Alcuin: Achievement and

Reputation: Being Part of
the Ford Lectures
Delivered in Oxford in
Hilary Term 1980
Donald A. Bullough
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Jürgen Miethke (Heidelberg)
William J. Courtenay (Madison)
Jeremy Catto (Oxford)
Jacques Verger (Paris)
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Achievement and Reputation
Being Part of the Ford Lectures Delivered in
Oxford in Hilary Term 1980

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This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bullough, Donald A.
Alcuin : achievement and reputation : being part of the Ford lectures delivered in Oxford
in Hilary Term 1980 / by Donald A. Bullough.
p. cm. — (Education and society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ISSN 0926-6070
; v. 16)
Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.
ISBN 90-04-12865-4
1. Alcuin, 735-804. 2. Poets, Latin (Medieval and modern)—Great Britain—Biography.
3. Catholic Church—England—Clergy—Biography. 4. Northumbria (Kingdom)—Intellectual
life. 5. Educators—Great Britain—Biography. 6. Education. Medieval. I. Title. II. Series.
PA8245.B85 2003
The Trustees of the estate of the late Professor D.A. Bullough assert the
Author’s right to be identified as the Author of this work in accordance with
the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
ISSN 0926-6070
ISBN 90 04 12865 4
© Copyright 2004 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in
a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written
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ISSN 0926-6070
1. M.M. Hildebrandt. The External School in Carolingian Society. 1992.
ISBN 90 04 09449 0
2. B. Lawn. The Rise and Decline of the Scholastic ‘Quæstio Disputata’. With
Special Emphasis on its Use in the Teachings of Medicine and Science.
1993. ISBN 90 04 09740 6
3. A. Maierù. University Training in Medieval Europe. Translated and Edited by
D.N. Pryds. 1994. ISBN 90 04 09823 2
4. T. Sullivan, o.s.b. Benedictine Monks at the University of Paris., A.D. 1229-
1500. 1995. ISBN 90 04 10099 7
5. C. Fuchs. Dives, Pauper, Nobilis, Magister, Frater, Clericus. Sozialge-
schichtliche Untersuchungen über Heidelberger Universitätsbesucher
des Spätmittelalters (1386-1450). 1995. ISBN 90 04 10147 0
6. M.J.F.M. Hoenen, J.H.J. Schneider & G. Wieland (eds.). Philosophy and
Learning. Universities in the Middle Ages. 1995. ISBN 90 04 10212 4
7. J. Verger. Les universités françaises au Moyen Age. 1995.
ISBN 90 04 10312 0
8. J. Davies. Florence and its University during the Early Renaissance. 1998. ISBN
90 04 11003 8
9. C. O’Boyle. The Art of Medicine. Medical Teaching at the University of
Paris, 1250-1400. 1998. ISBN 90 04 11124 7
10. W. J. Courtenay & J. Miethke (eds.). Universities and Schooling in Medieval
Society. With the Assistance of D.B. Priest. 2000. ISBN 90 04 11351 7
11. B. Roest. A History of Franciscan Education (c. 1210-1517). 2000.
ISBN 90 04 11739 3
12. N.G. Siraisi. Medicine and the Italian Universities, 1250-1600. 2001.
ISBN 90 04 11942 6
13. D.A. Lines. Aristotle’s Ethics in the Italian Renaissance (ca. 1300-1650).
The Universities and the Problem of Moral Education. 2002. ISBN
90 04 12085 8
14. W.J. Courtenay. Rotuli Parisienses. Supplications to the Pope from the
University of Paris. Volume I: 1316-1349. 2002. ISBN 90 04 12563 9
15. W.J. Courtenay. Rotuli Parisienses. Supplications to the Pope from the
University of Paris. Volume II: 1352-1378. 2004. ISBN 90 04 13189 2
16. D.A. Bullough. Alcuin. Achievement and Reputation. 2004.
ISBN 90 04 12865 4
17. R. Gramsch. Erfurter Juristen im Spätmittelalter. Die Karrieremuster und
Tätigkeitsfelder einer gelehrten Elite des 14. und 15. Jahrhunderts.
2003. ISBN 90 04 13178 7
18. T. Sullivan. Parisian Licentiates in Theology, A.D. 1373–1500. A Biographical
Register. Vol. I. The Religious Orders. 2004. ISBN 90 04 13586 3
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To Alice, without whom there would have
been no completion.
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chapter two
Donald A. Bullough (1928–2002)
Publisher’s Note .......................................................................... xi
Donald Bullough Memoir .......................................................... xiii
by Giles Contable
Preface ........................................................................................ xvii
Chronology .................................................................................. xxiii
List of Abbreviations .................................................................. xxv
In Defence of the Biographical Approach. The Sources ...... 3
Theme and Variations .......................................................... 3
The Modern Reputation and the Contemporary Period .... 12
Posthumous Reputation ........................................................ 17
Alcuin Revealed? .................................................................... 24
The Evidence of the Letters ................................................ 35
Transmission of the Letters: the Beginnings ........................ 43
Salzburg Copies of the Letters ............................................ 51
The ‘Basic Tours Collection’ of the Letters ........................ 57
Omissions from the ‘Basic Tours Collection’ ...................... 66
Manuscripts of the T Collection in England ...................... 68
An Anomalous Collection ...................................................... 71
A ‘Personal’ Collection of Letters? ...................................... 75
The English Collections of the Letters ................................ 81
The Development of the Letter-Collections: the Evidence
summarised ........................................................................ 101
Author, Notaries and Copyists .............................................. 103
Amicitia, and Sexual Orientation .......................................... 110
The Possibility and Limitations of ‘Biography’ .................... 117
Additional Note I .................................................................. 120
Additional Note II .................................................................. 122
Additional Note III ................................................................ 123
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viii 
Chapter One Northumbrian Alcuin: Patria, Pueritia and
Adoliscentia ................................................................................ 127
The Eight-Century Regnum northanhumbrorum ........................ 129
Northumbrian Society ............................................................ 135
Patres familias ............................................................................ 146
York, a City Emerging .......................................................... 153
York and a Wider North ...................................................... 160
The York Infans ...................................................................... 164
York Cathedral Community .................................................. 165
The Liturgy as Schooling ...................................................... 176
“De laude Dei” and the York Liturgy .................................... 193
Hymns .................................................................................... 200
Mass-books .............................................................................. 204
New Liturgical Commemorations ........................................ 215
Calendar and Computers ...................................................... 217
Grammatica: The Practice of Writing and Reading .............. 220
Biblical Study .......................................................................... 224
Vita quidem qualis fuit magistri?: Bede and Egbert .................. 227
Master and School ................................................................ 236
A New Regime and a Wider World .................................. 238
From York to Rome .............................................................. 242
York Consecrations, 767 ........................................................ 247
Chapter Two Northumbrian Alcuin: Discit ut doceat ............ 252
York books? ............................................................................ 255
Veterum vestigìa patrum .............................................................. 260
From the Other Island? ........................................................ 274
Christian and Pre-Christian Poets ........................................ 277
Grammarians and pre-Christian Prose Writers .................. 282
Mastering Computus .............................................................. 287
The Beginnings of Letter-Writing ........................................ 293
Alcuin and the Vernacular .................................................... 301
Teacher and Perpetual Deacon ............................................ 304
‘Without the City Walls’ ........................................................ 309
A ‘Public’ Figure? .................................................................. 314
The Cathedral Community .................................................. 326
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Chapter Three Between Two Courts .................................... 331
To Rome for the Pallium .................................................... 333
The Move to Francia ............................................................ 336
786: the Synodal Decrees ...................................................... 346
At the Frankish Court: Beginnings ...................................... 356
Renovatio, Imitatio, Correctio ...................................................... 371
‘The English Connection’ ...................................................... 391
Northumbria: Promise Unfulfilled ........................................ 395
Royal Counsellor .................................................................... 401
Return to Francia. The Sack of Lindisfarne ...................... 410
The Adviser at Frankfurt. Defender of Orthodoxy ............ 419
Chapter Four Unsettled at Aachen ........................................ 432
A Court Remembered in Verse .......................................... 437
England .................................................................................. 442
Court and Popes .................................................................... 445
At the Aachen Court. Last months ...................................... 461
Bibliography ................................................................................ 471
Index of Manuscripts Cited .................................................. 495
Index on Alcuin .................................................................... 501
Index of Alcuin’s Writings .................................................... 508
Index of Biblical Citations .................................................... 517
General Index ........................................................................ 519
 ix
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Donald Bullough had originally intended this work to comprise two
volumes: he had to give up plans to publish the said volumes. Nor
was he given the time to put the finishing touches to the manuscript
of this book, to fill the smaller gaps, to check bibliographical references
or to finalise matters still left open, all things which authors like to
leave for the final phases of a book’s publication. Others could never
completely take over role of the author in this final polishing. For this
reason a complete check of all references in the notes had to be
omitted as did a truly thorough final review. Daniel Baumann, Gerald
Schwedler in Heidelberg and Irene van Rossum in Leiden have con-
tributed some corroborations, the first two of the above-mentioned
have produced a list of the literature cited by Bullough, the publisher
has furthermore arranged for a careful final check. Only because of
the time available was it impossible to do more. The book can how-
ever speak for itself in the shape in which its author intended it. Thanks
to the efforts mentioned it can be presented in a form, that corresponds
even if not completely then certainly almost completely to that which
only the author could have given when he decided to give it his
imprimatur. The reader should put matters that could not be com-
pletely resolved or are left unresolved down to the limitations of the
expertise of others and pay due tribute to what Donald Bullough
has left out.
The publisher further wishes to thank the following for their kind
help in readying this volume for publication: Professor Giles Constable
for his long note on the author; Dr Alice Harting-Correa and Mrs
Nora Bartlett for proofreading the text; Dr Alicia Correa who cre-
ated and compiled the five indices, and who, in the last stages,
received invaluable help from Professor David Ganz, Professor Simon
Keynes and Dr Mary Garrison; Dr Julia Smith who helped in a
critical period; Professor Jürgen Miethke, who arranged for the check-
ing of the bibliography. And finally he would like to thank the
University of St Andrews for its financial assistance in the prepara-
tion of this volume.
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Donald Bullough’s scholarly interests concentrated on the three areas
of early medieval Italy, Anglo-Saxon England, and Carolingian France.
His published work moved, with many overlaps, from one area to
the next. Between 1955 and 1971 he wrote a series of articles on Italy;
his work on Anglo-Saxon England dates from 1965 and continued
through his life; and in the same year he published The Age of Char-
lemagne, which marked his move into Carolingian studies and showed
his ability to combine specialized research with work addressed to a
wider public. His seven more general articles on the terminology of
kinship (1969), drama and ritual as propaganda (1974), early medieval
towns (1974), imagines regum (1975), burial practices (1983), community
relationships (entitled ‘Friends, Neighbours and Fellows Drinkers’,
1991), and the Kaiseridee (1999), show that he was fully at home in
historical sociology and anthropology, archaeology, political theory,
and iconography as well as the more familiar fields of political, eco-
nomic, institutional, and intellectual history.
Throughout his work, from at least 1965 on, Alcuin held the pride
of place, combining as he did the threads of Carolingian, Anglo-
Saxon, and (to a lesser extent) Italian interests. There are almost
twice as many references to Alcuin as to any other subject, includ-
ing Charlemagne, in the index to the volume of Bullough’s collected
studies entitled Carolingian Renewal: Sources and Heritage, which appeared
in 1991. He published eight articles, and several occasional pieces,
on Alcuin, beginning in 1973 with ‘Alcuino e la tradizione culturale
insulare’, which was presented as a lecture at the Settimana di studio
in Spoleto devoted to the West in the eighth century. This was fol-
lowed by articles on Alcuin’s ‘York Poem’ (1981), ‘Alcuin and the
Kingdom of Heaven’ (1983), which was originally presented as the
Andrew Mellon Lecture at the Catholic University of America, ‘Alcuin
of York and the Shaping of the Carolingian Court’ (1984), an article
on Alcuin’s letter 172 (1995), ‘Alcuin before Frankfort’ (1997) in the
catalogue of the exhibition celebrating the 794 council of Frankfort,
‘Alcuin’s Cultural Influence’ (1998), which might have been better
titled, Bullough said, ‘Alcuin in the Manuscripts’, and ‘Alcuin and
Lay Virtue’ (2002). Along the way he wrote the entries on Alcuin
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xiv rox.rr ntrroton vrvoin
in the third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and
in the forthcoming New Dictionary of National Biography and brief arti-
cles on Alcuin’s letters 174, 178, and 179 in the catalogue of the
exhibition of Carolingian art and culture at Paderborn (1999). Together
these articles form the background of the present work.
There are many references to Alcuin in Bullough’s letters to me
(and doubtless to others) during this period. He wrote in 1973 that
‘with Bischoff ’s encouragement’ he was ‘working on “the writings of
Alcuin: chronology and manuscripts”’ and in 1977 that he hoped
to complete in 1980 a Clavis Alcuinae on which he thought he had
made ‘a good start in 1972–3’. In 1982 he wrote that ‘I am again
falling behind in getting Alcuin and Alcuin MSS. into print. But I do
now see the end,’ and in 1985 (after a period of bad health and six
months as acting director of the British School in Rome) that ‘I got
much less academic work done than I had hoped—the expectation
had been that the Alcuin handlist would at least have been set up
“in print” before I left.’ Before this, in 1979–80, he had delivered
the Ford Lectures at Oxford on ‘Alcuin: Achievement and Reputation’,
and in 1988 he wrote that
the [Oxford University] Press does know that it is getting a volume
considerably larger and much more substantially footnoted (texts and
mss. essentially) than some other Ford Lectures . . . Whether they will
be very happy with the highly technical discussion of the transmission
of the letter-collection in Ch. 1 I am not so sure.
In 1991 he wrote that ‘the revised text of Alcuin still isn’t complete,
although I persuade myself that there is less than six months work
to do’. Three years later, in 1994, he wrote in a fellowship appli-
cation that ‘Having completed the revision for publication of my
Oxford Ford Lectures Alcuin: Achievement and Reputation, I am now
returning to other aspects of the eighth and ninth centuries on which
I did preliminary work in the 1970s.’ The following year, however,
in his report on work done during the fellowship, he wrote:
Two developments in the summer of 1994 forced a change of plan:
firstly, I unexpectedly identified significant new material in German
libraries which could hardly not be incorporated in a supposedly
‘definitive’ monograph; secondly, the work had expanded so much over
the years that the Oxford University Press editor with whom I had
been corresponding raised the possibility of a division into two vol-
umes and the separate publication of some digressive sections.
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rox.rr ntrroton vrvoin xv
This information may appear in the author’s preface to the present
volume (which I have not seen), but his letters shed light not only
on the development and progress of Bullough’s work but also on his
methods of research and writing. He paid a price, both personally
and professionally, for his perfectionism, as did those who were
deprived of his unpublished work. A case in point—one perhaps of
many—is a review he wrote in 1969 for Speculum (of which I was at
that time one of the book-review editors) of Tabacco’s I liberi del re.
It is an excellent piece of work but could not, since it ran to over
twenty-two pages, be published as a review, as Bullough was fully
aware. Indeed, he wrote somewhat drily in an accompanying letter
that he had looked in recent issues of Speculum ‘with a kind of hope-
ful despair’, but without success, for ‘any review even remotely
approaching this length’. It could have been published as an inde-
pendent article, with a new title and notes, which Bullough was
ready to provide, but it sank from sight after 1969, though it still
appears among work ‘in progress’ in a bibliography dated November
3, 1971, under the title ‘ “Status, wealth and royal power in Carolingian
and post-Carolingian Italy” (to be published in Speculum)’. It may be
among his papers, along with other work that did not come up to
his own exacting scholarly standards.
We can therefore rejoice that, after its long gestation, Alcuin:
Achievement and Reputation is now coming out as the author intended
it. Even though he did not live to see the finished book, he had the
satisfaction of seeing the title-page and of knowing that after so much
work and so many ups and downs it would finally appear. Like the
Alcuin described in the poem by Siegfried Sassoon read at Bullough’s
funeral, Bullough ‘from temporalities at rest, sought grace within
him, given from afar’, and he found it in his scholarship as well as
in his faith. This work is the fruit of a lifetime of dedication and
the crowning achievement of one of the most learned and percep-
tive medievalists of his time.
Giles Constable
Institute for Advanced Study
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This is a work I never intended to write and, having begun, fre-
quently doubted whether I would ever bring to a conclusion; and
indeed this is only the first volume of two, although it constitutes
rather more than half of the whole work. Having completed my
semi-popular The Age of Charlemagne in 1965, it was my intention to
return to the history of the pre-Gregorian church in the Italian penin-
sula, and more specifically its cathedral churches and their clergy.
But finding myself teaching Carolingian history—for the first time!—
as newly-appointed Professor of Medieval History in the University
of Nottingham, I was repeatedly asked by an exceptionally bright
and articulate group of students, untouched by the new ways of
‘writing history’, whether the contributions of particular individuals
to the familiar achievements of Court and kingdom in the period
750–820 could not be more precisely defined and more exactly dated
within those seven decades.
Alcuin’s letters, edited by Ernst Dümmler for the Monumenta Germaniae
Historica in the last decade of the nineteenth century and of course
regularly cited in every twentieth-century work on Charlemagne and
his court but (I suspected) highly selectively, were the inevitable start-
ing-point: because in scale alone they outweigh any other sources
for the history of the Court and not merely for Alcuin’s own par-
ticular contribution. A first reading was not very encouraging; as all
commentators have observed, only a small minority of them include
unambiguous chronological indications, duly reflected in the editor’s
very broad datings of many of them, or direct references to his other
writings, which fill hundreds of columns in two volumes of Migne’s
Patrologia Latina. At the same time I felt increasingly that they belonged
to a considerably shorter period than those editorial dates allowed
for—with consequences for their use by historians—and that a re-
examination of their manuscript tradition, which was still pretty much
where Dümmler had left it, might help to clarify this. A letter from
Bernhard Bischoff supplementing his published account of Munich
clm. 6407 and the publication of the facsimile of the manuscript
Vienna Nationalbibliothek 795 (1969), to which Richard Hunt drew
my attention on a visit to the Bodleian Library, prompted me to
bullough prelims new 8/27/03 9:17 AM Page xvii
consider whether the surviving manuscripts of Alcuin’s works other
than his letters might not also have much to tell us.
An invitation to address the 1972 Spoleto Settimana di Studio on
some aspects of Alcuin resulted in a first attempt (in fact, as I quickly
recognised, premature) to establish the specifically Northumbrian ele-
ments in his documentable learning and spirituality when he moved
to Francia. A subsequent invitation from Prof. Josef Fleckenstein to
spend a forthcoming ‘Sabbatical’ at the Max-Planck-Institut für
Geschichte, Göttingen and a generous grant from the British Academy
under the rubric of ‘exchange visits with European institutions’ enabled
me to start listing the Alcuin manuscripts in a number of German
and Austrian libraries in the autumn/winter of 1972/3.
The catalyst of the present work was, however, the totally-un-
expected election as ‘Ford’s Lecturer in the University of Oxford’ for
1979/80, which requires the Lecturer to give six lectures on some
topic of English history. Correspondence with my old mentor Michael
Wallace-Hadrill (then Chichele Professor) confirmed that it was indeed
expected that I would lecture on Alcuin, with the emphasis on his
‘English’ aspects rather than his years at the Frankish Court and at
St. Martin’s, Tours. In accepting the challenge to do so, when almost
all the direct evidence for his life and ideas belongs to the Continental
years, I was very conscious of a degree of perversity and reckless-
ness! But even more reckless, in the light of the (supposed) absence
of personal details in the letters and the rejection of ‘biography’ as
a legitimate form of inquiry by critics as diverse as R.G. Collingwood,
J. Derrida and (later and in a rather different way) Caroline Heilbrunn,
was to approach the corpus of Alcuin’s writings—and not merely
one part of them—in the form of an ‘intellectual biography’: other
approaches seemed destined to end up as one more general treat-
ment of the achievement of the early Carolingian court and ‘the ori-
gins of Empire’ (a livelier issue in the 1960s and 70s than three
decades later) or as an attempt to re-interpret those writings in terms
of modern literary or sociological theory, for which I knew I had
only a limited sympathy and no talent.
The six lectures given in Hilary Term 1980 were deliberately a
preliminary offering, with the required Anglocentrism. At that stage,
I expected to complete a fuller and revised version, with due regard
to Alcuin’s Continental years, in four or five years. Heavy teaching
and, later, even heavier administrative loads plus what one critic of
an interim publication called ‘a refusal to take anything for granted’
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and what others legitimately label ‘an obsessive perfectionism’, steadily
pushed the likely completion-date further and further away. At times
I wondered whether I would have done better to produce an his-
torical and linguistic commentary on the individual letters; but to
have done so would, among other objections, have committed me
to retaining the sequence, or at least substantial parts of the sequence,
in Dümmler’s edition which is probably its most debatable aspect.
A complicating factor was an increasing uncertainty about aspects
of Latinity, to which many students of Carolingian topics had, it
seemed to me, adopted a simplistic approach, although there were
clear signs of change in this regard in the late-1980s and early-1990s.
My own contributions in this volume are little more than lexical;
and a serious study is still a major desideratum. Finally, I felt grow-
ing unease about the near-universal assumption that the letters in
which Alcuin conveys his view of himself in his later years and the
claims he makes as an admonisher and adviser are equally valid evi-
dence for the views and responses of his addressees—monarchs, bish-
ops and others—and the overlapping circles of those on whom their
exercise of public authority is ultimately dependent: a scepticism
which I have expressed most categorically in the York ‘Quodlibet
Lecture’ ( June 2001) titled ‘Why do we have Alcuin’s letters, anyway?’
The infrequency of references to secondary literature, particularly
in areas of disagreement, is conscious and deliberate, and the absence
of any reference to a particular article does not mean that I am
unaware of it—although of course it may mean that! I have (I hope)
duly acknowledged the work of others, particularly in the younger
generation—until quite recently, an almost universal courtesy—who
have persuaded me to adopt a particular interpretation or line of
thought. The extensive references to and quotations from contem-
porary and Patristic texts are intended to show why I take the view
that I do of what Alcuin says, and provide ample material for those
who favour or have argued for alternative interpretations. To those
colleagues and students who have openly regretted that I did not
produce a more succinct, less documented, version of the original
lectures I can at least now reply that the New DNB will include an
account of Alcuin’s life and achievement in five thousand words (with
no footnotes!).
Obviously in this prolonged period of gestation I have incurred
debts to several institutions and innumerable colleagues. In addition
to my own University, St. Andrews, its research funds and library—
bullough prelims new 8/27/03 9:17 AM Page xix
whose staff remained courteous and helpful even when I most exas-
perated them with my demands—they are the Monumenta Germaniae
Historica (Munich) under its successive Presidents, Prof. Dr. H. Fuhr-
mann and R. Schieffer, which provides a congenial atmosphere for
taking up the work again in 1989 (with financial support from the
DAAD) and 1992–93; and the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study,
which on the recommendation of Giles Constable at a crucial stage
accepted me as a Visitor for a full year, 1994–5. The list of manu-
scripts used in the preparation of this work is an indication of how
much I owe to the help and courtesy of innumerable Librarians and
Keepers of manuscript collections: at the risk of being invidious, I
would like to express particular thanks to Janet Backhouse, †Leonard
Boyle, Michelle Brown, Johannes Duft, †Richard Hunt, Eva Irblich
and Martin Kauffmann, and to Gunther Glauche and his regrettably-
nameless colleagues in the Manuscripts section of the Munich Bayerische
I have acknowledged elsewhere my indebtedness to Michael Wallace-
Hadrill; and I would like to link with his name that of the late Sir
Richard Southern who inspired and encouraged me over many years,
both as Chichele Professor and as President of St. John’s College,
Oxford. Likewise among those of an older generation who have not
already been named, Paul Meyvaert and Ann Freeman have for
decades been fruitful sources of ideas and knowledge, as well as gen-
erous with hospitality on visits to North America; and Francis Newton
has been particularly helpful with cruces in Alcuin’s Latinity. Perhaps
more than most, I have benefitted in countless ways from the advice,
criticism and help of various sorts of scholars in a younger generation:
notably, David Ganz, Patrick Wormald, Peter Godman, Gabriel Silagi,
†Timothy Reuter, Michael Herren, Tom Noble, Julia Smith, Alicia
Correa (Starkey), Katy Cubitt, Mary Garrison and Susan Rankin.
Two other names must be singled out: one who figures in innu-
merable footnotes and one who is (I think) never mentioned at all.
The latter is Arnaldo Momigliano: between the late 1950s and his
death in 1987, we met frequently in all three of the countries in
which he held academic positions, and I never failed to come away
from conversations with him both challenged and better-informed.
The former is, of course, the late Bernhard Bischoff. From the time
of our first meeting, in Edinburgh in 1958 when he encouraged me
to send any queries I might have about the dating and localization
of Carolingian-period manuscripts, to a few weeks before his fatal
bullough prelims new 8/27/03 9:17 AM Page xx xxi
accident, latterly in the fabled study at ‘Ruffini-Allee, 27’, he was
unfailingly generous in the sharing of his unique knowledge of script-
regions, scriptoria and scribal hands and their dating within the ninth
century; without that guidance, much of what I say about the early
copying and dissemination of Alcuin’s writings, or indeed apparent
ignorance of them, would be shakily based indeed. I only wish that
I could have repaid my debts to them earlier.
My greatest personal debt is reflected in the Dedication.
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Born ca. 740.
Infans at York cathedral ca. 745.
?Lector mid-750s.
Visit to Italy (Rome; Pavia) and Francia (Murbach) early 760s.
Deacon ?mid-760s.
Assistant to Ælberht magister early 760s; magister ?767–early 780s.
?Putting together a collection of computistic material.
Calculatio Albini magistri with concluding hexameter verses 776.
Compiling of the material for De laude Dei ?a. 786.
First visit to Charlemagne’s court late 770s (?779).
Letter-poem Cartula, perge 779–80.
Associated with Eanbald in the building of the church of Alma (al.
agia) Sophia, consecrated 30 October 780.
Journey to Rome to obtain the pallium for (arch)bishop Eanbald
780–81. Encounter with Charlemagne at Parma ?March 781.
Earliest extant letters ?783–4.
Participation in the Papal legatine councils at ?Corbridge, Northumbria
and in the kingdom of Mercia 786.
Departure from England for the Frankish Court summer/autumn 786.
At the itinerant Court 786–early 790.
First royal grants of ‘monasteries’.
Making available (?re-organizing) a computistic-astronomical collection.
?First version of Quaestiones in Genesim
?Ep. no. 131 on confession, to St. Martin’s, Tours.
Major contributor to capitulary of March 789; ‘composer’ of royal
letter De litteris colendis.
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xxiv cnnoxoroov
Return to Northumbria (York).
Beginning of ‘registration’ of outgoing correspondence.
(Ineffective) involvement in Northumbrian ‘politics’.
Advice solicited by King Offa and King Charles.
?Collecting testimonia relevant to ‘Adoptionism’.
?First version of De orthographia
Return to Francia early summer 793.
Carm. ix and letters on sack of Lindisfarne post-21 793/94.
Rejoins Frankish Court (when?).
At Frankfurt summer 794. Responsible for letters in names of Frankish
bishops and of king.
At Aachen palatium ?autumn 794 to summer 796.
Teacher both orally and through the written versions of his ‘peda-
gogy’; wrote occasional letters in king’s name; earliest letters on
conversion of Avars.
Departed for St. Martin’s, Tours (apparently reluctantly) summer 796.
Abbot of St. Martin’s 796–804.
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AA.SS Acta Sanctorum
ACO Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum
ACOE Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum: Concilium Universale
AfD Archiv für Diplomatik
AfLw Archiv für Liturgiewissenschaft
AFU Archiv für Urkundenforschung
AnBoll Analecta Bollandiana
ARF Annales regni Francorum inde ab a. 741. usque ad a. 829.,
qui dicuntur Annales Laurissenses maiores et Einhardi, ed.
F. Kurze (MGH SSRG in us. schol. 6, 1895, repr. 1950)
ASC An Anglo-Saxon chronicle from British Museum, ed. E. Classen
and F.E. Harmer (Manchester, 1926)
ASE Anglo-Saxon England
BAR British Archaeological Reports
BCS W.G. Burch Chartularium Saxonicum
BHL Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina
J.F. Böhmer and E. Mühlbucher. Regesta Imperii 1 Die Regesten
des Kaiserreichs unter den Karolingen 751–918 2nd ed.
(Insbruck, 1899)
BS British Series
BÉHÉHisp. Bibliotheque de l’École des Hautes Études Hispaniques
Bibliothekskataloge Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskataloge Deutschlands und der
Schweiz, vol. 1ss. (München 1918ss.)
CCCM Corpus Christianorum. Continuatio Mediaevalis
CCSL Corpus Christianorum. Series Latina
CLA Codices Latini Antiquiores, ed. E.A. Lowe (Oxford 1934,
2nd ed. 1972)
Coll. Bibl. Lat. Collectanea biblica latina et studio monachorum S. Benedicti
CPL Clavis Patrum Latinorum, ed. E. Dekkers (3rd ed., Turnhoult
CPPM Clavis patristica pseudepigraphorum medii aevi
CSEL Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum
DA Deutsches Archiv
DMLBS Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (Oxford,
DOP Dumbarton Oaks Papers
ed. edited, editor
EEMF Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile
EHD English Historical Documents, c. 500–1042, ed. D. Whitelock
(London, 1955)
EHR English Historical Review
EME Early Medieval Europe
EphemLit Ephemerides Liturgicae
Epist. select. see MGH abbreviations below
FmSt Frühmittelalterliche Studien
Frankfurter Konzil Das Frankfurter Konzil von 794. Kristallisationspunkt Karol-
ingischer Kultur, 2 vols., ed. R. Berndt (Mainz, 1997)
Germ.Pont. Germania Pontificia
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xxvi ris+ or .nnnr\i.+ioxs
GCS Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei
Jahrhunderte (Berlin and Leipzig 1897ff.)
GL Grammatici Latini
HE Bede, Historia ecclesiastica
HBS Henry Bradshaw Society
HR Historia Regum, in: Symeonis Monachi opera omnia
2, ed. Th. Arnold (Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevis
scriptores or chronicles and memorials of Great Britain
and Ireland during the middle ages 75/2, London, 1885)
HZ Historische Zeitschrift
Jaffé-Wattenbach Regesta Pontificum Romanorum ad a. p. Chr. N. MCX-
CVIII, 2nd ed. in 2 vols., ed. W. Wattenbach, worked
out by S. Loewenfeld, F. Kaltenbrunner, P. Ewald
(Leipzig, 1881–1888)
JE Jaffé/Ewald, Regesta Pontificum Romanorum
JL Jaffé/Löwenfeld, Regesta Pontificum Romanorum
JW Jaffé/Wattenbach, Regesta Pontificum Romanorum
JournEcclHist Journal of Ecclesiastical History
JournMedLat Journal of Medieval Latin
JTS Journal of Theological Studies
Karlswerk Karl der Große—Lebenswerk und Nachleben, 4 vols.,
ed. W. Braunfels (Düsseldorf, 1956)
LexMA Lexikon des Mittelalters, 11 vols. (Munich, 1980–1998)
LThK Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 11 vols. (Freiburg i.
Breisgau, 1993–2001)
MAPS Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society
MaSt Mittelalterliche Studien 1, 2, 3, B. Bischoff (Vol. 1–2 Stuttgart,
1967, vol. 3 Stuttgart, 1981)
MGH Monumenta Germaniae Historica
MGH AA Monumenta Germaniae Historica Auctores Antiquissimi
MGH Capit. Monumenta Germaniae Historica Capitularia
MGH Conc. (II) Monumenta Germaniae Historica Concilia aevi Karolini
(II: ed. A. Werminghoff (Hannover, 1820–1871)
MGH DD Monumenta Germaniae Historica Diplomata
MGH, DK MGH, Diplomata Karolinorum
MGH, Epist. select. MGH, Epistulae selectae
MGH Epp. Monumenta Germaniae Historica Epistulae
MGH Epp. KA Monumenta Germaniae Historica Epistulae Karolini
MGH LL Monumenta Germaniae Historica Leges
MGH Poet. Monumenta Germaniae Historica Poetae
MGH SS Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores
MGH SSRL Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores Rerum
MGH SSRG Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores Rerum
MGH SSRG in us. schol Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores Rerum
Germanicarum in usum scholarum
MGH SSRM Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores Rerum
MIÖG Mitteilungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichts-
forschung (Innsbruck, 1948ff.)
MLGB Medieval Libraries of Great Britain
MLWB Mittellateinisches Wörterbuch
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MS Manuscript(s)
NDB Neue Deutsche Biographie
NF Neue Folge
NS New Series
PG Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graeca, ed. J.-P. Migne
PL Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina, ed. J.-P. Migne
QFIAB Quellen und Forschungen aus Italienischen Archiven und Biblio-
RAC Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana
RevBén Revue Bénédictine
RevEtAug Revue des Études Augustiniennes
RHEF Revue d’Histoire de l’Eglise de France
RHT Revue d’Histoire des Textes
RS Rerum Britannicarum Scriptores (Rolls Series)
S-K Initia carminum latinovum. S. xi antiquirum ed. Schallerand
Könsgen. Göttingen 1977
Sawyer Sawyer, P.H. (1968) Anglo-Saxon Charters (London: Royal Historical
Society Handbooks)
SC Sources Chrétiennes
SCH Studies in Church History
SLH Scriptores Latini Hiberniae
SMBGO Studien und Mitteilungen zur Geschichte des Benediktiner
Ordens und seiner Zweige
StudMed Studi Medievali
StT Studi e Testi
transl. translated, translator, translation
Verfasserlexikon Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters—Verfasserlexikon, 2nd ed.
by K. Ruh et al., vol. 1ss. (Berlin and New York, 1978ss.)
Villa Claudia Villa, “Die Horazüberlieferung und die ‘Bibliothek Karls
des Großen’: Zum werhverzeichnis der Handschrift Berlin, Diez
B66.” Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 51:1 (1995) 29–52.
YAJ Yorkshire Archaeological Journal
ZfKg Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte
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Theme and Variations
Writing in the summer of 800 to three fellow-toilers in the cause of
religious orthodoxy, Alcuin affirmed that it was (he believed) by
Divine dispensation that he had been called to service in the Frankish
kingdom: and he added—a little defensively—that this was ‘as in my
own country a certain very holy man endowed with the spirit of
prophecy foretold was to be the will of God’.
Anyone who asserted that his election as Ford’s Lecturer was sim-
ilarly the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy would rightly be regarded
as suffering from a faulty memory or from an arrogance unusual
even in the young. The invitation (a quarter-of-century ago!) was the
more unexpected to someone whose historical interests, although
undoubtedly orthodox, had only intermittently embraced ‘his own
country’. Moreover, to have found one’s theme in the English con-
tribution to Carolingian Europe was to follow awesome precedents:
Wilhelm Levison’s lectures in 1943, the publication of which in the
immediately post-war period had been for some of us a revelation
on the Damascus road, and the no less notable series in 1970 by
the late Chichele Professor, Michael Wallace-Hadrill.
Much of the
content of the lectures as originally delivered was little more than a
gloss on parts of theirs, although like some other ‘continuous glosses’
it has subsequently expanded far beyond the basic text. If I differ
from those earlier Ford Lecture-series in any significant measure, it
is in focussing on a single figure—for the first time among medieval-
ists, I think, since Sir Maurice Powicke’s Stephen Langton: an equally
awesome precedent
—in an effort to define more precisely Alcuin’s
Ep. no. 200 (MGH Epp. IV, p. 332).
W. Levison, England and the Continent in the Eighth Century (Oxford, 1946); J.M.
Wallace-Hadrill, Early Germanic Kingship in England and on the Continent (Oxford, 1971).
F.M. Powicke, Stephen Langton (being the Ford Lectures delivered in the University of
Oxford . . . in Hilary Term 1927) (Oxford, 1928). Sir Richard Southern has drawn
attention to the significance of these lectures for the subsequent development of
medieval studies in Oxford: see The Bible in the Medieval World: Essays in memory of
Beryl Smalley, ed. K. Walsh and D. Wood (Eccl. Hist. Soc.; Oxford, 1985), 3 ff.
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personal contribution to the Carolingian achievement and its her-
itage, and the experiences and education that formed it.
This was no new subject even in 1980, as could properly be
claimed for the lectures and subsequent publications of each of those
three precursors. Already in the 1820s a German Protestant scholar,
Friedrich Lorentz, made excellent use of Frobenius Forster’s then
recently-published opera omnia of Alcuin to write a full-length text-
based ‘Life’, of which an English translation was published in 1837:
I have never seen it cited in any modern work; but in both com-
prehensiveness and critical judgement it is often superior to most of
the ‘biographies’ produced during the first two-thirds of the twenti-
eth century—more numerous, indeed, than of any other Carolingian-
period individual except of Charlemagne himself ! Only C.J.B. Gaskoin’s
work of 1904, little known outside the British Isles and before its
reprinting not widely available in it, clearly improves on Lorentz.
The most important English-language contributions since then have
focussed on particular aspects of Alcuin’s achievements: among them,
Father Gerald Ellard’s Master Alcuin, Liturgist of 1956, which is now
mainly valuable as a summary of half-a-century’s liturgical scholar-
ship that has been largely overtaken or disproved; and Luitpold
Wallach’s Alcuin and Charlemagne of 1959. The latter work set the stan-
dard for subsequent philological and textual analysis of Alcuin’s writ-
ings, even when it provoked disagreement with both arguments and
conclusions. A year after the delivery of the lectures, a fine book by
Dr. John Marenbon put the ‘philosophical’ aspects of Alcuin’s read-
ing, excerpting and teaching on an entirely new basis, although his
inferences from some of the key texts seem to me challengeable; and
1982 saw the publication of a much-needed new edition of Alcuin’s
‘York poem’, with an extensive introduction, by Dr. (now Professor)
Peter Godman.
Friedrich Lorentz, The Life of Alcuin, transl. Jane Mary Slee (London, 1837), the
St. Andrews University Library copy of which was formerly Mark Pattison’s, who
had acquired it in 1840; C.J.B. Gaskoin, Alcuin, His Life and his Work (London, 1904).
One Continental scholar who read Gaskoin was the late Eduard Fraenkel—in his
Oxford years, mentor and critic of medievalists as well as of classicists—who did
so on Paul Lehmann’s behalf in the middle of the First World War! see Philologus
74 (1917), 362 n. 42 = P. Lehmann, Erforschung des Mittelalters 2 (Stuttgart, 1959),
p. 90 n. 200. Among the other biographies, Miss Eleanor Duckett’s charmingly-titled
Alcuin, Friend of Charlemagne: his world and his work (New York, 1951), is underpinned
by lightly-displayed scholarship in many sections but is totally unreliable on chronology.
G. Ellard, Master Alcuin, Liturgist: a Partner of our Piety (Loyola U.P., Chicago,
1956), provocatively and learnedly reviewed by C. Hohler in JEcclHist 8 (1957),
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A new look at Alcuin, whether in 1980 or in 2002, cannot seek
justification in a substantial body of unpublished material or of pub-
lished but misattributed or ignored writings. Early post-medieval
manuscript collectors and librarians, especially in France—Nicholas
Le Fèvre and Bouhier among them—made hopeful or simply reck-
less attributions of anonymous exegetical works to Alcuin, which most
later editors rightly ignored. Even in 1913, a Jesuit and a Benedictine
(rare allies!) claimed for Alcuin the Commentarius in LXXV Psalmos,
printed by Migne among the works of Rufinus: but almost imme-
diately Dom André Wilmart showed that the the true author was
the twelfth-century Letbert of Lille, abbot of St.-Ruf.
made a futile attempt to vindicate Alcuin’s purported authorship of
the treatise De processione Sancti Spiritus in an early-ninth-century St.-
Amand book subsequently at Laon: it is, in fact, a primary text for
the Filioque debates and their conciliar resolution in 809, latterly
attributed to Archbishop Arn of Salzburg. A text entitled Igitur con-
verso primum omnium dicere debemus, quando devota mente convertitur was pub-
lished as a work of Alcuin’s, because in the tenth-century Milan
manuscript in which it occurs it follows the De fide sanctae Trinitatis,
the Interrogationes et responsa de Trinitate and the De ratione animae, of
which only the first has Alcuin’s name in the title(!), and because of
some not very distinctive parallels with passages in the letters: the
222–6; L. Wallach, Alcuin and Charlemagne: Studies in Carolingian History and Literature,
Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, 32 (Ithaca, 1959); J. Marenbon, From the Circle
of Alcuin to the School of Auxerre, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought,
3rd ser., 15 (Cambridge, 1981), chs. 1, 2 and App. 1; Alcuin, The Bishops, Kings and
Saints of York ed. P. Godman, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1982). For Michael
S. Driscoll, Alcuin et la Pénitence à l’Époque Carolingienne, Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen
u. Forschungen 81 (Münster, 1999), see below, n. 160.
Le Fèvre’s table of contents in Paris B.N. lat.2384 (pt. i) (St.-Denis, s. ix
), fol.
, credits Albinus with the authorship of the opening ‘commentary on Matthew’;
and in the mid-nineteenth century Francis Monnier, ‘précepteur du Prince Impérial’,
published extracts from it as a work of Alcuin’s: Alcuin et Charlemagne (Paris, 1863),
pp. 361–9. It is now recognised as an anonymous Irish work, complete only in
Orléans Bib. mun. 65: B. Bischoff, ‘Wendepunkte in der Geschichte der lateinis-
chen Exegese im Frühmittelalter’, MaSt, 1, 244–5 (no. 16 I), J. Vezin in Rev. Bén.
94 (1984), 315–9, 325; further literature and discussion in SASLC: Trial version, pp.
102–3 (where the Ps.-Alcuin designation is unfortunately retained). Bouhier sug-
gested that the expositio orationis Dominicae on fols 1–8
of his manuscript C.53, now
Montpellier Fac. de Méd. 141 (Flavigny or vicinity, s. ix
; for the slightly earlier
palimpsested leaves with the same origin, see CLA VI, 794 and Bischoff, MaSt 3,
19, n. 66), was the work of Alcuin. Pseudo-Rufinus: PL 21, cols 641–958; Hein-
rich Brewer, S.J., ‘Der Pseudo-Rufinische Commentarius in LXXXV-Psalmos, ein Werk
Alkuins,’ in Zeitschr. f. Kath. Theol., 37 (1913), 668–675; Germain Morin, O.S.B., in
Rev. Bén., 30 (1913), 458–9; A. Wilmart in Rev. Bén., 31 (1914–19), 258–76.
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6 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
fact that it is composed for converts to Benedictine monasticism and
that neither the style nor the forms of Scriptural citation are char-
acteristic of Alcuin are sufficient grounds for rejecting his author-
ship. Wilmart himself, having identified the earliest known copy of
the ‘exposition of the Mass’ inc. Primum in ordine in the English
(Mercian?) manuscript Bodleian Hatton 93 raised the possibility that
Alcuin was the author, only to reject it! and a more recent attempt
to establish his authorship produces no relevant evidence.
Dr. John
Marenbon argued for Alcuin’s authorship, during his first period of
residence in Francia, of the much quoted and widely circulated short
text De imagine Dei, of which he provided the first critical edition
from early manuscripts. This would indeed have important implica-
tions both for Alcuin’s intellectual biography and for the early devel-
opment of learning at Charlemagne’s Court. The alternative view,
for which I argued in 1983 and which Dr. Marenbon now partly
shares, is that the work (but less certainly, the expanded De dignitate
conditionis humanae of which it constitutes the initial and final sections)
is a late-Patristic one, which re-surfaced at the Court and was sub-
sequently exploited by Alcuin and his pupils.
A French cleric with
De processione: in the thirteen-leaf (!) Laon Bibl. mun.,122 bis, fols 2–23
(on the
origin of which the late Prof. Bernhard Bischoff changed his views more than once,
but finally decided for St.-Amand, and perhaps precisely datable to 809); ed.
H. Willjung, Das Konzil von Aachen 809, MGH Conc. II, suppl. ii (Hannover, 1998),
pp. 253–83, cf. ibid. pp. 35–47, 62–87; A. Kleinclausz, Alcuin, Annales de l’Université
de Lyons, III.15 (Paris, 1948), pp. 204–5 and n. 17. Igitur converso etc. inc. Frater dic
mihi que est voluntas: ed. from Milan, Bibl. Ambrosiana S.17 sup., fols 57
s. x) by C. Ottaviano, Testi Medioevali Inediti, Fontes Ambrosiani, 3 (Florence, 1933),
pp. 3–18; the unknown (ninth-century?) author’s ‘Alcuinian’ language was proba-
bly derived directly from the letters of Jerome etc. which had inspired Alcuin.
Primum in ordine: Oxford, Bodleian Libr., Hatton 93, fols 2–41 (constituting the
entire ms. apart from added fly-leaves, unlike later copies of the work); CLA II,
241, but now dated by Jennifer Morrish (Tunberg), ‘Dated and datable mss.’, Traditio,
50 (1988), 513–4, 538, to s. ix
; Wilmart in EphemLit, 50 (1936), 133–9; F. Unterkircher,
‘Interpretatio canonis missae in codice Vindobonenesi 958’, Beiträge zur Buchkunde u.
Kulturgesch.: Festgabe f. Franz Unterkircher ed. O. Mazal (Graz, 1984), pp. 317–31, esp.
pp. 321–2 (to which Dr. Morrish kindly drew my attention). Note that in a Salzburg
manuscript of the ?840s, Budapest 316 fol. 29
, another Carolingian expo-
sition of the mass, inc. Dominus vobiscum, has the heading EXPOSITIO . . . VEL TRAC-
TATUS ALBINI MAGISTRI; but this attribution seems equally excluded on stylistic
Marenbon, From the Circle of Alcuin, esp. pp. 30–43, 144–51, the edition ibid., pp.
158–61; Bullough, ‘Alcuin and the Kingdom of Heaven’, Carolingian Renewal, pp.
175–81; Marenbon, ‘Alcuin, the Council of Frankfort of 794 and the Beginnings
of Medieval Philosophy’, Das Frankfurter Konzil von 794 ed. R. Berndt (Mainz, 1997),
2, 603–15 and esp. 613–5; below, pt. II ch. 3, p. 376. For the version of the (post-
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ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs 7
a novel view of the ‘British understanding of “personality”’, Vincent
Serralda, sweeping aside or ignoring seventy years’ cumulative schol-
arship, has recently and implausibly maintained (admittedly, in com-
pany with Mabillon) that a substantial Confessio fidei is a genuine work
of Alcuin’s: the discussion of Eucharistic doctrine in the last of its
four books, if nothing else, refutes this claim; and Alcuin is merely
one of several Carolingian and post-Carolingian writers used by its
early-eleventh-century author (almost certainly John of Fécamp).
Although the text first printed in 1571 as Alcuinus de Psalmorum usu,
from an incomplete manuscript copy, and the falsely-titled Officia per
ferias in its several manuscript versions are unquestionably of ninth-
century origin, Alcuin can properly be credited with neither. Only the
letter inc. Beatus igitur David printed as the preface to the second-
named work, in that or another version, and the more elaborate
<Quia> prophetiae spiritus which originated and circulated indepen-
dently but was early adopted as the first-named work’s preface, are
acceptably his. They are linked in more than one way with ‘books
of prayers’ (extra-liturgical) in ninth-century and later manuscripts,
which include orationes and other texts of which Alcuin is the prob-
able composer and in the first compilation of which his, or disci-
ples’, active involvement is highly likely.
For three-quarters of a
Isidoran but pre-Carolingian?) De benedictionibus patriarcharum which is appended to
(or concludes) Alcuin’s ‘Questions and Answers on Genesis’ in many of the manu-
script-copies and in Migne, see below, ch. 4.
Text in PL 101, cols 1027–98, from Chifflet’s edition; V. Serralda, ‘Étude
comparée de la “Confessio Fidei” attribuée à Alcuin et de la “Confessio Theologica”
de Jean de Fécamp’, Mittellat. Jahrb. 23 (1988), 17–27. But see J. Geiselmann, Studien
zu frühmittelalterlichen Abendmahlschriften (Paderborn, 1926), pp. 51–96; Wilmart, Auteurs
spirituels, pp. 126–37, 574 (n. 1); idem, ‘Deux Préfaces spirituelles de Jean de Fécamp’,
Rev. d’Ascétique et de Mystique 18 (1937), 44; Jean Leclercq and J.P. Bonnes, Un maître
de la vie spirituelle au XI
siècle: Jean de Fécamp (Paris, 1946), esp. pp. 32–44; G. Mathon,
‘Jean de Fécamp, theologien monastique?’, La Normandie Bénédictine au temps de Guillaume
le Conquérant (XI
siècle) (Lille, 1967), pp. 485–500. Serralda’s idea of the British con-
cept of ‘personality’ in relation to Alcuin(!) is expounded in the final Appendix of
his La Philosophie de la Personne chez Alcuin (Paris, 1978), pp. 510–12.
De Psalmorum usu: PL 101, cols 465–508; Officia per ferias: idem, cols 509–612. In
a penetrating series of studies between the two World Wars, of which little account
was taken elsewhere until the 1960s, Dom André Wilmart had broadly established
both the true character and origins of these two works and the several elements and
principles of composition and development of the early Continental prayer-books:
see especially his Auteurs Spirituels et Textes Dévots du Moyen Age Latin (Ét. Augustiniennes,
Paris, 1932; repr. 1971), ‘Prayers of the Bury Psalter’, Downside Review 48 (1930),
198–216, and ‘Le manuel de prières de Saint Jean Gualbert’, RevBén 48 (1936), 259–99;
and his edition of four prayer-books, unfortunately without commentary, as Precum
Libelli Quattuor Aevi Karolini (Rome, 1940). Some of the variant forms in which the
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8 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
century, liturgiologists generally followed Edmund Bishop’s lead in
seeing Alcuin as the compiler of the indisputably early-Carolingian
Supplement (additional mass-sets, ‘proper’ prefaces and benedictions)
to the so-called ‘Gregorian Sacramentary’, until his arguments and
conclusions were convincingly challenged in the late 1960s and early
1970s, with Benedict of Aniane as the proposed author. Conversely,
Alcuin’s ‘authorship’ of some or all of the prayers in a series of
votive and other masses, long familiar to worshippers as well as to
liturgists, was put almost beyond doubt. The precise character of
Alcuin’s contribution to the epistle-lectionary or Comes that passed
under his name in the ninth century remains, however, uncertain.
The young André Wilmart (again!) expressed doubts about Alcuin’s
authorship of the Expositio in Canticum(al.-ica) Canticorum and its verse
preface inc. Hunc cecinit Salomon mira dulcedine mirum, which circulated
in two somewhat different versions from the ?second quarter of the
ninth century; these doubts have periodically resurfaced, but scholars
who have studied the text most closely are generally agreed that the
longer version is Alcuin’s re-fashioning of part of Bede’s Expositio alle-
gorica of the ‘Song of Songs’.
A distinctive didactic text, the earliest known version of a metrical
martyrology, datable to the 760s/770s may owe something to Alcuin.
Manuscript support can be found for ascribing to him new recensions,
also in his York days, of one or more of the argumenta which were
variously combined in pre-Carolingian and Carolingian handbooks
of calendar calculation, computi; and a partial reconstruction of the
two works occur in manuscripts from the ninth to the eleventh century (even more
complex than Wilmart had supposed!) are analysed by J.B. Molin, ‘Les manuscrits de
la “Deprecatio Gelasii”: usage privé des Psaumes et dévotion aux Litanies’, EphemLit,
90 (1976), 113–48. For Alcuin’s authorship of Prophetiae spiritus, PL 101, cols 465B–
468A, see Wilmart in Rev. Bén. 48, 263–4 and nn., 268–9 (although reservations
are possible: Molin, p. 117, says ‘très vraisemblablement alcuinien’). For the manuscript
traditions of that text and of Beatus igitur David, see below.
Supplement: E. Bishop, Liturgica Historica (Oxford, 1918), pp. 54–7, 344–8 and
passim (cf. index s. v. ‘Alcuin’); Ellard, Master Alcuin, chs. 6, 7; J. Deshusses, ‘Le
“supplément” au sacramentaire Grégorien: Alcuin ou Saint Benoìt d’Aniane?’, AfLw.,
9 (1965), 48–71; Deshusses, Sacr. Grég., 1, pp. 63–70, 3, pp. 70–75, with references
to other literature (mostly his own). Alcuin’s mass-sets: H. Barré and J. Deshusses, ‘A
la recherche du Missel d’Alcuin’, EphemLit, 82 (1968), 3–44; Deshusses, ‘Les Messes
d’Alcuin’, AfLw., 14 (1972), 7–41; For the Comes, see below, p. 19 and n. 42.
Expositio: PL 100, cols 641–64; for authorship and the relationship of the two
versions, compare Wilmart in Bulletin de Littérature Ecclesiastique 8/9 (1906) p. 235
n.[p. 234 n. 1 cont.].
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personal handbook in which they were included seems possible.
Although decisive proof is still lacking, the uncertainly-attributed
Propositiones ad acuendos iuvenes is judged by its most recent editor to
be not-impossibly Alcuin’s, and certainly from his circle. More recently,
a musicologist has rehearsed the arguments for a possible identification
between the short text inc. Octo tonos in musica consistere, which was
incorporated in a more extensive music-theory treatise before the
middle of the ninth century, and the De musica credited to Alcuin in
the pre-829 Vita Alcuini and elsewhere.
A small number of manu-
scripts report ‘sayings’ of Alcuin (Alcuinus ait . . .), the schoolmaster-
ish or donnish sententiousness of which supports their substantial
authenticity; while a (?)late-ninth century Bobbio glossary-collection
and a Verona-area computus and astronomical collection of s. ix/x
include an account of the varieties of ‘cubit’ quoted from an Alcuin
quiz (Ex questionario Alcuini magistri, Bobbio; Ex libro questionum Alcuini,
Verona), which could well be a genuine reflection of his teaching.
Martyrology: below, Pt. II ch. 1 (pp. 206–217); computistic texts: below, Pt. II
chs. 2, 3. Aldhelm and Bede’s use of argumentum specifically in the context of cal-
endar studies is better represented by MLWB. argumentum: 4’ (cols 941–2) than by
the entry argumentum in DMLBS, 1, 124. If Alcuin ever used the word in that con-
nection, I have failed to notice it: he seems to have preferred the alternative cal-
culatio, cf. the text discussed below, pp. 287–293 and cartulas . . . calculationis.
Propositiones: ed. M. Folkerts, Denkschriften Wien (1978), with an excellent intro-
duction and commentary; also, with a new introduction and a German translation
by H. Gericke, in Science in Western and Eastern Civilization in Carolingian Times, ed.
P.L. Butzer and D. Lohrmann (Basel-Boston-Berlin, 1993), pp. 273–81, 283–362.
The editors’ arguments for Alcuin’s authorship are not very strong, and ‘style’ is
not obviously helpful; but for additional lexical arguments see below, Pt. II ch. 1.
De musica: H. Möller, ‘Zur Frage der musikgeschichtlichen Bedeutung der “acade-
mia” am Hofe Karls des Grossen: Die Musica Albini ’, in: Akademie und Musik. . . .
Festschr. für Werner Braun zum 65. Geburtstag (Saarbrücker Studien zur Musikwissenschaft,
n.F. Bd.7; Saarbrücken, 1993), pp. 269–88, text at p. 276.
Sayings: Munich clm.14614 (‘Isanberht group’: W. Fr.? or Salzburg area?,
c. 820/35) fol. 256; Paris BNF lat. 10861 fol. 123v (Continental addition of ?s.
—although Michelle P. Brown supposes later—to a probably Canterbury book
of s. ix
), etc. But not the text headed ALBINUS AD REGEM, inc. Fuganda sunt
omnimodis in Cologne, Erzbischöfl. Diözesan- u. Dombibl. cod. 106 fol. 26
, which
is ‘lifted’ from (probably) Jerome. Nor, as Manitius supposed (Geschichte 1, 149),
the Item Flaccus dicit: vidimus ex Hebraeis virum elegantem et admirati eum sumus et amplexi
in the Ars Bernensis in Bern, Bürgerbibl. 123 (central(?) France, s. ix med.: Bischoff ),
fols 78
–117, ed. H. Hagen, Anecdota Helvetica = Keil, GL Supplementum (1870),
pp. 62–142, at p. 134; for this is a verbatim quotation from Virgilius Maro Gram-
maticus. Quiz: Milan Ambr. C 243 inf. fol. 88 (referred to by P. Collura, Studi
Paleografici. La precarolina e la carolina a Bobbio (Milan, 1943), p. 161); Padua, Bibl. Anto-
niana, 27, fol. 96
. Compare Alcuin’s own description of a letter from the king with
questions about the Heavens as Quaestionaria carta, ep. no. 155 (p. 250) of 798.
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10 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
There are at the most two substantial works of Alcuin which have
yet to be edited in their entirety. One is a collection of extracts De
laude Dei et de confessione orationibusque sanctorum assembled by him from
the Bible, the Fathers, Christian poets and liturgical texts which (as
we shall see) throws invaluable light on the ill-documented pre-
Frankish Court years. The other is a ‘question-and-answer’ com-
mentary on the Apocalypse, which occurs in association with other
Alcuin and Alcuin-circle texts uniquely in a ?south-east German man-
uscript: if it is Alcuin’s, he is unlikely to be the author of another
one published under his name by Angelo Mai and reprinted by
With these exceptions, and the poems included in modern
editions that are probably or certainly not composed by him, the cor-
pus of Alcuin’s writings, more substantial than any other eighth/
ninth-century scholar-cleric’s, except Hincmar of Rheims,
is well-
defined and has attracted the attention of printers and editors since
the earliest age of the printed book. The substantial De fide sanctae
Trinitatis appeared in print under Alcuin’s name already in 1493,
although this fact has largely escaped the attention of cataloguers
of incunabula; and even that had been preceded by the De dialectica,
printed in 1480 as a work of Augustine. The sixteenth and seven-
teenth centuries added steadily to this first tally, with England (and
Scotland) making only a modest contribution—the more modest,
indeed, because John Leland’s pioneering partial transcripts of
letters in an English collection were not published until the early
De laude Dei: details in Pt. II ch. 1, pp. 193–200 Unpublished Apocalypse com-
mentary, inc. praef. Devotissima ac inextricabilis et vitia dixerim: Munich clm. 13581, fols
3–31 (a manuscript of the ‘Isanberht group’, as defined by Bischoff, Südostdeutsched
Schreibschulen, 1, 229–34; cf. ibid., 230 and E.A. Matter, ‘The pseudo-Alcuinian «de
septem sigillis»: an early Latin Apocalypse exegesis’, Traditio 36 (1980), p. 137 n.
79. ?Pseudo-Alcuin on the Apocalypse, inc. praef. Beatus Beda in septem periochis dicit
Apocalypsin consistere: PL 100, cols 1087–1156, following Mai’s editio princeps from BAV
Vat. Lat. 651 (?Italy, s. x), fols 1–31. The work discussed and re-edited by Matter
in Traditio 36, 111–137, is that in PL 101, cols 1169A–1170B, which Frobenius
Forster (as n. 20) had published among the Alcuin dubia from BAV Vat. lat. 5096
[s. xi, ?Italy]; an earlier manuscript-source of the same version is the Verona-writ-
ten, Tours-linked Munich clm. 6407, while an older version is in two ninth-cen-
tury Reichenau manuscripts. Dr. Matter favours sixth/seventh century Spanish origin
for the commentary; but for some doubts, arising from its links with demonstrably
Hiberno-Latin texts, see SASLC: Trial version, pp. 111–2.
PL 125, cols 9–1320, idem, 126, cols 9–648; J. Devisse, Hincmar, Archevêque de
Reims 845–882, 3 vols (Geneva, 1976), pp. 1158–61 and passim, for works not
included in PL.
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eighteenth century.
The Frenchman André Duchesne essayed in
1617 the first comprehensive edition of Alcuin’s writings, including
letters and poems: using for the latter a manuscript subsequently lost,
he saved a number of genuinely-Alcuin verses from oblivion but sad-
dled him with many that were not.
It was, however, the south
German Catholic Enlightenment, in the person of Frobenius Forster
of St. Emmeram (Regensburg), that produced in 1777 the still-stan-
dard edition of Alcuin’s opera omnia.
The carmina appeared in a new
(but not entirely satisfactory) critical edition by Ernst Dümmler in
1881, in the first volume of the recently-established Poetae series of
the Monumenta Germaniae Historica; and the same editor was responsible
Bullough, ‘Alcuin from Manuscript to Printed Book: the first phase’ (forth-
coming), where early-sixteenth-century editiones principes (all S.German/Swiss) of exeget-
ical works and of the de Rhetorica are described. Leland’s excerpts were printed by
Thomas Hearne in his six-volume Lelandi de Rebus Brittannicis Collectanea of 1714/15
(1715 on the title-page of vol. 1; but see P.L. Heyworth, Letters of Humfrey Wanley
(Oxford, 1989), p. 303 n. 4), at vol. 2, pp. 392–404 of the more widely-available
1774 re-issue; for their (debatable) manuscript source, see below, pp. 79–80. Somewhat
later the French scholar Pierre Pithou may have started to copy the manuscript
that became Troyes bibl. mun. 1165 pt. i (below, pp. 57–61). The first printed text
of a letter-collection (St. Gallen Stiftsbibl. 271: below, pp. 61–2) is, however, that
of H. Canisius, Antiquae lectionis tomus I (1601), 1–123. Idem, tomus V (Ingolstadt,
1604), 988–1050 is the editio princeps of the De grammatica. In 1638 the Royal Librarian
and St. Andrews graduate Patrick Young published the Expositio in canticum cantico-
rum from BL Royal 5.E. xix (Salisbury, s. xi/xii: a note in Young’s hand on fol.
37) as the second item in a volume whose title-page suggests that it contains only
Gilbert Foliot’s expositio (from the ?unique BL Royal 2.E.vii Rochester, s. xiii in) and
is commonly so catalogued.
B.Flacci Albini sive Alchvvini . . . Opera . . . studio et diligentia Andreae Quercetani Turonensis,
3 pts in 1 vol. (Paris, 1617): for the full title, see ‘Editions of Texts’; for Duchesne’s
texts of the poems as a principal source of later editions, see below, n. 54. Duchesne
was certainly assiduous rather than scholarly, more a transcriber than an historian:
see R. Poupardin’s introduction to Bibliothèque Nationale: Catalogue des Manuscrits des
collections Duchesne et Bréquigny (Paris, 1905), pp. i

