniques of apprehending and knowing being developed by administrators, professionals, and antiquarians in late sixteenth-century England? And what might we learn about how late Elizabethan intelligencia projected systems of making and defining “place” that related to settler colonial endeavors in that period and in perceptions of colonization prior to 1603?

For this Collation post, I’d like to take a step back to introduce us to V.b.182 and to reconsider what we might learn from it if we do not stabilize its genre or characterize its status as “incomplete” or “unfinished” in relationship to the University of Illinois manuscript. Like scholars of early modern English information studies (Nicholas Popper) and miscellany culture (Angus Vine), I am interested in what Tilney’s two manuscripts have to teach us about late Elizabethan “power/knowledge”—Foucault’s term for the mutual construction of knowing and controlling. While a Foucaultian analysis often focuses primarily on a society’s historical interpellation (i.e., bringing into being) of social subjects via their objectification in knowledge production, I think Tilney’s manuscript should also be investigated for what it can tell us about how place-making is essential to constructing or reorganizing power/knowledge—a process simultaneous with interpellation but silenced by modern, Western knowledge production’s erasing of its role in past and ongoing settler colonialism.

Detail of the top of Folger MS V.b.182, Br [2r].

In his comprehensive overview of V.b.182, Streitberger describes this bound manuscript’s characteristics and provenance:

The Folger manuscript is a large folio containing over a quarter of a million words, over fifty engravings, over sixty maps, and over 2,500 hand-painted coats-of-arms. Like the Illinois manuscript, which is twenty-four leaves longer, it bears watermarks dating from 1583 to 1599. … The provenance is difficult to establish. It was purchased by the Folger Trust in 1924 from Maggs Bros., but records do not survive to indicate from whom that firm purchased it. Its late eighteenth-century owner used it as a heraldic record of England. Over four hundred fifty seventeenth- and eighteenth-century additions have been made to the catalogue of nobility at the end of the book on England.4

In its heft and its scope, V.b.182 evidences a creation process that Tilney describes in the Illinois manuscript’s dedicatory letter as “my own trauaill” of painstakingly gathering notes from published and unpublished source texts in numerous languages, weighing particularities and inconsistencies as he fashioned his text’s entries. Angus Vine describes both of Tilney’s manuscripts as kinds of miscellany that fit well within the late-Elizabethan period’s flourishing of antiquarian syntheses:

Miscellaneous in contents, and capacious in scope, its eight books range over subjects as diverse as history, geography, law, commerce and trade, genealogy, mythology, armory, etymology, and government—an inclusiveness that suggests a considerable debt to antiquarian methodology and notions of knowledge, even if Tilney’s primary purpose was practical and admonitory rather than recuperative.5

And while Vine links Tilney’s manuscript to the genre of chorography, akin to Camden’s Britannia or Lambarde’s Perambulation of Kent, there is something more pointed in Tilney’s own characterizing of how he systematizes the knowledge contained within his text(s).

In the introductory pages of V.b.182, Tilney sets forth three different types of tables or charts to orient a reader to the information contained within his tome. First, there is a title page (Br), the top of which I have presented above. Second, we find a table of contents which lists each included country’s name and the page that their section or “book” begins on (Bv). And finally, Tilney sets forth four pages with a single table each; they are structured in the manner of Peter Ramus, though the tables’ sub-branches are not limited to binaries (see Cr-Dv). Tilney describes these tables on the first written page of the manuscript (Av):

These 4 Tables ffollowinge are heare generally / sett downe for the better vnderstandinge and vse off this / Booke. As wherby the particuler estate off euery Countr[y] / Ther in Described maie be the better: / Conceiued:

Tilney's tables.
Folger MS V.b.182, Cr-Dv [3r-4v]

The four large tables present a striking visualization blending placement with proto-taxonomy to produce categories of what we might call important “information” or “data” about each country. This visual organization system engineers uniformity of countries’ diverse particulars, refashioning the multiplicity of Tilney’s source texts and others’ observations into conceptual categories that flow from an starting stem, placed at the left-most side of a page, that blossom into several levels of branches, ie, subcategories that divide further as the page is read to the right.

