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The Collation

Reading the Past and Researching During COVID-19

I defended my Ph.D. dissertation on April 3, 2020. The defense happened on Zoom, which has become standard academic operating procedure by now but at the time felt like an extreme oddity. ‘Zoom is a really easy-to-use program and is more reliable, and flexible, than Skype,’ I wrote to my advisor on March 12, without any sense of how this program would come to define our lives. Three days earlier we had held out hope that the defense would be in person, but the university issued a ban on in-person meetings that made the decision for us. We entered the Zoomspace.  

My dissertation was about the relationship between war and culture in the late Middle Ages and argued that military force warps culture to make war part of everyday life. I was interested in how the imperial desires that lay behind many late-medieval military interventions were supported by cultural foundations. In particular, I was fascinated by the role that history writing plays in creating the enabling conditions for enmity, the spark of hatred required to turn people against each other. My Folger Fellowship was supposed to continue this research by examining how Early Modern writers reimagined narratives of medieval war. 

Yet in the months that followed my defense, new questions emerged for me. America’s borders closed, we entered lockdown, and my institution sent out an email that incorrectly stated that every international student must return to their home country. Information sessions organized in response to border closings and visa bans by the university’s International Student and Scholar Services office offered one piece of concrete advice: don’t leave the country. It became clear that we were crossing a threshold, that the world of March 2020 had changed, and perhaps wouldn’t be coming back. My own anxieties paled in comparison to the devastation the pandemic was causing. Seeking answers to the uncertainty that surrounded me, I turned to research: How did people in the early modern Britain adapt to a rapidly changing world, and how did they think about historical change?  

D.R. Woolf’s Reading History in Early Modern England provided an account of how one reader responded to these questions: 

An early anticipation of the engraved or woodcut authorial portraits in histories of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries can be found in the peculiar decision of one sixteenth-century reader, in possession of a late fifteenth-century manuscript of Hardyng’s chronicle, to supply an author’s portrait for his book (pl. 1.1). Since no likeness of Hardyng himself was at hand, the owner pasted in a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the younger of a German prince, decoratively colored for the purpose and with invented coats of arms superimposed, together with the legend ‘The portrature of John Harding: maker of these chronicles.’ (16) 

John Hardyng was a fifteenth-century chronicler, soldier, and one-time spy for the English crown. He was also a forger, including numerous counterfeit documents in his chronicle that served his nationalist aims. His chronicle was written as the Hundred Years War gave way to the Wars of the Roses in the murky mid fifteenth-century. Its defining characteristics are its rhyme-royal meter, vociferous anti-Scottish slant, and the fact that it is one of only a handful of vernacular medieval chronicles authored by a named individual. Hardyng’s work was absorbed into new historical and literary writing: Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur draws on the chronicle, the London printer Richard Grafton printed it twice in 1543, and its influence has also been discerned in Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV.  

In the illustration in Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 34 that Woolf describes, “Hardyng” is a robust figure, dressed in a luxurious fur-lined coat, sober black jacket, and clutching a book; his pious character betokened by the prayer-beads on his right wrist. The image is lovingly painted—even his lips are given some color—and its sober title intones: ‘THE PORTRATVRE OF IOHN HARDING: MAKER OF THESE CHRONICLES’.  

It is hard to imagine a more literal clash of “medieval” and “early modern” than a medieval chronicle imprinted with a Lutheran woodblock. The familiar dualities of medieval/modern, manuscript/print, chronicle/history, and Catholicism/Protestantism, are all in evidence here, yet in microcosm: grand narratives rendered as individual choice. What was the early modern owner of this manuscript hoping to achieve by including this image? Where did this image come from? And who was the German “prince” it depicted? 

But a larger question arose: how could I get my hands on the manuscript? By this point, it was March 2021, one year into the pandemic. I had barely left my apartment in Houston: the only sense I had that time had changed came from the view from my office window. Though the visa chaos of the early pandemic had passed, international travel was still unfeasible. I wouldn’t be visiting the Bodleian Library (or home) any time soon.  

I took to Twitter. The generosity of Sonja Drimmer, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, saved me, as she offered to share images of the manuscript. Through Sonja’s help, I was able to do some more digging into the manuscript but soon hit another roadblock. A footnote in Woolf identifies the prince as “George the Pious, Prince of Anhalt” and mentions that the manuscript was owned by “Peter Fanwood,” while medievalist Sarah Peverely tentatively suggests “Manwood” instead, identifying the figure with the antiquarian “Sir Percy Manwood” (seemingly a typo, as she describes the biography of the correct owner, as we will see below). Without seeing the ownership mark, how could I bust this crux? 

Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 34, credit: Sonja Drimmer

The concept of academic generosity was not created by the pandemic, but it has certainly been reinvigorated as we all try to adapt to the post-COVID-19 world. Librarians, in particular, have gone above and beyond in making their collections accessible to researchers unable to make physical visits. Not knowing how else to make progress on my research, I emailed the Rare Books Department at the Bodleian Library asking if they could shed light on the provenance of Ashmole 34. Dunja Sharif and Michael Webb quickly answered my query by providing crucial catalogue information. More importantly, Michael photographed the ownership mark on fol. 177 and compared it to another manuscript Manwood donated to the Bodleian (MS Bodley 885), proving definitively that Ashmole 34 had been owned by Sir Peter Manwood (thus splitting the difference between Woolf and Peverely).  

Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 34, fol. 177, credit: Michael Webb

With this help in hand, and with further assistance from Abbie Weinburg at the Folger, I was able to fill in more details about this idiosyncratic manuscript and what it can tell us about Early Modern attitudes to Medieval English history.  