xix. But the brief account by Roman
d’Amat in Dict. de Biographie Française, 11 (Paris, 1967) is unduly dismissive—and
omits the Albini . . . Opera from his bibliography.
B.Flacci Albini seu Alcuini . . . Opera omnia . . . cura ac studio Frobenii, S.R.I. principis
et abbatis ad Sanctum Emmeramum Ratisbonae, 4 pts in 2 vols (Regensburg, 1777). This
had been preceded by Forster’s thirty-page quarto Conspectus omnium, quae hucusque
inveniri potuerunt, operum beati Flacci Alcuini quorum novum editio paratur (Regensburg, 1760).
The printing of the Opera omnia extended over several years, newly-discovered mate-
rial being incorporated in the process. For Forster’s life and scholarship see J.A.
Endres, Frobenius Forster, Fürstabt v. St. Emmeram in Regensburg (Strassburger theologi-
sche Studien, 4: Freiburg i. Breisgau, 1900); Neue Deutsche Biographie 5 (Berlin, 1961),
302–3 [L. Hammermeyer]; B. Bischoff, Salzburger Formelbücher u. Briefe aus Tassilonischer
u. Karolingischer Zeit (SB. Bayerische Akad. der Wissenschaften, Ph.-Hist. Kl., Jahrg.
1973 Heft 4; Munich, 1973), esp. pp. 3–8.
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12 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
for the magisterial edition of the epistolae fourteen years later.
most of Alcuin’s other writings Forster’s texts, through the Migne
reprints, have provided the only solid basis for modern evaluations
of the man and his achievement: for many, including the exegetical
works and the De fide sanctae Trinitatis, they still do, although in the
past fifteen years a younger generation of scholars—predominantly
in North America—has begun the preparation of new critical edi-
tions of several of them.
The Modern Reputation and the Contemporary Record
At the end of the nineteenth century the great Ludwig Traube, who
understood Latin philology as embracing all aspects of the trans-
mission of texts from one generation to another, more than once
declared that Alcuin ‘became and long remained the intellectual
leader of Europe’; and many later scholars have echoed his words.
English-language and French-language writers in the present cen-
tury, following or adapting Guizot, have regularly characterised Alcuin
as ‘Charles’s Minister of Education’ or ‘Minister of Religious Affairs’.
It is as the reverse of this image that the late Professor Barraclough
in one of his moods blamed an educational tradition stemming from
Alcuin for the post-1945 West’s failure to find a technological answer
to the upsurge of Asia and the resurgence of Islam! Distinguished
scholars with less expansive historiographic horizons have been gen-
erous almost to the point of recklessness in what they credit to Alcuin.
For much of the twentieth century, liturgiologists (as already remarked)
credited Alcuin with the Supplement to the ‘Gregorian Sacramentary’
which, fused with that earlier section, became the basis of the Roman
Missal in use until the 1950s; and many scholars have inferred that
Dümmler, Poetae latini aevi Carolini I, MGH Poetae latini medii aevi 1 (1881, repr.
For the exceptions see ‘Editions of Texts’.
Sir Frank Stenton characterised Alcuin even more comprehensively as ‘the head
of the palace school . . ., the chief adviser of Charlemagne on doctrinal issues, and his
agent in all his relations with England’(!): Anglo-Saxon England
(Oxford, 1971), p. 189.
It was Traube’s early death that prompted St. Andrews’ Professor of Humanity,
W.M. Lindsay, to move the centre of his own interests to the external features of
early Latin manuscripts, with consequences that were delicately recognised in the ‘ded-
ication’ of the original volume II of Lowe’s Codices Latini Antiquiores: see The Classical
Review 21 (1907), 188 f. (obituary notice of Traube), CLA, 2 (1935), p. xvii.
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the Frankish king had reform of the mass-liturgy in mind when he
invited Alcuin to join his court. Palaeographers, despite Traube’s
cogent objections, have been reluctant to abandon Mabillon’s epoch-
making claim for Alcuin as the creator of ‘Caroline minuscule’ script,
whether at the Frankish Court or at the abbey of St. Martin’s, Tours;
and they have even identified codicological features of Court (ex-
‘Ada group’) manuscripts which may be attributable to him.
F.-L. Ganshof, whose formidable scholarship was always informed
by personal experience of political structures and social tensions which
had their remoter origins in the breakdown of Carolingian Imperial
unity, came to regard Alcuin as the decisive influence in Charlemagne’s
accession to Emperordom in 800. Extensive discussion since his sem-
inal Glasgow lecture of 1949 has focussed particularly on other, con-
temporary, notions of ‘Empire’ and Imperial authority, and on the
roots of Alcuin’s own concepts.
Professor Wallach, having con-
vincingly identified Alcuin as the dictator or author of a number of
texts prepared at and sent from the Court in the middle years of
the reign, endeavoured over many years—ultimately unsuccessfully—
to establish his ‘authorship’ also of the massive Libri Carolini (Opus
Caroli Regis) Against Images.
The uniquely-influential position thus attributed to Alcuin in the
circle of those around King Charles contrasts with the relative silence of
genuine royal and Imperial diplomas, in which he figures only twice,
Compare Traube, Vorlesungen und Abhandlungen, 2 (Munich, 1911), ed. P. Lehmann,
p. 25; 3 (Munich, 1920), ed. S. Brandt, pp. 243–4 and n., with E.A. Lowe, CLA
VI (Oxford, 1953), p. xxvii. Stenton, loc. cit. last note, more cautiously says that
‘At Tours . . . the influence of his scholarship contributed to the development of the
most beautiful of all forms of script associated with the Carolingian Renaissance’.
F.-L. Ganshof, The Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne: theories and facts (David
Murray Lecture, 16; Glasgow, 1949) = Ganshof, The Carolingians and the Frankish
Monarchy (London, 1971), pp. 41–54. Compare, among an extensive literature,
H. Fichtenau, ‘Karl der Grosse und das Kaisertum’, MIÖG 61 (1953), 257–334; P.
Munz, The Origin of the Carolingian Empire (Dunedin, N.Z., 1960); R. Folz, Le Couronne-
ment Impérial de Charlemagne (Paris, 1964) (the English-language version of 1974 is
seriously flawed); P. Classen, Karl der Grosse, das Papsttum und Byzanz. Die Begründung
des karolingischen Kaisertums, 3rd ed. (by H. Fuhrmann and C. Märtl) (Sigmaringen,
1985). Wallace-Hadrill, Early Germanic Kingship ch. 6 discusses Alcuin’s conceptions
of kingship but not of Empire and emperordom.
Wallach, Alcuin and Charlemagne, pp. 147–65, 198–226. Overlapping arguments
were put forward independently by F.-C. Scheibe, ‘Alcuin u. die Admonitio generalis’,
DA 14 (1958), 221–9; idem, ‘Alcuin u. die Briefe Karls des Grossen’, DA 15
(1959), 181–93. For Theodulf, not Alcuin, as the author of the Opus Caroli, see Ann
Freeman, with Paul Meyvaert, Opus Caroli Regis contra Synodum (Libri Carolini), MGH
Conc. II, Suppl. 1 (Hannover, 1998), Einleitung, 2, and esp. (for Wallach’s views),
pp. 15–16.
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14 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
as abbot of St. Martin’s and probably in the same year (800);
there is an even more striking contrast with the total silence of annal-
istic texts linked in some way with the Court. The criteria by which
the author-compiler of the ‘Frankish Royal Annals’ includes or ex-
cludes particular events are, as in most examples of the genre, neither
consistent nor clear except that he is usually silent on military defeats
and conspiracies which an evidently well-informed ‘Reviser’, of debat-
able date and unknown location, included in his version. In the last
decade of the century, for a part of which at least the ‘Royal Annals’
are acceptably a contemporary record, they report two legations to
Rome by the Frankish Angilbert (792, 796) and a third (in 799) by
an abbot and an Italian duke; legations from Rome, from the Imperial
Court in Constantinople and its representatives in Sicily, from the
tudun of the Avars, from both Muslim and Christian Spain (a named
envoy of the king of Galicia and Asturias presented ‘a most beautiful
tent’ on the earlier of two visits in 798 and 799) and from Jerusalem;
and the plundering of the Balearic Islands ‘by Moors and Saracens’.
The unrevised annal for 790 is the briefest for twenty years; the
revised version is notably fuller, as is that in the almost-certainly con-
temporary Annales Laureshamenses. The absence from all of them of a
reference to Alcuin’s return to England or to any other embassy sent
to make peace with king Offa suggests at the very least that the
Mercian and Northumbrian kingdoms did not then loom as large in
Frankish political consciousness as much modern scholarship supposes.
DK 1, nos 192 (in favour of St. Martin’s dependent house at Corméry), 195:
for the date of the second of these see Mühlbacher’s comments ad loc. For Alcuin’s
claim that he intervened on behalf of an Italian monastery in ?795, see below, Pt. II
ch. 4. He is, however, named in no less than six forged diplomas of medieval date:
three times as a participant or petitioner, respectively in idem, nos 259 (of s. xi ex,
using no. 192), 240a (of 1155–57), 240b (of s. xiv/xv?); once as a ‘witness’, idem,
no. 303 (of s. x/xi); and twice as the member of the writing-office responsible for
their preparation. idem, nos 254 (Alcuinus levita et cancellarius sacri nostri palatii ), 266
(advicem Alguini archicapellani ), both of s. xi in.
ARF, ed. Kurze, 90, 92–4, 96, 98, 100, 102, 104, 110; the ‘Revised’ annals,
misleadingly designated Ann. q.d. Einhardi, are on the facing odd-numbered pages.
Angilbert is recorded in the ‘Royal Annals’ for 792 as the person who conducted
the ‘heretic’ Felix from Regensburg to Rome; but his name is omitted in the oth-
erwise much fuller account of the episode in the ‘Revised’ version. The controver-
sial origins and development of the latter are radically re-examined, without being
resolved, by Roger Collins, ‘The “Reviser” Revisited: Another Look at the Alternative
Version of the Annales Regni Francorum’, in A.C. Murray (ed.), After Rome’s Fall. Narrators
and Sources of Early Medieval History. Essays Presented to Walter Goffart (Toronto, 1998),
pp. 191–213.
Notably Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 215, 219–21; Wallace-Hadrill,
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The ‘Royal’ annalist’s and his ‘reviser’s’ conspicuous silence is
matched by that of the Carolingian dynasty-centred Annales Mettenses
priores: largely copying the ‘Royal Annals’ for the years 791–802 but
evidencing a marked stylistic break at that point, its composition has
sometimes been associated with Alcuin or with the royal nunnery of
Chelles with which he had close personal links.
Equally silent is a
sparser sequence of annals extant in a number of versions, which
have in common a seventh-century Northumbrian starting-point and
a record of the Frankish Easter Courts from 782 to 787 (or 792):
copies were made and new material introduced in the late eighth
and early ninth centuries at several centres, including St.-Amand,
where Alcuin was already a familiar name and presence.
‘Charlemagne and England’ [1965], Early Medieval History, pp. 155–80, esp. pp.
156–63 (684–90); idem, Early Germanic Kingship, pp. 115–17. For the circumstances
of this dispute, which is otherwise known only from the Gesta sanctorum Patrum
Fontanellensis coenobii (written after 814), and Alcuin’s involvement—or non-involve-
ment!—in its resolution see below, Pt. II ch. 3; the 790 annal is ARF, ed. Kurze,
p. 86. For the Annals’ silence about the sack of Lindisfarne in 793, cf. pp. 410–18.
Annales Mettenses priores, ed. B. v. Simson (Hannover-Leipzig, 1905), on which
see H. Hoffmann, Untersuchungen zur karolingischen Annalistik (Bonner Hist. Forsch., 10;
1958), esp. pp. 9–12, 38–41, and my comments in EHR, 85 (1970), 64–5; also
I. Haselbach, Aufstieg u. Herrschaft der Karolinger in der Darstellung der sogenannten Annales
Mettenses priores (Historische Studien 412; Lübeck-Hamburg, 1970), esp. pp. 25–40.
Roger Collins has recently suggested, without attempting to argue the case in detail
(‘The “Reviser” Revisited’, pp. 196–7, 213), that the Ann. Mett. in its transmitted
form ‘is intrinsically a compilation of the early 830s’.
Ed. from the supposedly Auxerre manuscript of ca. 830 (so Carey, followed by
Jones [CCSL 123B, p. 251]), Paris BNF lat. 13013 pt. ii (fols 48–161), as Ann.
Lindisfarnenses Cantuarienses. Ann. ut videtur Alcuini, MGH SS IV, p. 2 (Pertz); from the
probably Fleury (rather than Auxerre: see M. Mostert, The Library of Fleury. A pro-
visional list of manuscripts, Medieval Studies and Sources 3 (Hilversum, 1989), BF
1258) manuscript Paris BNF lat. n.a. 1615 by Delisle, Fonds Libri et Barrois (1888),
72 (n. to p. 71); selectively from Würzburg Univ.-Bibl., in MGH SS in
fol. I, pp. 87–8, incompletely amplified and corrected idem, 3, 122, the ‘Salzburg’
entries (as Ann. Iuvavenses maiores) in idem, 30/2, 729 ff. (Bresslau). But according to
Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 2, 133–4, Würzburg fols 1–97
, the
opening section of which includes the older annalistic entries, were written by St.-
Amand scribes at the beginning of the ninth century (the hand of fols 84–97
similar to that responsible for Alcuin’s De orthographia in Vienna Nat. bibl. cod. 795,
fols 5–19
, and were not at Salzburg until the 820s. Pertz, as his title indicates,
credited Alcuin with the recording of the Easter courts simply because it began
with the year 782 (in Carisiago): but he did not claim (as others subsequently have
implied) that Alcuin brought with him the Insular archetype of the entire complex.
Since the Northumbrian entries end in 664 and are followed (except in the St.-
Amand version!) by Canterbury ones, this is not on the face of it very likely; but
compare below, Pt. II, ch. 2, and esp. pp. 288 n. 109 and 289 n. 113, with par-
ticular reference to the computus manuscripts Vatican Pal. lat. 1449 and Berlin
Staatsbibl. Phillips 1831 (128).
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16 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
collective outlook contrasts sharply with that of a Northern/Central
Irish contemporary incorporated in the later ‘Annals of Ulster’; and
with that of the likewise contemporary author or compiler of North-
umbrian (not implausibly, York) annals, transmitted only in an
amplified version by Byrhtferth of Ramsey and chronicles dependent
on it or in much abbreviated versions. The former, although silent
on the sacking of Lindisfarne in 793, records raids on the island of
Britain in 794 and the death of Offa rex bonus Anglorum in 796.
latter in its fuller version(s) adds to an account of local events in
794–5 the death of Pope Hadrian in Rome and the preparation of
a marble epitaph by order of the Frankish king (recte 795–6), and
devotes the annal for 795(–6) to a surprisingly detailed account of
the booty that the Franks had taken from the Avars—information
possibly but not certainly supplied by Alcuin.
The earlier of at most
The Annals of Ulster (to A.D. 1131), ed. S. MacAirt, G. MacNiocaill, 1 (Dublin, 1983),
p. 250. (D. Dumville’s severe criticisms of this publication, intended to replace the
first part of the edition by W.M. Hennessy and B. MacCarthy, 1887 seq., in Cambridge
Medieval Celtic Studies, 10 [1985], 67 ff. do not affect the interpretation of these pas-
sages.) The omnes insolae Britanniç of Ann. Ulst. are usually understood as the Western
Isles of Scotland, in which Irish annalists would have a particular interest. Was the
epithet given to Offa a reference not so much to his moral qualities as to his polit-
ical superiority or overlordship? compare Ann. Ulst. an. 846 (recte 847), ed. item,
p. 306: Feidhlimidh rex Muman optimus Scotorum, and the comment of Hughes, op. cit.,
p. 136. For direct contact between the Mercian Court and Irish Courts or religious
houses in Offa’s last months, see Alcuin’s letter ep. 101, discussed in Pt. II ch. 4.
The ‘Northumbrian Annals’, Byrhtferth version, are in the fourth section of the
Historia Regum attributed to Symeon of Durham (ob. c. 1130), as transmitted by Cam-
bridge, CCC 139 (c. 1164), ed. T. Arnold, Symeonis Opera, 2, RS. (1885), 30–68: see
P. Hunter Blair, ‘Some observations on the Historia Regum attributed to Symeon of
Durham’, Celt and Saxon: Studies in the Early British Border, ed. N.K. Chadwick (Cam-
bridge, 1963), pp. 63–118; M. Lapidge, ‘Byrhtferth of Ramsey and the early sections
of the Historia Regum attributed to Symeon of Durham’, ASE 10 (1981), 97–112, esp.
115–7, repr. 1993, pp. 317–42, 488. For the annals for 794–6 see Arnold’s edition,
HR 2, 56–7. Other annalistic and chronicle texts which depend substantially on the
hypothesised ‘Northumbrian (?York) Annals’ for the years 732–802 or on their
expanded, Byrhtferth, version are: i. the so-called ‘Ramsey Annals’ in Oxford, St.
John’s Coll., 17, fols 139–43
, ed. C. Hart, EHR 85 (1970), 39–44; ii. the Northum-
brian (Durham?) nucleus of the ‘Chronicle of Melrose’ (BL Cott. Faustina B. ix),
facsimile with introduction by A.O. and M.O. Anderson (London, 1936), [1]–[6];
iii. the incompletely-published Historia post Bedam in BL Royal 13, A.VI (s. xii med.)
fols 2–107
and Oxford, St. John’s Coll., 97 (s. xiii in., Durham), fols 1–80
; iv. the
Annales Lindisfarnenses et Dunelmenses in Glasgow Univ. Libr., Hunterian Coll. T.4.2
(85) (s. xii
, Durham), fols 18–26
, ed. W. Levison, DA, 17 (1961), 478–9. Earlier
than any of these, however, was the lost text of the Northumbrian Annals (to 806)
used by the compiler of the version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which was the com-
mon source of the ‘D’ and ‘E’ texts and which, because of the presence of addi-
tional Whithorn material (details in Pt. II ch. 1), must have been a variant version
of the ‘York’ text used by Byrhtferth.
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ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs 17
two contemporary or near-contemporary annalistic references to
Alcuin in his lifetime is to be found in the Byrhtferth version of the
‘Northumbrian Annals’. Here we read, as the first part of the record
for ‘anno dccxcii’, that
Charles, king of the Franks, sent to Britain a synodal book, directed
to him from Constantinople, in which book—grievous to say—were
found many things improper and contrary to the true faith, especially
that it had been asserted with the unanimous consent of nearly all the
scholars of the East, no fewer (rather more in fact) than 300 bishops,
that images ought to be adored, which the Church of God utterly
abhors. Against this Albinus wrote a letter, wonderfully supported by
the authority of the Holy Scriptures, and presented it with the same
book and in the name of our bishops and nobles ( principum nostrorum)
to the king of the Franks.
This remarkable statement, which is repeated verbatim in the twelfth-
century northern English Historia post Bedam and with varying degrees
of distortion in other English chronicles, requires exposition and inter-
pretation; but it is impermissible simply to dismiss it, as has some-
times been done, as a supposedly late concoction.
The second
annalistic record, in the problematic Annales Maximiniani and of much
more uncertain status, is one which names ‘master Alcuin’ after the
Papal legates, the patriarch Paulinus (of Aquileia) and Bishop Peter
of Milan as defenders of orthodoxy at the Frankfurt council in 794.
Posthumous Reputation
The indifference of contemporary ‘official’ records from the Court
which Alcuin served, even when qualified by the occasional men-
tion in the writings of his contemporaries, fits ill with the evidence
HR ed. Arnold, 2, 53–4, and similarly in both manuscripts of the Historia post
Bedam; for the origin and interpretation of the passage, see below, Pt. II ch. 3.
Compare L. Wallach, Diplomatic Studies in Latin and Greek Documents from the Carolingian
Age (Cornell U.P.; Ithaca-London, 1977), p. 13 n. 21.
MGH SS XIII, p. 22. After nearly two centuries of debate, students of the
Frankish Annals do not agree on much: but it is generally accepted that for the
period to 796, and in part even beyond that date, the Annales Maximiani are only one
of several derivatives from a lost compilation, which Levison thought was Bavarian
but Löwe believed was Frankish, and seems also to have borrowed from the ‘Royal
Annals’ as defined above (Wattenbach-Levison, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter,
2 (Weimar, 1953), pp. 188, 191 [Levison], 257–8 [Löwe], cf. Hoffmann, Untersuchungen,
pp. 13–19). For the significance of the passage and its relationship to a similar one
in the ‘Royal Annals’ (in which Alcuin is not named), see below, Pt. II ch. 3.
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18 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
for his posthumous reputation. Most familiar here are the laudatory
references to him in the writings of men who were his pupils and
then the pupils of his pupils (who do not, until Notker’s pupil Salomon,
seem to have been bored by the donnish reminiscences of their teach-
ers), pursuing their distinguished, controversial or modest careers in
widely-separated parts of a once-united Empire. Yet this may not
be quite so straightforward as it at first seems. Alcuin’s death in 804
is ignored by the ‘Royal Annals’. Several ‘minor’ or ‘local’ annals
of the early ninth century record it, sometimes with a precise day:
none of them can confidently be regarded as a contemporary entry.
His epitaph, incised on a bronze plaque and placed above his tomb
within St. Martin’s at the insistence of the bishop of Tours was,
except for the concluding (prose) section, his own composition, with
a characteristic opening verse Hic rogo pauxillum veniens subsiste, viator.
It disappeared at an early date; the text is, however, preserved in
several ninth-century and later manuscripts, in very varied contexts
although never, despite assertions based on André Duchesne’s edi-
tion, in association with a text of the Vita Alcuini. Perhaps copies
were circulated by the St. Martin’s community, soon after Alcuin’s
death or a few years later.
There is an unusual and indirect trib-
ute to him in Benedict of Aniane’s Munimenta fidei, compiled c. 804/14
for his ‘favourite son’ Guarnerius who, he says, ‘has diligently learnt
by heart master Alcuin’s books on the Trinity’—which, however, ‘he
didn’t hold of much account’!
Conversely, a sermon preached by
Thus, the Fulda recension (815/17)—in Vienna Nat. bibl. 430*—of the Chronicon
Laurissense breve includes in its item ‘XXXVI’ (for an. 804?) Alcuinus XIII. kal. Mai
[sic, for Iun(ii)] obiit, et Ricboto eodem anno moritur, the month error suggesting copy-
ing from a calendar; the corresponding entry in the supposed ‘original Lorsch ver-
sion’ compiled in ?806/7 and certainly before 814 (but transmitted only in BAV
Pal. lat. 243, fols 49–66, written almost a century later: B. Bischoff, Die Abtei Lorsch
im Spiegel ihrer Handschriften, ed. 2 (Lorsch, 1989), pp. 122–3) simply records the death
of Rihcbodo archiepiscopus. See H. Schnorr von Carolsfeld, ‘Das Chronicon Laurissense
breve’, NA. 36 (1911), 15–39, at 37 and 34. For a further posthumous reference to
Alcuin in both versions, see p. 19 at n. 40.
Vita Alcuini c. 28 ad fin. (p. 197); MGH Poet. I, pp. 350–51 (no. cxxiii), S.-K.
no. 6688; Wallach, Alcuin and Charlemagne, pp. 255–65. . . . Subsiste, viator, used by
Alcuin in other verses, has a centuries-long epigraphic history. For the manuscript
evidence, see Additional Note II.
J. Leclercq, ‘Les “Munimenta Fidei” de Saint Benoît d’Aniane’, Analecta Monastica,
ser. 1 = Studia Anselmiana, 20 (Rome, 1948), 27–66 (from the unique, formerly Moissac,
manuscript, Paris B.N. lat. 2390, here pp. 47, 49, cf. idem p. 68). The terminus ante
quem non, however, is provided not by ep. no. 205 (only in this manuscript, at fols
, and presumably from the ‘recipients’ copy’) but by the De fide sanctae Trinitatis
which was not completed and sent to the Emperor until the autumn of 802. Chronicon:
Hrabanus: MGH Poet. II, pp. 159 ff.
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a disciple of Alcuin’s a year or two after his death seems to include
an oblique but quite pointed criticism of the master.
At some point
in the last years of Charles’s reign, the ‘author’ of the so-called
Chronicon Laurissense breve included in the entry corresponding to the
year 795 the statement that Alcuinus cognomento Albinus diaconus et abba
monasterii sancti Martini sanctitate et doctrina clarus habetur; and not long
afterwards Alcuin’s Fulda disciple Hrabanus ingeniously paid tribute
to his late teacher in a poetic Intercessio Albini pro Mauro (inc. Sancte
Dei presul, meritis in saecula vivens) composed to accompany a presen-
tation-copy of the first part of his work In honorem Sanctae Crucis.
A new phase in the development of Alcuin’s posthumous fame
seemingly begins in the early 820s. Ardo of Aniane, recording the
life of his mentor Abbot Benedict very soon after his death in 821,
names Alcoinus among the contemporaries with whom the abbot had
close links, characterizing him as ‘a deacon celebrated for his learn-
ing’ who was held in the very highest regard at ‘the emperor Charles’s
Shortly afterwards an anonymous writer, almost certainly
Louis the Pious’s ousted ‘chancellor’ Helisachar, composed a pref-
ace for the supplement added to the Comes (epistle-lectionary) copied
from an exemplar incorporating corrections and revisions made, he
said, by ‘the most learned man Alcuin, at the command of the most
wise emperor Charles’.
Amalarius—controversialist and gyrovagus,
I.e. Candidus at Maastricht.
Chronicon: ed. Schnorr von Carolsfeld, p. 34; the Fulda version (item ‘XXXVI’)
changes the opening words to His temporibus Alcuinus rethor Britanicus diaconus etc.,
idem, p. 37. Intercessio: S.-K. no. 14623, new edition by M. Perrin, Rabani Mauri in
honorem Sanctae Crucis, CCCM 100 (Turnhout, 1997), p. 5; the approximate dating is
provided by vv. 13–14, cf. Perrin’s Introduction, p. xxi. Perrin’s edition of the verses
omits the title, and his apparatus (p. 4) notes it as unique to Wimpfeling’s 1503
edition (from a lost manuscript). But this is surely mistaken: Intercessio Albini pro Mauro
is already in BAV Reg. lat. 124, fol. 3, in surely contemporary rustic capitals. Perrin
has reviewed and in part radically revised the composition and chronology of the
work hitherto usually cited as the De laudibus Sanctae Crucis.
Ardonis Vita: c. 24, ed. Waitz, MGH SS XV/i, 210.
Comes: A. Wilmart, ‘Le Lectionnaire d’Alcuin’, EphemLit 51 (1937), 136–97, the
text of the Preface from the St.-Amand manuscript of s. ix
(only later at Chartres
cathedral) Paris B.N. lat. 9452, at pp. 164–5; a variant text in the Freising man-
uscript Munich clm. 6424 (of the 820s, not s. x: Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen,
2, 215), ed. G. Morin, ‘Une rédaction inédite de la préface au Supplément du
Comes d’Alcuin’, Rev. Bén., 29 (1912), 342–3, arguing (ibid., 343–7) for Helisachar’s
authorship of both versions a few years apart. The dating of the earlier version
depends very largely on how one regards its relationship with Helisachar’s letter to
Nebridius (MGH Epist. V, pp. 307–9) and with the Hucusque preface to the Gregorian
Sacramentary Supplement, of which Benedict of Aniane’s authorship is now, following
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20 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
although not always by choice—does not name Alcuin in his first
and longest work of liturgical commentary, the Liber Officialis of 823:
the references to the older man’s ability and authority as a liturgist
come after 831, although some years previously he cited Alcuin’s let-
ter to the king on the subject of Septuagesima, etc.
The Bamberg
copy of the ‘Alcuin Bible’, which commemorates his editorial involve-
ment with a crude portrait-medallion set in the midst of his own
introductory verses, inc. In hoc quinque libri, belongs not to the earli-
est phase of Tours production, as Rand thought, but to the years
834/43, and to Marmoutier rather than St. Martin’s. It is, there-
fore, close in date to, although probably a few years earlier than,
the representation of Alcuin in the dedication pictures included in
the revised edition of Hrabanus’s In honorem Sanctae Crucis, in the
Fulda book BAV Reg. lat. 124.
Paschasius Radbertus in his ‘life’
of Adalhard of Corbie, written very shortly after the latter’s death
in 826, cites the letters of ‘master Alcuin’ as evidence for his hero’s
Deshusses, generally accepted. A date ca. 825 has been proposed by J. Décréaux in
the Introduction to his edition of Le Sacramentaire de Marmoutier (Autun 19 bis) dans
l’histoire des Sacramentaires Carolingiens du ix
siècle (Rome, Pont. Inst. Arch. Crist., Studi
di Antichità Cristiana, 38; 1985), 223–4, where, however, this is linked with his
theory (ibid., 196–234), that the Supplement and its Hucusque preface are the work
not of Benedict but of Helisachar! For the Comes proper (Alcuin’s?), compare
A. Chavasse, ‘Les plus anciens types du lectionnaire et de l’antiphonaire romains
de la messe. Rapport et date’, RevBén 62 (1952), 1–91, esp. 5–6, 67–70.
Opera liturgica, ed. Hanssens, 3, pp. 94, 99, cf. idem, 2 (pp. 13–543); idem, 1,
pp. 343–4, a letter to Hilduin of 822/30 (?824). Although Alcuin’s letter ep. no.
143 of 798 (which is cited here) is included in the T collection, discussed later in
this chapter, Amalarius had probably read it in a more isolated and specialized
context: indeed, his legi in litteris . . . missis ad Karolum IMPERATOREM suggests
a link with the erroneous head-note in Valenciennes bibl. mun. 247 (237) (s. ix
prov. St.-Amand but of W.Fr. origin), fol. 125
, epistola . . . ad Carolum imperatorem,
the next text (fols 131–5) being ep. no. 126 De saltu lunari.
Bamberg Bible: Bamberg SB. Msc. Bibl. 1; Bischoff, Katalog, no. 190 (p. 44),
with references to the essential literature. As a product of the late 830s (or later),
it is notably both conservative and imitative in script, orthography and some aspects
of punctuation (for the orthography, cf. below, pp. 107–109; for the implications
for the history of the ‘Tours-text’, see Bonifatius Fischer, ‘Alkuin-Bibeln’ [1971],
Lateinische Bibelhandschriften im Frühen Mittelalter, ‘Vetus Latina’. Aus der Geschichte
der Lateinischen Bibel, 2 (Freiburg, 1985), pp. 265, 285–7, cf. [1965], ibid., pp.
127–9 and passim. Medallion and verses (Alcuin’s carm. lviii, MGH Poet. I, p. 287)
are at fol. 5
, illustr. W. Koehler, Die karolingischen Miniaturen, I/2 (Berlin, 1930), pl.
—a poor reproduction, however, and better in, e.g., Die Heiratsurkunde der Kaiserin
Theophanu 972 April 14, Rom: Ausstellung . . . Wolfenbüttel (Göttingen, 1972), p. 86.
Dedication-picture: BAV Reg. lat. 124 fol. 2
; a reduced facsimile in H.-G. Müller,
Hrabanus Maurus ‘De laudibus sancta<sic> crucis’, Beih. zum “Mittellateinischen Jahrb.”,
11 (Düsseldorf, 1973), Anhang.
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ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs 21
nickname Antonius. Einhard’s Vita Karoli, in which he praises Alcuin
as the teacher responsible for the more advanced elements in Char-
lemagne’s Latin learning—the initial, grammatical, stages having been
provided, he records, by Peter of Pisa whom, unlike Alcuin, he had
never known personally—was probably (but not certainly) written in
the late 820s.
On the evidence of surviving manuscripts, the late
820s and 830s saw the multiplication of copies of the Alcuin letter-
collections at or for places with which he had not been closely con-
nected in his lifetime; and in the late 840s the west-Frankish Benedictus
Levita, seeking to claim older authority for all the texts included in
his Capitulary collection, asserted that Book III was taken ex canoni-
bus that had been collected on Charles’s orders by Paulinus of Aquileia
and Alcuin.
A revived regard for Alcuin (if that is indeed what the evidence
indicates) in circles generally unsympathetic to recent trends at the
Imperial Court may provide the context which has hitherto been
lacking for the anomalous Vita Alcuini. Written after 821 and not
later than 829 by a member of one of the religious communities
ruled successively by its subject and by a disciple of his—almost cer-
tainly Ferrières—it is not a work for which either medieval or mod-
ern readers have shown much enthusiasm. It has survived in only
two medieval copies: the first is item XIII (the numbering is con-
temporary) in a Marian and hagiographic miscellany which is one
of the earliest books commissioned by Hincmar after he had moved
from St.-Denis to the see of Rheims (845); the second is in a thir-
teenth/fourteenth-century quire of a composite volume now at Troyes
and possibly (but not certainly) originating in that region.
Vita Adalhardi, cap. 21: PL 120, col. 1519. Vita Karoli, cap. 25, ed. O. Holder-
Egger MGH SSRG VI (Hannover, 1911), p. 30. For a date of composition possi-
bly even as late as 829, see the articles of Hauck, Fleckenstein and Löwe cited in
Bullough, ‘Aula Renovata’, Carolingian Renewal, p. 147 n. 2. M. Innes and R. McKitterick
have recently re-argued the case for a dating 817/8 (‘The Writing of History’,
Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation (Cambridge, 1994), at pp. 203–9.
For the manuscripts of the letters, see below, pages 35–43. Benedictus: MGH
Leges (in-fol.), II Praef., p. 40, a statement never satisfactorily explained; for a recent
summary account of the author and his work, see Handwörterbuch zur Deutschen
Rechtsgeschichte 1 (1971), 362–3 (Eckhardt).
Ed. princ.: Duchesne, Opera omnia, gathering è (signature è1
), from the
Rheims manuscript; modern edition by W. Arndt in MGH SS XV, pp. 184–97,
from Mabillon’s revision of Duchesne’s text and the Troyes manuscript; Arndt’s dis-
cussion of date and place of writing, idem, 182–3. Manuscripts: Rheims, bibl. munic.,
1395 fols 89–113
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22 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
The anonymous ?Ferrières author concludes his Preface on an
uneasily-defensive note, which reverberates through several subse-
quent chapters. His hero’s way of life was not easy to commend in
an age which judged monastic life by the stricter and more austere
standards introduced by Benedict of Aniane, whose friendship with
Alcuin is none the less emphasised.
At the same time, it had dis-
played other virtues which, like those of the Frankish king and
Emperor commemorated by a disillusioned Einhard, seemed the more
worthy of commemoration as the age and values that they had
exemplified receded into an irrecoverable past: notably, the enthusiasm
for learning and teaching and the unremitting struggle for Trinitarian
Later writers who had occasion to include a lexicon-
style ‘biography’ in their own writings, from Sigebert of Gembloux
in the years either side of 1100 to William Thorne of Canterbury
at the end of the fourteenth century, were free to concentrate on
Alcuin the teacher and confidant of Charlemagne, the titles or sub-
stance of his opera or opuscula and his liturgical compositions.
A second measure of Alcuin’s reputation may be found in the
copying and availability of his writings over many centuries, on a
scale that makes for surprising comparisons with others whose intel-
lectual achievement in their own time would generally be regarded
rorante. . . . (expl.) Lammina scriptus in çrea parietique insertus <sic>: for a description of
this strangely mis-represented manuscript, see ‘Additional Note I’ at the end of this
chapter; Troyes, bibl. munic., 1712 fols 146–77
(mutil.), INCIPIT PROLOGUS. . . .
COGNOMENTO ALBINI. Superna etc.: incompletely described in Cat. Gén. des Manuscrits
des Bibl. Publ. des Dépts., 2 (1855), pp. 723–4 [Harmand], this part apparently of s.
xiii ex or s. xiii/xiv; nothing is known of its history before it was acquired by Pierre
Pithou (1539–96) whose library mark IO 8 is on fol. 212
Vita, c. 13: ed. Arndt, MGH SS in-fol. XV, p. 192. Compare Ardo’s Vita Benedicti,
ibid., p. 210: (Alcuin) inviolabili se illi caritate coniuncxit.
Compare, most tellingly, Lupus to Einhard in 829–30, shortly after his arrival
at Fulda from Ferrières: Correspondance, ed. L. Levillain, 1 (Paris, 1927), p. 4; and
Hincmar himself in the Prologue to his Miracula S. Dionysii (this part, however, not
included in Rheims 1395 item IIII. EX LIBELLO MIRACULORUM etc.), ed. Mabillon,
AA.SS saec. III pt. 2 = vol. 4 (1672), 343: Quippe sapientiae studium multos apud nos
neglectum est annos liberalesque artes diu sunt intermissae; signa autem quae a temporibus Karoli
famosissimi imperatoris, qui disciplinas adeo excoluit etc.
Sigebert of Gembloux, Chronographia, an. 790: ed. Bethmann, MGH SS VI,
p. 335; idem, Catalogus virum illustrium c. 83: ed. R. Witte (Lateinische Sprache u.
Literatur des M.A., ed. A. Önnerfors; Bonn-Frankfurt, 1974), pp. 76–7; the chron-
icle in Cambridge University Library Add. 3578, probably by Thorne but ed. by
T. Hearne as T. Sprott, Chronica. . . . (Oxford, 1719), pp. 57 ff. (the genuine Sprott being
a work of s. xiii
, in the Canterbury, St. Augustine’s manuscripts London, BL Cotton
Tiberius A ix, fols 107–80 and Lambeth Palace 419, fols 111–60).
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ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs 23
as the more impressive or who were far better known through the
multiplication and public reading of their Vitae. Consider, for exam-
ple, the more than 140 manuscripts of the De virtutibus et vitiis, the
later ones often cheaply produced for a partly lay market and creased
or cover-worn although not necessarily read, since mere possession
was a convenient surrogate for the avoidance of sin; the one hun-
dred or so more-or-less-complete manuscripts of the De fide sanctae
Trinitatis, to which can be added uncounted short extracts in devo-
tional or other compendia, homiliaries and Office Breviaries; the
forty-five of the De rhetorica, one of the last being a copy that comes
from the circle of Leipzig University humanists active in the 1460s
and 1470s; and the forty of the De dialectica, a work that modern
scholars until very recently have dismissed as ‘puerile’.
Compare that with the manuscript evidence for the best-recorded of
Abelard’s writings: the twelve copies, plus one set of excerpts, of the
Theologia ‘scholarium’ (in four versions!), the eleven copies of the Sic et
Non, the five of the Ethica—the rare copies of which might keep com-
pany for a time with more extensive south-German library holdings
of Alcuiniana, still accepted there as moderni.
Contrast the survival
For a broader view than that offered here see Bullough, ‘Alcuin’s Cultural
Influence: the evidence of the manuscripts’, in: Alcuin of York ed. L.A.J.R. Houwen
and A.A. MacDonald (Groningen, 1998), pp. 1–26. The figures in the text are
based on my List, supplemented in the case of the De virtutibus et vitiis by the list
compiled independently by Professor Paul Szarmach (see Manuscripta 25 (1981),
131–40, corrected and amplified for the ninth/tenth centuries in Mediaevalia 12
(1989, for 1986), 14–16). De fide extracts (in fact, overwhelmingly the final, credal,
section = PL 101, cols 56D–58C, and/or the immediately preceding ‘hymn’ or invo-
catio): in compendia, already in Karlsruhe Landesbibl. Aug. XVIII (Reichenau, s.
ix in [copying a Tours book?]) fol. 64 FIDES ALCHUINI LEVITIS AD KAROLUM
IMPERATOREM DATA. Credimus Sanctam Trinitatem . . . confitenti in omnia sçcula sçculo-
rum. amen; a characteristic twelfth-century homiliary (-lectionary) example, Vat.
lat. 6451 (prov. Italy [?Tuscany]) fols 247–248 inc. CREDIMUS SANCTAM TRINITAtem
(om. gratia . . . confitenti ), where it is immediately followed by SERMO HYSIDORI çPI
DE TRINITATE inc. MULTIS ETIAM MODIS Christus (compare the near-contem-
porary ‘Rochester Homiliary’ Vat. Lat. 4951, in which the Sermo de Sancta Trinitate
is the Symbol of the Eleventh Council of Toledo); a typical late-mediaeval breviary,
Solothurn Zentralbibl. cod. S 208, probably written for an Augustinian canon of
Basel a.1462, the Alcuin excerpt at fol. ?120 as lections for the Trinity Sunday
office: see A. Schönherr, Die Mittelalterlichen Handschriften der Zentralbibl. Solothurn
(Solothurn, 1964), 9–11. The Leipzig De rhetorica is in Stuttgart Württembergische
Landesbibl. HB VIII 13, a manuscript of 1470 connected with Rudolf Brun v.
Gottmadingen, et al.
J. Barrow, C. Burnett, D. Luscombe, ‘A checklist of the manuscripts contain-
ing the writings of Peter Abelard and Heloïse and other works closely associated
with Abelard and his school’, RHT., 14–15 (1984–85), 183–302, esp. 255, 253–4,
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24 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
of the sixth/seventh-century Columbanus’s major writings in no more
than two or three manuscripts, with the 150 extant copies of Jonas’s
Life of the Saint, produced between the third quarter of the ninth
century (at Rheims, close in date to the earlier manuscript of the Vita
Alcuini ) and the early sixteenth century (in the Low Countries and the
British Isles).
Almost the only part of Alcuin’s writings not to circulate
widely in the Middle Ages was his poetry, which in the past century
has acquired a familiarity probably second only to his letters: nearly
half the verses in Dümmler’s edition—many of them, in fact, other
men’s compositions—are known from a single, lost, St.-Bertin manu-
script; and the tradition of others is almost equally limited, in spite
of early transmission via, for example, Salzburg and ?Orléans.
Alcuin Revealed?
A necessary first question is, therefore: what were the basis and sub-
stance, and not merely the outward form, of Alcuin’s High-Mediaeval
and twentieth-century reputation? Any worthwhile answer will implic-
itly be raising further questions: in what ways were the writings he
bequeathed to future generations a direct response to or a reflection
of the environments in which spent his most productive years? is it
possible to identify what he owed to his earlier years at York when
he became one of the circle of scholars at the Frankish Court? and
can we identify the extent and limits of his personal influence on
247. The 1165 catalogue of Prüfening Abbey declares (Bibliothekskataloge, 4.i, ed.
Ineichen-Eder, p. 422): Patres alii antiqui, alii moderni. Antiqui sunt Gregorius, Paterius . . .
Effrem, Autpertus et multi alii. Moderni sunt Beda, Albinus . . . Petrus Baiolardus, Petrus
Longobardus et multi alii.
G.S.M. Walker, Sancti Columbani Opera (SLH. 2; Dublin, 1957), pp. xxxv ff.,
M. Lapidge (ed.), Columbanus: Studies on the Latin Writings (Woodbridge, 1997), and
especially the contributions of Neil Wright, Clare Stancliffe and T.M. Charles-
Edwards; B. Krusch, Ionae Vitae Columbani abbatis discipulorumque eius (MGH SSRG,
1905), pp. ix

xi; but the earliest (Rheims) manuscript, unknown to Krusch, is Metz
Grand Séminaire, 1: for knowledge of the Vita already in eighth-century England,
however, see below.
See the apparatus to carmina ix

