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16 January 2007

Devon Book 25

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 12
A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
25: Medieval Devon scholars

Beside contributing to the development of the cathedral Library, a number of Devon clerics were scholars who made wide use of manuscript books, built up their own libraries and also committed their own works to writing.

Several of the Bishops of Exeter were leading lights and Exeter had a good reputation for learning in the centuries after Leofric with several noted teachers having associations with the city. Among them was Baldwin, said to have been a master of the school at Exeter, who was appointed tutor to Gratian, the nephew of pope Innocent II in 1150. He returned to Exeter to become archdeacon of Totnes in about 1161. Some eight years later he became a Cistercian monk at Ford Abbey on the borders of Devon and Dorset. By 1175 he had risen to be abbot at Ford and bishop of Worcester, later still becoming archbishop of Canterbury. Gerald of Wales described him as a gloomy and nervous man, learned and religious and under him Ford Abbey became renowned as a centre of literature.

While abbot at Ford Baldwin wrote a treatise De sacramento altaris which he dedicated to Bartholomew, bishop of Exeter from 1161 to 1184. Beside surrounding himself with learned men, Bartholomew was no mean scholar himself. Gerald of Wales includes him among the six most praiseworthy bishops of the age, linking him with Roger of Worcester as "twin candelabra which enlightened all Britain by their brilliance". Of Bartholomew's own works the most important was probably the Penitential which became extremely popular, with eighteen surviving copies, including manuscripts from the Abbey of St Edmund at Bury, St Denis at Southampton, Ramsey, St Mary Southwark, St Mark Bristol and Waltham. On the continent copies are associated with St Victor at Paris, Longpont and Clairvaux. A second work De libero arbitro, on free will was dedicated to Baldwin, then bishop of Worcester. Authorities cited by Bartholomew in this work include St Augustine, Boethius, St Anselm, St Ambrose, St Gregory, St Basil, St Isidore, St Jerome and Cicero. At the end of his life he wrote the Dialogus contra Judaeos, again dedicated to Baldwin quoting St Gregory, Bede, Augustine, Tertullian, Origen and Josephus. Bartholomew is also generally credited with the authorship of a book of one hundred sermons, written in a simple, direct style, for all the Sundays and festivals of the year, now Bodleian Library ms Bodley 449. It includes sermons for several Breton saints dear to the heart of Bartholomew: St Denis, St Wandrille and St Leodegarius. (Morey 1937, 100-113)

A love of learning was not confined to the bishops in Exeter. There is an extensive series of documents forming the accounts the executors of the estate of Andrew Kilkenny, Dean of Exeter who died in 1302. Kilkenny was a member of a notable and widespread eccelesiastical family. He had previously worked in the Diocese of Rochester and later for the Court of Arches in London before being appointed Dean of Exeter in 1284. At his death he was a wealthy man, his total estate being approsed at £916 18s 0¾d. Of this some £66 11s. was accounted for by the 63 volumes in his library (compared to £211 13 2½d in money and silver vessels), which was very much the collection of a senior diocesan administrator, with a preponderance of books of canon law and civil law, together with comentaries. Theology was also well represented and also liturgical books and sermons. Wider interests are indicated by some historical works. Some items are wholly or partly in the Dean's own hand, probably collections of legal documents. Kilkenny's estate shows a comfortable lifestyle, with much provision for hospitality. This must have extended to the patronage of scholars, who are known to have included four members of his family (Lepine 2003, 134). Walter de Stapledon (1261-1326), Bishop of Exeter from 1308, was an enthusiastic promoter of education, establishing Ashburton Grammar School in 1314 and Exeter College at the University of Oxford in the same year. He was a Devonian, born in Annery in the parish of Monkleigh. He made the mistake of supporting Edward II when his queen Isabella invaded England with Roger Mortimer in September 1326. On 15 October he was murdered in Cheapside, London, by a mob of London insurgents. A roll containing details of his estate, including his library was preserved by the Cathedral. Before becoming Bishop of Exeter he had been Professor of Canon Law at the University of Oxford. It is therefore not surprising that in the considerable library of 90 titles legal works figure large. At least 24 titles were texts of the various books of Decretals or commentaries on them up to the sixth book, associated with Pope Boniface VIII in 1298. There is no mention of the seventh book, issued with the authority of Pope Clement IV in 1314. There were more than 40 law books in all, about half the library. He also owned three Bibles, one concordance, two gospel books and three Psalters. There were books of sentences, sermons and commentaries on the sacred texts as well as service books: a new gradual, a small unbound processional and a portiforium previously belonging to the rector of Stoke. There were various works by Gregory: his Dialogues and his Pastorale. Walter's wider interests are reflected by a copy of the "Chronica Martini de Summis Pontificibus et Imperatoribus", presumably the chronicles of Martinus Polonus and above all by the encyclopaedic collections of medieval knowledge compiled by Vincent de Beauvais (c1190-c1264) the Speculum naturale in two volumes and the Speculum historiale in three volumes. The values of the books vary between 1/- and ten marks (£6/13/4), the average being £2/1/8. By way of comparison this sum was the equivalent of six oxen, eight heifers or a flock of 42 sheep. An elaborate chasuble embroidered with the arms on England and France was valued at eight marks, the same as a good copy of the Decretals or a legal codex. The library was very much a working collection and beside the tried and tested works of the church fathers and other earlier writers such as Bernard de Clairvaux (1090-1153) there are works by Walter's contemporaries, such as copy of the Psalter glossed by Nicholas Trivet (1258-1328) and the glosses on the sixth book of the Decretals by Johannes Andreas who died in 1348 (Oliver 1861, 438-442).