So, now we can say: The image of “Hardyng” in Ashmole 34 was most likely an addition made by, or under the instruction of, the judge and antiquary Sir Peter Manwood (1571-1625), who bought the manuscript in the early seventeenth century. On folio 177, right at the end of Hardyng’s chronicle, there is a note that states the manuscript was bought on February 14th, 1604 for twenty shillings. Previously, the connection between Manwood and Ashmole 34 has only been made tentatively. But comparing the ownership mark in Ashmole 34 with that of Bodleian Library, Bodl. 885, a manuscript donated to the Bodleian Library in 1620 by Manwood, reveals that they are written by the same person.   

Manwood was part of the constellation of antiquarians who flourished from around 1580-1620 and fundamentally shaped our understanding of the medieval English past. He was a patron of the arts, sponsoring translations by Richard Knolles, Edward Grimestone, and Thomas Menfeilde, a collector of books and manuscripts, and friends with antiquarians including William Camden, the author of Britannia, and John Stow.  

Letter book relating to the oyster fishery at Whitstable, Kent [manuscript], 1581-1669. Folger V.b.335

Although there is no account of his library, numerous of his books survive. The Folger, for instance, holds two books bought by Manwood (STC 7642 copy 1, Elyot’s Boke of the Gouernour and STC 23341 copy 1, Stowe’s suruay of London), one gifted to him by his father, the famous judge Sir Roger Manwood (STC 6234 copy 2, Danett’s Historie of France), and a further personal manuscript containing materials related to an oyster fishery at Whitstable, Kent. So far, I have identified thirty-three books and manuscripts connected to Manwood; the number that survive is almost certainly higher than this. 

The image purporting to by “Hardyng” is in actual fact Prince Georg of III of Anhalt-Dessau. Georg III was born in 1507 and became an important part of Martin Luther’s circle. A priest renowned for his devotion, Georg was known as ‘der Gottselige’ (the Pious). This piety, and his connection to Luther, is clearly illustrated by Lucas Cranach the Younger’s Epitaph für Fürst Joachim von Anhalt (1565), in which we see Georg sat between Luther and Christ at the Last Supper.  

Epitaph für Fürst Joachim von Anhalt by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1565. Screenshot of the Cranach Digital Archive image viewer. View the image viewer here.

After Georg’s death in 1553, miniatures and woodcuts of his likeness were included in collections of his sermons and writings. The first portrait in this series, created in 1553 as a separate sheet, contains an epigraph for Georg written by Philip Melanchthon on its verso.  

Portrait of Georg III, Prince of Anhalt by Lucas Cranach the Younger and workshop, 1553. Screenshot of the Cranach Digital Archive image viewer. View the image here.

The portrait circulates in four separate editions, printed at Wittenberg and Frankfürt-am-Main between 1555 and 1577.  Author portraits such as these were a crucial element of the Lutheran project. Indeed, as Joseph Leo Koerner notes of the image of the Last Supper, the recognizability of the participants is the point (Reformation of the Image, 243).   

 Des Hochwirdigen, 1577. Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Sachsen-Anhalt. 

In addition to prefacing his own writings, the image of Georg was placed at the forefront of a series of Lutheran bibles. As Michael Wenzel puts it, standing at the forefront of the Bible, Georg was figured as a princely guarantor of the Reformation (Die Gemälde der Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, 90). Printed on the verso, Georg’s gaze is directed towards the book to come. The security of Georg’s protection is emphasized by the prayer book he holds close. The portrait creates a strong conception of authorship, not only in the modern sense of the creator of a textual work, but also in the medieval sense of auctoritas, in which the figure is not only creator but guarantor.  

When Hardyng’s Chronicle was printed in 1543, the resolutely Protestant Richard Grafton took issue with the ‘popish error’ that seeped into the historical text. The Ashmole portrait counterbalances such charges by reinforcing Hardyng’s authority as a chronicler, which was attacked throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Although Manwood’s ownership comes many years after Grafton’s printing, he could have encountered debates about Hardyng’s religion through his friend John Stow, who had traded barbs with Grafton over the medieval chronicler’s reliability. Indeed, Manwood held strongly pro-Protestant views and would thus have been inclined to add a Protestant gloss to this medieval text.  

The image of Hardyng in Ashmole 34 weds medieval authorship to Protestant authority, refashioning an old text for the needs of seventeenth-century England. As Megan L. Cook has shown, during this period similar issues around visualizing the medieval past and its religious difference coalesce around the figure of Geoffrey Chaucer. Indeed, in some ways the portrait of Georg resembles John Speed’s famous 1598 woodcut of Chaucer: specifically, both are resolute, and their main accessory is prayer beads. But Chaucer was a poet. There was no comparable framework for representing a vernacular medieval English chronicler. Alfred Hiatt argues that Grafton and Stow’s debates over Hardyng represent an anxiety about ‘what constitutes authorship of a chronicle: how does one legitimately give one’s name to a chronicle—make it one’s own—since such a text is of necessity a compendium of different sources?’   

Ashmole 34 subverts our expectations for periodization by disturbing the binary oppositions we use for imagining the shift from medieval to Renaissance, premodern to early modern. Pursuing the manuscript during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was this disturbance that resonated with me: a juxtaposition illustrating how historical change demands new engagements with the past as well as the present. It’s not yet possible to definitively establish which printing the Georg III portrait comes from or how it came into England and Manwood’s possession. But we do know that Manwood owned at least one book printed in Germany: a copy of the Historia chronologica Pannoniae printed by the Protestant Theodor de Bry in Frankfürt-am-Main and purchased by Manwood in 1599. This book indicates there are more connections between Manwood and German literary culture to be discovered. Thanks to my Folger fellowship, I now have a long list of manuscripts and books at repositories in the United States and Britain to investigate. The hunt for Manwood (sometime Fanwood) continues, enabled by the serendipity, friendship, and generosity of academic fellowship.