Bodies Politic & Non-Codex Genealogy

We (Jane & I) examined Ms.Brown.Lat.1. This non-codex late 15th c. text is a royal genealogical rotulus (vertical scroll), tracing the kings of England from Elthelbert (c. 597) to Henry VI (c. 1472). See below for the UVic medieval manuscript inventory listing, which shows the almost total lack of detailed bibiliographic information available for this unique artifact.

The MS title betrays the most recent owner from whom UVic’s library acquired the roll:

Other than this, nothing else is known offhand about the conditions of production, commission, use/display, or provenance. Various titles are given to the document; the original is in Latin at the heading of the main column (see image detail 1 below), while there are 2 additional titles in English: one in handsome green Roman script on the lower reverse edge of the scroll (‘A Genealogical Account of the Kings of England from Elthelbert to Henry VI’), and the other in hasty, small graphite cursive on the upper reverse edge (‘Genealogy’), scrawled beside various prices (‘4 guineas’!, etc.) and other illegible signs and numbers.

DETAIL 1: Latin title (ran out of time for transcription & translation – sorry!)

So one of the main questions Jane & I had was:

1. Is there a way to determine more about patronage, use, or provenance from the document itself?

Two further questions, one more directly related to issues of provenance and patronage, also drove our explorations:

2. Why a non-codex medium? What are the benefits of the form in relation to the content, and other forms (like the codex)? For example, how was it used and displayed?

3. What aspects of this MS.Brown.Lat.1 would be of interest for digital scholars?

Given the shortage of time (and table space) and our lack of codicological (or roticological?) expertise, and the immense size and difficulty of handling the roll, these questions were not able to drive our examinations as directly as we would have liked. Thus we weren’t able to really develop an educated guess about patronage or provenance based on aspects of the document, except perhaps that, since it was the lower portions of the roll which suffered mildew damage (the portions most protected when rolled-up), it is possible that the roll was used on display, perhaps affixed to a wall. This conflicts, however, with the small size of the script, which would not be legible from any distance. So the mystery ensues. See image detail 8 for mildew damage (and Edward III).

We spent most of our time rolling and unrolling, moving from one portion to the next, merely trying to grasp the progression of the swirling lines and clustered nodes which occupied the main column of the roll. It should be noted that, in moving from Latin name to Latin name, Jane and I were very grateful for one of our crowd-sourced reference tools: the Wikipedia genealogy of the Kings of England! And while dealing with these factors was immensely enjoyable, both aesthetically and technologically, our experience certainly speaks to the advantages – at least in terms of usability – of the codex!

We did obtain high resolution photographs of the entire roll (approx. 60 images in total), some of which have been included below. In what follows, given that this is a unique object (and thus no need to compare various different library catalogues), we’ll try to indicate some of the more interesting aspects of the roll, describing its material particularities. Then we’ll include a bit of theorizing, attempting to clarify by complicating the relations between form and content, medium and message. Finally, some suggestions for why a non-codex form like this genealogical roll might be of interest to digital scholars, and prove a fruitful object for digital representation or modelling.

II. Description

Layout & Size: According to the scribbled hand on the reverse lower edge of the parchment, the genealogy is “21 feet in length.” According to our measurements, the document is 6.56 meters in length (21 feet, 6 7/8 inches), and 43.3 cm wide, broken up into 6 columns of varying widths which contain verbal or numerical or symbolic information of some sort, surrounded by 2 illuminated borders (2.65 cm in width), and all spaced with various measures. The information within, and width of, the columns, from left to right, are as follows (see detail 2, and descriptions following):

DETAIL 2: beginning of rotulus, starting with king Ethelbert (Aethelbertus).

Column 1: Years since the Nativity of Christ (AD calendar), 1.65cm; this column begins with the year 597, which marks the date of the arrival of Augustine, soon to be the first archbishop of Canterbury (d. 604), sent by Pope Gregory I (the Great, d. 604) to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons.

Column 2: names the Roman Pontiff at any given period, 3.85 cm

Column 3: names the kings (or, in one early 12th c. instance, queen) of England, listed in black (now brown) ink, with red initials, tracing their descending (oft non-linear) lineage, 20.1 cm

Column 4: names the Archbishop of Canterbury, starting with Augustine (c. 597), 3.85 cm

Column 5: Years that England had been Christian (so, for instance, the 597 that begins column 1 corresponds with year 1 in column 5), 0.8 cm

Column 6: the letters of Sundays (litterae Dominicales) upon which Easter falls each given year; in other words, the letters (A – FF) indicated which Sunday within a possible range (from mid-March through late April) the years that Easter fell on, with every 4th letter blue/grey and every 8th letter red, 0.7 cm. (see Materials section below for more on calendrical calculation)

Column 7: the 19-year Metonic cycle is repeated; incidentally, our modern calculation of the length of a year (as 365 & 1/4 & 1/76 days) comes from this cycle, which closes off at a whole number of days (6,940) every 19 years. (thanks again, Wikipedia!), 1.4 cm

Material: Parchment: several segments of parchment glued together, decreasing in quality (mildew, occasional tears), but with parchment repairs. Ink: red, green, black/brown (oak galls, or lamp black?). Other supplementary materials also may have been involved for the calculation of the calendar, perhaps even something like what Richard Cunningham’s work has discerned about the sophisticated device of the volvel in early modern Spanish navigation manuals, which needed more urgently (and accurately?) to calculate the calendar for the sake of tides.