cxvii in MGH Poet. I, where A. Duchesne’s texts
(1617) from the St.-Bertin manuscript figure as Q[uercetanus]. The most extensive cri-
tique of Dümmler’s edition, with an emphasis on the problems of ‘authenticity’, is
H.-D. Burghardt’s Heidelberg doctoral dissertation of 1960, ‘Philologische Untersuch-
ungen zu den Gedichten Alkuins’, unpublished but available in typescript; see also
the several contributions of Schaller and Godman (below, p. 118 and n. 295, and
Pt. II ch. 4), and the forthcoming Cambridge University Ph.D. of Mary Garrison.
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the king and Emperor? To pose such questions or to ask them in
this particular way is, of course, to assert the claims and assume the
obligations of the biographer—a figure who (it has been said) is both
digger and dreamer. The validity of the attempt and the results are
equally open to challenge. R.G. Collingwood maintained that biog-
raphy is not merely non-historical but anti-historical and compara-
ble rather to the novel. Taken out of its particular philosophical
context the consequences of Collingwood’s view are ultimately to
reduce history to the operation of impersonal forces, with no place
for human dignity, sanctity (in the widest sense) or the elusive inner
journey that nourishes both. A more serious objection is that the
Middle Ages are a ‘portrait-less millenium’ (this particular phrase is
taken from Professor Tellenbach but the notion is widely familiar)
and that purported biographies of most pre-1400 figures simply
confirm this. Any claim that we can approach Alcuin more nearly
than any of his contemporaries or than any one in the next three
centuries (and perhaps longer) must be justified by more than assertion.
The late Sir Richard Southern’s consistent reading of Eadmer’s
Vita Anselmi was as ‘a personal and intimate view, which only those
who lived in the friendship of Anselm could experience’ and whose
reporting of his spoken words ‘in a vivid and natural way’ conveys
something of the individual personality behind them. It allowed him
to claim that the author is the first medieval writer whose aware-
ness of his subject’s inner motivations makes his account a genuine
There is no sense in which the early-ninth-century
?Ferrières author of the Vita Alcuini anticipates his twelfth-century
Canterbury successor. He is no more attempting ‘portraiture’ than
he has achieved a distinguished example of the genre ‘hagiography’.
But it may be that it is because the few readers of the Vita Alcuini
have approached the text with too limited a notion of the genre and
with the wrong expectations that they have failed to consider what
it does record and why.
Several decades ago it was suggested that a new and distinctive
strand began in early-eighth-century Northumbria with Stephen of
For some of the implications for post-1945 ‘Personenforschung’ see e.g. Karl
Schmid, Gebetsgedenken u. adliges Selbstverständnis im Mittelalter: Ausgewählte Beiträge
(Sigmaringen, 1983), esp. pt. III and the extensive literature cited there.
R.W. Southern, St. Anselm and his Biographer (Cambridge, 1963), pp. 314–16,
331–3; Southern, St. Anselm: a Portrait in a Landscape (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 384–5,
422–6 and passim.
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26 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
Ripon’s Life of Wilfrid and the anonymous Life of Abbot Ceolfrith;
taken to the Continent by English missionaries, it coloured to a
greater or lesser degree the Vitae written to commemorate them and
their followers in the evangelisation of the still-pagan regions of west-
ern Europe. Their authors are unusually concerned with the external,
worldly, activity of their subjects, to which they give a recognisable
chronological framework, and with the particular contexts in which
those men and women functioned as channels of Divine grace; unlike
the hagiographers of late-Roman and Frankish Gaul they have lit-
tle to say about the miracle-working powers of their heroes in their
lifetime, or immediately after their death.
The ?Ferrières Vita of
the English-born Alcuin can be viewed as a not-entirely typical exam-
ple of that strand in early-medieval hagiographic composition.
It would now be agreed that the supposed distinction seriously
over-simplifies the diverse forms that the vitae of the period might
take and of the (in our terms) ‘historical’ and biographical informa-
tion which they include or exclude.
Merovingian Lives are indeed
generally indifferent to chronology, and sparing in their references
to independently-documented events; but they are often ‘rich in per-
Th. Schieffer, Winfrid-Bonifatius u. die christliche Grundlegung Europas (Freiburg,
1954; repr. 1980), pp. 104 ff., 147 ff., 273 f.; F. Lotter, Die «Vita Brunonis» des Ruotger
(Bonner Hist. Forsch., 9; 1958), pp. 9–12; also (with a different emphasis) Bullough,
‘Hagiography as patriotism’, Etudes Augustiniennes (Paris, 1981), pp. 340–45.
I originally suggested this approach to the Vita Alcuini in my 1972 Spoleto lec-
ture, ‘Alcuino e la tradizione culturale insulare’, I Problemi dell’Occidente nel secolo VIII,
Settimana di Studio del Centro Italiano sull’Alto Medioevo (Spoleto, 1973),
here pp. 577–80. In what follows, it will be clear that although still holding to it in
part I have subsequently changed my views at several points. A very different inter-
pretation was proposed by Lutz E. von Padberg, Heilige und Familie. Studien zur
Bedeutung familiengebundener Aspekte in den Viten des Verwandten- u. Schülerkreises um Willibord,
Bonifatius u. Liudger (Diss. phil. Münster, 1980), pp. 27–9, without reference to my
own treatment of the subject; for the most part it fails to convince me, except in its
stress on the ‘exemplary’ character of the text; and the inferences from, e.g., the sup-
posed ending of the Vita with the full text of Alcuin’s epitaph are necessarily false.
A.T. Thacker, The Social and Continental Background to early Anglo-Saxon Hagiography
(Oxford D.Phil. thesis, 1976) already argued that the Continental background to
the first English Vitae has been seriously underplayed; and he makes a strong case
for Northumbrian familiarity with Jonas’s Vita Columbani. There is now an enor-
mous and growing literature on the interpretation of early- and high-medieval vitae:
representative examples are F. Lotter, ‘Methodisches zur Gewinnung historischer
Erkenntnisse aus hagiographischen Quellen’, HZ. 229 (1979), 298–356; D. von der
Nahmer, Die lateinische Heiligenvita. Eine Einführung in die lateinische Hagiographie (Darmstadt,
1994), esp. pp. 11 ff.; the references conveniently assembled in M. Stumpf, ‘Zum
Quellenwert von Thangmars Vita Bernwardi ’, DA 53 (1997), at 479–81 nn. 79–82.
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sonal and political detail’; and collectively and individually evidence
for a landed aristocracy which linked its social dominance with lead-
ership in the Church. The missionary Lives are predominantly of
men and women who never forgot their monastic training and voca-
tion and whose attitude (or whose biographers’ attitude) to the estab-
lished authorities is often either ambivalent or concealed.
they, and Carolingian and post-Carolingian Lives, have in common
is that they document and illustrate the elements in their heroes’
earthly careers that are seen as ‘exemplary’.
The Vita Alcuini is distinctive both in the aspects that are singled
out and emphasised by its ?Ferrières author, and in the sources of
his knowledge of them. No fewer than five of the sixteen pages in the
modern folio edition are concerned with Alcuin the pupil and teacher
in the school of York. A mere two pages are devoted to his teach-
ing and writing at the Frankish Court and St. Martin’s, Tours; nearly
a page of text is concerned with his manner of observance of par-
ticular liturgical occasions. In the early sections there are unusually
frequent references, by name, to individuals who were evidently felt
to have played a significant part in Alcuin’s life before he left York
for Francia; and in the later chapters similarly, to disciples, some of
whom are otherwise unknown.
The one paragraph in the Vita that
details Alcuin’s virtues in standard hagiographic terms begins with
a reference to his moderate drinking-habits—conveniently adopting
Paul’s advice to Timothy—and concludes with his pupils’ concern
not to do anything that he would find deplorable when they par-
ticipated in services at other places. The only miracles reported are
two during his time at Tours, which should properly be credited to
St. Martin, and two very minor ones immediately after his death:
an Alcuin cultus never got off the ground and was not encouraged
by the Viking sack of the city and abbey in 853.
At the same time,
Wallace-Hadrill, Frankish Church, pp. 89–93, 158–61.
Cc. 4, 6, 8, 9: ed. Arndt, pp. 186–7, 188, 189–90. See below, Pt. II, chs. 1
and 2.
Cc. 19, 20, 28: ed. Arndt, pp. 194, 197; for the life-time miracles see Pt. II
ch. 7. According to Kleinclausz, Alcuin, p. 281: ‘A Tours, au x
siècle, il existait
dans le cloître de l’abbaye de St.-Martin une chapelle consacré à saint Alcuin’ where
Odo of Cluny ended his days, on the evidence of Vita Odonis (ed. Mabillon, AA.SS,
7) VII 41, where the ecclesia or oratorium is twice mentioned; and he has been fol-
lowed by others. But this is a total mis-representation of the supposed ‘source’. ‘VII
41’ (AA.SS 7, p. 142) refers to Mabillon’s introductory Elogus, where he is quoting
from a late-fifteenth-century (!) necrology of St.-Julien at Tours, which asserts that
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28 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
the Vita includes a conspicuous element of ‘fulfilled prophecy’; and
it has a correspondingly digressive approach to the chronology of its
subject’s career in Francia.
To the reporting of protective and healing miracles must be added
that of dreams and visions, including a nightmare shared by the boy
Alcuin and ‘a simple tonsured rustic’, the adolescent Alcuin’s vision
of the ‘whole world encompassed’, and two associated with Alcuin’s
death and entry into Heaven, revealed respectively to the bishop of
Tours and to a solitary in Italy; and the related evidence of Alcuin’s
prophetic gifts, a premonitory knowledge and the reading of other
men’s thoughts, displayed during his time as abbot. These episodes
are not to be dismissed lightly, as ‘hagiographic commonplaces’, if
only because of their specificity.
They have their counterparts in
Alcuin’s own writings in the 780s and 790s: the extended accounts
of two Northumbrian visions in the ‘York poem’ (more than a tenth
of the entire text), and a rather different shorter one, that of the
the dying Odo—contrary to the evidence of the Vitae of both John of Salerno and
Nalgodus (12th cent.)—in ecclesiam sancti Albini, quae proxima erat, se deferri iussit; and
it is again Mabillon who records that Superest ad hoc usque tempus <sc. 1685> istud
sancti Albini oratorium intra claustra praedicti coenobii [sc. S. Juliani]. A chapel at Tours
dedicated to sanctus Albinus, whether in the tenth or the seventeenth century, would
in any case almost certainly commemorate the sixth-century bishop of Angers of
that name (St.-Aubin). The principal, and indeed the only, evidence for an inci-
pient Alcuin cultus is the presence of his Vita in Rheims, Bib. mun., 1395 between
the Passio sanctae Marinae virginis and the Passio sancti Eleutherii episcopi et Anthiae matris
eius. For the sack of Tours and its consequences see P. Gasnault, ‘Le tombeau de
Saint Martin et les invasions Normandes dans l’histoire et dans la légende’, RHEF.
47 (1961), 51–66.
Dreams or visions in the Vita: cc. 2, 7, 22 (a bad dream as an adult), 26, 27:
ed. Arndt, pp. 185–6, 188–9, 196; premonitions, etc.: cc. 14–18, cf. 12: ed. Arndt,
pp. 192–4, 191–2. There is now an extensive literature on dreams and visions in
medieval texts, much of it listed in P.E. Dutton’s outstanding The Politics of Dreaming
in the Carolingian Empire (1994), pp. 277–8 and passim: to which add especially
P. Sims-Williams’s ‘The unseen world: the monk of Wenlock’s vision’, Religion and
Literature, pp. 243–72 and, for comparative material, Dreaming: Anthropological and
Psychological Interpretations, ed. B. Tedlock (Cambridge, 1987). But only Dutton (Politics
of Dreaming, p. 44) makes any reference to the Vita; and since his primary concern
is with ‘political’ dreams, the instances there are not separately discussed. In his
Opus Caroli regis, III 26, ed. Freeman, MGH Conc II, Supplementum I, pp. 459–66,
Theodulf ‘of Orleans’ argued for a distinction between ‘dreams’, which are not
merely associated with sleep but are commonly demonic, and ‘visions’, which are
normally revelations of Divine origin. He was clearly aware, however, that the sup-
posed contrast is justified neither by the language of NT (esp. Mt 1 and 2) nor by
the most authoritative Patristic texts: and among his contemporaries and near-
contemporaries, Alcuin for one did not consistently recognise it (see next note).
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hermit Balthere; the prayer in verse that ‘those terrors which a dark
power looses in our sleep,/ I ask the merciful right hand of God to
restrain’; and the radically simplified version of Augustine’s influential
‘three kinds of visions’ in one of his didactic letters from Tours.
Not surprisingly, Alcuin’s own dreams and visions are among the
unusually numerous passages where the Vita-author uses oratio recta:
for this there is ample hagiographic precedent. Even in more earthly
contexts, however, such as that where brethren of St. Martin’s,
‘finding another Anglo-Saxon at the door during Alcuin’s abbacy,
expostulate “O God, deliver us from these Britons: for they all descend
on us like bees returning to their queen”’, these speech-passages can-
not safely be regarded as reliable Eadmer-style, let alone Boswell-
style, reportage. Certainly, they are not (or not normally) rhetorical
set-pieces designed to illustrate the possession of a particular virtue
or simply to display the writer’s virtuosity, as in other narrative texts;
but anecdotes of this kind have their own literary function, as later
in Notker’s Gesta Karoli.
The reminiscences and reports of intensely
personal experiences in Alcuin’s early life must none the less have
come ultimately from his own lips via, as the Vita itself bears wit-
ness, ‘his most faithful disciple Siguulf ’ who had followed him (prob-
ably) from York to Tours and long outlived his master at Ferrières.
‘York Poem’ ed. Godman, lines 876–1007 for Dryhthelm’s vision of the Other
World as reported by Bede, lines 1602–48 for the visions of a boyhood friend of
Alcuin’s; also lines 1337–62 for the hermit Balthere’s prayerful response to the
demonic pursuit of a deacon’s soul until PROPRIIS animam ferri vidisset OCELLIS/
altius angelicas caeli super astra per ulnas. Carm. xcvi/1 (MGH Poet. I, p. 321), which the
early Salzburg text in Vienna Nat. bibl. cod. 808 (below, pp. 71–74) indicates was
to be displayed in dormiturio: Et quos inmittit somno vis nigra timores/ Conpescat clemens
domini, rogo, dextra potentis.: ep. no. 135. Willibrord’s mother’s prophetic vision, reported
by Alcuin in his Vita c. 2 (ed. Levison MGH SSRM VII, p. 117), for which his capit-
ulum is De somno (!) et eius interpretatione, quod mater sancti Willibrordi se vidisse narrabat
(ibid., p. 115), may fairly be regarded as a hagiographic commonplace.
See Vita c. 18, ed. Arndt, pp. 193–4, for the reaction to the arrival of the
‘Engelsaxo’ Aigulfus (= Ecgwulf ) presbiter and Alcuin’s handling of it: with which com-
pare (e.g.) Adomnán’s Vita Columbae I, 2, 3, 4 (Adomnán’s Life of Columba, revised ed.
by M.O. Anderson [Oxford, 1991], pp. 18–28) and many subsequent chapters;
Notker, Gesta Karoli I 9 (an exchange between Alcuin and the Emperor that one
would like to believe is authentic!), II 7. But the Vita’s reported exchange between
Alcuin and the king in ?789/90 (c. 9: ed. Arndt, p. 190) is clearly designed to show
his respect for canonical authority and disregard of riches, two points on which
Alcuin was rightly sensitive.
Vita cc. 15, 16, 19 etc., ed. Arndt, pp. 192–3, 194.
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This does not, of course, resolve the problem for the modern biog-
rapher. Those who believe that they have fulfilled or are fulfilling a
destiny to which they have been called ab origine in utero have, at all
times in recorded history, not been averse to re-arranging their own
and others’ past lives to make the pattern clearer or more artistic.
The Vita’s account of Archbishop Ælberht of York’s death-bed injunc-
tion to Alcuin to go to Rome and visit Francia on his return, where
his presence will be needed to combat those who reject the true doc-
trine of the Trinity and make Christ the adopted Son of God, is
clearly just such a re-arrangement and improvement of Alcuin’s own
statements in his later years. The passage in the letter of 800 refer-
ring to the holy man endowed with the spirit of prophecy which
introduced this chapter is immediately followed by the assertion that
‘in addition (etiam et) my master [sc. Ælberht] commanded me that if
at any time I heard of new sects arising contrary to apostolic doc-
trine I should straightaway give myself entirely to the defence of the
Catholic faith’.
Suspicion even attaches to the supposed day of Alcuin’s ordination
as deacon, recorded as the festival of the Purification of the Blessed
Virgin Mary, i.e. February 2nd, which Arndt in his edition reasonably
supposed was taken from some written record at ?Ferrières. It is, how-
ever, by no means certain that when Alcuin was a boy at York the
celebration on February 2nd was of the Purification of the B.V.M.,
rather than, as earlier, a festival of Our Lord, viz. His Meeting with
(or Presentation to) Simeon in the Temple. True, its title in the ‘Vati-
can Gelasian’ sacramentary is purificatio sanctae Mariae; and Bede was
already aware of Rome’s celebration of Mary on that day, complete
with processions and candles. But his own homily on Lc 2.22–32
is ‘dedicated especially to the humility of Our Lord, together with
that of his inviolate mother’; the entry for February 2nd in Willibrord’s
Calendar is sancti Symeonis patriarchae; the ‘York metrical martyrology’s’
verse for that day characterizes it as the one on which Christus tem-
For a striking twentieth-century example see my ‘Alcuin and the Kingdom of
Heaven’, Carolingian Renewal, p. 161. The limitations and distortions of ‘autobio-
graphical memory’ as an historical source have recently attracted pointed comments
from J. Fried, The Veil of Memory. Anthropological Problems When Considering the Past,
German Historical Institute 1997 Annual Lecture (London, 1998), esp. pp. 5–16;
for the views of non-historians see, e.g., Autobiographical Memory ed. D.C. Rubin
(Cambridge, 1986).
Ep. no. 200 (p. 332).
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plo offerebatur; and the earliest versions of the Gregorian Sacramentary
and the ‘Frankish Gelasian’ sacramentaries name it Ypopanti, or in
the latter alternatively Sancti Sym<e>onis, in their rubrics.
Perhaps more importantly, the Vita goes on to say that on that
same day in a previous year Alcuin ‘had let go the hair of his head
(comam capitis amiserat)’. The verbal parallel with ad deponendam comam
capitis in the Gregorian (Hadrianum) and ‘eighth-century Gelasian’
prayer ad clericum faciendum shows clearly that Alcuin’s ‘biographer’
understood the earlier ceremony as the tonsuring which made him
a clericus and not to some other ceremonial hair-cutting.
For this,
the date is perfectly acceptable: no particular season or occasion has
ever been prescribed for (first) tonsuring; but there is a little evi-
dence from the late-eighth and ninth centuries suggesting that feast-
days may have been preferred.
The date February 2nd for a deacon’s
Vita: c. 8, ed. Arndt, p. 189; cf. p. 182. Vatican (‘Old’) Gelasian: ed. Wilson,
II. viii (p. 165), ed. Mohlberg, no. 829; but note that the collect, inc. Deus qui in
hodierna die Unigenitus tuus in nostra carne, quam assumpsit pro nobis, in templo est praesen-
tatus, is in clear conflict with the title. Bede: De temporum ratione, ed. Jones (1943),
pp. 207–8, 1977 ed., p. 323; Homeliae, I.18, ed. Hurst, pp. 128–33. Calendar and
sacramentaries: Calendar of Willibrord, ed. Wilson, p. 4; Sacr. Grég., 1, ed. Deshusses,
p. 123 (27), with no other titles in his apparatus; Sacr. Gell., ed. Dumas, p. 24; Sacr.
Eng., ed. Saint-Roch (1987), p. 28; Metrical Martyrology, as in Pt. II ch. 1, pp.
215–217. Alcuin’s familiarity in his Tours years with the feast’s new title is shown
by Liber contra Haeresim Felicis, ed. Blumenshine, p. 81 (c. xlvi). The editor does not
identify the supposed omelia of Augustine for that day, but it is presumably one of
the ps.-Augustinian sermons included by Alan of Farfa and Paul the Deacon in
their respective homiliaries: for the latter and for other aspects of the pre-history
and early history of the feast, see the wide-ranging study by I. Deug-Su, ‘La festa
della purificazione in Occidente (secoli IV–VIII)’, Studi Medievali, ser. 3, 15 (1974),
Sacr. Grég. ed. Deshusses, 1, no. 992 = 1246 (pp. 340, 417); Sacr. Gell. ed.
Dumas, no. 2495 (p. 379), etc.; Giles Constable, intro. to Burchardi . . . Apologia de
Barbis, ed. R.G.C. Huygens (CCCM 62, [1985]), pp. 103 ff. For capillatura see Sacr.
Grég. cit., no. 991 (p. 339), cf. Sacr. Gellon., cit., nos 2492–94 (p. 379), and Constable,
cit., 56 ff., 89 ff. Note that tonsura in ep. no. 16 (p. 43)—apparently the only instance
in Alcuin’s letters—is a reference to (secular) hair-styles generally and not to cleri-
cal ‘tonsure’. Dümmler suggested a link with the 786 synodal decrees c. 19: but cf.
below, Pt. II ch. 3.
Heiric of Auxerre was tonsured (attonsus est) on Christmas Day 850, according
to his own annalistic notes in Melk, Stiftsbibl. 412, p. 39, ed. G. Waitz in MGH
SS XIII, p. 80, ed. B. de Gaiffier in AB 77 (1959), 394. Hrabanus Maurus may
have been tonsured on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept. 14th) 791,
the day before he witnessed a gift of property to Fulda by his relative Lantfrid,
Urkundenbuch des Klosters Fulda, ed. E.E. Stengel, I/2 (Marburg, 1956), no. 190: so
F. Staab, ‘Wann wurde Hrabanus Maurus Mönch in Fulda?’, Hrabanus Maurus,
Lehrer, Abt und Bischof, ed. R. Kottje and H. Zimmermann (Akad. Mainz, Abh.
Geistes-. u. Sozialwiss. Kl., Einzelveröff. 4; Wiesbaden, 1982), p. 95. The supposedly
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32 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
(or priest’s) ordination, on the other hand, would be wholly excep-
tional in the early-medieval West. It is certainly un-Roman and not
to be expected in a region which claimed to be following Roman
ways. The evidence—for England, admittedly, entirely inferential—
shows an exclusive use of Ember Saturdays (sabbata in XII lectiones al.
quattuor tempora); and the earliest possible date, even with the char-
acteristically Roman usage of ingresso quadragesimali, is February 14th
(in the years of Alcuin’s adolescence in fact February 17th).
A mass-
supporting premise that September 14th was an Ember Day is both unnecessary
and erroneous. In years with Dominical Letter B (. . . 774, 785, 791 . . .) Ember
Wednesday was September 21st (similarly, with Dominical Letter G, September
19th): cf. the statement in the York Dialogus ecclesiasticae institutionis, interrogatio xvi ‘De
tercio ieiunio’ (Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 412), that Hoc Anglorum aecclesia IN
PLENA EPDOMADA ANTE EQUINOCTIUM neglecta terciae epdomadae computatione solet
caelebrare; and the literature on Ember Days cited next note. (Equally erroneous is
Staab’s assertion, p. 95 n. 97, that Heiric’s tonsuring was extra tempore because the
day was ‘ein Quatember-, sondern ein Festtag’.) However, E. Freise, ‘Zum Geburtsjahr
des Hrabanus Maurus’, Hrabanus Maurus ed. Kottje and Zimmermann, pp. 50 ff.,
maintains—more plausibly—that Hrabanus’s presence as a witness in September
791 excludes his being a Fulda oblate at that date and that the stages in his cleri-
cal career before he was ordained deacon in 801 are not precisely datable. Hrabanus
and Heiric were both tonsured as monastic oblates; for Alcuin as a cathedral cleric,
and for the cursus of other such clerics, see below, Pt. II ch. 1.
The fullest English-language account of the complex early history of Ember
Days is G.G. Willis, ‘Ember Days’, Essays in Early Roman Liturgy (Alcuin Club;
London, 1964), 49–98; but compare, for the English (and some other) evidence,
Bullough, ‘Roman books’, Carolingian Renewal, pp. 5–6, 24–5 (n. 19)—where, how-
ever (as Catherine Cubitt pointed out) I wrongly denied a visit to Rome by the
young Egberht, for which Bede’s letter to him is clear testimony. More recent sum-
maries are A.G. Martimort (ed.), The Church at Prayer 4 (Collegeville, Minn. and
London, 1986), pp. 28–9, C. Vogel, Medieval Liturgy: an introduction to the sources, Engl.
ed. by W.G. Storey and N.K. Rasmussen (Washington, D.C., 1986), pp. 178, 312–13,
with additional bibliography on pp. 220 (n. 164), 389 (n. 112). Eighth- and early-
ninth-century evidence for the imperative character of the link between the quattuor
tempora fasts and the ordination of priests and deacons in the Roman rite (cf.
Martimort (ed.), The Church at Prayer, 3 [Collegeville and London, 1987], pp. 152–3)
is: Sacr. Gelas. ed. Wilson, p. 22, ed. Mohlberg, nos 140–42; OR XXXIV c. 28
(Andrieu, 3, 610–11; with the editor’s introduction, idem, pp. 554–7); and Amalarius,
Liber Officialis, II 1, 6–14 (ed. Hanssens, 2, pp. 198–201). In ‘Albuinus deliciosus regis’,
p. 80 n. 23, I spoke of the ‘indirect reasons’ for supposing that Ember Saturday
ordinations were also normal English practice. But these are really no more than
the insistence on the correct (Roman) observance of ‘Ember Days’ in both the
southern and northern Provinces in the central decades of the century: so Council
of Clovesho, 747, c. 18, (Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 368), which has no coun-
terpart in Frankish synodal decrees; Dialogus eccl. inst. int. xvi: ibid., pp. 410–13; the
Gelasian sacramentary’s Ordo qualiter in Romana sedis apostolicae ecclesia presbyteri, diaconi
<vel subdiaconi> eligendi sunt, inc. Mensis primi, ed. Wilson, p. 22, ed. Mohlberg, nos
140–42; and Amalarius, who regarded Alcuin as his master in liturgical matters
and quotes in support of the link between Ember Days and ordinations the not
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set the collect of which emphasises that it was unigenitus tuus [sc. Dei ]
in nostra carne quam assumpsit pro nobis (Vatican Gelasian sacramentary)
or unigenitus filius tuus cum nostrae carnis substantia (‘Frankish Gelasian’
and Gregorian sacramentaries) who was presented hodierna die in the
Temple seems, in the light of Alcuin’s position and language in con-
fronting Adoptionism, to be just a little too convenient.
We should
not be too ready to take literally some of the apparent documenta-
tion of Alcuin’s earliest years. Yet at the very least the Vita-author
can be credited with conveying something of what Alcuin himself
and subsequently his discipuli wished to be remembered, and in what
form, of both the Northumbrian and the Frankish phases of his life.
Although letters written in the 790s include a number of reveal-
ing biographical reminiscences going back almost four decades,
Alcuin in general does little enough to provide the details which
seem so important to the modern biographer and the Vita-author
ignores. The pedagogical, exegetic and theological works which fill
nearly two-thirds of Frobenius Forster’s and Migne’s pages, and are
the material basis of any ‘intellectual biography’, characteristically
contain almost no personal details and few direct references to the
external world—although perhaps not quite so few as is commonly
asserted. Only a minority of them include internal evidence that
allows them to be dated to a particular year or to one of two years;
and none of these is earlier than ca. 789. Both Alcuin’s older rela-
tive Willibrord and more than one of his near-contemporaries and
pupils made a ‘kalendarial’ record of the principal dates in their cler-
ical careers: if Alcuin did the same, as is not implausible, the only
apparent trace of it is the previously-discussed (false?) day of his ordi-
nation. Alcuin’s verse-epitaph, although—or perhaps because—he
obviously-relevant responsio of Pope Gregory to (in his words) interrogationem [VI]
Agustini Anglorum episcopi. Even accepting that the basic Northumbrian sacramentary
was a variety of the Gelasian (below, pp. 205–06), there is obviously a certain cir-
cularity in the argument, which may make it unwise to dismiss out of hand the
one specific reference to an eighth-century English ordination day.
Vatican Gelasian, as n. 70; Sacr. Gell., ed. Dumas, no. 196 (p. 24); Sacr. Eng.,
ed. Saint-Roch (1987), no. 203 (p. 28); Sacr. Grég. ed. Deshusses, 1, no. 124 (p. 124).
Note that the Gregorian and Frankish Gelasian sacramentaries, but not the Vatican
Gelasian sacramentary, have a post-communion prayer (Gell. no. 199, Eng. no. 207,
Grég. no. 126) in which the words intercedente beata semper virgine Maria have been
added to an older prayer-text.
For the character of these reminiscences, see my remarks in JournMedLat, 5
(1995), 174, 187–92; and add the references in n. 67 above.
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had composed it himself, includes none of the elements of a curricu-
lum vitae that feature in the epitaphs of several of his disciples and
admirers: it is very largely a weaving together of well-established epi-
graphic formulae and more recent poetic commonplaces; and even
the one line that may seem to strike a personal note, ‘My name was
Alchuine and wisdom was always dear to me (. . . sophiam mihi sem-
per amanti )’ is firmly in this tradition.
The one work of Alcuin’s other than his letters which includes
significant biographical information, and that mostly indirectly, is his
poem on ‘the Saints of York’. For more than a century it has been
generally accepted that this is the one substantial work written before
Alcuin left his homeland for Francia (traditionally dated 781/2), a
view that has, however, been challenged by its most recent editor.
Professor Godman used the poem to throw doubt also on the (equally
traditional) dating of Alcuin’s birth and put it rather later, i.e. on
his calculation 737/8–745/6, with obvious implications for our con-
ception of the York years, and potentially of importance for any
consideration of his relations with the Frankish king and others in
the Court circle. Unfortunately, his assertion is based on an arith-
metical error where the ‘correct’ calculation would produce a dat-
ing 745/7–752/54, which is not easy to reconcile with the evidence
provided elsewhere by Alcuin himself or with the reminiscences of
others: a date of birth a year or two either side of 740 remains the
most probable.
Above, p. 18 and n. 37. Wallach, Alcuin and Charlemagne, p. 259, correctly
identified the concluding prayer (which is not due to Alcuin) Requiem aeternam donet
ei Dominus, and its extension et lux perpetua luciat ei in some manuscript-copies, as of
liturgical origin; but he was probably wrong to derive it, at this date, specifically
from the introit for a Missa de defunctis. Non-Psalmic—it is from the apocryphal IV
Esr 2.34–5—the epitaph’s precise wording was widely used in the ‘Visigothic’ liturgy:
see Le Liber Ordinum, ed. M. Férotin, Monumenta Ecclesiae Liturgica, ed. Cabrol and
Leclercq, vol. 5 (Paris, 1904; repr. Farnborough, 1969), cc. 111, 112, 124, 133, 148
etc. Slightly variant forms are found in several pre-800 texts of Roman origin, a
further variant being quoted at the English Council of Clovesho in 747: Haddan and
Stubbs, Councils, 3, 373 (c. 27). It was, however, the Visigothic form that was
adopted for the ninth-century Romano-Frankish liturgy in several different, although
always funerary, contexts: details in D. Sicard, Liturgie de la mort, pp. 72–4, 76–80.
‘York Poem’ ed. Godman, p. 133 (comm. to lines 1635–6). Lines 1600–32 are
an account of two visions experienced by a iuvenis in the York community (almost
certainly to be identified with the puer Seneca [sic!] of ep. no. 42 (p. 86), who had—
Alcuin says—greatly influenced him for good in his own boyhood, while lines
1635–48 record his death later that same year, populantis peste doloris. Prof. Godman
reasonably links this with the evidence of the annalistic continuation of one group
of Historia Ecclesiastica manuscripts, which under the year 759 (ed. Colgrave and
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The Evidence of the Letters
If we are to approach the individual behind the self-created image
and the subsequent reputation, or come nearer to the man behind
the writings that were produced at least in part for posterity and
not merely for his own age, it must inevitably be through the let-
ters. The total number of these still extant is impressive, compared
with collections of previous and immediately succeeding centuries.
The standard modern edition contains at least two hundred and
eighty-one letters written by Alcuin, even after the exclusion of eight
or nine letter-prefaces to longer works, the elimination of those writ-
ten by him in the king’s name as well as of ones addressed to Alcuin,
and the rejection of a few letters wrongly attributed to him. The
most important of the latter is the so-called Capitula quç tali convenit
in tempore memorari that accompanies authentic letters and other Alcuin-
connected texts in two lower-Loire manuscripts, which may indeed
be of the eleventh century rather than (as has generally been sup-
posed) of the late-ninth. On the grounds of language and style as
well as of manuscript-context, Alcuin is clearly not the author of an
anonymous (ille) letter addressed to Pope Leo III (ep. no. 180), from
Mynors, pp. 574–6) records the succession of King Æthelwald, ‘in whose second
year magna tribulatio mortalitatis venit and lasted almost two years’. (For the date, and
the translation of this passage, see below, Pt. II, ch. 1, pp. 239–90 and n. 330) But
having deducted fourteen, as the last year of pueritia, from the annalistic date to
arrive at one limit-date for Alcuin’s birth, he deducts from this a further seven to
arrive at the other! when it should, of course, have been deducted from the same
adjusted annalistic date(s).
I count as letter-prefaces (or dedication-letters) epp. nos 80, 120, 200, 203, 213,
257, 306 and 309, but not—probably inconsistently!—epp. nos 201 (cf. Heil, Alkuinstudien,
1, 49–50, 71) and 202: ep. no. 201 almost certainly originally accompanied the anti-
Adoptionist text to which it refers as opusculo huic nostro; and the manuscript-tradi-
tion of all eleven items is quite distinct from that of most of the rest of Alcuin’s
letters. Letters in the king’s name probably composed by Alcuin are epp. nos 85,
87, 92, 93 (the reservations expressed by H. Löwe in HZ 188 (1959), 439 take no
account of the manuscript context), 100; letters written by others are epp. nos 46,
66 (Arn, apparently imitating a letter of Alcuin’s), 147, 151, 152—these five not
addressed to Alcuin—144, 182, 183, 196, 199 and 247. Dümmler followed Jaffé in
making three letters (epp. nos 179, 184, 208) out of one in the manuscripts: like
Heil, Alkuinstudien, pp. 40–45, 71, I think they were wrong to do so, although I
regard the first two as probably constituting a single letter. A border-line case is
ep. no. 197. Dümmler assumed that this was a ‘letter of consolation’ to the king
on the death of Liutgarda; but the heading in two of the three manuscript testi-
monies is Epitaphium Liodgardae feminae nobili in contrast with the following item’s
[Epistola] alia consolatoria, and the opening and concluding sections are addressed to
Domine [Deus] Iesu.
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which inferences have sometimes been drawn about his relations with
the pope at the end of 799; it could, however, very well have been
written (in an unknown year after 795) by (Arch)bishop Arn of
Salzburg or by another bishop in his province.
The text inc. Beatus
igitur David rex in the form in which it was printed by Dümmler as
ep. no. 304 is almost certainly not genuinely Alcuin’s, but a more
authentic form may exist. Two previously unknown letters, respec-
tively to King Offa of Mercia (in a tenth-century manuscript of
unknown origin, now at The Hague) and to the Spanish abbot Beatus
of Liébana (in a now-defective ‘Visigothic’ manuscript), came to light
between the Wars. A third supposed addition, from a late-eleventh-
century south-Italian book, can be discounted.
The capitula was edited by Dümmler (ep. no. 132) from the (?twin) manuscripts
Paris B.N. lat. 5577 and Vatican Reg. lat. 69; frequently referred to in recent decades,
particularly for its citing of the proverbial Vox populi, vox Dei, apparently for the first
time, it has in my view nothing to do with Alcuin, although a case can be made
for its connection with Fridugis, or his circle at Tours, a generation later. The man-
uscripts in question, hitherto dated to the late-ninth or ninth/tenth centuries, have
latterly been re-dated by J. Vezin and the late Bernhard Bischoff to the eleventh
century: see Bullough, ‘Reminiscence and Reality: Text, Translation and Testimony
of an Alcuin Letter’, JournMedLat 5 (1995), 174–201, at 176–7, and Mordek, Bibliotheca
capitularium, pp. 557–9, 805–7; and among the additional arguments for the later
dating is the contemporary correction of spiritalis to spiritualis in BNF lat. 5577 fol.
118 (ep. no. 178). For the probably Salzburg-area manuscripts in which ep. no. 180
is transmitted, see below; Arn’s authorship was already suggested by Zeumer, MGH
Formulae, p. 452. For the commendatory letter ep. no. 299 also as non-Alcuinian,
see Additional Note III ad fin.
The two authentic letters are: to Offa, in The Hague, Kon. Bibl. 70. H.7 fols
58–59, ed. P. Lehmann, Sitz. Ber. Akad. München, 1920, no. 13 (1921), 29–34 (=
Levison, England and the Continent, pp. 245–6); to Beatus in Madrid, Arch. Hist.
Nacional B. 1007 fols [101–1
], 102–2
(fol. 101 being part of a detached quire
which was in private hands before 1930 and apparently disappeared during the
Civil War), ed. A. Millares Carlo, Contribución al Corpus de códices visigóticos (Publ. de
la Fac. de Filosofía y Letras, Univ. de Madrid, 1, 1931), 213–22, ed. Levison,
England and the Continent, pp. 318–23. L. Mattei-Cerasoli (Benedictina, 2 [1948], 227–30)
proposed to add an Alcuini collectum ex sacra scriptura, qualiter septies in die et semel in
nocte domino laudes omnibus christianis oporteat referre in Cava, Biblioteca della Badia, cod.
3 pt. iii (Cava, s. xi
), fols 318–319
. Although Alcuinian phraseology occurs inter-
mittently in the ‘letter’ (and the next text in the manuscript, fols 320 et seq., is
Charles’s letter to Alcuin, ep. no. 144 from a common source with the manuscript
Madrid, Bibl. nac. 19 [A. 16]), its style and language overall are very different from
Alcuin’s. Moreover, the concluding section on the seven-fold and nightly praise of
God is closely related to the earlier re-fashioning of a seemingly genuine Alcuin-
text (i.e. one of the manuscript-versions of Dümmler’s ep. no. 304: above) to form
the pseudo-Alcuin ep. no. 304a. The narrow and distinctive manuscript base of the
latter, viz. Rome, Bibl. Casanatense 641 pt. ii (Beneventan, s. x in) fol. 167 and the
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Even the reduced total of two hundred and eighty-three (284?
285?) is more than the surviving correspondence of Augustine and
considerably more than that of Jerome. The best-documented eighth-
century figure before Alcuin is Boniface, from whom we have less
than fifty extant letters, although more than thirty addressed to him
are included in the collected correspondence. Bede apparently felt
that only five of his pre-731 letters were worth preserving; and even
with the addition of the epistola ad Egbertum and the dedicatory let-
ters, mostly to Bishop Acca of Hexham, accompanying works of exe-
gesis, the grand total does not exceed sixteen. For none of Alcuin’s
contemporaries other than popes does the surviving correspondence
reach double figures.
The extant corespondence of the highly-
regarded Lupus of Ferrières—highly regarded by modern scholars,
that is—runs to one hundred and thirty-three letters: for all but five
of them we are dependent on a single (late-ninth-century) manu-
script. Evidence exists for some 450 letters written in the name of
Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims (thanks to their ‘registration’ by the
chronicler Flodoard) but less than one hundred are preserved com-
plete or almost complete. The correspondence of Ratherius of Lobbes
and Verona in the later tenth century, laboriously assembled by mod-
ern editors, runs to a mere thirty-three (now thirty-four) items.
until Anselm of Bec and Canterbury has one man’s correspondence
Collectio canonum in V libris III ccliii (ed. M. Fornaseri, CCCM 6 (1970), pp. 438–9,
with an erroneous identification and several errors of transcription), the primary
manuscript of which is the probably Farfa book of s. xi
, Vat. lat. 1339, here fol.
, points strongly to a south-central Italian origin for both texts.
Boniface: Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus = MGH Epist. Select. 1, ed.
M. Tangl (Berlin, 1916); and note that, in Tangl’s analysis, Boniface’s correspon-
dence was assembled and copied only when collections of Alcuin’s letters had been
circulating in Francia for some time. The ‘collection of 150 letters’ surviving from
his correspondence claimed by Wallace-Hadrill (Frankish Church, p. 150) is actually
the total number of items in Tangl’s edition! Bede: the list of his writings at the
end of HE (V 24: ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 568) includes librum epistularum ad
diversos, of which five are then specified. Two of them still lack a modern edition;
for the primary manuscript, Paris BNF lat. 2840 (Ferrières), see below, Pt. II ch. 2
at n. 20. Contemporaries: MGH Epp. IV and V, passim.
Lupus: L. Levillain, ed. and transl., Loup de Ferrières. Correspondance (Les Classiques
de l’histoire de France au M.A., vols. 10, 16; Paris, 1927, 1935), also P.K. Marshall,
Servatus Lupus Epistolae (Teubner; Leipzig, 1984). Hincmar: MGH Epp. VIII, ed.
E. Perels, R. Schieffer (in progress); and Schieffer’s observations in Mittelalterliche
Textüberlieferungen und ihre kritische Aufarbeitung (Munich, 1976), p. 62. Ratherius:
F. Weigle, ed., Die Briefe des Bischofs Rather von Verona, MGH Die Briefe der Deutschen
Kaiserzeit 1 (Weimar, 1949), with the addition of the very fragmentary autograph
Briefkonzept published by Bischoff, Anecdota Novissima, pp. 17–19.
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38 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
been preserved that exceeds Alcuin’s in scale. Excluding those addressed
to Anselm, the standard modern edition gives the texts of nearly
four hundred authentic letters; the main early collection in the
Canterbury manuscript London Lambeth 59, which may reflect his
own view of what ought to be preserved, has three hundred and
eighty-nine letter-items (including ones to him).
The limitations even of such a comparatively large collection as
a source of ‘biography’ are none the less obvious. Letters of the early
and central Middle Ages are (it is generally agreed) literary artifices
or ‘public’ statements of attitude or policy, lacking any authentic per-
sonal element—the revealing of feelings, emotions, uncertainties or
affection which we expect to find in the correspondence of more
recent centuries. Only a restricted period of Alcuin’s later life is rep-
resented. No letter is to be dated before the early 780s, only fifteen
of the two hundred and eighty-three/five are certainly or almost cer-
tainly, and a further seven possibly, earlier than the last months of
and a very few years at the turn of the century—say 798–801—
are disproportionately well-represented. Even for the best-documented
years we clearly have only a small part of what once existed. Ardo,
the author of the first and only ‘historical’ Life of Benedict of Aniane,
asserts that during Alcuin’s time at Tours he was frequently writing
letters to Benedict (who admired him in spite of their different
approaches to the religious life) which were then made up into a
volume. No trace of this libellus is apparent in the extant collections,
where only two letters addressed to Benedict individually are to be
found, although both confirm Ardo’s claim of regular exchanges of
Paschasius Radbertus had seen letters to Abbot
S. Anselmi Opera Omnia, ed. F.S. Schmitt, vols. 3–5 (Edinburgh, 1946–51; repr.
Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, 1968). For the manuscript-collections and the controversy
over their formation, see Southern, St. Anselm (1990 edition), pp. 458–81.
For the letters written while Alcuin was in England 790–93, see below, Pt. II
ch. 3, pp. 391–400. ‘Not before the early 780s’, if I am right in dating epp. nos 1
and 2 (in Jaffé’s and Dümmler’s editions ‘773–86’, the years of Leutfred of Mayo’s
pontificate), specifically to 784: below, p. 340. My suggestion in EHR 77 (1962),
635 n. 6 that ep. no. 11, addressed to Angilbert when he was primicerius of Pippin
rex Italiae, might be ante-dated to the early/mid 780s was clearly mistaken: it must
in fact be of the late 790s.
Ardo, Vita Benedicti, c. 24: ed. Waitz, MGH SS XV, p. 210; epp. nos 56, 57—
both only in the H collection of letters, and the former clearly linked with the let-
ter which precedes it in that manuscript-collection (ep. no. 55). Dümmler dated all
three ‘782–96’: a dating 793/4–796 is not unlikely for nos 55 and 56, but the
language of no. 57 makes it almost certain that this was written after Alcuin had
left the Court for Tours; and compare Vita Alcuini c. 14, ed. Arndt, MGH SS XV,
p. 192.
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Adalhard of Corbie which are not necessarily identical with the six
preserved in one particular collection that almost certainly had orig-
inated elsewhere. It is likely that Alcuin wrote far more letters to
Pyreneean and Spanish clergy than might be concluded from the
very few of which copies have survived; and the isolated survival of
requests or thanks for prayers addressed to otherwise unknown cor-
respondents, such as the one to an Elegius episcopus and his congrega-
tion(s) added in the late-ninth century to a collection of Fortunatus’s
verse and other texts, suggests that these, too, had figured regularly
in his correspondence, perhaps already before the ‘registration’ or
collection of his letters had begun.
Only a tiny number of Alcuin’s
‘business’ or administrative letters—announcements of impending
arrival and other instructions to stewards of estates, open letters of
commendation for messengers and other travellers—have been pre-
served: communications in the first category were obviously often
transmitted orally, but there is unequivocal evidence for the use of
writing also. None the less, the letters that are now extant average
out at two a month for the period between July 793 and the end
of 803 (and slightly more for the years at Tours only), which would
be a respectable rate of survival for many public figures of more
recent centuries.
Alcuin contrasts epistolae proper, also referred to by the plural nouns
apices and litterae, with epistiunculae.
Apart from some invaluable
remarks by Wallach, usually to prove a particular thesis, and Edelstein’s
Eruditio und Sapientia, whose preconceptions I only partly share, there
has been little serious study of the form and lexica of letters in either
group. After ‘living with’ the letters for a quarter of a century, I am
still uncertain whether the abrupt transitions and repetitiveness of
Paschasius, Vita Adalhardi cap. 21, PL 120, col. 1519; epp. nos 175, 176, 181,
220, 222, 237, all only in the H collection. Elegius: ep. no. 269 (Olim vestra beatissima
caritas . . . perdonavit nobis assidua sanctarum apud se orationum suffragia, so vobis has dirigere
litterulas curavi ad renovandam pristinae promissionis fraternitatem), in Brussels Bib. roy.
5354–61 (1352) fol. 7
(previously blank). The manuscript as a whole is, according
to Bischoff, ‘östliches Frankreich’(?), IX. Jh., 3 Drittel’: Katalog 1, no. 713, p. 154.
Apices = epistola is Late Latin usage, first recorded in the fourth century but
seemingly avoided by both Symmachus and Jerome (and very rare in Augustine).
It was, however, adopted early by the Papal and other writing-offices; Aldhelm uses
it, Boniface apparently only in his first surviving letter, when he was still much
influenced by Aldhelm’s style and vocabulary (MGH, Epist. Select. 1, ed. Tangl, no.
9, p. 4: humillimis mediocritatis meae apicibus), and a Kentish king when writing to
Boniface (ibid., no. 105, p. 230). Per hos rusticitatis meae apices is Alcuin’s characteri-
sation of one of his earliest extant letters, ep. no. 7 of 790 in.
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40 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
some of the longer epistolae are evidence of the pre-existence of for-
mulaic drafts that have been combined with the minimum of edit-
ing; or whether, in the process of oral composition, a new sentence
or clausal opening (Cogita(te) . . ., Vos vero qui . . ., Esto(te) . . . etc.) com-
monly ‘triggered’ a succession of epithets or noun-clauses some of
which had previously figured in a different sequence. Several are
indeed impressively long, not least in comparison with those of the
best-documented letter-writers of Antiquity: a letter to the archbishop
of Canterbury in 793 extends to nearly fourteen hundred words,
without the address-clause and the appended twenty-four lines of
verse; the longest of a group to the Frankish king in 798 exceeds
seventeen hundred words.
Epistiunculae in contrast are notes, even
ones to the king, usually dashed off spontaneously because time is
short, and are not intended to say anything in particular, or else are
written to accompany some gift or a batch of previously-composed
letters; like the business-letters, they have a poor chance of survival.
The form and address-clauses of a few of the epistolae indicate that
their carrier was expected to take them to several destinations suc-
cessively. Educated or otherwise reliable letter-carriers were commonly
expected to give the addressee(s) additional information orally; news
and views of a particularly delicate kind, which could have uncom-
fortable repercussions if they became known to the wrong person,
were normally conveyed in this way.
Conversely, Alcuin in one of
For repetitions in a single letter, see e.g., epp. nos 18 and 33. The long letters
are epp. nos 17 and 136. According to A. Wikenhauser, New Testament Introduction,
transl. J. Cunningham, (New York, 1958), pp. 346–7, the letters of St. Paul have
an average length of 1300 words, ranging between 335 and 7101 words, while those
of Cicero average 295 words with a maximum of 2530 and those of Seneca aver-
age 995 words with a maximum of 4134.
For epistiunculae to recipients unnamed and named, see especially ep. no. 57 to
Benedict of Aniane: characteristically, this is a letter of a mere one-hundred-and-
seventy words, with no Biblical quotation or allusion, although it is not lacking in
formal structure; and it deploys one metaphor of friendship which does not seem
to recur in the correspondence.
‘Circular’ letters: ep. no. 104 (to Brittanniae pontifices), epp. nos 137 and 138 (to
monastic and clerical communities and to laity in parts of southern Francia). Oral
messages: ep. no. 101 (Alcuin to Offa of Mercia), Hos disciplinae nostrae et eruditionis
discipulos . . . ut . . . suscipiatis obsecro; pacificam vero legationem ferunt IN ORE et in manibus;
et per eos mihi demandare potestis quod vultis; ep. no. 2 of ?784 (for the date and a pos-
sible explanation, see below, Pt. II ch. 3). For that age-old practice, to which the
modern counterpart is the ‘confidential telephone-call’, compare G. Constable, The
Letters of Peter the Venerable (Cambridge, Mass, 1967), 2, pp. 25–8. Note that in the
letters of Alcuin and some of his contemporaries (e.g. ep. no. 46, Chase, Two Letter-
Books, I/8 (p. 31)) legatio(nes) usually has the force of ‘commission(s)’.
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his Dialogues, imitating the late-Antique Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et
Epictiti philosophi, calls a letter ‘the silent messenger’, tacitus nuntius;
and so sensitive were the contents of a letter written to him by Arch-
bishop Arn that it was ‘consigned to the fire’ after he and a discipu-
lus had read it, to ensure that it did not cause scandal because of
the carelessness of ‘the person who looks after my correspondence’!
Sustaining a correspondence, as Alcuin remarks on more than one
occasion, depends on the comings and goings of anonymous mes-
sengers ( portitores, missi, exceptionally cursores) from near and distant
places, sometimes even on the willingness of a hurried visitor or mes-
senger to extend his stay. The fortuitous arrival of another person’s
letter-carrier might lead to the renewing of a link that had been bro-
ken for many years or start a new chain of correspondence.
Martin’s at Tours during Alcuin’s abbacy, on the other hand, was
evidently maintaining a frequent messenger-service to a select few
destinations. For many months in 798 and 799 Alcuin was writing
to (Arch)bishop Arn at quite short intervals, sometimes measured in
days rather than weeks, and Arn was replying somewhat less frequently.
The losses among Alcuin’s letters are apparently almost as numer-
ous as the survivals; not one of the letters addressed to him by Arn
has been preserved—which is also the case with other regular cor-
respondents over many years, such as Paulinus, patriarch of Aquileia.
Editions of the Disputatio Pippini cum Albino and of the Altercatio by W. Suchier
in L.W. Daly and W. Suchier, Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et Epicteti Philosophi, Illinois
Studies in Language and Literature 24 (Urbana, 1939), at pp. 143 and 104; ep. no.
184: propter neglegentiam meas cartulas servantis (-es, mss.; cf. ‘York Poem’ ed. Godman,
line 1283, germanae pacis servantes iura vicissim), apparently the only such reference in
the letters.
Epp. nos 57 (secundum oportunitatem portitoris), 104 (quia oportuna mihi evenit occasio),
189 (to the bishop of Winchester, with whom apparently Alcuin had not been in
touch since the 786 synod), 190, 201 (si forte oportunus occurret vobis portitor—to Spain!),
207, 212 etc. Whatever was the case in Antiquity and in the later Middle Ages, in
Alcuin’s time the several terms for ‘letter-carrier’ were clearly interchangeable. Baiulus,
in mid-eighth century letters from the Kentish king and from the archbishop of
Canterbury, Epist. Select. 1, ed. Tangl, nos 105 (p. 230) and 117 (p. 252), is not
used by Alcuin.
A detailed account of the Alcuin-Arn exchanges in 798/9 is in Pt II, where
also the evidence for a sharp reduction in correspondence in the years 801–2 is
presented. Paulinus’s seven (or less) surviving letters, none of them to Alcuin, are
MGH Epp. IV, pp. 516–27: and note that the letter of 791 to the Frankish king
(idem. pp. 517–20), is in BAV Vat. lat. 3827 (N.Fr., end s. ix) at fols 39
where it immediately precedes the record of the 796/7 Friuli council and Pope
Hadrian’s Capitulare adversus synodum, JE.2843. For lost letters of Alcuin to Paulinus
of Aquileia in 796, see Pt. II, ch. 4.
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Unsurprisingly there is no surviving original. The material form
and appearance of Alcuin’s letters must necessarily be deduced from
their letter-collection copies and from the tiny number of original
letters of Carolingian date. It is not excluded that ‘notes’ were some-
times written and sent on waxed tablets, as in earlier centuries.
Most, however, were surely penned on a single parchment sheet,
although some letters would necessarily have required a bifolium or,
exceptionally, several foldings (to make a libellus or quire): Alcuin
ends a letter to Arn with the assertion that he was running out of
space—although not of love.
They were generally tied (with a parch-
ment strip?) to which a seal was sometimes applied; and the name
of the addressee, occasionally with an additional form of identification
or even greeting, was written on the outside.
The overwhelming
Scripsi nomen Paulini mei non in cera, quae deleri potest, sed in anima says Alcuin in
his earliest extant letter to Paulinus, ep. no. 28. Scripsi <non> in cera can surely be
understood literally as well as figuratively, like the royal apices dilectionis atramento for-
mati of ep. no. 126; but if so, the wax tablet is likely to have been used in the draft-
ing of the letter rather than for the final version.
Ep. no. 124 (to the bishop of ?Leicester) fills roughly five sides in the earliest
copies, ep. no. 136 (to Charles) requires at least ten sides! Original single-sheet let-
ters are: Chartae Latinae Antiquiores 16 (1986), no. 629 (pp. 59–65) of 787/8, from
Maginarius of St.-Denis to the king; and the several described by P. Chaplais, ‘The
letter from Bishop Wealdhere of London to Archbishop Brihtwold of Canterbury:
the earliest original “letter close” extant in the West’, Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts
and Libraries, ed. M.B. Parkes and A.G. Watson (1978), pp. 3–21. Ecce deficiente car-
tula—non caritate—pennam deponimus: ep. no. 107 (which none the less requires 2
leaves in its copies).
Tieing and addressing: Antonio . . . has litteras alias . . . CLAUSA CARTULA sicut
est deprecor ut dirigas; quia si discincta veniat in praesentiam illius vilescit apud eum, ep. no.
221 (to Angilbert); cf. the distich Discingat chartam mitis, rogo, dextera David etc., clearly
intended for the outside of the letter ep. no. 240 to Charles (pre-800 rather than
later), the verses inc. Nulla manus [cartam] discingat ni tua, praesul, MGH Poet. I, p. 248
(no. xxix.2), which must belong to another letter, now lost (or unidentifiable), and
the verses Curre velox carta, plures fer cincta salutes/ Dic: tua me queso discinge dextera illi,
accompanying (and likewise originally on the outside of ) a letter from Alcuin’s dis-
ciple Candidus, MGH Epp. IV, p. 561. For other possible external ‘addresses’ pre-
served in later copies see below; for earlier English examples, including the one
‘original’, see Chaplais, ‘The letter from Bishop Wealdhere’, pp. 7–10. Alcuin’s seal:
Hec ut nostra credatis, nostro sigillo subter sigillavimus, ep. no. 104, refers to an evidently
circular (and therefore ‘patent’) letter to pontifices Britanniae; compare, however, his
gloss on the etymology of epistola in ep. no. 88 (of c. 800?), Quasi supercinctorium esset
epistolae sigillum, quo a foris vestiatur cartula, the metaphoric usage paginulam . . . sancta
fide sigillatam in ep. no. 294 (on masturbation!) and solutis sigillis of a letter sent to
Alcuin by Paulinus of Aquileia, ep. no. 86; but in ep. no. 57, asking Benedict to
pass on to their intended recipients a batch of notes sent at the same time, Alcuin
indicates that he is free to read them first if he wishes. Compare Chaplais’s cau-
tion (p. 10) about the ‘evidence . . . that Anglo-Saxon letters missive were actually
sealed’: he does not use Alcuin’s letters.
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majority of the extant letters were almost certainly fair-copied for
dispatch by an amanuensis or other clerical scribe: whether the
farewell clauses, which are only inconsistently preserved in the copies,
and even the occasional postscript to a letter, were ‘autograph’ in
the originals is not certainly determinable, although I favour the view
that in many instances they were.
Unexpectedly, perhaps, tran-
scriptions of nearly eighty different letters (more than a quarter of
the total extant) are to be found in three manuscripts written dur-
ing Alcuin’s lifetime. Moreover, the palaeography and codicology of
the two larger collections establish their places and dates of origin
with unusual precision, and allow us to offer plausible hypotheses
about the circumstances and manner of their compilation.
Transmission of the Letters: the Beginnings
The earlier of only two manuscripts of Alcuin’s ‘Seven Books against
the Heresy of Felix’ composed in 799, Paris, BNF. lat. 2386, seems to
be a contemporary copy, probably produced at Tours but by several
I.e. the concluding phrases Pax tibi et salus habitantibus in te (ep. no. 8; similarly
no. 10), Vigeas valeas et floreas, dulcissime Damoeta (ep. no. 26; similarly, no. 36, etc.)
and others of the same kind. There is no obvious pattern in the inclusion or omis-
sion of these farewell-clauses in copies of the letters, but where they do occur the
copyist sometimes starts a new line or distinguishes them in some other way, as if
they were distinct in his exemplar; for the ‘autograph’ character of those clauses
and of occasional postscripts in early-mediaeval and early-Carolingian letters, see
the cautious comments of H. Hoffmann, ‘Zur mittelalterlichen Brieftechnik’, Spiegel
der Geschichte: Festgabe für Max Braubach ed. K. Repgen and S. Skalweit (Münster,
1964), pp. 141–70, at pp. 151–4.
T. Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien I’ SB. Akad. Wiss. Wien Ph.-Hist. Kl., 79 (1875),
461–550, is the only comprehensive account of manuscripts of the letter-collections,
prompted by the deficiencies of Ph. Jaffé’s (posthumous) Monumenta Alcuiniana, ed.
Dümmler and Wattenbach (Berlin, 1873); ‘. . . II’ was never published. Re-editing
the letters in 1893–5, Dümmler generally followed Sickel’s descriptions of particu-
lar manuscripts in his prooemium (MGH Epist. IV, pp. 1–17), but did not always
appreciate some of their implications. Wallach, Alcuin and Charlemagne, pp. 266–74,
is titled ‘The origin of the manuscript collections of Alcuin’s letters’: it is directed
against a supposedly widely-held view that ‘pupils and admirers are . . . the proba-
ble originators’ of the letter-collections: the arguments for the opposite view are
basically sound (see especially p. 272), although unacceptably generalised; Wallach
relied exclusively on textual links between a small number of the letters, he disre-
garded their relative dating and he did not re-consider the manuscripts themselves.
My own conclusions and inferences, based on a slightly larger body of material
than Sickel’s and with new datings and origins for some of the key manuscripts,
were at several points anticipated by him although largely overlooked subsequently.
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scribes of different formation: it is the unique source of the explanatory
preface and of the (subsequent) letter in which Alcuin laments that
the definitive version cannot be published until he has received the
comments of Court scholars and the king has signified his approval.
A notably-different book is Vienna Nationalbibliothek lat. 795 (siglum
S) + Ser. nov. 3755, formerly at Salzburg.
This, except for the
final (added) quire, i.e. fols 200–205, and some additions on previ-
ously blank leaves, was written by a remarkable array of scribes at
(Arch)bishop Arn’s northern-French abbey of St.-Amand during, almost
certainly, the year 799. The late Professor Bischoff ’s suggestion that
the copying of most of the letters can be linked with Arn’s period
of residence in the (north-)west in the previous year cannot be right.
The main sequence of Alcuin’s correspondence with the archbishop
in the second half of 798 leaves little doubt that when Arn returned
from Italy with the pallium he did not go to his northern monastery,
although he may have paid a brief visit to the royal Court—not
necessarily at Aachen—before making a visitation of his archdiocese.
There is doubtful evidence for his presence at St.-Amand for a time
before Christmas 798, and he was almost certainly there in January.
It is not excluded that Arn had brought with him the exemplar of
the two Roman topographical texts copied in one of the later quires.
But the probably slightly later copy of one of them in a Salzburg
manuscript (Vienna, Nat. bibl. lat. 1008, at fols 189
–191) is not de-
pendent on the St.-Amand book; and neither the codicological con-
Epp. nos 203, 202, respectively on fols 3–3
and 4–5
. Fol. 3 was originally
the beginning of the text, coming immediately after a blank leaf or bifolium: the
present fol. 2 properly belongs after fol. 12
. For its ‘probably Tours’ origin see
Bischoff, MaSt 2, 15 n. 29. (The apparent reference to BNF, lat. 2386 in the orig-
inal version (1983) of my ‘Alcuin and the Kingdom of Heaven’ p. 50 n. 114 and
Index is an unfortunate misprint for ‘2388’, corrected in the 1991 reprint.) The
other manuscript is BNF, lat. 2848, which is not of s. x as B.N. Cat., 3, 406 but
of s. ix in, from St.-Denis (according to Bischoff, pers. comm. in 1983; but Jean
Vezin has expressed doubts). For the chronology (second half 799), see W. Heil,
Alkuinstudien I (Düsseldorf, 1970), pp. 30, 44–5, 70.
Complete facsimile of cod. 795 as Alkuin-Briefe und andere Traktate with Introduction
by F. Unterkircher (Codices Selecti 20; Graz, 1969). The first, and still notable, palaeo-
graphical and codicological description is that of Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien’, pp. 468–86,
who—happy days!—was allowed to borrow manuscripts from Munich for compar-
ison. The most recent and most precise (and including Ser.nov. 3755) is that of
Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen 2, 115–120 (nos 75a, 75b), on which I rely heav-
ily: but compare next note and n. 105. Sickel distinguished the scribal hands with
letters of the Greek alphabet, Bischoff with a numbering (1) to (29).
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text nor the identification of the scribes helps with the latter’s dating.
Copies of twenty of Alcuin’s letters are in S, in four separate
blocks interspersed with other texts, that are partly of Alcuin’s own
composition but including also apparently inherited ‘school’ mater-
ial. Eight of them are in the first and last blocks, which may have
been copied originally into a single scheda or codicellus of fourteen
bifolia, now divided by the intervening folios 21–191
, or else into
two originally distinct schedae;
seven (or more probably six) of them
are addressed to Arn as bishop or archbishop, the other one or two,
respectively on fols 4–4
and 197–197
, are to another (anonymous)
bishop or to a favoured disciple, closely associated with Arn at the
time of writing. The opening item, which has no heading or title
but the text of which begins with a hexameter, is a long letter on
true conversion and the nature of baptism. It and the other letters
in this group are evidently taken from the recipient’s copies.
the most part they are the work of a single scribe—Sickel’s ‘gamma’,
Bischoff ’s (1)—who is also the principal hand of another block on
fols 172–183
and was responsible for copying letters from Angilbert,
unique to this manuscript, on subsequent folios: he can perhaps be
Not until ep. no. 159 (which is not copied in any St.-Amand or Salzburg
book!) of ?November is there anything to suggest that Arn may have been at the
monastery. When, however, in ?late January 799 Alcuin responded with his ep. no.
165 (which is in S, at fols 195
) to Arn’s most recent letter, it is apparent that
this had come from St.-Amand, although without any indication as to how long
Arn would remain there. On the datings indicated by Dümmler, that letter of
Alcuin’s is the latest in the Vienna codex: I argue below against a proposed post-
dating by a full year, with obvious implications for the terminus post quem of this sec-
tion of the manuscript. The texts of the letters in S which have no connection with
Arn or his churches (below) could have been brought to St.-Amand by Alcuin in
August 798 (ep. no. 150) or, more probably, spring 799 (below). The two topo-
graphical texts (Codice Topografico della Cittá di Roma, 2, ed. R. Valentini and
G. Zucchetti, Fonti per la Storia d’Italia, 88 [Rome, 1942], pp. 72–99, 106–31) are
on fols 184–91
, the concluding quire ‘z’ of the ?primary codex; their copying was
begun by a scribe who does not figure elsewhere and was then completed by two
who had contributed to earlier sections of the codex. For Vienna 1008, see Bischoff,
Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen 2, 94 (no. 23).
Folios 21–191
have a sequence of quire-signatures ‘a’–‘z’, possibly added by
the Salzburg magister Baldo in the (early) ninth century (so Bischoff, Südostdeutsche
Schreibschulen 2, 115); fols 1–20
, of which fols 5–18
have a text of Alcuin’s De
orthographia (versio II) and fols 19–20
were originally left blank, and fols 192–99
have no signatures. The six (originally eight?) leaves which now constitute Ser.nov.
3755 belong textually with fols 59–87 but are not included in the ‘numbered’ quire-
sequence: for the possible significance of this see below.
For the distinction between ‘recipients’ copies’ and ‘register (al. letter-book)
copies’, see Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien’, and below.
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46 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
regarded, therefore, as a St.-Amand monk or cleric in Arn’s imme-
diate circle.
The second block of Alcuin’s letters, beginning on fol.
and concluding with an EXPLIC[IT] on fol. 155 (the verso,
which is the end of the quire, being blank) is a group of three which
had probably never formed part of a correspondence stricto sensu:
they are in fact short treatises in letter form, one on a theological
or philosophical problem and two on exegetical (numerological) ones,
directed in the first instance to named discipuli; and they are pre-
ceded by Alcuin’s reported answers, found only here, to questions
about four passages in the Pauline Epistles.
The nine letters in the third and largest group, which take up
three quires and a binio—folios 156–183
in the manuscript as now
constituted and with the ninth-century signatures ‘t’, ‘v’, ‘x’, ‘y’—
are the work of two principal scribes and several others, and are
addressed to a variety of recipients. The opening letter of the group,
written by Bischoff ’s hand (9) and no. 136 in Dümmler’s edition, is
an exceptionally long and complex one, filling six-and-a-half folios.
Uniquely among the letters in the St.-Amand book, it is addressed
to the Frankish king. It has acquired a considerable notoriety in
modern scholarship because it is among the earliest and very prob-
ably the earliest of Alcuin’s letters in which he alludes to Charles’s
Compare Alcuin’s allusion, in a letter to Arno (above, p. 41 and n. 92, to
‘the person who looks after my letters’. Bischoff says (Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 2,
115): ‘An allen Stellen kopiert (1) an Arn gerichtete Briefe’, which is not the case,
since although he only copies letters, those on fols 172–183
are not to Arn, and
that on fols 197–197
is almost certainly not to the (arch)bishop but possibly to the
copyist himself: details below, p. 49 and esp. n. 112. If Bischoff’s identifications are
accepted, scribe (1) is one of only two of those involved in Vienna 795 who sub-
sequently moved to Salzburg, where he reached his calligraphic peak in copies of
exegetical texts in Salzburg, St. Peter, Stiftsbibl., a X 3 (pp. 7–214) and Vienna
997 (the entire original manuscript, except for a few interruptions by other scribes:
the anonymous Irish commentaries on Luke and John, uniquely here, are edited
by J.F. Kelly in CCSL 108C [Turnhout, 1974], pp. 3–101, 105–31). Already at St.-
Amand, if the hand is indeed that of one and the same writer, he had contributed
to the three exegetical manuscripts Vienna 964 pt. i (‘eine vorwiegend didaktische
Textsammlung zum Bibelstudium’: Bischoff ), Budapest Nat. mus. Clmae. 1 and
Salzburg, St. Peter, a XI 16: Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 2, 113–15, 120–1
(nos 73, 74, 76) and idem, 136–7 (nos 107, 108) with pl. Vb. At Salzburg, he
played no part in the copying of Alcuin’s (or anyone else’s) letters.
The letter-treatises are epp. nos 133, 81 and 135 in Dümmler’s edition. Their
copyists here (Bischoff’s scribes (20) and (21)) do not seem to figure elsewhere. The
preceding fols 148
were mostly written by Bischoff’s scribe (15), who was
responsible also for eight leaves in the preceding exegetical section. The comments
on the Epistles were published from this manuscript by Frobenius = PL 100, cols
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responsibility for ‘authority over the Christian world’ (cunctum chris-
tianitatis imperium)’. It is, however, primarily concerned with answer-
ing questions previously raised at the Court about the literal and
spiritual meaning of the references to swords in the Passion narra-
tives of Luke and Matthew: a point emphasised by the title or head-
note subsequently added at Salzburg, and its counterpart in an early
Tours copy. But Alcuin links his exposition with the importance of
‘the proclaimers (al. teachers, praedicatores) of Christ’s church’, and of
the king’s constant personal encouragement of them and of all those
who can teach others by their example. He takes the opportunity
of protesting about bishops who will not allow clergy to teach in
their own churches; and he concludes the letter rather incongruously
with a call to the king to draw bishops’ attention to the fouling of
altars in unroofed churches!
A different hand (Sickel’s ‘b’, Bischoff ’s [22]) is responsible for the
almost equally-long letter that follows. Apparently written originally
for circulation among the clerical and monastic communities of Gothia
and Provence, it touches initially on the errors and dangers of
Adoptionism and concludes with a brief account of the observance
of Holy Saturday, which may be moderately joyful (omni veneratione
habeatur iocundus). Its most substantial section, however, is concerned
with the forms and ceremonies of baptism and their significance,
incorporating the standard version of the (pre-Alcuin?) text Primo
paganus catechumenus fit, which also circulated independently; and this
was emphasised by the Salzburg magister Baldo when he later added
running-titles to the letter—Contra eos qui negant trinam mersionem esse
faciendam in babtismo.
The same scribe copies the letter addressed
Vienna 795, fol. 156: Explanatio gladiorum qui dicuntur in passione; id. fols 157
Explanatio gladiorum qui in evangeliis dicuntur, both apparently due to the Salzburg mag-
ister Baldo; Troyes bibl. mun. 1165 [T ] fol. 12
: Item ad domnum regem de eo quod in
evangelio legitur: Domine duo gladii hic sunt; ed. Dümmler, ep. no. 136. For the impli-
cations of (p. 209) Mirum est quod legere licet et interpretare non licet ut ab omnibus intelle-
gatur (Dümmler wrongly emending to -pretari ), see below.
Ep. no. 137, on fols 162
, the titles on fols 162
–163 (with additional
phrase et quod non sit sal in sacrificio) and fols 166
–167. The letter lacks an address-
clause in all the manuscript testimonies (from three different collections, as defined
later in the present chapter). Dümmler’s [Ad] monachos Gothiae sive Septimaniae has
been generally accepted by subsequent commentators; the question Quae est mona-
chorum vita nisi caritas . . .? is asked early in the letter; but Gothia(e) is not be found
there, and the island of Lérins and its monastery, to which a postscript in the copies
in the K and T collections asks that an exemplar be sent, is in Provence (dioc. Fréjus,
archd. Aix), not Septimania. The heading Ad monachos Gothorum epistola Albini is pecu-
liar to one sub-branch of the tradition, the manuscripts K1 + K‘3’, where the letter
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48 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
initially to Viris fratribus et patribus in provincia Gothorum, which is Alcuin’s
most sustained statement of the importance of confessing sins to
priests, drawing an analogy between the different kinds of sinner seek-
ing forgiveness with the three instances of Christ’s raising the dead.
Several hands in collaboration, including the scribe g (Bischoff’s [1]),
copy successively (fols 172–178
) one of the very few purely ‘busi-
ness’ letters of Alcuin’s to survive, a general letter of recommenda-
tion for messengers on the way to Rome, the manuscript tradition
of which is quite distinctive;
then two letters to Eanbald of York
on how he should conduct himself as archbishop, separated by a
letter to the widowed Northumbrian queen Æthelthryth (preserved
only here), all of 796 or perhaps 797; and a beseeching letter to a
one-time disciple who had become Alcuin’s bitter enemy (tentatively
dated by Dümmler to before 796/7, on no very good grounds).
copying of the final letter in the group, on fols 179–183
, was
is both divided and heavily abbreviated (indeed mutilated): it is not in St. Gallen
Stiftsbibl. 271 (K2), nor in BAV Reg. lat. 272 (T*), which has Albinus ad quendam.
The emphasis on the ‘full’ version of baptism and its ceremonial and on the eucharis-
tic elements is not obviously directed to a monastic audience; and the text in S, a
copy made within only a few months of the earliest possible date for Alcuin’s let-
ter, effectively disposes of any inference from the abbreviated K text that Primo
paganus catechumenus fit may not originally have been part of it (as suggested by
S. Keefe, ‘Carolingian Baptismal Expositions’, Carolingian Essays ed. U.-R. Blumenthal
[Washington, D.C., 1983], p. 186). It is possible that the letter circulated in south-
ern Francia in more than one version, but if so these seem not to be directly
reflected in the several letter-collection texts.
Ep. no. 138, for which Baldo’s added title (fols 168, 170
–171) is: Contra eos
qui nolunt sacerdotibus [add. Dei fol. 170
] dare confessionem. Dümmler characterised the
addressees as Gothiae incolas; others have supposed that it was directed rather to
monks and clergy. Uncertainty is evident even before the end of the Carolingian
period: an isolated copy in a north-Italian manuscript of s. ix/x, Milan Bibl. Ambr.,
I 89 sup., fols 166–9, has the heading Epistola hec Alcuini magistri missa ad viros illus-
tros fratres ac presbiteros qui sunt in Gotie partibus constituti de confessione peccatorum mirifice
edocet. But Dümmler was almost certainly correct: for viri fratres (also on p. 219) as
(leading) laymen, compare ep. no. 18 (p. 52) to the king and principes of Northumbria.
Ep. 140; for the manuscripts and textual variations, see Additional Note III.
Epp. nos 116, 105, 114, 58; nos 116 and 114 are also in the English letter-
collection (below), nos 105 and 58 are uniquely in S. There is evidence of careless
copying in all four letters and in the following one (the result of haste?). But Dümmler
was not always justified in relegating ‘incorrect’ spellings or accidence to the appa-
ratus; and he was certainly or probably wrong in several places in epp. nos 114,
116 where he preferred the readings of the English manuscripts to those of S: e.g.,
his text of no. 116 reads a sanctae predicationis verbo lingua sileat, where S has a sancta
praedicatione lingua sileat and verbo is a ‘correction’ by Archbishop Wulfstan not sup-
ported by London, BL Cotton Tiberius A. xv fol. 64 (to which it was added in the
sixteenth century—apparently not by Joscelyn: and similarly Wulfstan’s habeas for
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ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs 49
divided (in Bischoff ’s view) between several different hands, of vary-
ing degrees of skill: addressed to bishop Felix of Urgel and an impor-
tant testimony to the development of Alcuin’s arguments against his
‘heretical’ doctines, it is almost certainly to be dated—on quite other
grounds than its unique occurrence here—to (late) 797.
Most of
the letters in this third group have an obvious relevance to Arn,
whose pastoral responsibilities now embraced the missionary regions
of the south-east and whose bishopric of Salzburg had, on 20 April
798, been raised to an archbishopric;
and the prominent part
played by Bischoff ’s scribe (1) in the writing of fols 172 ff., as well
as the first part of ep. no. 113 on fols 1
–2, is surely no accident.
The simplest explanation of the seemingly anomalous inclusion of
the Æthelthryth letter is that it was already associated with the texts
of the letters to Eanbald in the exemplar of this section of the St.-
Amand collection, and that that exemplar was, directly or through
an intermediate, part of a ‘register’ of drafts or copy-texts main-
tained by Alcuin or in his immediate circle. Alcuin’s abortive attempts
to meet Arn at his monastery in the late spring of 799 are an obvi-
ous context for passing on these copy-letters; but whether they were
solicited or unsolicited there is no means of knowing.
Very few of
Alcuin’s letters contain unequivocal dating-evidence and objections
have been or can be raised to many of Dümmler’s inferential dates;
but there are no good grounds for dating any of the letters copied
into the first 183 folios of S later than 798.
This is not true, however, of the block of six letters occupying
fols 192–197
, addressed to Arn, or in the case of the last of these,
Ep. no. 23; for the several scribes (as against Sickel’s scribe ‘gamma’), see
Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 2, 117 (although a degree of scepticism is per-
missable). The title Epistola Albini ad Felicem hereticum was added by Baldo on fol. 179,
and figures again on fol. 180 (by another hand?). The running-titles of letters in
the earlier folios are repeated only towards the end of the manuscript-text; the rep-
etition here after only one folio is perhaps because fol. 180 is the beginning of a
new quire (g), and the book was still in unbound quires or else had been dis-bound
for the addition of fols 200–205.
Jaffé Ewald 2498, Germ.Pont. 1, 8 no. 7, new ed. Salzburger UB. 2, no. 2a; cf.
JE 2495 f., Germ.Pont. 1, 8 f. nos 8, 9, ed. MGH Epp., V, pp. 58–60 (nos 3, 4),
Salzburger UB. 2, nos 2b, c; Ann. Iuvav. maiores s. a. 798, ed. Bresslau, MGH SS,
XXX, p. 736.
Ep. no. 167 (not in S but in several Salzburg copies), dated Febr. ex by Dümmler,
re-dated by me to Apr./May. For the ‘registering’ of Alcuin’s letters and the mate-
rial form of the ‘register’ (quaternions or bifolia with copies of two, three or four
letters, rather than single sheets), see Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien’.
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50 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
almost certainly to some other person in his immediate circle and
plausibly to the scribe himself.
The first three and last two are
generally accepted as having been sent during the summer and
autumn of 798, the latest of them probably some time in October:
although it may be that one of them (ep. no. 158) should be ante-
dated to October 797. The fourth letter in the group (ep. no. 165),
written when Alcuin was still impatiently waiting to hear how the
work of strengthening the church in the south-east was progressing,
is certainly later than these. On internal evidence, including Alcuin’s
hope of a full oral report during Lent, Dümmler dated it to (late)
January 799; Wilhelm Heil, as part of his radical revision of the
chronology of the years 798–800 (mid) and of the Alcuin letters that
are the principal evidence, wanted to put it more than a year
The fifteen-month interval, at least, between this and the
next-latest letter in the collection is troublesome; Alcuin only knows
of rumours that the king may pay a visit to St. Martin’s orationis
causa, and there are no grounds for thinking (with Heil) that it was
prompted by Northmen’s raids on the Atlantic coast, supposedly in
799. Moreover, Arn’s letters have previously reported his reversio (from
Italy) but given no hard information about how long he would
be in the north, whether at the Court or at St.-Amand—and in
Epp. nos 156, 158, 146, 165, 150, 153. The address-clause of no. 153 reads:
Carissimo filio in vere caritatis dulcidine salutem. Dümmler surprisingly prints Clarissimo,
the reading of Vienna 808 fol. 108, even though this part is a direct copy of Vienna
795 and clarissimus is a form of address used by Alcuin only once in his extant let-
ters; and he goes on to suggest that the vir clarissimus [sic] is Arn rather than, as
Sickel thought, Candidus. This is most improbable: neither in language nor in tone
does this letter resemble those written to Arn in these months; and its addressee is
evidently in north Francia, Arn being at that time almost certainly in his archdio-
cese. For some of the same reasons, as well as on chronological grounds, it is
unlikely that it was directed to Candidus. The recipient was evidently someone
highly placed in the St.-Amand community and/or Arn’s familia: it is very tempt-
ing, therefore, to identify him with Bischoff’s scribe (1) (Sickel’s ‘gamma’), whose
final letter from Alcuin this is and the only one without a named addressee; for
his scribal career, see above, n. 99. Equally to be rejected are Dümmler’s ‘correc-
tions’ of the manuscript readings to dulcedine (in the address), despicias (ms. disp-)
and—probably—profectu (ms. -fecto), since there is other evidence that Alcuin treated
the noun in the sense of ‘success, outcome’ as a neuter.
W. Heil, Alkuinstudien I (Düsseldorf, 1970), pp. 46, 71. The dating of ep. no.
158 (‘798 Oct. med.’: Dümmler) is not discussed by Heil; but if his re-dating of ep.
no. 193 is correct (and I believe it is), the October referred to in ep. no. 158’s open-
ing lines cannot be 798 but must be a year earlier.
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ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs 51
January/February 800 Arn was, again, in Rome!
The re-dating in
this instance is to be rejected.
The three letters that follow the last of those from Alcuin (usque
hic Albinus magister on fol. 197
) and with which the manuscript appar-
ently originally concluded, have all had the names of both author
and addressee eliminated. The former is identified in a marginal
entry by the scribe Bischoff’s (1), Sickel’s g, the copyist both of the
preceding letters and of this group of three although apparently only
after an interruption, as it[em] Ang[e]lb[er]t[us]. The manuscript con-
text implies that the recipient was Arn, and the first of them refers
to the intercessions of the St.-Amand community on his behalf: in
which case they were almost certainly addressed to the bishop in
the summer of 797 (as I prefer to believe) when Arn was apparently
in his diocese, less probably in the summer of 798 when he was try-
ing to meet up with the king in eastern Francia after his first return
from Rome, and subsequently transmitted to St.-Amand as a group
in formulary form.
The incomplete text (incomplete only because
a further leaf has been lost?) of the poem sent to Candidus while
he was on his way to Rome, may, however, have been added on the
previously blank fol. 199 (after l. 14)–199
when the book was already
at Salzburg, even though the hand is probably that of one of the
major contributors to the earlier part of the manuscript (Bischoff ’s
scribe (5)).
Salzburg Copies of the Letters
What is beyond question is that, very soon after ‘completion’, the
St.-Amand manuscript (or manuscripts, if fols 1–20 + 192–199 still
constituted a unit separate from the now-intervening quires) was
To which, indeed, ep. no. 186 was declaredly sent at the end of 799, and
perhaps also the slightly earlier no. 185, although until recently Alcuin had been
uncertain where Arn was. With other letters to Arn datable to 799, these two are
in the main Salzburg collection of the letters (S1), the second also in what I believe
is Alcuin’s ‘personal’ collection (H), for which see below.
Epp. 147, 151, 152. Beginning with the words usq[ue] hic Albinus magist[er] added
in a blank half-line at the end of ep. 153, scribe (1) writes in a slightly smaller hand
and with fewer spaces between words; and the final binio (fols 198–199
) was taken
from a different pile of—unlined—parchment.
So Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 2, 117.
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52 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
taken to Arn’s archiepiscopal see, Salzburg, and remained there. A
decade previously, Arn had commissioned a detailed record (notitia)
of his church’s acquisitions of land, tenants and dues, now imper-
illed by the Bavarian duke Tassilo’s overthrow; and at about the
same time the earliest known Salzburg-area formulary-book was being
compiled from recent letters.
In 802/3, not long after the prepa-
ration of new Breves Notitiae of the church’s property,
the arch-
bishop or the master of the cathedral scriptorium organized the
production of a codex of one-hundred-and-thirty-four folios entirely
devoted to works of Alcuin: the two letters that name the king as
their ‘author’ were almost certainly Alcuin’s compositions. The let-
ter-collection of sixty-two (or sixty) different texts occupies the folios
now numbered 101–221 in the composite manuscript Vienna,
Nationalbibl. cod. lat. 808 (Dümmler’s S1), where it is followed suc-
cessively by the Disputatio Pippini cum Albino, without the title, and by
the earliest extant collection of Alcuin’s carmina.
The Salzburg copy-
ists, at least nine in number and apparently working partly con-
temporaneously, partly consecutively, began with the penultimate
gathering of the St.-Amand book (or of the libellus of which it was
The Notitia Arnonis is ed. W. Hauthaler, Salzburger Urkundenbuch 1, (1898), 4–16
and by F. Losek, in Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Salzburger Landeskunde, 130 (1990),
80–97: the extensive recent literature is reviewed and summarised by H. Wolfram,
‘Die Notitia Arnonis . . .’, in: Recht und Schrift im Mittelalter, ed. P. Classen (Vortr. u.
Forsch. 23; Sigmaringen, 1977), pp. 115–30, by H. Wanderwitz, ‘Quellenkritische
Studien . . .’, DA 39 (1983), 29–55 (cf. Losek’s introduction to his edition, 19–57),
and very succinctly by P. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance (Princeton, 1994), p. 88.
The formulary-book is the ‘III. Sammlung’ in Bischoff’s Salzburger Formelbücher u.
Briefe aus Tassilonischer u. Karolingischer Zeit (Bayer. Akad., Ph.-Hist. Kl., SB. Jg.1973,
H.4: Munich, 1973), pp. 42–57, to be read in conjunction with B. Löfstedt’s and
C.D. Lanham’s review in Eranos 73 (1975), 69–100, esp. 78–83, 87–97; for its origin
and date, see Bischoff, Salzburger Formelbücher, pp. 16–26.
Ed. by W. Hauthaler and F. Martin, Salzburger Urkundenbuch 2 (1916), 1–23
and by F. Losek, Mitteilungen cit., 102–45: for the date of compilation see Wanderwitz
(as last note) and Losek, pp. 34–42. Formulary, Notitia and Breves are preserved only
in later copies (the formulary, indeed, only in an eighteenth-century one), and noth-
ing can be said about the scribes of the lost ‘originals’.
Described by Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien I’, pp. 486–96 and (in tabular form) pp.
546–50, and by Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 2, 135 (no. 105). Both Sickel
and Bischoff were prepared to date the book in its entirety to the year 802; but
some of the letters seem to be of the next year. Fols 1–100 are Isidore, written in
the time of Arn’s successor Adalram: Bischoff, ibid., pp. 150–1 (no. 142). The exem-
plar(s) and sources of the more than thirty poems copied on fols 225
–234 seem to
be indeterminable. Not until fol. 231 do they have any specific connection with
Arn or Salzburg; and the verses on these leaves include tituli of which there is a
fuller text elsewhere.
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ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs 53
then a part) in front of them. From its group of six letters to Arn—
or Arn and his circle (ep. no. 153)—the first scribe (Sickel’s a) made
copies of five: the omission of the sixth (ep. 158) is probably simply
explained by his having no more space in the quire allocated to
him; and it was left to the writer of the fifth quire to transcribe it
as his first item. Scribe ‘ß’, by contrast, fills the second quire less its
final page (fol. 116
) with three letters to Arn, two of which are
among those sent to him at Salzburg from late October 798 onwards.
Scribe g takes over from ‘ß’ in the middle of a letter to an un-named
and not certainly identifiable daughter of the Frankish king, which
was introduced to use up the last page of the quire, previously left
blank; and he then fills six-and-a-half folios (117–23) with Alcuin’s
tirade against Theodulf addressed to an un-named bishop, who must
be, in spite of Sickel’s and Dümmler’s contrary view, Arn himself.
He (or perhaps scribe a) subsequently completed the quire with a
letter written in sorrow rather than in anger to a one-time discipu-
lus Britannicus with deplorable (apparently, masturbatory) habits: a
second copy—perhaps in fact the earlier of the two—by a different
hand is to be found in the second part of the collection (below).
Epp. nos 173, 107, 167. Ep. no. 107 is found only here, in its direct but abbre-
viated mid-century copy in Munich clm. 14743 (below, n. 122) and in the proba-
bly also dependent Munich clm. 4650 (Salzburg area?, third quarter of s. ix: Bischoff,
Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen 2, 201–2). It was a response to a letter received on 25
May 796, written when Arn was about to set out for Pannonia with an army led
by King Pippin. Ep. no. 173 also occurs only in these three related manuscripts
(strictly speaking, in clm. 4650 the letter is preserved only to rivulos sanctitatis = MGH
Epp. IV, p. 286 l. 18, at the bottom of fol. 79
: but in the original quiring fols
came after the now concluding fols 80–85, and at least one further gather-
ing has been lost). Dümmler’s date for this letter was May 799; but, on the grounds
that in its middle section (omitted from the copy in clm. 14743) Alcuin is rejoic-
ing in the Papal bestowal on Arn of the archiepiscopal pallium, an ante-dating to
the previous autumn has been suggested. In fact, on other grounds, even May in
799 may be somewhat too early. Ep. no. 167, which has a much broader manu-
script base, the Tours ‘register’ version being included in the collections T and K
(below) and thence in the duplicate copy on fols 195–6 of the present manuscript,
was written after Alcuin had failed to find Arn at St.-Amand, in the course of a
journey to Belgica in the spring and early summer of 799.
Epp. nos 164, 246, 294. For the scribe responsible for the first and last of these
cf. Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien 1’, pp. 488, 546 with Bischoff, Schreibschulen 2, 135: ‘Leere
Reste der Lagen sind meist von derselben Hand gefüllt (nach Sickel sämtlich von
‘alpha’ . . .)’. The text of ep. 164 in the eleventh-century English manuscript London,
BL Cotton Tiberius A.xv fols 63–63
alone preserves two crucial passages towards
the end of the letter, omitted from Vienna 808 and its abbreviated copy, Munich
clm. 14743. Ep. no. 246 is found only here (it is one of the few omissions from
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54 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
The next scribe in S1, Sickel’s d, squeezes no fewer than six let-
ters to Arn on to his first six-and-a-half folios, the blank space at
the end of the quire (fols 131
) being filled later with a letter
to Macharius (Archbishop Richbod of Trier). One of the letters to
Arn is a duplicate of one already copied in the first quire (ep. 165).
Two others (epp. 194, 252, respectively of 800 and ?802) are found
only here and in an abbreviated mid-ninth-century copy in clm.
14743; while a fourth is the recipient’s text of the earliest extant let-
ter from Alcuin to Arn, sent from northern England in 790 and
independently transmitted in English copies of the version ‘registered’
at the time of dispatch.
Four scribes, rather then three as Sickel
thought, transcribe letters to Arn, the majority of them preserved
only here and (abbreviated) in clm. 14743, on to the fifth to the
eighth quire; and again two letters to non-Salzburg recipients, of
much earlier date, are added on originally blank leaves at the end
of the first of these.
Folios 163–234, quires nine to seventeen, may originally have con-
stituted a separate book: the (limited) duplication in the two sections
of the codex points in that direction, although there is no unequiv-
ocal codicological evidence.
Folios 163–212
(except for part of
clm. 14743). Surprisingly, ep. no. 294 is the opening item (when the last two quires
have been correctly re-arranged) of the small group of Alcuin’s letters, apparently
copied from Vienna 808 quires 1–3, in Munich clm. 4650.
Ep. no. 10, a semi-diplomatic edition of the Cotton Vespasian A. xiv text also
in Chase, Two Letter-Books, I/6 (pp. 29–30): the differences between the Salzburg
and the English texts and some of their implications are considered below. Clm.
14743 was written in the time of Archbishop Liuphramn, and specifically 854–859
(Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 2, 160–1), by—probably—five scribes; fols 1
are Alcuin’s (and one of the king’s) letters in Vienna cod. 808 adapted to formu-
lary texts, with the heading Incipiunt quaedam epistolae de quorundam nobilium doctorum
libris excerptae. It is of no interest for the establishment of the text of Alcuin’s let-
ters, but it is of some interest as a guide to the epistolary forms and language in
which a younger generation was to be instructed in mid-century: thus, in the pre-
sent letter the original Dilecto patri Aquilae episcopo Albinus salutem is replaced by Dilecto
in Christo patri humilis sanctç Dei ecclesiç filius salutem.
For the scribes see Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 2, 135. Ep. 158 with
which ‘epsilon
’ begins his quire is the ‘missing’ letter from the penultimate quire
of Vienna 795 (above); his fourth letter (ep. 239) is also exceptionally in the H col-
lection. The letters added (by scribe ‘epsilon
’ or by ‘alpha’) are ep. no. 11 (much
shortened and with the identifying names omitted) and ep. no. 34, a lengthy exhor-
tation to a discipulus who is unnamed in all manuscript-versions. For the letters also
in clm.13561, see below.
The duplicates of the Arn letters, epp. nos 156 and 167, and the adding on
previously blank leaves in quires ii to v of epp. nos 13, 11, 34 and 294, which figure
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ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs 55
) are the work of a single scribe (y), whom Bischoff traced else-
where only as a very modest contributor to the Salzburg ‘Abavus’
glossary manuscript later at Klosterneuburg,
and who here copied
no less than twenty-nine letters, twenty-seven from Alcuin and two
from the king. The group is distinctive in several ways. With the
exception of a letter to the Salzburg fratres and two letters to Arn,
duplicating respectively the initial item in the codex and one in the
second quire, all are addressed to non-Salzburg recipients; none is
certainly of later date than (early) 797, and the majority belong to
Alcuin’s pre-Tours years; with only two exceptions (one of them
another of the letters also included in the first part of the manu-
script, although perhaps as an added item), they are also to be found
in one or more of the letter-collections originating elsewhere than at
Salzburg or St.-Amand.
Finally, what is demonstrably Alcuin’s orig-
inal wording has, in a small number of the letters, been modified
or edited to make them more intelligible and usable as didactic texts
or letter-exemplars at Salzburg: in the one addressed to the monks
of Wearmouth and Jarrow after the attack on Lindisfarne, for exam-
ple, canonic(a)e (vel ) has twice been added before or after regularis; and
references to living on the sea, from which the pagan attacks have
come, are re-phrased so that the threat is one from enemies gener-
Halfway through fol. 212
, however, scribe y hands over to
also in scribe y’s quires ix to xv as integral elements, are a strong argument for
believing that two distinct manuscripts were originally envisaged. The two letters of
Charles’s are epp. nos 93, 92, also found together (but in the reverse order) in
BAV, Reg. lat. 272. y’s penultimate letter is ep. no. 168, addressed fratribus Iuvavensis
ecclesiae, which has six non-Salzburg witnesses. Note that of the duplicated letters
epp. nos 13 and 34 are certainly ‘early’, i.e. not later than 795, and ep. no. 294
may be (despite Dümmler’s date ‘796–804’).
Klosterneuburg, Stiftsbibl. 848; Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 2, 135–6
(no. 106). The glossary is a copy of that in the originally St.-Amand book, Vienna
Nat. bibl. cod. 89, fols 10–163
, idem, pp. 112–3 (no. 72), the opening folios of
which mark the northern-European recovery of the late-fourth-century (Rufius)
Festus’s Breviarium (ed. J.W. Eadie; London, 1967) independently of the early Spanish
manuscript El Escorial Real Bibl. R.II.18 (CLA X 1631), which had no progeny.
To the fratres, ep. no. 168; to Arn, epp. nos 156, 167. Ep. no. 129, to the
Kentings, must be of 797, ep. no. 36 (dated by Dümmler ‘c. 793–795’) could be
later: see Bullough, ‘What has Ingeld to do with Lindisfarne?’, ASE 22, 111 and
n. 63. The duplicated letter occurring only in Salzburg and Salzburg-related collec-
tions is ep. no. 294 (above, p. 54 and n. 122). Ep. no. 267, which is only here and
abbreviated in clm. 14743, is surely not to Arn but to an unidentifiable bishop
probably in mission-territory: compare the allusion to Mt 9.35, the quotation of
I Cor 9.16, and the condemning of auguries.
Ep. no. 19. Similarly, the changes to the text of ep. no. 17 (scribe y’s opening
letter) include the substitution of huius provincie or illius provinciae nostrae for the original
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56 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
the scribe of the first quire (a): and he completes the letter-collection
by transcribing another six addressed to Arn, all of them apparently
of 802 or 803 and preserved only in this collection and its mid-
ninth-century abbreviated copy in clm. 14743.
What, then, were the exemplars of the letter-texts not already in
the St.-Amand manuscript(s) that were copied in the Salzburg scrip-
torium or school
ca. 802–4 to make Vienna 808? For the letters
addressed personally to Arn, or at least the overwhelming majority
of them, the answer seems straightforward. They were the actual
epistolae (letter-sheets) received from Alcuin and kept in the episcopal
archive in no particular order, although there may have been some
roughly chronological assemblages: this is suggested by the fact that
each of the scribes (Bischoff’s d, j and e) begins his quire with a let-
ter datable to the last months of 799.
These are ‘recipient’s texts’.
The distinctive character that they may have in the manuscript tra-
dition is well illustrated by the text of Alcuin’s first known letter to
Arn (indeed, one of the earliest now extant to anyone), written from
England in 790: the version in two later English manuscripts, derived
from a common exemplar and archetype, has Saluta obsecro N. conso-
cium et amicum meum, where the Salzburg text preserves the name
Laedredum (the future bishop of Lyons); and it omits two sentences
and the final greetings-clause at the end of the letter.
Britanniae (MGH Epp. IV, pp. 45, 47); the address-clause of ep. no. 18 with its suc-
cession of English names (not repeated in the text) is not copied; the names of
English Dei famulos are omitted from the text of ep. no. 37, so that at this point it
reads simply Saluta amicos nostros; and so on. For ep. no. 20, see Bullough, ‘What
has Ingeld to do with Lindisfarne?’, p. 96 nn. 11 and 12, where it is noted that,
conversely, the Salzburg scribe has preserved the correct Northumbrian orthogra-
phy of the name Cuthbert. I refer henceforward to the ‘Salzburg text’, as distinct
from the ‘Tours text’, of the letters in question. There is clearly no Salzburg ‘elim-
ination’ or rejection of the Lindisfarne Saint. Only two decades later a copy—much
the oldest extant—was made there of the Anonymous Life of the Saint (Munich
clm. 15817 fols 100–119
), which, perhaps because it lacks I 1–2 and other chap-
ters, has apparently escaped the attention of all modern editors and indexers: see
D.A. Bullough, ‘A neglected early-ninth-century manuscript of the Lindisfarne Vita
S. Cuthberti ’, ASE 27 (1998), 105–37.
Epp. nos 260, 264, 258, 265, 266 and 259.
At least two of the hands of Vienna 808 besides ‘theta’ are among the mul-
tiplicity of scribes responsible for the Abavus-glossary on poor-quality parchment in
Klosterneuburg, Stiftsbibl., 848.
Epp. no. 185 on fol. 125, no. 186 on fol. 141 and no. 179+184 on fol. 149
(for this group of letters, see above). This may, of course, be pure coincidence:
’’s first letter, ep. no. 158, which is both earlier and already in S, on fol.
133 breaks the sequence; and this scribe’s other letters are spread over a period of
several years.
Ep. no. 10. For the English tradition, see below, pp. 442–445.
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A very different explanation is obviously required, however, for
the twenty-six letters to other recipients copied by y, several of which
(as has already been noted) were also copied on to previous folios
by other scribes. It will be forthcoming only after analysis of over-
lapping letter-collections in manuscripts which originated in scripto-
ria unconnected with Archbishop and Abbot Arn.
The ‘Basic Tours Collection’ of the Letters
The importance of Troyes, BM 1165 pt. i (fols 1–86
), Dümmler’s
T, as a source for Alcuin’s letters has been universally recognised
since its (re)discovery in the third quarter of the nineteenth century.
The light it can throw on the process of compilation and early cir-
culation of the letter-collections has, however, been obscured by an
erroneous dating and localisation which began with Sickel. This part
of the Troyes codex is in fact the work of at least five Tours St.
Martin’s scribes writing for the most part what Rand called ‘embell-
ished cursive’, with occasional Tironian notes (at ends of sentences)
and minimal punctuation, probably in the earlier years of the abbacy
of Alcuin’s pupil and successor Fridugis. Part ii (fols 87–210
, fol-
lowing an inserted bifolium numbered 86bis, 86ter), in which a dog-
matic trilogy of Alcuin’s is combined with short exegetic and other
texts, was written at Lyons in the second quarter of the ninth cen-
tury; but since the sixteenth century Pierre Pithou’s signature appears
on fol. 86
(i.e. at the end of part i), it is unlikely that this later sec-
tion can throw any light on the ninth-century home of the letter
In its present mutilated form—it has lost a quire after fol.
and either two or three quires at the end—the Tours-origin
Troyes 1165 pt. i has texts of seventy letters from Alcuin, plus one
letter from the king; additionally, there are two computistic items on
fols 44
–46, which may be Alcuin’s own compositions, not (like others
Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien’, pp. 499–501, 509–17; MGH Epp. IV, pp. 6–7. Com-
pare Rand, Manuscripts of Tours, 1, 40–1, 45–50, 102–114, with Koehler in Göttin-
gische gelehrte Anzeigen, 193 (1931), 324–6, 328–31, and Rand in Manuscripts, pp. 340–2,
344–5: Troyes 1165 does not figure in their lists. I am grateful to the Institut de
Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (Paris and Orléans) for providing me with a complete
microfilm print-out of this manuscript. The dating and localisation of the second
part are due to the late Professor Bischoff (pers. comm., Nov. 1979); there is unfor-
tunately no note on this manuscript in his Handschriftenarchiv (MGH Hilfsmittel XVI;
Munich, 1997).
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58 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
associated with them in later assemblages or editions) older texts
annexed by him or his circle as part of their teaching material. It
would originally have contained at least ninety-four letters, two of
the now-missing ones being in the king’s name, as we learn from a
seemingly complete copy of the collection in a very handsome mid-
ninth-century (Hincmar period) Rheims book, now BAV Reg. lat.
272 (siglum T*), of which Dom Wilmart provided a characteristi-
cally precise codicological description.
Dümmler supposed that this part of T* (the manuscript used by
Duchesne for his 1617 edition) was a direct copy of T while it was
still complete, and accordingly only occasionally reported the results
of a ‘third-party’ collation of the former where T is available as a
witness. In this he was almost certainly mistaken: T* must be regarded
either as an independent copy of the exemplar of the Troyes man-
uscript or, which seems more likely, as a copy of a collateral (‘twin’)
of the latter. Wilmart’s description does not adequately record the
book’s meticulous punctuation, in which (e.g.) almost all of Alcuin’s
innumerable rhetorical and other questions are concluded with a
typical Rheims mark of interrogation, and for which there is no trace
of ‘copyist’s marks’ in T. The implication that T* may have been
intended for public reading is strengthened by added marginalia (not
by the text-scribe but evidently near-contemporary) such as admoni-
tio utilis (fol. 35) to Dümmler’s ep. no. 197, on the death of Liutgarda,
and optima admonitio (fol. 119
) to the letter on confession to the con-
gregation of St. Martin’s (ep. no. 131), copied from a different col-
lection. The textual affinity of the two manuscripts is certainly very
close. There are nonetheless significant differences between them:
firstly, in the letters’ head-notes (Dümmler’s lemmata) in the two man-
uscripts, not all of them easily accounted for as mis-copying or ‘cor-
rection’ of his supposed exemplar by the Rheims copyist; secondly,
and probably more telling, instances where readings in T* not re-
ported by Dümmler differ from and are often superior to those in
A. Wilmart, Codices Reginenses Latini, 251–500 (Vatican City, 1945), pp. 66–8;
the origin and dating were confirmed by Prof. Bischoff (pers. comm., 1979). Dümmler’s
tabulation (MGH Epp. IV, p. 7) of the letters in T and in T* is, as he subsequently
acknowledged (MGH Epp. V, p. 643), unfortunately ex parte turbatus: ep. no. 137 is
the table’s ‘69+70’; the manuscript T re-starts with ep. no. 138 (defective at the
beginning) and continues to ep. no. 139 (defective at the end), which is properly
the table’s ‘81’ (not ‘80’). The two computistic items were first published by Duchesne
from the future Troyes 1165 and re-published by Frobenius Forster, re-printed in
PL 101, cols 981–4; see further below, Pt. II ch. 3.
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T, and again are not simply to be regarded as ‘editorial improve-
ment’ in the Rheims scriptorium.
The first three folios of the Tours-Troyes manuscript have lost
approximately one third of each leaf, but neither of the letters affected
is unique to it. The collection begins with the words, in uncial: Ad
domnum Car[olum regem] de remittendis aliq[uibus disci]pulos <sic> [?in
patriam], i.e. the head-note for a letter to the king written a few
months after Alcuin had moved to Tours (no. 121 in Dümmler’s
edition); and this is followed by twenty-three other letters to Charles,
nineteen or twenty of them as King, the remainder as Emperor, but
none of them later than (autumn) 801.
After the two computistic
texts and a letter to Angilbert, found only here, come twenty-seven
letters predominantly to recipients in England, including about half
of all the surviving letters to Mercian addressees and concluding with
one to a clerical courtier of Offa’s: none of these are certainly later
than the early months of 796, although that to the king’s daughter
Eugenia-Æthelburg could be.
The remaining forty letters in the
Up to and including the collection’s forty-ninth item (= ep. no. 19), letters in
both manuscripts have head-notes that are usually identical. When, however, they differ
it is not obvious that T*’s version is a simple departure (unintentional or deliber-
ate) from T’s: thus, to ep. no. 33 T, fol. 59, has ad Magenharium comitem Sensoniae[sic]
civitate, T*, fol. 55, ad Magenhardium comitem Senonicae civitatis, the recipient’s place of
office being named neither in the address nor in letter-context; to ep. no. 162, T,
fol. 26, T*, fol. 42, the latter has the head-note Epistola Albini ad Homerum and the
address-clause Flaccus Albinus Flavi Homeri obtat salutem, while the former has the words
Flaccus Albinus Flavi Homeri obtat as a lemma and no separate address-clause. After
ep. no. 19, most of the letters in T lack a heading, T* continuing to provide them,
although they could be ‘inventions’ of its scribe, based for the most part on the
address clause. Among the variant readings, the more significant are: in ep. no. 44
to Eanbald I of York, against sum optimum and in te et elimosinarum in T, T* has
summi optimum (sicut optimum in K manuscripts [below]) and integritate et elimosinarum;
the address-clause of no. 82 to the Mercian Beornuuin has Alchuinus diaconus in T*
against T’s Achuini (sic) diaconus (in K, Alcuinus), the text delibutas and falsiloquae alio-
rum narrationi in T* against delibutos and falsiloqua aliorum narratione; and the non-stan-
dard quotation of Mt 25.40 in ep. no. 74 is without the final mihi fecistis in T (but
present in T*), where also the reading verbis iudicundus (verbis iocundus in T*).
The words in patriam complete the head-note in T*, where also Karolum and
the corrected discipulos. The other letters are listed by Dümmler, MGH Epp. IV,
p. 7 nos 2–24 (epp. nos 143 etc.), the latest being no. 23 = ep. no. 229, which could
be of October 801, and the latest in the entire collection. Ep. no. 231, on T fols
–37, is probably to be dated slightly earlier that same year. I regard ib. nos 238,
240 as pre-801.
I.e., nos 28–54 in Dümmler’s list, MGH Epp. IV, p. 7; letters to non-English
recipients are nos 31, 34, 35, 42, 43, 51 (epp. nos 51, 13, 33, 11, 12, 71). For
Alcuin’s Mercian correspondents, cf. Bullough in ASE 22, esp. 115–20, and below,
Pt. II ch. 4.
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unmutilated collection, beginning with one to Alcuin’s pupil Hrabanus
Maurus and ending with one to Paulinus of Aquileia, none of them
datable later than 799, show no such obvious coherence.
It is
nonetheless possible to recognise certain sub-groups, such as the three
of which the king is the named ‘author’, but also, it seems, letters
linked by being written and dispatched at roughly the same time.
It is very striking that of the more than thirty letters addressed to
Arn only one, together with the unique extant letter to the Salzburg
‘brethren’, finds a place in this third section of the Tours-Rheims
collection. Both, moreover, figure in scribe ‘theta’s’ quires in Vienna
808, although the ‘recipient’s version’ of the Arn letter had also been
copied into an earlier quire of that manuscript.
That same Salzburg
scribe had made copies of eighteen (out of twenty-seven) of the let-
ters in the ‘English addressees’ section of the Tours book, and often
in the same or similar sequences, as well as copies of two of the let-
ters from the king in the final section—but none of those to Charles!
On both chronological and textual grounds, the book now at
Troyes cannot have been the exemplar of this section of the Salzburg
book, written in 802–3. Equally clearly, that exemplar was strikingly
similar to but not identical with the corresponding sections of the
letter-collection completed in or shortly after the autumn of 801, and
copied at Tours, for an unknown recipient, not long after Alcuin’s
Can their common source be more clearly defined? and
does this enable us to reconstruct the transition from copies of indi-
T fols 72
(cf. Dümmler) –86
and subsequent missing folios (containing the
end of ep. no. 139 and fourteen other letters, beginning with ep. no. 60 and con-
cluding with ep. no. 96); T* fols 67–95
. For ?799 as the date of the letter to
Hrabanus (ep. no. 142: which does not, despite Dümmler, address him as magister)
see Freise in Kottje-Zimmermann, Hrabanus Maurus, p. 60.
Epp. nos 92, 93, 87, the latter—to Offa and probably but not certainly earlier
than the other two—transmitted only by T (on the folios now missing) and T*. Letters
linked by date include (I believe) the last four, viz. epp. nos 97, 25, 98, 96 (Dümmler’s
date for the second of these is certainly erroneous; see below, Pt. II ch. 4). Compare
Sickel’s previously-quoted view (above, n. 139) of the form of the Tours ‘register’.
Epp. nos 167 and 168, respectively of Apr./May in. and ?March 799. For the
copies of no. 167 in Vienna 808, see above, pp. 54, 55 with n. 127.
Epp. nos 12, 17–19, 30, 31, 36–9, 43, 61 to English recipients, nos 11, 13,
33, ?34, 35, 49 to non-English ones; the letters from the Frankish king are epp. nos
92, 93.
In fact, seventeen of the eighteen letters listed in the preceding note (the
exception is no. 30, to the Northumbrian King Æthelred) are also included in the
earlier and shorter collection represented by the K manuscripts (below). ‘Theta’ also
copied one of the very few letters in K not also included in T, namely ep. no. 99,
on his concluding folios 210
; as well as one further letter to an English
addressee preserved otherwise only in the ‘recipient’s version’ (ep. no. 20) and, on
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vidual letters, retained (it may be presumed) at Tours from 796,
whether in draft or engrossed version and ‘filed’ at least in part
according to recipients, into an edited assemblage of recent corre-
spondence in the familiar codex form—what I will call henceforth
the ‘basic Tours collection’?
As Sickel discerned a century-and-a-quarter ago, although he failed
to develop his arguments fully and their significance seems to have
escaped Dümmler,
crucial evidence comes from a different but
substantially overlapping collection of sixty-five letters from Alcuin,
into which a single letter from Charles as Emperor (an. 811) has been
inserted. Here, more than one-quarter of the letters are in demon-
strably incomplete text-versions—as the ‘first’ copyist, at least once,
remarked—and in one branch of the tradition one of those is split
into two.
This shorter collection, too, is transmitted complete in
two ninth-century codices widely separated in date and place of writ-
ing. The earlier (St. Gallen, Stiftsbibl., cod. 271: Dümmler’s K2) was
written at St. Gallen in the 820s, about the time when the commu-
nity entered into a confraternity with Tours and its Abbot Fridugis.
It is an undistinguished small-format book (presumably one of the
two Libelluli epistolarum Albini entered in the main St. Gallen library
written by undistinguished scribes, apparently working
successive folios before the royal letters, two Alcuin letters, epp. nos 129, 295, not in
T or K, but in a different Tours-connected collection. But the royal letters are oth-
erwise only in T; the order in which the Alcuin letters are copied is much closer
to that in T; and S1 and T often share significant readings against K, although by
no means consistently.
Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien’, pp. 501–6.
Dierum hic multum dimisimus is in the text of ep. no. 149 in all three K manu-
scripts (below; K1 om. hic), immediately before a substantial omission extending from
ep. no. 4, p. 223 line 12 to 224 line 26. Confirmation (if indeed confirmation is
needed) that the omissions were a feature of the archetype is shown by the existence
of an isolated copy of ep. no. 65 in the composite manuscript BAV, Reg. lat. 598,
fol. 25
(this part W. Germany, s. ix
: Bischoff, pers. comm.), with the heading
EP AL. AD QUENDAM inc. Karissimo (all manuscripts, despite Dümmler) and
similarly ending with the words hodie vadis in incendio; the text has readings that are
a mixture of K1’s and K2’s. The abbreviated letter made into two in K1 and K‘3’
is no. 137; the entirely characteristic omission of the entire section on baptism has
helped to mislead Keefe about the letter’s original form (above, p. 47 and n. 106).
Bibliothekskataloge, 1, ed. Lehmann, p. 80. The account of the ninth-century St.
Gallen catalogues in R. McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word (Cambridge,
1989), pp. 182–5, is seriously muddled, and almost all the references to Lehmann’s
edition and to Grimalt’s (private) library are erroneous; only one of the several
copies of parts of the standard Vulgate Old Testament (which included books later
treated as Apocrypha) was ad scolam (ed. Lehmann, p. 72) and Paralippomenon is
Chronicles, not Kings; and so on.
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62 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
in a hurry. The letter-collection fills the entire volume, except for
the last four pages which have the text of three Roman inscriptions;
titles or head-notes (Dümmler’s lemmata) are very much the excep-
tion; the penultimate letter is a duplicate text of one copied earlier
in the book, the address-clause of which has been reduced to for-
mulary language (Dilecto amico illi ).
The other ninth-century copy
(BL Royal 8.E. xv: siglum K1) was written in north-east France,
almost certainly at St.-Vaast (Arras), probably in the third quarter
of the century. Although it contains the same letters as the St. Gallen
book in an identical sequence, it is not derived from it. It has a
prefatory index numbered ‘i’ to ‘lxvi’ on folios 1
and many more
‘titles’ or rubrics, sometimes indicating a letter’s main theme; it omits
St. Gallen’s penultimate (duplicate) letter-text; and while the address
clause of ep. no. 74 in the St. Gallen text is the shortened formu-
lary version Dulcissimo dileccionis filio ill. ill sal, the Royal manuscript
text (fol. 51
) has retained the names of both Alcuin and Rado (abbot
of St-Vaast in the 790s) in its shortened version, Dulcissimo dilectionis
filio Radoni Albinus salutem, and similarly in the index.
A third copy now lost, which it will be convenient to call K‘3’,
was the ancestor through at least one intermediary of a later copy
of the same collection, with some deliberate omissions, in an eleventh-
The fullest but unfortunately far-from-accurate codicological description is
A. Bruckner, Scriptoria Medii Aevi Helvetica 2: Schreibschulen der Diözese Konstanz, St. Gallen
I (Geneva, 1976), p. 77 (wrongly specifying ‘one hand’). Changes of hand do not
normally coincide with the ends of quires: on p. 81, which is the beginning of a
quire, there is more than one change of hand and similarly on p. 83. The duplicated
letter on pp. 229–30 is ep. no. 53, addressed to an Aeda al. Eada presbiter. This man-
uscript is the source of Canisius’s editio princeps of Alcuin’s letters (1601). For the
association with Tours, see St. Gallen Confraternity Book (Stiftsarchiv, C3 B55)
pp. 4–5, ed. Piper, p. 13; J. Autenrieth in FmSt 9 (1975), 221–2, with an illustration
of p. 5 at pl. XXXIV; O.G. Oexle, Forschungen zu monastischen und geistlichen Gemeinschaften
im westfränkischen Reich, Münster Mittelalterliche Studien 31 (Munich, 1978), p. 35.
Warner and Gilson, Catalogue 1, 256 is a sound, although over-concise, descrip-
tion. The late Prof. Bischoff’s view of the book’s origin (indicated to me verbally
in 1988, after we had independently re-examined St. Gallen cod. 271) was that it
is ‘certainly north-east French, perhaps Arras St-Vaast, because of the Lorsch-type
hand on fols 3
ff.’ (Warner and Gilson, 4, pl. 60a—part of fol. 45
—is a different
hand.) But he was unaware of, and I had temporarily forgotten (!) the retention of
Rado’s name in the address-clause, for the ‘full’ version of which see the manu-
scripts T and T*). Note that in K1’s index the abbreviated ep. no. 137 is both ‘viii’
and ‘ix’, the Emperor Charles’s letter is ‘x’, ‘lxv’ is Epis[tola] ad Paulinum (i.e. ep. no.
60) and ‘lxvi’ is Litterae commendaticiae (ep. no. 12). Examples of lemmata enunciating
themes are (fol. 63; ep. no. 63) Alcuinus exortatoriam [sic] ad abbatem, (fol. 78; ep. no.
65) Albinus de lapsu cuiusdam.
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century English book (London, BL Cotton Tiberius A. xv): sharing
with K1 the prefatory index, the distinctive (shorter) address-clause
of ep. no. 74 and innumerable ‘proper’ readings, it is tempting to
regard it as a direct descendant of the St.-Vaast book; but the occur-
rence of apparent K2 readings in a number of letters suggests at the
very least contamination of the tradition.
What was evidently
another (lost) copy of the same collection, and may indeed have been
the exemplar—less probably a twin—of the St.-Vaast book, figures
among the early additions to the first Lorsch Abbey catalogue in the
‘made-up’ manuscript Vatican Palatinus lat. 1877: Epistulç eiusdem [sc.
Albini magistri ] ad diversos numero. lxiiii in uno volumine.
The interrup-
tion of the sequence of Alcuin letters by one from the Emperor
Charles to the Greek Emperor Nicephorus, written in the early part
of 811 and included in both copies of the index,
provides a ter-
minus post quem for the archetype of the group although not neces-
sarily for the date of the first copying of the Alcuin letters (which
could be earlier, if the Imperial letter had been added on previously
blank pages). The index may have been in the archetype or it may
have been a feature of one ninth-century branch of the tradition
only: in either case it is an unusual and relatively early example of
See Index of Manuscripts Cited, s.v. London, BL, Cotton Tiberius A. xv.
Fol. 77 col. 2: a slightly later addition by a hand different from the main
one, and therefore of ca. 840. The sequence and datings of the catalogues in Pal.
lat. 1877 (and of a fourth in Pal. lat. 57), the contents of which are chaotically
conflated in G. Becker, Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui (Bonn, 1885) no. 37 (pp. 82–119),
were magisterially established by Bischoff, Lorsch
, pp. 18–26; for the creation of
palaeographical and library links between Lorsch and St.-Vaast by Adalung (ob. 837)
as abbot simultaneously of the two houses, see id., pp. 40–4, 62. For R. McKitterick’s
substantial misrepresentation of the make-up and character of Pal. lat. 1877 (and
particularly of the presence in it of a Fulda catalogue also) and of their supposed
implications, frequently reiterated since 1989, see my comments in ‘Alcuin’s Cultural
Influence’, in: Alcuin of York, ed. Houwen and MacDonald (Groningen, 1998), p. 5
n. 12.
MGH Epp. IV, pp. 546–8 (no. 32), where Dümmler’s account of the manu-
script sources should be corrected to read ‘London BL Roy. 8. E xv fols 22–23
(K1); St. Gallen 271 p. 63 (K2); Londin. bib. Brit. Cott. Tib. A. xv (A1) fols 81
etc.’ The two index entries corresponding to the letter head-notes, Epistola Karoli
imperatoris ad imperatorem Constantinopolis (a noteworthy ‘style’ which does not figure in
the letter itself: cf. P. Classen, Karl der Grosse, das Papsttum und Byzanz. Die Begründung
des karolingischen Kaisertums, rev. ed. by H. Fuhrmann and C. Märtl (Sigmaringen,
1985), p. 93) are K1 fol. 1
and A1 fol. 67. The preservation only here of the first
known letter from a Western to an Eastern Emperor is typical of the transmission
of epistolae Karoli (with which compare the inclusion of another letter of two years
later in the H collection: see below). Was the intermediary in this case Fridugis?
see Pt. II ch. 1.
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64 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
a growing concern for textual ordinatio and accessibility.
the letters in the T collections include some of the year 801 but,
unlike the Salzburg book, nothing after that year, none of those in
manuscripts of the K family is of later date than end-August 799.
All but four of the Alcuin letters in K are also in T, and the omis-
sions form a distinct group or groups.
Within both collections some
identical or similar groupings are recognisable: e.g., epp. nos 44 (one
of K’s shortened texts), 40, 82—all probably to English recipients—
followed immediately in K (although only with the intermission of
other letters before 74 and after 83 in T ) by epp. nos 74, 83, 167;
or the ten letters to the king in K (epp. nos 3–7, 10–14) which cor-
respond to the opening letter in T and three sub-groups in the next
fifteen slightly re-arranged and five letters omitted. The head-notes,
however, are often quite different, those in K(2 and ‘3’) tending to
be much more summary. From a few of the letters in T which are
also in the smaller K collection, the latter has eliminated the names
of the addressees and, in three instances, names in the body of the
letter—but ‘outlandish’, predominantly English, names—replacing
them by a formulary version with ill. or illos. The variousness of the
subjects treated and of their putative addressees is the one apparent
link between the letters so treated. It is, however, probable that none
M.B. Parkes, ‘The influence of the concepts of Ordinatio and Compilatio on the
development of the book’, Medieval Learning and Literature. Essays presented to R.W. Hunt,
ed. J.J.G. Alexander & M.T. Gibson (Oxford, 1976), pp. 115–41; M.A. Rouse &
R.H. Rouse, ‘Statim Invenire: Schools, preachers and new attitudes to the page’, [1982],
Authentic Witnesses (Notre Dame, Ind., 1991), pp. 191–219.
I.e. ep. no. 178. For the late letters in the Salzburg collection, see above,
p. 52 and n. 120. The greatest number of letters datable to 801 (twenty or twenty-
one) is, however, in the very different collection H.
Epp. nos 99, 28, 65, 73. They are all from very near the end of the K col-
lection, being its sixtieth and sixty-second to sixty-fourth items, and are followed
there only by the anomalous ep. no. 60 and the Litterae commendaticiae, ep. no. 12
(so K1 and K‘3’ ), with a duplicate of ep. no. 53 interposed between them in K2.
The first two belong to a group of six letters to Paulinus of Aquileia of which T
has the other four, not as a group; and ep. no. 28 is—exceptionally—also in the
early section of the English collection A1, although in an often divergent text-form
(for a possible explanation, see below). The third letter (no. 65) is much abbrevi-
ated and effectively a ‘formulary’ text. The fourth in the group (ep. no. 73) has the
address-clause reduced to the formulaic Dilecto amico salutem, only the text in A1 pre-
serving the name of the original addressee, Dagulf. While almost all the letters in
K (and in T ) are to be dated after Alcuin’s return to Francia in 793, ep. no. 73
evidently belongs to his period of residence in England 790–93; and the letter to
Paulinus was probably written either then or even before 790.
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was written after the last months of 796 or early months of 797;
and one or more of the letters not in T but similarly treated in K
may be among the earliest included in that collection.
The letters
in this particular category seem to reflect an attempt, not long after
Alcuin’s arrival at St. Martin’s, to create a ‘formula letter book’, per-
haps intended for his pupils rather than for himself and reflecting
his own earlier experiences in the York community.
The collec-
tion (K ) of which it subsequently became an integral part is, by con-
trast, the first Tours attempt at a more comprehensive, but still
selective, collection of Alcuin’s recent correspondence.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the compilation of this collection was not
followed by the destruction or dispersion of the ‘original’ letter texts,
whether in libelli (as some of the groupings suggest) or on individ-
ual sheets, although St.-Amand seems to have been the recipient of
the ‘originals’ of three letters to Northumbrian addressees not included
in K (or T ), and others may have been sent elsewhere.
For, when
a year or two later the more extensive collection represented by the
T manuscripts was assembled, letters incompletely copied in the ear-
lier collection were transcribed in full and details characteristic of
the ‘originals’ were preserved. A particularly good example is its text
of a letter of ?794 to Eanbald I of York, of which we also have a
complete copy (plausibly the ‘recipient’s version’) in a later English
manuscript, but which in K breaks off two-thirds of the way through.
In both ‘Tours collections’ the address-clause’s Salutem is written in
Ill. etc. for the names of addressees, epp. nos 31, 38, 73, 74 (K2 text only),
82, 97 (part only); for names in the texts, epp. nos 12, 37, 117. All these letters are
in T (or T*); three (nos 12, 37, 38) are also in S1 and D, with names replaced by
ill. or—no. 37 text-names, no. 38 address—simply omitted. It is necessary to say
‘probably not later than 796/7’ because I. Deug-Su has argued that Alcuin’s Vita
S. Vedasti, of which ep. no. 74 is the letter-preface, was written ‘near to ca. 800’:
Opera Agiografica, pp. 79–80. I think he is wrong, the presence of the preface here
(the only one that figures in any of the Tours letter-collections) being one but not
the only reason; but since there is nothing in the Vita to show conclusively that it
was not written in, say, 798 rather than late 796, the note of caution is necessary.
For ep. no. 73, a ‘formulary style’ letter in K and not in T, see above, n. 153.
St. Martin’s already had a documentary (notarial) formula-book, the Formulae
Turonicae (ed. Zeumer, MGH Formulae, pp. 133–59), assembled in the mid-eighth
century but transmitted in manuscripts of the early ninth century and later, with
varying additamenta; for Warsaw, Bibl. Univ. 1 (still frequently cited under its old
signature ‘480’), see Mordek, BCRFM, pp. 898–903. For York letter-writing, see
below, Pt. II ch. 1.
Epp. nos 116, 105, 114.
Ep. no. 44, which in K ends at the words perpetui pro nobis.
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Tironian notes; and the same T scribe also used notes for the con-
cluding words of the preceding ep. no. 71 (in Christo), and of ep. no.
74 (carissimi ) several folios later.
Omissions from the ‘Basic Tours Collection’
Although seemingly comprehensive in scope, the ‘basic Tours col-
lection’ in both its expanded (T ) and its shorter (K ) form has some
very conspicuous omissions. As already noted, it includes almost noth-
ing of Alcuin’s correspondence with Arn, which is preserved over-
whelmingly in collections assembled by or on behalf of the latter. It
is difficult to regard this as accidental, whether or not the Tours
compilers were already aware in 798/9 that a collection was planned
at St.-Amand or Salzburg. Among individual letters, the two Tours
collections lack the littera (al. epistola) commendaticia carried by mes-
sengers to Rome (ep. no. 140) which was none the less so widely
but surely because it belonged to the category of
‘business letters’.
More strikingly, both versions of the ‘Tours collection’ omit the
familiar and much-quoted ‘letter on the confession of sins, to the
young of St. Martin’s’, which Dümmler dated ‘796–798’ and has been
generally and uncritically followed. The address-clause alone shows
that Alcuin was not addressing a community of which he was abbot;
and a careful reading of the text leaves little doubt that the filii and
discipuli who are being advised at length are not his, but those of
the monastery’s sancti patres in whose care they are.
The omission
is explained by the letter’s having been written before Alcuin became
abbot of St. Martin’s, either in 793/5 or (as I incline to think) in
Ep. no. 74 is the letter to Rado of St.-Vaast.
Additional Note III (below).
Ep. no. 131. The incompatibility of the letter-text with the 796–798 dating
was noted a century ago by W. Pückert, Aniane und Gellone. Diplomatisch-kritische
Untersuchungen zur Gesch. der Reformen des Benediktinerordens im 9. u. 10. Jh. (Leipzig,
1899), p. 252 n. 11. M.S. Driscoll’s recent Alcuin et la Pénitence à l’Époque Carolingienne
(Liturgie-wissenschaftliche Quellen und Forschungen 81, Münster in Westf., 1999) accepts
Dümmler’s dating without discussion and provides on pp. 181–96 (and also in
Traditio 53 (1998), 37–61), what are purportedly a re-examination of the letter’s
manuscript tradition and a new edition; like the rest of the larger work (below, Pt.
II, ch. 3, n. 80), these are completely without scholarly value, typified by the list-
ing of ten manuscripts (out of nineteen or twenty), more than half of them mis-
dated and an Eporediensis, i.e. at Ivrea, identified as from York!
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789, and was not therefore ‘registered’, although he carefully retained
a complete text: for when, early in the next century, he was asked
to compose a letter ‘on confession and penitence’ for the young men
of the Salzburg community, he simply copied his earlier one; and
shortly afterwards he included it in a devotional Manualis libellus sent
to Archbishop Arn, which was in its turn widely copied. At an early
date, moreover, it was added to another and textually independent
collection of Alcuin’s correspondence that was to be copied more
than once at Hilduin’s St.-Denis and subsequently excerpted at
Hincmar’s Rheims, with the letter to St. Martin’s as the final item.
Most conspicuous of all, yet largely ignored in previous discus-
sions of Alcuin’s correspendence and career, is the omission of much
of the documentation of his engagement with the Adoptionists. His
letter on the subject to Abbot Beatus of Liébana is among the iso-
lated survivals in a later manuscript, presumably ultimately from the
recipient’s copy. The probably slightly earlier letter to Felix of Urgel
was preserved uniquely by Arn’s St.-Amand, not even being copied
at Salzburg.
Others are included in a substantial anti-Adoptionist
dossier which has an independent transmission history. Its most com-
plete copy, and for several texts (three Alcuin letters among them)
the earliest, is a major part of a Trinitarian compendium from Arch-
bishop Hincmar’s ?later years at Rheims (now Rheims, Bibl. munic-
ipale, 385: fols 61–160); an earlier and in some respects better witness
to the dossier’s first part, in which the letters and libelli produced
for or sent from the Council of Frankfurt in 794 are included, is
one of Bishop Baturich of Regensburg’s books (Munich, clm. 14468),
precisely dated to 821. It has been suggested, not unreasonably, that
the dossier was compiled at the Court while Adoptionism was still
a live issue and subsequently disseminated from there: the arguments
are certainly not conclusive, and the existence of a compilation at
Tours which was kept distinct from the main epistolary collections
may be a sufficient explanation.
The letters to Arno are epp. nos 258, 259 (both only in S1 and in the abbre-
viated clm. 14743); for the copy or copies sent to Salzburg, see below, Pt. II, ch. 3,
p. 387. The letter-collection copied at St.-Denis and excerpted at Rheims is dis-
cussed below.
Beatus: above, p. 36 n. 79. Felix: ep. no. 23; above, p. 49 and n. 110.
Note that there is no overlap with the contents of the manuscripts Paris BNF,
lat. 2386 and 2848, p. 44 and n. 100). Rheims 385: H. Loriquet, Catalogue général
des Départements, t. xxxviii (Paris, 1904), 505–8; Heil, Alkuinstudien, 1, 49–51; Bullough,
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Manuscripts of the T Collection in England
At least once during the ninth century, and perhaps more often, an
unidentifiable scholar or teacher extracted a number of thematically-
related Alcuin letters from one of the primary collections and made
them the basis of a handbook. The only one to survive apparently
complete is a distinctive astronomical-computistic compilation, the
unique copy of which is part of a miscellaneous manuscript of s. x/
xi, possibly from northern or eastern France. The six letter-texts—
but not the texts De saltu lunae and De bissexto that follow—are demon-
strably taken from a manuscript of the ‘expanded Tours collection’
(T manuscripts) and can throw no light on the origins of this and
other letter-collections. The handbook’s concluding item, however,
on the years Ab origine mundi, has an annus praesens of 824: if this is
a reliable or even approximate guide to its date of compilation, it
provides some additional evidence for the circulation of the primary
collections and for Alcuin’s reputation at that time.
By contrast, a modest-sized collection of the letters and two frag-
mentary leaves, both of English origin and of tenth-century date, do
unexpectedly throw new light on the early form as well as on the
dissemination of the T collection. The interest and potential impor-
tance of the one-time Bury book, London Lambeth 218 pt. iii
(fols 131–208), were sensed by Sickel, but he felt that he had insuffi-
cient information for a proper judgement; and the additional details
‘Alcuin. Evidence of the manuscripts’, p. 11. Clm. 14468 (whose fols 30
–88 cor-
respond with Rheims 385 fols 61–95): Bischoff, Südosdeutsche Schreibschulen, 1, 200;
Mordek, BCRFM, pp. 335–9; also Bullough, cit. Most but not all of the second
part is included also in two lower-Loire region manuscripts, Paris BNF lat. 5577
and Vatican BAV, Reg. lat. 69 (twins? or one a copy of the other?), the latter well
described by Wilmart in Codices Reginenses, 1 (Vatican City, 1937), 152–5, the for-
mer analysed in part by J.-P. Bouhot, ‘Un florilège sur le symbolisme du baptême
de la seconde moitié du viii
siècle’, Recherches Augustiniennes 18 (1983), 151–82, here
157–9; but for corrections and amplification see Mordek, BCRFM, pp. 557–9, 805–7
and Bullough, ‘Reminiscence and Reality’, pp. 176–7. S. ix or ix/x has been the
generally accepted dating of both manuscripts; but in the 1980s Bernhard Bischoff
was persuaded by Jean Vezin that BNF 5577 belongs with an ‘archaizing’ late-
eleventh century manuscript-group from scriptoria at Angers or in the lower Loire
region; and Reg. 69 seems to have a similar origin, although probably earlier in
that century. For the dossier’s supposed dissemination from the Court, see Heil,
Alkuinstudien I, p. 50 n. 307a.
Vatican City, BAV, Reg. lat. 226 fols 1–33
, with texts of epp. nos 148, 155,
126, 170, 145 (shortened text) and 143 on fols 1–17
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supplied to Dümmler were not always accurate. The text script is
English ‘square minuscule’ of a distinctive kind, almost certainly from
a southern or eastern-English centre: Prof. David Ganz has suggested
that palaeographically it ‘show(s) an attempt to assimilate the script
of a Carolingian exemplar’ and, with the support of art-historians,
favours a date close to 900. Conspicuous, indeed unique, among
extant letter-manuscripts (and highly unusual in its period) are its
lavishly-decorated opening lines, written in display-capitals, which
hint at some wealthy patron, lay or clerical. The quire-signatures
show that it was defective from an early date. In its present form it
contains the complete or partial texts of twenty letters and the address-
clause (only) of a twenty-first. The first letter, ep. no. 155, lacks its
first half, beginning in mid-sentence at cursus redigere; the eighteenth
letter, ep. no. 198, has lost nearly two-thirds of its text, breaking off
at the bottom of fol. 200
(which is the end of the penultimate quire)
at the words sciamus caros nostros. The sequence is precisely that of
the fifth to the twenty-second letters in Troyes 1165 and in its mid-
ninth-century Rheims counterpart: the last six, moreover, are part
of a distinctive group of letters written in 800/1 which are found
only in this manuscript family.
The two mutilated leaves identified a few years ago in the Newberry
Library, Chicago (where they are catalogued as ‘Fragment 15’) are
also written in a ‘square minuscule’ with occasional Caroline ele-
ments, of smaller module than the Lambeth book and with at least
one unusual abbreviation-form that seems to be of Welsh origin.
They contain respectively (A) part of the middle third of ep. no. 149,
and (B) parts of the last sentences (as printed) of ep. no. 155 and of
the beginning of ep. no. 136: that is to say, the fourth, fifth and sixth
letters in the T collection, although with the total loss (up to now)
of five to seven leaves. The K collection—all three copies—includes
Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien I’, pp. 511–12; MGH Epp. IV, (Introd.) p. 8. M.R.
James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in Lambeth Palace Library (London, 1930),
pp. 350–2, is a full description of the manuscript, correctly reporting the wrong
ordering of fols 131–133. For its palaeography and date, see D. Ganz, ‘An Anglo-
Saxon fragment of Alcuin’s letters in the Newberry Library, Chicago’, ASE 22
(1993), 167–77, at 170–1, 177. David Dumville at one time favoured a post-950
date but seems latterly to have abandoned this for a pre-945 one (private corre-
spondence in Febr./Mar. 1988); and the incidental reference in English Caroline Script
and Monastic History: Studies in Benedictinism, A.D. 950–1030 (Woodbridge, 1993), p. 78
n. 360).
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epp. nos 149 and 136 on successive folios, but omits the second half
of the latter’s opening sentence, from illius sedula to dilatare dignetur;
and ep. no. 155 is only found in the T manuscripts and in the astro-
nomical-computistic collection previously referred to, which has taken
its text from a T-class manuscript.
Even in its very fragmentary condition, it is apparent that N(ewberry)’s
text of ep. no. 136 is markedly close to that of L(ambeth); palaeo-
graphically it would appear to be later, although still within the first
half of the tenth century. N could, therefore, have been a copy of
L before it lost its opening leaves. But the fact that its script seems
to have been influenced independently by that of its putative exem-
plar makes it more likely that the two manuscripts were copied, in
different centres and some decades apart, from the same imported
Carolingian-period book.
That the latter was neither directly nor indirectly a descendant of
the Tours or the Rheims book is, however, demonstrated by the
presence in L’s text of ep. no. 145, and nowhere else, of the absolutely
crucial sentences in which Alcuin explains that he has sent to the king
for comment a copy of his latest critique of the Adoptionists ‘still in
unbound folia’;
and this independence is confirmed by the presence
of the address clauses (David regi ) of epp. nos 170 and 174 only in L
and by other, smaller but still significant, differences in the texts of
other letters. It follows that even after the compilation of the second,
expanded, ‘basic Tours collection’ from copies of Alcuin’s letters still
retained at St. Martin’s, the texts of some of them were, for what-
ever reason, still subject to ‘editorial’ changes. Moreover, if it is
accepted that the Rheims manuscript is descended from a collateral
and not a copy of the Tours-Troyes book, the omission of the pas-
sage about the anti-Adoptionist treatise from both establishes it as a
feature of their archetype, which was necessarily written at latest
within a year or two of Alcuin’s death; while the lost ancestor of
the unfortunately-imperfect English books, with the additional pas-
sage in ep. no. 145, could well go back to his own lifetime.
Compare Ganz, ‘An Anglo-Saxon fragment’, pp. 171–7.
See ep. no. 43, for a passage relating to Adoptionism and Alcuin’s response
to it which is omitted from the copies in T (and K ), but preserved in a later
(eleventh-century) English copy, in this case probably from the ‘recipient’s text’.
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An Anomalous Collection
One small collection of early date, for which both Salzburg and
Tours connections have been claimed, remains to be considered.
Sixteen (or fifteen) of Alcuin’s letters, several of them in incomplete
texts, are copied on seventeen folios (226
) of the one-time St.
Emmeram, Regensburg (and subsequently Regensburg Dominicans)
book, now Munich clm. 13581. In its final form—it was originally
two separate codices which were combined at an early date—this is
a characteristic ‘school’ collection of the period, written by ‘count-
less hands’: its contents are predominantly works of OT and NT
exegesis and ‘theology’, amongst which writings by or associated with
Alcuin and his disciples, or falsely attributed to him, are prominent.
In part ii, the Alcuin letters are, however, preceded by Augustine’s
substantial Tractatus X in Iohannis epistolam ad Parthos, and followed by
a mini-corpus of Amalarius ‘of Trier’s’ correspondence ca. 813–815,
occupying a single quire. There is no obvious intellectual link between
these three items; but no attempt has been made to distinguish the
letter-collection with an initial title or other codicological feature.
All the Alcuin letters in the St. Emmeram book are also to be found
in some form, but not always an identical one, in one or more of
the major collections already discussed. Only the early-ninth-century
Salzburg book Vienna cod. 808, however, has texts of all but one
of the sixteen (or fifteen), four (or three) being only there; and, con-
spicuously, these include nine of Alcuin’s letters addressed to non-
Salzburg recipients, plus two to Arn, which had been copied there
by the one scribe ‘theta’—the remainder being in the quires of three
different scribes. It is natural to suppose that the principal exemplar
was either Vienna cod. 808 or an intermediary, and nineteenth-
century editors generally took that view: but there are serious objec-
tions. Clm. 13581, according to Bernhard Bischoff in an acutely-argued
section of the first volume of his Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, belongs
to ‘the Isanberht group’, from the name of the peripatetic monkscribe
who provides the link and appears occasionally as a corrector in this
manuscript: the predominant script-style of the ‘countless hands’ (in
For the codicology, see Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 1, 230, cf. 234;
pt.ii is fols 147–284 of the combined book, the folios with the letter-collection form-
ing quires ‘XI’ and ‘XII’ plus the last leaf of qu. ‘X’. For the Apocalypse com-
mentary in Pt. I, see above, p. 10 and n. 16.
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Bischoff’s view) points to the vicinity of Tours as its place of origin
and a dating ‘around 820 or shortly after’.
That dating may be
valid for what is perhaps the earliest manuscript in the group, clm.
14614 (likewise at St. Emmeram from an early date), where among
approximately fifteen hands a ‘clearly-formed (klare) Tours’ one, which
probably occurs again in clm. 13581 pt. i, is responsible for the greater
part of a group of Alcuin texts (fols 197
–243); and it is acceptable
also for Vienna Nat. bibl. lat. 966—whose mediaeval library-home
is unknown—which includes the only complete copy of a letter to
Arn from Alcuin, probably from his very last years.
But as regards
clm. 13581 (and other manuscripts) there are formidable counter-
arguments. Some of its non-Alcuin texts are not easily dated before
the 830s.
Several of the letters are demonstrably in the local
Salzburg text-version which has modified the wording of the origi-
nal one. The one Alcuin letter not in Vienna cod. 808 is the frag-
mentary ep. no. 65, a complete text of which, almost certainly derived
from the original recipient’s version, is to be found only in the two
later English collections of Alcuin’s letters. But the presence of a
(part-)copy at Salzburg in the late 790s is seemingly established by
its imitation in one of the rare letters of (Arch)bishop Arn;
Bischoff, idem, p. 234. In conversations over several years, the last in February
1990, Professor Bischoff confirmed that he had found no new evidence that would
help with a dating and localisation of this admittedly-anomalous group of manu-
scripts. He acknowledged, however, that he had been unaware of the apparently
contrary evidence of some of the contents, and that he would certainly not exclude
a somewhat later date. For a recent reiteration of Bishoff’s interpretation of Isanberht’s
formation and later career, see below, p. 73 n. 174.
Ep. no. 268, at fols 33
–34 and therefore in a section which appears to be
in Isanberht’s own hand. For the ?Salzburg-area codex with extracts from ep. no.
268, see below.
The contents of the the Munich ‘Isanberht-group’ manuscripts are very inad-
equately indicated by the printed catalogue: they include a complete or ‘conflate’
text of the De dignitate conditionis humanae (nearly three centuries earlier than the date
originally proposed by Dr. Marenbon for the creation of that version), a text of
the All Saints’ sermon Legimus in ecclesiasticis historiis earlier than any used by Prof.
J.E. Cross for his edition (Traditio 33 [1977], 101–35, the text at 105–23), and texts
of other sermons usually attributed—rightly or wrongly—to Walahfrid Strabo. I
have for many years hoped to produce a comprehensive account of the entire group
and its distinctive collection of texts; but I have made almost no progress with the
palaeographical problems (see, however, below, n. 174).
Ep. no. 66, Chase, Two Letter-Books, pp. 20–1 (no. I/2). Chase, p. 20 note,
suggested that it had in fact been composed by Alcuin: on chronological and other
grounds, this is most implausible; and the larger collection in which it occurs,
London BL Cotton Tiberius A. xv, is not a ‘collection of epistolary formulae’ (Chase,
p. 3, who has here been misled by his own title).
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those sections imitated at Salzburg were not incorporated in any col-
lection made at Tours, although other parts of Alcuin’s letter were.
The fact that the text in clm. 13581 consists of only two later sec-
tions of the letter in an incorrect (reverse) order, directly after another
letter which had been copied several times previously at Salzburg,
suggests—but cannot prove—that the scribe of this section, or of its
exemplar, had been copying a defective set of bifolia and loose sheets,
the last of which had been reversed.
It is theoretically possible that at the date at which the ‘Tours’-
St. Emmeram manuscript was written the more comprehensive col-
lection of letters used by the compilers of what became the archetypes
of both the K and T families had already been dispersed, and that
it was necessary to turn to Salzburg, or somewhere in its region, for
the texts of a short selection to include in a Tours-area ‘school’ col-
lection of exegetic and homiletic writings. Improbable as this seems,
it cannot be absolutely excluded as an explanation. It still seems
more likely, however, that at least the later ‘Isanberht-group’ books
were after all written in the vicinity of Salzburg, not before the early
or even mid-830s and although Isanberht himself had then been for
some time a professed monk at Fulda: in which case the Tours-
trained scribes (and others?) were the incomers, writing ‘conserva-
tively’. The circumstances in which this migration took place and
where actually the mixed group of scribes worked and preserved the
memory of Alcuin remains, however, quite obscure.
For the moment,
I.e. in the K collection (above), where the letter ends hodie vadis in incendio ignis
aeterni. The complex manuscript-testimony of this letter is unfortunately almost impos-
sible to work out from Dümmler’s apparatus. For the Salzburg-version letter texts,
see above, pp. 55–56 and n. 130.
Clm. 14391 (Alcuin, Expositio evangelii Iohannis), fols 28–59
, are written in a
weaker version of the hand of the scribe Munipert who wrote three Salzburg man-
uscripts and contributed to a fourth in the early years of Archbishop Adalram, while
the index and fols 122–89 are the work of Isanberht: Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen,
1, 231 and 2, 149–51 (nos 139–42). The fullest treatment of the non-palaeographical
evidence for Isanberht’s career is in K. Schmid (ed.), Die Kloster-gemeinschaft von Fulda
im Früheren Mittelalter, Münstersche Mittelalter-Schriften 8 (Munich, 1978), 2.1:
Kommentiertes Parallelregister, p. 256, cf. 2.3: Untersuchungen, pp. 1007–8 (Freise), empha-
sising that his membership of the Fulda community began before 825/6 and that
his connections with the scriptorium at Tours cannot be satisfactorily dated. None
of the manuscripts or scribes, except for Isanberht himself, has any demonstrable
association with Fulda. Bischoff’s original arguments for a Tours-area origin for the
group have recently been re-stated by Herrad Spilling, suggesting that even a dat-
ing ‘um oder bald nach 820’ may be too late, because of the archaic features of
the hands: see her ‘Die frühe Phase karolingischer Minuskel in Fulda’ in: Schrimpf
(ed.), Kloster Fulda, pp. 249–84, at pp. 279–82. For the reasons stated in the text,
I find this very difficult, if not impossible, to accept.
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74 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
the palaeographical, prosopographical and textual evidence cannot
be convincingly reconciled; but clm. 13581 does confirm the earlier
dispatch to Salzburg of copies of letters to other addressees, of which
‘register copies’ had been made at Tours, without adding to our
understanding of the early history of the basic letter-collection(s).
Some time after mid-century, an unidentified scriptorium ‘prob-
ably in the Salzburg area’ copied seven letters of Alcuin’s and frag-
ments of two others as an appendix to a substantial formulary-collection
(now Munich clm. 4650: siglum B). One section of the latter makes
considerable use of Salzburg’s principal collection of Alcuin’s letters,
i.e that in Vienna 808 (S1); and it also includes two extracts, in
Int[errogatio]-R[esponsio] form, from the letter known otherwise only
from Vienna 966.
Sickel believed that the letters in the appendix
were copied from the first three quires of S1, and Dümmler followed
him. Assuming at least one intermediary, this is almost certainly
right: if so, however, B’s scribe or the copyist of his exemplar was
sufficiently learned to make improvements to the orthography and
Latinity of the originals, sometimes with implications for their inter-
pretation, simultaneously with introducing or retaining obvious errors.
For the manuscript (later at Benediktbeuern), see Bischoff, Südostdeutsche
Schreibschulen 2, 201–2. The quires have been mis-bound, the correct sequence of
the final folios being 40–55, 80–85, 72–79; the first of the Alcuin letters, ep. no.
294, is on fols 84
+ 72–72
, ep. no. 173 to rivolos sanctitatis on fols 79–79
the opening words of ep. no. 156 at the bottom of fol. 79
(but def. after dubita-
tionem aliquam only because of the loss of one or more leaves?). For the preceding
Formulae Salisburgenses, see Zeumer, MGH Formulae, pp. 438–55, with the important
complementary remarks and corrections by B. Bischoff, Salzburger Formelbücher und
Briefe aus Tassilonischer und Karolingischer Zeit (SB. Bayerische Akad. der Wissenschaft,
Ph.-Hist. Kl., 1973 Heft 4), pp. 9–11. The extracts from ep. no. 268 are in the for-
mulary section at fols 48
–49, and the non-Alcuin ep. no. 180 at fols 55–55
+ 80.
Another formulary-text of the latter is in Frobenius Forster’s transcript of a lost
Salzburg Liber Traditionum in Regensburg, Staatliche Bibliothek, Rat. ep. 422, identified
and partly published by Bischoff, Salzburger Formelbücher, here p. 35.
Ep. no. 294 is among the letters ruthlessly normalized by Dümmler, with or
without the support of B: the rejected spellings Hierusalem, paginola, diliciarum etc. are
almost certainly Alcuin’s own, as well as standard in early Salzburg; in scripturis sanc-
tis in S1 and D is ‘corrected’ (with B) to i. s. sacris, although Alcuin uses scripturae
sanctae three times and the singular scriptura sancta once in the letter he wrote in the
name of the Frankish bishops in 794 (MGH Conc. II, pp. 147, 154 and 156) and
the singular form twice in his ‘York poem’ (ed. Godman, lines 1307–8 and 1448),
and never scriptura(e) sacra(e)! and so on. Dümmler’s text of ep. no. 146 (p. 236) has
quid de Graeciae sublimitatibus audieras (remarkably interpreted in the editorial heading
as de Grecorum superbia!). Here the reading of S and of its direct copy S1 is de Grecia
solimitatibus, which B changes to de Gretia suplimitatibus. Sublimitas was used in late-
Antiquity of ‘a person of high rank or superiority’ and as a form of address (‘your
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A ‘Personal’ Collection of Letters?
The Tours origin of all or parts of the several overlapping collec-
tions of letters written to a range of addressees c. 793–801 seems
clear; and the omission from them of letters in particular categories
which are preserved independently of any of the major collections
is surely (generally) deliberate. Quite distinct from these is an assem-
blage of eighty-nine or ninety letters, interrupted after the sixty-fifth
or sixty-sixth letter by a group of three of Alcuin’s poems, two of
them found only here.
Complete copies are to be found in twin
manuscripts written at St.-Denis ca. 820 or a little earlier, evidently
for different destinations, and now respectively London, BL, Harley
208 (Sickel’s and Dümmler’s H) and Paris, BNF, n. a. lat. 1096
(unknown to editors of the letters; my siglum H2): before the end
of the century the latter was, on the evidence of additions, at or in
the vicinity of Orléans; a century or so later the former was in
In both manuscripts the Alcuin collection is followed by
Highness’); and from the second quarter of the ninth century it is a not-infrequent
epithet for Carolingian rulers. It is therefore a plausible emendation of the mean-
ingless solimitatibus; and a year later (ep. no. 174 [p. 288]) Alcuin himself—excep-
tionally—uses it of the Pope, although here too it seems to have given trouble to
copyists (sublitas in T and T*, suplimitas in K2).
Namely, carm. nos xlviii, xlvi, xlvii, ed. Dümmler, MGH Poet. I, pp. 259–61.
For the St.-Denis origin of both, see Mirella Ferrari, ‘«In Papia conveniant
ad Dungalum»’, Italia Medioevale e Umanistica 15 (1972), pp. 3–4 (ex inf. B. Bischoff ) and
J. Vezin, ‘Les manuscrits copiés à St.-Denis pendant l’époque carolingienne’, Paris
et Ile-de-France 32 (1982), at 278–9. The Paris manuscript was made known to schol-
arship and its contents briefly presented by J. Ramackers, ‘Eine unbekannte Handschrift
der Alchvinbriefe’, Neues Archiv 50 (1935). It had, however, been read and studied
with some care in the eighteenth century: collat. has been written in the margin at
the beginning of each letter and what is probably the same hand has subsequently
noted against some of them that they figure in the novissima editio, i.e. Frobenius
Forster’s of 1777. The annotator seems to be different from the M. de Bréquigny
who in ?1766, as we know from his own account (Mémoires de l’Acad. des Inscriptions,
XXXVII [Paris, 1774], 531) transcribed the contents of BL Harl. 208—which he
passed on to Forster—and observed correctly that it contained annotations by the
‘savant Usserius’ (who had borrowed it from its then owner D’Ewes in 1641) ‘qui
avait eu problement dessein de publier’ the letters. (But see below, n. 201.) For the
Orléans-area additions on BNF n. a. lat. 1096 fols 95
–98, see B. Bischoff, Anecdota
Novissima: Texte des vierten bis sechzehnten Jahrhunderts (Stutttgart, 1984), pp. 123–35. An
alphabet including the four additional OE letters on Harley 208 fol. 87
and a
scribble which is almost a line of Beowulf (!) (line 869) on fol. 88 are datable s.
x/xi: Ker, Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon, p. 304 (no. 229) An ex-libris Ebor’ and
other evidence that I hope to publish elsewhere show that in the later Middle Ages
it was for a time in the York Austin Friars library.
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76 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
a smaller group of letters written, or probably written, by Dungal,
interrupted by one of 813 from the Emperor Charles to his Greek
counterpart (composed by Dungal?); both originally concluded with
an added single letter of Alcuin’s (ep. no. 131).
The copies pro-
vide slight, but reasonably convincing, indications that their com-
mon exemplar was also a St.-Denis book.
Either that exemplar or
a copy (not necessarily one of those that survives) was available to
the mid-ninth-century Rheims copyist of the ‘expanded Tours col-
lection’: from it, he or his master selected a mere thirteen letters
(actually fourteen, one of them defective at the beginning), plus the
one uncertainly-attributed letter in the Dungal group and the added
ep. no. 131, carefully preserving the sequence of his exemplar.
Because it includes six (or five) letters addressed to Abbot Adalhard
of Corbie, which are not included in ‘the basic Tours collection’ or
its expanded version, Sickel and Dümmler after him supposed that
H(arleian 208) was a Corbie manuscript and that its Alcuin letter-
collection originated there.
That the collection in its present form
may indeed be linked in some way (not now clearly determinable)
with Corbie, even though its surviving early copies were written else-
where, is not excluded. The letter with which it opens, a ‘dialecti-
cal’ summary of the arguments against Adoptionism, is addressed to
a filia in Christo carissima at the Aachen Court: she is commonly
identified with Adalhard’s sister Gundrada, which is plausible if
H fols 117
, H2 fols 92–95
Apart from the shared Dungal dossier (which could easily have been added
to a book that had originated elsewhere), the best evidence for a St.-Denis exem-
plar comes from misunderstood abbreviations: notably, the text of ep. no. 209
(p. 347 line 31) in H2 fol. 114, with the unintelligible reading quia post vos, which
is that also of T* (below). H has here, however, qui ap’ vos, correctly extended in
an eleventh-century English copy (in the manuscript A1: below) to qui aput vos; and
the eccentric abbreviation ap’ for apud is also that of Paris BNF lat. 2384 (after the
first text), BAV Reg. lat. 96 and 310, all probably of St.-Denis origin, s. ix
. An older St.-Denis book, Paris BNF lat. 528 (c. 800 or s. ix in, except for the
added fols 91–92
and later marginalia, etc.), has at fols 132–133 the unique text
of Alcuin’s earliest extant poem, inc. Cartula perge cito pelagi trans aequora cursu (ed.
Dümmler, MGH Poet. I, pp. 220–3).
I.e. BAV, ms. Reg. lat. 272, fols 96
. A marginal annotation by the
copyist or an early reader of the opening letter of the sequence, the first also in
the complete H collection, Alcuin’s ep. no. 204 reads: Epistola de multis necessitatum
Epp. nos 175, 176, 181, 220, 222 and 237, no. 181 not certainly to Adalhard;
Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien I’, pp. 496–9, followed by Dümmler, MGH Epp. IV, (Introd.)
p. 5.
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unproved; the one extant letter in which she is named as the addressee
(using her by-name Eulalia) is also in this collection, as is a letter
to ‘the most loved ones, Sister and Daughter’, whom Sickel sug-
gested were Gundrada and her younger sister Theodrada.
would certainly have found in the collection the evidence that Alcuin
addressed Adalhard as Antonius, although equally he could have read
the ‘recipient’s copies’ of these or other letters. He would also have
read there the letter in which Alcuin tried to explain to the Emperor,
who had raised the matter, what was the hymnus which the Evangelists
say (Mt 26.30; Mc 14.26) was recited after the institution of the
Eucharist but fail to quote—a letter of which he made use in the
final section of his great Expositio in Matheo.
The small group (or groups) of letters to Adalhard and those to
Gundrada cannot, however, properly be compared with the letters
to Arn that form the basis of the St.-Amand and Salzburg collec-
tions; and it is difficult to envisage the compilation of the H collec-
tion ex novo at Corbie, or indeed at St. Denis, in the ten or fifteen
years after Alcuin’s death in 804. The letters here are addressed to
a very wide range of recipients, English and Continental, commonly
represented by a single letter, although Adalhard is not the only one
privileged with several: Benedict of Aniane is the addressee of three
(one of them jointly), a Bishop Speratus whom I identify with Unuuona
of Leicester of two of the letters; and there are two to Archbishop
Arn which are not included in the Salzburg collections.
One let-
ter, the only one to the short-lived Northumbrian King Eardwulf, is
copied twice: the second copy omits the Farewell clause. Chrono-
logically, they range over the whole period from the earliest letters
now extant (pre-785!) to the last months of Alcuin’s life. Very few
of them are included in any of the other collections.
In conjunction,
Ep. no. 204: for its date (mid-799 rather than mid-800?) and content see
below; epp. nos 241 (with the lemma in both manuscripts Ad Gundradam virginem cog-
nomento Eulaliam), 279. There is, of course, a certain circularity in these identifications.
Ep. no. 308, in all three manuscript-copies of the H collection; Pascasii Radberti
Expositio in Matheo Libri XII (IX–XII), ed. B. Paul, CCCM 56B (Turnhout, 1984),
p. 129 (lines 1023–32, 1045). Paschasius’s quidam volunt does not mean that he did
not know who was the author of the letter: he was citing a ‘modern’, who was typ-
ically unnamed.
Benedict: epp. nos 56, 57 and 303 ( jointly); Speratus: epp. nos 124, 285 with
Bullough, ‘What has Ingeld to do with Lindisfarne?’, ASE 22, esp. 101–2, 109–15.
Arn: epp. nos 218, 227, the former certainly, the latter possibly, of 801.
The exceptions include ep. no. 115 (to Eanbald II of York), ep. no. 230 (to
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78 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
those characteristics perhaps provide the clue to an understanding
of the collection. If the collections represented by the K and T man-
uscripts are in some sense ‘notarial’ or ‘pupil’ ones, that in the H
manuscripts is seemingly more personal to Alcuin: apparently letters
written by him at various dates and in various places of which he
chose to retain copies, to provide models for subsequent correspon-
or for other reasons which we can now only guess at, but
may have ‘autobiographical’ significance.
This notion gains some support from the unexpected evidence of
a work by one of Alcuin’s contemporaries and indeed friends, Patri-
arch Paulinus of Aquileia. In the late 790s the latter wrote a Libellus
exhortationis for (it seems) his secular counterpart, Count or Duke Erich
of Friuli, who was killed in action in 799.
Much of it is a char-
acteristic mosaic or paraphrase of Patristic and later writings, most
substantially the pseudo-Basil Admonitio ad filium spiritualem. Albert
Hauck long ago noticed that cap. viii (in fact capp. viii