All this reading must have taken its toll on the good Bishop's eyesight as also in the inventory is "unum spectaculum cum duplici oculo", valued at two shillings, a piece of new technology resulting from the optical experiments of Roger Bacon (1214-92).

Stapledon's successor was the great John de Grandisson who governed the diocese for 42 years to 1369. He was the founder of the school at Ottery St Mary in 1338 and is known to have owned or read and annotated more than two dozen surviving manuscripts. He was born in Asperton, Hereford in 1292 and studied at Paris where he learned Hebrew. Several works connected with his Hebrew studies survive, including a Hebrew French vocabulary with Latin glosses, now in the Bodleian Library. He was a compulsive annotator of books, devising a characteristic series of annotations - pointing hands and a range of symbols to indicate varying levels of interest. He added comments, pointing out bad grammar in a manuscript of Gregory of Tours and noting that he had corrected a copy of the Confessions of St Augustine on the authority of Hugo de St Victor when he was in Paris in 1314. He usefully annotated a manuscript of the letters of Anselm with the names of the recipients. He was not even able to restrain this compulsion to annotate with books he borrowed, for example a long-term loan from the Abbot of Malmesbury from whom Grandisson borrowed William of Malmesbury's Gesta pontificorum (Trinity College Library Ms. 727) on 1 July 1332, annotating it and returning it to the Prior of Pilton on 1 May 1333. Other loans were more constructively used. He borrowed Offa's Bible, a particular treasure at Worcester as it had been copied from a manuscript written by Jerome himself. This authoritative exemplar was used by Grandisson to correct the service books in the Cathedral. He also borrowed a Pontifical from the Archdeacon of Salisbury in 1329 to prepare another for the use of his successors in Exeter. This task seems to have been unfinished at his death and the original manuscripts passed to Robert Braybrooke, one of his executors. He also prepared an Ordinale for the cathedral and presented a two-volume Legenda. In Bodleian Library Ms. Bodley 132, a copy of the works of St Augustine and St Ambrose written by William de Wodechurch of Robertsbridge we find a curse on any who should abstract, sell or in any way alienate it from the foundation, or cut out any part of it. Grandisson seems to have sought to avert the curse by inscribing the volume when it came into his hands: "I, John bishop of Exeter, do not know where the aforesaid house is, nor have I stolen this book, but I have acquired it in a legitimate manner". Certainly Grandisson did purchase manuscripts. In a letter dated 1329 in the bishop's register he thanked Richard de Ratford for a copy of St Augustine's sermons, enquiring after the price and adding that he would like to have information on more theological books, old and rare, ancient sermons etc, to be sent to him with their prices. He sent sixty shillings on account though John de Sovenaish, master of the scholars of the city of Exeter, who had been invited down from Oxford by Grandisson when he reestablished the school.

During his life Grandisson amassed a considerable library and bequeathed 25 volumes to the cathedral, apart from perhaps double that number given during his lifetime. There were alo bequests to Crediton, Ottery and to ten named individuals, including the Pope. His best Psalter he bequeathed to Isabella, the king's daughter. It is now British Library Additional Ms. 21,926.

He was also the author of several works, perhaps the best known being his Life and miracles of St Thomas à Becket. A copy of this he sent to the Pope when asking him to confirm his foundation of the College at Ottery St Mary and another was sent to the Prior of Christ Church, Canterbury in 1357 with a request that he correct it as "ignorance and negligence have made the history full of faults". Later copies of this work are in the Bodleian Library and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. (Rose-Troup 1929, 11-18)

A letter written on 14 March 1346 from his palace in Chudleigh to the sixteen-year old Black Prince prior to an intended visit to Exeter shows the studious and devout atmosphere with which Grandisson sought to surround himself " ... there is no other bishop in England and France so bad on horseback as I am ... I do not greatly love to have horses, or grooms, or dogs, or falcons, but, sire, of chaplains, clerks and books have I sufficient for my estate." (Rose-Troup 1929, 21)

This love of books should be seen as just one aspect of a cultured individual who was part of an international network linking an intellectual elite. The 1506 list of Cathedral goods which lists more than one hundred gifts by Grandisson shows the expense that was lavished on vestments, relics and ornament in the Cathedral. For example Grandisson, after purchasing the mitre of his predecessor Bishop Walter de Stapledon from his executors for 200 marks sent it for repair and improvement to Paris at an expense of a further 120 marks (Rose-Troup, 19-20). Just as stone could be carried across the Channel to build the fabric of the Cathedral, so too could English clerics cross the Channel to study in Paris, causing books and ideas to transcend national and linguistic boundaries. These examples at a local level help to demonstrate why the culture of this period has been designated the International Gothic.

This page last updated 24 Jul 2003
© Ian Maxted, 2001.