Illuminations: Details: multiple colors: burgundy, scarlet, steel blue, green, gold, silver (?), dusty pink, all in a floral/paisley-like design, with fern or feather-like shapes curling within. There is some gold & silvery embellishment (gold leaf?), which seems added to what may be a repeated stamp pattern (suggesting a context of mass-production). As the scroll progresses, at a certain point the illuminations are noticeably less colorful, wider and more sparsely arranged, which doesn’t seem to derive yet from the mildew/water damage that comes later. Might the illuminator be getting tired? Or were certain hues no longer available? Or was a different illuminator brought in? If so, why?

Furthermore, and related to more general questions of context, the illuminations don’t seem of the highest quality, which would perhaps suggest a different readership than a royal patron, or at least usage in a royal court context; such issues of value and cost in production relates back to questions of use and display. Our general sense, given the legitimating function of royal dynastic lineage (see Kantorowicz) during the early Tudor era (Wars of the Roses), was that an aristocratic house commissioned the roll and that its earliest milieu of reception was largely restricted to a manor court, perhaps.

DETAIL 3: Edward I (c. 901)

Hand/Script:
From the scripts provided in the Clemens & Graham Introduction to Manuscript Studies, the closest likenesses were the Protogothic Bookhand (though this script predates the MS by 400 years) and the English Cursive Documentary Script (though this predates the MS by about 180 years). However, from the scripts provided in Brown’s Guide to Western Historical Scripts, given character similiarities, it looks most like a humanistic cursive book script. The entire roll is written in what looks to be one hand. This permits the speculation that this document was produced in a relatively short amount of time, which accords with the relatively low quality of the illuminations, discussed above.

It is also worth noting that the far left and far right hand columns, and illuminated borders descend farther past the point where the kings’ names can be read (see image detail 9). Henry VI is the last legible name, but perhaps Edward IV was also discernable, at some point? In any case, this feels like an unfinished document, which also accords with the relative haste that seems a condition of its production.

DETAIL 4: King Alfred (large paragraph), with separate lineage beginning that will culminate in William the Conqueror; the suggested link between Alfred’s Anglo-Saxon son and the Norman ancestor of William makes for interesting political speculations. The synchronic association of two separate lineages – even, in this case, regions – is achieved by a parallel circle-node, and running parallel lines.

III. Theoretical Analysis:

The span of 875 years – for it is the far left column which regularizes the scale by including every year, and provides the standard according to which the information in the other columns is arranged – makes for a large document-artifact, as mentioned above: about 21 and a half feet! Sadly unable to unfurl the roll entirely for a photo (I suppose we could have waited until the room emptied and then occupied an entire row of tables), Jane and I enjoyed moving through almost a millenium of political, ecclesiastical, and festal cross-sections.

In viewing MS.Brown.Lat.1, we were first struck by its illuminations, the organic form of its lines connecting English monarchs like roots with clusters of fruit, and the intriguing running catalogues of data along several side columns, all in Latin. Several first impressions and theoretical considerations of the artifact followed, from which the following articulations arise.

The rotulus can be thought of or experienced as:

-A spatialization of time

-A materialization of familial descent, traced by (red) blood-line

-A running cross section of spiritual and political powers, allowing for the selection of a given, horizontally-read synchronic year drawn from a vertical temporal extension.

DETAIL 5: aesthetic, organic, dynastic – fantastic! (green line comes from Matilda, Henry I’s daughter and first Queen of England, past Stephen, on down toward Henry II)

-Not merely a unilinear lineage, but a multi-linear foray through the tumbling branches of offspring, sometimes more thickly bedecked with fruit, sometimes more sparse and childless (echoing the variations in color and density along the illuminated borders)

DETAIL 6: Henry II (with green line coming down from Matilda)

-A data visualization or diagram involving contrasts between rectilinear and curvilinear lines

-The propagandistic representation of the generation and embodiment of political power – individually, political bodies; collectively, a body politic whose continuity through time constitutes the “immortality of the Crown” (again, see Kantorowicz) – with the details of expired bloodlines visible as sterile branches, significant or at times even “grafted” bloodlines emphasized with bolded green lines or parallel scarlet rhizomes, and the textual description of significant events or features of each individual ‘body politic’ briefly included.

-Names enclosed in circular shapes connected by stem-like threads of color.

DETAIL 7: Henry III (and sons)

DETAIL 8: mildew damage (and Edward III, c. 1327)

DETAIL 9: the end! the dates and illuminations continue beyond the political dynasty…

IV. Aspects of interest/importance for digital scholars?

The roll, non-codex form is obviously the primary similarity to digital media. But the overarching point here has to do with the nature of this scroll as a complex data visualization, an instance of the interweaving of image and text in order to emphasize the embodied, material substratum of political rule, that seems most important. One can envision a digital remediation of the roll, as a series of high-resolution images through which a user is still able to ‘scroll.’ And in such a digitized skeuomorph, computer-driven software could perform the calendrical calculation, for that matter!

In any case, this elaborate and cumbersome apparatus of propaganda derives its visual and categorical power from the colorful and spatialized representation of networks, names, nodes, rhizomes, mapping a process through time that continues to fascinate, puzzle, and delight. UVic is privileged to have such a document in its archives. But the question remains, and can, like the political lineages and clusters traced in MS.Brown.Lat.1, bear much fruit in future engagements with the genealogical rotulus: in what other ways can digital scholars and technologies draw from the usage, materiality, and formal modalities of premodern non-codex media?

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