ix) of Paulinus’s
work quotes verbatim, or only slightly adapted, almost two-thirds of
Alcuin’s early and distinctive ‘admonitory letter’ to Charles’s sister
Archbishop Æthelheard of Canterbury), ep. no. 300 (to Abbess Æthelburga) and ep.
no. 308 (above, n. 184), all in the later English manuscript A1 and no. 300 also
in T*. There is nothing obviously in common to link these particular four letters,
and only the text of ep. no. 230 has variants suggesting that H may preserve its
‘register’ version and A1 its ‘recipient’s’ one (below, at p. 87 at n. 212); for ep. no.
308, compare further, p. 79 at n. 192.
As, for example, epp. nos 280, 54, 55 and 56 if, as seems likely, these are to
be dated to before mid-796.
PL 99, cols 197–282. Erich’s life and career are comparatively well-documented,
thanks not least to the verse-lament which Paulinus wrote after his death, MGH
Poet. I, pp. 131–3, new ed. by D. Norberg, L’oeuvre poétique de Paulin d’Aquilée (Stockholm,
1979), pp. 100–2 (no. III), cf. pp. 34–8. The text of the Libellus in PL 99, cols
197–282, reprints the edition by the early eighteenth-century Oratorian G.F. Madrisi,
which was dependent on earlier printed editions, from unidentified manuscripts; and
although Dom André Wilmart claimed in one of his last letters, of February 1941,
that he had ‘prepared an edition’, it was never published and seems not to sur-
vive. The name of Paulinus as author figures apparently only in the oldest manu-
script, Paris BNF lat. 2996 (?Italy; sec. IX
); and it is not clear from partial listings
of extant manuscripts (as by Dom Rochais in RevBén, 63 (1953), 251 n. 3) or from
modern library catalogues which—if any—name Erich as the frater (laicus) for whom
it is written. London BL Royal 5 B. III of s. xii in, from Worcester (not Canterbury:
see Ker, Medieval Libraries of Great Britain, p. 208), fol. 59
has the title Liber ex[h]orta-
tionis ad comitem quendam which, however (since there is no reference to a comes in
the body of the text), clearly indicates the presence at an earlier stage of a per-
sonal name. Ad comitem quendam is similarly not uncommon in the title of manu-
script-texts of Alcuin’s treatise De virtutibus et vitiis, which was written some years
later and certainly dedicated to comes Wido: Bullough, ‘Alcuin and Lay Virtue’.
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Gisla. But capp. iv and vi have shorter quotations from at least three
later letters to different recipients in both England and Francia. The
common link between all four letters is their inclusion in the col-
lection transmitted by the H manuscripts, three of them indeed only
there. At the date of composition of Paulinus’s libellus (797? 798?) it
is difficult to see how he would have been able to quote from them
unless copies had been sent to him by Alcuin himself.
The text
of ep. no. 308 in the English collection of letters, originating in the
790s but only preserved in later manuscripts, may well have a similar
pre-history. The insertion in the H manuscripts of a group of carmina
between one of the letters to Archbishop Arn and the second text
of the letter to King Eardwulf, moreover, accords well with the notion
of a ‘personal’ collection. All three are ‘letter-poems’, a genre initi-
ated by Alcuin’s earliest extant and datable poem; one, explicitly
from St. Martin’s, Tours, is to (probably) the English priest Monn,
who is about to set out on his travels; the second is to a Friducinus
who may be an English abbot or, possibly, a bishop. The third—
the first in the manuscripts—is to Arn: of this, a more complete text
is preserved in Salzburg or Salzburg-connected manuscripts, evidently
taken from the version which reached its addressee.
Almost all the single Alcuin letters and small assemblages of his
correspondence—apart, of course, from the letter-prefaces and the
four short treatises—that are copied in other, more miscellaneous,
ninth-century and later Continental manuscripts are demonstrably
dependent on one of the early letter-collections, and in several instances
Ep. no. 15, with A. Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, 2 (ed. 3/4; Leipzig, 1912),
p. 162 n. 4; epp. nos 115 (the letter to Eanbald II of York), 123, 188, cf. ep. no.
217. The sending of the copy-letters to Paulinus would, therefore, have been ear-
lier than the dispatch of sections of the ‘basic Tours collections’ to Arn and—as I
argue below—to York. Conversely, unless I have overlooked something, Paulinus’s
Libellus is nowhere used by Alcuin.
Carm. 48, 46, 47 (MGH Poet. I, pp. 259–61); in H fols 78
, in H2 fols
. In H2, fol. 61
is the end of a quire and the scribe has copied carm. 48
vv. 1–16 only, leaving more than half the page blank; a new scribe begins fol. 62
with vv. 16–20, the first verse however being marked for deletion. The same scribe
rubricated the last line (23) of carm. 47, apparently as a (pseudo-)lemma for the fol-
lowing letter, numbered ‘lxvii’. The variants in the H text of carm. 48 (sanctae in
v. 7, te and voluntas for tibi and voluptas in v. 9, promat for placeat in v. 14—affected by
the preceding line) are not such as to suggest that it is taken from an uncorrected
draft. The complete text is one of only two—unattributed—poems of Alcuin’s in
the collection in Munich clm. 14743 (Salzburg, 854/59), and was also in the lost
St. Emmeram manuscript which was used by Frobenius Forster.
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80 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
are taken from an extant exemplar. The group of seven (or eight?)
letters, in the particular text-forms and sequences of the T collec-
tion, which constitutes one section of the ‘twin’ ?eleventh-century
manuscripts from the lower Loire region (Paris BNF lat. 5577; Vatican
BAV Reg. lat. 69) is, however, almost certainly derived indirectly
from another lost copy that had remained at or in the vicinity of
Tours; and a Tours book (the same one? or another?) is the most
likely source of the letter, transmitted only here, in which an alarmed
Alcuin wrote to Candidus-Wizo and Fridugis in 801/2.
Fewer than
a dozen letters are preserved only outside the main collections, in
miscellanies of this kind: the addressees of a group of four in copies
of early date make it highly improbable that the compiler was using
‘recipients’ texts’, and again point to Tours itself as the source of
the exemplar(s).
Most of the other exceptions relate to the strug-
gle with Adoptionism c. 798–800, and are letters included in the
dossier compiled and kept separately at Tours or at the Imperial
Court, and for a time perhaps available at both. Only for Alcuin’s
letter to Beatus of Liébana and that to an unidentified (Frankish)
Bishop Elegius and (less certainly) for the independently-transmitted
letter to King Offa of Mercia, the earliest of three still extant, does
manuscript context point to dependence, through an unknown num-
ber of intermediaries, on the addressee’s copy.
The seven correspond to the items numbered 10–16 in Dümmler’s list, MGH
Epp. IV, p. 7, although items 10–13 = epp. nos 170, 174, 177 follow instead of
preceding the other four; and the rubrics or lemmata have clearly been created for
this particular selection—in both manuscripts, that for no. 178 (of pre-, not post-,
800 date), which follows a part-copy of no. 131, is Epistola eiusdem ad Karolum imper.
It follows that readings in these manuscripts (sigla P, P*) will have no independent
value for the establishment of the text; and that (e.g.) the interpretatively-important
Parce populo TUO christiano in ep. no. 178 (p. 294) was not Alcuin’s phraseology, since
tuo is peculiar to them! The 801/2 letter is ep. no. 245. For the two manuscripts
and their dating, see above, p. 36 and n. 78.
‘Complete’ only in the mainly-theological miscellany Paris BNF lat. 2826 (writ-
ten s. ix
, at an unidentified scriptorium south of the Loire [Bischoff ] and sub-
sequently at St.-Martial, Limoges; Li ), where fols 136–141 are the texts of epp. nos
210 (to the patriarch of Jerusalem; only here and in its incomplete ?‘twin’ BNF lat.
17448 [Loire reg., s. ix
]), 234 (to Pope Leo III in 801; only here, in BNF lat. 17448,
and in the English manuscript R), 140, 257. Clearly related in some way to Li is
London BL Royal 6.B. viii (R), fols 28–28
(a ?Canterbury, St.Augustine’s, book,
this part s. xi—E. Temple’s account of the make-up of this section of the codex,
in her Anglo-Saxon Mss., pp. 73–4 [no. 54], being seriously misleading), which has
the three-letter sequence epp. nos 234, 140 (commendaticia), 257: but here ep. no. 257
is correctly followed (fols 29
–52) by the complete text of the De fide sanctae Trinitatis,
of which Li gives only an extract, at fols 126–9 (= B.N. lat. 17448 fols 103–6).
For the ‘Adoptionist dossier’, see above, p. 67; for the Beatus and Elegius
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The English Collections of the Letters
In one of the paradoxes typical of Überlieferungsgeschichte, both the
largest number of additions to this corpus and the majority of the
surviving early (pre-793/4) letters of Alcuin come from the latest of
the major manuscript-collections. In its final form, this is represented
most completely—since we cannot know what may have been omit-
by the southern English (?Canterbury, Christ Church) book,
London BL Cotton Tiberius A. xv (Dümmler’s A1; hereafter Tib[erius]):
its 173 folios, now bound with others, contain very nearly one hun-
dred and fifty letter-texts, one hundred and seventeen of them (one
hundred and eighteen, if the concluding letter in King Charles’s name
is included) certainly or probably composed by Alcuin, and several
‘poems’ (verse-texts), all of them in the concluding—non-Alcuin—
folios. Seriously damaged (by water rather than burning) in the 1731
fire, it had fortunately been transcribed almost in toto by the estimable
Thomas Gale, for the most part with great accuracy but with occa-
sional ‘improvements’ to the Latinity of the original.
Tib. has traditionally been dated on palaeographical grounds to
the mid-eleventh century or even later; but the revised sequence of
Canterbury’s script-styles c. 970–1070 proposed by Prof. David
Dumville demands a date nearer to the beginning of the century.
On internal evidence, its collection of Alcuin and non-Alcuin letters
had been put together in several distinct stages, partly in northern
letters, above p. 36. For the possible intermediate context of the letter to Offa
(above, n. 79).
But for the probable dropping-out of two Alcuin letters at a late stage see below,
The most recent and fullest description of Tib. is that of Caroline Brett, ‘A
Breton pilgrim in England in the reign of king Æthelstan’, France and the British Isles
in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. G. Jondorf and D.N. Dumville (Woodbridge,
1991), at pp. 51–2. Dümmler’s table of the contents, MGH Epp. IV, pp. 10–11,
which did not claim to report fully the non-Alcuin material, may mislead; and, hav-
ing been misled, Colin Chase’s description and table in Two Alcuin Letter-Books,
Toronto Medieval Latin Texts (Toronto, 1975), pp. 9, 12 are seriously inaccurate.
Gale’s transcript is Cambridge, Trinity College, O. 10. 16, Dümmler’s A1*. The
letter ep. no. 69 has been omitted, which is unfortunate because its legibility in
Tiberius seems to have deteriorated in the course of the nineteenth century. The
leaf (Gale pp. 17–18) is lost, which is even more un-fortunate, because the K and
A traditions of the letter edited by Dümmler as his ep. no. 28 (with readings some-
times taken from the one and sometimes from the other) vary so greatly as to sug-
gest that they transmit two quite distinct (draft?) versions.
D.N. Dumville, English Caroline Script and Monastic History: Studies in Benedictinism,
A.D. 950–1030 (Studies in Anglo-Saxon History 6; Woodbridge, 1993), pp. 107–108.
He has not, however, convinced all his fellow-specialists.
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England and partly in the south-east and south, between Alcuin’s
lifetime and (it seems) the years immediately either side of A.D. 1000.
The late Christopher Hohler’s judgement that this is the ‘one major
monument of [English] scholarship’ from the last years of the Old
English kingdom, the assembling of which ‘will have involved seri-
ous research in continental and English libraries’,
is a character-
istic if attractive exaggeration: the unidentified final compiler certainly
found all his material in England, although apparently gathering it
from more than one library or book-owner. Consequently, the Alcuin
letters on folios 2–143, with interruptions, and the letter from King
Charles to Offa of Mercia
that follows on fols 143–44
—its unique
manuscript source—constitute the most comprehensive collection in
any codex, or in any printed book, before Frobenius Forster’s edi-
tion! Canterbury is Tib.’s most likely medieval home, despite its
omission from Neil Ker’s listings, and John Leland might have seen
it there in the sixteenth century. Prof. Rodney Thomson has, how-
ever, argued that the vetus codex from which Leland excerpted sixty
Alcuin letters (the first post-medieval scholar so to do) for inclusion
in his collectanea was not in fact Tib. but a transcript by the twelfth-
century William of Malmesbury, which he had found in that house’s
library and has since been lost.
Tib.’s evidence for the earlier English letter-collections is partly
complemented by that of a distinctive selection from at least some
of its component elements made for or by Wulfstan, archbishop of
York 1002–23 (and until 1016 simultaneously bishop of Worcester)
for one of his didactic collections, now BL Cotton Vespasian A. xiv
pt. iii (Dümmler’s A2; hereafter Vesp[asian] ).
In the last third of
C. Hohler, ‘Some Service Books of the Later Saxon Church’, Tenth-Century
Studies ed. D. Parsons (London-Chichester, 1975), pp. 60–83, 217–27, at p. 74.
Ep. no. 100.
R.M. Thomson, William of Malmesbury (Woodbridge, 1987), Ch. 8, esp. pp.
163–4, cf. p. 161: more precisely ‘a transcript of [Tib.] and the exemplar of its
non-Alcuin last section’ (below). I am not entirely persuaded. On my decipherment
of Tib. at least two of his supposed ‘better’ readings (ibid. pp. 160–61) are in that
manuscript, and the variants are only in Gale’s transcript (A1*), on which Thomson
relied; but other readings in William’s versions do (I agree) differ from Tib.
Typically of Cotton manuscripts, the substantial part i (fols 1–105) and the
short part ii are totally unconnected with part iii. The first of these is a Welsh,
probably Brecon, ms. of s. xii
, most fully described by R. Flower in Vitae sancto-
rum Walliae ed. A.W. Wade-Evans (Cardiff, 1944), pp. viii

xi; the second (fols
) is ?S.Engl. of s. xii ex (c. 1200), the contents of which are listed by J.A.
Robinson, Gilbert Crispin, Abbot of Westminster (Cambridge, 1911), pp. 55, 70–2 with
Flower, cit., p. viii. Evidence for an earlier, independent, foliation of pt. iii is how-
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the sixteenth century both manuscripts were for a time simultaneously
in the hands of Archbishop Parker’s ‘secretary’ John Joscelyn, as his
characteristic annotations show; and both were borrowed from the
Cotton Library by Ussher.
In the nineteenth century they benefitted
from the critical acumen of scholars as different as Pertz and Stubbs.
More recent studies in several different fields (palaeography, Anglo-
Latin, Old English language and literature, etc.) have added in var-
ious ways to our understanding of them, but have also unfortunately
introduced some new errors and misconceptions;
and they have
not adequately explored the relationship between them, nor uncov-
ered the evidence they apparently encapsulate for Alcuin’s earliest
known ‘register’ of outgoing letters.
The substantial middle section of Tib., beginning with the index
on fol. 67 and continuing to fol. 122, has a pre-history which is
quite distinct from the rest and is, I believe, crucial to an under-
standing of the assemblage as a whole. Introduced by an index,
many of whose entries are independent of the head-notes and/or the
address-clauses of the letters themselves, it depends indirectly on a lost
copy (K‘3’ ) of the Tours K collection which was very close to but
ever to be found in a sixteenth-century cross-referencing in Cotton Tiberius A. xv:
e.g. fol. 127 (ep. no. 128) ‘alibi fol. 42’ = Vesp. fol. 155 (actually 155
). For the ori-
gin and contents of pt. iii, see below.
The late Richard Hunt, like the eighteenth-century M. de Bréquigny (above,
p. 75, n. 178), believed that Ussher intended to produce an edition of Alcuin’s let-
ters, at least as a supplement to Duchesne. But Mr. W. O’Sullivan (Trinity College,
Dublin) in a letter of 4 February 1975 declared that ‘To the best of my knowledge
Ussher did not plan an edition of the letters of Alcuin’.
None more so, unhappily, than Colin Chase’s Two Alcuin Letter-Books, Toronto
Medieval Latin Texts 5 (Toronto, 1975). As a ‘semi-diplomatic’ presentation of six
of Vesp.’s eight quires, i.e. printing essentially what is in the manuscript with the
appropriate folio indications, it is useful and at times illuminating; and the editor’s
syntactical notes are invaluable. But its utility in the first respect is diminished by
the introduction of ‘correct’ readings from Tib., and even from other manuscript-
collections; and at several points it fails to distinguish between the uncorrected text,
corrections by Wulfstan and corrections by sixteenth-century hands. The attempt
to derive from it ‘Two Alcuin letter-books’ by changing the order of the quires to
bring Vesp. partly into line with the letter-sequence in Tib. and excluding the con-
tents of one quire—in part, it seems, because of a misunderstanding of Dümmler’s
reports of its contents and of the corresponding section of Tib.—in conjunction with
a failure to recognise that the formula-letters in quire 7 are only a selection from
a genuine early-ninth-century letter-book (probably not Alcuin’s, however) seems to
me entirely misconceived. ‘Two WULFSTAN Letter-Books’ would have been a
better but still, in my view, unwarranted title. The further misunderstandings of
later writers depending on Chase’s edition and analysis (e.g. R. McKitterick, The
Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751–987 [London, 1983], p. 8) are, however,
their own.
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not certainly a direct descendant of the extant St.-Vaast book (K1).
Moreover, the evidence of the letters that are the components of
this particular collection and of distinctive readings in the Tib. ver-
sion of K‘3’ combine to show that the latter was already available
in south/south-west England at least a decade and perhaps even sev-
eral decades before A.D. 1000. A letter from Abbot Ælfweard of
Glastonbury to Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury (990–94, but prob-
ably of 990 or 991) combines long excerpts from at least four of
Alcuin’s letters and verses from a fifth, all of them transmitted in K
collection manuscripts.
An earlier letter to Dunstan (ob. 988), for
which both Ælfweard and Æthelwold of Winchester have been sug-
gested as author (on no very good grounds) uses another of its Alcuin
letters to provide a prose framework to twenty-seven lines of verse!
Tib.’s principal divergences from its putative exemplar are gener-
ally skilful and deliberate. Where the same letter was an integral
part of another collection that had become available earlier and may
already have been transcribed separately, the magister or copyist respon-
sible for combining the two simply omitted the K‘3’ text. The unique
Thus, the index-entry for ep. no. 74 is xxvi. Albin[us] Radoni abbati; the head-
note is Epistola Albini ad Radonem abbatem and the address-clause appears to be Dul-
cissimo dilectionis filio Albinus salutem. Among the many readings shared with K1 against
K2 (and other testimonies) are: in ep. no. 17 (p. 46) contumeliam A K1, -as K2, apud
Dominum A K1, apud eum K2, apud Deum all., om. magis A K1, temetipsum A K1, te ipsum
K2 all., (p. 47) testante A K1, dicente K2 all.; in ep. no. 52 (p. 96) om. satis A1 K1,
nunc Deo nostro oportet A1 (and not as Dümmler, app.) K1; in ep. no. 121 (p. 176)
qua suos amabiliter considerare solet A1 K1, quam suos amabiliter consolebat K2.
Ed. W. Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, RS 63 (London,
1874) pp. 400–3 (no. xxviii), from this manuscript fols 170–72
only. The Alcuin-
letters used are epp. nos 39, 17, 40 and 43 (also 190?), and ep. no. 174 for the con-
cluding verses. Particularly telling is the latter’s line 2, reading Protegat, exaltet, ornet,
amet, foveat, the last four words with K1’s text against K2’s and T’s exaltet defendat
(-et, K2) ornet et amet): which enables us to reconstruct lines 3 and 4, now not easily
legible, as Nec(?) precor aspiciat clementi lumine nostras/Litterulas scripsit quae pietatis amor.
Similarly, the initial quotation from ep. no. 39 has K1’s linguis (-uas K2 T etc.), flamma
ardescit ( flammula ard. K2 T etc.) and respue ( prohibe K2 T etc.); and the quotation
from ep. no. 40 has K1’s corrupt filii minores (for fili mi, mores). Note that ep. no. 40
is omitted from the Tib. copy of K’3’, probably inadvertently: the preceding two
letters, epp. nos 39 and the shortened 44, are omitted because both are copied from
other exemplars in the earlier folios of Tib. For evidence of non-K1 readings, see
next note.
Ed. Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan, pp. 370–71 (no. x). The Alcuin letter is
ep. no. 26; but quod dentes, obliviscas (contra -viscaris), pietas in pauperibus gesta and red-
ucat (contra redeas) are not K1 readings, although pascitur and refocilantur are. No
source has so far been identified for the verses, inc. Mutiplices grates tibi sint laudesque
salutes (Schaller-Könsgen no. 9863).
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exception, a duplicate of ep. no. 73 (Tib. fols 15–15
and 121
), is
easily explained: the K index and head-note describe it as epistola
Albini ad amicum; the address-clause is, characteristically in parts of
K, simply Dilecto amico salutem; and the opening words here are Placuit
caniciem vestram (the lectio difficilior, unique in Alcuin’s letters) against
Tib. fol. 15 Placuit mihi caritatem.
That other collection is represented here by folios 2–66
, and pos-
sibly although debatably by the contents also of folios 122
. Good reasons exist, I shall suggest, for supposing that the
contents of the first and major part, i.e. to fol. 66
, originated in
northern England (presumably at York or at a now-unidentifiable
centre closely associated with the cathedral), although it was almost
certainly no longer there at the end of the tenth century. There is
a marked distinction between the character of the letter-texts in this
part, which overall are similar to those predominating in the earlier
Continental manuscripts, and the twenty-two that follow the last of
the K collection letters incorporated in Tib. The overwhelming major-
ity of the latter are found only here or otherwise only in Vesp.; and
most seem to be of the years 796–803(804). They include letters
from Alcuin to Offa and to pontifices Britanniae in 796 and to a Mercian
ill. patric<i>o (identifiable as Brorda) in 797; and a letter of 796 from
the Frankish king. Two others are addressed to Archbishop Æthelheard
of Canterbury in 797 and to a daughter of Offa in c. 797 × ?798, the
former exceptionally also in the Salzburg collection, the latter also
in Alcuin’s ‘personal’ collection H.
Furthermore, of the twenty let-
ters probably from Alcuin himself, plus one from an unnamed York
cleric (Eanbald?), a total of twelve, and from fol. 139
to fol. 143
line 2 an uninterrupted sequence of eight, which are duly copied as
a block into the Wulfstan book Vesp., have the character of formula
letters. The original addressee’s name is omitted or replaced by ill.,
and the writer’s name is often dropped also; and while some have
unspecific but recognisable allusions to ‘current events’, the contents
of others are quite banal, a purely formal treatment of conventional
themes—‘thank-yous’, good advice and excuses. A letter to an unnamed
superior expresses Alcuin’s pleasure at reversione vestra ad sedem pristine
For the letter-text and the addressee, see further, below.
Epp. nos 101, 104, 122 (for the identification of the addressee, see Bullough,
‘What has Ingeld to do with Lindisfarne?’, ASE 22, 117–19; ep. no. 100; epp. nos
128, 300 (for their dates and the identification of Offa’s daughter, see ASE 22, 116
n. 77).
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dignitatis vestre, three letters are addressed to an archiepiscopus who has
previously been in correspondence with Alcuin and who is clearly
not Eanbald II of York; one (?Eanbald’s), in which Alcuin is named
in the text as a third party, is to a summus pontifex who equally clearly
must be located in southern England; another is to a priest who is
now teaching the young in servitio sancti Agustini primi predicatoris nos-
One of the letters transmitted only in Tib. is addressed to an
unnamed bishop, who is asked to ensure that a second letter is passed
on to a fellow bishop.
The focus of the correspondence is evi-
dently the church of Canterbury in the time of Archbishop Æthel-
heard, although not all the letters were addressed to its clergy. From
letters and copies of letters available at the beginning of the ninth
century in the southern English metropolitan church, or possibly in
some other place within its jurisdiction, an individual or a schola has
created a modest-sized ‘formulary’, comparable with but distinct from
the letter-formula book incorporated in the Tours collection K.
The remaining four Alcuin letters included in Tib.’s later folios,
one only also in Vesp. and another additionally in H, form an equally
distinctive sub-group: they belong certainly or probably to Alcuin’s
very last years, 801–4; and the only addressee is Æthelheard.
man, indeed, is second only to Arn of Salzburg—although by a con-
siderable distance—as a recipient of surviving Alcuin letters. The
possibility that another small-scale ‘recipient’s text’ collection, in this
case an English one, has been combined with or incorporated in a
more comprehensive assemblage of Alcuin’s letters is suggested by a
minor but significant difference between the H and Tib. texts of the
801 letter, ep. no. 230, and less certainly by a codicological feature
of a letter of 802 uniquely in Tib. In the latter the main text, which
is devoted to the archbishop’s desirable future conduct, concludes
with the characteristic clausula exaltare et conservare dignetur.
on a new line with the opening words in capitals, comes an elabo-
rate collective ‘greeting’, apparently with a verb-clause missing, and
The four letters transmitted only by Tib. and all with Alcuin’s name in the
address-clause, are Dümmler’s epp. nos 291, 288, 130 and 89 (a most unfortunate
editorial re-arrangement); the eight letters in both Tib. and Vesp. are epp. nos 45,
46 (?Eanbald’s), 103, 235, 256, 274, 292, 293. Chase, Two Letter-Books, I/7–I/14.
Ep. no. 89. If a genuine letter underlies the formulary-text, the bishops’ sees
were perhaps two of Rochester, Selsey and Winchester.
Epp. nos 230 (also in H), 255, 290, 311 (also in Vesp., fols 154–55
Ep. no. 255 (p. 413), with which compare a letter of 802/3 to Arn, ep. no.
264, ending ubique conservare dignetur; also the slightly earlier letter to Gisla, ep. no.
214, perdonare dignetur.
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the record of an accompanying gift of vestments for Æthelheard:
almost certainly this section was distinguished in some way in the
original letter, perhaps even being an ‘autograph’ addition. In the
earlier letter, Tib. has the farewell-clause Bene valeas, vigeas, et floreas
in omni bonitate, domine sanctç which the twin copies H and H2 omit.
It is obviously not now determinable whether this little group was
added to an already-existing formula-letter collection or whether the
latter, possibly compiled after the deaths of both Alcuin and Æthelheard
(805), supplemented a libellus of complete letter-texts;
nor is there
anything to indicate when or where letters written a few years pre-
viously to addressees in the Mercian kingdom proper were first asso-
ciated with one or both parts of the ‘Canterbury’ collection.
Equally, no single explanation will account for the combination
of letters in the earlier part of Tib.; it is clear only that key elements
for resolving the puzzle are missing. Those on the folios immedi-
ately preceding the K-collection index (from fol. 37
? or from fol.
37? the latter ep. no. 30 to the Northumbrian King Æthelred) are a
very miscellaneous lot, in no consistent relationship with other col-
lections or their particular text-forms. Thus, the last is a letter to
Charles as emperor, on an exegetical matter (ep. no. 308), otherwise
in the ‘personal’ collection (H/H2); the one preceding it is a trun-
cated text of a letter to Archbishop Eanbald (II) of York, the quite
lengthy ‘missing’ final section, including a farewell-clause, being trans-
mitted in the only other testimony, the St.-Amand book Vienna 795.
Earlier in the sequence, Tib. copies only the first half of an already
short letter to Archbishop Peter of Milan, the full text of which is
in the ‘personal’ collection; while a long letter to the (York) priest
and monk Calvinus is complete in both, although with some inter-
estingly divergent readings.
Conversely, the first letter, to the York
Ep. no. 230 (p. 375). Compare the inclusion of final wishes and the farewell
clause Pax vobis, etc. in the Salzburg recipient’s text of ep. no. 10, and their omis-
sion from the copies in A1 and A2, which in this case represent the ‘register’ ver-
sion (below). Note that Dümmler’s edition of ep. no. 230 (p. 375 l. 19) prints, with
H (and H2), the surely meaningless secundum quod habeam facultatem; A1, although
damaged, almost certainly reads here . . . habeant . . . (Gale, habent), which the con-
text clearly requires, cf. the preceding nostri honorifice vos suscipiant.
For possible evidence of Canterbury scriptorial activity in the time of Æthelheard’s
successor Wulfred (805–32), see M.P. Brown, ‘Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat.
10861 [vitae sanctorum] and the scriptorium of Christ Church, Canterbury’, ASE 15
(1986), 119–37 and pls.
Ep. no. 190, in Tib. at fols 59–59
; ep. no. 209, in Tib. at fols 44
in Vesp. at fols 160
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congregation (ep. no. 43), has a substantial and biographically very
significant section which is omitted alike from the Tours collections
(both K and T) and from those of or linked with Salzburg! in this
case at least it is difficult not to regard the version copied in Tib.
as the ‘recipient’s text’.
One letter in this section, addressed to the
clerical community at Candida Casa, and a further one on the ear-
lier fols 34–37 (ep. no. 16 to King Æthelred of Northumbria) are
also in Vesp. but not in any other collection; six, both from before
and after 796 and including a very distinctive one to Archbishop Arn
of Salzburg, are found only here.
The four (probably, in fact, five)
non-Alcuin items that interrupt the sequence of his letters in this
section of Tib.—two of them also in Vesp. but not contiguously—
strengthen the case for its having been assembled initially at or near
York in the late-eighth or early-ninth century, but also for its hav-
ing been supplemented some decades later. These are, successively
on fols 48
, a late-eighth-century letter from the anchorite Alchfrid
to Higlac lector et presbiter (both of them independently recorded); a
letter of ?701 from Pope Sergius I to Abbot Ceolfrith of Wearmouth-
Jarrow—the genuine text, later falsified by William of Malmesbury;
and a letter from Pope Paul I to (Archbishop Egberht and) King
Eadberht, written presumably in 757/8.
Then, on fols 62–63,
Ep. no. 43 (= Tib. no. 31), of which almost one-fifth, including the passage
defending himself and attacking the Adoptionists (p. 89 lines 4–13), is preserved
only in Tib., Vesp. (Chase, Two Letter-Books, II/6) and the later copy of the latter in
BL Cotton Faustina B. iv, fols 194
(below). Is this another instance of early
Tours copyists ‘editing out’ a reference to Adoptionism?
Tib. and Vesp.: epp. nos 273 and 16. Tib. only: epp. nos 21, 24 (both ‘reci-
pient’s texts’?), 159 (to Arno), 287, 288, 299. Strictly, there is a third text of the
complete no. 16 in London, BL Cotton Faustina B. iv.
Alchfrid: first edited by Levison (England and the Continent, pp. 297–300) from
T. Gale’s transcript of Tib., fols 48
(the British Museum manuscripts being
unavailable during the Second World War); Chase, Two Letter-Books, II/7 (pp. 61–4)
is a semi-diplomatic edition of the text in Vesp., fols 133–36. For the ‘original’ let-
ter-text and some of its sources, see below, Pt. II, ch. 1, Additional Note. Sergius:
JL. 2138; Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 248; Thomson, William of Malmesbury,
p. 172. Paul: JW. 2337; Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, pp. 394–5, from Wilkins,
MGH Conc. I, pp. 144–5 and BL Cotton Vespasian A. xiv (fol. 163: text defective
after ad excidium animç tuç, and already so in s. xvi); BCS. no. 184, from Cotton
Vespasian A. xiv cit. and Haddan and Stubbs (but rejecting some of their read-
ings—usually wrongly); a useful English translation in Whitelock, EHD.
, no. 184
(pp. 830–1). Whitelock, like others, asserts that Wilkins ‘used a manuscript belong-
ing to Ussher’: in fact, Wilkins’s text is from Ussher’s transcript of BL Tib. A. xv
(fols 52–52
), which had been lent to him by Cotton. On Paul’s letter, see further,
below, p. 152 (Pt. II ch. 1).
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between a letter to Bishop Higbald of Lindisfarne and a circulating
commendatory letter that on stylistic grounds must be denied to
Alcuin but may be Northumbrian, is one from Bishop Ecgred of
Lindisfarne to Archbishop Wulfsige of York (datable 830 × 837, there-
fore) denying any complicity in the bizarre heresies in libro Pehtredi
scriptos and including the one early English reference to a ‘letter of
God’ fallen from Heaven.
With due caution, it seems none the less possible to identify at
least two distinct groups or layers in the Alcuin or Alcuin-associated
letters copied in Tib.’s opening folios, two major sequences of which—
with some other letters—also figure in Wulfstan’s manuscript Vesp.
The source of one of those groups, consisting of eleven or twelve
letters which occupy the greater part of fols 15
–34 (questionably
also fols 37–37
), must be one of the collections made on the Continent
in Alcuin’s lifetime, represented now by the early copies in S/S2 and
T manuscripts: at several points the assemblage in Tib. (and occa-
sionally Vesp. also) preserves their letter-sequence. Where texts of
those letters are included in the K collection also, it is evident on
grounds of textual affinity and, less categorically, from their group-
ing that a manuscript of that family was not Tib.’s source.
All the
letters in this group were written by Alcuin on the Continent, often
Dorothy Whitelock, ‘Bishop Ecgred, Pehtred and Niall’ in: Ireland in Early
Medieval Europe. Studies in Memory of Kathleen Hughes, ed. D. Whitelock, R. McKitterick
and D. Dumville (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 47–68 has re-edited (at pp. 48–9) and dis-
cussed Ecgred’s letter, with particular reference to related Irish and later English
texts. The opening Auctoritatis tuç litteras . . . suscepi does not occur in Alcuin’s or ear-
lier letters; and indeed if auctoritas is here used of the archbishop, as a dignified
form of address, it seems to be without parallel. For the ‘authorship’ of ep. no. 299,
see Additional Note III, ad fin.
Dümmler’s folio-references for this part of A1 are almost all erroneous. Of
his sequence of letters 18 to 28 and 30 (29 being found only in the two English
manuscripts), eight and a shorter text of a ninth are in both S1 and T, one is in
S1 only and two in T only. The unfortunate ‘flagging’ of most of these with their
K sequence-number (and of others in this section of Tib., to which should be added
ep. no. 73 at fols 15–15
= K 64) simply means that a copy is to be found there
as well as in T/S1. For the evidence that their exemplars were not in a manuscript
of the K family, see e.g.: the apparatus to ep. no. 35 = Tib. no. 19, correctly at
fol. 16 (A1 does not figure there among the testimonies because it has provided
Dümmler with his text throughout!); ep. no. 39 = Tib. no. 20, correctly at fols 16

); ep. no. 51 = Tib. no. 23, at fols 18
, with several additions to be made
to the editor’s apparatus (and note that the last, verse, line as printed is certainly
not Alcuin’s but a later copyist’s ‘improvement’ of the text in the small selection
of letters from a T-collection manuscript in Paris BNF lat. 3244, of s. xii/xiii, at
fol. 121). For ep. no. 43, see above, p. 88 and n. 215.
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to Continental addressees, although it does include two to King Offa
of Mercia. Their presence in Tib. (and Vesp.) is most satisfactorily
explained by their originally having reached Northumbria (York) in
similar circumstances to the letter-copies sent or taken from Tours
to St.-Amand and Salzburg either side of the year 800, and those
sent to Paulinus of Aquileia earlier, i.e. before 797/8.
A second group, the most interesting for the history of Alcuin’s
letter-collections, is that of the eleven letters transmitted only in Tib.,
together with a further six found otherwise only in Vesp. and an early
letter to Bishop Arn of which a fuller text, the recipient’s, was copied
also at Salzburg: in Tib. these collectively occupy fols 3
–14 l. 2,
14–15, 34–37(?) and 40–44
. In part at least, they are chronologi-
cally the earliest, several of them being securely datable to the period
of Alcuin’s return visit to Northumbria in 790–93, while others were
very probably written in this same period. The addressees are both
English and Continental, the latter including members of the Frankish
royal family, although not King Charles himself.
Tib. is distinguished from Vesp. not only in its scale: until the final
‘letter-book’ group, virtually every letter is preceded by a head-note
or lemma. These head-notes are overwhelmingly of two kinds: a sim-
ple reference to the addressee—effectively a shortened version of the
address-clause—sometimes with a reference to the addressee of the
preceding letter (epistola alia ad N.); or a fuller reference to the addressee
incorporating a title or other information which is not in the address-
clause or in specific terms in the text. A third type of head-note,
referring to the subject-matter of the letter, which we have seen was
not uncommon in earlier Continental collections, occurs only once
or twice. A few, but only a few, of the letters common to Tib. and
Vesp. have identical or near-identical head-notes, usually quite dis-
tinct from those in other manuscript copies of the same letter.
See above.
Certainly of this period are epp. nos 8, 9 and 10 (to Arn, the first to survive),
probably of this period are epp. nos 29, 68–70, 72, possibly also no. 67 (unless it
is of 789/90). The letters to ‘royals’ are epp. nos 29 and 72, although that to
Liutgard nobilissima femina (no. 50) which in Tib.—the only manuscript source for
all three—figures between them cannot be of so early a date. Also not of this period
is the unique Arn letter, ep. no. 66, which immediately follows the first Alcuin let-
ter (ep. no. 65) in Tib., fols 2–4
(and not as Dümmler).
Thus Epp. nos 16, 30 which follow one another in both Tib. (fols 34–37,
) and Vesp. (fols 125
, 129
–130) have the head-notes Epistula Albini mag-
istri ad Adelredum regem and Alia epistola ad Adelredum regem. T’s text, but not S1’s, of ep.
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ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs 91
Among the head-notes peculiar to Tib. are several that remind us
that in Alcuin’s time and for a century-and-a-half thereafter all English
scribes were grounded in a script which had added the letters wen
(p) and ‘crossed d’ to the standard alphabet, to the bafflement of
later copyists who also easily misread ‘insular (minuscule or half-
uncial) f ’ as e, ‘insular minuscule s’ as r and so on. Thus the first
of the two texts of ep. no. 73 in Tiberius is titled Ep[isto]la Alb[ini]
magistri ad Dogpuleum; the address-clause, in this version only, shows
that it was written to Doguulfo scriniario, sc. the Frankish Court ?chap-
lain and outstanding scribe al. Dagulf.
A letter in both the Vespasian
and the Tiberius manuscripts addressed to pio patri Uulfhardo abbati (ep.
no. 70: Tib., -lh-) has the heading in the second of these: Epistola
Albini magistri ad Pulehardum abbatem Hoddahelmi. The head-note of the
one letter to King Ecgfrith of Mercia (ep. no. 61) in Tib. reads Ep[isto]la
Alb[ini] mag[istri] ad Ecgerium, although in T it is Nobilissimo iuveni
Ecgfrido regi Merciorum. The mis-readings of ‘insular f ’ as e and of p
as p are not peculiar to the Alcuin and other early letters in the two
manuscripts, since they have affected at least one of the tenth-century
ones, namely Tib. fol. 166: ad Pulehelmum archiepm., sc. Archbishop
Wulfhelm of Canterbury (ob. 941). A misread f lies behind the ren-
dering of the anchorite Alchfrid’s name as Alcheridi in the head-note
to his letter, certainly in Vesp. and possibly in Tib.;
both mis-read-
ings are found in Tib.’s head-note (fol. 61
) Epistola Albini magistri ad
Pulesigum archiepiscopum, i.e., correctly, Ecgred of Lindisfarne’s letter
to Wulfsig of York.
Clearly the head-notes could have been introduced at several dif-
ferent stages in the transmission of the English letter-collection, as
was the case with their Continental counterparts. There are a few,
however, which because they contain information that cannot easily
no. 30 has Ad Aedilraedum regem (ep. no. 16 is not in the Continental collections). Chase,
Two Letter-Books, p. 57 n., suggested that no. 30 was a private note sent along with
no. 16—in the second half of 793, therefore? but its inclusion in T rather argues against
this. A distinctive reading in both English manuscripts of no. 30 (dignitatis against
S1’s and T’s sublimitatis) and the presence there of a sentence that is omitted by T
(but not by S1) are strong, although not conclusive, arguments for regarding the A
text of ep. no. 30, as well as of ep. no. 16, as a copy of the ‘recipient’s version’.
The other text is in the K‘3’ section. For Dagulf/Dogwulf and the interpre-
tation of this letter, see below, Pt. II ch. 3.
Vesp. fol. 133, Tib. fol. 48
: the damage to Tib. makes it impossible to be sure
whether its scribe did in fact write e rather than f.
See above.
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92 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
(or at all) be deduced from the extant letter would seem to go back
to the earliest phases of its textual history, the time of drafting and
dispatch. It is obviously not inconceivable that a later Northumbrian
scribe reponsible for the head-note of a letter to an Abbot Adelbaldum,
whose congregatio is named neither in the address nor the text, could
have inferred from a passing reference to the fundator Benedict and his
successor Ceolfrith that he was Uuiorensis familie abbatem, sc. of Wear-
mouth, and even supplied an apparently correct archaic form of the
name which he would not have found in Bede.
It is also possible
that the same or another copyist would have known enough to supply
the head-note Epistola Albini magistri ad Adelberctum episcopum ad Hegstalding,
sc. Hexham, to a letter addressed to Aedilbercto episcopo et omni congregationi
in ecclesia sancti Andreae, although the vernacular form of the name,
even if mistaken, certainly seems to favour the earlier date.
A head-
note to a letter to Adalhard ‘of Corbie’ describing him as propinquum
Karoli (Tib. only) must surely be contemporary with it, whether or not
it figured on the exterior of the letter as sent, to distinguish the
recipient from other Adalhards at the Frankish Court. Finally, and
most remarkably, are the concluding words abbatem Hoddahelmi in the
Tiberius-manuscript head-note of the letter to a Uulfhardo abbati whose
monastery is nowhere indicated in the letter-text: no community, or
indeed place, of that name is known, but its second element is plau-
sibly the rare helm ‘shelter in an exposed place, esp. for cattle’,
recorded in local names in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and possibly
once in Worcestershire, which fits neatly with the evidence that a
Wulfhard was bishop of Hereford 800–22.
The conclusion seems
Ep. no. 67; Tib. fol. 4
. Fratribus Viorensis (a)ecclesiae is also in the address-clause
and head-note of ep. no. 19 in both Vesp. (fol. 118
) and Tib. (fol. 26). For Wior as
the possible Pr. W. form of the name which Bede reports as Uuiri or Uiuri ( fluminis)
see K. Jackson, Language and History in Early Britain (Edinburgh, 1953), p. 362, cf.
B. Cox, ‘The Place-names of the earliest English records’, English Place-Name Society
Journal 8 (1975–76), 12–66, at 46.
Ep. no. 31, with Dümmler’s apparatus; Tib. fol. 32
. Not copied in Vesp., it
is in the Continental collections K, S1 (and D) and T, the bishop’s name being
omitted from the address-clause in all except the last! For the complex early his-
tory of the name Hexham see V. Watts, ‘The place-name Hexham: a mainly philo-
logical approach’, Nomina 17 (1994), 119–36, and D.A. Bullough, ‘The place-name
Hexham and its interpretation’, Notes and Queries, Vol. 244 [n.s. 46] (1999), 422–7.
But if Tib.’s text of this letter was of Continental origin, a Northumbrian copyist
must necessarily have added the title.
Bullough, ‘ “Albuinus deliciosus regis”. Alcuin of York and the Shaping of the
Early Carolingian Court’, in: Institutionen, Kultur und Gesellschaft: Festschrift für Josef
Fleckenstein, ed. L. Fenske et al. (Sigmaringen, 1984), pp. 73–92, at p. 77 n. 14: but
for a note of caution, see P. Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature, p. 172 n. 135.
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ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs 93
inescapable that the letters in Tib. (and in some instances also in
Vesp.) datable between 790 and the early part of 793 were ‘registered’—
in the sense that transcripts were made and retained—at the place
and time of composition, although not necessarily from the final ver-
sion that was actually sent; and that letters from that ‘register’ are
among those included in the eleventh-century English manuscripts.
When Alcuin returned to Francia in 793, this first register-collec-
tion evidently remained in (presumably) York; but at an early date
it or some parts of it were combined with other assemblages of let-
ters that were predominantly but not exclusively also composed by
him. By whom and where? The only clue, and it is not a very strong
one, is provided by the two letters with which the collection in Tib.
begins and which were subsequently copied, with others that imme-
diately follow, in identical order, in a later quire of the Wulfstan
book, Vesp. (Fols 1–1
are a fragment of an unidentified and largely
untranscribable letter to Higbald, which may not be from Alcuin;
Dr. Caroline Brett, however, supposes that it is, but is now out of
order.) The first of the two is addressed to a Dodo, a delinquent
former disciple of Alcuin’s, almost certainly at York. The complete
text is found only in these English manuscripts.
The opening sec-
tion only (about one-quarter of the letter), with its initial verses, is
included in the K collection, which points to a date not later than
799 and not before 793/4. A copy, complete or incomplete, was (as
we have seen) sent to Salzburg, which preserved a copy of its text’s
last third, although without Alcuin’s concluding verses; and it seems
to have provided the model for a letter addressed by Bishop Arn to
Cuculus, which is the second letter in the English collection, and
preserved only here.
Neither Dodo nor Cuculus is named else-
where in Alcuin’s correspondence, although Cuculus is the subject
of a poem with several manuscript-testimonies; and it is an old crux
whether they are, in fact, a single individual, who like others had
been given a Latin by-name (‘Cuckoo’). I incline to the view that
they are; and I conclude (with all due reservations), as Sickel did
more a century-and-a-quarter ago, that Dodo-Cuculus should be
Ep. no. 65; Chase, Two Letter-Books, I/1.
Ep. no. 66; Chase, Two Letter-Books, I/2. Chase, p. 20 n., implausibly suggests
that ‘Alcuin may have composed’ this letter also; and the remarks in his Introduction
pp. 2–3 certainly do not, as he claims, explain the ‘collocation’ of the two letters
in the two English manuscripts. For the Salzburg copy of ep. no. 65, see above.
Arn’s letter to Cuculus is one of fewer than nine (perhaps only four or five!) to sur-
vive from his once extensive correspondence.
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94 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
credited with assembling this part of the letter-collection, presum-
ably after reforming his behaviour, not long after the year 800.
It is impossible to say when a copy of the Cuculus collection and
the other letters in the earlier folios of Tib. travelled south, to be
combined there with the skilfully-edited K‘3’ collection; and whether
the early-ninth-century ?Canterbury collection and other letters in
the later folios were immediately associated with that assemblage.
The earliest evidence of the former’s availability at the metropolitan
church is a letter addressed by Sigeric or his successor Ælfric to
Bishop Wulfsige (III) of Sherborne, preserved in a near-contempo-
rary copy in the opening folios of the ‘Sherborne Pontifical’ (Paris,
BNF lat. 943): for a substantial part of it is excerpted from Alcuin’s
ep. no. 114 (to Archbishop Eanbald II of York) and its final section
may have drawn on other letters in the same collection.
copying of the text-version preserved in Tib. and departures from it
are equally revealing. Among the first of these are the Canterbury
letter’s mitem te et humilem ad meliores (for humiliores) and omnia vera hon-
esta (for adv. honeste); a notable example of the second is the exhor-
tation sit modesta in conviviis laetitia sit casta in ieiuniis perceptio, where
Alcuin had almost certainly written sit modesta in conviviis LAUTITIA
sit casta in ieiuniis laetitia but a succession of copyists, having difficulty
with the uncommon lautitia, destroyed the word-play by replacing it
with laetitia, which prompted an ingenious attempt at emendation by
the Canterbury dictator;
and the latter similarly, apparently having
Poem: MGH Poet. I, pp. 269–70 (carm. lvii), S.-K. no. 12034; letters as pre-
ceding notes; Sickel, ‘Alcuinstudien I’, pp. 525–6. Sickel is perhaps a little too eager
to rescue Dodo-Cuculus from accusations ‘als Trunkenbold . . ., sondern nur als
Freund einiger Gläser guten Weins’(!).
Ed. Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan, pp. 406–8 (no. xxxi); Whitelock et al.,
Councils and Synods, 1.i, ed. pp. 226–9 (no. 41); for the manuscript, see most recently
Dumville, Liturgy, pp. 82–4, 91, 93 (although his views are not universally accepted).
Stubbs’s suggestion (p. 406 n.) that the writer had adapted Ælfweard of Glastonbury’s
letter to Sigeric (‘paraphrased’ according to Brooks, Church of Canterbury, p. 281) is
quite mistaken: remarkably, the true source had already been recognised by John
Lingard in his History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church (London, 1845), 2, 309
n. 1. Note, however, that if Alcuin’s ep. 190 really is the source of a short phrase
in Ælfweard’s letter, it would follow that at least part of the larger collection was
available at Glastonbury at the beginning of the decade.
Lautitia may indeed be the reading in Tib., all other testimonies (including the
early Vienna 795 fol. 175) having l<a>etitia: Chase’s ‘correction’ of the text in Vesp.
(Two Letter-Books, p. 66), is misleading. It is defined by Paul the Deacon’s Festus
(where Alcuin had encountered it?) as epularum magnificentia: alii a lavatione dictam putant,
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failed to appreciate the force of the probably uncommon rosea con-
fusio (‘blushing in shame’), changed the original phraseology to si rosea
CONFESSIO poenitentiae prçcedat. The first categoric evidence for the
combining of several older collections into the one represented by
the ?Canterbury-written Tib. may still be Wulfstan’s (or his amanu-
enses’) selection of letters from it for inclusion in Vesp. and occa-
sional quotation elsewhere.
But the letter to Wulfsige provides a
probable terminus ante quem, and in conjunction with the Glastonbury
texts supports the case for a southern English, but not precisely local-
ized, origin.
The final section of the Tiberius codex, the present folios 144