The first of the four tables (Cr) begins with this stem category on the page’s far left:

All countries’ states and commonweals have ever been and still are governed either by one person alone monarchically, by some few of the better sort aristocratically, or else by all the people in general popularly. Each three sorts of civil governments have [here?] approved in [the?] world as followeth[.]6

While the second table (Cv) has a second level category and its third level subcategories organized thus:

And the strict maintaining of good amity with bordering and neighborly princes best continued:7

      • Either by parentage linked with the borderers or some other great princes […]
      • Or by protection: when a greater prince for some special case undertaketh the protection of another inferior state […]
      • Or by pension whereby great princes do entertain some other inferior lords and commanders of mercenary soldiers […]
      • Or else by league wherein princes of these times are grown very cunning and skillful for in matters of state […]

It is unclear whether Streitberger or anyone else has completely transcribed/described in detail these four pages’ tables; nor do I find a complete scholarly accounting of where the four tables’ categories come from—whether they are “original” to Tilney or borrowed from other specific source texts or instructions on writing genres like the chorography, the Italian relazioni, the Lutheran century, or travel guides of the artes apodemicae.8 At this early stage of my work with Tilney’s text, it is clear that these initial four tables, “sett downe for the better vnderstandinge and vse off this / Booke,” are themselves quite complicated as they perform no perceivable indexing function to the subsequent country-based chapters. How they might have guided a reader is a fundamental question in my work on Tilney’s manuscript.

Analyzing these four tables in V.b.182’s front matter also requires some remarks on their relationship to the other front matter tables (Br and Bv), as well as numerous other organizing tables in Tilney’s manuscript, like the table of contents that start each country “book.” Here is how the section on Italy begins:

V.b.182, fol. 2v

These paginated tables of contents indicate that each country’s chapter will start with a general description of that country, followed by descriptions of its principal navigable and boundary rivers, its government in general, variable descriptions of its economic and political histories, descriptions focused on particular regions, its resources and international trade in merchandise, and then end with visual tables of important families with their coats of arms and a country map. These tables of coats of arms also bring yet another system of organizing knowledge to play amidst the others in Tilney’s text.

Sample table organizing principal families of Ireland, their arms, from Folger MS V.b.182, 345r

With these numerous examples of Tilney’s tables, one can easily see multiple information organizing systems at work in the larger text. And there are additional order-making techniques that Tilney uses within his manuscript, which I will continue to identify, describe, and analyze in my larger fellowship project.

This multiplicity of knowledge organizing systems that Tilney uses, focused on evaluating “countries,” are techniques of power/knowledge that do not combine into a single order. His manuscript exhibits a profound heterogeneity that presents these orders simultaneously, not unified, and not in a manner that one could describe as transitional along some progressive narrative of developing power/knowledge from Medievalisms to modernity. As such, I think it is important for us to be less conclusive and even more curious about V.b.182 and its sibling manuscript held by the University of Illinois. At the very least, as Streitberger, Vine, and Popper suggest, Tilney’s two manuscripts should be more extensively studied alongside similar, late Elizabethan texts—like the Britannia or the Kentish Perambulation—because Tilney’s tome works at reorienting place-values and place-categorizing at a tricky historical moment when a Tudor queen is replaced on the English throne by a Scottish king.

Finally, I want to leave you with a closer look at one of the front matter tables that Tilney creates on V.b.182’s title page (Br), with reference to the similar (yet importantly non-identical) page in the Illinois manuscript.

Folger MS V.b.182, fol. Br [unnumbered 2r]

The table begins with a root stem (left side) that reads: “To be dulye informed/ In the state of anie/ one of these kingdomes/ obserue wel Hereby”. The table’s second level categories continue the sentence: “The Discriptions/ of the Countrie”; “The Woorthe of/ the People”; and “The Abillitie/ of the Prince”.