173, is quite distinct from the rest. Although commonly described
(since Stubbs) as a Dunstan/Canterbury dossier or as ‘a collection
of tenth-century letters’, it contains in fact a considerably more mis-
cellaneous collection (never completely listed) of either twenty-seven
or twenty-eight texts, depending on whether the Ovidian verse con-
fection on fol. 144
is counted or not. The twenty-third (al. twenty-
fourth) item is likewise a confection of verses on the Sacraments and
on two of the Virtues. Two of the ‘letters’ are also verse composi-
tions, partly cento, which have not been traced elsewhere. The longest
text is Augustine’s epist. ccv, Ad Consentium, on fols 146
–154; equally
extraneous are the letters exchanged between Archbishop Ebo of
Rheims and Bishop Halitgar of Cambrai on the latter’s compilation
of a penitential: none of these seems to have been noticed in descrip-
tions of the manuscript since Leland’s or indeed elsewhere.
ignored is the twenty-fourth (twenty-fifth) item, a so-far unidentified
prose text inc. Pulcherrimo perpulchro divineque theorie. Of the twenty tenth-
century prose letters, the majority found only here, six (only) are
addressed to Dunstan as Archbishop, another six to Æthelgar or Sigeric
who successively followed him at Canterbury (988–994), and two are
addressed to King Edgar. Of the remaining six, one is an epistola
quia apud antiquos hae elegantiae, quae nunc sunt, non erant, et raro aliquis lavabat: ed. W.M.
Lindsay, Glossaria Latina, 4 (Paris, 1930) p. 117. The Canterbury letter’s perceptio
seems to have the sense of ‘taking part’.
See below.
The Augustine letter is overlooked even by Römer, Handschriftliche Überliefer-
ung Augustinus, II/2; for its possibly-Insular early transmission, cf. Goldbacher’s account
of Boulogne 58 (63, 64) (CLA VI, no. 737) in Epist. Augustini 4, CSEL vol. 58,
p. xxxv and Lowe in CLA cit. Leland’s listing (there are no excerpts) is Collectanea,
2, pp. 403, 404.
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commendatoria of unknown origin, one is almost certainly from Bishop
Æthelwold of Winchester to a foreign duke or count (Arnulf of
one—detached from Lantfrith’s Miracula s. Swithuni—is
to Winchester, one is a letter about Glastonbury from a Pope John
to a layman, not earlier than 983 (and therefore long after Dunstan’s
departure from the abbey), and one is the previously-quoted letter
from the abbot of Glastonbury to Archbishop Sigeric (of 991 or
The last item in the book, on fols 172
–173 purports to
be a Papal letter of March 991, which was for that reason much
cited by English twelfth- and thirteenth-century chroniclers. It is
hardly possible to accept as authentically ‘papal’ a text dated at
Rouen on 1 March 991 and lacking some of the most basic features
of a product of the Roman chancery: but this is no reason for deny-
ing that it embodies a genuine record of a treaty, undocumented
elsewhere, between King Æthelred and ‘Duke’ Richard of Normandy,
in which a Papal legate (Bishop Leo of Trevi) was involved.
There is no obvious theme or combining thread in this extraor-
dinarily eclectic assemblage of material, except such as is provided
by three successive archbishops of Canterbury. A possible interpre-
tation is that Tib.’s exemplar for this section had originated as one
of the earliest compilations of a new generation of Christ Church
monastic scribes creating a new library in the early 990s: in which
case, the pseudo-Papal letter might have been added later. An alter-
native, although a less likely one because the amanuenses or scribes
responsible for the Wulfstan book Vesp. were already able to copy
Ed. Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan, pp. 361–2; for its author, see Lapidge,
‘Bishop Æthelwold as scholar’, in: Bishop Æthelwold: his Career and Influence, ed. B. Yorke
(Woodbridge, 1988), pp. 96–8.
Papal letter: Tib., fols 169
–170, printed Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan, pp.
396–7 (no. xxv) and Whitelock et al., Councils and Synods, I.i, 173–4 (no. 36). There
are no good grounds for doubting the letter’s authenticity or that the version inserted
by William of Malmesbury in both his Gesta Regum (ii.151C: ed. Mynors, Thomson
and Winterbottom, pp. 246–8) and his De antiquitate Glastoniensis ecclesiae is an inter-
polated one; it remains uncertain whether Johannes episcopus is John XIV (983–984
in) or John XV (985–996). H. Zimmermann, Papstregesten 911–1024, no. 623, opts
for the former; the editors of Councils and Synods, cit., suspend judgement.
Ed. Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan, pp. 397–8 (no. xxvi) from this manuscript
only; ed. Whitelock et al., Councils and Synods I, 177–9 (no. 38), with improved read-
ings from William of Malmesbury’s copy in his Gesta Regum, ii. 166 (ed. Mynors,
Thomson and Winterbottom, pp. 276–8). The fullest account of its manuscript
sources and use by later chroniclers is Zimmermann, Papstregesten, no. +695. The
letter is strangely described by Thomson, William of Malmesbury, p. 161 n. 14 as
‘the latest precisely dateable letter of Dunstan’.
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several of its letters, is that the linking element is a connection with
the English royal court, possibly after King Æthelred’s marriage to
Emma of Normandy in 1002.
Professor Rodney Thomson has
indeed argued that, because of the ‘better’ readings he has identified
in some of the partial copies of Alcuin’s letters in William of
Malmesbury’s Gesta Regum and Gesta Pontificum, the twelfth-century
historian’s source was the putative exemplar, conjoined with the
exemplar of the preceding twenty-two folios (beginning with the text
of Alcuin’s ep. no. 311).
Vesp. (Dümmler’s A2), BL Cotton Vespasian A. xiv pt. iii, is an
interesting counterpart two centuries on to Vienna 795, although
behind its miscellaneous didactic material and several scribes is a
single and identifiable directing mind. Moreover, extending to only
sixty-six leaves measuring 205 × 145 mm, it was evidently created
for portability and personal use rather than for the school-room or
scriptorium. The first seven of its eight quires (the sixth is a ‘ten’) pro-
vide the texts of thirty-seven letters, twenty-seven (or twenty-six)
Alcuin’s, ten (or eleven) by other authors, and two non-letter items:
all the letters are also in Tib.
More than half-a-century’s debate over
‘York or Worcester?’ as its place of origin seems latterly to have
been resolved on palaeographical grounds (although not unanimously)
in favour of Worcester, which may also point to a dating not later
than 1016: indeed, the arguments for York were perhaps always mis-
conceived, since they depend very largely on the assumption—explicit
or implicit in the late Dorothy Whitelock’s seminal studies of
Wulfstan—that it would have been there that he found the collection
of Alcuin and other letters from which his own selection was made.
Brooks, Church of Canterbury, pp. 267–9 neatly summarises the manuscript-
evidence for Christ Church scribal activity either side of A.D. 1000, as previously
worked out by Ker, Bishop, Gneuss and others; but for some contrary views, see
Dumville, English Caroline Script, Ch. III. A Canterbury origin of this final section
was assumed by both Hohler and Thomson, who then (unwarrantably in my view)
drew conclusions about the history of the entire collection from that fact: neither
of them was aware that K‘3’ or a congener was used in the composition of letters
written at Glastonbury as late as 990/94. For the six non-Alcuin letters from this
section in Vesp. quire 6 and the one in Vesp. quire 7, see below.
Thomson, as above, p. 82 and n. 199.
Cf. Chase, Two Letter-Books, p. 12, who omits the letter ed. Stubbs, Memorials
of St. Dunstan, pp. 384–5 (no. xx)—in Vesp. between his nos 16 and 17—and mis-
represents the contents of Tib. corresponding to Vesp. quires 6 and 7.
Dumville, English Caroline Script, pp. 65–7 and esp. n. 290; J. Morrish Tunberg
in: The Copenhagen Wulfstan Collection, Copenhagen Kongelike Bibliotek Gl. Kgl. Sam. 1595
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98 ix rrrrxcr or +nr nioon.rnic.r +nr sotncrs
The probable relationship between the smaller and the larger col-
lection turns, in the first instance, on the date to be assigned to Tib.,
and on the stage in Wulfstan’s life at which the compilation of Vesp.
began. On Prof. David Dumville’s revised chronology of ‘English
Caroline’ it is not absolutely excluded, although unlikely, that Tib.
is the earlier of the two.
The evidence of text-readings is unfor-
tunately more equivocal than one would wish. The scribes of Vesp.
were often careless, a fact which is apparent from Chase’s ‘Textual
notes’ and Dümmler’s apparatus rather than from the first-named’s
text; and the damage to Tib. makes the reading of some crucial
places quite uncertain; shared error, not least in omission, is com-
mon. Nevertheless there is enough to indicate that Tib. cannot have
been Vesp.’s exemplar. Thus, the third line of the verses that con-
clude the letter to Dodo read in Vesp.: . . . fert palam pagina patris; Tib.
(and not merely Gale) has . . . olim feret pagina vitam.
In ep. no. 7
Tib. has sub suae dicioni for Vesp.’s suç subegit dicioni; Tib.’s text of no.
8 has the readings Adelpaldi, Canfrido (probably) and mitte ad Rufam,
which in Vesp. are Adelwaldi, Eanfrigdo (sic) and mittantur Rufu . . . Ut
aliorum relationum compertum habeo famam tuam in Vesp.’s text of ep. no.
274 is (almost certainly) quia ex aliorum relationibus compertum habeo etc.
in Tib.
A common source for the two manuscripts must be supposed.
William of Malmesbury’s supposed use of the final section of the
pre-Tib. exemplar is not the only indication that this, which the
?Christ Church scribes copied more or less in its entirety and from
ed. J.E. Cross and J. Morrish Tunberg, EEMF 25 (Copenhagen, 1993), pp. 36, 46.
It is particularly unfortunate, therefore, that having made a palaeographical case
for Worcester, Dumville only a few years later revived the possibility of a York ori-
gin ‘because its main contents (Alcuin, Epistolae) favour the latter’: see St. Oswald of
Worcester: Life and Influence, ed. Nicholas Brooks and Catherine Cubitt, Studies in the
Early History of Britain: The Makers of England 2 (London and New York, 1996),
pp. 213, 239. Note, however, Morrish Tunberg’s observation (p. 46 n. 53) that ‘I
do not recognise the two principal scribes’ of quires 1–5 among the Worcester
scribes of other manuscripts.
See above.
Compare MGH Epp. IV, p. 109 (text and app.) and Chase, Two Letter-Books,
p. 20. The verses are unfortunately not included in the fragmentary text in clm.
13581 (D). In the last of the prose part, however, Tib.’s Dum pauca tibi scribere curavi
is supported by D, Vesp. having curå and the editions curaveram: ‘ Dum meaning “while”
generally takes the indicative’ in Alcuin; and although this is promptly contradicted
by semel et iterum tinxeram, it is supported by Arn’s imitation (MGH Epp. IV, p. 110,
Chase, Two Letter-Books, p. 21) . . . tinxi dum hanc cartulam scripsi.
Chase, Two Letter-Books, I/10 (p. 32), punctuates with a parenthesis before
habeo and a full stop after tuam, and supposes that compertum is the rare Anglo-Latin
substantive ‘fact’ (as in Bede, HE IV 25): for once, I am unpersuaded.
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which Wulfstan’s amanuenses had earlier copied their letter-texts,
was in fact in the form of loose-bound libelli, rather than a bound
codex. Vesp.’s first four-and-a-half quires (fols 114–148
line 2) are
devoted to a mere ten letters, written by two hands successively. The
first hand copies the texts of six Alcuin letters in an identical sequence,
with one omission, to that on Tib. fols 21
–40, followed by the first
two-thirds of the letter from Alchfrith the anchorite.
The second
hand, taking over part way down fol. 134
, completes the Alchfrith
letter and then copies three letters of Alcuin’s which are the fortieth,
fiftieth and fifty-second in Tib. The seemingly anomalous item here
is the last, since it is ep. no. 17, the first letter in the K collection.
The possibility that the putative exemplar might have had a letter-
text from another collection, before the inclusion of K‘3’, seems clearly
excluded by a whole range of non-T/S1 readings in Vesp.’s copy;
and this could well have been the beginning of a new libellus. The
originally blank fol. 148
(after line 2), was subsequently filled with
a dedicatory poem, by Wulfstan himself.
The rest of the quire is
then used for the unique manuscript-source of the acts of the Chelsea
synod in 816, written by two identifiable Worcester hands.
The remaining three quires originated independently and are the
work of several partly-identifiable Worcester scribes. The sixth quire
begins with the very late letter to Archbishop Æthelheard which in
Tib. comes immediately after the K-collection letters. This is then
followed by a second Alcuin letter from the same section of Tib. (ep.
no. 128, an earlier letter to the same addressee) and five of the tenth-
century letters; the quire is completed by three Alcuin letters and
For the two hands see Morrish Tunberg, Copenhagen Wulfstan Collection, p. 46.
The omitted letter is ep. no. 31, to Hexham—deliberately, therefore? For the Alchfrith
letter, see above, p. 88 at n. 220.
Inc. Qui legis hunc titulum domino da vota tonanti, S.-K. no. 13280; a more recent
edition by N.R. Ker, ‘The handwriting of Archbishop Wulfstan’, in Ker, Books,
Collectors and Libraries: Studies in the Medieval Heritage, ed. A.G. Watson (London, 1985),
pp. 9–26, at pp. 20–1. The poem is excellently expounded, with an English trans-
lation, by Morrish Tunberg, The Copenhagen Wulfstan Collection, pp. 45–7, who also
provides (ibid., Plate I) a facsimile of fol. 148
—which incidentally confirms the accu-
racy of Chase’s rendering (Two Letter-Books, p. 76) of the last two, verse, lines of ep.
no. 17, against Dümmler’s (incorrect) apparatus.
Scribes ‘C’ (fols 149–153 line 6) and ‘G’ (fols 153 line 6–153
line 11), accord-
ing to Morrish Tunberg, Copenhagen Wulfstan Collection, pp. 36, 41, with Plates II
and III. The acta are ed. Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 579–85; for the pro-
ceedings and their context—the need to safeguard episcopal authority and prop-
erty—see Brooks, Church of Canterbury, pp. 175–91 and Cubitt, Anglo-Saxon Church
Councils, Ch. 7 (pp. 191–203).
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that from Pope Paul which, contrastingly, are in the earlier folios of
The seventh quire (fols 164–171
) has the heading EPISTULE
ALBINI—because this was the title on the cover of the exemplar?
which would have extended far beyond Dümmler’s ep. no. 10. The
first (identifiable?) Worcester scribe copies the first five letters in
Tib.—four by Alcuin, one by Arn—omits one (no. 68, which would
have been a perfectly good ‘formula-letter’),
and continues with a
copy of Alcuin’s earliest extant letter to Arn in, of course, its ‘reg-
ister version’. The different(?) scribe of fols 168
(most)-171 has then
jumped to the final Alcuin quire of Tib.’s exemplar and has crowded
on to his leaves a sequence of no less than eight of its letters, includ-
ing one or more not in fact by Alcuin, but omitting the last one
there (that from Charles to Offa in 796), and finally a single one—
to Dunstan from Abbot Wido of Blandinium—from the final section
in Tib.
A different hand, identifiable as Archbishop Wulfstan’s own,
subsequently filled the blank space at the bottom of fol. 171
a copy of a letter from Alcuin to Paulinus of Aquileia, almost cer-
tainly taken from the K‘3’ section of Tib.’s exemplar.
Vesp.’s final quire ‘8’ (fols 172–179
), which it is unnecessary to
regard as a later addition to the manuscript—it is on similar parch-
ment to the preceding quire, and one of its three Worcester scribes
(‘C’) wrote most of the conciliar addition to quire 5—is essentially
a canonical collection, predominantly but not exclusively of south-
ern English material extending over three centuries, with short digres-
sions that appear to be extracts from longer works. Its penultimate
item is a letter to an unnamed Pope on behalf of ‘all the bishops
of Britain’, composed by Wulfstan using a letter of Alcuin’s which
Chase mistakenly asserts (Two Letter-Books, p. 9) that four of the letters ‘are
not found in A1 at all’, and his ‘description’ of this quire (ibid., p. 12) is corre-
spondingly very inaccurate.
The addressee, Adaula soror, is unidentified and could be either Continental or
English: for the latter, compare the Edilu who is the one-hundred-and-eighty-fourth
name in the ‘Lindisfarne’ Liber Vitae’s list of reginarum et abbatissarum (Gerchow,
Gedenküberlieferung, p. 305).
The eight letters are (misleadingly) Dümmler’s epp. nos 45, 46, 256, 274, 235,
292, 293, 103, Chase, Two Letter-Books, I/7–14. The omitted letter is ep. no. 100,
substantial extracts from which are in William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regum, i. 93
(ed. Mynors et al., p. 136). The Wido letter is ed. Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan,
pp. 380–1 (no. xvii), from Tib. fols 156
–7 and this manuscript.
Ep. no. 96, in Tib. at fol. 121
. There seems no reason other than its brevity
why this letter should be selected for transcription. An instructive facsimile of Vesp.
fol. 171
is in EEMF 17, appendix.
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is not in any of the main collections and which he may be assumed
to have found at York or Worcester. The collection concludes with
a letter of apology addressed to Wulfstan while he was still bishop
of London, found only here.
Wulfstan almost certainly kept Vesp. with him until his death in
1023; and although it has (I think) never been counted as a York
cathedral library book there is a strong probability that it was there
in the High Middle Ages. In the fourth and final part—a single
quire—of the composite manuscript BL Cotton Faustina B. iv, a
late-thirteenth or a fourteenth-century hand has copied the four
Alcuin letters, Dümmler epp. nos 18, 16, 114 and 43. The opening
‘title’ is Epistola Albini seu Alcquini canonici ecclesiae Eboracense et magistri
Karoli magni imperatoris; the heading of the fourth letter is Item epistola
eiusdem Albini ad congregationem seu capitulum ecclesie Ebor[acensis]; the text
of all four is that of Vesp., including Wulfstan’s autograph emenda-
tions. Before this it it may well have been joined at York by a copy
of the ‘personal’ collection.
The major, Tiberius, collection remained
in the south, whether at Canterbury or elsewhere, until the Dissolution
of the monasteries in the sixteenth century.
The Development of the Letter-Collections: the Evidence Summarised
Whatever letters Alcuin may have written in the first two-thirds of
his life, none have been preserved;
even from the 780s only four
or five survive. On his return to Northumbria from Francia in 790,
however, he or an amanuensis began to keep copies, either in a
‘copy-book’ or in the form of loose sheets or libelli (the drafts?) but
Letter to the Pope (illi ): most recent edition in Whitelock et al., Councils and
Synods, 1. i, pp. 441–7 (no. 61). Letter of apology: ed. Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan,
pp. 404–5; ed. D. Bethurum, The Homilies of Wulfstan (Oxford, 1957), pp. 376–7.
The long ‘pt. i’ of Faustina B. iv has a Holme Cultram ex libris, the short ‘pt.
ii’ a Byland one. It cannot be assumed, however, that all four parts were combined
somewhere in the north of England before the sixteenth century, or before Cotton
acquired them: indeed, the final item, which is a Bury St. Edmunds addition, temp.
Edward III, seems to exclude this. (The Alcuin letters are clearly not taken from
the Bury copy of the T collection.) For BL H(arl.) 208 at York, see above, p. 75
and n. 178.
Above, p. 82 and n. 199.
For the possibility that a surviving letter of Archbishop Ælberht was com-
posed by Alcuin, see below, Pt. II ch. 1.
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certainly with head-notes or endorsements, which in several instances
preserve details of the addressee that cannot be deduced from the
letter-text. Back in Francia, probably already while Alcuin was at
the Aachen Court and certainly when he went to Tours, this prac-
tice was continued or revived but almost certainly in the looseleaf
form and filed at least in part by recipients. Shortly after his arrival
at St. Martin’s a modest-sized letter-formulary was created from some
of the copies. Simultaneously, Alcuin was maintaining a more per-
sonal collection which included two letters written some five years
earlier than any others that have been preserved; and copies of let-
ters in this collection were sent to Paulinus of Aquileia c. 796/7.
Not later than 799 Arn of Salzburg and St.-Amand was sent a selec-
tion of the letter-texts preserved in the main collection at Tours (in
the case of three of them indeed, probably the actual archive copies)
and had them transcribed, with letters of which he had been the
addressee—‘recipient’s copies’—as part of a more comprehensive
‘school-book’. In late 799 a more extensive selection was made at
Tours itself, either as a fuller but still handy formulary-book or as
a ‘school-book’: this is represented by the K family of letter collections.
Some two years later a more comprehensive collection was made,
again at Tours, and for the most part directly from the archive (‘reg-
ister’) copies, represented most fully by manuscripts of the T family.
The head-notes of letters that are found in both K and T are often
quite different, and it is likely that the new collection was from the
start intended for wider dissemination. Some of its exclusions and
omissions seem to reflect a conscious policy on the part of the com-
piler(s). About this time the church of York was sent a related but
more limited collection of letters, which was subsequently combined
with the collection already there to form the main component of
the later A collection. At Salzburg c. 802/3, letters to its (arch)bishop
that had not been included in the ‘basic Tours collection(s)’ formed
a significant part—almost one-half of the total, and the only sub-
stantial ‘recipient’s collection’—of another assemblage of nearly sev-
enty letters. A smaller southern-English ‘recipient’s collection’ may be
incorporated in the later English collection(s). Ninth-, tenth- and
eleventh-century copies of Alcuin’s correspondence depend over-
whelmingly on one or more of the collections made in his lifetime
or very soon after his death. The several stages in their formation
and development are linked closely, as we shall see, with the unfold-
ing of his career and reputation—or view of himself—as a whole.
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Author, Notaries and Copyists
Behind the existing collections of the letters (I have argued) lie both
‘copy-book’ or ‘register’ copies—at York and at Tours, possibly also
for a time at the Court—and, in a limited number of cases, the let-
ter as received and retained by the addressee and his/her commu-
nity. Who was responsible for these lost versions? and what was the
relationship between them? how far did Alcuin participate person-
ally in the letter that was dispatched? The great Church Fathers of
the fourth and fifth centuries who were or aspired to be gentlemen
as well as scholars regarded the physical act of writing, the pre-
paration of the ‘publishable’ version of any text, as tasks to be
performed only by humbler creatures, even in the most unlikely
circumstances. Bede was familiar with the distinction, without being
able to take advantage of it: addressing Bishop Acca of Hexham in
one of his early prefaces, he explained that progress had been slow
because he not only composed the work but in his community he
was also perforce notarius and librarius, i.e. the person who wrote it
down and the person who made the fair copy.
Alcuin, who was
no gentleman, was eventually in a position to take his cue from the
more fortunate early Fathers.
As a mere deacon in a cathedral community, at least until his
‘appointment’ as magister and possibly even later, he is more likely
to have been called on to write for others than to have had some-
one write for him! The marginalia in insular script added to an eighth-
century Tours copy of conciliar acta are an appropriate reflection of
those earlier years.
Alcuin, like Bede and his predecessors, inter-
mittently uses dictare in the wider sense of ‘to compose’: but even in
pre-Tours letters the word commonly has the force of ‘composing
aloud, dictating to a scribe’; and the earliest stratum of the English
collection of his letters provides (I have argued) strong if not absolutely
conclusive evidence of the involvement of one or more amanuenses
Bede, In Lucam Prol.: ed. Hurst, CCSL 120, p. 7. The distinction, and the use
of librarius in this specific sense (otherwise very uncommon in the Fathers), is already
clear in the writings of Jerome—Bede’s source therefore? On this, see E. Arns, Le
Technique du Livre d’après Saint Jérome (Paris, 1953), pp. 52, 62–3: pointing out, how-
ever (p. 63), that the distinct functions may be performed by the same individual.
Compare Alcuin’s later reference to York clergy qui scribendi studio deputentur:
ep. no. 114 (p. 169). For the marginalia in Paris BNF lat. 1572 as Alcuin’s own,
see below Pt. II ch. 1.
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when Alcuin was again living in York in the early 790s. It is only
at Tours, and indeed at the very end of the decade, that he refers
specifically to ‘notarial’ intervention in the letters and other writings
composed by him—beginning with the errors introduced notaria manus
when answering the king’s queries on computistic or astronomical
matters (798), and subsequently ‘summoning my secretary’ (accito notario:
a phrase he may have come across in a recently-read work of Jerome’s)
to pen a letter to Arn without further delay. But since at least one
of the letters of which the extant copies have ‘standard’ words in
Tironian notes was written while Alcuin was still at the Aachen
Court, an earlier use of notaries is likely.
The intervention of
anonymous notaries who take down Alcuin’s oral compositions—
treatises and letters—on wax tablets or parchment sheets and/or pre-
pare the fair copy which goes to the dedicatee or recipient does not
in itself exclude a strongly personal note in the preserved corre-
spondence. Amanuenses, like other copyists, will make mistakes, have
their own ways of spelling or even change what they hear because
they think it wrong, as Alcuin hints had happened when address-
ing the king. The Tours notaries may well have introduced new lex-
icographic features and favoured syntactical forms with which Alcuin
had not been familiar in his English days: a possible example is
expressing the future by habere with an infinitive (dicere habent ‘they
will say’, for example).
Dümmler, in fact, persuaded himself that
grammatical errors and ‘incorrect’ spellings in the texts of the let-
ters were almost always attributable to the notaries—or to later copy-
ists: for this he was magisterially rebuked by Bruno Krusch, when
he edited Alcuin’s ‘Life of St. Vaast’. There are, indeed, powerful
reasons for supposing that in small details of vocabulary and spelling,
as well as in content, the letters and other ‘writings’ of Alcuin are
generally a precise record of his dictated language.
Epp. nos 149 (p. 245), 207 (p. 344), the latter of June 799; Jerome, Comm. in
epist. ad Galatas, PL 36, col. 309A (quoted by Arns, Technique du Livre, p. 50, to sup-
port the rarity of Jerome’s writing in his own hand). For Alcuin’s interest in ‘Jerome
on Galatians’ at about this time, see Vienna Nat. bibl. 795, fols 147–48
Pauline Taylor, ‘The construction habere-with-infinitive in Alcuin, as an expres-
sion of the future’, The Romanic Review 15 (1924), 123–127. Note, however, that this
usage—a feature of, e.g., epp. nos 122, 156, 194, etc.—occurs in letters many cen-
turies previously, and does not necessarily reflect the influence of the contemporary
spoken language.
E. Dümmler, ‘Alchvinstudien’, Sitzungsber. Berliner Akad., 1891, pp. 495–523, at
pp. 499–500; ‘Mea autem opinione epistolographus ea exceptione (notariorum incu-
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It is apparent, for example, that Alcuin took with him to the
Continent the early Anglo-Latin confusion, purely phonetic in ori-
gin, of flagrantia(-tans, etc.) with fragrantia(-tans) ‘sweetness of God, sweet
odour of Saints’ bodies’. The spelling in fl- is that of the most author-
itative manuscripts of his De rhetorica, of the prose and verse Vita
Willibrordi and of the last chapter of the De virtutibus et vitiis; and edi-
tors and commentators who ‘correct’ those texts to read fragrantia to
eliminate possible confusions of sense are wrong to do so.
like other Insular writers Alcuin adopted the so-called ‘hyperurban’
spelling anthleta for athleta, ‘contestant for God’.
Even more revealing is his treatment of the words adolescens and
adolescentia. Few ‘secular’ terms occur more frequently in the letters
than these, either because Alcuin was recalling that phase in his own
life or because of his constant preoccupation with the educational
and disciplinary needs of others at that stage. They have a precise
meaning for him: from age fourteen to the late twenties, nominally
twenty-seven or twenty-eight although by this time there were doubt-
less many who were unsure what age they were. (If this is an age-
division which does not seem very helpful or acceptable today, it
becomes less objectionable if we translate it as ‘young manhood’.)
riae menda imputare Alcuino libuisse) minime absolvitur, nam si omnia dictasset
neque dictata relegisset, inauditae neglegentiae reus esset, id quod in tam celeber-
rimo praeceptore vix praesumendum est’: Krusch, MGH SRM III, p. 405 n. 4. For
the origin and possibly pre-800 date of the oldest manuscript of the Vita, Merseburg
Dombibl. 105 pt. ii (fols 85–105), cf. Bischoff, Lorsch
, p. 59.
See Aldhelm, De Virginitate ( pr.) c. 9 (ed. Ehwald, p. 237) suavi odoris flagrantia
dulcius redoleant, c. 51 (id., p. 307) nardi pistici flagrantia (no reported manuscript vari-
ants for either place); Bede, HE III 8, V 12, and the other instances cited by
C. Plummer, Bedae Opera Historica (Oxford, 1896), II, p. 151; and, possibly but not
certainly, Æthelwulf, De Abbatibus, ed. A. Campbell (Oxford, 1967), line 702 namquae
rosae rutilant per totum et lilia flagrant. C. Halm’s 1863 edition of Alcuin’s De rhetorica,
from Munich clm. 6407—a Verona manuscript copied directly from a contempo-
rary Tours exemplar:—and manuscripts dependent on it, correctly printed odores
flagrantes and aeterna flagrantia (Rhetores Latini minores (Leipzig), p. 550 lines 12 ff.), which
W.S. Howell’s 1941 edition (Rhetoric of Alcuin, pp. 152, 162) changed to frag-, because
Halm’s text ‘does not accord with the context’(!). The verse Vita Willlibrordi has at
tit. xxvi Et quod miri odoris flagrantia (Stuttgart and Alençon manuscripts: see in the
text c. xxvi, line 1, miri flagrantia odoris (MGH Poet., I, pp. 208, 216); and similarly
in the corresponding chapters of the prose Vita, ed. W. Levison, MGH SSRM VII,
pp. 135, 136.
Ep. no. 139 (p. 221 l. 12), to and of Paulinus of Aquileia, where Dümmler
wrongly relegates the testimony of manuscript T to the apparatus: compare B. Löfstedt,
Der Hibernolateinische Grammatiker Malsachanus (Uppsala, 1965), p. 104 and M.W. Herren,
Hisperica Famina, 2 (Toronto, 1987), p. 116.
A six-fold age-division had been ‘canonised’ by Augustine; it was subsequently
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According to Gottschalk, who through all his troubles and enmities
maintained a high regard for Alcuin (perhaps because he had never
met him), the spelling adulescens, insisted on by the late-Antique gram-
marian Caper was wrong: the correct spelling was always with -o-,
although distinguishing between the participle adolesc- and the noun
adolisc-; and Alcuin, as befitted a holy and learned man, always used
the spelling adoliscens—and correspondingly adoliscentia etc.—in his
Bible when the noun was intended.
Manitius noticed this obser-
vation when Gottschalk’s authorship of the text in which it occurs
was not known, but seems not to have stimulated any subsequent
commentator or editor to pursue the matter; and even the best of
modern editions of Alcuin’s writings do not suggest that he consis-
tently favoured this spelling. In fact he clearly did.
Both palaeographers and Vulgate scholars are now in general
agreement that the oldest of the great Tours Bibles to survive complete,
written within Alcuin’s lifetime, is the one at St. Gallen, where it
has been since at least the mid-ninth century.
A sample check of
relevant passages in Genesis (4.23; 8.21) and in the Gospels (such as
Mc 14.51; Lc 7.14, 15.12, 13) shows only the adolisc- spelling.
is likewise a common, although not absolutely consistent, feature of
the Tours Gospel-book now London BL Harley 2790, which is usu-
adopted by Isidore in his Etymologiae and the earlier stages defined in units of seven
( fourteen) years, pueritia tendens usque ad quartumdecimum annum, followed by adolescen-
tia quae porrigitur usque ad viginti octos annos: Etym. XI.2, 1–4, with the comments of
J. Fontaine, Isidore de Séville, 1, p. 377 and nn. Isidore is presumably the—proba-
bly indirect—source of the ‘school’ fragment in the early-ninth century BL Cotton
Vespasian B. vi, fol. 107, which reads Prima aetas infantia VII annis. secunda pueritia
XIIII. tertia aduliscentia XXVII ann[is] etc.
D.C. Lambot, Oeuvres Théologiques et Grammaticales de Godescalc d’Orbais (Spicilegium
Sacrum Lovaniense, Études et Documents, fasc. 20; Louvain, 1945), pp. 388–9, cf.
p. 385. The passage in Caper, De orthographia (ed. Keil, Grammatici Latini 7, col. 100)
in fact simply distinguishes between adulescens nomen and adolescens participium. According
to Sandra Bruni, in her edition of Alcuin’s De orthographia (Millennio Medievale 2;
Florence, 1997), Caper is the source of two of its entries: narro et narratio per duo r
scribatur at no. 253 (p. 22), and protenus per e adverbium locale. . . . protinus per i tempo-
rale est. . . . at n. 317 (p. 26).
St. Gallen, Stiftsbibl., cod. 75. The earliest known ‘Alcuin Bible’, according
to Fischer, ‘Alkuin-Bibeln’ [1971], Lateinische Bibelhandschriften (1985), pp. 256–7, cf.
[1965], idem, p. 125, is Paris BNF lat. 8847 (not in Rand’s list) of which only
Prophets and NT survive (E in modern collations): I have unfortunately been unable
to check its orthography.
The collation was made for me by P. Johannes Duft, one of the many kind-
nesses, through three decades, of that distinguished custodian of the St. Gallen
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ally dated to the early years of Alcuin’s successor Fridugis. More
remarkably, it is also that of the ‘Bamberg Bible’, written at Marmoutier
in the years either side of 840; and of the three-column Bible, Rome
Bibl. Vallicelliana B.6, which an older generation of editors believed
offered the Alcuin-text in its most pure form, but which is now
regarded as a probably Rheims book of c. 870: both evidently pre-
served the orthography, and indeed other ‘archaic’ features, of their
Long before then, however, some unknown ‘master of
the scriptorium’ at Tours had introduced the standard spellings,
which are therefore those of a majority of the surviving ‘Tours Bibles’.
Nor is Alcuin’s preferred orthography limited to Bibles where his
editorial intervention is evident. It is, for example, also adopted in
the early (c. 800) Echternach copy of Alcuin’s Vita Willibrordi, which
he had composed at Tours not long after his arrival there.
In the light of this we need to look again at the letters, but tak-
ing account of Dümmler’s apparatus and the manuscripts, rather
than the edited texts. Here we find that in the earliest datable exam-
ples, beginning with the address-clause and text of the letter ‘to the
young of St. Martin’s’, written perhaps as early as 789 and certainly
before 796 and re-issued as one of the texts in Alcuin’s Manualis libel-
lus of 802, the orthography of the key manuscripts is indeed adolisc-.
The spelling of the noun with o and i is similarly that of a letter of
the mid-790s to Hexham, whether in the Tours-Troyes manuscript,
the early Salzburg manuscript Vienna 808 or the St. Gallen copy
of the ‘basic Tours collection’.
Traces of the same orthography
BL Harl. 2790 has, for example, adoliscens in Lc 7.14 but aduliscentior in Lc
15.12, 13. Bamberg SB. Msc. Bibl. 1 (for the date and origin of which see above,
n. 44) was generously made available to me at short notice in June 1993 by Dr.
Bernhard Schemmel, ‘Leiter der Staatsbibliothek’, enabling me to examine the
orthography and some other features of Gn, I Rg, I Sm, Ecl, Mc, Lc: the careful
checking of the first scribes’ transcription against the exemplar is indicated by, e.g.,
the ‘correction’ on fol. 100a of (I Rg 14.6) Dixit autem Ionatha ad aduliscentem armigerum
to adol-!
Stuttgart, Württemb. Landesbibl., HB XIV 1, with Levison’s edition, MGH
SSRM VII, pp. 81–141, at 118 and 119 (cc. 3 and 4). Note, however, Levison’s
view (p. 105) that the archetype of all extant copies of the Vita litteris Saxonicis exara-
tum erat—evidence that it was written at Echternach, therefore?
Ep. no. 131: three times in the opening seventeen (printed) lines in the three
manuscripts Cologne Dombibl. 106 (which I would like to attribute to scribes gath-
ered at the Aachen Court in the last years of Charlemagne’s reign, although there
are difficulties: cf. Bischoff, Katalog, 1, no. 1919), Munich clm. 14447 (a stylish Salzburg
ms. of the 820s, which Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 2, p. 140 claimed was
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are indeed not infrequent elsewhere, although the scribe of T com-
monly ‘corrects’ to adulescens.
Historically, this early Tours scribe and Caper, not Alcuin and
Gottschalk, were correct. Why then had Alcuin rejected ‘authority’,
on which elsewhere he put such stress? The answer in the first place
is, plausibly, that this was the spelling which he had encountered
most often in his York days, and perhaps particularly in Biblical
codices. It is, for example, the orthography of the unique—ninth-
century Continental—manuscript of a letter written by Abbess Ælfflæd
of Whitby (ob. ca. 714); it is also the predominant spelling of the
Old Testament Wisdom Books in an eighth-century Insular (possi-
bly but not certainly Northumbrian) copy.
Secondly, and perhaps
more important: the difference in pronunciation betwen u and o had
considerably weakened since the Classical period (compare, for exam-
ple, the confusion between doctores and ductores in many copies of
Alcuin’s writings), so that the differentiation of meaning could only
be satisfactorily indicated by changing the vowel quality of another
syllable, much as Fowler’s ‘ensure’ and ‘insure’. In other words, it
had a practical value in lectio, exposition and dictation.
The inclusion of a letter in one or other of the early collections
does not presuppose a striving for literary effect—in vocabulary or
structure—or concern with a theme or themes of more than imme-
diate interest; that, indeed, is more likely to be true of some of the
letters preserved outside the main collections. Two letters written
two-and-a-half years apart and with distinct manuscript traditions
illustrate this well. The earlier is one of late July 798 addressed to
clearly ‘offenbar’ derived directly from the lost copy sent by Alcuin to Arn: in fact,
this is by no means certain; and cf. Bischoff himself, idem, p. 75) and St. Gallen
Stiftsbibl. 267 (St. Gallen, s. ix ex); and in the concluding section (MGH Epp. IV,
p. 198) in the first two of these. It is also the preferred orthography of the later, i.e.
tenth-century, Basel Univ.-Bibl. B.VI. 3 (not reported by Dümmler), where uniquely
the letter accompanies Alcuin’s two Trinitarian treatises and may therefore represent
a distinct tradition. It is not, however, a feature of the text of the letter in the ‘Fleury
monastic florilegium’ in Vatican BAV Reg. lat. 140 (this part of c. 820), which
almost certainly derives from the pre-manualis libellus tradition. For the date of the
letter, see below, pt. II ch. 3. Hexham letter: ep. no. 31, apparatus.
MGH Epist. Selectae, 1, ed. Tangl, no. 8 (pp. 3–4); London BL Egerton 1046
(CLA 2, 194a, b), for which see below, Pt. II ch. 2. Among the spellings in the lat-
ter are Prv 5.18: laetare cum muliere adoliscentiae tuae, quoted in precisely this form in
a letter of 796 (Ep. no. 119, from the later Rheims manuscript T*); a series of such
spellings in Ecclesiastes; and marginalia to the latter part of Canticum Canticorum
although others there have been ‘corrected’.
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Arn: it is transcribed first among those in the final quire of the St.-
Amand book, Vienna 795, for which Bischoff’s ‘scribe (1)’ is respon-
sible; and it was copied subsequently in three successive Salzburg (or
Salzburg-area) manuscripts representing over three-quarters of a cen-
tury’s scriptorial activity. Yet it is simply to ask its recipient what is
going on, without any comments, and advising him in quite specific
terms where he (Alcuin) expected to be in August and September
so that they might meet, while warning Arn of the possible difficulty
of food-supplies: for this reason it is one of the very few extant let-
ters to use the Frankish ‘administrative’ terminology for estates (vil-
lae, curtes). It does not include a single Biblical quotation, paraphrase
or even echo, but does have a fair sprinkling of colloquial (syntacti-
cal) usages.
The second letter, preserved only in the (personal?) H
collection, is one addressed ‘by a father to his sons’ and sent to
unnamed disciples who were with the king-Emperor in Italy in
800/801. It makes no direct allusion to the momentous events that
were then unfolding or recently concluded there, on the course of
which Alcuin reputedly exercised a decisive influence. It has been
supposed to include two echoes of Classical texts—one, and perhaps
both, mistakenly—but again no Biblical quotation. The opening sen-
tences are, however, an elaborate metaphor on the Winds as con-
veyers of personal feelings and news; while the final clauses are a
practical suggestion for transmitting a reply, via a returning Anglo-
Saxon pilgrim who will pass through Troyes and the monastery of
St. Lupus, from which it will be brought to Tours. In a passage
which has no precise parallel elsewhere, Alcuin recalls the happy
times, before all things were changed, ‘when in our household we
played together litterali tessera’ (a phrase which the St.-Denis copyists
found quite incomprehensible!), referring perhaps to a block or tablet
inscribed with letters or syllables as a teaching aid, or to written
tokens of affection as school exercises.
Ep. no. 150. The successive ninth-century copies are: Vienna 808 (S1) at fols
107–8 (scribe ‘beta’), Munich clm. 14743 (S1*) at fols 8–8
(formulaic), Munich
clm. 4650 (B) at fols 77
(originally the final quire, where the Alcuin letters are
full and not formulaic texts); for S1* see n. 123 above. According to Dümmler’s
apparatus the distinctive sentence Manda vero per nostras curtes: quicquid ibi erit omnia
tibi parata erunt is omitted from the copy in B: in fact it is present there but omit-
ted (unsurprisingly) in S1*.
Ep. no. 215. Is the lemma Ad filios apud domnum imperatorem in palatio commorantibus
<sic in both mss.> a slip by the ‘compiler’? or is palatium used here in the stan-
dard pre-Aachen sense of Court (irrespective of location)? Quando in laribus nostris
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The philologist of an earlier generation who believed she had
identified ‘popular Romance (spoken)’ elements in the Latinity of
Alcuin’s letters may have been unduly optimistic when she went on
to claim that these are ‘practically conversations with his corre-
spondents. The subject-matter is personal, the style fluent and spon-
taneous, the author emotionally stirred and evidently speaking from
his heart when he admonishes or laments (and there is hardly a let-
ter in which he is not doing either one or the other)’. But there are,
I suggest, several different levels of evidence to justify the claim that
Alcuin’s collected correspondence is at least a partial exception to
the often-expressed doubts ‘whether there were any private letters in
the modern sense of the word’ in the Middle Ages, unless on an
excessively-narrow and post-Romantic definition of ‘private’.
Amicitia and Sexual Orientation
If this is conceded, we are invited to reconsider some of the more
elaborate, less obviously documentary, letters and especially those in
which the literary ‘high’ style is linked with expressions or notions
of amicitia, ‘friendship’, with or without associated terms such as dul-
The former word is almost totally absent from both the Vulgate
pariter lusimus litterali tessera: the copyist of H (BL Harl. 208) wrote litteraliter sera, and
it was left to the nineteenth-century editors to restore the original wording; the
copyist of Paris, BNF, n.a. lat. 1096 (H2), which was unknown to them, actually
wrote (at fol. 30) litterali tessera but then erased the t! No comparable or even approx-
imately similar term is to be found in the computer concordance of Patristic and
medieval texts, CETEDOC CD-ROM. Dümmler cited Terence, Adelphi IV 7, 21:
quasi quom ludas tesseris, but the context is not helpful to an understanding of Alcuin’s
usage. More to the point seems to be Ps.-Maximus epist. 2, 7 (PL 57, col. 943 D;
also printed as Ps.-Jerome, epist. 6, PL 30, col. 90), now regarded as a composition
of the Aquitanian Eutropius, CPL
, 566a: nec in ludo aliquo litteratorio (‘grammatical’)
inter puerulos oscitantes.
Taylor, ‘The construction habere-with-infinitive’, p. 127 n. 6; but for the con-
tinuity of ‘the ancient concept of the letter as substitute for conversation’ from late-
Antiquity to the twelfth century, see C.D. Lanham, ‘Salutatio’ Formulas in Latin Letters
to 1200: Syntax, Style and Theory, Münchener Beiträge zur Mediävistik u. Renaissance-
Forschung 22 (Munich, 1975), pp. 103–4. The second quotation is from G. Constable,
Letters and Letter-Collections, Typologie des Sources du Moyen Âge Occidental, fasc.
17 (Turnhout, 1976), p. 11.
The best treatment of amicitia, amici, in Alcuin’s correspondence remains that
of B.P. McGuire, Friendship and Community: the Monastic Experience 350–1250 (Kalamazoo,
Mich., 1988), pp. 117–27. The remarkable pioneer study of Mother Adele Fiske,
‘Alcuin and mystical friendship’, Studi Medievali ser. 3, 2 (1961), 551–75 (a revised
version in her Friends and Friendship in the Monastic Tradition, Cuernavaca (Mexico),
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New Testament and early-medieval liturgy; by contrast it is not
uncommon, and with the sense of ‘an affective relationship between
persons (or groups)’, in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) and in Maccabees. It
passed into the common vocabulary of Carolingian authors with a
range of associations derived possibly from those Old Testament
books, but more certainly from letters and treatises of the Latin
Fathers, who in turn owed much to Cicero even when they parted
from him; and it had acquired additional meanings along the way.
In correspondence between monarchs, it is one half of pax et amici-
tia, which corresponds very closely to its present-day political equi-
valent, signifying just as much or as little as the parties to it wish it
to signify, and easiest to maintain when they have no competing
interests; it can signify a formal treaty, as in both Bede and Einhard;
it is the condition established by the payment of compensation to
terminate a vendetta; it is the natural relationship between blood-
relatives and in some regions between ‘kindred by the milk’, those
who have shared a common fosterage. It comes to be used of the
relationship between lord and vassal.
Alcuin very occasionally uses
the word in its public or political sense. But in the overwhelming
majority of instances the amicitia to which he alludes is a close per-
sonal bond, without material or legal ‘consideration’—although it
1970), took a different line, which ultimately fails to convince me and (I believe)
other students of Alcuin: in her view, when Alcuin speaks of amicitia as a divine
gift, ‘he is directly in the platonistic tradition’, seeing in it ‘the only force capable
of re-creating humanity: for friendship was the complete actualization of the caritas
Christi ’ (ibid., pp. 574, 575).
Representative recent studies are P.A. Brunt, ‘Amicitia in the late Roman
Republic’, Proc. Cambr. Phil. Soc. n.s. 2, 191 (1965), 1–20; McGuire, Friendship and
Community, Intro. and chs. I–II; C. White, Christian Friendship in the Fourth Century
(Cambridge, 1992), with the review by P. Rousseau in JournEcclHist, 45 (1994),
116–18. For the expression of friendship as the essential nature of letters, see espe-
cially K. Thraede, Einheit—Gegenwart—Gespräch. Zur Christianisierung antiker Brieftopoi,
Diss. Bonn (1968); idem, Grundzüge griechisch-römischer Brieftopik = Zetemata, 48 (Munich,
1970). In Vg. NT amicitia is uniquely in Iac. 4.4, and there distinctively as amicitia
mundi; in Io 15.14–15, however, Christ addresses his disciples as his amici. For masses
pro amico (Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries), see Bullough, Friends, Neighbours
and Fellow-drinkers: Aspects of Community and Conflict in the Early Medieval West, H.M.
Chadwick Memorial Lectures, 1 (Cambridge, 1991), p. 5 n. 8.
See, most conveniently, the entries amicitia, amicus in Niermeyer’s Lexikon Minus
and in MLWB. 1, cc. 560–62 (particularly clear and full), 563–66, with the addi-
tional examples in Bullough, ‘Early medieval social groupings: the terminology of
kinship’, Past and Present, no. 45 (1969), 12 n. 21, 15 n. 26. For amicitia ‘treaty’, see
HE I 1: vel amicitia vel ferro (ed. Plummer, p. 12; ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 18);
but in HE IV 25 (Colgrave and Mynors, p. 426) it is an improper relationship
between the sexes.
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may be confirmed by a free-will exchange of gifts—between himself
and either the recipient(s) of the letter or a third party known to
both. It is quite distinct from caritas, whether in the Pauline and
Iohannine spiritual sense—with its alternative dilectio, put into Christ’s
mouth in St. John’s Gospel (13.35 and 15.13)—or as the euphoric
good feeling in one’s cups, permissible even in monasteries on spe-
cial occasions (as a letter of 796 to the monks of Murbach acknowl-
To those to whom a spiritual or intellectual interpretation
is the only permissible one, the bond of ‘friendship’ to which Alcuin
so often appeals was one which united separate wills and intellects
in a common purpose, the pursuit of virtue in this life and eternal
salvation hereafter: which is why its natural corollary and extension
is the bond of prayer.
The roots of such a notion, although without the element of sal-
vation, are to be found in pre-Christian writings. For Cicero, its
most authoritative exponent, and those who followed him, that high-
est form of friendship was essentially moderate, rational and unemo-
tional, yet incorporating elements of gentleness and sweetness that
brought joy to intimacy.
So it was still for Ambrose, who had
actually read Cicero’s (Laelius) de amicitia and drew on it for the final
chapters of his De officiis ministrorum; so it was also, with more reserve
and coolness, for Cassian (who almost certainly knew the pagan
author only at second hand) in the very different context of his
‘Conferences’ (Conlationes) for monks.
Alcuin cannot be shown to
have known Ambrose’s text; he was almost certainly familiar with
the Conlationes, although not provably in his York days;
and even
Dilectio is the earlier, caritas a later and eventually the preferred translation of
the Greek. Compare Alcuin’s Illa caritas quae in pleno potatur calice in ep. no. 117, on
which see B. Bischoff, ‘Caritas-Lieder’ (1950), MaSt, 2, pp. 56–77; he follows this with
a brief definition, or rather characterization, of caritas in the monastic context. For
a fuller treatment see his De virtutibus et vitiis c. 3, PL 101, cols 615C–616A (not
certainly original to Alcuin).
Brunt, ‘Amicitia’; McGuire, Friendship and Community, pp. xxxii

Ambrose: M. Testard, ‘Recherches sur quelques méthodes de travail de saint
Ambroise dans le De officiis’, Recherches Augustiniennes 24 (1989), 65–112, with a con-
spectus of the modern literature on his concept of amicitia, ibid, n. 148; Saint Ambroise:
Les Devoirs, ed. M. Testard, 2 vols., Collection des Universités de France (Paris,
1984, 1992). Cassian: Conlationes, ed. M. Petschenig (CSEL 13; Vienna, 1886), ch.
xvi; McGuire, Friendship and Community, pp. 78–81.
Ep. no. 209 is very poor evidence for knowledge of the Conlationes—or no evi-
dence at all: compare Bullough, ‘What has Ingeld to do with Lindisfarne?’, p. 100
n. 24 and Wallace-Hadrill, Bede Historical Commentary, p. 96; and the naming of Cassian
in ep. no. 203 is as the author of the much less common De incarnatione Domini,
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if, as seems very likely, Tours had a copy of Cicero’s work in Alcuin’s
lifetime, there is nothing to suggest that he had read it.
The tone of his letters is very different. Amicitia is here associated
with a highly-coloured, emotional language, expressed in the vocab-
ulary of physical contact and almost impossible not to describe as
sensual or erotic. Witness the letter to his younger contemporary,
Bishop Arn of Salzburg, written from England in the latter part of
790: ‘I treasure the memory of loving friendship, longing that some
day the desired time will come when I may put my longing arms
around your neck; if only I could fly like Habbakuk,
how quickly
I would rush to embrace you and how eagerly I would kiss not only
your eyes, ears and mouth but also each finger and toe not once
but many times’. There are many later letters in the same vein; the
greater number, but by no means all, are among those addressed to
Arn and preserved in the St.-Amand and Salzburg collections.
before a knowing, post-Boswell ( John) and post-Holroyd, generation
draws the ‘obvious’ conclusion, it would be well to heed the wise
words of critics and historians who have commented on similar
phraseology in other Christian writers and on the actual displays of
such emotion at various times in the past. C.S. Lewis, writing well
before the recent plethora of scholarly works on medieval sexual-
ity and homo-erotic language, observed that: ‘Kisses, tears and
embraces are not in themselves evidence of homosexuality. The impli-
cations would be, if nothing else, too comic. Hrothgar embracing
which had already been used for Alcuin’s Liber contra haeresim Felicis. A probably
English but unlocalized (fragmentary) copy of the Conlationes of s. viii
is now Kassel,
Gesamthochschulbibl., Mss.-Anhang (now 2
Ms.theol. 267), CLA VIII, 1143 (with
a wrong shelf-mark). Cassian’s name does not, however, figure in the ‘York book-
list’; and although the Conlationes could have been a significant influence on the
Insular development of protective and private prayer, no direct quotation has so
far been identified in the ‘Book of Cerne’ or other early English prayer-books: Sims-
Williams, Religion and Literature, pp. 277–9, 309–10).
The evidence for this is Berlin, Staatsbibl., lat. 4
404 (P in editions of Laelius),
which is not a ‘Kriegsverlust’, but at the time of writing still detained at Cracow.
Its attribution to Tours is beyond doubt (cf. J.G.F. P[owell] in Texts and Transmission,
ed. Reynolds p. 122—one of the least satisfactory sections of that work); and
Bischoff’s final dating for it (Katalog, 1, no. 384) is ‘IX Jh, Anfang’ (!), i.e. of roughly
the same time as Troyes 1165. The first Carolingian author to quote Laelius seems
to be Paschasius Radbertus: Ganz, Corbie, p. 83.
Dn (Vulg.) 14.32–8 (33–9): Habbakuk was transported by the angelus Dei from
Judaea to Babylon and back again.
Ep. no. 10, on the manuscript transmission of which, see above, p. 54 and
n. 123. For comparable language in letters to Paulinus of Aquileia see epp. nos 28,
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Beowulf, Johnson embracing Boswell (a pretty flagrantly heterosex-
ual couple) and all those hairy old toughs of centurions in Tacitus,
clinging to one another and begging for last kisses when the legion
was broken up . . . all pansies? If you can believe that, you can
believe anything. On a broad historical view it is, of course, not the
demonstrative gestures of Friendship among our ancestors but the
absence of such gestures in our own society that calls for some spe-
cial explanation. We, not they, are out of step’.
Sir Richard Southern
commented on comparable passages in St. Anselm’s correspondence
that ‘they are not expressions of friendship as we understand it. But
still less are they expressions of the passionate love which such words
would now suggest. They could not have been written in the next
century, when language of this kind had been appropriated by the
poets of romantic love between men and women. We are still in the
period when love was essentially an intellectual concept. No doubt
[such] words were written under the impulse of a strong emotion.
But the nature of the emotion may be judged from the concluding
sentence of one letter directing that a companion of the recipient
‘was to regard everything in it as applying to him also’.
Much of
this is doubtless true.
Even those who, reasonably, hold to a
metaphorical or allegorical interpretation of Alcuin’s language of
friendship have still to explain how he came to adopt it; and this is
not less so if we say, with the author of a fine book on Friendship
and Community, that in the letter to Arn and others like it: ‘Alcuin is
telling his friend that he loves and needs him, not in a sexual sense
and not in a political one (!), but in terms of a close personal bond’.
In part, he had indeed been anticipated by earlier Anglo-Latin let-
ter-writers. What surely distinguishes his letters from superficially sim-
ilar ones composed by others is the intensity of their language, and
the linking of the feelings expressed with other emotions that are
The Four Loves (London, 1960), ch. 4 ‘Friendship’, p. 75. For John Boswell’s
very contentious views on medieval homosexuality, see below.
Southern, St. Anselm (1963 edition), p. 70.
But Jean Leclercq, for one, would hardly accept Southern’s quoted view of
the change that took place between the late-eleventh and the (mid-)twelfth century:
see his Monks and Love in Twelfth-Century France: Psycho-historical Essays (Oxford, 1979).
For a significantly different approach by Southern himself in his ‘revised’ Anselm
biography, see St. Anselm (1990 edition), esp. pp. 138–53; on which see further,
p. 117 and n. 294.
McGuire, Friendship and Community, p. 118. In spite of McGuire’s sub-title, the
discussion of ‘friendship in Alcuin’s letters’ is one of several sections of the book
which have nothing to do with monks or the monastic life.
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peculiar to Alcuin’s correspondence with a select group of individ-
uals whom he had known from the 780s, and whose silences or
(deliberate) absences he demonstrably resented.
There are, moreover, three pieces of evidence which hint that
Alcuin’s use of homoerotic language in the letters is not just an extra-
vagantly-expressed plea for affective and supportive friendship. The
first is the poem inc. Nudus eat hospes, placeat cui ludere mecum, for which
the lost St.-Bertin manuscript is unfortunately the only source. Its
opening lines are a variation on a riddle of Symphosius—inconve-
niently corrupt in the manuscript tradition—to which the answer is
In Alcuin’s version it has no riddling element and is osten-
sibly composed as a titulus for public display; half-way through, how-
ever, it changes direction entirely and becomes a plea for eyes to
be averted from the male genitals so that no puer may be ashamed.
Now I can imagine ( just!) that this is the kind of notice that might
figure on the wall of an Aachen bath-house in the 790s where naked,
male, bathing was the norm, in contradistinction to the practice of
monastic communities and the public baptistery: but I find it just as
easy to believe that the poem is one in which momentarily the author
is baring his own deeper thoughts and tensions.
The second piece of evidence is more dubiously relevant, although
certainly puzzling. The Vita-author comments on Alcuin’s relation-
ship with the younger cleric Sigwulf, who from their York days ‘was
to be attached to him for all time ( perpetuo)’, that to see the mutual
love of these two was like ‘observing Rebecca linked (copulatam) with
Isaac and Anna with Tobias’. The first couple is the familiar sub-
ject of Genesis 25 and 26. The second is less familiar, but is taken
from the ‘Book of Tobit’ in its Latin Vulgate version, where the
eponymous central figure, who has a wife Anna, is called—like their
son—Tobias. Since both couples were married according to the Law
and blessed with progeny, it is not clear how they could be seen as
a ‘type’ of Alcuin and Sigwulf; and the inference that Alcuin’s biog-
rapher was here referring obliquely to a known homosexual rela-
tionship is only possible on the further proposition (of which I am
Alcuin: MGH Poet. I, p. 318 (carm. no. xcii/1), S.-K. no. 10653. Symphosius:
most recent ed. by D.R. Shackleton Bailey, Anthologia Latina I. 1, p. 230 (no. lxxxix);
for a fuller apparatus, including two Lorsch manuscripts which may bring us near-
est to the text-version known to Alcuin, see the edition by F. Glorie, Collectiones
Aenigmatum, ii, CCSL 133A (Turnhout, 1968), pp. 611–723, at 711.
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sceptical) that in the early Carolingian period such relationships were
tolerated, although not openly approved.
The third piece of evidence, which is entirely deductive but to
which none the less I would give the greatest weight, is the language
of the unique letter addressed to Pope Hadrian I shortly before his
death at the end of 795.
Alcuin must have met him briefly in
780/1, but he makes no claim to personal acquaintance. Instead, it
is the ‘excellent father’s’ reputation that has given him ‘some confidence
in begging your mercy (clementia) to take me . . . into the embrace of
your holy intercession’. But this is not the usual request for prayers
and remembrance, a fact recognised by the Hincmar-period Rheims
copyist who entered in the margin against the next section: Nota de
confessione et accusatione Alchuini. According to Alcuin, although the
Pope intercedes for the entire Christian people, he does ‘something
more particular for those who commend themselves . . . with a firm
yet humble request’; and because he has the ‘power of binding and
loosing’ as the successor of St. Peter, he will be able to release the
petitioner from the consequences of his most grievous sins and restore
him to full spiritual health. What these sins were was to be com-
municated to him verbally by Alcuin’s friend and the king’s emis-
sary, Angilbert.
Alcuin’s position on the confession of sins is expounded in a series
of letters, the earliest possibly of ca. 789: it should be made to a
priest, who has the power of forgiveness and healing. The Frankish
church in Charlemagne’s time had not been able to resolve the treat-
ment of ‘capital’ sins, ones of exceptional seriousness that in earlier
centuries had been remissable only through once-in-a-lifetime pub-
lic penance, and by that fact were a bar to ordination.
At the
time when Alcuin wrote his letter to the Pope he may have been
hoping, indeed expecting, to succeed Eanbald I as (arch)bishop of
Compare J. Boswell, Christianity, Homosexuality and Social Tolerance: Gay People in
Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago
and London, 1980), ch. 7 and esp. pp. 186–91; and the criticisms of his readings of
texts by, among others and most elegantly, Southern, St. Anselm (1990 ed.), pp. 148–53.
Ep. no. 27; ms. T* fol. 73. For a fuller discussion of this letter, its dating and
context, see below, Pt. II ch. 4, pp. 452–4.
M. Andrieu, Les Ordines Romani du Haut Moyen Age, 5 vols., Spicilegium Sacrum
Lovaniense: Études et Documents, vol. 3 (Louvain, 1951), pp. 549–53, with quotations
from the key texts; C. Vogel, Le Pécheur et la Pénitence au Moyen-Age (Paris, 1969), pp.
24–7; R. Kottje, ‘Busspraxis u. Bussritus’, Settimane di Studio (Spoleto), 33 (Spoleto,
1987), 369–95. For Alcuin on confession, see below, Pt. II, ch. 3.
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York. But in a letter of Hadrian’s brought to the Court by (Arch)bishop
Beornred of Sens and Abbot Rado of St.-Vaast in 790/91—one of
the latest to be copied and preserved in the Codex Carolinus—the Pope
had drawn attention to the Roman church’s requirements for the
ordination of a bishop-elect: specifically, an affirmation that his elec-
tion did not involve a simonaic transaction, and that he had been
declared free of impediments listed in other canonical capitula. What
these were is made clear by a Roman ordo quomodo [episcopus] ordi-
natur, which was already circulating in Francia: namely, being guilty
of the violation of a consecrated virgin, of bestiality, of ‘bigamous’
marriage (adultery) or of arsenoquita quod est masculo.
It is surely only
for the last of these that Alcuin was impelled to look to the Pope
for an exercising of his power of loosing and forgiveness in God’s
name; and the precise wording of his letter which ‘glosses’ Christ’s
command to Peter in Matthew 16.19—cui etiam caelo terrisque aeternam
ligandi ac solvendi potestatem delegavit—although apparently influenced by
sermons of Pope Leo I, may indicate an awareness of the Pope’s
letter of 790/91.
The Possibility and Limitations of ‘Biography’
Even those who are prepared to accept the suggested interpretation
of poem, Vita and letters may legitimately be unwilling or unable to
regard it as a relevant factor in any exploration of Alcuin’s intel-
lectual development and contributions to Carolingian learning: it is
MGH Epp. III, pp. 632–6 (no. 94), at 634; Ordo Romanus XXXIV, c. 16: ed.
Andrieu, Ordines, 3, 607. Arsenoquita, spelt arsan- in a majority of the manuscripts of
the ordo, is an excessively rare word both in its original Greek form (first recorded
in NT I Cor 6.9) and in Latin contexts. The ‘ps.-Cyril’ Greek-Latin ‘dictionary’
(compiled in Byzantine Italy?) includes an entry masculorum concubitor (CGL ed. Goetz,
2, 246), and masculorum concubitores is already the standard VL (and Vulg.) render-
ing of the I Cor 6 passage. A ?unique later instance, perhaps derived from the ordo,
is aut adulter aut arsenoquita (of clerics) in a letter of Rathier of Verona, MGH Die
Briefe der deutschen Kaiserzeit, 1 (1949), ed. F. Weigle, no. 29 (p. 161). Because the
language of Hadrian’s letter is in some ways closer to that of OR XXXVB, cc. 7–8,
ed. Andrieu, Ordines, 4, 101, Andrieu most surprisingly argued (ibid. pp. 81–3) for
its dependence on that ordo (or an earlier version of it): but since he showed con-
vincingly that this is a late-tenth-century confection, in a single manuscript, the rela-
tionship must surely be the other way round, the Papal letter having influenced the
adaptation of OR XXXIV to OR XXXVB.
Not, however, in direct quotation: the corresponding clause in Hadrian’s letter
is quoniam quorumlibet sententiis ligata pontificum sedis beati Petri apostoli ius habet solvendi.
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certainly no basis for a ‘psycho-biography’ which would relate it to
(for example) his seemingly obsessive attitude towards ‘the heresy of
Adoptionism’ in the 790s. There is, however, a paradoxical element
in much modern Alcuin-scholarship. It typically takes a few short
phrases, not infrequently employing quite commonplace language and
occurring incidentally in letters concerned predominantly with other
topics, and proceeds to induce from them theories of polity and
authority and the capacity to influence events in ways that literally
changed nations; at the same time, it doubts whether statements
about personal feelings and emotions are more than literary exercises.
The paradox is the sharper that critics of and commentators on
the poetry of Alcuin and his contemporaries, beginning with Prof.
Dieter Schaller in his epoch-making article of 1970, have empha-
sised—surely rightly—the ‘realistic’ elements in some of this verse,
and have favoured (selectively!) literal as well as ‘literary’ readings
of autobiographical verse that can equally be an exercise in self-
Given the literary heritage implicit in Alcuin’s letters,
there is no simple way of distinguishing between, say, false or feigned
humility and true humility, or between ‘topical’ friendship and true
friendship. But a reading of the letters which takes account of over-
all structure and character, and relates the author’s choice of recur-
rent or formulaic phraseology to the named recipient and to the
date and circumstances of composition, may find sufficient differences
of expression and emphasis to allow legitimate biographical inferences.
Correspondence limited to a few years of a man’s life is, even on
the most generously-literal interpretation of its language and reminis-
cence, inevitably constraining; and the poems that are probably or
certainly earlier in date than the extant letters do not greatly ease such
constraints. Works that are already the product of the mature Alcuin,
even if consciously drawing on, summing up or commenting on his ex-
periences at York, are only pointers to his earlier decades. We need
not necessarily despair, provided we do not claim too much, or mea-
sure the evidence and its sub-texts against that for Jerome (especially
D. Schaller, ‘Vortrags- u. Zirkulardichtung am Hof Karls des Grossen’, MLJb.
6 (1970), 14–36, repr. Schaller, Studien, pp. 87–109, with ‘Nachträge’ at pp. 412–14;
Godman, Poets and Emperors, ch. 2 passim. I take this opportunity of recalling how,
on a visit to the Bodleian Library from an institution where Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch
was not available and indeed unknown, the late Richard Hunt eagerly drew my
attention to Schaller’s then very recent publication and made clear its importance
for an understanding of Early Medieval literature.
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if we favour a late date—ca. 347 contra ca. 331—for his birth), rather
than, say, Gregory the Great, almost all of whose writings come from
his fourteen years as Pope.
Historians in their fifties or even sixties
can, unlike mathematicians and physicists, hopefully look forward to
the next decade as a period of creative academic activity: but we would
readily acknowledge that for all but a select few the basic mental or
intellectual outlook, the essential framework of thought and inquiry,
are formed long before the age of fifty. Even where there is a con-
scious rejection of early allegiances and modes of thought, which
manifestly didn’t happen to Alcuin, it is usually possible for the biog-
rapher or historian to establish a fuller continuity in a person’s thought
than he or she would wish to admit, or else to recognise in the views
expounded in the ‘post-conversion’ period the consequences of the
earlier ones against which they were overtly a reaction: witness (for
example) the studies in the 1950s and 1960s of the young Karl Marx
and the significance of his concept of ‘alienation’.
If, in the end, an interpretation of Alcuin through his letters first
and his other writings secondarily stops well short of biography as
it is now generally understood, this is not simply because of the
problems of the genre in relation to an age that preferred the tran-
scendental to the introspective. Nor is it because we have to rely very
largely on what was written in the last ten or fifteen years of a sixty-
five-year earthly life; the element of subjectivity in biographical recon-
struction, and in what passes for explanation, is not necessarily less
when a man’s earlier years are comparatively well-documented. It is
(I would argue) because almost all the evidence supplementing Alcuin’s
view of himself and his career comes posthumously from admirers
and believers. In his lifetime, the detractors and doubters make the
Jerome: J.N.D. Kelly, Jerome: his Life, Writings and Controversies (London, 1975),
whose acceptance of the earlier birth-date is effectively challenged by A.D. Booth,
‘The date of Jerome’s birth’, Phoenix 33 (1979), 346–53, cf. art. ‘Hieronymus’
[H. Hagendahl, J.H. Waszink] in RAC. 15.113 (1989), col. 118. For two recent explo-
rations of the foundations of Jerome’s scholarly and literary activity in the early
390s, see J.H.D. Scourfield, Consoling Heliodorus. A Commentary on Jerome Letter 60
(Oxford, 1993), esp. pp. 15–33, and A. Kamesar, Jerome, Greek Scholarship and the
Hebrew Bible (Oxford, 1993); his earliest surviving work is Epist. 1 of 375, ed. Hilberg,
1, 1–9, ed. Labourt, 1 (1949), 2–9. Gregory: compare (e.g.) F.H. Dudden, Gregory
the Great: his place in History and Thought, 2 vols. (London, 1905) with Carole Straw,
Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection (Berkeley-London, 1988), whose remarkable
interpretative work eschews biography; but for the chronology of the writings, see
p. 7 n. 25, and for his reading, pp. 13–16.
See, most conveniently, D. McLellan, Karl Marx: his Life and Thought (London,
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briefest of appearances in Theodulf ’s satrical verse in 796, and in
the correspondence between Abbot Alcuin and the Imperial Court
in 801/2 over troubles at Tours supposedly provoked by the same
Theodulf: although modern biographers have generally ignored, or
glossed over, the earlier allusions in his correspondence to contem-
poraries who evidently did not share Alcuin’s opinion of himself.
Digging in his works for evidence of the experiences that formed his
opinions and intellect and for changes in his perception of himself
during the closely-documented later years is therefore all the more
necessary. As a distinguished modern critic and commentator has
remarked about the ‘lives’ of a nineteenth-century black American
who struggled to make himself heard through the written word: ‘The
enterprise of biography, if it counts for anything, must be to restore
humanity and complexity to someone so assiduously committed to
the habit of self-invention and self-censorship’.
Rheims bib. mun. ms. 1395
Rheims 1395, a characteristic early-Hincmar manuscript, was long believed
‘lost’ since the young Mabillon’s transcription of texts from it and then, on
a later visit, failing to find it in the Chapter library. It continued to be so
reported after its identification by B. Krusch (Neues Archiv, 18 [1893], pp.
600–3) and subsequently, in ignorance of Krusch, by A. Luchaire (Bibl. de
la Fac. des lettres de Paris, 8 [Paris, 1899], ‘Étude sur quelques manuscrits
de Rome et de Paris’, pp. 27–9), and even after its cataloguing—not wholly
satisfactorily—by Loriquet (Catal. gén. xxxix/1 [1904]), s. n (pp. 539–43).
To make matters more confused, Luchaire (cit.) unfortunately referred
to the manuscript under a provisional new catalogue number (‘1137’) which
was subsequently abandoned, identified it with the old catalogue number
of a quite different manuscript (= Loriquet 1402, a Rheims passionary of
s. xi
, which includes the complete Hincmarian Remigius-dossier) and dated
it to the tenth century. On the other hand, he provided (op. cit., pp. 93–7)
the first complete edition of fols 32–37
RUM S. DIONYSII which Mabillon had only incompletely published and in
two separate places (Luchaire unhappily reversing the correct references on
his p. 94! while Krusch, art. cit. pp. 601–2, printed as unpublished the
miracle-story on fol. 33
which he would have found if he had turned over
another two pages of the De re Diplomatica). Levillain, to whom the cor-
See Pt. II ch. 3.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ‘A Dangerous Literacy: the Legacy of Frederick
Douglass’, The New York Times Book Review, May 28 1995, p. 16.
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rectly-dated 1395 was or should have been of exceptional importance for
his reconstruction of the early history of the Miracula s. Dionysii, uncharac-
teristically simply adopted Luchaire’s account of the manuscript complete
with errors, and he had a very incomplete notion of its contents: see BÉC.,
82 (1921), pp. 58 ff. and esp. p. 59 n. 1. Wallace-Hadrill, relying unquestion-
ingly on Levillain, similarly did not realise (‘Archbishop Hincmar and the
Lex Salica’, The Long-Haired Kings [1962], pp. 96–8) that this was the same
manuscript as that containing, at fols 40
–45 as the third part of item V,
the earliest copy of the pre-Hincmar Vita Remigii; and he introduced a fur-
ther element of confusion (and weakened his own arguments at this point)
by transferring to the Miracula Levison’s doubts about Hincmar’s al. Hilduin’s
authorship of the Gesta Dagoberti (‘weder d. eine noch d. andere Annahme
scheint mir wirklich begründet’: Wattenbach-Levison, Deutschlands Geschichts-
quellen, 1, p. 113 n. 254), which is not among the texts in Rheims 1395,
although the earliest manuscript evidence may be of Rheims origin (but is
certainly post-Hincmar). H. Barré, supposing the manuscript to be a tenth-
century one, failed to recognise the importance of its fols 2–32 as testimony
to Hincmar’s Marian devotion: Prières Anciennes, pp. 80 f., cf. p. 82 n. 74.
More recently, Devisse seems to have consulted neither the manuscript
nor Loriquet’s catalogue, since in his table of vitae sanctorum and their manu-
script-sources available to Hincmar (Hincmar, 3, p. 1510) he cites Rheims
1395 only for ‘miscellanea sur S. Rémi’ and adds in a footnote that it
might be possible to add, e.g., a Life of S. Eufrosina on the evidence of
clm. 6382 pt. 1, a probably French manuscript of s. ix
, one of the scribes
of which shows Rheims influence (but does not ‘come from Rheims’, as
Devisse asserts): in fact 1395 fols 120–30 is XV . . . VITA S[AN]C[T]AE
EUFROSINAE (BHL. 2723), which is therefore one of the earliest copies of
this ?eighth-century translation from the Greek, probably preceded only by
the Metz (and only later Autun) passionary, Montpellier Bibl. Univ. cod. 55,
of s. ix in. The description of the manuscript by J. Gijsel, Die unmittelbare
Textüberlieferung des sog. Pseudo-Matthäus (Verh. van de Kon. Akad. voor
Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, Kl. Lett., nr. 96;
Brussels, 1981), pp. 38–9, has some additional codicological information but
is inadequate on the texts, apart from the identification of the (pre-Paschasius
Radbertus) ‘I. DE NATIVITATE SANCTAE MARIAE’ on fols 2–17
In the same section as the last-named text, on fols 26–32, is III. EX
inc. Loquamur aliquid in laudibus sacratissimç virginis, a text attributed in some
later manuscripts to Alcuin but recently convincingly claimed for Ambrosius
Autpertus by R. Weber: Ambrosii Autperti Opera, (CCCM), 3, pp. 874–5, 885–9,
edition pp. 1027–36.
It is to be observed finally that Arndt, editing the Vita Alcuini for the
MGH and relying on Mabillon for the readings of the ‘lost’ Rheims man-
uscript, mistakenly assumed that its text concluded with Alcuin’s verse epi-
taph and the prose record of Alcuin’s obit, which he accordingly printed as
an integral part of his edition. The typography of Duchesne’s edition, which
is the actual source, makes it clear that this earlier editor had introduced
it from some quite different (and so far unidentified) manuscript.
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The early manuscript evidence for Alcuin’s epitaph
(S.-K. no. 6688)
Perhaps the oldest text of all is that among the very early miscellaneous
additions to Paris BNF lat. 4629, at fols 55
–56, a probably Bourges copy
of a ?Court collection of laws and capitularies, with some ‘school’ material,
written not long after 805: Mordek, BCRFM, pp. 502–6; Bullough,
‘Charlemagne’s Court-library re-visited’ (forthcoming). But almost as early
must be the text in a Rheims book of the ?820s (possibly even a little ear-
lier), BAV Vat. Reg. lat. 2078, ‘one of the most significant collections of
Carolingian poetry’ in association with older verse, at fol. 122, where it
follows the unique copy of King Pippin of Italy’s epitaph; a recent suggestion
(Turcan-Verkerk in RHT. 29 [1999]) that the conjunction may be due to
Angilbert seems unnecessary.
Certainly not much later in date are the possibly-related copies in BNF
lat. 2826 fol. 141
of s. ix 1–2/4 (although the epitaph appears to be a
slightly later addition on the previously blank last page of a quire) and BNF
lat. 2328 fol. 96
, of s. ix 2/4, both written at unidentified scriptoria south
of the Loire (S. Burgundy? so Bischoff in 1975) and subsequently at St.-
Martial, Limoges; and BNF nouv. acq. lat. 1613 fol. 18
. The second and
third of these are very miscellaneous manuscripts: ‘mit allerlei Unregelmässig-
keiten, wie man sie besonders in jungen Abteien bzw. Scriptorien antrifft,
wo man sich möglichst rasch die notwendigsten Bücher beschaffen musste’
says Bonifatius Fischer (‘Bibeltext u. Bibelreform’ [1965], Lat. Handschr., 120)
of lat. 2328, which includes a complete text of Alcuin’s De virtutibus et vitiis;
BNF lat. 2826 is, however, predominantly ‘theological’. So also, in its com-
plete pre-Libri form as Tours Bib. Mun. 42 (‘perhaps Brittany’, s. ix
Bischoff), was the fourth: see Delisle, Mss. Libri Barrois, 63–68, with 62 f.
and 68 f., and my List. The text of the epitaph in BNF lat. 2832 (s. ix
fol. 121–121
, is one of several Carolingian-period items in Florus of Lyons’s
poetic florilegium. Later manuscripts seem to be predominantly collections
of grammatica, in which Alcuin’s epitaph is evidently included as a model of
its genre: so, e.g., Munich clm. 18628 fol. 93
(?Tegernsee, s. xi in), which
has the title Epitaphium super sepulchrum and has a blank in place of Alchuine
in the penultimate line and Vatican Reg. lat. 1578 pt. i, fol. 26–26
nr. Pyrenees, s. xi
); but for an exception (and for the concluding prose
lines) see n. 63.
For the et lux extension of the prayer in manuscripts beginning with Paris,
BNF lat. 2826, several additions can be made to those reported by Dümmler,
including Cambridge, Trinity Coll. 1434 [O.9.22] fol. 56 [s. xii
, ?N. Fr.],
where the reading of the last line of the epitaph proper, Pro quo funde pre-
ces hunc titulum pia mente legens, suggests a link with BNF lat. 5577.
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The manuscript tradition of ep. no. 140
The oldest manuscript-text of this letter is that in Vienna 795 (S ). It is the
last of three letters, the others being epp. nos 113 and 161, copied from S
into the Baldo of Salzburg book of ca. 836–50—mostly a theological mis-
cellany plus the Gesta Hrodberti—now Graz, Univ.-Bibl. 790 ( Bischoff,
Schreibschulen, 2, 157 [no. 163]; siglum G) at fols 64–72
. But possibly slightly
earlier than the Baldo copy, and certainly independent of S (cf. the appa-
ratus to Dümmler’s edition), is the copy in the western-French (south of
the Loire) Paris BNF lat. 2826 (siglum Li ), fols 139–139
, with which the
eleventh-century English manuscript London BL Royal 6.B viii (R), here
fols 28–28
, is in some way related. Slightly later is a version included in
the Formulae Salisburgenses, Munich clm. 4650 (B) fols 63–63
(‘nach der Mitte
des IX. Jhs. geschrieben’, ‘Entstehung im Raum Salzburg wahrscheinlich’:
Bischoff, Schreibschulen, 2, 201–2, where also the correct ordering of the mis-
bound quires is indicated; the text ed. Zeumer, MGH Formulae, p. 439) with
the substitution of sanctae catholicae et orthodoxae ecclesiae vernula episcopus scilicet
sive abbas aut comis for Alcuin’s name in the address-clause and the omis-
sion of a clause naming Alcuin in the body of the text. Ep. no. 140 occurs
finally as an integral part of the collection in BL Cotton Tiberius A. xv
(A1; below), at fol. 59
(not fol. 9, as Dümmler). Surprisingly, B as well as
A1 share readings with Li and R against S(G)—descending presumably from
the pre-Vienna-795 Tours text of ep. no. 140.
The Tiberius A. xv text simply has the heading Ep[istol]a Albini magistri:
the other words printed by Dümmler seem to be due entirely to Thomas
Gale in his transcript in Cambridge, Trinity Coll., O.10.16. BNF lat. 2826
has the heading Commendaticia ad amicos (not noted in BN Cat.), reflecting
the Classical rather than the typical-medieval use of the word and pro-
viding an interesting link with the language of the Legatine report of 786
(c. 6), MGH Epp. IV, p. 22: absque causa rationabili et literis commendaticiis and
the probably genuinely Alcuinian, and certainly Turonian, Litterae commendaticiae
(al. comendacias) ad amicos as the heading of ep. no. 12, for the presbyter Fordrad,
in manuscripts of both the K and T collections. (Compare MLWB 2, 942–3,
where none of these examples is cited). B has the heading tractura (for trac-
toria), here obviously in the secondary sense of ‘credential-letter enjoining
public officials to render assistance to the bearer’ (cf. Niermeyer, Lexikon,
1035). It is to be noted that Alcuin’s own formulaic language is very much
closer to that of the second of two tractoriae in the Papal Liber Diurnus, ed.
von Sickel nr. 50, ed. Foerster, pp. 107–8 (wrongly cited by Niermeyer under
the primary meaning of ‘diploma issued on behalf of persons travelling at
the expense of the State etc.’), than to the one extant Charlemagne-period
royal tractoria, MGH, DK I, nr. 88 of 774/5, for St.-Denis.
In contrast, one other commendatory letter for circulation, ep. no. 299,
is preserved in a single manuscript, the eleventh-century English Tib. (at
fol. 63). Jaffé and Dümmler assumed, as had the compiler or a copyist of
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that collection, that it was an epistola Albini magistre as abbot of Tours. But
neither the form and language of the address-clause (Familia autem N. iam
vobis etc.) nor the farewell-clause, nor indeed some of the language of the
short text is Alcuinian. Indeed, the opening Rogant omnes unanimiter fratres
nostri cum consilio episcopi sui makes it pretty clear that this is from the cler-
ical community of a cathedral church (Lindisfarne? York itself ?).
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Probably in the late summer or early autumn of 794, before the
Frankish Court took up residence at the new Aachen palace, Alcuin
wrote a letter to ‘the brethren of the church of York’. Its inclusion,
unusually, in both ‘the basic Tours collection’ and in what I believe
to be Alcuin’s ‘personal’ collection ensured its widespread disse-
mination in Francia and England during the next two-and-a-half
centuries, although it had no overt didactic or political content.
Successively, its author recalled his early life among the brethren,
assured them that they come first in his prayers wherever he might
be in the iter instabilitatis which was currently taking him to various
‘holy places of the martyrs and confessors of Christ’, and asked for
their prayers in return.
I will be yours whether in life or death. Perhaps God will pity me, so
that he whom you raised in childhood you will bury in old age. And
if another place is assigned to my body yet—wherever that is to be—
I believe that my soul will through your prayers be granted rest (requies
donabitur) together with you.
These were no mere literary clichés. The last sentence in the quo-
tation is one of several in the letter which adopts the language of
contemporary funerary liturgy; prayer in any of its forms was seen
as a more powerful bond than letter-writing, since it linked men and
women not only with one another on earth but with those now and
in the future sharing the joys of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Ep. no. 42 (p. 86); transl. S. Allott, Alcuin of York: his Life and Letters (York, 1974),
no. 1. For the dating proposed in the text, rather than ‘ca. 795’ (Dümmler) or
‘autumn/winter, 795–6’ (Bullough, ‘Burial, Community and Belief ’ [next note],
p. 177), see ch. 4.
Bullough, ‘Burial, community and belief in the early medieval West’ in: P. Wormald
et al. (ed.), Ideal and Reality, pp. 177–201, at pp. 177–8 and esp. n. 2; other refs.
below. For requies ‘rest, place of rest’, i.e. usually of the soul but also of the body,
in other liturgical prayers and in the Fathers, see conveniently J. Ntedika, L’Évocation
de l’au-delà par la Prière pour les Morts (Louvain-Paris, 1971), pp. 200–13, with addi-
tional bibliography. Alcuin seems not to use the common Patristic refrigerium (ibid.,
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128 cn.r+rn oxr
In other letters addressed to York clergy in the autumn of 794
(or, less probably, the autumn of 795), Alcuin insists on his desire
and intention to be again among them, as soon as the king returns
from Saxony and gives his approval—and he himself recovers from
illness. Two years later, congratulating his former pupil Eanbald on
his election to the archbishopric he speaks of ‘all my sons, brothers
and friends: both those who are with me in peregrinatione and those
who have gone back to you in the homeland’.
Only the love and
longing for that Eternal Kingdom which he was yet to enter sur-
passed his devotion to the provintia Northanhumbrorum
from which he
had been absent for varying periods since 779/80. This was his patria
except when, momentarily, he saw it more narrowly as York itself,
as in the letter-poem addressed ‘to the hallowed youth of York’,
‘Now has the cuckoo sung in the lofty branches . . .’.
There is no claim in the letters that Alcuin had a prophetic des-
tiny to fulfil in the Carolingian realm; but he feels obliged to con-
clude the longest of them with the first shrill rebuttal of the accusation
that Francia’s attraction for him was material gain (auri avaritia) and
an insistence that, on the contrary, he was there for the sake of the
church and the strengthening of the catholic faith.
At least in one
of his recurrent moods, peregrinatio was to Alcuin not, as it had been
for the Irish since Columba and Columbanus, a voluntary and per-
manent abandonment of kindred and country in the search for God:
rather it was exile in a foreign land, for whatever good reasons, from
which return to the land of one’s birth might always be hoped for.
pp. 193–200), although the term persisted in liturgical prayers, including the Vatican
(‘Old’) Gelasian sacramentary, ed. Wilson, pp. 297, 298, 310, 311, ed. Mohlberg
nos 1617, 1621, 1681, 1684, etc., and occurs occasionally in prayers in the English
prayer-books, as e.g. Kuypers, Book of Cerne, p. 215 (from BL Royal 2. A. xx fol. 34),
transl. Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature, p. 254.
Epp. nos 43, 44, 114. For the dating and context of the first two letters (together
with ep. no. 42), see below, ch. 4.
Previously in Bede, HE Praef. and passim (but Nordanhymborum regiones in HE III
16, etc.); compare the Frankish King Pippin’s Capitulare Aquitanicum of 768 (ed.
Boretius, MGH Capit. I, no. 18): si de alia provincia advenerit, secundum legem ipsius patriae vivat.
Carm. lix, MGH Poet. I, p. 273, S.-K. no. 10727, discussed below, ch. 3.
Ep. no. 43 (p. 89).
Peregrinatio as exile from Northumbria: epp. nos 7 (p. 31), 101 (p. 147), 114
(p. 169), etc.; as exile ‘in the world’ (from the Heavenly home), epp. nos 216 (p. 360),
303 (p. 462) and Alcuin’s Expositio in psalmos graduales ad Ps. cxix, PL 100, col. 620D
(for the latter and for the Psalter quotation in ep. no. 216, see below). But in epp.
nos 8 (p. 34) and 13 (p. 39) peregrinatio evidently means—despite Dümmler—‘absence
in England, severance from friends’.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 129
This emotional tie, which he found so difficult to loosen, was not
the least of Alcuin’s debts to his Northumbrian origins and his many
years at York.
The Eighth-century Regnum Northanhumbrorum
When he wrote those letters, Alcuin was a man in his mid-fifties.
The Northumbrian kingdom into which he had been born ca. 740
was, measured against the contemporary regna of the Franks and the
Lombards, modest in size and limited in resources. Yet it was for a
time the largest of the English kingdoms, although less densely set-
tled than its comparable-sized southern neighbour Mercia.
it had originated a century-and-a-half earlier in the union of two
separate kingdoms, a northern one (Bernicia) which had expanded
from the lower Tyne valley and from Bamburgh and a southern one
(Deira) whose nucleus was on the road- and river-routes north from
the Humber: to which previously British lands to the south-west,
west and north were subsequently annexed by conquest or cession.
In the middle decades of the eighth century its southern frontier was
the ‘historic’ one of the river Humber, with perhaps a toe-hold on
its right bank in Lindsey, and westwards along the rivers Don and
Sheaf; thence, from the vicinity of Dore, along an only approxi-
mately definable land-boundary through the Peak; and finally to the
Irish Sea, at this period probably along the line of the river Mersey
rather than the more northerly Ribble.
Northwards, the kingdom
Several accounts of Northumbria’s ‘political’ history in the eighth century have
been published in recent years. The interpretation of the annalistic sources and rel-
evant Alcuin letters in D.P. Kirby, The Earliest English Kings (London, 1991), ch. V
(pp. 142–62) is probably closest to my own (for the death of Oswulf and succes-
sion of Æthelwald). A substantial and skilful synthesis of archaeology and texts,
unfortunately only for the region north of Morecambe Bay and River Tees to the
Solway and the Tweed (Bernicia without south-east Scotland, plus Cumbria), is
N. Higham, The Northern Counties to A.D. 1000 (London, 1986), pp. 256–307; for
Cumbria additionally D. O’Sullivan, ‘Cumbria before the Vikings’, The Scandinavians
in Cumbria, ed. J.R. Baldwin and I.D. Whyte (Edinburgh, 1985), pp. 17–35. A com-
parable treatment of Deira (Yorkshire) is lacking but—for the south-west only—see
M.L. Faull in West Yorkshire: an Archaeological Survey to A.D. 1500, ed. M.L. Faull and
S.A. Moorhouse (3 vols. + Map-vol.; Wakefield, 1981), esp. 1, 156–63, 171–86.
For Lindsey, see n. 11. For the boundary on the Sheaf and Don see Faull,
West Yorkshire, pp. 171, 179 and Map 11; for possible frontier-defences ‘shadowing
the Don’, and others further west between the Mersey and Medlock rivers, see N.J.
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130 cn.r+rn oxr
still extended apparently to the lower Forth in the east, where the
Bass Rock, inhabited only by sea-birds and an anchorite famed in
York—Balthere, ‘Baldred of the Bass’—provided a saintly guard-post.
The land-frontier that ran thence south-south-west, the presumptive
western boundary of the diocese of Lindisfarne, is defined specula-
tively by watersheds and other natural features; and its south-west-
ern end, taking in the Whithorn peninsula and the river-basins which
feed the Solway estuary and for a time after 750 former British lands
further north also, is hardly better documented.
Before 679 Lindsey, south of the Humber, had been subject to
Northumbria; and in 767, perhaps as a consequence of recent polit-
ical upheavals in the region, its Bishop Ceolwulf was consecrated in
the northern kingdom. By the last quarter of the century, however,
‘kingdom’ and diocese, with a see-church at the unlocated and unex-
plained civitas Syddensis, were unquestionably in the Mercian sphere
of influence.
Not later than the early part of the ninth century
Higham, The Kingdom of Northumbria 350–1000 (London, 1993), pp. 142–3 (very spec-
ulative, with no real evidence for an early date). P. Hunter Blair, ‘The Northumbrians
and their southern frontier’, Archaeologia Aeliana, ser. 4, 26 (1948), 98–126 (repr. idem,
Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, Variorum Reprints, 1984) summarises the evidence for the
frontier from Dore to the Irish Sea; cf. Higham, cit.
Balthere: Alcuin’s ‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1319–82 and the ‘Northumbrian
(?York) Annals’ in HR ed. Arnold, 2, 41; with my comments in ‘Hagiography as
Patriotism: Alcuin’s “York Poem” and the early Northumbrian vitae sanctorum,
Hagiographie, Cultures et Sociétés: IV
Siècles, Études Augustiniennes (Paris, 1981),
pp. 349 and 352–4. For the frontier through the later ‘Scottish Borders’, see G.W.S.
Barrow, ‘The Anglo-Scottish border’, Northern History, 1 (1966), esp. 24, 30–1 and
the map on 22; for speculations about Northumbrian occupation of the region west
of the river Annan, see latterly D. Maclean, ‘The date of the Ruthwell Cross’, The
Ruthwell Cross, ed. B. Cassidy (Princeton, 1992), pp. 54–70, and P. Meyvaert, ‘A
new perspective on the Ruthwell Cross: Ecclesia and Vita Monastica’, ibid., pp. 147–64.
Cont. Bedae, s.a. 750 (ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 574) records that King Eadberht
campum Cyil (Kyle) cum aliis regionibus suo regno addidit, cf. ‘York poem’ ed. Godman,
line 1275. But only six years later, while returning home after a British ‘submis-
sion’ at Dumbarton, his army was almost totally destroyed: so the ‘Annals’, in HR
ed. Arnold, 2, 41 (the reported eclipse of the moon being on the preceding 23
November), the episode is not recorded in Cont. Bedae (compare, however, s.a. 761,
ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 576) and ignored by Alcuin.
HR ed. Arnold, 2, 43; the witness-lists of the charters Sawyer nos 109 (prob-
ably to be re-dated to 777), 114, 116, 123 etc. and of the councils MGH Epp. IV,
p. 28 (an. 786) and Birch, CS. no. 312 (an. 803); more ambiguously by Offa’s gen-
erosity to Bardney monastery as recorded by Alcuin in his ‘York poem’. For the
interpretation of these texts, compare Kirby, Earliest English Kings, p. 163 (also
p. 126); S. Bassett, ‘Lincoln and the Anglo-Saxon see of Lindsey’, ASE 18 (1989),
1–32; P. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Lincolnshire (Lincoln, 1998), pp. 49, 78–80, 87–8 (reject-
ing a location at Lincoln-Wigford). The recently re-discovered titulus ‘in absida basil-
ice’ of its Bishop Cyneberht (ob. 731), composed by Bede (!) (ed. D. Schaller in
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 131
Northumbria seemingly abandoned its recent conquests in the far
north-west (Kyle and Carrick), while retaining control of the north
shore of the Solway; and the region between the Lammermuir Hills
and Tyninghame and the River Tweed, in which the ‘community
of St. Cuthbert’ had and was able to retain extensive land-holdings,
remained Northumbrian for many years more, despite mounting
pressure from the Scoto-Pictish kingdom.
These fluctuating boundaries embraced widely different physical
environments and opportunities for economic exploitation, which
except in parts of south Yorkshire were almost universally less
favourable than those of the southern English kingdoms. The con-
trast within the province was at its sharpest between the readily cul-
tivatable lands near the Humber estuary or in the Vale of York and
the inhospitable high Pennines and Lammermuirs. Particularly north
of the Tyne and in the west, the establishment of new settlements—
farmsteads or hamlets rather then the villages that already predom-
inated in midland and southern England—and the provision of
facilities for worship during the late seventh and eighth centuries
were laborious and painful tasks in which both lay individuals and
religious communities played a part.
Even in geologically and cli-
matically more-favoured areas, pastoralism (stock-raising) seems to
have figured prominently in the local economy, although not to the
Mittellat. Jahrb. 12 (1977), 19–20 (= Schaller, Studien zur Lateinischen Dichtung, pp.
194–5) and M. Lapidge, Bede the Poet, Jarrow Lecture 1993, p. 2) unhelpfully says
only that the bishop Hac et in urbe sibi seseque sequentibus almam/Fecit presulibus sedem.
The supposed presence of King Aldfrith of Lindsey among the witnesses to a Mercian
charter of 772 × 787? (or later?), Sawyer no. 1183, is almost certainly mistaken:
Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Lincolnshire, p. 49; S. Keynes (forthcoming). Note that the Mercian
charters Sawyer nos 110 and 111, which would provide earlier evidence for Bishop
Ceolwulf, must be regarded as tenth-century falsifications—although the witness-lists
could be genuine—following Wormald, ‘Bede, Bretwaldas . . .’, Ideal and Reality, pp.
110–11 (where also comments on the variant texts of S 109).
When the Papal legates reached ?York in 786, King Ælfwald longe in borealibus
commorabatur (MGH Epp. IV, p. 20), although defending the frontier is only one of
several possible reasons for this. For ‘St. Cuthbert’s lands’ see especially C. Morris,
‘Northumbria and the Viking settlement: the evidence for landholding’, Archaeologia
Aeliana 5th ser., 5 (1977), 81–104; also Higham, Northern Counties, p. 311 and the
map on p. 288.
H. Mayr-Harting, The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England ed. 3 (London,
1991), pp. 244–7, 254; S. Foot, ‘Parochial ministry in early Anglo-Saxon England:
the role of monastic communities’, SCH 26 (1989), 43–54; J. Blair and R. Sharpe
(ed.), Pastoral Care before the Parish, Studies in the Early History of Britain (Leicester,
1992), esp. the contributions by A.T. Thacker and C. Cubitt, at pp. 137–70, 191–211.
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132 cn.r+rn oxr
exclusion of arable agriculture. A miracle of Cuthbert’s youth is asso-
ciated with spring and summer sheep-pastures on the bank of the
river Wear close to Chester-le-Street, and the ‘enormous number of
sheep-skins’ required for the Codex Amiatinus and its companion ‘great
Bibles’ has become a commonplace; Stephanus’s Life of Wilfrid locates
the contentious council of ?703 in campo qui dicitur Oustraefelda (Austerfield,
W. Yorks), a place-name the first element of which is OE eowestre
‘sheep-fold’, and more specifically Aet Suinapaeth[a]e (‘swine-path’);
while (h)ara: cubile porcorum ‘pig-sty’ is among the items in Alcuin’s
De orthographia which was not simply taken over from Bede. But live-
stock were clearly not the only occupants or products of the exten-
sive ‘family lands’ with which St. Peter’s monastery at Wearmouth
was endowed and which presumably supported York’s cathedral.
The apparent continuities between pre-English territorial divisions
and the dimly-perceivable administrative structures of the kingdom
in the seventh and eighth centuries were surely as much a reflection
of persistent environmental and economic patterns as the result of
deliberate ‘planning’ by a new dominant class; and if ‘central places’
were inevitably fewer in the kingdom’s sparsely-populated regions,
they were not necessarily less important for local economic exchange
or as places of assembly.
Even the organisational arrangements of the Northumbrian church,
which are often seen as making for unity, not least by Alcuin him-
self, served in some ways to perpetuate the old major divide while
strengthening the predominance of southern Deira. The whole area
from the Forth to (probably) the Tyne with, for a time, an exten-
sion south of the Solway into present-day Cumbria (ostensibly definable
from surviving ‘Anglian’ sculptured stones) constituted the diocese of
Lindisfarne, universally associated with St. Cuthbert (ob. 687) rather
than with its founder Aidan. Its bishop for the forty years 740–80
was Cynewulf, whose family connections and background are unknown;
yet in 750 King Eadberht ‘took him prisoner at Bamburgh’ and
besieged the monastic church, apparently because of the bishop’s
See the anonymous Lindisfarne Vita S. Cuthb. I 6 (ed. Colgrave, p. 70) and Bede,
Vita S. Cuthb.( pr.). c. 5 (ed. Colgrave, p. 170), the latter identifying the former’s
habitacula vernalia et aestualia as pastorum tuguria quae aestate infirmiter posita tunc iam deserta
patebant; The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus, ed. and transl. B. Colgrave (Cam-
bridge, 1927), c. 46 (p. 92). (H)ara etc. is De orthographia, ed. Keil, Gloss. Lat. 7, 297,
ed. Bruni, p. 6 no. 30: the textual source is Cassiodorus, De orthographia, ed. Keil,
Gloss. Lat. 7, 209. For the cathedral’s estates, compare below, p. 150 and n. 70.
Below, pp. 149–50.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 133
support, or believed support, for an attempt to re-establish a different
and ‘older’ royal line, that of Oswiu; and he resigned his see four years
before his death.
Shortly before the completion of Bede’s Historia
Ecclesiastica (c. 731), however, a bishopric north of the Solway had
been (re-)established at ‘Candida Casa’, angl. Whithorn, and survived
until the middle of the next century. South from the boundary with
Lindisfarne to the river Tees was the diocese of Hexham, based on
the church of St. Andrew, founded as a monastery by Wilfrid while
he was still bishop of York; the language of Alcuin’s one extant let-
ter (?795/6) to Bishop Æthelberht and ‘the congregation in the church
of St. Andrew’ suggests that he was uncertain whether the community
was or was not still a monastic one. Like Whithorn, the diocese was
doomed to disappear in the course of the ninth century.
The rest
of the kingdom, from the North Sea to the Irish Sea and covering
more than one-and-three-quarter million hectares, came within the
diocese of York. Of the four northern sees, only the last-named was
in a one-time Roman ‘city’. In 735 it became, as had been intended
from the time of the first Roman mission, the undisputed metro-
politan see of the Northumbrian church.
A striking section of Alcuin’s
Some scholars would put the south-eastern diocesan boundary further north,
to leave Rothbury etc. in the diocese of Hexham: see, e.g., the excellent map in
J. Campbell (ed.), The Anglo-Saxons (London, 1982, repr. 1991), fig. 72 (p. 71). For
Bishop Cynewulf, see the ‘Northumbrian Annals’ in HR ed. Arnold, 2, 32, 39, 47
and 50. The Annalist’s summary account of Eadberht’s attack (the annalistic
‘Continuation of Bede’ has nothing on this) links it with the surrender there of Offa
filius Aldfridi, the latter being identified with the Northumbrian king who died 704
or 705 (Kirby, Earliest English Kings, pp. 143–6, 150), although there are obvious
chronological difficulties.
Whithorn: Bede, HE III 4 and V 23; and note that when Alcuin wrote to the
‘brethren serving Candida Casa’, ep. no. 273, he took it for granted (following Bede?)
that the church housed ‘the body of [their] holy father Nyniga’, cf. Meyvaert ‘A
new perspective’ (n. 10). P. Hill, Whithorn and St Ninian: the Excavation of a Monastic
Town, 1984–91 (Stroud, 1997), pp. 40–8, 134–82 describes—not without a sub-
stantial element of speculation—the structural history of the (wood-construction)
cathedral-church and its associated structures c. 730–845, as revealed by excava-
tion. Hexham: Mayr-Harting, Coming of Christianity, pp. 156–9, 140–1; for its bound-
aries see last note. For the ambiguity of ep. no. 31, see my remarks in ASE 22
(1993), p. 99 n. 21; but if pseudo-Symeon’s corpus vero eximii regis (sc. Ælfwoldi ) ad
Hehstealdesige cum magnis monachorum cuneis et clericorum cantilenis perlatum est for burial
in St. Andrew’s in 788 (HR ed. Arnold, 2, 52) preserves the language of the con-
temporary ‘Northumbrian Annals’, the cathedral was either served by monks or
else (like contemporary Salzburg) by both a monastic and a clerical ‘congregation’.
The last known bishop of Hexham was Tidfeth, 813–21.
‘Northumbrian Annals’, HR, ed. Arnold, 2, 31; Cont. Bedae, ed. Colgrave and
Mynors, p. 572, where it is also recorded that the new archbishop ordained bish-
ops of Hexham and Whithorn.
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134 cn.r+rn oxr
‘York poem’ (below) asserts that when Egberht was bishop and arch-
bishop (732–66) and his brother Eadberht king (737–58)—both ‘raised
in wordly magnificence’—they ‘were happy times for our people’.
Then ‘king and bishop ruled in full concord’, ‘the bishop with author-
ity over the church, the king responsible for the affairs of the king-
dom (negotia regni )’; ‘the one was pious, the other strong; the king
was energetic, the bishop kindly, each of them in turn working for
a true peace, two brothers happy to help one another’.
There is
something here of the universal nostalgia for a supposedly more sta-
ble world in the recent past, in the days of one’s childhood or just
before. But even if it was in truth no ‘Golden Age’ (Bede’s or any-
one else’s) at least it was a Silver Age compared with what followed,
when kings were ousted, exiled, replaced, restored, murdered.
The persistence and violent expression of conflicting dynastic claims
to the throne ensured that regional polarisation would continue to
be a major factor in the politics of the larger kingdom, even beyond
Alcuin’s lifetime. The ‘Northumbrian province’ constituted a politi-
cal entity, a united regnum, only to the extent that an individual king
or dynasty could make it so. As the contemporary reges and maiores
of Francia were discovering, or had long been aware, the exercise
of superior authority depended not so much on administrative struc-
tures (with or without a ‘capital’) or even, at this time, on some the-
oretical notion of imperium articulated by churchmen. It rested rather
on the possession or control of lands and men, particularly those
who constituted the highest social stratum (‘order’), the kingdom’s
principes or optimates,
and on an ability to restrain the members of
this tiny but potentially powerful élite from winning too much con-
‘York Poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1273–87. For Alcuin’s possible debt here to
the Irish De XII abusivis <saeculi>, see below, ch. 2. Prof. Godman translates Cuius
[sc. Ecgbercti ] frater item Tyrio nutritus in ostro (l.1273) as ‘his brother, likewise born in
the purple’, i.e. the familiar metaphor for ‘of royal birth’ or, more strictly, ‘born
to a monarch’. But nutritus is not natus, and Tyrio ostro has no connotations of roy-
alty either when Alcuin uses the same phrase, of worldly garments, in his own epi-
taph (carm. xciii, ed. Dümmler, MGH Poet. I, p. 343; ed. Wallach, Alcuin and Charlemagne,
pp. 256–7, line 13; also carm. ix, line 103, ed. Dümmler, 1, 231 [after Aen. I, 700])
or in the epitaph of Wilfrid of York and Hexham as recorded by Bede (HE V 19:
line 5) of the decoration of a church, nor indeed in Virgil, Georg. iii. 17, which is
the ultimate source. Germanae in l. 1283 is an attribute of pacis, and the translation
‘both lived in peace together as kinsmen should’ is hardly what Alcuin is trying to
See the texts cited in nn. 36, 37; and compare BCS. no. 430, Sawyer no. 192,
for the Merciorum optimates who in the king’s presence gave judgement in favour of
the bishop of Worcester in 840.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 135
trol over lesser landowners, monasteries and churches. The almost
total disappearance of both royal and private charter evidence, other
than in quotation in literary sources,
and the lack of an early law-
code, make attempts to reconstruct the political shifts and the fam-
ily and territorial nexuses that underlay them in eighth-century
Northumbria a questionable, perhaps ultimately fruitless, undertak-
ing. Sections of Archbishop Egberht of York’s Succinctus dialogus eccle-
siasticae institutionis, surprisingly neglected by historians of the kingdom,
and penitential texts of northern English origin partly compensate,
however, for the absence of secular laws.
Like the ‘Dialogue’,
Northumbrian hagiographic texts of the early part of the century
and Alcuin’s letters in the 790s provide at least useful pointers to
and an acceptable terminology for the basic social structure; and
they help to make sense of some of the other evidence.
Northumbrian Society
Even with the glimpses provided by the Lives and by Bede’s Ecclesiastical
History we know little about the majority of the population—the
rustici, free and unfree, subject to a lord or lordless, who cultivated
the arable or raised livestock from scattered farmsteads and modest
The only independently-preserved early Northumbrian ‘charter’ is King Ecgfrith’s
supposed grant to Cuthbert in 685 (Sawyer no. 66) which is at best a factitious later
document incorporating some elements of genuine tradition; for the interpretation
of the indirect evidence, see below.
Dialogus: ed. Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 403–13, from the only complete
text in London, BL Cotton Vitellius A. xii (s. xi/xii; Salisbury); for its content, see
the all-too-brief remarks of D. Whitelock, EHD.
, p. 367 (noting that it uses ‘the
same Latin terms for hide as do [non-Northumbrian] Latin charters’) and Mayr-
Harting, Coming of Christianity, pp. 251–2, 259–60, with my comments, below.
Penitentials: the ‘Northumbrian Disciple’s’ (Discipulus Umbrensium) version of Archbishop
Theodore’s reported penitential practices or decisions, ed. P.W. Finsterwalder, Die
Canones Theodori Cantuariensis und ihre Überlieferungsformen (Weimar, 1929), pp. 287–311
( prefatio and Liber Primus only), on which see now T. Charles-Edwards, ‘The Penitential
of Theodore and the “Iudicia Theodori”’, in: M. Lapidge ed., Archbishop Theodore
(Cambridge, 1995), pp. 141–74; and its associated canon-law Liber Secundus (ed.
Finsterwalder, pp. 311–33). But how much of the Paenitentialis Liber ad remedium ani-
marum Ecgberhti archiepiscopus Eburacae civitatis, most conveniently available in Haddan
and Stubbs, Councils, 3, pp. 416–31 (a composite text, according to modern com-
mentators, although based substantially on Vienna, Nat.bibl. cod. lat. 2223 [Main
region, s. ix in or viii/ix], fols 77–87
), is genuinely Egbert’s or even English is very
debatable. The penitential or penitentials attributed to Bede must certainly be
regarded as later, Continental, compilations.
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136 cn.r+rn oxr
Archaeology has uncovered a few of their settlement-sites,
including ones that flourished in Bede’s and Alcuin’s lifetimes and
were later abandoned after a period of occupation that could extend
over many centuries or only a few decades; while their pre-700
burial-places, notably more numerous in the southern, Deiran, region
than in Bernicia, figure in every account and index of ‘Anglo-Saxon
By the early decades of the eighth century an alternative
final resting-place for some country-dwellers was provided by the
proliferating monasteria (at that time the Church’s main pastoral centres
in England), only gradually superseded by village churchyards.
For the use and significance of rusticus in early-medieval texts, see Wort und
Begriff “Bauer”, ed. R. Wenskus, H. Jankuhn, K. Grinda (Abhandl. Akad. Wissensch.
Göttingen, Phil.-Hist. Kl.
89; 1975), esp. pp. 231–40 (Köbler). H. Schabram’s asser-
tion (ibid. p. 80) that the word is ‘selten belegt’ in pre-1066 English texts is sim-
ply because his closely-argued examination of the terms gebur and ceorl depends
almost entirely on glossarial evidence. For the legally ‘unfree’, servi, on ecclesiasti-
cal and other estates, cf. below.
Rosemary Cramp, ‘Northumbria: the archaeological evidence’, in: S.T. Driscoll,
M.R. Nieke ed., Power and Politics in Early Medieval Britain and Ireland (Edinburgh,
1988), pp. 69–78, neatly summarises the cemeterial and excavated settlement evi-
dence to c. 1987, with two good maps: but for a fuller treatment of some aspects,
see Higham, Northern Counties cit.; and for a more detailed and excellent map of the
south-east (East Yorkshire with North Humberside), see Susan M. Hirst, An Anglo-
Saxon Inhumation Cemetery at Sewerby, East Yorkshire (York Univ. Archaeological Publications
4; 1985), p. 2. Settlements identified and explored, either by excavation or field-
walking, include: Wharram Percy, comprehensively reviewed by M.W. Beresford
and J. Hurst, Wharram Percy: Deserted Medieval Village (London, 1990), for an eighth-
century ‘zone’ esp. pp. 73 (map; fig. 54), 82–4, with the suggestion that it may then
have been a ‘small family monastic site’; the site on the S. Yorkshire Wolds in the
parish of Cottam and Cowlam (‘the exact location being witheld as a contribution
to its protection’!) occupied from the ?early eighth century to the later ninth and
remarkable for the number of strap-ends and knife-blades found (evidence of stock-
raising?), reported by D.N. Haldensby in YAJ. 62 [1990]), 51–63, 64 (1992), 25–39;
D. O’Sullivan and R. Young, ‘The early medieval settlement at Green Shiel,
Northumberland’, Archeologia Aeliana 5th ser., 19 (1991), 55–69 (coastal; ninth-cen-
tury, some coins found). Also R. Daniels, ‘The Anglo-Saxon monastery at Church
Close, Hartlepool, Cleveland’, Archaeological Journal, 145 (1988), 158–210, a site which
‘petered out’ by s. viii ex: the evidence of substantial animal remains (ibid. pp.
197–9) and the assertion (ibid. p. 208) that ‘flocks of sheep and herds of cattle were
driven into the settlement from outlying estates and there butchered’ are not eas-
ily reconcilable with the excavator’s ‘monastic’ interpretation.
Refs. as n. 13, with S. Foot, ‘Anglo-Saxon minsters: a review of terminology’,
Pastoral Care before the Parish, pp. 212–25 (but for a cautionary note, see ASE 22
(1993), 101 and n. 28; also Cubitt, Pastoral Care, pp. 204–10); Bullough, ‘Burial,
community and belief ’, Ideal and Reality esp. pp. 192–4, 196–9. For a lay-persons’
burial ground at Wearmouth (two phases—the first of them pre-monastic?), see R.J.
Cramp, ‘Monastic sites’, The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. D.M. Wilson
(London, 1976), pp. 201–52, here pp. 230–1; for Jarrow (more doubtful), ibid.
p. 236.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 137
earlier burials with so-called ‘grave-goods’ tell us disappointingly lit-
tle about the dead person’s former life in the world and nothing
directly about their relations with superiors or inferiors. The pres-
ence of a weapon, even the simple spear, is arguably an indication
of ‘freedom’: Theodore of Canterbury, in his rulings on penance, had
had to recognise that a layman who had killed odii meditatione might
refuse to surrender his weapons.
Beyond that, archaeologists and
historians are unable to agree how far and in what ways these graves
reflect the distinctions of rank and personal wealth for which there
is early, if not necessarily contemporary, textual evidence.
The Prologue of the Penitential circulating under the name of
Egberht of York insists that account should be taken of whether a
sinner is rich or poor, and of his or her condition in life, beginning
with ‘free, slave, infant, child’ and ending with ‘infirm, healthy’; and
the second, canon-law, book of the ‘Northumbrian Disciple’s’ version
of Theodore’s Penitential shows an awareness both of the problems
of the slave class and the needs of the poor.
The reality and con-
straints of rural poverty were familiar even to those ‘out of the world’.
One implication of Bede’s story of Imma, a iuvenis and minister regis
trying to conceal his true status, is that a young ‘rustic’ could be
both pauper (landless?) and married. Writing to a probably Mercian
optimas at the beginning of the ninth century, Alcuin both commends
his virtuous qualities and exhorts him to show concern for ‘the poor
who are usually standing at the door of your banqueting-hall’. Extreme
indigence is reflected in other eighth/ninth century Northumbrian
texts, including Æthelwulf ’s poem De Abbatibus; and although the
direct evidence for families selling themselves or their children into
slavery is later, Theodore had already tried to establish an ‘age of
‘Northumbrian Disciple’s’ version, I. iv 4, ed. Finsterwalder, p. 294. Unsurprisingly,
the spear is also a function of age if a cemetery in which it was deposited ‘only [with]
children over twelve’ (Holywell Row, cited Hirst, Cemetery at Sewerby, p. 97) is typical.
Representative examples are L. Alcock, ‘Quantity or quality: the Anglian graves
of Bernicia’ in: Angles, Saxons and Jutes, ed. V.I. Evison (Oxford, 1981), pp. 168–86,
re-pr. with Postscript in Alcock, Economy, Society and Warfare among the Britons and
Saxons (Cardiff, 1987), pp. 255–66; R. Miket, ‘A re-statement of evidence for Berni-
cian Anglo-Saxon burials’, Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries, 1979, ed. P. Rahtz, T. Dickinson,
L. Watts (BAR BS 82; Oxford, 1980), pp. 289–305; E. Pader, ‘Material symbolism
and social relations in mortuary studies’, idem, pp. 143–59; and the very judicious
and clear account of Hirst, Cemetery at Sewerby, pp. 96–102.
‘Egbert’, Paenitentiale, prol., ed. Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 416–7; Canones
Theodori ed. Finsterwalder, pp. 331–2 (II. xiii, xiv). For the problems of authorship
and date of the first of these, see below.
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Whatever their incidental qualities as transmitters of ‘folk-
wisdom’ and secular song,
the ordinary inhabitants of the countryside
and their behaviour exemplify roughness, illiteracy, ignorance and
superstition: they jeer at monks in trouble on the river Tyne, who
(they say accusingly) ‘despise the common human laws’ and have
destroyed old ways of worship without putting anything certain in
their place; if penitentials are to be believed, the sin of bestiality is
among their occupational hazards; admitted none the less to a religious
community, they may be unable to overcome the fear of being alone
at night.
The mature Alcuin in his Biblical exegesis was to display
a superior attitude towards those whose mind variis fuerit exagitata ter-
roribus sive incitata promissis while they were sleeping; he was equally
graphic and contemptuous in his letters about rustici mores in general.
Egberht’s Dialogus reiterates the centuries-old law of the Church
that personal unfreedom or ‘servile status’, which could be imposed
as a secular punishment as well as inherited, constitutes (like une-
mended homicide) an absolute bar to ordination.
Alcuin in his De
orthographia follows Bede (whose source is uncertain) in asserting that
Servitium multitudo est servorum, servitus condicio serviendi, with the added
Bede, HE IV, 22: for Imma’s insistence that he was married, see below; id.
V,4 (a S. Yorkshire ‘gesith’ vovit . . . elimosynas pauperibus daturum); ep. no. 302 (in the
two manuscripts of the ‘personal’ collection); Æthelwulf, De Abbatibus, ed. Campbell,
lines 476–81 (p. 39); Canones Theodori, ed. Finsterwalder, p. 331 (II. xiii 1 and 2).
See also, for ‘urban’ poverty, HE III, 6, where Bede records that King Oswald
even had a minister cui suscipiendorum inopum erat cura deligata; and the inopes in Alcuin’s
‘York poem’, ed. Godman, lines 294 (= Bede, cit.), 1256, 1402.
Isidore, Etym. I xxxvii, 28 (aiunt enim rustici . . .); HE IV 24, ed. Colgrave and
Mynors, pp. 415–7 (the beginning of the Cædmon story: cf. ASE 22 (1993), 106
and n. 44).
Bede, Vita ( pr.) Cuthberti, c. 3, ed. Colgrave, pp. 162–4; for bestiality, see e.g.
Canones Theodori ed. Finsterwalder, p. 290, and my comment in JEH. 46 (1995),
318. ‘Night fears’ are illustrated by the anecdote, which must have originated with
Alcuin himself, in Vita Alcuini, c. 2, ed. Arndt, p. 185; and by Lupus of Ferrières’s
reference to novicius cursor noster who propter timores nocturnos solus cubare non potest (a quo-
tation from Jerome’s epist. no. 50) in his epist. no. 70, Correspondance, ed. L. Levillain,
2 (Paris, 1935), p. 6.
Commenting on Ecl 5.6 Ubi multa sunt somnia etc. (largely following Jerome),
PL 101, col. 689B; for the letters see below.
Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 409–10, resp. xiv (respondeat . . . conditionis servilis
sese non esse obnoxium nec homicidium palam perpetrasse inemendatum neque res alieni iuris sub
se habere dicat), resp. xv (si servilis aut ex origine non est conditionis obnoxius). Compare the
noteworthy decree of the 816 Council of Chelsea that among the measures to be
taken when a bishop dies is omnem hominem Angliscum liberare qui in diebus suis sit servi-
tute subvictus, ut per illud sui proprie laboris fructum retributionis percipere mereatur: Haddan
and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 583.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 139
comment that sed veteres indifferenter servitium pro serviendo posuerunt; in
his exegesis he accepts without censure—of course at second hand—
the condition of slavery, and provides an historical ‘explanation’ and
an etymology, derived in this case from Augustine.
As abbot of St.
Martin’s at Tours he was to take full advantage of agricultural tenant-
dependence. Alcuin never refers specifically to that condition in
his native Northumbrian society; but in a brief and possibly private
letter exhorting the restored king of Northumbria, Æthelred, to a
more virtuous life and stressing the natural qualities of ‘nobility’, he
exploits rhetorically the triad nobilis-liber-servus.
Alcuin, as one might expect, reveals a much greater awareness of
those who possess wealth and influence. A more elaborate letter,
written in the aftermath of the attack on Lindisfarne by ‘pagan folk’,
is addressed to the Northumbrian king et omnibus optimatibus; gifts of
land by optimates in the south of the kingdom are referred to in the
opening chapter of his ‘Life of Willibrord’ (written c. 796/7). Elsewhere
in his correspondence he seems to have avoided using the term. Like
other writers of the period on both sides of the Channel (although not
the contemporary ‘Frankish Royal Annalist’), Alcuin very occasionally
Alcuin, De orth.: ed. Keil, p. 310, ed. Bruni, p. 30 (no. 361); Bede, De orthographia
(with pro servitute for pro serviendo): ed. Jones, CCSL 123A, p. 51, who supposed that
Charisius was his source; but this is questioned by A.C. Dionisotti, ‘On Bede, gram-
mars and Greek’, RevBén 92 (1982), 111–41, at 117–21. Alcuin, Expos. in epist. ad
Titum II, 9–10, PL 100, cols 1021A–B, which is largely dependent on Jerome, Comm.
in iv epistulas Paulinas, PL 26, col. 584; Interr. et resp. in Gen. 273, PL 100, cols 557A–B,
from Augustine, Quaest. in Heptateuchum: Gen. 153, CCSL 33 (ed. J. Fraipont; Turnhout,
1958), p. 59, rather than from De Civitate Dei XIX, 15, CCSL 48 (ed. B. Dombart
and A. Kalb; Turnhout, 1955), p. 682: Alcuin’s concluding words inde et ‘mancipia’
quia [sunt] ‘manu capta’ are not in the latter. That Jerome’s overall view of slavery
was much closer to the critical attitude of the fourth-century Greek Fathers than
to Ambrose and, above all, Augustine, has been pointed out by H. Bellen, Studien
zur Sklavenflucht im römischen Kaiserreich (Forsch. zur antiken Sklaverei, 4; Wiesbaden,
1971), pp. 82 ff., 150–1 and R. Klein, Die Sklaverei in der Sicht der Bischöfe Ambrosius
und Augustinus (Forsch. etc., 20; Wiesbaden, 1988), pp. 196 (where the commentary
In ep. ad Tit. is cited), 200, 217–25. The ‘York poem’, ed. Godman, lines 43 and
45, contrasts the servitii pondus of the Britons under the Picts with their previous liber-
tatem paternam: the editor offers as a parallel to the first of these Iuvencus, Evangelia
(ed. Huemer; 1891), iii.480. See also the 816 conciliar text cited last note.
Non est liber vel nobilis qui peccatis serviet, dicente Domino ‘Omnis qui facit peccatum
servus est peccati’ (Io 8.34; the next sentence is a condemnation of rusticis moribus): ep.
no. 30, Chase, Two Letter-Books, II/5; for its date, see below, ch. 3. A recent account
of early English agricultural ‘slavery’ is R. Faith, The English Peasantry and the Growth
of Lordship (Leicester U.P.; London, 1997), pp. 59–70, with references to other lit-
erature. I find no anticipation in Alcuin’s writings of the later ‘three orders’ of ora-
tores, bellatores, laboratores.
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uses principes and potentes in a similar sense, and once—in 796—seniores
populi. Senatores (terrae) is peculiar to the legatine report of the 786
councils in Northumbria and Mercia.
Among these Northumbrian ‘leading men’, and almost the only
ones in the second half of the century who are named in the sources,
are the patricii and duces. Another of the letters prompted by the
pagan attack in 793 is addressed jointly to the Northumbrian king
and ‘the dearest friends Osbald patricius and Osberht dux’. Osberht
is unrecorded elsewhere, unless he is the Osberct who is eighty-third
in the list of ‘Kings and Dukes’ in the ‘Lindisfarne’ Liber Vitae. Osbald
is comparatively well-documented—first as dux and a murderer of
King Ælfwald’s patricius Bearn in December ?779; then, on the evi-
dence of a later Alcuin letter, for a time a cleric or monk, who sub-
sequently (presumably pre-793) reverted to the secular life; raised to
the kingship in mid-796, only to be quickly forced into exile; finally,
allowed back (as abbot: of a family monastery?) and buried, on his
death in 799, in York cathedral.
It remains uncertain what ver-
nacular terms were current in eighth-century Northumbria for the
two dignities. Most scholars assume that dux represents the OE eal-
dorman, probably rightly: for although the ‘D’ and ‘E’ versions of the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refer to three men slain in 778 (by royal com-
mand) and the two assassins of Beorn ealdorman in 779/780 as (Norþymbra)
heahgerefan, where the corresponding entries in the Latin Annals
Optimates: Alcuin’s ep. no. 16 which immediately precedes no. 30 in both Vesp.
and Tib.; V. Willibrordi c. 1 (ed. Levison, 116; ed. Reischmann, p. 46). He refers to
Frankish optimates (temp. King Dagobert) in his re-writing of the V. Richarii, c. 1 (ed.
Krusch, MGH SSRM IV, p. 390). Earlier in the century, Popes Gregory III and
Zacharias had both used the term in letters to Boniface, and the former also in a
letter to the inhabitants of Thuringia and Hesse: Epist. Selectae, 1, ed. Tangl, nos 45
(p. 72), 80 (p. 176), 43 (p. 68); Hadrian similarly uses it of the leaders of the Saxons
in MGH Epp. III, Cod. Carol. no. 76 (p. 608). Principes etc.: in Alcuin’s epp. nos 9
(quibusdam potentibus), 18 (omnes dilectae gentis principes et diversarum dignitatum [only in
mss. A, S1] nomina (p. 51), cf. principibus populoque . . . gentis in the head-note (lemma)
in manuscripts T and K2 [p. 49]) and 101; MGH Epp. IV, pp. 20–21, 23. For
nomen ‘title implying power’, compare Charles’s Admonitio generalis of 789, MGH Capit.
I, p. 53; for potentes in contemporary Continental usage see, e.g., the letter of c.
772, MGH Epp. IV, p. 496, addressed to Duke Tassilo and all the bishops ac nobilibus
potentibusque Baiuvariorum. Senatores: MGH Epp. IV, p. 27 (Northumbria), 28 (Mercia).
Osberht: ep. no. 18 (cf. last note); Gerchow, Gedenküberlieferung, p. 304 (no. 83).
Osbald: HR, ed. Arnold, 2, 47, 57 (Kirby, Earliest English Kings, p. 155, is surely
unnecessarily cautious); ep. no. 109, written after his exile; HR ed. Arnold, 2, 62;
perhaps also Liber Vitae, ‘nomina abbatum’ [87]Osbald, ed. Gerchow, Gedenküberlieferung,
p. 307.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 141
(pseudo-Symeon, etc.) speak of patricius and duces, that seems to be
the tenth-century terminology. A suggestion that patricius might cor-
respond to the OE æthling has no linguistic or contextual support.
Although Mercian writers may have adopted the term very much
earlier, the first documented Northumbrian patricius is (Æthelwald)
Moll—a future king—in the late 750s.
Subsequent patricii are Bearn
(Beorn); Sicga, who is the first lay signatory to the 786 legatine syn-
odal acta, led a conspiracy to murder King Ælfwald in 788 and was
himself murdered in April 793;
and finally Osbald. If it is accepted
that Alcuin was very quickly aware of Osbald’s succession to the
office in 793 or that the title of dux given to Sicga at the time of
his death indicates his previous demotion, the implication of those
texts is that there was a single patricius —a man who was indeed ‘sec-
ond to the king’, but whose continuing loyalty could never be assumed,
and the loyalty of whose own followers could not be assumed either!
In contrast, there were clearly as many as three (or more) duces
simultaneously in the century’s last decades: the otherwise undocu-
mented victims of the 778 slaying; Ælheard associated with Osbald
in 780; two other men subscribing with that title to the synodal acta
of 786, and subsequently Eardwulf (the later king), the subject of a
bungled execution in 791;
three different ones again, involved in
conspiracies against the monarch and a subsequent revenge-killing,
in the later 790s.
It is a reasonable guess—by analogy with other
regions—that their office-holding (dignitas) was linked with responsi-
bility for the enforcement of services and dues to the monarch and
churches in an extensive portion of the kingdom, centering on one
ASC ‘D’, ‘E’ (= ‘F’) s.a. 778, 779; HR, ed. Arnold, 2, 46 (an. 778), 47 (an. 780);
H.M. Chadwick, Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions (Cambridge, 1905), pp. 184–5,
231–2; Thacker, ‘Terms for Noblemen’, p. 207. The epithet (venerandus) patricius
given to a Wessex Baldred in a possibly genuine letter from Aldhelm to Abbot
Baldred (Aldhelmi Opera, ed. Ehwald, pp. 502–3) is translated ‘atheling’ by M. Herren,
Aldhelm: the Prose Works (1979), p. 170.
In the Papal letter discussed below. A possible predecesssor (as Professor N.P.
Brooks suggested to me) is Berthfrithus, secundus a rege [Osredo] princeps in 705/6
(<Eddius> Stephanus, V. Wilfridi, c. 60: ed. Colgrave, 130), Beorthfriä ealdorman in
ASC ‘E’ s.a. 710 (but Berctfrid praefectus in HE V 24: there is no corresponding annal
in the ‘Northumbrian Annals’ incorporated in HR, ed. Arnold, 2).
MGH Epp. IV, p. 28; HR, ed. Arnold, 2, 52; ASC ‘D’, ‘E’ s.a. 789; HR, ed.
Arnold, 2, 54, where it is also recorded that he was taken to Lindisfarne for bur-
ial two months before the Northmen’s attack.
Below, ch. 3.
Below (where also the possible evidence for yet another Northumbrian dux in
798 is considered).
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or more royal villae or vici; and at the same time for justice and dis-
pute-settlement in that area, hopefully with proper regard for the
circumstances of causa and litigants, and respecting what Alcuin was
to refer to in a letter to another part of England as ‘the decisions
of forefathers’.
It is unlikely, however, that their putative territories
were any more stable than those of their Continental counterparts;
and the authority given to them and its associated material rewards
were matched by the high risks they ran as royal lines rose and fell.
Between 778 and 800 at least two current or former patricii and four
duces were murdered, one ex-dux, ex-patricius was exiled and tonsured,
two other duces had become clerici (surely forcibly) before their deaths
in the mid-nineties, and one fled.
Egberht’s answer to a question about the penalties due when a
layman kills a cleric or monk specifies monetary payments ( precium,
wergeld) to the Church, ranging from 400 to 800 sicli (or argentei ),
the latter for a priest; if a bishop is the victim, he declares—taking
up but adapting a ‘ruling’ of Theodore’s—the compensation should
be determined by consultation in an assembly (secundum [iudicium?]
universalis consilii ). But he adds that if any of these would, by reason
of his parentage, have been entitled to a higher level of compensation
as a layman, that ‘price’ was to be paid; while anyone who lacked
the means of payment was to be turned over to the king for pun-
The natural implication of this unique text is that the
siclus (argenteus) was the ‘shilling’ of four or five silver pennies, and
that in Northumbria as in other parts of England ceorlas had a man-
price of 200 shillings and gesithas (probably) of 1200 shillings. The
assessment of a bishop’s wergeld only after discussion, however, at
The ideal conduct of iudices secularium causarum is offered as a comparison with
that of soul-doctors by the author of the Prologue of ‘Egberht’s’ Penitential, Haddan
and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 416; among Alcuin’s exhortations to the Kentings in 797,
ep. no. 129, is that the nobiles qui sunt in populo . . . populo per iustitiam praesint, amantes
paterna statuta in iudiciis magis quam pecuniam. For the terminology villae regis etc., see
below. Were the places at which the three ‘high reeves’ were murdered in 778,
namely Coniscliffe and an unidentified Helathirnum, administrative centres of that
All recorded in the ‘Northumbrian Annals’ in HR, ed. Arnold, 2, 46–59, 62–3.
Ed. Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 408–9, int./resp. xii. Is aut dignitas natal-
ium vel nobilitas generis making a distinction between parents (habuisse iure parentum)
whose status and wergeld were the result of ‘promotion’ to high office in the king-
dom, and those whose ‘nobility’ went back to an earlier generation or generations?
Royal punishment of those unable to pay would probably typically be ‘penal slav-
ery’, cf. the decree of the 816 Council of Chelsea, cited above, n. 33.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 143
least raises the possibility that laymen who held office under the king
as patricius or dux, as well as members of his family, were similarly
privileged; but what payments (if any) were actually made in these
decades is nowhere reported.
Northumbrian gesithcundmen or gesithas,
from both Deira and Bernicia, figure under the Latin title comes in
the earliest Saints’ Lives and in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Typically,
they are named individuals who are lords of entire vici (one or several)
with dependent ministri and servi and who have the resources and
commitment to found a church for the inhabitants: men such as
Hemma and Sibba who benefitted from Cuthbert of Lindisfarne’s
interventions, or Puch whose wife was healed and Addi whose ser-
vant was healed by Bishop John of York (resigned ?718) in his native
south-east Yorkshire.
As young men, they may well have feasted
and fought—at times, perhaps even from horseback—in the company
of the king or of one of his sons; and as their title of rank suggests,
the bond with their lord and king was not dissolved when, typically
in their mid-twenties, they took a wife and departed from the comitatus.
In reply to a query from me in 1989, Prof. N.P. Brooks said that the only
documentary reference known to him of a payment for property in sicli, which he
also interprets as ‘shillings of account’ (cf. Church of Canterbury, p. 160 and note) is
the authentic Kentish charter of 805, BCS. no. 321, Sawyer no. 161. Wergeld pay-
ments are surely one of the reasons for coining money; they could also be part of
the explanation of the discovery of (relatively) large numbers of coins at, e.g.,
‘Sancton’, i.e., more correctly, South Newbald.
Anon. V. Cuth., IV 3, IV 7, ed. Colgrave, pp. 114, 120; HE V 4, 5; H.R. Loyn,
‘Gesiths and Thegns in Anglo-Saxon England’, EHR 70 (1955), 529–49, here esp.
530–35. For servi, ‘agricultural “slaves”’, cf. above, n. 35.
King Ecgfrith’s brother Ælfwine, apparently sub-king of Deira, was iuvenis circiter
X et VIII annorum when he was killed at the battle of the Trent in 679: HE IV 21;
the Mercian royally-connected Guthlac, led his own comitatus from the age of about
fifteen to twenty-four: Felix’s Life of Guthlac, ed. B. Colgrave (Cambridge, 1956), p. 80
(cc. 16–18). In 679 a iuvenis de militia regis Imma escaped death by pretending to
be a rusticus and married (HE IV 22): the second claim was not a sentimental one
that this had happened ‘recently’ (so Alcock, p. 263) but because as a member
of the king’s warrior-band who was iuvenis ( geogud) he would necessarily be un-
married. For Bernician ‘cavalry’ see Eddius’s Life of Wilfrid, ed. Colgrave, pp. 40–2
(c. 19, where however it is further defined as parva manu), with Alcock’s comment,
Economy, Society and Warfare p. 265. But there is nothing comparable in the next
century, even though young men of this class were customarily ‘horsed’ and eager
to display their abilities as horsemen: see Bede’s account of the accident to Bishop
John’s young cleric Heribald when coeperunt iuvenes qui cum ipso erant, maxime laici, pos-
tulare episcopum ut cursu maiore equos suos invicem probare liceret, HE V 6; and the late-
eighth-century formulary letter, ep. no. 46, in which the writer—most probably the
future Archbishop Eanbald (II) of York—refers to the four horses he has previously
entrusted to a south-English (arch)bishop. Horseshoes and a spur of probably
eighth/ninth century date have latterly been found in a village on the Wolds: see
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144 cn.r+rn oxr
Theodore, or the ‘Northumbrian Disciple’ who organized his peni-
tential rulings in the early-eighth century, assumes that such men
will be unwilling to give up their weapons, even when compelled to
do penance for killing another man ‘nursing hatred’.
In the previ-
ous century, they might take with them to their graves the swords
and other weapons they had used when alive; and after that burial-
practice was abandoned, there is limited visual evidence of their
superior armament and other equipment.
A privileged few among
them were, at an early stage in the development of ecclesiastical bur-
ial-places, accorded stone grave-monuments with a commemorative
inscription in Latin or English; a remarkable Northumbrian exam-
ple of the ?early-ninth century is the Falstone (co. Northumberland)
house-shaped monument on which a Hroethberht is commemorated
(by a nephew) in Old English, rendered in Insular majuscules and
a second time in runes. Some years previously Alcuin had criticized
the current pre-occupation of the well-born with the construction
and decoration of their future tombs.
During his lifetime the members of a monarch’s or magnate’s ‘fol-
lowing’, whom Alcuin characterised (ca. 789?) as ‘young men ready
to go to war and not yet married’, came to be distinguished from
the landed comites as milites or ministri (here evidently translating Old-
English äegn(as)).
No miles or comes in England is individually the
Bk. I, c. iv. 5, in: Canones Theodori, ed. Finsterwalder, p. 294. Odii meditatione is
taken from Cummian’s Penitential, ed. Bieler p. 118; but Cummian’s relictis armis
usque ad mortem is replaced by si non vult arma relinquere.
The right-hand figure, with sword, on the cross-shaft fragment from York, St.
Mary Bishophill Junior, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, 3, ed. J. Lang (Oxford,
1991), ill. 216 and pp. 83–4 (where it is dated ‘mid ninth century’); perhaps the hel-
meted figures on the Pictish Aberlemno (Angus) churchyard stone (Alcock, Economy,
Warfare and Society, p. 246; idem, ‘Image and icon in Pictish sculpture’, in: R.M.
Spearman and J. Higgitt (ed.), The Age of Migrating Ideas (Edinburgh, 1993), pp.
230–6, here esp. pp. 233–4; D. Tweddle, The Anglian Helmet from Coppergate = The
Archaeology of York, 17/8 (1992), 851–1201, at 1099–1100. To which must be added
the Coppergate helmet itself, magnificently published by Tweddle, cit., unless the
unidentifiable Oshere of its inscription is regarded as a ‘princely personage’.
Falstone: E. Okasha, Hand-List of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions (Cambridge,
1971), pp. 71–2 (no. 39); R. Cramp, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, 1 (Oxford,
1984), 172–3 with ill. 166. Most of the other—not very numerous—early inscrip-
tions recording lay persons are from urban contexts. Alcuin’s criticism is at the end
of a letter to the widowed Northumbrian queen, now abbess, Æthelthryth: ep. no.
79 (pp. 121–2).
The ‘Northumbrian Annals’ invariably use familia of the royal household or
following, although an exiled king (Osred) returned with and was deserted by his
milites: HR, 2, ed. Arnold, pp. 41, 45, 57 and 54; for the archbishop of York’s noble
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recipient of an extant letter; at least one of Alcuin’s ‘ducal’ acquain-
tances may, however, have previously been a Mercian royal comes;
and the Mercian Ceolmund who figures in two letters is described
both as ‘formerly a minister of King Offa’ and ‘our friend’.
he shows himself fully aware of their pattern of life which they will
be reluctant to abandon when admitted to a monastic or cathedral
community, even continuing with their hare-coursing or fox-hunt-
while a personal acquaintance with Northumbrians in that
social group and a continuing acceptance of their code of values,
shared with other churchmen in England, is revealed by his praise
of King Æthelred’s faithful follower and ‘my friend’ Torctmund who
had recently ‘revenged his lord in blood’ by killing his slayer.
and non-noble milites, see ep. no. 233 (p. 378); for a minister sent by the Mercian
king to recently-annexed Kent, see the charter Sawyer 128 of 788. For the seman-
tic evolution of the corresponding OE terms, see Loyn, ‘Gesiths and thegns’, pp.
535 ff. Iuvenes ad bellum promptos et qui non fuerunt uxorati is the (historically incorrect)
explanation of the expeditos vernaculos suos of Vg. Gn 14.14 in the Interrogationes in
Genesim, int. 162 (PL 100, col. 536), and cf. his supporting quotation of Gn 14.24,
exceptis his quae comederunt iuvenes (which is a fairly free rendering of the Hebrew). In
ep. no. 119 to King Pippin of Italy, Alcuin says Utere consilio senum et servitio iuvenum.
On the Ardbertus vir inluster to whom Alcuin addressed his ep. no. 302, see my
comments in ASE 22, 117 n. 91; for the addressee of ep. no. 40, which has textual
links with ep. no. 302, see below, ch. 3. Ceolmund (surely the correct spelling) figures
in epp. nos 231 and 232, of 801.
Ep. no. 19 (p. 55); non per campos discurrentes vulpes agitando declament, ep. no. 114
(p. 168).
Epp. nos 231 and 232, with the ‘Northumbrian Annals’ for 799, HR ed. Arnold,
2, 62, which shows that Torctmund had previously been made a dux. Alcuin’s for-
titer sanguinem domini sui vindicavit (cf. Dial. Egb. int./resp. xii, ed. Haddan and Stubbs,
Councils, 3, p. 409: Haec vero vindicta, ‘compensation’) in ep. no. 231 is the counter-
part of the Annals’ a Thorhtmundo duce in ultionem domini sui . . . interfectus est; and sim-
ilarly in HR ed. Arnold, 2, 51, of the revenge-slaying of the Wessex king Cynewulf ’s
assassin. Earlier, in his account of King Oswald’s miracle-doing relics in the ‘York
poem’, Alcuin described Oswiu (line 304) as germani sanguis ultor, which has no equiv-
alent in HE and should not have been italicized in Godman’s edition. It has been
claimed (P.A. Clarke, The English Nobility under Edward the Confessor (Oxford, 1994),
p. 72) that the discipulus Umbrensium’s version of Theodore’s penitential rulings imposed
seven years’ penance on a man who killed to avenge a kinsman, but only forty
days if the killing was to avenge the death of his lord: in fact I. iv: De occisione
hominum (Canones Theodori, ed. Finstwerwalder, p. 294) refers only to revenge killings
by kinsfolk, with a reduction in the period of penance if compensation is paid; while
‘One who at his lord’s command slays a man shall keep away from the church for
forty days; and one who slays a man in public war shall do penance for forty days’.
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146 cn.r+rn oxr
When, not long before 800, Alcuin or someone taught by him, re-
wrote and re-cast a probably much older collection of mathematical
(arithmetical) puzzles, the examples taken from rural life, its households
and familiae, agricultural produce and livestock are all associated with
a paterfamilias.
Almost a century previously, the anonymous author
of the Lindisfarne Vita Cuthberti referred to the beneficee of a posthu-
mous miracle as a paterfamilias: the man is unnamed, and his social
standing is implicitly contrasted with that of named (noble) comites
with more extensive resources in land and dependents. Bede associ-
ates a miraculous healing on the battlefield where King Oswald had
been killed in 642 or 643 with the grand-daughter of a similarly-
unnamed paterfamilias. A later chapter of the Historia Ecclesiastica
describes the vision of Hell and Heaven vouchsafed to a northern
Northumbrian paterfamilias, whose name (Drycthelm) is only revealed
because of his austerities as a Melrose monk.
In the far south of
the kingdom an oratory dedicated to St. Andrew near the Humber
mouth had been founded (as we learn from Alcuin) by Wilgils, father
of the missionary-bishop Willibrord, whose secular status was like-
wise that of paterfamilias; and one of Alcuin’s earliest extant letters
seemingly refers to one known to him, who may however be Frankish.
M. Folkerts, Die älteste mathematische Aufgabensammlung in lateinischer Sprache: Die
Alkuin zugeschriebenen “Propositiones ad acuendos iuvenes” . . . = Denkschr. der österreichischen
Akad. d. Wissensch., math.-naturwiss. Kl. 116, 6. Abh. (1978), 15–78 (discussed below,
ch. 5), here esp. nos xii, xxxii