If we interpret this table as one of Tilney’s first orderings of knowledge contained within the tome, the nature and value of its prescriptive structure should guide us to knowing more about how Tilney understood his entire endeavor here. What strikes me most about this page is not so much the details of the table but instead the name he gives to his system. In V.b.182, Tilney names it a “Villicationis Ratio.” But the Illinois manuscript names its system a “Peregrinationis Ratio.” This small difference has been noted by Streitberger and Popper, but none of Tilney’s scholars have dug deeper into what this change might mean for our understanding of what Tilney’s two manuscripts might be doing to shift the ideological ground upon which intelligence gathering and power/knowledge organizing is being refashioned into in order to meet needs for seventeenth century state craft, colonization and territorial acquisition, and governance.

I want to leave us with this overarching descriptive move that Tilney makes from villicationis to peregrinationis—from the Roman and (perhaps) feudal English complexities of orienting power/knowledge through a complex of land-holding relationships, and a land-valuing and accounting system built on villication, or country estate management and stewardship undertaken by a vilicus9—to characterizing the Illinois manuscript as a systemic look at places through the eyes of a very different ideologically fashioned traveler to foreign lands. How can such a small change of one word matter in what we make of Tilney’s text?

In the long-form of this fellowship project, answers to that question arise for me through my application of Critical Indigenous Studies’ theoretical analytics,10 which my project is firmly grounded in. These theoretical analytics arise from ‘Ōiwi intellectual insights and Native/Indigenous scholars researching in traditional Western disciplines with important influences by a vast variety of Native/Indigenous intellectual systems and onto-epistemological frameworks. Reconsidering in this way the forms of power/knowledge organization being developed and applied in Tilney’s tome will hopefully generate a revisionist approach to histories of an English “information state” or European histories of governance and political economy that do not attend properly to the role that that place-making as a power-knowledge technique set forth simultaneously the terms of domestic, foreign, and colonial rule and knowing. I hope this project also gives those of us working in Native Studies and Critical Indigenous Studies a closer look at the historical development of pre-Lockean English conceptual systems of power/knowledge that were then used to advance settler colonization and naturalize a benign-appearing subject, who can move and observe freely, as the central figure of humanistic knowing.

  1. W. R. Streitberger, “The Tyllney Manuscript at the Folger Library,” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 69.4, 1975: 449-464, 449.
  2. Streitberger, 450.
  3. See University of Illinois Library, pre-1650 MS 0109. Streitberger is interested in how such a manual’s topics might have intersected with and influenced government censorship of contemporary drama; he writes: “Despite its dedication to James I, ‘Topographical Descriptions’ is a monument to Elizabethan, not to Jacobean diplomacy. It provides evidence of the information Tilney had close to hand and insights into his political ideas. Of course, it cannot be taken as a straightforward guide to Tilney’s practice in dealing with the drama, because in this period censorship was never reduced to a set of principles or rules.” The Masters of the Revels and Elizabeth I’s Court Theatre (2016), p. 212.
  4. Streitberger, 451.
  5. Angus Vine, Miscellaneous Order: Manuscript Culture and the Early Modern Organization of Knowledge, Oxford University Press (2019), 106.
  6. Please note that in these transcribed quotations from two of Tilney’s page-long tables, I have modernized spelling, eliminated line-breaks, and added punctuation. I retain older spellings when quoting other parts of the MS. Also, square brackets indicate words cut at the edge of the manuscript page, which I have endeavored to restore based on contextually and spatially informed guessing and partially visible letters of the effaced words.
  7. Ellipses mine, truncating longer sub-category descriptions.
  8. See Nicholas Popper’s essential essay on these genres and Tilney’s text’s potential relationship to them in “An Information State for Elizabethan England,” The Journal of Modern History 90 (2018): 503-535, 512.
  9. Under Roman law, this Latin term defines a head slave of an estate owner who supervised all of the estate’s production. Note that the Vulgate version of the Book of Luke uses the term “villicationis rationem” to mean what the King James Bible translates as “account of stewardship.”
  10. I situate my work alongside Critical Indigenous theoretical work by Scott Manning Stevens, Mishuana Goeman, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Noelani Arista, and numerous others. In addition, I can see important dialogue on other aspects of V.b.182 that could arise from reading alongside (Medieval and early modern studies) premodern critical race studies scholarship (PCRS) and Irish, Welsh, and Scottish studies scholarship.