xxxv, xli, lii, liii.
Anon. V. Cuth. IV 15: ed. Colgrave, pp. 132–4; HE III 9; id., V 12. Alcuin’s
version of the battlefield miracle in his ‘York poem’, ed. Godman, lines 324–35, is
of some interest. He has previously referred to the place as scamma duelli (not to be
found in the corresponding passage, or anywhere else, in HE), from the Greek word
for ‘wrestling-ground’, which he had presumably learnt from Aldhelm or from a
glossary: for the former see e.g. De virginitate ( pr.), cc. 2, 34, 36, ed. Ehwald, pp.
230, 276, 284; for the latter Corpus Glossary ed. Hessels, S 114 Scammatum. locus ubi
anthletae luctantur. But for the girl’s illness Alcuin ‘lifts’ a line from Venantius Fortunatus’s
Vita S. Martini; and since paterfamilias will not fit into a hexameter, Bede’s neptem
patris familias and et cum familiares domus illius . . . quererentur become Cumque domus nep-
tim patris . . . gemebat, for which Godman has the unhappy translation (p. 31) ‘her
father’s (!) household was lamenting his niece’. (The OE Bede here has ‘æs higna
ealdres’ for paterfamilias and ‘a higna’ for familiares.) Similarly in ‘the York poem’,
ed. Godman, line 883, the visionary, who is never named, is communi in plebe maritus.
Alcuin, V. Willibrordi, I 1, ed. Levison, p. 116; ep. no. 7, Chase, Two Letter-
Books, I/4, de elemosina patrisfamilie Areide [sic in ms.]. Two later chapters of the Vita
refer to unnamed patresfamilias in Continental contexts, I 19 (an amicus of the bishop
who could only provide refreshment for him and his companions after a miracle)
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 147
The source of this term of social description in early Northumbria
(and contemporary Mercia)
is no Roman legal text: it is the ‘Vulgate’
New Testament. The owner of a vineyard who employed workers
at one denarius for the day’s work and the other owner of a vineyard
who sent his servants to collect his share of the produce from those to
whom he had rented it, in the parables reported by Matthew, were
The term is an obvious counterpart to OE ceorl, under-
stood as ‘head of a household’—the later husbandman—
with the
means to support it and enjoying a two-hundred-shilling man-price
and oath-value. Were the men so referred to in the texts representative
of Northumbria’s ‘warrior-peasants’, who for several generations were
buried with spear and knife rather than with swords? Possibly, although
serving in adolescence in the comitatus of a prince or ealdorman might
have brought them enhanced status and greater wealth.
For a select
few, withdrawal from the world in later life produced comparable
rewards, as when Willibrord’s father Wilgils ‘was held in such honour
by the Northumbrian king and his magnates that they gave him in
perpetuity pieces of land’ near his oratory to enable him to build a
church and establish a small community there.
and I 22 (a household suffering from a demonic presence which priests had failed
to expel but water blessed by the Saint did, cf. Anon. V. Cuthb. IV 15, as last note):
ed. Levison, 130, 133.
Erat namque quidam vir paterfamilias in provincia Wissa: Vita s. Guthlaci auct. Felice,
c. 53, ed. B. Colgrave (Cambridge, 1956), p. 168. A highly unusual (?unique) usage
is among the epithets of Christ in a prayer in the Worcester-region ‘Royal prayer-
book’ (below, p. 178 and n. 143), ed. Kuypers, Book of Cerne, p. 212, which Sims-
Williams, Religion and Literature, pp. 315–6 thought might show ‘Gallican liturgical
influence’: . . . arbiter saeculi, PATERFAMILIAS caeli, vita credentium . . .
Mt 20.1–16, idem 21.33–41. In the Roman Lectionary and almost certainly
in the version in widest use in eighth-century England, the first of these is the
Gospel for Septuagesima Sunday; and Mt 21.33–46 is the Gospel for Friday in
Quadragesima II.
The early-eighth-century Whitby Vita et Virtutes Gregorii papae actually uses the
word maritus, in what is evidently the same sense: B. Colgrave, The Earliest Life of
Gregory the Great by an Anonymous Monk of Whitby (Lawrence, Kansas, 1968; Cambridge,
1985), pp. 102, 104. Compare the language of the OE Bede, and Alcuin’s descrip-
tion of Drycthelm in his ‘York poem’, quoted above, n. 57 ex.; and see also Faith,
English Peasantry, pp. 48–9, 127–9.
Compare also Alcuin’s disapproving reference to the gregarios, id est ignobiles milites
who accompany the (noble) milites in the archbishop of York’s comitatus: ep. no. 233.
. . . Illius gentis regi et optimatibus honorabilis effectus est, in tantum ut ei aliquas terrarum
possessiunculas . . . dono perpetuo contulerunt: V. Willibrordi, I 1 (ed. Levison, p. 116). For
the interpretation of Alcuin’s dono perpetuo etc., see the reference to Patrick Wormald’s
Jarrow Lecture of 1984 in next note.
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148 cn.r+rn oxr
Alcuin, unlike some modern scholars (although a diminishing num-
ber of them), saw no objection to speaking of the ownership of both
land and churches. As he put it when arguing by analogy in ?799
and deploying language that had established itself in England in the
previous half-century, ‘we are accustomed to call our own possessions
the lands that come to us by hereditary right (terrarum quoque possessiones
proprias dicere solemus, quae nobis hereditario proveniunt iure)’, even if others
live on them. Religious communities and, in certain circumstances,
individuals such as Wilgils acquired their ‘possessions’ by gift from
a third party, typically but not necessarily the king.
Whatever the
range and scale of land-holding and wealth among Northumbrian
patresfamilias may have been, laymen of higher standing, including of
course the king, and monasteries and major churches were typically
‘lords’ (domini, hlafordas) of what have been called, for the last four
decades, ‘multiple estates’. On the usual view, these were discrete
and sometimes widely-dispersed properties from which the cultivators
and others, both servile and legally free,
brought renders in kind
Alcuin in ep. no. 204 (p. 338), where the words following iure are quae tamen
longe a nobis alterius sunt substantiae; also his Vita Will., praef. and c. 1 (ed. Levison,
pp. 114, 116), referring to the cellula ‘which I legitima successione praesedeo al. per suc-
cessiones legitimas suscepi gubernandum’. York cathedral’s lands are referred to as posses-
siones terrrarum in ep. no. 233 (p. 378) of 801; a noteworthy metaphorical usage is
Adversus Elipandum Libri IV, III, 1 (PL 101, col. 271A), eamus per pulcherrimas sancto-
rum Patrum possessiones flores colligere. For propria monasteria earlier, and the issue of their
division among heirs, see Dial. Egberti, int. xi, Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 408.
The classic remarks of E. Levy, West Roman Vulgar Law. The law of property, M.A.P.S.
29 (Philadelphia, 1951), esp. pp. 72 ff., 87 ff., on possessio in Late Latin and ‘Vulgar
Roman law’, seem now of limited relevance to an understanding of early-English
land-law. For ius hereditarium/hereditas in eighth-century English texts, beginning with
Bede (but without, I think, any reference to Alcuin) and for ius perpetuum, see espe-
cially the seminal writings of Patrick Wormald, most conveniently Bede and the
Conversion of England: the Charter Evidence ( Jarrow Lecture, 1984) at pp. 20–23 and
‘On þa Wæpnedhealfe’, in: Edward the Elder 899–924, ed. N.J. Higham and D.H.
Hill (London and New York), 2001, pp. 264–79, at pp. 264–5.
For lordship over free-born men, Anon. v. Cuth. I 5 (p. 68) (the lord of the young
Cuthbert, who was looking after his flocks) should be considered in conjunction with
Bede’s V. Cuth. pr. c. 6 (p. 172) (handing his horse and spear to a servant before
entering Melrose) and Anon. v. Cuth. IV 7 (p. 120) (a royal gesith who was dominus
of a future Lindisfarne priest). With the first of these compare Alcuin’s, admittedly
metaphorical, encouragement to the former Queen Æthelthryth to be a faithful
steward (dispensator) of the flock entrusted to her by her Lord ( pecuniam domini sui ),
ep. no. 79 (p. 121). For servi see, in addition to Vitae sanctorum passages previously
quoted, the ‘Northumbrian Disciple’s’ version of Theodore’s rulings, Canones Theodori
ed. Finsterwalder, p. 331. None of these places is cited in DMLBS s. v. dominus.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 149
and a variety of services to an estate centre, which eighth-century
sources commonly refer to as a villa or vicus and where archaeolo-
gists are looking for and sometimes finding substantial ‘halls’.
Certain royal, or one-time royal, ‘estate-centres’ had an additional
function: they were the administrative foci of associated regiones (a
term already found in early-eighth-century texts) which, if evidence
from later centuries has been rightly interpreted, might extend over
100 square miles or more and were at least in part of pre-English
origin. An early ‘region’ associated with York itself may underlie the
thirteen-vill, 84-carucate territory in geldo civitatis in the eleventh cen-
tury, although if so it will hardly have persisted unchanged over sev-
eral hundred years.
Early Northumbrian royal villae figure only
incidentally in contemporary or near-contemporary sources, typically
as places where kings, bishops and others stay on their travels, hold
assemblies, are married or are murdered, and awkward subjects are
imprisoned: the strategically-located Catterick (N. Yorks) is one of
the better-documented examples; the East Yorkshire Driffield, where
King Aldfrith died and in the vicinity of which there are, excep-
tionally, early-eighth-century cemetery burials, is probably another;
Dunbar in East Lothian certainly a third.
Otherwise most of the
For the significance of villa and vicus in Bede’s historical works and in some
other texts, see especially J. Campbell, ‘Bede’s words for places’, in: Names, Words
and Graves, ed. P.H. Sawyer (Leeds, 1979), pp. 34–54, at pp. 44–8. Northumbrian
halls after Yeavering and Doon Hill, Dunbar (where Bishop Wilfrid was for a time
imprisoned: below, n. 71) are still very much an unknown quantity, despite the
efforts of Professor Leslie Alcock and others; the evidence from the contemporary
Mercian kingdom is (marginally) better. Similarly, Alcuin never uses the word aula
(Court or palace) in a Northumbrian context.
J.E.A. Joliffe, ‘Northumbrian Institutions’, EHR, 41 (1926), 1–42; G.W.S. Barrow,
The Kingdom of the Scots (London, 1975), pp. 7–68 (surprisingly ignored by Higham,
Northern Counties), here esp. pp. 19–22, 24–36, 66–7; J. Campbell, ‘Bede’s words for
places’, pp. 34–54 passim. A map of the York territory is in The Domesday Geography
of Northern England, ed. H.C. Darby and I.S. Maxwell (Cambridge, 1962), p. 157;
an early origin seems to be hinted at in S.R. Rees Jones’s unpublished York D.Phil.
thesis (1987) as quoted by D.M. Palliser, Domesday York (University of York Borthwick
Paper, no. 78; 1990), p. 17 (and would not be incompatible with the different inter-
pretation proposed by A.G. Dickens in 1961, quoted ibid.). For the regio associated
with Hexham (the ‘Hexhamshire’ of much later date?) when it was given to Bishop
Wilfrid in the third quarter of the seventh century, see below, n. 69; for a wider
use of the term, see the ninth decree of the Council of Cloveshoe (746/7), ed.
Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 365–6, Ut presbyteri per loca et regiones laicorum quae
sibi ab episcopis provinciae insinuata et iniuncta sunt.
Catterick: the ‘Northumbrian Annals’, HR, ed. Arnold, 2, 42, 44, 54, and, for
the previous century, Bede, HE II 14 (vicus Cataracta), II 20; for ‘early Anglian’
archaeological evidence—predominantly from the sixth century and none of it later
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150 cn.r+rn oxr
evidence for them belongs to the moment of alienation to church-
men and ecclesiastics and, in the absence of charters, provides the
minimum of detail. Thus Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert records how
King Alhfrith gave Eata ‘a certain place in his kingdom which is
called Ripon in which to build a monastery’, while Stephen of Ripon
reports that Hexham and its territory had been gifted to Bishop
Wilfrid by Queen Æthelthryth: in the early sources, that is all. A
later (mid-tenth/early-eleventh-century) text, but in this respect a pos-
sibly trustworthy one, records the gifts made to Lindisfarne by Kings
Ecgfrid and Ceolwulf, beginning with that of Crayke (Yorks) and
ending with that of Warkworth (Northumberland) ‘with its appendages’,
on the occasion of Ceolfwulf ’s abdication and tonsuring in 737. All
the places named are identifiable with estate-centres that in several
instances later rulers made efforts to recover.
Royal gifts of land,
its cultivators and income to the cathedral church of York, which
with similar non-royal donations must have been the pre-condition
of its eighth-century prosperity, are nowhere recorded. In his ‘York
poem’, Alcuin includes rura among Eanbald (I)’s inheritances from
Archbishop Ælberht; but even the indirect evidence for identifiable
dependent estates or churches, none of it in the letters, is very scanty.
than the seventh—see P.R. Wilson, P. Cardwell, R.J. Cramp et al., ‘Early Anglian
Catterick and Catraeth’, Medieval Archaeology 40 (1996), 1–61. Driffield: ASC ‘D’, ‘E’
an. 705, December 14 (for the year, cf. Wallace-Hadrill, Bede Commentary, p. 189);
Vierck in W. Davies, H. Vierck, ‘The contexts of the Tribal Hidage . . .’, FmSt 8
(1974), fig. 5 and App. II; and the map in Hirst, Cemetery at Sewerby, p. 2. Dunbar:
<Eddius> Stephanus, Vita Wilfridi, ed. Colgrave, c. 38 (p. 76); L. Alcock, Bede, Eddius
and the Forts of the North Britons ( Jarrow Lecture, 1988), pp. 4–5, 28. A fourth is
probably the unfortunately unlocated Medilwong, where Cuthbert healed a child
dying from ‘the plague’ (Anon V. Cuth. IV 6, ed. Colgrave, p. 118) and near which
King Oswulf was murdered by his familia in 759 (HR ed. Arnold, 2, 41, where the
form of the name is Methilwongtune). See also the suggestive remarks of Campbell,
‘Bede’s words for places’, p. 48, on the possible royal associations of place-names
like Hruringaham, the southern-English Barking etc., with the concluding comment:
‘What sounds like a tribe may have been only an administrative district’.
Ripon: Vita S.Cuth. pr., c. 7: ed. Colgrave, p. 174. Hexham: In Haegustaldesi (al.-
ae, with other variants) adepta regione a regina etc., Life of Wilfrid, ed. Colgrave, c. 22
(p. 44), the translation ‘having obtained an estate’ being clearly inappropriate; for
the interpretation of the toponym and of the Vita passage, see Bullough, ‘The place-
name Hexham’ (above, Pt. I, n. 227), p. 426. Grants to Lindisfarne: Historia de sancto
Cuthberto, in Symeonis Opera, RS., ed. Arnold, 1, 200–2; H.H.E. Craster, ‘The patri-
mony of St. Cuthbert’, EHR 69 (1954), 177–99, esp. 185–6; C. Morris, ‘North-
umbria and the Viking settlement: the evidence for land-holding’, Archaeologia Aeliana
ser. 5, 5 (1977), 81–103.
Addingham (Yorkshire Wharfedale), where Archbishop Wulfhere took refuge
from the Vikings at the end of 866 (Symeonis Opera, RS., ed. Arnold, 1, 225) and
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 151
Giving away lands and their cultivators ‘in perpetuity’ weakened
royal authority in two, perhaps three, ways: by diminishing the mate-
rial resources that provided immediate and exclusive support for the
king and his entourage, linked with a loss of administrative centres
whose reeves ( praepositi or praefecti ) had hitherto been directly respon-
sible to him; and by permanently reducing the resources available
for the ‘buying’ of laymen’s loyalty, at a time when the rewards of
aggressive military campaigns had all but disappeared.
If Alcuin
was ever openly critical of this process, and there is no good rea-
son why he should have been, it found no place among his criti-
cisms of and admonitions to kings in the 790s, even though in his
last years he was very conscious of the improper granting by bish-
ops of lands and ecclesiastical office to their ‘hoard of relatives’.
Boniface’s main preoccupations in his admonitory letters of the 740s,
with which the sequence begins, were likewise quite other ones.
‘Noble’ office-holders and landowners, deprived of actual or poten-
tial rewards, had their own answers: the familiar one (because of
Bede and modern scholarship) of founding ‘false monasteries’ which
attracted donations of land from others and at a second stage might
where excavation has uncovered part of a probably extensive cemetery, apparently
in use from the eighth to the tenth centuries, the burials in which ‘seem to repre-
sent a “normal” rural population’: see M. Adams, ‘Excavation of a pre-Conquest
cemetery at Addingham, West Yorkshire’, Medieval Archaeology, 40 (1996), 151–91;
Otley, on the evidence of a tenth-century text, ninth-century sculptures including
figural ornament and possibly a passage in Stephanus’s V. Wilfridi: compare I.N.
Wood, ‘Anglo-Saxon Otley: an archiepiscopal estate and its crosses in a Northumbrian
context’, Northern History 23 (1987), 20–38, esp. 36–8; perhaps Lastingham if sculp-
tural fragments here are rightly identified as remains of a ‘seat of dignity’ of
eighth/ninth century date: Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, 3, 172–3 (nos 10, 11),
with ills. 614–21, 623–6. The ‘York poem’s allusion is ed. Godman, line 1532.
So already, and more fully, P. Wormald in The Anglo-Saxons ed. Campbell, pp.
97–98, and in his Jarrow Lecture for 1984, Bede and the Conversion of England (above,
n. 64), esp. pp. 19–21; this last has an extensive bibliography. For reeves ( praefecti )
in urbes regis and their responsibilities see, e.g., the accounts of Wilfrid’s imprison-
ment at Broninis (?corr. Bromis) and Dunbar in the Life of Wilfrid, ed. Colgrave, cc.
36, 38 (pp. 72, 76); for the possible localization of the first of these and for Dunbar
as ‘almost certainly a shire-centre in the eleventh and twelfth centuries’, see Barrow,
Kingdom of the Scots pp. 66–7.
Ep. no. 114 of 796 (p. 168), non te numerus propinquorum avarum faciat, quasi illis
in hereditatem congregare debeas; id. no. 209 of 801 (p. 348), ammone illum . . . ne propter
propinquorum turbam suum cupiditatibus terrarum vel divitiarum invovlvat animum; Alcuin Comm.
in ep. Tit. I v. 5, PL 100, col. 1012C, when appointing presbyters, ‘there are bish-
ops who do not weigh the merits of individuals but are corrupted by those who
attend on them (?: officio deliniti ) or are their kinsfolk (sanguine iuncti )’, a sentence not
found in Jerome’s commentary, which is Alcuin’s principal source. Boniface’s let-
ters are Epist. Select. 1, ed. Tangl, nos 73–5.
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152 cn.r+rn oxr
gain exemption from the obligations to the monarch which otherwise
lay on the estates in question; and the less familiar one of the acqui-
sition of the possessions of ‘genuine’ monasteries. The concept of a
non-episcopal church or monastery subject only to the spiritual power
was not a widely-accepted one at this period: Bede records that the
founder of Wearmouth and Jarrow was very much aware of this as
he lay dying; and a century later Alcuin, as we have seen, had inher-
ited rights in an oratory, or anchorite’s cell, and church near the
Humber. It is in this context—and, more speculatively, in the context
of an already-powerful layman seeking to extend his power-base in
the southern half of the Northumbrian kingdom—that the letter from
Pope Paul I to (Archbishop Egberht and) King Eadberht, written in
?757/8 and preserved as one of the extraneous group of four in the
northern-English (York?) collection of Alcuin’s letters, makes most
An otherwise unknown Abbot Forthred had travelled to Rome
and recounted to the Pope how three monasteria, named as (probably)
the north Yorkshire Stonegrave, Coxwold and a lost Donaemutha, had
been given to him by a certain abbess, only to have them forcibly
taken from him and bestowed by Eadberht on the patricius Moll,
frater eius (sc. of Forthred, less plausibly of the abbess); the Pope
ordered the king to restore them to the abbot, undiminished by any-
thing taken away from them, and to prevent any further lay inva-
sions of church property. Moll is identifiable with the Æthelwald
Moll who became king in 759 and was ousted in 765. There is noth-
ing to show whether Eadberht heeded the Pope’s letter, and indeed
he may already have abdicated before it reached Northumbria; per-
JL. 2337. In spite of the damage to Tib., its text of this letter is substantially
legible, and doubtful readings can generally be clarified from Gale’s transcript (above,
Pt. I p. 81 and n. 199) and, in the latter part, from the ?16th-century addition to
Vesp.’s defective text. Tib.’s text is clearly in general the better one, especially before
the ‘corrections’ of a 16th/17th cent. hand: it has the obviously correct place-name
form Cucha Yalda, corresponding to Domesday’s Cucualt and later spellings, and
excludes the etymology and explanation of the change from the supposed ‘earliest
form’ in Birch’s erroneous text-edition (BCS. no. 184) proposed by A.H. Smith, The
Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, English Place-Name Society 5 (Cambridge,
1928), p. 192. The texts of the letter in Cambridge Univ. Libr. Kk. IV.6 (2021)
(s. xii in; Worcester), fol. 276
and BL Harl. 633 (s. xii), fols 44
(see Levison,
Neues Archv 35 [1910], pp. 402–3), are William of Malmesbury’s copy of Tib., inserted
in a shortened Vita Pauli in his edition of the Liber pontificalis: Thomson, William of
Malmesbury, ch. 6, esp. pp. 119–26.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 153
haps the eventual beneficee was the church of York.
Without mak-
ing too much of a characteristically Alcuinian trope, his claim in a
letter of ca. 790 to the abbot of ?Jarrow that secular life grows at
the expense of the monastic, whilst—‘what is worse’—‘those who put
up now in many places pull down, the builders become destroyers’,
suggests familiarity with similar episodes having a less happy outcome.
York, a City Emerging
Coinciding closely with Alcuin’s childhood and early adolescence was
the period in which a physically-expanding Euborica civitas finally
achieved the pre-eminence in the Northern English kingdom(s) from
which many other economic and cultural benefits were to flow. For
Bede the Northumbrian regia civitas or urbs regia was always Bernician
Bamburgh, despite the fact that York had been the seat of the first
missionary-bishop to the north, that Wilfrid had magnificently restored
the see-church of St. Peter there and that it was the normal place
of burial of Northumbrian kings.
The usage is specific: in Bede’s
Chronica maiora, following the Liber Pontificalis, Constantinople is regia
urbs, and similarly in the Historia Ecclesiastica; the only other regia civ-
itas in the latter is Canterbury, which in a previous chapter was
imperii [Æthelberti] totius metropolis. As in contemporary Continental
texts and as for Alcuin later, the ‘royal town’ is where a monarch
Fragments of several crosses and at least one sculptured grave-cover have been
discovered at various times at Stonegrave Holy Trinity, the presumed site of the
earlier monastery, but, with the exception of one datable to the ninth century, art-
historical scholarship attributes them to the tenth century: Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone
Sculpture, 3, ed. J. Lang, pp. 215–20.
Ep. no. 67; for the date, cf. Bullough, ‘What has Ingeld to do with Lindisfarne?’,
ASE 22, p. 98 n. 19, and below, Pt. II ch. 3.
Bamburgh: HE III 6, III 12, III 16; in the first passage, referring to Oswald’s
corporeal relics, Bede says hactenus. York and St. Peter’s: HE II 14, II 20; Stephanus,
Vita Wilfridi c. 16 (ed. Colgrave, p. 35). The Bede passages are the source of Alcuin’s
‘York poem’, ed. Godman, lines 194 ff., 216 ff. Alcuin, however, does not record
the dedication here or elsewhere in the poem (although the dedication of the
churches at Bamburgh and at Ripon to Peter is noted in lines 307 and 644:
Godman’s index entry ‘Peter, St.’, at p. 198, is seriously misleading); while lines
203–4, cuius abhinc culmen sublimius extulit ille,/ metropolimque statuit consistere regni, are
not dependent on HE (but compare next note, on Bede’s references to Canterbury).
Ep. no. 16 (p. 43) is the only occasion on which Alcuin reports the cathedral’s
patronal dedication in his letters.
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154 cn.r+rn oxr
most commonly holds his court, is sought out by visitors and where
he typically has his grandest residence—his ‘capital’ in fact, provid-
ing we avoid some of the later connotations of that term.
The abdi-
cation of King Ceolwulf to become a monk and posthumously a
miracle-worker at Lindisfarne (of which he was reputedly the last
great benefactor) and his succession by Eadberht in 737 served finally
to establish the pre-eminence in the kingdom of its most southerly
urbs, and at the same time sharpened further the ancient north-south
divide as the city grew and prospered. Its cosmopolitanism and wealth
in King Eadberht’s later years and the following decade are only
patchily documented, but they are unmistakeable—increasingly so in
the material evidence recovered by three decades of sustained archae-
ological exploration and recording, which has prompted some bold
and indeed fanciful interpretations, but not negligibly in the cur-
rently-unfashionable written sources.
Alcuin’s ‘York poem’ is, in one of its several aspects, a testimony
to and an affirmation of that process. After a fairly standard open-
ing (extending over 15' lines), Alcuin unprecedently declares that
Constantinople: Chron. maiora ed. Mommsen, MGH AA XIII, p. 314; HE II 1.
Canterbury: HE I 25, I 33, and compare with the former Adomnan’s quae procul-
dubio Romani est metropolis imperii (De Locis Sanctis, III.1: ed. Meehan, p. 106). Pavia,
the ‘capital’ of Lombard and Carolingian Italy, is regalis civitas in Alcuin’s ep. no.
172 (799). The word-order and syntax of Euboraca civitate in ecclesia beati Petri prin-
cipis apostolorum que caput est totius regni in his ep. no. 43 would allow the caput regni
to be either the civitas or the ecclesia; but the former is the more likely. Attempting
to avoid the inappropriate associations of the modern ‘capital’, model-making archae-
ologists working in the early-medieval field favour terms like ‘hierarchical central-
place’; but this has the disadvantage of being used of places with very varied political
and religious functions.
The results of the York Archaeological Trust’s remarkable excavations since
1972 are published at irregular intervals and non-sequentially in fascicules num-
bered as parts of The Archaeology of York, vols.1–20, under the general editorship of
the Director, P.V. Addyman. For a recent interpretation by an archaeologist ‘with
an explicitly theoretical agenda’, see S. Roskams, ‘Urban transition in early medieval
Britain: the case of York’, in: N. Christie and S.T. Loseby (ed.), Towns in Transition.
Urban Evolution in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Aldershot, 1996), pp. 262–88,
esp. pp. 277–8, 284; and note that the statements in the last place have been char-
acterized by a well-qualified reviewer (Elizabeth Fentress, in Journal of Roman Archaeology
10 (1997), 597) as an ‘historical novella about the faunal remains’! The written
sources are assembled and commented on in D.W. Rollason (with D. Gore and
G. Fellows-Jensen), Sources for York History to AD 1100, The Archaeology of York,
Vol. 1 (York, 1998). Alternative interpretations of some of those relating to the pre-
Viking period, based on a precise analysis of the city’s topography, are proposed
by C. Norton, ‘The Anglo-Saxon Cathedral at York and the Topography of the
Anglian City’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 151 (1998), 1–42; see fur-
ther below.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 155
his theme will be praise of his homeland ( patriae laudes) and of the
city of York: and this is followed by nineteen lines in which the poet
combines a description of its setting with an account of its Roman
construction with British help. Hence the passing reference to the
‘high walls and lofty towers’, which with some post-Roman
modifications still enclosed the area in which the first episcopal church
had been established.
Hence, too, the reference to the ‘fish-rich
river Ouse’, an attribute of the city to which Alcuin returned in a
poem of his Tours years and which clearly had a more than casual
interest for him
—literary allusions, moreover, which have latterly
been substantiated by archaeological evidence for the importance of
local river-fish in the diet of eighth- and early-ninth-century York.
Topography and buildings apparently do not interest Alcuin very
much, certainly far less than several of his contemporaries. The many
churches and their associated saints which are a feature of eighth-
century laudes of Italian cities and the churches and other buildings
of Pavia which figure so largely in Paul the Deacon’s Historia Lango-
bardorum are largely absent from Alcuin’s extended verse-history of his
city. There is a brief, and challengeable, reference to Edwin’s build-
ing-works at St. Peter’s and a very questionable, even briefer, one
to Bishop Bosa’s contribution to fabric or fittings. There are relatively
full accounts of Wilfrid II’s adornment of the cathedral and ‘other
churches’, and of Ælberht’s establishment of new altars there (dedicated
to St. Paul and to ‘Martyrs and the Cross’) and gifting of precious
altar-furniture; and a description of the ‘marvellous new basilica’
dedicated to alma Sophia, in the construction of which Alcuin was
personally involved.
Omitted from his ‘narrative’ is any reference
‘York poem’, ed. Godman, lines 19–20. See also the allusion to the moenibus
Euboricae within which the young men of the cathedral live, in Alcuin’s carm. lix,
MGH Poet. I, p. 273.
Writing ep. no. 146 to Arn in 798 in the hope of their meeting soon, Alcuin
contrasts the ways in which they might catch fish in the Meuse (‘like cormorants
from the bank’) and in the Loire (‘salmon, by swimming’). In his carm. xxiii (MGH
Poet. I, pp. 243–4), O mea cella, composed earlier than the letter, Alcuin charac-
terises York (rather than Aachen) as a place where Flumina te cingunt florentibus undique
ripis,/Retia piscator qua sua tendit ovans: but here certainly there is an element of ‘the
ideal (urban) landscape’.
T.P. O’Connor, Bones from 46–54 Fishergate = The Archaeology of York: the Animal
Bones, 15/4 (York, 1991), 263–7, noting that North Sea fish only become impor-
tant in later centuries.
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 219–21 (only very loosely related to Bede’s
account in HE II 14), ?857 (where cultum decoravit, translated by Godman as ‘endowed
its fabric’, surely has the normal sense of ‘(forms of, order of ) worship’, as cultura
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156 cn.r+rn oxr
to the fire which in April 741, according to the ‘Northumbrian
Annals’, destroyed the (a?) monasterium at York. The latter is traditionally,
although probably wrongly, identified with St. Peter’s cathedral; if it
was in fact connected with the city’s ecclesia principalis, and not a sep-
arate monastic or clerical establishment, it is far more likely to have
been the group of buildings which, perhaps since Bishop Bosa’s re-
organisation, provided accomodation for the cathedral clerics.
Conversely, the one monastic community (and church) apparently in
the city to which Alcuin alludes in his letters, the cella sancti Stephani,
neither figures in the ‘York poem’ nor in any other text except—it
seems—in a Continental calendar that includes entries made at York
in the late-eighth century. That it was located somewhere in the
general area of the cathedral, as part of a complex of churches and
other structures, is possible but unproven. Even the siting of St.
Peter’s itself in the seventh to ninth centuries is unknown, although
a good case has recently been made, on the basis of surviving or
recoverable topographical evidence, that it was to the north-west of
the present Minster and its romanesque predecessor, with a north-
easterly orientation which remains a feature of other York churches.
It could have been expected that the York Archaeological Trust’s
excavations, which have so remarkably revealed the topography and
Alltagsleben of the Viking and post-Viking town, would also have
thrown substantial light on its configuration and history in Alcuin’s
lifetime. In fact, until comparatively recently, they have failed to do
so, tempting some archaeologists to ask whether the apparent evidence
for material prosperity in the ‘York poem’ and elsewhere was not
in lines 158 and 1054), 1222–29, 1490–1506, 1507–14, 1520: below, n. 112). For
the account of the altars etc. and of the church of alma Sophia, see below, ch. 2 ad
HR, ed. Arnold, 2, 38: monasterium in Eboraca civitate succensum est ix kal. Maii
feria i (i.e. Sunday 23 April), which in ASC ‘D’ version becomes simply Her forbarn
Eoforwic. Elsewhere in the eighth-century sections of the Annals, the cathedral at
York is referred to (once, s.a. 791) as ecclesia principalis and (several times) by its ded-
ication to St. Peter; while monasterium is used either of places whose coenobitic monas-
tic status is independently documented or (in the case of Corbridge) of an ecclesiastical
establishment which may have been staffed either by monachi or clerici: HR, ed.
Arnold, 2, p. 51. For Bosa’s re-organisation see ‘York poem’ lines 857–9; for the
possible siting of the clerical residence(s), see Norton, ‘Anglo-Saxon Cathedral at
York’ (n. 78, above), esp. pp. 11–14 and figs. 2 and 3.
St. Stephen: ep. no. 209 (pp. 347, 349); Berlin Deutsche Staatsbibl. Phillips
1869 (Rose 131) fol. 9
, Titulus sancti Stephani protomartyr, against the date 26 October,
discussed below, ch. 2, ad fin. Siting of St. Peter’s: Norton, ‘Anglo-Saxon Cathedral’,
pp. 5–24 and figs.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 157
literary exaggeration. Explorations in the area of the Minster revealed
no convincing evidence of early structures or re-building, although
the discovery of grave-stelae of a distinctive type and in fine condi-
tion could indicate the existence of an early covered porticus. Nor
has anything been reported which might be associated with a royal
residence ( palatium), to which there are debatable allusions in the
Whitby Life of Gregory the Great (as aula) and in one of Alcuin’s
The eighth-century history (if any) of the churches in the
area west of the Ouse later known as ‘Bishophill’ and the nature of
the clerical communities which served them is undocumented, and
will remain so without significant new archaeological discoveries; but
one of the most stylish and literary of eighth/ninth-century York
inscriptions, referring to an unnamed presbyter, may belong there.
The availability for excavation in 1985/6, however, of a site lying
slightly away from the centres of the Roman and the medieval towns
directly to the east of the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss, on
the west side of Fishergate, significantly changed the picture of the
pre-800 city. What was found there seems fully to satisfy the crite-
ria of archaeologist ‘model-makers’ for a mercantile vicus or emporium
Stelae: J. Lang, Corpus of Sculpture, 3, 60–7 (nos 11–24), ills. 44–102, and p. 17;
for no. 22’s inscription (ill. 91), see below, Ch. 2 ad fin. ‘Palace’: Norton, ‘Anglo-
Saxon Cathedral’, p. 26; Earliest Life, ed. Colgrave, pp. 96–8; O Corydon. . . ./Quicquid
tu volitas per magna palatia regum, carm. xxxii (MGH Poet. I, pp. 249–50), addressed to
a one-time York pupil (scolasticus olim) now befuddled by drink, apparently shortly
after Alcuin’s return to Northumbria in 790; but palatia regum could equally mean
‘the courts of successive kings’. For fragments of high-quality glass vessels (eighth/ninth-
century) found on the Minster site, see L. Webster and J. Backhouse, ed., The Making
of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600–900 (British Museum, 1991), nos 108
Lang, Corpus, 3, 85–7 (St. Mary Bishophill Junior no. 5) and ills 232–6, Rollason
et al., Sources, p. 157: the text in the cross-head roundel reads Salve pro meritis
pr(e)s(byter) alme tuis (a pentameter). Bold claims for ‘an ecclesiastical centre of some
importance’ in this area have been made by, e.g., R.K. Morris, ‘Alcuin, York and
the alma sophia’ in L.A.S. Butler and R.K. Morris, ed., The Anglo-Saxon Church.
Papers . . . in Honour of Dr. H.M. Taylor (C.B.A. Research Report 60; London, 1986),
pp. 80–9: on which Lang, Corpus 3, 8, comments that ‘At the time of writing [1991],
neither archaeological nor sculptural evidence exists to support this proposition’;
similarly, Norton, ‘Anglo-Saxon Cathedral’, p. 14. The further claim of a similarity
between the inscription and the vocabulary of Alcuin’s verse (Morris, cit.; Higgitt in
Lang, Corpus 3, 86) is acceptable only with qualifications: pro meritis, although occur-
ring in ‘the York poem’ (line 634), is not characteristic of his tituli; and despite his
using the epithet almus very frequently, I do not think that the line-ending alme tuis
will be found anywhere. Compare, rather, two epitaphs by Paul the Deacon, ed.
Neff, no. xxxv: Quod te pro meritis nunc paradysus habet, and ed. Neff, no. xxvi: Participem
fieri hanc pater alme tuis; the deceased is not the subject of the verse in either instance.
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158 cn.r+rn oxr
outside the old walls, of which the excavated 2500 m
were evidently
only a part. Occupation of the Fishergate site lasted one-and-a-half
centuries, from ca. 700 to ca. 850, with a break in the late-eighth
century. What has been revealed suggests that ‘the settlement was
orderly and did not grow organically, but was laid out according to
a plan of some kind’; the separate properties, containing structures,
pit groups and middens, were delineated by ditches and palisades.
Identified structures ‘are of the proportions and general character of
other broadly contemporary buildings’ in England from both urban
and rural sites. Deposits throughout the area produced a quantity
of personal artefacts, particularly dress pins and some brooches, and
querns for (?domestic) corn-grinding. Additionally, they provided evi-
dence for craft activities: antler and bone comb manufacture; some
spinning and weaving and fur preparation; and iron and other metal
The most precious single object from Alcuin’s York, and
not improbably one made there or in the vicinity, is the splendid
Coppergate helmet, which may have been a royal gift to a favoured
follower. Other metalwork of high quality and varying function, much
of it long lost and unlikely to be re-discovered, may have originated
in the same region. In the ‘York poem’, Bishop Wilfrid II is recorded
as providing his church with ‘furnishings with handsome inscriptions’
(titulis ornamenta venustis), precious altar-vessels and silver-gilt laminated
altars and crosses; Egberht’s gifts included silk awnings of foreign
pattern; and Ælberht provided the cathedral with a nine-tiered chan-
delier and a great cross ‘weighing many pounds in pure silver’ for
a new altar dedicated to St. Paul, as well as a great flask of pure
gold for the Eucharistic wine.
The claim has been made, partly on
stylistic grounds but particularly because of the thin square capitals
A.J. Mainman, Pottery from 46–54 Fishergate = Archaeology of York, 16/6 (1993);
N.S.H. Rogers, Anglian and other Finds from 46–54 Fishergate = Archaeology of York, 17/9
(1993); R.L. Kemp, Anglian Settlement at 46–54 Fishergate = Archaeology of York, 7/2
(1996), the quotations in the text at pp. 67, 69.
Helmet: Tweddle, Coppergate Helmet (above, n. 50), dating it ‘c. 750–775’ (at
pp. 1082, 1165, etc.); cf. Beowulf lines 2868–9. Episcopal gifts: ‘York poem’ ed.
Godman, lines 1222–26, 1266–68, 1490–1506. Notable surviving artefacts with
claims to southern Northumbrian origin are the Ormside bowl, the Bischofshofen
(Austria, dioc. Salzburg) cross, and York and Witham pins: Webster and Backhouse,
The Making of England, nos 134, 133, 183, 184; but note that the Bischofshofen cross
is of copper-alloy, not silver. For a cabochon imitation jewel probably from a cross
or book-cover, see ibid., no. 108 (e); for embroidered silks and other fabrics from
or possibly connected with eighth-century Northumbria, see ibid., nos 100, 142, 143
(entries by H. Granger-Taylor).
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 159
with some uncial forms used for their inscriptions, that a pair of
figurative ivory book-covers from the church at Genoels-Elderen
(Belgium) and some related carved ivories were products of late-
eighth-century Northumbria and perhaps specifically York—because
of the ‘courtly’ associations of the material: art-historians and palaeo-
graphers are generally sceptical.
Northumbria’s first regular coinage
began in the late 730s or
740s, with the striking of fine silver ‘pennies’ bearing king Eadberht’s
name; York was clearly the main and perhaps the only minting-
place. The pattern of recorded find-spots of coins struck before ca.
790 is unmistakeable: these are predominantly in the southerly parts
of the kingdom, east of the river Ouse, with only a very few coins—
two of them from Jarrow—from north of the Tees; and the largest
number (all major varieties) is at present from South Newbald, a
few miles inland from the Humber. Both the purpose and scale of
this coinage are open to debate, but a narrowly ‘commercial’ expla-
nation is certainly difficult to accept. A striking feature is the exis-
tence of coins, of more than one variety, which have on the reverse
Archbishop Egberht’s name, with a stick-like figure holding a cross
and crozier or two crosses; and after a possible interruption, the
archbishop’s name is again on the reverse of the only known coin
of Æthelwald ‘Moll’ and on some of the coins of King Alchred, who
came to the throne only a year before Egberht’s death (below).
An English origin for the Genoels-Elderen book-covers was apparently first
suggested, tentatively, by W. Koehler, Belgische Kunstdenkmäler 1 (Munich, 1923), 3–4,
but only became widely current after B. Bischoff claimed that letter-forms in their
inscriptions are distinctively Northumbrian: MaSt 2, 296–7. For an excellent presenta-
tion of the arguments, see the entries by L. Webster, M.P. Brown and J. Lafontaine-
Dosogne in Webster and Backhouse, The Making of England no. 141 (pp. 180–3).
The evidence for a short-lived gold coinage three-quarters of a century previously
has been reviewed by E.J.E. Pirie and by D. Tweddle and J. Moulden in Yorkshire
Numismatist, 2 (1992), 11–15, 17–20; Mark Blackburn, ‘A variant of the seventh-
century “York” group of shillings found in Lincolnshire’, The Numismatic Chronicle, 154
(1994), 204–8, considers the implications of a new discovery. For silver ‘sceattas’ issued
by King Aldfrith (685–705), see J. Booth, ‘Northumbrian coinage and the productive
site at South Newbald’ [ false Sancton], in: The Yorkshire Numismatist, 3 (1997), 15–38,
at 16; and in: Early Deira: Archaeological Studies of the East Riding . . ., ed. H. Geake
and J. Kenny (Oxford and Oakville CT, 2000), pp. 83–97, at pp. 83–4.
J. Booth, ‘Sceattas in Northumbria’ in: Sceattas in England and on the Continent:
the Seventh Oxford Symposium on Coinage and Monetary History, ed. D. Hill and D.M.
Metcalf (BAR British Ser. 128; Oxford, 1984), pp. 71–112, for the Egberht coins
esp. pp. 90–1, 95; E.J.E. Pirie, ‘Finds of “sceattas” and “stycas” of Northumbria’,
in: Anglo-Saxon Monetary History: Essays in Memory of Michael Dolley, ed. M.A.S. Blackburn
(Leicester, 1986), pp. 67–90; M.M. Archibald and M.R. Cowell, ‘The fineness of
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160 cn.r+rn oxr
York and a Wider World
The young Egberht, as we know from Bede, had made the journey
to Rome and was reputedly ordained deacon there; and several of
his clergy took the same road subsequently.
The much later but
generally trustworthy ‘History of the Church of Durham’ records the
forging of a link of amicitia with the Frankish King Pippin and the
sending of ‘many and various royal gifts’.
Alcuin’s Life of Willibrord
has no suggestion of regular contact between the Saint and his native
Northumbria in his last years; and the evidence of supposedly Ech-
ternach manuscripts is at best ambiguous.
But York’s later links
with Utrecht argue against a complete break; and there is other evi-
dence, culminating in Alcuin’s earliest poem of any length, for sail-
ings between the Humber and its tributaries and the Rhine delta,
‘full of fish’. In the 740s/early 750s, the missionary-Archbishop Boni-
face was corresponding with Archbishop Egberht and the abbot of
Wearmouth, from (probably) middle-Rhineland Mainz, without too
much difficulty; and a decade or so later his successor Lul was suc-
cessfully requesting books from Wearmouth-Jarrow.
Artefacts uncov-
ered at the Fishergate and other sites have confirmed that, for several
decades, York was the northern terminal of an active North Sea
Northumbrian Sceattas’, in: W.A. Oddy, ed., Metallurgy in Numismatics, 2 (London,
1988), 55–64; Booth, ‘Northumbrian Coinage at . . . South Newbald’, 1997, pp.
17–19, 27–30; 2000, pp. 84–7, 93–4. South Newbald is the correct location of the
coin-finds previously reported as ‘Sancton’.
Bede’s Epistola ad Ecgbertum episcopum, c. 15, ed. Plummer, Bedae Opera Historica,
1, 419, recalls Egberht’s visit. My mistaken denial of this in ‘Roman Books’, Carolingian
Renewal, pp. 5–6, 24–5 (pointed out by Cubitt, Church Councils, p. 143 n. 85) in con-
nection with the assertion of Dial. Egberti resp. xvi, ed. Haddan and Stubbs, Councils,
3, 412 that non solum nostra testantur antiphonaria sed et ipsa quae cum missalibus suis CON-
SPEXIMUS apud apostolorum Petri et Pauli limina as evidence for the ‘ember-days of
the fourth month’, does not remove the problems raised by it: indeed, it may well
increase them; it leaves unresolved who ‘we’ are. The Roman journey of Ælberht
and Alcuin is considered below, pp. 342–7. For abbot Forthred’s visit in the late
750s, see above, p. 152 and n. 74.
Symeonis Opera, ed. Arnold, 1, 48. Compare King Alchred’s letter of 773 to Bishop
Lul, asking him to support his messengers’ approach to Charles ut pax et amicitia . . .
facias stabiliter inter nos confirmari: MGH Epist. select., 1, ed. Tangl, no. 121 (258).
N. Netzer, ‘The early scriptorium at Echternach’, in: Willibrord . . . Gedenkgabe
zum 1250. Todestag, ed. G. Kiesel, J. Schroeder (Luxembourg, 1989), pp. 127–34,
at pp. 132–3; idem, Cultural Interplay in the Eighth Century. The ‘Trier Gospels’ and the
Making of a Scriptorium at Echternach, Cambridge Studies in Palaeography and Codicology,
3 (Cambridge, 1994); and my review in JEH. 48 (1997), 742–4.
Alcuin, carm. iv, MGH Poet. I, pp. 220–3; Epist. select. 1, ed. Tangl, nos 75, 76,
91, 116 (of 764).
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 161
trade route. The evidence for what was imported, notably quality
textiles, Rhineland querns and pottery, with or without contents
(which may intermittently have included wine and oil for Northumbria’s
churches) is inevitably better than that for exports—generally assumed
to be timber and raw wool, as well as made-up woollens, and per-
haps even slaves. Luxury items and precious materials were probably
more often gifts than objects of trade, although necessarily carried
on the same ships.
Evidence for the relative importance of Northum-
brian-origin and Continental-origin ships and traders in this exchange-
process is almost entirely lacking. But it certainly appears that in
mid-century, contrary to a widely-held interpretation of the succes-
sive series of ‘sceatta’ coins and their distribution, men from Frisia
were still a major and perhaps even the dominant element. Their
colony at York, which shared the obligations of other citizens, with
the additional risks of ‘foreigners’, did not forsake the city until the
early 770s, in circumstances described in the Life of Alcuin’s Frisian
pupil Liudger; and some of them may later have returned there.
Within Britain, annalistic texts report conflicts between Northumbria
and its neighbours. Æthelbald ‘treacherously devastated part of North-
See L.B. Jørgensen, ‘The textiles of the Saxons, Anglo-Saxons and Franks’,
Studien zur Sachsenforschung 7 (1991) 11–23, esp. 13–15 and the map on 16 (fig. 4) for
the Humber-region examples of a distinctive type of twill, previously identified by
the same scholar (Stud. z. Sachsenforsch. 6 [1987], 112–3) as the pallium fresonicum of
Continental texts; Mainman, Pottery from 46–54 Fishergate, pp. 561, 569–76 and pas-
sim; Rogers, Anglian and Other Finds from 46–54 Fishergate, pp. 1321–9 and passim.
For problems of olive-oil supply, see below, ch. 2, p. 310. In 773, King Alchred
sent to Lul duodecim sagos cum anulo aureo maiori (Epist. Select. 1, ed. Tangl, no. 121):
sagi (al. saga) can be cloaks, blankets or even (following Vulg. Ex 26.7) tent-cover-
ings, but generally of inferior fabric.
The assertion of R. Hodges, The Achievement of the Anglo-Saxons (London, 1989)
p. 103, that ‘in Eadberht’s age’ ‘the Northumbrians may have been able to find
only a small share in the international trading system, largely because the free-
lancing Frisians were occupied principally with the competing elites of Kent, Mercia
and East Anglia’ seems to me unwarranted by his archaeological evidence for East
Coast/North Sea trade in this period. But for the Frisians at York in the years
either side of 770, see Altfridi, Vita sancti Liudgeri c. 12, ed. W. Diekamp, pp. 15–17,
and my discussion in ‘Albuinus deliciosus Karoli regis’, pp. 78, 80–82. Archaeologists’
misrepresentation and mis-dating of this text (so, for example, Hodges, Achievement,
p. 102) has latterly denied them the possibility of considering whether there may
be a link between the ending of the Frisian ‘colony’ and the first abandonment of
the Fishergate site—which is not to suggest that this was what later Continental
texts will call a vicus Fresonum. In the late 780s or early 790s, Alcuin invited ‘the
young within the walls of York’ carminibusque sacris naves implere Fresonum/ talia namque
placent vestro quia munera patri: carm. lix, MGH Poet. I, p. 273. For the arguments from
the distribution of ‘Frisian’ sceattas, see the contributions by W. Op den Velde et
al. and G.W. De Wit in Sceattas in England and on the Continent, pp. 117–50.
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162 cn.r+rn oxr
umbria while king Eadberht was engaged in fighting the Picts’ in
740, and relations with his successor Offa were apparently tense for
long periods of his reign: the ‘Northumbrian Annals’ record changes
in the Mercian episcopacy in 737, 750, 764 and 765, but not thereafter
for a quarter-of-a-century.
There is possibly a connection here with
the defensive works latterly, if very debatably, recognised along the
two kingdoms’ common frontier. The same Annals provide no direct
evidence for more peaceful exchanges, whether diplomatic, cultural
or spiritual; these can none the less be inferred from other sources,
exemplified by a letter of the Mercian Bishop Torthelm which per-
haps shows very early familiarity with Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, and
later by the Mercian-written ‘Book of Cerne’.
Northumbrian Whithorn’s first bishop, Pe(c)htelm, had been brought
from western Wessex to be consecrated in that rank (by Wilfrid II?)
shortly before 731; Boniface, with whom he had apparently been
acquainted years before in their native country and who was aware
of his elevation, sought his opinion on whether it was really illicit
for a man to marry a widow whose child he had previously taken
from the font as his ‘adoptive son’. The origins of his two succes-
sors, both consecrated by Archbishop Egberht (although in Petwine’s
case at Elvet by Durham, not at York), are unknown; so is that of
Bishop Æthelberht (777–89), with whom Alcuin corresponded after
his translation to Hexham.
In the last third of the eighth century, and possibly already some
decades previously, the church of York’s metropolitan authority
extended well beyond the limits of the kingdom to embrace the bish-
opric of Mayo (‘Mayo of the Saxons’) in western Ireland. It had
been founded as a monastery by Colman c. 670, for the English
monks who had accompanied him from Lindisfarne and could not
live harmoniously with their Irish brethren in the original settlement
on Inishboffin. Its community, which Bede described as ‘a distin-
Cont. Bedae, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, pp. 572–4; HR ed. Arnold, 2, 42, 43;
then not until ?792, idem, 53 (s.a. 791).
Epist. Select. 1, ed. Tangl, no. 47. For the ‘Book of Cerne’, see below, pp.
178–9 and nn. 144 and 45
References in D. Watt, Series Episcoporum: Candidaa Casa (Whithorn or Galloway)
(Stuttgart, 1991), pp. 22–3. Alcuin’s ep. no. 31 of ?795 is not one of his ‘letters of
friendship’ (Watt, p. 22) but a request for a renewal of a pactum antiquae familiari-
tatis with his community. For the canon-law issue, see most recently B. Jussen,
Patenschaft und Adoption im Frühen Mittelalter (Göttingen, 1991).
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 163
guished swarm’ and properly organized and Alcuin praised as a great
source of knowledge (magnum lumen scientiae) throughout Northum-
bria and the future ‘brightest star in the western sky’, continued to
be recruited from ‘peregrinating’ Englishmen. Perhaps even before
Bede completed his History the office of bishop had been introduced
into the community in the person of a mysterious Gar<a>alt (OE
Garuuald?). Alcuin corresponded with Bishop Leutfred who had suc-
ceeded Haduuin in 773 and died in 786, and later recalled frequent
meetings with Mayo brethren who visited the Northumbrian ‘capi-
The death of the self-exiled ninety year-old Egberht of Rathmelsigi
(Clonmelsh, co. Carlow) and Iona on Easter-Day (April 24) 729 was
widely commemorated in Northumbria at an early date: the com-
mon source is likely to have been Bede, although other places besides
Wearmouth-Jarrow will have learnt of it directly from the Iona com-
Contacts between York and Dalriadic Iona or the Columban
churches in mainland Ireland might have played a part in Northum-
brian pressure on the Strathclyde Britons in mid-century; but on this
the sources are silent.
Annals of Ulster an. 667 = 668, ed. Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, p. 138; Bede
HE IV 4, supposedly (so, e.g., Wallace-Hadrill, Historical Commentary, pp. 141–2)
using an Irish written source. Bede’s characterisation of the Mayo community nunc
includes no reference to or hint of a bishop; but AU. under 731 = 732, ed. cit.
p. 184, has the puzzling entry Pontifex Maighe Heu Saxonum Garaalt obiit; and an early
Irish ‘litany’ (ed. C. Plummer, Irish Litanies (London, 1925), pp. 54–75) names Garald
epscop in Mag Eo na Saxan (at p. 56). Kathleen Hughes, ‘Evidence for contacts between
the churches of the Irish and the English from the Synod of Whitby to the Viking
Age’, England before the Conquest: Studies . . . presented to Dorothy Whitelock (Cambridge,
1971), pp. 49–67, at pp. 51–2 is still the soundest review of the evidence. The first
reference to a bishop of Mayo in the ‘Northumbrian Annals’ is in 768 when Hadwine
ordinatus est episcopus ad Machui; his death in 773 (also in AU., ed. cit. p. 226, as
Aedan episcopus Maighe hEu) and succession by Leutfriht are similarly recorded: HR,
ed. Arnold, 2, 44–5. The first specific mention of consecration by the archbishop
of York and his suffragans is Aldulf ’s in 786: idem, p. 51. Alcuin’s ep. no. 2 is
addressed to Leutfred; ep. no. 287, written from the Continent and probably but
not certainly from Tours, is addressed to the Mayo fathers who patriam relinquentes
peregrinari volu[erunt].
HE III 27 (the year but not the day), V 22 (both). The earlier chapter includes
the revealing remark that Egberht, having recovered when apparently at the point
of death, later acceptum saceerdotii gradum (i.e. episcopal orders: only in Iona? but com-
pare Æthelwulf, De Abbatibus, ed. Campbell, lines 114–42). A supposed link between
Egberht and Mayo was effectively disposed of by Hughes, ‘Evidence for contacts’,
p. 53; it has none the less been proposed several times since then, without any new
evidence or arguments.
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The York Infans
Unless his birth-place was in the new vicus rather than somewhere
in York’s rural hinterland, the infant Alcuin joined the city’s expand-
ing and prosperous community when, in the early or mid-740s, his
parents (it is assumed) entrusted him to its cathedral church. No
text, no tradition provides direct evidence for his family background
or place of origin. Little help is given by his baptismal name, although
its dithematic form (OE Alhwine ‘temple-friend’) seems to rule out a
humble origin; and one of the very few other examples of the name
is (probably) the Aluuini who follows Torctmund in the ‘Lindisfarne’
Liber Vitae’s list of duces.
The autobiographical passages in Alcuin’s
‘York poem’ begin only with an account of his association with the
church’s aristocratic rector clarissimus atque egregius doctor, Archbishop
Egberht. Writing to the York cathedral community in the mid-790s,
he movingly recalls how it ‘warmed the frail years of my infancy
with maternal affection’, ‘upheld me in the wanton years of boy-
hood’ and provided the ‘paternal discipline’ which brought him to
full manhood; while the concluding verses of the ‘York poem’ include
an equally moving tribute to an unnamed young man ‘simple of
spirit but passionate in deed’ who ‘guided my boyhood years with
his counsel’ before his premature death. His one apparent reference
to siblings (brothers and sisters in the flesh) may be merely rhetorical.
The Ferrières ‘Life’ begins its account with the statement that
Alcuin ‘came from noble English stock’. This hagiographic com-
monplace (as the following appositive clause, nobilior Christi Iesu regen-
eratus etc., confirms) has usually been taken literally, although if so
the next sentence should mean that he was handed over to the
church immediately after weaning, i.e. at the age of two or three,
which is not impossible but unlikely.
There is, in fact, better if
Gerchow, Gedenküberlieferung, p. 304 (n. 75). But Gerchow, p. 371, supposes that
this, and two other examples of the name-form respectively among the abbots and
the priests, represents the relatively-common Alb-wine.
Ep. no. 42; ‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1603–5, cf. 1635 ff.; ep. no. 9 of
790, to Adalhard of Corbie (Nec me . . . tantum fratris vel sororis carnalis affectus taeduit
quantum tua spiritalis fraternitas etc.). For an identification between the poem’s quidam
iuvenis and the puer noster Seneca of ep. no. 42 (p. 86), see Godman, comm. ad lin.
1600 seq. (p. 130): but the chronological inferences in idem, comm. p. 133 are
Ep. no. 42, cf. no. 131; Vita Alcuini, c. 1, ed. Arndt, p. 185: qui cum matris
ablactaretur carnalibus, ecclesiae traditur misticis imbuendus uberibus. Alcuin uses a similar
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indirect evidence of his social standing, provided by Alcuin himself.
In his Vita Willibrordi, written probably in 796 or 797, he refers on
several occasions to the Saint’s father Wilgils and to the oratory and
church built by him on a spit of land at the mouth of the Humber,
which he now had ‘by legitimate inheritance’: Wilgils’s social stand-
ing, however, was that of a paterfamilias, in contrast with optimates
who helped to endow his church; and a similar contrast is to be
found in some of the chapters describing his son’s career in Francia.
Alcuin, I conclude, came from a modest landowning family, although
much of his later life was to be spent associating with the noble-
born: as he expressed it in a letter of the mid-790s, to an anony-
mous disciple who had attained high rank (in Northumbria?), ‘let us
be mindful that the Lord has raised us from the dung and put us
among the leaders of his people’.
Both the location of Wilgils’s
oratory and Alcuin’s admission to the York community suggest, more-
over, that he came from southern Deira; and the evidence for his
later dynastic loyalties may be an indication of his kinsfolk’s ‘lordly’
connections in that region.
York Cathedral Community
The cathedral community that Alcuin joined as a child is not easily
defined or described. Modern writers, consciously or unconsciously
influenced by Mabillon who wanted to number Alcuin among the
glories of the Benedictine Order or else eager to defend him against
the charge that in his last years he was abbot without ever having
professed as a monk, have generally implied (if not asserted) that it
was monastic.
Yet the eighth-and-early-ninth-century evidence, most
breast metaphor of one of his pupils in carm. xxxii. Later medieval evidence for
weaning at 1'–2 years is summarised by Shulamith Shahar, Childhood in the Middle
Ages (London, 1990) (an admirable treatment of its subject, which deliberately excludes
most pre-1100 evidence), here pp. 23 with n. 9, 79–83. In his V. Willibrordi, Alcuin
says of the future saint sacro baptismatis fonte regenerato imposuit ei pater nomen Willibrord
et statim ablactatum infantulum tradidit eum pater Hry-pensis ecclesiae fratribus relegiosis (c. 3:
ed. Levison, pp. 117–18), which has not prevented commentators from supposing
that the latter happened at the age of five or six.
V. Willibrordi, Praef., I 1, I 31: ed. Levison, pp. 114, 116, 137–8; ep. no. 40,
memores simus quod nos [Dominus] de stercore erexit et posuit inter principes populi sui (which
is of course an adaptation of Ps 112.7,8).
See below.
The late Dorothy Whitelock was among the few exceptions: see EHD.
, 799
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but certainly not all of which comes from Alcuin’s own writings or
from the Ferrières Vita, is overwhelmingly unfavourable to this view.
We can discount, if we wish, the claim of the Vita author that
Alcuin was the model for canons as his friend Benedict of Aniane
was the model for monks, since he was writing in the full glow of
the reforms of 816/17. It is less easy to explain away his apos-
trophising of Alcuin as ‘true monk without the monk’s vow’ (which
found an echo in more recent times in the epitaph of Edmund
Bishop); his insistence that when Alcuin was refused permission to
abandon St. Martin’s and his other houses in order to end his days
under the Benedictine Rule at St. Boniface’s (Fulda), he then ‘lived
a life in no way inferior to the monastic one’; or his account of the
vision of Alcuin’s reception into Heaven, clothed not in a monastic
habit but in a dalmatic (the proper vestment of a deacon).
to the brethren at Murbach, probably in the early 790s, Alcuin
recalled how, on a visit some thirty years previously, he had been
attracted by their ‘way of life (conversatio)’ and wished to be as one
of them; and he now exhorted them to display the monastic virtues
and live the vita regularis in its fulness, so that their prayers would
be truly effective. The tone of the letter, like those addressed to the
abbots and brethren of Wearmouth-Jarrow from ca. 789/90 onwards,
in which exhortations to the monastic life are reinforced by an insis-
tence on exposition in the vernacular of ‘the Rule of St. Benedict’,
is hardly that of someone raised under monastic discipline or with
any intention of subjecting himself to it.
Here and elsewhere,
Alcuin’s knowledge of the Latin text of the Regula is apparent in
unascribed quotations and echoes; yet they are rarely in a form or
context, or of frequent occurrence, that would demonstrate the inti-
mate familiarity of someone who has for many years lived in sub-
jection to its precepts.
n. 4, commenting on cum . . . in monasterio tuo demorarer in Bede’s letter of 734 to Bishop
Egberht of York, Plummer, Opera Historica Bedae, 1, 405–23, at 405. Remarkably,
A History of York Minster, ed. G.E. Aylmer and R. Cant (Oxford, 1977), at pp. 10–12,
considers the pre-Viking cathedral community without once using Alcuin’s letters
on the subject and confuses the new church of Alma Sophia with a rebuilding of the
cathedral church!
Vita, Prol., cc. 5, 11, 27: ed. Arndt, pp. 185, 187, 191, 196.
Murbach: ep. no. 271. Wearmouth-Jarrow: ep. no. 67, Chase, Two Letter-Books
I/3 (pp. 22–4), which is perhaps the earliest, see below, ch. 3, p. 396 at n. 203,
ep. no. 19, Chase, Two Letter-Books, II/2 (pp. 44–50); epp. nos 282, 284, 286.
In ep. no. 286 (p. 445), pater qui praeest se sciat rationem redditurum de ovibus quas
recipit regendas is based on Reg. Ben. c. 2, Abbas qui praeesse. . . . cogitet quia animas sus-
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The three successive monk-bishops at York, Bosa (678/9–?687,
?691–706) John and Wilfrid II, were all products of Whitby. Alcuin’s
account of the first-named is much fuller than anything in the Historia
Ecclesiastica (although like Bede he has nothing to say about Bosa’s
temporary ousting in favour of a restored Wilfrid I); and his asser-
tion that the bishop separated the church and its clergy from secu-
lar ways (moribus a plebis), ensuring that they served God together at
all the Hours, with all possessions held in common, indicates that
nearly a century later Bosa was remembered as someone who had
established something not very different from the later ‘canonical’
life. This is entirely in line with Bede’s own statement that Acca,
future bishop of Hexham, was brought up (nutritus atque eruditus) from
childhood in clero Bosa Eboracensis episcopi—using the collective noun
which on both sides of the Channel in this period is proper to a
body of secular clergy.
When, in a later section of the poem Alcuin
asserted that Wilfrid II prius Euboricae fuerat vicedomnus et abbas (which
again he had not taken from Bede), this may simply be his way of
saying that in Bishop John’s lifetime Wilfrid both administered the
diocese and headed the cathedral clergy, in an age in which the
later familar term decanus ‘dean’ for such a person was still unknown.
There is no problem in regarding the monasterium at which Bede vis-
ited Egberht in 733, the monasterium in which, according to Alcuin,
the young Ælberht was educated and (not improbably) the monasterium
cepit regendas de quibus et rationem redditurus est . . . sciatque quia qui suscipit animas regen-
das paret se ad rationem reddendam. Reg. Ben. c. 3 has observatione regulae; but Alcuin’s
regularis vitae observatio in, e.g., epp. nos 19 (p. 54), 21 (p. 59), etc. uses a term that
is nowhere in Reg. Ben.; and likewise habete . . . oboedientiam sine murmuratione et humili-
tatem sine simulatione (quae sunt maxime monachicae vitae virtutes) in ep. no. 271.
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 847–75, esp. lines 857–9 (Godman’s transla-
tion of which is hardly acceptable), 869–70 (a versification of Pope Gregory’s Responsio
I ad Augustinum, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 80!); HE V 20, ed. Colgrave and
Mynors, p. 532. Bosa’s ousting is known only from Stephen of Ripon’s Vita Wilfridi,
chs. 44, 45, ed. Colgrave, pp. 90, 92.
‘York poem’, ed. Godman, line 1218. The earliest example of a cathedral
decanus cited in DMLBS is, surprisingly, a questionable Worcester charter of 1051/53,
S 1475; but the succession of deans at Canterbury begins before 1020: Brooks, Early
History, pp. 256, 260. These, however, are both monastic cathedrals. In Chrodegang’s
Rule, original version cc. 4, 25, 28 (ed. W. Schmitz, S. Chrodegangi Metensis Episcopi
(742–766) Regula Canonicorum, aus dem Leidener Codex Vossianus Latinus [ F] 94 . . .
(Hanover, 1889); ed. J.-B. Pelt, Études sur la cathédrale de Metz 1 (Metz, 1937), pp.
7–28, at pp. 11–12, 20–2), the leadership and disciplining of the clerici canonici are
attributed to an archidiaconus vel primicerius: it seems likely that this arrangement was
widely adopted for cathedrals in Francia and Italy in the next century or so, but
it did not spread to England.
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at York which was burnt in 741 as the residential building or build-
ings associated with the cathedral church, without any connotation
that the community was one of ‘professed monks’; and the letter
that Bede wrote to the bishop a year after his visit, although largely
concerned with Northumbria’s need for more episcopal sees and with
the way of life in its monasteries, nowhere suggests that Egberht is
ruling over a community of monks.
Finally, in Alcuin’s own let-
ters, as well as in the Vita, his one-time York contemporaries and
earliest friends are invariably priests or deacons, as is his pupil Eanbald
who became archbishop in 796.
The Ferrières ‘biographer’s’ account of Alcuin’s boyhood and youth,
written (it must be remembered) two full generations later, throws
no clear light on the degree of communal living to which the York
clergy were subject in those decades: he probably had less informa-
tion on the subject than we have. Alcuin’s expressed concern in 796
for good behaviour, and a due precedence ‘of age and rank’ at meals,
and his recommendations on how the instruction of the (younger)
clergy or of ‘the boys’ should be organized are poor evidence for
the cathedral community’s way of life thirty, let alone fifty, years
It would be equally unwise to generalise from the Vita’s
anecdote of the boy Alcuin’s being temporarily removed from the
scola puerorum so that a nervous ‘simple and tonsured rustic’ might
have company in his cell, to such good effect that the cleric slept
through the custos’s sounding the bell for the night office ‘at about
cock-crow’ and missed its beginning.
A readiness to learn from
Chrodegang’s reforms at Metz cathedral in the 750s, embodied in
Bede, Epistola ad Ecgberthum, c. 1, ed. Plummer, Bedae Opera Historica, 1, 405: in
monasterio tuo demorarer; ‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1416–8; HR, ed. Arnold, 2, 38.
Bede, HE V 20 (ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 532). For clerus in Aldhelm and
in early glossaries, see DMLBS s. v.; for Alcuin’s own usage, see ‘York poem’ ed.
Godman, lines 1180, 1430, 1587, ep. no. 114 (p. 169)—all relating to York—etc.
For York contemporaries see, e.g., epp. nos 43, 44, Vita c. 8, ed. Arndt, p. 189.
Compare also the ‘Northumbrian Annals’, s.a. 796, HR, ed. Arnold, 2, 58.
Ep. no. 114 (p. 169), Chase, Two Letter-Books, II/8 (p. 68). For the problems
of translation and interpretation of this passage, see below.
Vita, c. 2, ed. Arndt, p. 185. The writer’s nocturnae vigiliae is also the language
of the Benedictine Rule (cc. 9, 10, 16, 43), although not peculiar to it; ‘cock-crow’
does not figure there but it does in some other Offices and Rules, including Regula
Magistri. In one of Alcuin’s last letters (ep. no. 311 (p. 479) he compares a good
bishop with the cock of Prv 30.31 (!), characterized as praedicator optatae aurorae quae
numquam tenebris fuscatur: with which compare the Ambrosian hymn Aeterne rerum con-
ditor lines 5, 21 etc. (Ambroise de Milan: Hymnes, ed. Fontaine, pp. 149, 151: praeco
diei iam sonat, Gallo canente spes redit) and perhaps Isidore, De natura rerum 2, 3.
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his widely-circulated ‘Rule for Canons’, can legitimately be inferred
from a later passage, where causa cantus is the declared reason for
sending two York clergy there; and Alcuin’s exceptional allusions, in
letters of ?794, to the cathedral’s regularis vitae disciplina—a term he
otherwise uses only of coenobitic monastic communities—could be
a reflection of this.
Apart from the Vita’s two references to a York
custos, the character and scale of any imitatio during Egberht’s and
Ælberht’s pontificates is nowhere indicated, and might not be clear
even if we had the evidence of charters.
In a conspicuous departure from well-established hagiographic con-
ventions, Alcuin’s ‘biographer’ records at length how, whenever Arch-
bishop Egberht had his mornings free, he taught his discipuli (who are
also referred to as his pueri ) from his bed, and every evening except
during Lent he ate with them while a lector read an improving book;
similarly, when Alcuin was a youth, the archbishop celebrated com-
pline ‘with all of ’ his pupils, and none of them dared take himself
to bed until he had received the archbishop’s personal blessing.
Metz visit: Vita, c. 8, ed. Arndt, p. 189. Paul the Deacon, in his Gesta episco-
porum Mettensium (MGH SS II, p. 268), describes Chrodegang as the person who
Ipsumque clerum abundanter lege divina Romanaque imbutum cantilena, morem atque ordinem
Romanae ecclesiae servare praecepit quod usque ad id tempus in Mettensi ecclesia factum minime
fuit. For editions of the original Regula see above, n. 113; and note that the Leiden
manuscript, containing the earliest complete text (the earlier Metz-origin Bern
Burgerbibl. 289 is incomplete) was judged by the late Prof. B. Bischoff to be a
western-French, possibly ‘vicinity of Tours’, manuscript of s. ix
. Alcuin’s one ref-
erence to Chrodegang by name is in a short titulus he composed (on a visit many
years later? cf. olim in l. 2) to commemorate the archipater’s consecration of the
church at Lorsch (not Gorze!) on 11 July 765, following the adventus of the relics of
St. Nazarius: carm. ciii/3 (MGH Poet. I, p. 330); Berlin Phillips 1869 fol. 6, and later
calendars. For York’s regularis vitae disciplina, see epp. nos 42, 43 and Bullough, ‘What
has Ingeld to do with Lindisfarne?’, ASE 22, 98–101.
York custos: Vita cc. 2 (quoted in the text, above), 8 (Sigulfus presbiter), as pre-
vious note; but for another possible instance of copying Metz, see below, p. 172
and n. 127. Alcuin’s epitaph for the abbot and arch-chaplain Fulrad (ob.784), carm.
xcii/2 (MGH Poet. I, pp. 318–9) describes him as Inclytus iste sacrae fuerat custosque
capellae. For the Metz custos, see Chrodegang’s Rule, original version, cc. 6, 27
(plural!), ed. Pelt, pp. 12, 22; and compare OR. XV, ed. Andrieu, Ordines Romani,
3, 101: archaeclavius . . . ipse custodit et oras canonicas ad cursum celebrandum by knowing
quando signum pulsare. Custos, -odes occurs in several chapters of Regula Magistri but
nowhere in Regula Benedicti. Isidore, in his earliest list of ecclesiastical grades or offices
(in De ecclesiasticis officiis), inserts a custos sacrorum between the deacon and the sub-
Vita cc. 4, 5: ed. Arndt, p. 187. If the Vita-author was reporting an authentic
tradition, this would seem to be the earliest evidence, except for (significantly?) Chro-
degang’s Regula c. 4 (ed. Pelt, pp. 11–12), of Compline celebrated in a church served
by seculars; for the form of the office, cf. below. The term completorium is, however,
not to be found in Alcuin’s authentic writing.
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This is the scola puerorum from which Alcuin was briefly removed to
be company for a nervous older cleric: a residential community of
the young, tonsured but not ordained or advanced to the lowest of
the minor orders, such as is possible when the church of which it
is a part can accept boy-entrants every year or two. It had been a
feature of southern-European cathedral churches for centuries; it may
be implicit in a remarkable decree of the Southumbrian council of
Cloveshoe in 747, which has no parallel in Frankish conciliar acta
of the 740s or indeed until very much later; and Bede’s character-
isation of Acca’s education suggests that the York scola was not new
in Egberht’s day.
It is here that Alcuin and his older and younger
condiscipuli—Seneca of the remarkable vision before his early death,
Sigwulf, Eanbald (I) who succeeded to the archbishopric in 778/80—
were prepared for a lifetime’s service in a worshipping community.
Here they received their first instruction in ‘letters’, in the several
senses of that word, and in the companion art of reading aloud;
here they became familiar with the daily cycle of praise and prayer
and its musical settings (cantilena, cantus), although not yet with the
night Offices; here they were introduced to the structure of the
Church’s year, its feasts and fasts, and its place in Creation;
from it they moved in due time to a place among the ordained
clergy. An older Alcuin would urge Archbishop Eanbald (II) on the
occasion of his appointment in 796, in a passage that has been var-
iously construed (and not always with proper regard for syntax or
Alcuin’s style), to appoint teachers (magistri ) to take charge of the
boys, who are to be kept apart from the clergy; with the further rec-
ommendation that separate classes, each with its own master, should
be organized for instruction in (public?) reading, ‘the practice of
chant’ or ‘serving the sung liturgy’ and writing-skills, and thus keep
Continental cathedrals: see Bullough, ‘Le scuole cattedrali e la cultura dell’Italia
settentrionale prima dei Comuni’ in: Vescovi e Città in Italia nel Medioevo (= Italia
Sacra, 5; Padua, 1964), pp. 111–43, esp. pp. 113–15, 121–2. Cloveshoe: c. 7 (with
the title De lectionis studio per singula monasteria), Haddan & Stubbs, Councils, 3, 364–5,
Ut episcopi, abbates . . . provideant ut per familias suas lectionis studium etc. et exerceantur in
scholis pueri . . .; the sources of its distinctive wording have yet to be identified (Cubitt,
Church Councils, ch. 4, seemingly offers no comment on this decree). Bede: as n. 114.
Scolares . . . diligenter discere faciant psalmos et cantilenam ecclesiasticam: ep. no. 169,
to Archbishop Arn of Salzburg (799); cf. ep. no. 114, Chase, Two Letter-Books, II/8,
p. 68 (next note). According to the Vita Alcuini, c. 2, ed. Arndt, p. 185, Dumque
adhuc esset parvulus, diurna sub luce per canonicas cum aliis saepe frequentebat ecclesiam horas,
nocturnis autem perraro temporibus.
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the young out of mischief because fully occupied. It is very unlikely
that he was reminding his former pupil of arrangements that had
previously existed at the cathedral—rather, making a recommenda-
tion based on current practice in some Frankish churches—and there
is no evidence that the archbishop followed his advice.
Over many centuries, before and after this time, the standard text
from which the tonsured child and the occasional lay-person learnt
to read, and was introduced to the Latin language, was the Psalter.
This, in its several versions, also provided beginning, and older scribes,
with writing-models and exercises.
Alcuin’s memorising of the
The text of ep. no. 114, Chase, Two Letter-Books, II/8, reads Praevideat sancta
sollertia [solertio(!), S] tua magistros pueris [;] clero segregentur separati [separatim, A2] more
illorum qui libris legant qui cantilene inserviant qui scribendi studio deputentur. Habeas et sin-
gulis his ordinibus magistros suos. Dümmler’s debatable punctuation (p. 169), with a
comma between pueris and clero segregentur seperatim more, although beginning a new
sentence at Habeas, has influenced subsequent commentary and translation (e.g.
Kleinclausz and to some extent Allott). The words Praevideat . . . pueris are certainly
best read as an independent sentence. But commentators/translators are divided
between those who suppose that the phrases after clero relate to the pueri (scola puero-
rum) and those who believe that they are referring to ‘the (young or adolescent)
clerics’. Apart from those who ‘cut the knot’ by simply ignoring clero, interpretation
seems to turn on whether clero is understood as an ablative of separation or as a
dative of reference. Chase supposed the second and translated: ‘for the clerical
order, let those who read books (aloud) etc. . . . be divided separately according to
their habitual activity’. Apart from the questionable translation of more illorum (Alcuin
uses mos in several letters but never, I think, in this way), this creates an awkward
transition and the consequence that the inanes ludos etc. are those of the young
clergy, not of the pueri—although in ep. no. 250 to Fulda it is the community’s
seniores who are urged non inanes sequentes ludos! An ablative usage provides the inter-
pretation adopted in the text; and I owe to Prof. Francis Newton, whose help I
sought, not only confirmation of this but the further point that Alcuin has made
his meaning doubly clear ‘by (in lieu of a preposition before clero) repeating the
separative prefix se- so that we have [an] emphatic “set apart from” and “sepa-
rated from”’—‘extraordinarily vivid and forceful, in addition to clear’! Duckett,
Alcuin, p. 205 n. 5 is among those who suppose that the recommendations reflected
arrangements formerly existing at York (during Alcuin’s time as magister or even
earlier), citing in support Hauck, Kirchengeschichte, 2, 195—wrongly, since Hauck says
specifically that ‘die Ratschläge . . . werden das enthalten, was sich im fränkischen
Reich bewährt hatte’.
A characteristic instance is Gregory of Tours’s account of the priest (later
bishop of Lyons) Nicetius, who while still in the family home, studebat ut omnes pueros
qui in domus eius nascebantur . . . statim litteris doceret ac psalmis imbueret, including the
seven-year old Gregory himself: Vitae Patrum VIII, 2 (MGH SSRM, p. 692). Other
representative examples are listed in F.A. Specht, Geschichte des Unterrichtswesens in
Deutschland (Stuttgart, 1885), pp. 60–1, 67–9, and P. Riché, ‘Le Psautier, livre de
lecture élémentaire . . .’, Études Mérovingiennes: Actes des journées de Poitiers (Paris, 1952),
253–6. For the Psalter taught to girls in the early Middle Ages, see the Vita Ciarani
de Cluain, c. xvi, Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae, ed. C. Plummer (Oxford, 1910), 1, 205–6
(supposedly sixth-century).
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Psalms, under Egberht’s guidance, by the time he was eleven is illus-
trated by the account of his scaring off evil spirits with the sign of
the Cross and a reciting of Psalm 12 ‘Usque quo Domine oblivisceris
But while there were those to whom this was indeed the door-
way to full literacy and ‘book-learning’, there were others whose
involvement in their community’s worship continued to depend on
rote and memory. For its musical settings, no help was to be found
in books. ‘The York poem’, using contrasting (Biblical and Classical)
metaphors in the two places, credits both Egberht and Ælberht with
the teaching of music, apparently both theoretical and practical.
Instruction in chant would normally, however, have been given by
a master-singer, the primus scolae or cantor, who had himself commit-
ted to memory an already-substantial and complex repertoire. At
Metz in the late-eighth century the skills of such men earned them
monetary rewards on festival days; a short related text unexpectedly
incorporated in an eleventh-century expositio missae connected in some
way with Archbishop Wulfstan is tenuous evidence that York may
for a time have followed suit.
The mature Alcuin stressed the
Vita c. 2: ed. Arndt, pp. 185–6 (the continuation of the story of the ‘simple
rustic’ who overslept). The correct interpretation of Cum alter a decimo annus teneret
in ancient and early-medieval texts is a familiar crux. Servius asserted in his
Commentary that Virgil’s alter ab undecimo tum me iam acceperat annus in Ecl. VIII 39
meant ‘the thirteenth year’ (cf. Ven. Fortunatus carm. IV 26 v. 35: tertius a decimo ut
hanc primum acceperat annus), but he is now usually thought to be wrong. Paul the
Deacon’s Alter ab undecimo iam te susceperat annus/Cum vos mellifluus consociavit amor./
Alter ab undecimo rursum te sustulit annus in his epitaph for Queen Hildegard (Neff,
Gedichte Paulus, p. 115) is best understood as meaning that her death on 30 April
783 occurred during her twelfth year of marriage and that she was in her twelfth
year or aged twelve when she married Charles (in ?771).
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1271–2, 1437–8 (for the spelling concinnere, re-
quired metrically, cf. Æthelwulf, De Abbatibus, ed. Campbell, lines 238, 671), with the
medieval glosses to the latter and Godman’s comments ad loc. (p. 113). If line 1271
is metaphorical for ‘the chanting of the Psalms’ and not referring literally to a reed-
pipe, the hymnos of 1272 are surely all other ‘chants in praise of God’ (cf. Augustine,
Isidore etc., and not hymnody in the restricted sense.
Cantor etc.: Alcuin’s carm. xciii (MGH Poet. 1, 319; S.-K. no. 6634), Hic pueri
discant senioris ab ore magistri/ Hymnidicas laudes et resonare queant; Bullough (with A. Harting-
Corrêa), ‘Texts, chant . . .’ [1990], Carolingian Renewal, pp. 242, 257 with the notes on
pp. 260, 270. Metz: the text published from the unique manuscript source, London
BL Add. 15222 fols 70
–73 (where it is inserted in a copy of collectio A of the ordines
after OR. XXXIV) by M. Andrieu, ‘Règlement d’Angilramne de Metz fixant les
honoraires de quelques fonctions liturgiques’, Revue des Sciences religieuses, 10 (1930),
349–69. York (evidence, however, which certainly must not be pressed!): the short
section, immediately after the section of the expositio concerned with the gradual and
the reading of the Gospel, in Cambridge, CCC 190, p. 147 (item IXf in the con-
tents-listing in Wormald, Making of English Law, 1, pp. 214–5), inc. GREGORIUS [sic]
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 173
importance of mastering the arts of performance while still young—
old-age is too late!—and of singing in a properly controlled way, in
voce moderata: for ‘raising the voice is a form of boastfulness’. Of his
own vocal skills he unfortunately tells us nothing.
Alcuin’s early progression to a mastery of the written word, and to
a spirituality of which it was the foundation, is exemplified by the
account of his ecstatic vision when he was reading St. John’s Gospel
to his master Ælberht and his fellow-pupils,
an episode which if
authentic should belong to Alcuin’s teens or early twenties and the
late 750s/early 760s. At the onset of adolescence—conventionally
linked with age 14—the voice breaking and new physical strengths
developing, some of the pueri of secular cathedrals on both sides of
the Channel seem to have returned to the world, and thus help to
account for the occasional evidence of lay literacy even before the
Carolingian reforms; for unlike monastic oblates, they had not been
bound to the Church in perpetuity. Most of the others will have
become junior members of the cathedral clerici, the conventional
inclusive term (when it was not simply providing a contrast with laicus
or monachus) for those who had yet to proceed to the ‘major orders’ of
deacon, priest and bishop: in that sense it is a category in the ‘Lindis-
farne’ Liber Vitae, and used in occasional Midland and south English
charters and a wide range of contemporary non-English texts.
we rely on the sequence of events suggested by the Vita, which in
Censuimus namque ut in circulo anno in die natalis domini primus scolç qui ipsa die officium
facit solidum unum accipiat expl. ‘. . . qui evangelium legerit solidum unum accipiat’, which
appears to be a variant or a missing portion of the Angilram regulations.
See carm. xciii (last note), esp. lines 13–14, Nec bene namque senex poterit vel dis-
cere, postquam/Tondenti in gremium candida barba cadit; ep. no. 114 (p. 169), Chase, Two
Letter-books II/8 (p. 68), to the York clergy in 796. For Alcuin’s supposed author-
ship of the short treatise Octo tonos . . ., which covers aspects of music where theory
and practice overlap, see above, Pt. I.
And not to Egberht, as some modern biographies assert: Vita, c. 7, ed. Arndt,
pp. 188–9.
Gerchow, Gedenküberlieferung, pp. 309–15 (1175 names, in comparison with 372
nomina praesbyterorum and the forty nomina diaconorum); and the witness-lists of, e.g.,
the Kentish charters BCS. 319 of 805, BCS. 342 of 813 (Sawyer nos 1259, 1265),
but cf. F.E. Harmer, Select English Historical Documents of the Ninth and Tenth Centuries
(Cambridge, 1914), no. II of 833/9 (Sawyer no. 1482) which records three sub-
deacons! Compare Paulinus of Aquileia’s account of the Frankfurt synod in 794:
Quadam die residentibus cunctis in aula sacri palatii, adsistentibus in modum coronae presbyteris,
diaconibus cunctoque clero, sub praesentia principis [Karoli] (MGH Conc. II/i, p. 131). For
clericus contrasted with monachus etc., see e.g. Dialogus Egberti, int. xii, xiv, ed. Haddan
and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 408, 409.
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matters of chronology is confused and confusing, it was only in Arch-
bishop Egberht’s later years or his successor Ælberht’s very early ones,
when Alcuin was well on his twenties, that he was ordained deacon.
What ‘order’ or ‘orders’ he had received in his years of adolescence
is as obscure as it is for most of his clerical contemporaries.
One of the riddles in the Alcuinian Propositiones has a bishop dis-
tributing loaves among his clergy, defined as priests, deacons and
lectores. The list of the conditions of men in the Prologue to ‘Egberht’s
Penitential’, however, proceeds with episcopus, presbyter, diaconus, subdi-
aconus, lector . . .; and, writing to the newly-elected archbishop of York
in 796, Alcuin expressly recommends that the clergy supporting him
should include sub-deacons, an ‘order’ of which, as he records in a
contemporary poem, was among the clergy serving the Palace chapel.
In the letter Alcuin goes on to say that the York church should also
have the other ‘minor’ clerical grades so that the seven-fold gifts of
the Spirit will be matched by a seven-fold hierarchy or order. From
this it has been rashly (and, I believe, wrongly) inferred that he had
in mind four grades below that of sub-deacon (i.e. acolyte, exorcist,
lector and doorkeeper (ostiarius)), and that in consequence he was
reducing the ‘major’ orders from three to two, by the exclusion of
the bishop.
Isidore in his De ecclesiasticis officiis, however, describes
nine grades (ten if corepiscopi are counted) without that of acolyte,
while his basic list in the later Etymologies has nine, acolythus being
introduced between exorcist and sub-deacon.
Additions made (it
Vita c. 8 (ad init.): ed. Arndt, p. 189; the previous chapters 6 and 7 (idem,
pp. 188–9) and the rest of c. 8 mingle accounts of the years when Ælberht was
magister under Egberht and the period of his own episcopacy. Alcuin himself pro-
vides no help, in the ‘York poem’ or elsewhere; and for the difficulties created by
the Vita’s record of his diaconal ordination, see above Pt. I.
Propositiones, ed. Folkerts, c. 47; ‘Egberht’, ed. Haddan and Stubbs, Councils,
3, 417; ep. no. 114 (p. 168), Chase, Two Letter-Books II/8 (pp. 67–8). For the Nathanei
of Alcuin’s carm. xxvi (MGH Poet. I, p. 245–6), line 11, compare Isidore, De eccl.
officiis II.x.1 (CCSL cxiii [Turnhout, 1989], ed. C. Lawson, p. 69) and idem, Etym.
VII. xii. 23).
See Chase, Two Letter-Books, p. 67 note. The (Roman) consecratory prayer for
the ordination of deacons, but not for other orders, in the ‘old Gelasian’ (ed. Wilson
I xxii, ed. Mohlberg no. 154) and ‘Frankish Gelasian’ sacramentaries, petitions for
the sending upon them of the spiritum sanctum quo in opus ministerii fideliter exequendi
muneri septiformis tuae gratiae roborentur, with a previous reference to the ‘three grades
of ministers to do battle’. Closer to the letter’s quatinus septiformis in donis sancti spiri-
tus aecclesia septiformi aecclesiasticorum graduum distinctione fulgeat, however, is qui septiformes
ecclesiasticae dignitatis gradus septemplici dono sancti spiritus decorasti . . . in the praefatio of
Alcuin’s ‘votive’ missa sacerdotis, composed no more than a year or two later: Sacr.
Grég., ed. Deshusses, 2 (p. 86), no. 2102.
De eccl. off., II. v

xiv, ed. Lawson, pp. 56–73; Etym., VII. xii 2. A widespread
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is generally agreed) in Gaul to the Roman nucleus of the ‘Old
Gelasian’ Sacramentary, included in the primary manuscript-source
Vatican, Reg. Lat. 316 and indicated by the Index of St.-Thierry
(Rheims Bibl. Mun. 8, fols 1–2), provide rituals for admission by the
bishop to five of the ‘minor’ grades, as well as for the admission
without episcopal intervention of a psalmista, id est cantor. Even though
this text was almost certainly known in Northumbria, it is likely that
there, as in most ‘new’ churches in the West, the very lowest grades
never effectively existed.
Aldhelm and glossary-compilers are aware
of at least the grades of acolyte and exorcist. Alcuin seems never to
refer to them as such, even in his writings on baptism, although he
knew and made use of the letter of the sixth-century John the Deacon
ad Senarium, which has an interesting discussion of the different func-
tions of the two grades.
The ‘Old Gelasian’s’ (and ‘Frankish
Gelasians’s’) rituals are introduced by an extract from a letter of
Pope Zosimus which declares that ‘If a person has been enrolled
from childhood (ab infancia) among the ministers of the church, he
must remain a lector until he is twenty’. It is therefore plausible—
but no more—that Alcuin’s own first clerical grade was that of lec-
tor, whether or not his interest in the subdiaconate (normal in Rome’s
churches but seemingly unusual elsewhere) implies that he had been
in that ordo on his way to the diaconate.
In Alcuin’s lifetime, how-
ever, the word came to be widely used by English writers in the
sense of ‘learned man, teacher’: it was indeed so applied to Alcuin
himself, and to his companion Pyttel, in the record of the legatine
desire to align the historic eight or nine clerical grades with the special symbolism
of the number ‘seven’ prompted extensive and varied juggling with texts in the
Patristic and early-medieval periods: see the various writings of R.E. Reynolds,
beginning with ‘The De officiis vii graduum. Its Origins and early medieval Developments’,
Mediaeval Studies 34 (1972), 113–51.
Sacr. Gelas., I xcv

xcvi: ed. Wilson, pp. 144–9, ed. Mohlberg, nos 741–56;
Index: ed. A. Wilmart, RevBén 30 (1913), 437–50 (CLA VI, 822), [I] xc, xci; with
the discussion by Chavasse, Sacramentaire gélasien, pp. 5–27. Similarly, but omitting the
psalmista in ‘Frankish Gelasians’, e.g., Gell., nos 2502–18, 2520–23, 2537. For the
relevance of ‘Old Gelasian’ material to eighth-century Northumbria, see below.
Compare DMLBS s. vv. acolytus, exorcista, with A. Wilmart, Analecta Reginensia
(StT. 59; Vatican, 1933), pp. 170–9, here p. 176.
Sacr. Gel. I xcv, ed. Wilson, p. 144, ed. Mohlberg, no. 737; not in Gell. but in
Engol., no. 2058. The letter-extract goes on to say that candidates for the diaconate
should have been for four years either an acolyte or a subdeacon. For the ordi-
nation rituals, see the succeeding sections of the several sacramentaries, and OR.XXXIV,
cc. 1–3, Ordines, ed. Andrieu, 3, 603–4, with the editor’s commentary ibid., pp.
543–54. For sub-deacons at Canterbury in the next century, see above, n. 130.
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visitation of 786, as well as to Alcuin’s correspondent, the teacher
and priest Colcu, by his Northumbrian contemporaries.
The Liturgy as Schooling
Time spent in classes was only a small part of ‘schooling’. For pueri
and clerici, then as later, the collective celebration ‘in choir’ of the
daily Offices or Hours, the Sunday and feast-day Mass and the occa-
sional sacrament was an instrument of education, of mental forma-
tion, as well as an ordering of life, which is now difficult to grasp.
It was the dominant influence on almost every aspect of a partici-
pant’s later language, thought and writings. The texts, Biblical and
non-Biblical, used for the Liturgy provided the essential grounding
in Latin syntax, and a vocabulary with a distinctive semantic and
semiotic range, which subsequent teaching and reading might enlarge
or modify but could never obliterate: for Alcuin, this is finely illus-
trated by a letter in which he analyses the several senses of confiteri/con-
fessio, and is reflected in his use elsewhere of commonplace but
post-Classical (‘ecclesiastical Latin’) terms such as carnalis or tribula-
These same texts supplied a range of quotations and allusions,
whether indicated or not; and modern scholars need often look no
further for the source or inspiration of a writer’s phraseology.
Epist. Select. 1, ed. Tangl, no. 75, Boniface to Egberht: de opusculis Bedan lec-
toris aliquos tractatus; MGH Epp., IV, p. 28; the head-note of Alcuin’s ep. no. 7 and
HR ed. Arnold, 2, 56; etc. In the ‘York poem’, lector (twice) is simply the reader
to whom the poem is addressed.
Ep. no. 138 (p. 217), to the laity, monks and clerics of Gothia and included
in the collections K, T and S, has a brief discussion of confessio etc. (where, how-
ever, the opening citation from Ps 91.2 (all versions) does not accurately reflect
Jerome’s usage here); similarly, (the authentic) Haimo of Auxerre, expounding Mt
11.25 and with a better Psalm quotation (105, 1), in PL 118, 796A–B. Another
instance of confessio in the letters, with an additional sense, is in confessione regularis
vitae in ep. no. 272 (p. 431) (not noticed in DMLBS, 2, 431–2). Carnalis and tribula-
tio, used by Alcuin in his ep. no. 2 and frequently thereafter, are first recorded in
third-century Christian writings, occur frequently in the Vulgate Bible, and feature
in a number of Gelasian and Gregorian mass-prayers. An unusual use of carnalis is
ep. no. 19 (p. 54), Nolite in fuga confidere carnali (‘physical flight’) sed in prece patrum
vestrorum: carnali is, however, omitted in both the ‘Tours collection’ and ‘English col-
lection’ manuscripts, and is therefore peculiar to the Salzburg text of the letter; but
the sentence is characteristically Alcuinian in both assonance and rhythm.
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It is only to be expected that the impact will be most strongly felt
in the composition of letters, whether to fellow churchmen or to lay
persons, even at the end of a long life. For Alcuin that uniquely rich
body of evidence is supported by the contents of a florilegium in
four books De laude Dei et de confessione orationibusque sanctorum collect[i],
preserved in two Continental manuscripts that are of widely-sepa-
rated date and place of origin: namely, Bamberg, Stadtbibl., Msc.
Patr. 17 (B. II. 10), a Mainz book of the early-eleventh century, from
which alone it has been quoted intermittently by scholars in various
fields; and the earlier El Escorial manuscript B-IV-17 (doubtfully
attributed to S. France, s. IX
), a generally but by no means invari-
ably inferior copy.
Textual evidence supports its early northern-
English connections; and Alcuin’s ‘authorship’ seems securely established
by the rubric of the first book (Bamberg, fol. 133
): Liber primus de
laude Dei etc. collectus ab Alchonio levita. There is no clear internal evi-
dence for the date or circumstances of its compilation: the supposed
arguments in favour of ca. 790, based as they are on the ‘Ninian’
appendix and its evident link with Alcuin’s ep. no. 273 (in the English
letter-collections) are—I argue—misconceived; and I have been unable
to find any supporting evidence in the florilegium itself. The over-
all impression given by its contents is, none the less, that we have
here a personal reflection of the public worship and private study
of Alcuin’s York years. As such, it offers glimpses of the earliest
phases of his lifelong activity as excerpter and creator of fiches, which
The presence of this florilegium in the Bamberg codex, at fols 133–157
, was
first effectively made known by F. Vollmer in his introduction to MGH AA XIV
(Merobaudes, Dracontius, etc.), xiv

xvii. Origin and date were established by
H. Hoffmann, Buchkunst und Königtum im ottonischen und frühsalischen Reich, Textband, MGH
Schriften, XXX.i (Stuttgart, 1986), pp. 232–3; the Alcuin etc. portion (apart from
the final replacement-leaf, fol. 162) is the work of a single hand not found else-
where. The codex’s concluding folios 157
–162 are in fact verse Miracula et Hymnus
Nynie episcopi and a poem ‘titled’ Albinus Credulus (sic) in the index on fol. 133
, which
are not in the Escorial copy and in my view are early additions to the ‘original’
De laude Dei (cf. K. Strecker in MGH Poet. IV, fasc. 2, pp. 452–4: idem pp. 943–62
are Strecker’s edition of the Miracula). The most comprehensive account of its con-
tents, with editions of certain portions, is that of Radu Constantinescu, ‘Alcuin et
les “Libelli precum” de l’époque carolingienne’, Revue de l’histoire de la spiritualité 50
(1974), 17–56. My and other scholars’ debt to this publication is very great, although
I often find myself in disagreement with Father Constantinescu on points of detail.
For the El Escorial manuscript, where the De laude is at fols 93–108, see Bischoff,
Katalog, 1, no. 1193; the main text is Isidore’s Synonyma). For a major omission from
the Bamberg copy, preserved by the El Escorial one, see below, ch. 2. A complete
edition, based on both manuscripts, with commentary, is in preparation.
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178 cn.r+rn oxr
provided the raw material for his teaching and writing and for the
progress of his own life ‘in the spirit’.
The De laude in its transmitted form—which could well belong to
the time when Alcuin was already in Francia—invites comparison with
other devotional handbooks including substantial elements of ‘private
prayer’ composed in England, possibly for the first time in the Latin
West, in the eighth or early-ninth centuries.
Of the four still extant,
two are certainly, a third probably, Mercian (Southumbrian).
fourth and most substantial, the ‘Book of Cerne’, was also written
The ca. 790 dating was proposed by Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”’, p. 56;
Marsden, Text of the Old Testament, pp. 222, 223, etc., similarly associates the De
laude with Alcuin’s return to Northumbria, 790/93, albeit with considerable reser-
vations. The centuries-old tradition on which Alcuin draws here is finely charac-
terized by J. Fontaine, Isidore de Séville et la culture classique dans l’Espagne wisigothique,
3 vols. (Paris, 1959–83), here vol. 2, esp. pp. 750–65; for pre-Carolingian excerpt-
ing of the Fathers, see also Bullough, ‘Iuxta Vestigia Patrum’ (unpublished) and for
other eighth-century florilegia, below. Note Constantinescu’s suggestion (“Libelli pre-
cum”, p. 27) that the original character of Alcuin’s fiches may be particularly reflected
in the section of Book III on fols 145
of the Bamberg copy.
Thanks to Dom André Wilmart and others, the epithet libellus precum has firmly
attached itself to both the earliest and later examples of the genre. Helmut Gneuss
observed that ‘An Old English term for “prayer-book” does not seem to exist, and I
have not found a special Latin expression in Anglo-Saxon sources’: ‘Liturgical books
in Anglo-Saxon England and their Old English terminology’, in: Learning and Literature
in Anglo-Saxon England: Studies presented to Peter Clemoes . . ., ed. M. Lapidge and H. Gneuss
(Cambridge, 1985), pp. 91–142, at p. 138. But S. Keynes and M. Lapidge are
surely right in supposing (Alfred the Great [London, Harmondsworth, 1983], p. 268
n. 208) that King Alfred’s libellus referred to in Asser’s Vita Alfredi c. 88, and as enchiri-
dion in id. c. 89, was a devotional book with a prayer component: compare Cathwulf ’s
letter to King Charles, MGH Epp. IV, p. 503, ut sepius habeas enchyridion, quod est
librum manualem, legem Dei tui scriptum in manibus tuis; Alcuin’s ep. no. 243 (p. 389):
quasi quoddam enchiridion, id est manualem librum, id. no. 259 (p. 417): Direxi . . . man-
ualem libellum, sc. the collection copied into Cologne Dombibl. 106 (discussed below).
Namely: i. London BL Royal 2. A. xx (CLA II, 215; Ker, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts
no. 248), ed. Kuypers, Book of Cerne, pp. 200–25; ii. BL Harl. 7653 (CLA II, 204;
Ker, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, no. 244), ed. F.E. Warren, Antiphonary of Bangor, 2 (HBS
10: London, 1895), pp. 83–6; apparently for a woman, see the litany; both books
composed (or compiled) in the Worcester region. iii. BL Harl. 2965, ‘the Book of
Nunnaminster’ (CLA II, 199; Ker, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, no. 237), ed. W. de G.
Birch, An Ancient Manuscript of the Eighth or Ninth Century formerly belonging to St. Mary’s
Abbey (London, 1889); probably written for a woman, see fols 20
, 23
, 25
pp. 63, 66, 69), but not the ora pro me peccatrice of fol. 91 (Birch, p. 97: cf. idem,
pp. 15–16) since this is an addition of s. x
(Ker cit.): the possibility of Mercian
royal origin would be greatly strengthened if the Ealhswith whose property bounds
were also added in s. x
on fol. 40 (Birch p. 96) were indeed Alfred’s queen (ob.
909) and was or had been the manuscript’s owner, since she was descended on her
mother’s side from the Mercian royal dynasty. The books and their context were
splendidly discussed, with particular reference to the two from Worcester, by Sims-
Williams, Religion and Literature, pp. 275–327; but see further Brown, The Book of
Cerne (as next note), ch. 5.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 179
in Mercia in the first half of the ninth century, and includes on its
ninety-nine surviving leaves a number of texts (mostly prayers) found
also in one or more of the other books, as well as others peculiar
to it. Some parts of it, although how much continues to be contro-
versial, may have been taken over from an earlier Northumbrian
Certainly, an ill-defined link with York or its region
is apparent in some of its most recent items: particularly relevant
and revealing are the three prayers, two Ad dominum and one Ad sanc-
tam Mariam, which declare themselves to be compositions of the
anchorite Alchfrith.
His name does not figure in the ‘Lindisfarne’
Liber Vitae’s list of anchorites. He is, however, the author of a letter
to Higlacum lectorem et presbiterum copied in the two English manu-
scripts of Alcuin’s letters; and the addressee can safely be identified
with the ‘distinguished teacher’ of that name and grade living at the
end of the eighth century in the southern Northumbrian monastery
described in Æthelwulf ’s De Abbatibus.
The scope, structure and, indeed, manuscript-title of the De laude
distinguish it none the less from the other English books; it is
significantly different also, except for a small group of prayers included
in Book III, from the later Continental libelli precum in the creation
and dissemination of which Alcuin was evidently a major influence.
It has more similarities with other pre-750 florilegia copied in
Cambridge Univ. Libr. Ll. 1. 10, (Ker, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, no. 27; Dated
Mss.: Cambridge, no. 73), ‘the Book of Cerne’ from its later monastic provenance:
Book of Cerne, ed. Kuypers, pp. viii

xxxvi, 3–198. The origins of the book as a whole
and of its component elements have provoked a considerable literature, latterly com-
prehensively reviewed and re-interpreted by Michelle P. Brown, The Book of Cerne:
Prayer, Patronage and Power in Ninth-Century England, British Library Studies in Medieval
Culture (London and Toronto, 1996); Brown argues for a ‘thematic structure’ rest-
ing on the ‘doctrine’ of communio sanctorum (which leaves me uneasy), and distin-
guishing it in this respect—among others—from both the earliest English and later
Continental books. For verses in Cerne probably of Canterbury origin, the second
of the three familiar to Alcuin, which are copied on fols 62
, 66–66
see M. Lapidge,
‘Theodore and Anglo-Latin octosyllabic verse’, in: M. Lapidge ed., Archbishop Theodore
(Cambridge, 1995), pp. 260–80, esp. pp. 276–80.
Book of Cerne, ed. Kuypers, nos 47, 48, 58. See also Brown, Book of Cerne, pp.
137, 139–40, where eleventh-century English and later copies of no. 58, without
the attribution to Alchfrith, are noted.
Above, Pt. I p. 88 and n. 217; addenda and corrigenda to Levison’s and
Chase’s editions in Additional Note I, below.
One of the most notable differences between the Continental and the English
libelli is that the latter, but not the former, ‘return again and again to the theme
of protection against illness, death and supernatural adversity’: Sims-Williams, Religion
and Literature, pp. 285–6, in a chapter titled ‘Prayer and Magic’.
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Carolingian-period manuscripts, although lacking their ‘topical’ arrange-
More than one-third of it consists of short extracts from
books of the Old and the New Testaments, occasionally with the
addition of a short invocation or prayer. After the Octateuch, the
sequence of Old Testament books does not correspond with any that
is to be found in early ‘Vulgate Bibles’ (including those of Tours) or
in the Fathers. It appears, moreover, that Alcuin has used here Bible-
texts of more than one type: most notably, the several passages from
Tobit are dependent on the ‘Ceolfrithian’ text of that book, pre-
served complete in the Wearmouth-Jarrow Codex Amiatinus, although
none of the other Old Testament extracts are clearly linked with the
The second half of Book III consists predominantly of
short Patristic excerpts and some extended prayers of varied ori-
The fourth and last Book of the De laude Dei, which concludes
with verses from nine named Christian poets, begins with a lengthy
and distinctive sequence of liturgical texts and excerpts.
What do florilegium and letters reveal about Alcuin’s early expe-
rience of the liturgy? I begin, as he will have done, with the Psalter.
What bread was to the body the Psalms were to the soul—an essen-
tial part of daily nutrition. But it was also something very much
more. The Psalter is (to quote an outstanding modern liturgist) ‘above
all, a school in which to learn the contemplation of God and his
perfections; it teaches us to admire him at work in the splendor of
creation; it also teaches us the language of intimacy with him’. Alcuin
himself used similar language, concluding that ‘You will find every
virtue in the Psalms, if God in his mercy will deign to reveal to you
their secrets’.
Cassian had commented that the regular recitation of
E.g. those edited by A. Lehner (one of them from the Freising manuscript
Munich clm. 6433, written by the Anglo-Saxon Peregrinus) in CCSL 108D (Turnhout,
1987). Such florilegia should not be confused with any and every manuscript mis-
cellany of the period, of which they are often in fact only one item: where these
miscellanies have some unity of subject-matter, a better term for them might be
R. Marsden, The Text of the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge,
1995), pp. 222–35; the same author’s ‘The survival of Ceolfrith’s Tobit in a tenth-
century Insular manuscript [Bodley 572]’, JTS n. s. 45 (1994), 1–23 (with a fuller
discussion of the Am. text of Tobit, cf. Text of the Old Testament, pp. 171–81); and
personal correspondence in 1994, to which I am greatly indebted. See also below
(ch. 3) for Alcuin’s possible access to one of the Wearmouth-Jarrow pandects.
Constantinescu, “Libelli precum”, pp. 24–36; below, ch. 2.
A.G. Martimort, in The Church at Prayer, 4, 196, with an apposite quotation
from Augustine’s Enarrationes, 144, 1; the text <Quia> Prophetiae spiritus, PL 101, cols
465C–466B, transl. Southern, St. Anselm (1990), p. 96; and if Alcuin’s authorship
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 181
the Psalms made the Psalmist’s words one’s own; and a Southumbrian
council, during Alcuin’s boyhood, declared that someone who mouthed
the Psalms without understanding the Latin words would still be
communicating his ‘internalized’ desires to God.
The version used
liturgically at York and most other churches and monasteries in the
England of Alcuin’s day, as by Bede earlier at Wearmouth-Jarrow,
was the pre-Jerome Romanum. Lindisfarne on the other hand, as is
apparent from the Anonymous Vita Cuthberti, and some other ‘Irish’
foundations, continued to use the Gallicanum version ( Jerome’s first
revision) well into the eighth century.
The collection of verses De
psalterio with which Alcuin begins Book II of the De Laude —a so-
called Breviate Psalter, intended as a continuous prayer—uses the
phraseology of the ‘Roman’ version, with a very few divergences; so
does the somewhat different but frequently-overlapping selection in
the ‘Book of Cerne’, with the heading Hoc argumentum forsorum [for
versorum?] oedel ald episcopus decerpsit.
By contrast, the ‘little Psalter
which is called the Psalter of the blessed Bede, priest’, included by
Alcuin in a devotional handbook sent to Arn of Salzburg ca. 802,
is, he asserts in a separately-conveyed letter, a selection of psalm-
verses iuxta Hebraicam veritatem—which seems to be only partly true.
of the latter is questioned, see the remarks in his letter to Arn of Salzburg, ep. no.
243, which prefaced his manualis libellus (of which Duckett, Alcuin p. 266, is a free
paraphrase rather than a translation).
Cassian, Conlationes X.11, cited Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature, p. 319
n. 192; Council of Cloveshoe, 747, ed. Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 372: Voce
autem sine sensu cordis canentibus sonitum alicuius rei facere simillimum est, unde quamvis psal-
lendo Latina quis nesciat verba, suas tamen cordis intentiones, ad ea quae in praesenti poscenda
sunt a Deo suppliciter referre ac pro viribus detinere debet.
The evidence is summarised in Bullough, ‘A neglected early-ninth-century
manuscript’, ASE 27, p. 116 n. 39; see also Marsden, Text of the Old Testament, pas-
sim (index ‘text of Psalms’ at p. 502. Note additionally that torrente voluptatis suae
potabit nos in Bede’s V. Cuthberti ( pr.), c. 18 (ed. Colgrave, p. 218) is much the earliest
testimony to the aberrant reading voluptatis for voluntatis in Ps 35.9 (Ro., Ga.): indeed
in manuscripts of Ro. it is only recorded from s. xi onwards, although in Ga. volup-
tates is exceptionally reported in the mid-eighth-century ‘Corbie triple psalter’ at St.-
Petersburg (CLA XI, 1601), and voluptatis is adopted for the text in the Tours Bibles!
De laude, Bamberg version, fols 137–40, Escorial version, fols 102–7
some noteworty differences). The selective collation in Constantinescu, “Libelli pre-
cum”, pp. 21–3 is unfortunately not always reliable, and the comments, idem, pp.
19–22, are correspondingly often erroneous (cf. Marsden, Text of the Old Testament,
p. 225 n. 126). ‘Cerne’: Kuypers, Book of Cerne pp. 174–95 (with the reading forsorii );
discussion in Brown, Book of Cerne, pp. 143–5. For supposed Irish ‘precedents’, see
P. Salmon, Analecta Liturgica, Studi e Testi 273 (Città del Vaticano, 1974), pp. 71–2
and Brown, Book of Cerne, p. 144.
Ep. no. 259, complete only in Vienna lat. 808 (S1), abbreviated in Munich
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The succinct verse-by-verse commentaries on twenty-three of the
Psalms (seven Penitential, fifteen Gradual and Ps. 118 [Vg.]), which
constitute a large part of the same handbook, raise complex and
unresolved problems: not least, because neither the eighteenth-century
edition of the Alcuin texts nor the most recent edition of Cassiodorus’s
substantial Expositio Psalmorum, on some version of which Alcuin was
heavily dependent, are a reliable guide to the original form of their
Psalm lemmata or rubrics.
I limit myself to two fairly character-
istic examples. The eighth verse of Ps 6 is quoted by Alcuin in the
Roman form Turbatus est prae ira oculus meus, which is required by
both Cassiodorus’s and his own commentary (Ga.: a furore); but the
eleventh and final verse of the same psalm as printed by Frobenius
Forster is neither Ro. (the version in the printed text of the Expositio)
nor Ga., yet Alcuin’s commentary, in a section not taken from
Cassiodorus, is obviously responding to the Gallican version’s vehementer!
In Alcuin’s commentary on Ps 37, the rubric of v. 2 is Ro.—with
ira tua preceding furore tuo—as is Cassiodorus’s version, while vv. 5
and 20 (the latter some manuscripts only) are Ga., and several other
verses are a mixture of the two (vv. 4, 6, 7, 9); sometimes the Roman
elements are reflected in Cassiodorus’s text but at other times not.
The one explicit Psalm-citation in Alcuin’s verse, in a letter-poem
of ?796–7 (where unusually it is introduced by the words Sanctus ait),
depends on the Roman version of Ps 38.8.
The fullest and gen-
clm. 14743 (S1*). Only the earliest copy of Alcuin’s manualis libellus, that in Cologne
Erzdiözesan- u. Dom-Bibliothek, cod. 106, includes a text of the ‘little Psalter’,
although there are other ‘copies’ of this, with many variants, in ninth-century libelli
precum, etc.: see J. Fraipont’s edition in Bedae Opera, IV: Liber hymnorum etc. (CCSL
cxxii/3–4; Turnhout, 1955), no. xx, pp. 452–70, which creates a text-version that
in my view never existed!
Expositiones in Psalmos poenitentiales, Psalmum CXVIII et Psalmos graduales, PL 100,
cols 575–638; Cassiodorus, Expositio psalmorum, ed. M. Adriaen (CCSL 97–8; Turnhout,
1958). Compare J.W. Halporn, ‘The modern edition of Cassiodorus’ Psalm
Commentary’, Texte u. Untersuchungen der altchristl. Literatur, 133 (1987), 239–47 (but
written, as a letter from the author advised me, in 1971 and printed without the
requested addenda!); idem, ‘Pandectes, Pandecta and the Cassiodorian Commentary
on the Psalms’, RevBén 90 (1980), 290–300, noting at p. 296 n. 2 (contra Adriaen)
the mixed nature of his Psalter text, and correcting my remarks in ‘Kingdom of
Heaven’, Carolingian Renewal, pp. 173, 216 (n. 41), 217 (n. 44); Halporn, ‘Cassiodorus’
Commentary on Psalms 20 and 21: text and context’, RevÉtAug. 32 (1986), 92–102.
For Alcuin’s Cassiodorus text, compare below, ch. 2, pp. 257–8.
PL 100, cols 576A,B, 579–82; Cassiodorus, Expositio, ed. Adriaen, pp. 77,
343–7, 351.
Carm. xlvi, MGH Poet., I, pp. 259–60, S.-K. no. 2145 lines 17–18: the Gallican
version has quaerens panes al.-em (e.g. the Tours Bibles), while the Roman version
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 183
erally most revealing picture is inevitably provided by the correspon-
dence. The three verses in Alcuin’s earliest surviving letters (of 783
× 4?), two from Psalm 33 and one from Psalm 143, are unsurprisingly
and unequivocally Roman.
Many of the approximately one hundred
and twenty Psalter quotations (excluding mere echoes and probable
paraphrases, which are numerous) in the rest of the correspondence,
representing nearly one hundred different verses, are ones which are
identical in the Roman and the Gallican versions, and therefore of
no help in the present context. A few are of a type which textual
scholars are accustomed to call ‘peculiar’, as for example the repeatedly
quoted Ps 80.11 in the form Aperi os tuum et ego implebo illud, to which
Mr Paul Meyvaert has called attention and suggested an (unidentified)
liturgical origin.
There are a small number of quotations that are
certainly or probably from the Gallican version. Some of them Alcuin
seems simply to have copied from another author’s text which he is
closely following—part of Ps 31.5, for example, in his letter about
confession to the inhabitants of Gothia, and probably in his earlier
letter on the same subject to the young men of St. Martin’s.
reads, with the poem, egens pane. ‘York poem’, ed. Godman, line 211, qui Domini
legem meditans in nocte dieque depends on Ps. 1 v. 2, which in this regard is identical
in the two versions. In his letters, Alcuin always refers to David the Psalmist as
psalmista (epp. nos 1, 124 etc.) or propheta (epp. nos 15, 19 [p. 54] etc.). But David
is sanctus, with other Old Testament figures, in the (?Irish) oratio sancti Gregorii papae
in three of the English prayer-books and in the Tours libellus precum in Troyes, BM,
1742: texts in Kuypers, Book of Cerne, pp. 103–6 (no. 15) and Wilmart, Precum Libelli,
pp. 11–13.
In ep. no. 1, Multae tribulationes iustorum sed de his omnibus liberavit eos Dominus,
Ps 33.20 Ro. where Ga. omits Dominus and has omnibus his and liberavit, against the
majority of witnesses’ liberabit, correctly represents the early English tradition (see
Weber’s app. ad loc.); Timete Dominum omnes sancti eius quia (leg. quoniam?) nihil deest
timentibus eum, Ps 33.10 Ro. where Ga. has non est inopia: all witnesses to both Psalter
versions read quoniam, but the St. Denis scribes of the manuscripts H and H2 or the
scribe of their exemplar have frequently wrongly extended a presumable abbreviation
qu. In ep. no. 2, Misericordia mea . . . liberator meus, Ps 143.2 is identical in Ro. and
Ga. but the immediately-following in ipso speravit cor echoes Ro.’s in ipso speravi (again
in the early English manuscript tradition) subiciens, not Ga.’s in eo speravi qui subdis.
RevBén, 89 (1979), 36. All Psalter-versions (including He.!) have Dilata as the
opening word.
Ep. nos 138, 131. The citation in no. 138 (pp. 218–9) of the Psalm verse in
its Gallican form Dixi confitebor adversus me iniustitiam meam Domino (against Ro.’s pro-
nuntiabo, adversum and in-ias meas) and of Ps 31.3 as invetaverunt ossa mea are witnessed
by the two early and independent manuscripts, Vienna 795 (S ) and Troyes 1165
(T ). The readings iniustitias meas and omnia ossa in Milan, Bibl. Ambrosiana, I 89
sup. (N. It., s. ix/x: most recent and fullest description by C.E. Ineichen-Eder in
Scriptorium, 37 (1983), 98–104), where the letter occurs at fols 166–169, represent a
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of the others are in four letters composed at Tours, probably within
the space of a few years either side of 800. In two of them, addressed
respectively to the Frankish king and Archbishop Elipand of Toledo,
Alcuin may have been deliberately adopting their regular usage in
place of his own, or simply echoing quotations that had prompted
his response;
while in another the form of the quotation was
required by the context. This last, if the manuscript testimony can
be relied on, is certainly a special case. In a humiliating letter to
the Emperor (801/2) preserved only in his ‘personal’ collection, Alcuin
writes: ‘We are accustomed to say to God when confessing our sins
Si iniquitates observaberis, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit’, a quotation (Ps
129.3) which he then repeats. The standard Gallican Psalter has
observabis, the standard Roman one observaveris (to which Dümmler
‘corrects’ the letter-text): but the text of the former in the ‘Dagulf
Psalter’ (Vienna Nat. bibl. lat. 1861), from Aachen, has Alcuin’s pre-
cise wording!
Finally, in a letter to Angilbert in which Alcuin is
comparing prefixes in Latin and Greek with examples taken from
the Psalms, the Latin citations are likewise Gallican—because that
was the version in the bi-lingual Psalter he was consulting?
Where, indeed, a different Psalter-version provided Alcuin with a
better literary illustration or trope, he was perfectly capable of using
it, at least in his later years. Thus, writing in 801 to Gisla of Chelles
and needing a text to support his lament for a continuing ‘exile in
the world’, he quotes the psalmist’s Heu mihi, quia peregrinatio mea pro-
longata est which is the distinctively ‘Hebrews’ text of Ps. 119, 5. (Peregri-
partial ‘Romanisation’ by the copyist or his exemplar. The Gallican version of Ps
31.5 (unless, perhaps, adversum for adversus) is also that of Alcuin’s De virtutibus et vitiis,
PL 101, cols 621C–D. For the apparent common source (ps.-Aug. sermo 254, CPPM.
1, no. 1039), see below, ch. 3, pp. 354–5 and p. 384.
Ep. no. 163, answering queries from the king and drawing on Patristic and
other older texts to do so; ep. no. 166, a reply to Elipand and a rebuttal of Felix.
The longest quotation in the second of these (MGH Epp. IV, p. 270), from Ps
49.3–4, does not correspond precisely with any standard version, and the subsequent
quotation from vv. 1–2 also has non-standard features: they could well have origi-
nated with Elipand. Dom Bernard Capelle’s suggestion (Bull. d’Anc. Littér. Chrét. Latine
(Supplément à la Revue Bénédictine), I (1929), [115–7]) that Alcuin’s own Psalter-text
had ‘Spanish symptoms’ is hardly acceptable.
Ep. no. 249 (p. 403). Observaberis is also the reading of the (north-east French?)
BAV Reg. lat. 11 some decades previously: see the apparatus to R. Weber’s edi-
tion, Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Versionem (Stuttgart, 1969), 1, 934. When, earlier,
Alcuin had adapted a passage in Isidore’s Synonyma for his De laude Dei he wrote
(Bamb. fol. 147) observaveris . . . quis sustinebit; and this is likewise the reading of most
of the manuscripts of his Expositio in Psalmos paenitentiales (PL 100, col 593).
Ep. no. 162.
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natio is a word unknown to the Roman Psalter.)
Since knowledge
of the ‘Hebrews’ version in eighth-century Northumbria was clearly
not exclusive to Bede’s Wearmouth and Jarrow, Alcuin here also
may be relying on what he had learnt at York; but the availability
at Tours in his lifetime of a good, non-Insular, text of that version
is almost certainly established by the manuscript BL Harley 2793.
Even in Alcuin’s last writings, however, Psalter quotations not in the
Roman version are very much the exception. Among the very few
Psalm-texts cited in the De fide sancti Trinitatis is a verse of the Eighty-
third: Beati qui habitant in domo tua, Domine in saeculum saeculi laudabunt
te —the language of the Heavenly Hosts themselves, and a recurrent
favourite in letters written around the same time.
Collectively, the
Psalter quotations and echoes which came readily to Alcuin’s mind
as he wrote or dictated are enduring evidence of the version he had
intoned as a participant in the York community’s daily worship.
The first Roman ‘preachers to and teachers of the English’,
Augustine ‘of Canterbury’ and indirectly therefore pope Gregory,
Ep. no. 216 (p. 360). The verse reads in Ro. and Ga. Heu me (Ro.; mihi Ga.)
quia (Ga. and most witnesses to Ro. including Vesp. although Weber prints quod)
incolatus meus prolongatus est. The lemma in Alcuin’s own commentary on the psalm
(PL 100, cols 619–21) is likewise Heu me quia incolatus etc. in most manuscripts.
Cassiodorus has the simple ‘Incolatus’ autem significat peregrinationem (ed. Adriaen, CCSL
98, p. 1143); Alcuin revealingly expands this to . . . quod diu in peregrinatione huius mor-
talitatis incolatus eius prolongetur (col. 620D).
For its textual affinities see de Sainte-Marie, Psalterium iuxta Hebraeos, pp. xxxvii

xxviii and Fischer, ‘Bibeltext und Bibelreform unter Karl dem Grossen’ (1965),
Lateinische Bibelhandschriften, p. 126; for its date (early Fridugis?) see Koehler, Karolingischen
Miniaturen, I/1, no. 7, cf. Fischer, ‘Alkuin-Bibeln’ (1971), Lateinische Bibelhandschriften,
p. 258.
Ps 83.5 (Ro.); De fide, III 22, PL 101, 54 A; verbatim in epp. nos 213 (p. 357),
216 (p. 360), 278 (p. 435), shortened or adapted in epp. nos 198 (p. 328), 209
(p. 349), three of them in Alcuin’s ‘personal’ collection; previously in De laude,
Bamberg copy; also in the breviate Psalter in Kuypers, Book of Cerne, p. 190. The
Gallican version is habitant in domo tua in saecula saeculorum.
Agustinus primus praedicator noster, epp. nos 129 (p. 192; cf. p. 191 for doctores nos-
tri, founders of the faith), 293 (p. 450); primi doctoris patrie nostri sanctissima sedes (sc.
Cantuariensis), ep. no. 255 (p. 412); also ep. no. 291 . . . in relegionem cristianam quae
purissima tradita est a beato Agustino et caeteris doctoribus Britanniae. Gregorius ( papa) praedi-
cator noster: letter of 792 ex to King Offa, ed. Lehmann (above, Part I, p. 36 n. 79),
epp. nos 124 (p. 182), 125 (p. 184), 128 (p. 189), all of 796/7; beatus Gregorius doc-
tor noster, ep. no. 279 (p. 436). For Alcuin’s usage here, see my comments in
‘Hagiography as patriotism’, pp. 340, 355 n. 6. He had been partly anticipated by
Aldhelm, while the Dialogus Egberti resp. xvi, ed. Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3,
411 (a post-Egberht addition to the original text?) speaks of noster didasculus beatus
Gregorius and pedagogum nostrum beatum Augustinum. Earlier, the Epilogue to Theodore’s
Penitential (‘discipulus Umbrensium’ version, complete text: Canones Theodori, ed.
Finsterwalder, p. 334) refers to Gregorium apostolum nostrum, an epithet adopted also
by Bede but not by Alcuin.
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had likewise provided them with a distinctive set of nine Canticles
for the office. The earliest complete text of this ‘old Roman’ series is
in the Canterbury Vespasian Psalter (BL Cotton Vespasian A. i) of
ca. 700; and three canticles from it are also included in the Worcester-
region ‘Royal’ prayer-book. With typical liturgical conservatism, three
of the six Old Testament canticles sung on successive weekdays at
Lauds, as well as the Hymnus trium puerorum (Dn 3.57–88+56) included
in the Sunday office, the New Testament Canticum Zachariae or Benedictus
sung daily at Lauds and the Magnificat (Lc 1.46–55) which was—and
is—the high-point of Vespers, were in a Vetus Latina (not the Vulgate)
It is at least partly demonstrable from Alcuin’s writings
that the same series and versions were the ones he had committed
to memory as a boy or young adolescent at York. Quoting from
Deuteronomy 32.41 in the course of an intricately-constructed account
of swords in the Bible and their various meanings in 798, Alcuin
adopts the distinctively ‘Old Latin’ wording quia exacuam ut fulgor gla-
dium meum, et agit iudicium manus mea.
None of the attributed quo-
tations or paraphrases of the Book of Daniel in Alcuin’s letters is
from its third book; but the comparatively long series of Daniel
extracts in the De laude includes 3.52–88+90, which at several points
follows the Roman canticle version although not consistently.
once quotes from the Habakkuk canticle (3.2–19) in its ‘Old Latin’
version. Bede wrote a commentary on it, at the request of an unnamed
nun, explaining that it was sung every Friday to commemorate the
death of Christ: the text lemmata are ‘Old Latin’.
Again, it is evi-
H. Schneider, Die asltlateinischen biblischen Cantica, Texte u. Arbeiten (Erzabtei
Beuron), I 29–30 (Beuron, 1938), pp. 46–50, 58–64, 75–81; The Vespasian Psalter:
British Museum Cotton Vesp. A.I, ed. D.H. Wright, EEMF 14 (Copenhagen, 1967), pp.
52–3, 95 and fols 142–52; BL Royal 2. A. xx (above, n. 143), fols 13
–16, ed.
Kuypers, Book of Cerne, pp. 206–7, has Vetus Latina texts of the ymnus scae mariae, the
canticum Zachariae and the canticum trium puerorum (with additional verses: for the
significance of this, see below). For Boniface’s and Bede’s familiarity with the can-
tica romana, see Schneider, Biblische Cantica, pp. 47–8, Marsden, Text of the Old Testament,
pp. 69–70, 214–5, and below.
Ep. no. 136 (p. 206). Dümmler prints aget, which is also the reading of the
Vespasian Psalter; but the manuscript evidence for the letter strongly supports agit.
The Vulgate version reads (with no important variations) si acuero ut fulgur gladium
meum et arripuerit iudicum manus mea.
Details in Marsden, Text of the Old Testament, pp. 227–8. For the use of the
hymnus (Dn 3.52–90 or sections of it) in other pre-Carolingian liturgies, see further
P. Salmon, Lectionnaire de Luxeuil . . . Édition et Étude Comparative, Coll. Bibl. Lat. 7
(Rome, 1944), p. 9 n.
Boniface: Epist. Select. 1, ed. Tangl, no. 78 (p. 165); Marsden, Text of the Old
Testament, pp. 69–70. Bede: Expositio in canticum Abacuc, ed. J.E. Hudson, CCSL 119B
(Turnhout, 1983), pp. 379–409. But the editor seems not to have realised that the
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 187
dently the canticle that has determined the selection from the prophet
in the De laude, namely, Hab 3.2 [part], 3, 4, 11 [part], 13 [part],
18, 19; and although the text here is in large part that of the Vulgate
(with readings that may provide a link between the early York or
south-Northumbrian and the later Turonian texts), in the opening
line auditionem tuam is replaced by the ‘Old Latin’ auditum tuum, as in
Vesp. and Bede, and v. 11 is in the canticle version.
The influence of the liturgy can also be invoked to explain the
form of some of Alcuin’s citations from the New Testament in his
correspondence. Many, probably the majority, of these are indeed
in a standard Vulgate form with only minor verbal differences (one
or two words) which are demanded by their syntactical context or
are simply the result of mis-remembering. Some of the divergences,
moreover, are supported by early and relevant manuscripts of the
Gospels and of the Pauline and Catholic Epistles; and they may
accordingly point to text-versions current at York in the early eighth
century if, as seems likely, these differed from those represented by
the Codex Amiatinus, the Lindisfarne Gospels and some related man-
uscripts. A probable example is the quotation from Christ’s call to
the disciples in St. Luke’s Gospel (12.35) in a letter of 793 as (ipsa
attestante veritate)
‘Sint lumbi vestri praecincti et lucernae ardentes in manibus
vestris’. The last three words are not a part of the standard Vulgate
text, but they feature exceptionally in BL Egerton 609, an early-
ninth-century Gospel-book with ‘Irish’ affiliations, probably written
in Brittany; and that this was the version that Alcuin recalled from
past reading (or being read to) is confirmed by the partial para-
phrase in a letter to ‘the bishops of Britain’ in 796, State lumbis accinc-
tis in acie Christi, ardentes in manibus lucernas tenetes.
Writing to the
original text lemmata were ‘Old Latin’, and this prevents his recognising the nature
of the variants in some manuscripts (where Vulgate readings have been introduced)
and, more importantly, utilising the Vespasian Psalter’s readings when the expositio
manuscripts disagree: e.g. (v. 8, wrongly numbered 9) quoniam ascendens ascendes (corr.
from -ens) Vesp.; (v. 10) aspargens Vesp. with the Bede manuscripts OP
; (v. 13)
inimicorum ed., iniquorum Vesp. with OP2T (Vulg. impii ); cervicem ed. as OP
T, ver-
ticem rell., cervices Vesp., where Bede clearly wrote cervicem but was evidently familiar
also with the alternative c-es, cf. p. 399 l. 521 Quod si quis numero plurali legendum
dixerit etc.; (v. 16) custodivi ed. (Vulg. audiv), custodivit Vesp. with OP
Bamb., fol. 137, Esc., fol. 101; Marsden, Text of the Old Testament, p. 228.
Veritas for Christ (God-in-Christ) in the Gospels is found (earliest?) in the let-
ters of Gregory I, as Reg. III, 52, XI, 4 (quoted below, p. 192. It is always rare
and not so used by, e.g., Aldhelm.
Letters: ep. no. 17 (p. 46), Chase, Two Letter-Books, II/10; ep. no. 104 (p. 150).
Gospel-text: Novum Testamentum Domini Iesu Christi Latine, ed. Wordsworth and White,
app.; Fischer, ‘Bibeltext’[1965], Lateinische Bibelhandschriften, p. 234. The verse is the
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doubly-bereft Queen Æthelthryth(a) in the same year, Alcuin quotes
the familiar ‘Whosoever does the will of my father’ etc. (‘as in the
Gospel [Mt 12.50] our Lord Jesus Christ replied’)—the last sentence
of a widely-used pericope in ‘Roman’ lectionaries—in the distinctive
form Omnis qui fecerit voluntatem patris mei qui in caelis est ipse mihi mater
et frater.
In 794/6 (writing in Charlemagne’s name!) and again in
798 Alcuin quotes Lc 6.37 in the form Dimittite et dimittetur vobis:
according to the Beuron data-base of pre-900 Gospel texts (several
hundred examples!), this particular wording is peculiar to a minority
of pre-Carolingian manuscripts, including however the Northumbrian
book now Cambridge, CCC 197, the Italian book BL Harley 1775
and the Irish books Oxford, Bodl., Rawlinson G.167 and the ‘Book
of Mulling’.
Similarly several years apart, he quotes Lc 11.17—a
verse of a widely-used pericope, unlike its synoptic parallel Mt 12.25—
in the non-standard-Vulgate wording Omne regnum in se divisum non
stabit, which is perhaps an ‘Old Latin’ version familiar to seventh-
century Rome and taken into a very few Vulgate manuscripts.
Other New Testament citations are not obviously to be accounted
for in those ways. The form of the penultimate verse (28.19) of St.
Matthew’s Gospel, which is unsurprisingly quoted whenever the con-
version of pagans is referred to, is invariably Ite (not Euntes) docete
omnes gentes, baptizantes eas in nomine Patris etc. This wording, although
with eos for eas, is that with which both Gelasian and Gregorian
sacramentaries conclude the consecration-prayer of the Easter Eve
opening one of several pericopes in the early ‘Roman’ and other lectionaries (sanc-
torale): Klauser, Capitulare Evangeliorum, p. 190, Lenker, Perikopenordnungen, p. 533, and
the text-pages referred to in these index-entries.
Ep. no. 105 (uniquely in ms. S); Vulg. Quicumque enim fecerit. . . . ipse meus et
frater et soror et mater est, the Tours Bibles like some other early witnesses omitting
the et after meus. Note that Cassiodorus in his Expositio psalmorum quotes that pas-
sage (once) in the form Qui fecerit voluntatem Patris mei qui in caelis est, hic meus pater
[sic] et mater et frater: ed. Adriaen, p. 203. For the pericopes Mt 12.38–50 and 46–50,
see Klauser, Capitulare Evangeliorum, p. 87, Lenker, Perikopenordnungen, p. 530.
Epp. nos 85, 136; Fischer, Evangelien-Text, 3, 85.
Ep. no. 18 (p. 52), Chase, Two Letter-Books, II/1, ep. no. 129 (p. 192); for the
pericope(s) see Lenker, Perikopenordnungen, p. 312 and Klauser, Capitulare Evangeliorum,
p. 190 (cf. p. 187). This is the wording of, e.g., Pope Martin I’s encyclical letter
of 649, ed. R. Reidinger, Concilium Lateranense a.649 Celebratum, ACO. ser.2, 1 (Berlin,
1984), p. 415 (dicit dominus . . .); Fischer, Evangelien-Text, 3, 368, records only two wit-
nesses. Note that Vesp.’s text of ep. no. 18 (at fol. 118) has been corrected by Wulfstan
to omne regnum in se ipsum divisum desolabitur (duly copied in BL Cotton Faustina B.
iv fol. 192a; and printed by Chase, Two Letter-Books, p. 44), which ironically is the
precise wording of the Tours Bibles (Vulg. ed., desolatur).
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 189
Benedictio fontis.
The no-less familiar ‘Inasmuch as you have done
it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me’ (Mt 25.40)
is quoted in letters of ca. 797 to both English and Continental recip-
ients (and with distinct manuscript traditions) in the form Quamdiu
uni ex his minimis meis fecistis mihi fecistis, and with the omission of his
and meis in a later letter: the standard Vulgate version reads . . . uni
de his fratribus meis minimis . . .
A similar example is the quotation
of Mt 25.34 in the form Venite benedicti Patris mei, percipite regnum quod
vobis paratum est ab origine mundi in letters with quite distinct manu-
script traditions and of widely different dates—usually as their con-
clusion—and at the end of the fullest version of his Commentariorum
in epistolam ad Hebraeos; here the Vulgate, including the Tours Bibles,
has the words possidete paratum vobis regnum a constitutione mundi.
both instances Alcuin’s versions are well-documented liturgical ones:
Venite benedicti is the Mass introit for Wednesday in Easter-week; and
both texts are Office antiphons for feria II in the first week of Lent.
As epp. nos 110 (p. 158), 111 (p. 160), 113 (p. 164), all of 796. Note that
Alcuin and his scribes (contra Jerome) make the pronoun agree in gender as well as
number with the antecedent gentes, and continue in epp. nos 111, 113 with (Mt
28.20) docentes eas. . . . The Rheims manuscript BAV Reg. lat. 272 (T*) has ‘cor-
rected’ the texts of all three letters to eos, in which it had been anticipated by H2’s
text of no. 113, although there a contemporary corrector restores eas after docentes!
Sacr. Gel., I xliv, ed. Wilson, p. 86, ed. Mohlberg, no. 446; Sacr. Grég., ed. Deshusses,
1, no. 374c. Mt 28.16–20 is the almost universal pericope for Friday in Easter
Week, although early Northumbria used Mk 16.8–? on that day: see Klauser,
Capitulare Evangeliorum, p. 188, Lenker, Perikopenordnungen, p. 219. Mt 28.19,20 seem
never to have been used for chant-texts, unlike the corresponding Mc 16.15 which
is CAO no. 7028.
Ep. nos 74 (to Abbot Rado of St.-Vaast; dated too early by Dümmler) at
p. 117, 124 at p. 183 (omitting his); the shorter version in ep. no. 302 of c. 800. Ex
his minimis is also the reading of the ‘Irish’ Vulgate text, as represented by the Book
of Kells and the Rushworth Gospels. Theodulf ’s Opus Caroli twice has another short-
ened version, Quamdiu fecistis uni de minimis istis mihi fecistis: ed. Freeman, pp. 379,
410. For two different versions in Gregory I’s letters, see Reg. IX 226 and XII 2
(ed. Norberg, CCSL 140A, pp. 800, 970), the first of these closest to Alcuin’s; for
the version in Cassiodorus’s Expositio psalmorum, see ed. Adriaen, pp. 373, 528.
The conclusion of epp. nos 117 of 796, 243 (p. 391) of 798–?802, 251 of
801/2, 271 and 282, and of ep. no. 23, where it is abbreviated; in the body of the
text of ep. no. 302; but earliest of all in the Epistola Karoli ad Elipandum of 794, MGH
Conc. 2/1, 162, for Alcuin’s ‘authorship’ of which see ch. 3 below; Comm. in ep. ad
Hebr. fin., in the manuscripts Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibl., 182 (Reichenau, ‘spätestens 846’)
and Orléans, Bib. mun. 85 (82), ed. PL 100, col. 1084B. For Venite . . . ab origine
mundi as a letter- and sermon-ending before Alcuin, see below.
Hesbert, Antiph. Miss., no. 83; CAO nos 4560 (except Quod for Quamdiu and
omitting his—as in Gregory’s Reg. IX 226, ed. Norberg, p. 800) and 5350. Additional
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In the more numerous Epistle-citations, Alcuin’s departures from
both the standard Vulgate text and known early variants are numer-
ous and striking, and generally consistent in letters written several
years apart. An example of the latter is the version, apparently pecu-
liar to him (by conflation or confusion with I Cor 12.24?), of the
concluding verse of I Corinthians 14, which lent itself to use in very
different contexts: ‘the Apostle said Omnia vestra honesta cum ordine
fiant ’—although modern editors in two places reject the unanimous
testimony of the manuscripts and ‘correct’ to honeste, to bring it closer
to the Vulgate’s Omnia autem honeste et secundum ordinem fiant (‘But let
everything be done in a proper and orderly fashion’).
Such, how-
ever, is not always the case. In letters on the proper approach to
the conversion of the newly-conquered Avars, Alcuin several times
draws on the third chapter of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians
‘as infants in Christ’. Writing to a courtier whom he hopes will
influence the king he ‘quotes’ the second verse as Lac vobis dedi potum
non solidum cibum (Vulg. escam) and mistakenly connects it with Galatians.
A letter to the king, of which a copy was also sent to Salzburg,
deploys a much longer quotation dicente apostolo Paulo: a correctly
cited first verse is followed by the equally correct lac vobis potum dedi
non escam nondum enim poteratis but is then completed by the non-stan-
dard sed necdum potestis. In a letter to Arn, however, for which the
manuscript testimony is the earliest of any (i.e. the St.-Amand man-
uscript S) and of which Alcuin’s ‘personal collection’ gives an iden-
tical text, he offers the startlingly incorrect version Lac vobis dedi escam
[sic] non solidum cibum quia non potuistis accipere sed necdum potestis quia
carnales [-is in S ] estis.
The most reasonable explanation of the cita-
tions in the first letter and in that to Arn is that Alcuin had mis-
remembered the passage in question and had failed to check it against
a written version in the interval between the composition of the two
letters: since, moreover, the mis-quotation is retained in his ‘personal
testimonies for both include the Metz Tonary, ed. W. Lipphardt, Der karolingische
Tonar von Metz, Liturgiewissenschaftliche Qu. u. Forsch, 43 (Münster-Westfalen,
1965), pp. 43, 45, 139, and the eleventh-century English ‘Portiforium of Saint
Wulfstan’ (of Worcester), ed. A. Hughes, 1, HBS 89 (Leighton Buzzard, 1958),
p. 28; in the ninth-century Compiègne Antiphonary, CAO no. 5350 is also an anti-
phon for the Common of Apostles, at Lauds.
Epp. nos 19 (where the manuscript D can be added to the witnesses), 110
(honesta in the edition), 209; cf. I Cor 12.24, honesta autem nostra nullius egent. Did
Alcuin interpret the substantive as ‘virtuous acts, seemly behaviour’?
Epp. nos 111 (p. 160), 110 (p. 157), 113 (p. 165).
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collection’, the substantial correction in the letter addressed to the
king must surely be credited to the Tours scribe responsible for the
exemplar(s) of the later copies.
Again, however, it is unsound to explain all the deviations from
the standard Vulgate text, including variants to which there is good
testimony elsewhere, in this way. It is to be expected that among
the quotations that came so readily to Alcuin’s pen in his later years
were reminiscences, not always wholly correct, of the mass-lections
(Biblical pericopes) which he had listened to as a boy and young
man—only once a year, and not (as with the Psalter) at least once
a week. Indeed, some two-thirds of his Epistle quotations come from
passages specified (by their opening and closing words only) in the
early-Roman lectionary copied by an accomplished English scribe in
the mid-eighth century and taken to Würzburg, and a slightly lower
proportion from the overlapping collection in the lectionary to which
Alcuin’s name was attached in the early-ninth century: although
there is no independent evidence that either series was used in
A recalled lectio would satisfactorily account for the appar-
ently anomalous wording of a citation (apostolo dicente) from the Letter
to the Galatians (5.21) in 793, Quoniam qui talia agunt regnum Dei non
possidebunt (Vulg. consequentur), which unexpectedly recurs in a later
(Spanish) lectionary.
A very different origin is, however, possible.
The letter’s possidebunt is anticipated in a longer quotation (Gal
5.19–21) towards the end of the great Frankish capitulary of 789,
the non-standard wording of which adds animositates and haereses to
its list of ‘sins of the flesh’: their inclusion, in conjunction with pos-
sidebunt, is reportedly unique to a version of the apostolica lectio used
by Augustine for a sermon outside the main collections, which may
therefore be Alcuin’s source-text! Similarly, neither of the passages
quoted from I Corinthians is likely to have orginated in a lectionary.
Würzburg Univ.bibl., cod. M.p. th. f. 62 (CLA IX, 1417), fol. 2
, ed.
G. Morin, ‘Le plus ancien Comes ou lectionnaire de l’Église romaine’, RevBén 27
(1910), 41–74; Wilmart, ‘Lectionnaire d’Alcuin’, pp. 136–97.
Ep. no. 18 (p. 50); Liber Comicus sive Lectionarius Missae (of Toledo), ed. G. Morin,
Anecdota Maredsolana, 1 (1893), 370. In ‘Alcuin’s Lectionary’, ed. Wilmart, p. 160,
Ga 5.16–24 is the pericope for Ebdomada V post sancti Laurentii (sic); other lectionar-
ies prescribe these verses for different days.
The quotation in MGH Capit. I, ed. A. Boretius, p. 61 (c. 82) (for Alcuin’s
involvement, see below, Ch. 3); the sermon is Morin 10, Miscellanea Agostiniana: Testi
e Studi pubblicati a cura dell’Ordine Eremitano di S. Agostino 1, ed. G. Morin (Rome,
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The possibility has always to be borne in mind that Alcuin was
using Patristic writings or Papal letters as part-‘models’ and simply
copied the Biblical quotations he found there. In his exegetical and
dogmatic works, this is usually evident even without the help of a
modern computer concordance: a familiar example is the non-Vulgate
version of Genesis 1.26 quoted in the response to an interrogatio on
Genesis 47.3, which has been taken over in its entirety from
Several of the OT and NT quotations in Alcuin’s suc-
cessive writings on confession and penitence, including ones from the
Psalter in its Gallican version, seemingly depend on an earlier ser-
mon or sermons.
Identifying ‘second-hand’ Biblical quotations in
his regular correspondence is more problematic unless they are in a
distinctive context, and definitive source-attributions are likely to be
rare. Thus, when in an early (pre-790) letter Alcuin quotes Matthew
7.12 with the final clause in the form haec eadem et vos facite illis (against
the Vulgate’s et vos facite eis), the preceding Dicit enim Veritas suggests
a link with the only quotation of that same verse in Pope Gregory’s
extant letters, without its being an exact parallel—. . . Veritas dicit
‘Quae vultis ut faciant vobis homines, et vos eadem facite illis’.
Again, when
Alcuin concluded a letter to the monks of Murbach (796) with the
‘liturgical’ version of Matthew 25.34, the immediately preceding
clauses ut Dei donante clementia, peccatorum meorum merear accipere veniam
ac vobiscum desiderabilem audire vocem link his final salutation here with
that of eighth-century papal letters, with a passage in a papal ser-
mon included in the Liber Diurnus and with the concluding perora-
tions of several homilies of the sixth-century Caesarius of Arles which
cite it in identical form.
1930), pp. 624–6, at p. 626. I Cor 3.2, in the more or less standard form lac potum
dedi vobis non escam, is in the Toledo Liber Comicus for the local feast of SS Iustus et
Pastor (ed. Morin, p. 264): I have not noted it elsewhere; and I have not found I
Cor 14.40 in any lectionary.
Interrogationes et responsiones in Genesin, resp. 273 (PL 100, cols 557A–B) = Augustine,
Quaestiones in Heptateuchum (Gen.) ed. J. Fraipont, CCSL 33 (Turnhout, 1958), p. 59,
lines 2013–27.
See above.
Ep. no. 4; Gregory, Reg. XI, 4 (ed. Norberg, p. 863). Veritas for Christ is, how-
ever, common in later letters of Alcuin’s where there is no reason to suppose sec-
ond-hand quotation.
Ep. no. 117 (p. 173); Codex Carolinus nos 8 = 9, MGH Epp. III, pp. 497, 500:
gaudia adipisci merearis, audiens nimirum paternam desiderabilem vocem illam inquientis ‘Venite . . .’
(with the words ecclesiam Dei a superna clementia in the previous sentence); Leo III’s
letter to the Salzburg suffragans, MGH Epp. V, p. 5, 63: cum his qui a dextris eius
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“De laude Dei” and the York liturgy
It would be possible to pursue this inquiry through other Old
Testament and New Testament books. It is unlikely that it would
make significant changes to the overall picture of the probable and
possible sources of Alcuin’s quotations; and it would add only mar-
ginally, if at all, to the texts identifiable as having featured in the
cathedral’s lectionaries or chants during Alcuin’s boyhood and ado-
More direct and more detailed evidence for aspects of
York’s eighth-century liturgy, not necessarily always contemporane-
ous, is to be found in the Fourth Book of his De laude Dei.
This begins with a text of the Gloria in excelsis Deo, unfortunately
without any indication of its place in the liturgical order and titled
in the Bamberg copy Carmen Augustini; in contrast with the earliest
Irish texts but like that included in the ‘Royal’ prayer-book (where
the rubric is Hymnus angelicus), its version is essentially the ‘standard’
one, omitting magnificamus te and with the formula-wordings propter
magnam gloriam tuam and domine Deus agnus Dei filius patris.
Next in
the De laude is Simbolum, a text of the so-called ‘Nicene’ (but, better,
‘Constantinopolitan’) creed—theologians’ C or NC—with some dis-
tinctive variants, which Father Constantinescu supposed linked it with
that in the Irish ‘Stowe Missal’, which is no more than partly true.
victuri sunt, desiderabilem illam vocem Domini audire mereantur, ‘Venite . . .’; Liber Diurnus, ed.
Foerster, p. 163 (V no. 85); Caesarius Arel., Sermones, nos 15, 19, etc., ed. Morin,
pp. 76, 91, ed. Delage, 1, 450, 492.
For Alcuin’s citations from the Wisdom books and their low correlation with
the pericopes in the Würzburg and ‘Alcuin’ lectionaries, see below.
De laude, Bamb. fol. 148
, Esc. fol. 128
; ‘Royal’ prayer book fol. 28, Kuypers,
Book of Cerne, pp. 212–13, where it follows an untitled and ?unique prayer on which
‘Gallican liturgical influence’ has been supposed (Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature,
pp. 315–6). ‘Cerne’, fols 50–50
, Kuypers, Book of Cerne, pp. 99–100, under the
rubric Laus Dei, has only the opening formula, followed by et reliqua. For the tex-
tual tradition see B. Capelle, ‘Le texte du Gloria in excelsis’ (1949), Travaux Liturgiques,
2, 176–91. But for the earliest Irish versions (‘Antiphonary of Bangor’ and ‘Stowe
Missal’), see further Warren in The Antiphonary of Bangor, pt. ii, ed. F.E. Warren, HBS
10 (London, 1895), pp. 31, 75–80, where also the more-nearly ‘standard’ later Irish
texts, on which additionally The Irish ‘Liber Hymnorum’, ed. J.H. Bernard and
R. Atkinson, HBS 13 (London, 1898), pp. 50–51, cf. p. xxviii. Liturgical use: for
its anomalous place in the Bangor Office, see M. Curran, The Antiphonary of Bangor
(Irish Academic Press; Blackrock, 1984), p. 173; for the extension of its use in late-
eighth-century Francia to all Sunday and Feast-day Masses, see OR. XV c. 124, ed.
Andrieu, Ordines, 3, 121.
Bamb. fols 148
–149, Esc. fols 128
–129, ed. Constantinescu, ‘Alcuin et les
«libelli precum», p. 37; on which see Bullough, ‘Alcuin, Arn and the Creed in the
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The following and much longer section has the title De antiphonario,
an apparently recently-coined term for a collection of the ‘occasional’
chanted parts, not exclusively antiphons, of the liturgy.
Under this
heading Alcuin has transcribed almost one-hundred short texts, begin-
ning with Expectamus te Dominum Deum nostrum et timemus te and concluding
with Sancta Maria nos laudamus te gloriosa glorificamus te, corona regni coro-
nata es, intercede pro nobis quia beata es. Many, including the first, have
no parallel, or no precise parallel, in later antiphonaries or other
liturgical books; but it is apparent that they are arranged roughly in
the order of the liturgical year, beginning with Advent. Northumbria
when Alcuin was young probably but not certainly observed a six-
Sunday Advent—still the Gallican practice and seemingly implicit in
the ‘Old Gelasian’ sacramentary’s arrangement of Advent masses at
the end of Bk. II—or the ‘unhistorical’ one of five Sundays (because
of a misunderstanding on the part of the compiler(s) of the ‘Frankish
Gelasians’), not the ‘Gregorian’ four-Sunday Advent.
Mass’ (lecture at the Inst. f. Österr. Geschichtsforsch. Vienna, December 2000; pub-
lication forthcoming). The fides catholica that follows the text of the Gloria in the
‘Royal’ prayer-book, Kuypers, Book of Cerne, p. 213, is the opening clauses (only) of
the ps.-Hieronymian creed (‘Creed of Damasus’), ed. Hahn, Bibliothek
, pp. 275–6
and (better) A.R. Burn, An Introduction to the Creeds (London, 1899), pp. 245–6; and
note that the corresponding entries in CPPM., 2A (nos 626 and 781, cf. 864) and
in CPL
(no. 554) incorrectly report the second clause as et unigenitum Filium eius.
The earliest place noted in MLWB. s. v. is from OR. XV, c. 79, Ordines, ed.
Andrieu, 3, p. 113, which would appear to carry its history back to the third-
quarter of the eighth century in Francia; but as Andrieu makes clear in his edition,
pp. 61, 52–3, 113, this particular section uses a Roman document in which the
term does not occur, the words sicut continet antephonarius being unique to the expanded
version of (probably) the early-ninth century in Wolfenbüttel cod. Weissenburg 91
(4175), for which a possibly Worms Domstift origin has been suggested (Bischoff,
MaSt, 3, 93: definitely not Weissenburg, cf. R. McKitterick, The Frankish Church
and the Carolingian Reforms, 789–895, Royal Historical Society Studies in History
(London, 1977), p. 193). That the earliest Roman (Papal) usage was antiphonale is
implied by the famous but puzzling letter of Pope Paul I to Pippin, MGH Epp., III,
p. 529. The earliest examples of the term adopted by Alcuin are in two texts asso-
ciated with Egberht of York, although not certainly of his authorship: viz. the Preface
of the Paenitentiale Egberti, Haddan & Stubbs, Councils, 3, 417 (compare below, and
the Dialogus Egberti interrogatio xvi, Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 411, 412, which
I am inclined to regard as a later interpolation in a genuine text (see below); fol-
lowed probably by the ‘country priest’s book’, Brussels, Bibl. roy. 10127–10144 (CLA
X, 1548) at fol. 90, where however the abbreviation ANTFR leaves the precise
spelling uncertain.
Chavasse, Sacramentaire gélasien, pp. 412–6; B. Moreton, The Eighth-Century Gelasian
Sacramentary (Oxford, 1976), p. 96. Possible Northumbrian reflections of the ‘Gallican’
Advent are the forty days’ fasting ante dominicum natale reported by Bede of Cuthbert
(ob. 687) and of Egberht (ob. 729): HE IV 30, III 27. The third of the De laude
antiphons is Deus auferens iniquitatem et mundans peccata, which is presumably based on
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 195
The great majority of the identifiable texts are from the Liturgy
of the Hours (Office), with only a very few apparently taken from
mass-chants or mass-prayers. A particularly distinctive sub-group,
recorded here for the first time, is that of the ten (in contrast with
Amalarius’s eight and a varying number subsequently) ‘Great’ or
‘ “O” Antiphons’, which splendidly frame the Magnificat at Vespers
during the concluding days of the Advent season; the tenth indeed,
beginning O, Joseph, quomodo credidisti quod ante expavisti?, is not to be
found in any other collection, but its existence was postulated long
ago to account for the distinctive Old-English ‘Advent Lyric 7’.
These are followed by two formulae, based on verses of Psalm 79
and therefore proper to Advent, which are characterised in Constan-
tinescu’s edition as ‘versets déclinatoires’ after the Great Antiphons.
They do not recur in later office-books; and since Alcuin’s Veni et
ostende nobis faciem tuam Domine qui sedes super cherubin et salvi erimus (cf.
Ps 79.4+2) is precisely the wording of the introit for the December
Ember Saturday mass and Excita potentiam tuam et veni (Ps 79.3) is the
beginning of one of that same day’s four-fold graduals, these must
surely be the De Laude’s source-texts.
The texts from the Christmas season include a unique responsory,
Ex nostra natura passibilis et in sua miraculis choruscabat et refulsit Deus, the
language of which reflects the controversy over Monotheletism and
its Papal and conciliar condemnation in the previous century: Father
Constantinescu speculated that it was among the chant-texts brought
from Rome by John, precentor of St. Peter’s, in 679 and subsequently
introduced to York cathedral by Bishop Bosa, together with other
texts that may already have been obsolescent when Alcuin joined its
Is 6.7 auferetur iniquitas tua et peccatum tuam mundabitur; and Is 6.1–10 is the OT read-
ing for Advent Dom. I in the Gallican/N. Italian lectionary in Sélestat, Bibl. de la
Ville, cod.1 (1093): Salmon, Lectionnaire de Luxeuil, p. civ.
Bullough, ‘Alcuin and the Kingdom of Heaven’, Carolingian Renewal, pp. 165–6,
209–10 (nn. 17, 18—where the manuscript reference should be to Ivrea, Bib. cap.,
CVI [33]). A more accurate edition than Constantinescu’s (‘ “Libelli precum”’, pp.
40–41 [nos 18–27]) is S. Rankin, ‘The liturgical background of the Old English
Advent lyrics’, Learning and Literature in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Lapidge and Gneuss,
pp. 317–40, at p. 340; the musical setting of the seven which ‘appear without excep-
tion in any series’ is interestingly discussed by Rankin, pp. 328–32.
Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”’, p. 41 (nos 28, 29); Hesbert, Antiph. Miss.,
nos 7a, 7b, the earliest examples being in Brussels Bibl. roy. 10127–10144. Excita
etc. is also the opening phrase of Advent-season orationes/collects in both the Gelasian
and Gregorian sacramentaries. The comments and citations in Constantinescu’s
n. 90 (p. 41: ad loc.) are unfortunately confused and inaccurate.
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Whether or not this is correct, it is certainly possible
that Alcuin recalled the response and related texts, as he almost cer-
tainly did the Christmas Octave antiphon O admirabile commercium etc.,
when he began to formulate his criticisms of the Spanish Adoptionists.
The De laude has the text of one of the ‘Roman’ antiphons for the
Epiphany Octave office, identified by musicologists as translations of
Greek chants; the claim by the late-ninth-century Notker of St. Gallen,
or an interpolator, in his Gesta Karoli that the translations were done
at Aachen in ?802 has clearly been given more credit than it deserves.
Among the texts apparently from the liturgy for the beginning of
Lent and for Holy Week which do not figure in later ‘Roman’
antiphonaries or other books is one—perhaps more than one—
that could be cited as an example of ‘Spanish symptoms’; but it is
at least as likely that a local (Insular) origin should be supposed for
the respond Convertamur ad Dominum Deum nostrum et effundamus coram
illo preces nostras cum lacrimis credo recordabitur et miserebitur nobis, a chant-
text with resonances if not precise parallels in Alcuin’s carmina.
Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”’, p. 42 (no. 32): with which compare pas-
sibilem carne et impassibilem deitate in the 649 Roman council’s statement of orthodoxy
(ACO. II/1: Concilium Lateranense a. 649 celebratum, ed. R. Riedinger [Berlin, 1984],
p. 371)—in fact a quotation from Gregory of Nazianzus’s epist. no. 101 (Ad Cledonium),
apparently in the version previously used for the Latin Acta conc. Ephesi; and quorum
unum coruscat miraculis, aliud succumbit iniuriis towards the end of the 680 Roman coun-
cil’s creed sent to Constantinople (ACO. II/2.i: Concilium Universale Constantinopolitanum
tertium . . . actiones I–XI, ed. R. Riedinger [Berlin, 1990], p. 131). Constantinescu’s
speculations are ‘ “Libelli precum”’, pp. 52–5, the part credited to Bosa based on
‘York poem’, ed. Godman, lines 857 (cultum decoravit), 859–64. There is nothing on
this in H. Chadwick, ‘Theodore, the English church and the monothelete contro-
versy’, Archbishop Theodore, ed. M. Lapidge (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 88–95 (cf. M. Brett,
ibid., 128–9).
Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”’, p. 43 (no. 40) and n. 99, where a reference
to M. Herz, Sacrum Commercium, Münchener Theol. Studien, II 15 (Munich, 1958),
pp. 24 ff. should be added. When Alcuin quoted Gregory of Nazianzus’s letter Ad
Cledonium in his Liber Alcuini contra Haeresim Felicis (ed. Blumenshine, p. 66), however,
he did so directly from his copy of the Latin Acta conc. Ephesi.
Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”, p. 46 (no. 46), and the bibliographical ref-
erences ibid., n. 104; with which compare Bullough, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, Carolingian
Renewal, pp. 164–5, 209 (n. 14) (overlooked by D. Hiley, Western Plainchant: a Handbook
(Oxford, 1993), p. 530).
Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”’, nos 52–65. A possible second is the ini-
tial citation of Benedicite Deum coeli etc. from Tb 12.6: Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli pre-
cum”’, p. 45 n. 107.
Compare, for example, Le Liber Mozarabicus Sacramentorum, ed. M. Férotin, Mon.
Ecclesiae Liturgica 6 (Paris, 1912), c. 438 (no. 948): tibi preces lacrymabili corde effundamus,
tua promissa confidentes speremus; c. 38 (no. 74): . . . Domine, lacrymosas fundimus preces, ut
suo intercessu a te, Deus, . . . quos iubes clementes in bonis actibus efficis; Le Liber Ordinum,
ed. M. Férotin, Mon. Eccl. Liturg. 5 (Paris, 1904), p. 335: Deum qui contritorum non
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 197
Custodi me Domine de manu peccatoris (from Ps 139.5), on the other hand,
is a standard Mass offertory-chant for Tuesday in Holy Week.
A major sub-group in the De laude extracts is that of the ten anti-
phons for the three ‘Rogation days’ preceding Ascension Day, the
Ieiunium triduanum of other texts: an ancient Gallican ritual which was
well-established in both northern and southern England (secundum
morem priorum nostrorum) before the mid-eighth century, but only adopted
in Rome ca. 800. The fourth in the series, inc. Deprecamur te, Domine,
calls on the Lord to ‘take away your rage and your anger from this
city and from your Holy House’.
The general form and spirit,
although not of course the details, of popular participation in the
processions and chanting of litanies may be gathered from the early-
ninth-century description by Angilbert—‘once a son, now a father’
commented Alcuin in 790—of the corresponding ceremonies at St.-
Riquier. This was among the occasions on which at Metz the cantores
who led the chanting were rewarded in coin, and conceivably sim-
ilarly at York.
The De laude’s Ascension Day (I Vespers) antiphon
is the one that Bede is recorded as reciting on his death-bed.
spernit affectum, lacrimosis precibus . . . postulemus. But for criticism of Edmund Bishop’s
‘evidence’ of ‘Spanish symptoms’ in English liturgical and private prayer (in Kuypers,
Book of Cerne, pp. 276–80, 282–3; and Liturgica Historica (Oxford, 1918), pp. 165–210)
see, most recently, P. Sims-Williams, ‘Thoughts on Ephrem the Syrian in Anglo-
Saxon England’, Learning and Literature in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Lapidge and Gneuss,
pp. 205–26, at 216–20. For penitential tears and weeping for the sins of others in
early Insular texts, see the forthcoming work announced at the end of T. O’Loughlin
and H. Conrad-O’Briain, ‘The ‘baptism of tears’ in early Anglo-Saxon sources’,
ASE 22 (1993), 65–83. Comparable passages in the carmina are: ‘York poem’, ed.
Godman, lines 1359–60: cum lacrimis Domino pro culpa supplicat illa/nec prius ille preces
desistit fundere sacras; and MGH Poet. I, p. 306 (no. lxxxviii/7): Purgatus lacrimis humili
de corde profusis . . ./Credo, pius Iesus culpas ignoscit et illi/ . . . laetior ut redeat.
Hesbert, Antiph. Miss., no. 75 (all testimonies except ‘Monza’). Constantinescu’s
implied identification with an office text (‘ “Libelli precum”’, p. 46 n. 114) is erroneous.
Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”’, pp. 47–8 (nos 66–76), with Bullough,
Carolingian Renewal, pp. 165, 209 (n. 15); Cuthbert’s Epist. de obitu Bedae, ed. Colgrave
and Mynors (in Bede: Ecclesiastical History . . .), p. 584; Haddan and Stubbs, Councils,
3, p. 368 (c. 16). Compare Amalarius, Lib.Off. I, 37, Opera omnia, ed. Hanssens, 2,
178–81; and Liber Pontificalis ed. Duchesne, 2, p. 12. As Constaninescu notes, the
De laude series and text-forms do not correspond precisely with the testimonies of
ninth-century and later antiphonalia; and no. 69 (based on Dn 3.42,43) seems pecu-
liar to it.
St.-Riquier: Institutio Angilberti Centulensis, c. ix, ed. M. Wegener, H. Frank,
CCCM, 1, 296–9, where Exclamemus omnes ad Dominum (Constantinescu, no. 68) is
likewise quoted as the second antiphon; Alcuin’s ep. no. 9. Metz, York: texts cited
in n. 127. See also Bullough, ‘The Carolingian liturgical experience’, Continuity and
Change in Christian Worship, ed. R.N. Swanson, SCH 35 (Woodbridge, 1999), pp.
29–64, at pp. 54–5.
Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”’, p. 48 (no. 77); CAO no. 4079. The text
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Exceptionally, the second of two texts associated with the season
of Pentecost, namely Sancti Spiritus corda nostra mundet infusio et sui roris
intima aspersione fecundet, is one that occurs in early sacramentaries—
the two copies of the Papal ‘Gregorian’ and the ‘Frankish Gelasians’—
as the Saturday and Sunday ad complendum prayer; a variant is in
the ‘Old (or ‘Vatican’) Gelasian’ among the oraciones ad vesperos ‘within
the octave of Pentecost’.
The first of the pair is no less anomalous
in an antiphonary, reading Deus patrum nostrorum, da nobis spiritum gra-
tiae qui flammam tuae caritatis diffundis in cordibus nostris. Concordances
and lexica are agreed that in liturgical prayers flamma tuae caritatis
occurs only in the collect of a priest’s ordination mass in the Hadrianum
Gregorian sacramentary and its derivatives—the language of which
is unmistakeably echoed in a letter from Alcuin to a ?Northumbrian
Similarly, Deus patrum nostrorum, however common in
later centuries, is recorded in the early Middle Ages only as the
opening words of the baptismal ceremonies’ ‘Benediction after the
giving of salt’ in the ‘Old Gelasian’ and ‘Frankish Gelasian’ sacra-
mentaries, and thence in the ‘Aniane Supplement’ and in subsequent
sacramentaries and missals.
Could the De laude’s prayer, excep-
of the De obitu Bedae, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 582, has O rex gloriose, instead
of O rex glorie; but this is either a misprint or the unique reading of the Hague
Royal Library 70 H.7 (cf. the apparently unanimous testimony for glorie in
E. van Kirk Dobbie, The Manuscripts of Caedmon’s Hymn and Bede’s Death-Song [New York,
1937] pp. 120, 121) and should not have been printed. My comment in Carolingian
Renewal, p. 162 with n. 5 (p. 208), is accordingly superfluous.
Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”’, p. 49 (no. 79); Sacr. Grég. ed. Deshusses, 1,
nos 525, 531 (Hadrianum; = Paduense no. 465); Sacr. Gellon., ed. Dumas and Deshusses,
no. 1033, etc. Compare Sacr. Gelas. I lxxxi (5), ed. Wilson p. 124, ed. Mohlberg
no. 650: Sancti spiritus Domine corda nostra mundit <sic> infusio et sui roris ubertate fecundet.
Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”’, p. 48 (no. 78). Compare Sacr. Grég., ed.
Deshusses, 1, no. 828; Sacr. Echternach, ed. Hen, no. 1853; Sacr. Gellon., ed. Dumas
and Deshusses, no. 2487; and the English ‘Egberht Pontifical’ of c. 1000, ed. H.M.J.
Banting, Two Anglo-Saxon Pontificals, HBS 104 (Woodbridge-London, 1989), p. 30. In
the late-tenth-century ‘Fulda Sacramentary’, Göttingen, Univ. Bibl. cod. theol. 231, ed.
G. Richter, A. Schönfelder (1912), re-issued as HBS 101 (Farnborough, 1980), pp.
241–2, the same mass-set (nos 2120–24) is In ordinatione episcopi. The first half of the
ordination collect, Deus qui digne tibi servientium nos imitari desideras famulatum, da nobis cari-
tatis tuae flamma ardere succensi . . ., is to be compared with Stabilem [esse] in servitio Dei
ubi electus es in servitium Christi; . . . paenitentiae fonte extingui quatenus qui in flamma libidinis
exarsit, in flamma caritatis et munditiae luceat in conspectu Dei in ep. no. 283 (p. 442); also with
the elaborate opening metaphor of a letter to Paulinus of Aquileia, ep. no. 139 (p. 220).
Sacr. Gelas., I xxxii, ed. Wilson, p. 47, ed. Mohlberg, no. 290; Sacr. Gellon.,
ed. Dumas and Deshusses, no. 401; Sacr. Grég. ed. Deshusses, 1, no. 1070; Sacr.
Echternach, ed. Hen, no. 622. Exceptionally, it is also a variant of the otherwise stan-
dard Deus patrum vestrorum in one of the antiphons for the litaniae maiores in the Corbie
book BNF. lat. 12050 (mid-ninth century, not s. ix/x), Hesbert, Antiph. Miss., no. 201a.
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tionally, be Alcuin’s own confection from different texts used in his
time at York in (presumably) the Pentecost season? The fourteen
passages with which the De antiphonario concludes are, if nothing else,
evidence of a well-nourished cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary at York
in the later-eighth century. They pose a number of problems which
are, for the moment, unresolved: their texts are almost entirely with-
out parallel in other antiphonaries and several of them are distinc-
tive in other ways also; and the relationship between them and
current liturgical practice at York or anywhere else is very obscure.
Leaders of the Northumbrian church in Alcuin’s younger days claimed
that its antiphonaries were similar to those in use in Rome—which,
however, many modern scholars identify (from the context and in
the light of a decree of the 747 council of Clofesho) as mass-chant
Father Constantinescu (as previously remarked) supposed
that, because so many of the office-chants extracted by Alcuin in his
De antiphonario are not to be found in later antiphonaries of ‘Roman’
use, he was copying from a book that was already obsolete. In the
830s, however, Amalarius of Metz was still complaining about the
discrepancies in the antiphonaries he had examined and the lack of
a standard version even in Rome. The inclusion in the De laude of
texts that seem to be of quite recent origin, of ones that featured in
contemporary non-Roman liturgies (and especially in Frankish Gaul),
and of others that were apparently current in England in later cen-
turies suggests that on the contrary their eclectic character reflects
Alcuin’s experience of the liturgy in the first two-thirds of his life.
The highly selective nature of the extracts makes it impossible to
determine whether the eighth-century York ‘antiphoner’, like its coun-
terpart in ‘Mozarabic’ Spain, or at Milan and other Italian cathe-
drals, and for a time apparently at Rome itself, included the chanted
parts of both Mass and Divine Hours; but it seems very likely.
Constantinescu, ‘ “Libelli precum”’, pp. 49–51; Bullough, ‘Alcuin and the Kingdom
of Heaven’, Carolingian Renewal, pp. 166, 210 (nn. 19–21); Mary Clayton, The Cult
of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England
2 (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 38–40. For the Marian feasts in Northumbria, see below,
pp. 216–17 and Additional Note II.
Dialogus Egberti, the response to Interrogatio xvi. de ieiunio quatuor temporum, Haddan
and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 412, cf. 411: In suo [sc. Gregorii ] antiphonario et missali libro);
747 acta c. 13, idem, 367; Hiley, Western Plainchant, pp. 297, 507; Cubitt, Anglo-Saxon
Church Councils, pp. 144–5, 150–51. For the possibility that Int. xvi is an early addi-
tion to the original text of the Dialogus, see above.
Constantinescu, ‘Libelli precum”’, p. 55; Amalarius, Opera omnia, ed. Hanssens,
1, 361, and 3, 14, 108, etc. There is, of course, no comparative material from other
English churches.
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The contribution of hymns (other than canticles and the Gloria) to
Alcuin’s early formation, and by extension their place in the liturgy
of the cathedral community to which he then belonged, is only dimly
discernible in his writings; and the evidence raises wider problems
to which at the moment there is no convincing solution. The mature
Alcuin was, unsurprisingly, familiar with Isidore’s dictum (anticipated
by Augustine in his reflections on the Psalms) that properly speak-
ing a hymn was a text sung in praise of God.
Only in one of his
letters is there an explicit quotation of a liturgical hymn. Not long
after his establishment at Tours, Alcuin replied to questions from
the Court about some points of grammar and linguistics, beginning
with the gender of rubus ‘bush’ (originally ‘bramble-bush’ but already
widely used in fourth-century Ecclesiastical Latin of the ‘burning
bush’ in Exodus 3).
The second of his two supporting quotations,
introduced by the words Ambrosius in hymno paschali, is one of four
lines beginning Et flamma famulum provocans/Rubum non perdas spineam.
Dümmler noted that he had been unable to find it in Ambrose’s
writings—correctly. It is the fifth stanza of a hymn which figures in
the late-seventh century ‘Antiphonary of Bangor’, with the rubric
Ymnum quando caeria benedicitur, and on the concluding (unnumbered)
folios of a Bobbio book of c. 900; its origin in Ireland as well as its
liturgical use there may be regarded as certain, although its date
and precise place of composition are probably indeterminable. The
form of Alcuin’s citation makes it likely that it was also part of the
Easter Night liturgy in eighth-century York, although if so a dis-
tinctive one, at a time when the Exultet was presumably unknown
there: nowhere in the Latin West subsequently is there evidence for
the singing of any hymn at this point in the ceremonies.
Ep. no. 308 (p. 472)—a letter prompted by a query from the Emperor Charles—
quoting Etym. VI. xix, 17; cf. Augustine, Enarr. in Ps 72.1, ed. E. Dekkers and
J. Fraipont, CCSL 39 (Turnhout, 1956), p. 986.
Ep. no. 162 (p. 260). For the first quotation, see below, ch. 2 at n. 80; for
fourth/fifth-century usage of rubus, see A.S. Walpole, Early Latin Hymns (Cambridge,
1922), p. 347 (notes); Vg. Ex 3.2–4 (but in Lc 6.44 it has its classical-Latin meaning).
Inc. Ignis creator igneus, S.-K. no. 7686: ‘Antiphonary of Bangor’, Milan, Bibl.
Ambrosiana C. 5 inf., fol. 11; Turin Bibl. Naz. Univ. G. v. 38, with the rubric
Ymnus in sabato sancto ad cereum benedicere: edited from the first-named only, by
F.E. Warren, in Antiphonary of Bangor, pt. ii, ed. Warren, p. 11 and subsequently by
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 201
familiarity while still at York with other hymns of probable Irish ori-
gin and subsequently limited circulation is, indeed, suggested by tex-
tual links between the earliest English prayer-books and the Tours
libellus precum now at Troyes of which he was at least part-‘author’.
Both in the last-named and in the ‘Book of Cerne’, the compara-
tively widely-disseminated prayer (with variations) inc. Mane cum sur-
rexero intende ad me, credited to St. Jerome—of which someone in
Alcuin’s immediate circle made a rythmical version—is linked with
the hymn inc. Ambulemus in prosperis/ huius diei luminis/ in virtute altissimi/
Dei deorum maximi; and the latter is also to be found, titled Oratio
matutina but separated from the prayer, in the Mercian ‘Royal’ col-
The most substantial body of evidence is, however, the
section De hymnis in the final book of the De laude Dei. Here Alcuin
has excerpted thirty-eight or thirty-nine stanzas, excluding doxolo-
gies and two strophes of the Te Deum, from (probably) nineteen
different hymns or hymn-like verse compositions, fifteen of them met-
rical, four (or three?) rhythmical.
A sequence of eight of the met-
rical hymns in De laude can be shown, from evidently trustworthy
statements in the sixteenth-century Georg Cassander’s Hymni Ecclesiastici,
G. Mercati in Studi e Testi, 12 (1906), 25–8; edited from both manuscripts by Walpole,
Early Latin Hymns, pp. 346–9. (I have adopted the late Ludwig Bieler’s date for
Turin G. v. 38: descriptions of the manuscript—which I have not seen—leave me
uncertain whether the concluding leaves are contemporary with the preceding 130
folios.) Composition at Bobbio is proposed by Curran, Antiphonary of Bangor, pp.
59–64, without any very strong arguments. Drawing on an enormous manuscript-
base down to the sixteenth century, R. Amiet, La Veillée Pascale dans l’Eglise Latine.
1: Le rite romain, Liturgie: Collection de recherche, dir. P. de Clerck (Paris, 1999),
pp. 184–8, 194–226, describes the several forms of the blessing and lighting of the
Paschal candle; there is no reference to Ignis creator igneus or any other hymn—
except, of course, the Exultet.
Wilmart, Precum libelli, pp. 10–11 (where the hymn, S.-K. no. 708, is printed
as prose); Kuypers, Book of Cerne, pp. 89–92 (nos 6, 7: Oratio matutinalis); ibid. pp.
211, 209–10. The most interesting variation between the two English versions is
the addition of the words in doctorum prudentia in ‘Royal’. For the probable Irish ori-
gin of the hymn see P.L. Sims-Williams, ‘Thought, Word and Deed: an Irish Triad’,
Ériu 29 (1978), 78–111, at 101 and idem, Religion and Literature, pp. 284–5, noting
the related evening hymn ‘in the same metre but [with] singular verbs’ inc. In pace
Christi dormiam (S.-K. no. 7891) in the Harleian prayer-book.
De Laude, Bamb. fols 150
, Esc. fols 133
–135. Constantinescu asserts
mistakenly (‘ “Libellus precum”’, p. 55) that the De laude’s ‘fragments de l’Hymnarium
novum [sic] sont assez connus et nous jugeons inutile d’en détailler le contenu’. The
full texts of the rhythmical hymns are ed. K. Strecker, MGH Poet. IV/i, pp. 453
(mutilated; not in S.-K.), 491–5, 507–10, 512–14 (S.-K. nos 946, 945, 588). They
are usually dated to the seventh century, although pre-600 is not excluded; in what
kind of manuscript-context they reached Alcuin is anyone’s guess.
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to have been compositions of Bede, originally a part (a major part?)
of his lost Liber Hymnorum. Seven of them, and a further three known
only from their sixteenth-century printed edition, are Office hymns
for major feasts, from Holy Innocents to St. Andrew.
Of the non-
Bedan hymns, only two figure in the ‘Old Hymnary’ as re-defined
and tabulated by Helmut Gneuss, drawing on a wide range of
Continental and English evidence including two Canterbury manu-
scripts (one lost since the fifteenth century): these are, respectively,
the Ambrosian Christmas hymn inc. Intende qui regis Israel, represented
here by its second, fifth and sixth stanzas; and that for Common of
Martyrs inc. Aeterna Christi munera, also by Ambrose or by someone
very close to him, represented by its first, seventh and eighth stan-
zas. There are, however, reasonable grounds for thinking that the
Sedulian hymn inc. A solis ortus cardine, from which Alcuin quotes the
fourth stanza (Domus pudici pectoris/ . . . / Verbo creavit filium), should
be added to those used liturgically in eighth-century Northumbria.
Of Bede’s hymnody, only the Ascension Day Vespers hymn inc.
Hymnos canamus gloriae—reduced to eight stanzas, one of them not
Bede’s, plus (probably) a doxology; the opening word changed to
Hymnum—established itself in the ninth-century ‘New Hymnary’; but
two others, the abcedarian inc. Apostolorum gloriam and inc. Praecursor
altus[-ti] luminis, of which Alcuin copies respectively three and two
stanzas, are ones for the Feasts of Peter and Paul and of the Nativity
of John the Baptist in a small number of Continental hymnaries.
M. Lapidge, Bede the Poet ( Jarrow Lecture, 1993, pp. 5–12); for Cassander and
his immediate source, see ibid., pp. 7–8. The hymns attributable to Bede, together
with others for which his authorship is wrongly claimed, were edited by J. Fraipont,
under the misleading title Opera Rhythmica, in Bedae Opera, CCSL 122 pars iii/iv
(Turnhout, 1955), pp. 407–38. This very defective edition has to be used in con-
junction with W. Bulst’s critical review, ‘Bedae Opera Rhythmica?’, Zeitschr. f. deutsches
Altertum 89 (1959), 83–91, repr. in Bulst, Lateinisches Mittelalter (Heidelberg, 1984),
pp. 67–75, and Lapidge, Bede the Poet, cit. The eighth hymn De opere sex dierum pri-
mordialium (Fraipont no. I; S.-K. no. 12514) from which Alcuin quotes stanzas 19,
20, 28 in De laude, although didactic rather than liturgical, was similarly included
in the manuscript that was Cassander’s source.
H. Gneuss, Hymnar und Hymnen im Englischen Mittelalter (Tübingen, 1968), pp.
10–40; compare, for A solis ortus, Bullough (and Harting-Correa), ‘Texts, Chant . . .’,
in: Carolingian Renewal p. 262 n. 22. Other stanzas of Sedulius’s hymn or carmen (ed.
Huemer, CSEL 10 (1885), pp. 163–8) are included in the subsequent verse-section
of the De laude. For the two Ambrosian hymns see now Ambroise de Milan: Hymnes
ed. Fontaine et al., pp. 263–301, 583–621, the texts at pp. 273–5 and 597–9.
Hymnos canamus gloriae: ed. Fraipont, no. VI (pp. 419–23), also Analecta Hymnica
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 203
Hymns were not only sung in the liturgy of the Hours: they had a
place in private devotion, and a place also in teaching, as Bede’s
own De arte metrica demonstrates.
Several features of the extracts
in the De laude, however, argue strongly that Alcuin had originally
copied them from a book, or perhaps from libelli, intended for litur-
gical use. The first is their context, immediately after the long sec-
tion De antiphonario; the second is their copying in a sequence which
reflects the annual festal calendar. The clearly non-Bedan inc. Laetare,
caelum, desuper, of which Alcuin gives only the first stanza, subse-
quently figures as an Easter hymn in two central-Italian collections
which diverge in other ways from the standard pattern of the ‘New
To these indications may be added, firstly, the citation
of lines 20 and 21 of the Te Deum (line 21 in an unusual form which
is most closely paralleled by the text in BL Harl. 7653); secondly,
and much more telling, the inclusion of doxologies after the third
and last of the stanzas taken from Intende qui regis Israel, al. Veni redemp-
tor gentium, and after the unidentified sentence which immediately fol-
lows the Te Deum quotations. The further inference from the extracts
must be that Alcuin’s community, albeit ‘canonical’ rather than
‘monastic’, sang a liturgy which included office-hymns; and did so
from a repertory differing significantly from that of the ‘Old Hymnary’
50, pp. 103–4 (no. 82); Gneuss, Hymnar u. Hymnen, p. 64 (no. 73). For the doxol-
ogy, see J. Szövérffy, ‘Hymnologische Streifzüge’, Literatur u. Sprache im Europäischen
Mittelalter: Festschr. f. Karl Langosch ed. A. Önnefors et al. (Darmstadt, 1973), pp. 12–38,
here pp. 13–14. Apostolorum gloriam and Praecursor altus: ed. Fraipont, nos IX (pp.
428–30) and VIII (pp. 426–7). Both are in the mid-ninth-century Prüm hymnary,
Trier Stadtbibl. cod. 1245 (1418), and in the Moissac (originally St.-Martin de
Montauriol) hymnary of ca. 1000 (regularly cited as Graz, Universitätsbibl. 807, but
that is certainly a different book), Apostolorum gloriam also in the St.-Bertin book (s.
ix, ca. 3/4: Bischoff, Katalog, 1, no. 726), Brussels, Bibl. roy. 8860–67.
Devotion: above, p. 201 and n. 217, and of course De laude itself; also in the
?south-Yorkshire community which is the subject of Æthelwulf, De Abbatibus, ed.
Campbell, p. 45, lines 553–4, 560–1 (of Abbot Wulfsig) and p. 45, lines 659–61.
Mayr-Harting, Coming of Christianity, p. 164, interprets these last to mean that the
monks sang hymns in the privacy of their cells before they came to the church for
the night office, which is at least unexpected and categorically non-Benedictine (com-
pare Reg. Ben. cc. 9, 11, and ‘Old Hymnal’, Gneuss, Hymnar, p. 24 [nos 1–5]).
Teaching: De arte metrica, ed. C.B. Kendall, CCSL 123A (Turnhout, 1975), pp.
81–141, passim; Gneuss, Hymnar, pp. 35–6.
Ed. Fraipont, no. V (pp. 417–8); for its authorship, see Bulst, ‘Bedae Opera
Rhythmica?’, pp. 88–9 (72–3). The Umbro-Roman hymnaries are Paris, BNF. lat.
1092 and Vatican BAV, Vat. lat. 7172, on which see Bullough, Carolingian Renewal,
p. 266 (n. 45) and the references there.
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204 cn.r+rn oxr
witnessed at both Canterbury and Wearmouth-Jarrow earlier in the
century, but presumably closer to that of the northern monasteries
Inevitably, the excerpts in the De laude throw almost no light on the
type or types of mass-book or sacramentary with which Alcuin was
familiar in his years at York; and quotations from or even clear echoes
of mass-prayers in his letters are remarkably rare. His one reference
to the cathedral’s liturgical books is descriptively specific, but in terms
that are not easily equated with pre-800 manuscript examples: ‘do
you really not have an abundance of libellos sacratorios laying down
the Roman forms? you certainly have plenty of the larger sacra-
mentaries of the old usage (veteris consuetudinis sacramentaria maiora)’ is
his response to Archbishop Eanbald II’s request in 800/801 for guid-
ance ‘on the form and arrangement of the [al. a] missalis libelli ’.
The claim is still made, with or without the ostensible support of
two passages in the ‘Dialogue of Archbishop Egberht’ referring to
‘Pope Gregory’s mass book’, that the sacramentary regularly used in
eighth-century York and other Northumbrian churches was a pre-
Hadrianum Gregorian-type one.
Scholars who hold this view, however,
are surely required to explain why the direct evidence, now not
inconsiderable, and the weightiest indirect evidence both point in a
Ep. no. 226 (only in the H manuscripts). Most modern commentators have
assumed, without attempting to parse the text, that one or other of the terms was
a reference to some sort of ‘unsupplemented Gregorian’; Ellard, Master Alcuin, pp.
132–3, follows a remarkable sequence of assumptions with the conclusion that they
were books (unspecified) from which Alcuin had been drawing material for the
Supplement for many years past! For consuetudo = (liturgical) usage, compare ep. no.
139 (p. 221 l.19); DMLBS p. 460, s. v. (secs. 1 and 2), does not offer any examples.
The alternation between (liber) missalis and sacramentarium etc. in an identical sense
is perfectly normal at this period: compare, for example, MGH, Capitula Episcoporum
I, ed. Brommer, p. 39 (Ghaerbald of Liège) with ibid., p. 211 (Haito of Basel).
Given a new twist by suggestions that the pre-Hadrianum (or perhaps true
Hadrianum) text is that preserved in the early-ninth-century ‘Sacramentary of Trento’,
an earlier copy of which Alcuin almost certainly knew by 793/4: see below, ch. 3.
For the supposed Gregorian al. Roman origin of York’s missalis (liber) see the Dialogus,
Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 411 and 412: latterly dismissed, with a plausible
explanation, by A. Chavasse, La Liturgie de la ville de Rome du V
siècle, Studia
Anselmiana/Analecta Liturgica 18 (Pontificio Ateneo S. Anselmo, Rome, 1993), pp.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 205
contrary direction.
The case for believing that the unique proba-
bly-Chelles-written copy (ca. 750) of the Liber sacramentorum Romanae
aeclesiae ordinis anni circuli (BAV Reg. lat. 316 + Paris BNF lat. 7193,
fols 41–56), the so-called ‘(Old) Gelasian Sacramentary’, is substan-
tially a text-version that had come to Francia via England has recently
been strengthened, although the precise chronology and stages of its
transmission are unresolved.
The direct evidence, in the form of
sacramentary fragments attributable to England on paleographical
grounds or of contemporary quotation, allows for the use there of
more than one variety of ‘Gelasian sacramentary’, plus—if this was
not indeed one of them—a sacramentary of Campanian (Capuan)
use, which would have provided English churches with, for exam-
ple, mass-sets for saints Magnus, Rufus and Priscus (at 1 September).
A bifolium from a one-time Werden book, probably written in
Northumbria before the middle of the century, has incomplete mass-
sets for the month of February: the combination of Temporal and
Sanctoral apart, the text-form is closer to that of the Vatican ‘(Old)
Gelasian’ than to any other mass-book, but with some noteworthy
So already Bullough, Carolingian Renewal, Ch. 5 pp. 168, 211–12 (n. 27), with
references not repeated here. But see also Cubitt, Anglo-Saxon Church Councils, pp.
137–8; and the following notes 226–229.
Eds. as Bibliography; Y. Hen, ‘The liturgy of St Willibrord’, ASE 26 (1997),
41–62; also Hen’s edition of The Sacramentary of Echternach (Paris BNF. lat. 9433), HBS
110 (Woodbridge, 1997) and my review in JournEcclHist, 50 (1999), 775–6. Hen’s
suggestion (‘Liturgy’, pp. 51–2) that the hypothesised earlier—English—version of
the ‘Old Gelasian’ was taken to Francia by Bishop Angilbert ca. 660 seems imme-
diately contradicted by the presence in Reg. lat. 316 of masses for central-Italian
(Capuan) saints, which were one of Hohler’s original reasons for supposing assem-
blage in England, cf. Hen, ‘Liturgy’, p. 50. Hen supposes that the distinctive three-
book structure is a specifically English innovation. But its recurrence later in a small
number of English or English-related sacramentaries/missals hardly proves this, and
other explanations are possible; and the pre-ca. 750 Münster fragment (below) has
a single sequence for Temporal and Sanctoral. Earlier scholarly debate about the
pre-history and text-form of the ‘Vatican Gelasian’ is conveniently summarised (with-
out reference to England!) by C. Vogel, Medieval Liturgy, tr. and rev. by Storey and
Rasmussen (1986), pp. 64–70, 113–17 (notes).
The earliest texts of all three are in the ‘Vatican Gelasian’ sacramentary; the
mass-sets for, e.g., S. Quintus on 5 September and S. Lupulus on 15 October are
lost. The most recent accounts of the Capuan/Campanian presence in early English
(or English-related) liturgical and other texts are M. Lapidge in B. Bischoff and
M. Lapidge, Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School of Theodore and Hadrian, Cam-
bridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 10 (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 160–7 and
C. Hohler, ‘Theodore and the Liturgy’, Archbishop Theodore, ed. M. Lapidge, Cambridge
Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 11 (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 222–35, esp. pp. 226–8.
Neither takes account of the evidence of the calendar in Berlin, Staatsbibliothek,
Phillips 1869 and others related to it (for which see below, p. 207 and n. 234).
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206 cn.r+rn oxr
Fragments of a sacramentary now divided between
Berlin and Regensburg, improperly connected with St. Boniface but
almost certainly also written in Northumbria, give texts of Christmas-
season and Lenten prayers that are in the ‘Old Gelasian’ in associ-
ation with others that are not but are equally non-‘Gregorian’, while
its incomplete calendar ( July to October only) is remarkable for the
number of its entries of Capuan (al. Campanian) saints.
there are close similarities in the texts, the disposition of the orationes
matutinae et vespertinae in the (southern English) London BL, Add.
37518 (fols 116–117) is not that of Reg. lat. 316.
Any of these
now-fragmentary books could have been examples of Alcuin’s ‘larger
sacramentaries of the old rite’: at the date of his letter he would have
been well aware of the deficiencies of the ‘Gregorian’ sacramentary
or sacramentaries sent by the Pope to the Frankish Court. In the
latter part of the century copies of one or more of the several versions
of the ‘Eighth-century’ or ‘Frankish Gelasian’ sacramentary may have
reached England; but convincing evidence seems to be lacking.
The saints in the Berlin-Regensburg calendar, together with oth-
ers commemorated in June, figure in the ‘Old English Martyrology’
with a reference to their inclusion in ‘the old sacramentary al. mass-
All, again, are entered in either or both of the ‘Calendar
(ante 728) of Willibrord’, mostly as early additions, and the Echternach
‘Martyrologium Hieronymianum’ (Paris BNF, lat. 10837, fols 1–33).
Several, including Priscus (of Capua) at 1 June, entered in Willibrord’s
Calendar by the so-called ‘second main hand’, as well as at 1
K. Gamber et al., Codices liturgici latini antiquiores. Supplementum, Spicilegium
Friburgensis Subsidia 1A (Fribourg, 1988), p. 50 (no. 235); + B. Bischoff, V. Brown
and J.J. John, ‘Addenda to Codices Latini Antiquiores (II)’ (Mediaeval Studies 53 [1991],
p. 298), no. 1880; 799. Kunst und Kultur der Karolingerzeit, Katalog Bd. 2, pp. 485–7
(VII. 39: Eckhard Freise), with colour plate.
CLA VIII, 1052 (where it is remarked that the script ‘recall[s] the Durham
Cassiodorus’) + B. Bischoff and V. Brown, ‘Addenda to Codices Latini Antiquiores’
(Mediaeval Studies 47 [1985]), **VIII.1052 (p. 357); compare Bischoff, Südostdeutsche
Schreibschulen 2, 235 The mass-prayers were edited by P. Siffrin in 1930, the cal-
endar in 1933; both were re-edited by him in Missale Francorum ed. L.C. Mohlberg,
L. Eizenhöfer and P. Siffrin, Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta 2 (Rome, 1957), pp. 71–9
(prayers), 79–83 (calendar). The canon missae in the newly-discovered fragment is ed.
K. Gamber, ‘Das Regensburger Fragment eines Bonifatius-Sakramentars. Ein neuer
Zeuge des vorgregorianischen Messkanons’, RevBén 85 (1975), 266–302.
CLA II, 176; CPL
no. 1900b.
See, however, above.
Ed. G. Kotzor, Das altenglische Martyrologium, Bayerische Akad. d. Wiss, ph.-
hist. Kl., Abh. n.s. 88, 2 vols (1981).
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 207
September, Quintus (as Quintinus) and Sinotus, figure in the eighth-
century Northumbrian core of a distinctive group of calendars, in
which hagiological entries are mingled with ‘Plinian’ astronomical
and other inherited Antique material; the fullest version for the ten
months that are preserved is in a mid-ninth-century computistic-
astronomical codex from the ?lower-Rhine region; one for the whole
calendar year in a similar mid-ninth-century Prüm manuscript is
notably less full, although with strangely-neglected specifically York
items. They can be used as evidence for the sanctorale of Northumbrian
churches only in the light of other evidence.
Bede’s writings contain only a very few recognisable quotations
from the mass-liturgy or references to its form and content; those
few, however, establish that Wearmouth-Jarrow was using a Gelasian-
type book, although also raising the possibility that he was familiar
with some ‘Gregorian’ prayers. Commenting on Mark’s and Matthew’s
account of the beheading of John the Baptist and of the miracle of
the loaves which follows it in both Gospels, Bede observes: et propterea . . .
in libro sacramentorum ‘Natale’ eius quarto Kalendarum Septembrium denota-
tum est; the ‘Old Gelasian’ sacramentary has indeed a mass-set for
John’s passio on that day (29 August)—which is also, as Bede remarks,
the Martyrological date and was later the commonest liturgical one—
while the Hadrianum has none (its commemoration is of S. Sabina).
His homily for the day of John’s natalis or decollatio has as its
text the Neapolitan and Gallican pericope Mt 14.1–12; the Gospel
Milan, Bibl. Ambros. M. 12 sup., pp. 26–45: ed., except for some of the sup-
plementary material, by B. Bischoff, ‘Das karolingische Kalendar der Palimp-ses-
thandschrift Ambros. M 12 sup.’, Colligere Fragmenta. Festschrift Alban Dold (Beuron,
1952), pp. 247–56 (for the omissions, compare idem. p. 248 with facing plate);
Berlin, Staatsbibl., Phillips 1869 (Bischoff, Katalog 1, no. 438), fols 1–11
: edited
complete by A. Borst, Die karolingische Kalenderreform, MGH Schriften, 46 (Hanover,
1998), pp. 254–298, ostensibly as ‘the prototypical text of Carolingian calendar-
reform’ created at the Court and copied at Lorsch in 789 (with a remarkable col-
lection of supposed sources). The earliest extant calendar in this group, Cologne,
Dioz.- u. Dom-Bibl. 83 II, fols 72
–76 of 805, is unpublished. For the origins and
early transmission of the astronomical notes based on Pliny’s Natural History, Bks. II
and XVIII, and of the other ‘Antique’ material, see P. Meyvaert, ‘‘Discovering the
Calendar (annalis libellus) attached to Bede’s own copy of De temporum ratione, Analecta
Bollandiana 120/1 ( June 2002) and below, ch. 2, pp. 283–4 and nn. 100–101; for
the earliest hagiological stratum and its probable northern-English martyrological
origin, see my own forthcoming complementary study ‘Alcuin’s York, Bede’s Calendar
and and a pre-Bedan English Martyrology’ (previously announced as ‘The eighth-
century “Schools of York” and the calendar in Berlin Phillips 1869’).
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208 cn.r+rn oxr
pericope in Roman lectionaries of the eighth and ninth centuries,
under 30 August, is Mc 6.17–29. In his De tabernaculo, Bede refers
to ‘the pleasing custom’ of including in the preparations for baptism
the characteristically ‘Gelasian’ rituals of reciting the openings of the
four Gospels and explaining the figurae of the Evangelists, as part of
the ‘opening of the ears’ (apertio aurium).
Bede observes in his Retractio in Actus that et diem sacratissimam pen-
tecosten celebrantes is said in the prayers (in precibus) for that day: because
of the word-order a ‘Gregorian’ source has been claimed, the com-
parable prayer in the Vatican Gelasian having pentecosten sacratissi-
mum. But since Bede’s -mam, for which there is solid manuscript
testimony, has not been noted in any early Gregorian book the infer-
ence is hardly conclusive. Bede’s nos digne peragere et per haec contingere
ad gaudia praestat aeterna in his homily for the Easter Vigil is properly
to be compared with the (following) Easter Saturday’s Gregorian col-
lect . . . ut qui festa paschalia venerando egimus ( peregimus in the Trento
Sacramentary!) per haec contingere ad gaudia aeterna mereamur: there are
no precise or even close parallels to the final clause in any other
early liturgical text, although (the non-Biblical) gaudia aeterna occurs
several times in Gelasian missae pro defunctis.
A more considerable exception would appear to be the York
‘Metrical Calendar’ (better ‘Metrical Martyrology’) of the ?760s, as
expounded by Dom André Wilmart. Preserved incomplete in an
Feast: Sacr. Gel. II. lii, ed. Wilson, p. 196, ed. Mohlberg, nos 1009–1012; Bede:
In Marcum II vi, 37, ed. Hurst (CCSL 122, ii/3; 1960), p. 512; Opera Homiletica, ed.
D. Hurst (CCSL 122/iii; Turnhout, 1955), hom. II 23, pp. 349–57. For the Neapolitan
pericope in England, see conveniently Lenker, Perikopenordnungen, p. 366 (no. 107);
the ‘Lectionary of Luxeuil’, ed. P. Salmon, pp. 186–7, and the Toledo Liber Comicus
ed. G. Morin (Maredsous, 1893), pp. 270–1, both have Mt 14.1–14; for the Roman
pericope: see, e.g., Klauser, Capitulare Evangeliorum, pp. 36, 82, and Lenker, cit.
Baptismal rituals: De Tabernaculo, ed. D. Hurst (CCSL 119A; Turnhout, 1969), p. 89,
cf. In Ezram et Neemiam, ibid., pp. 310–11, where the context is not specifically indi-
cated; Sacr. Gel. I. xxxiv, ed. Wilson, pp. 50–1, ed. Mohlberg, nos 299–301.
Retractio, ed. M.L.W. Laistner, CCSL 121 (Turnhout, 1983), p. 109; compare
Sacr. Grég., ed. Deshusses, 1, no. 529 (p. 228) = no. 523 (p. 226) and Sacr. Gelas.
I. lxxx, ed. Mohlberg, no. 642 = I. lxxviii, ed. Mohlberg, no. 628. I would not press
the point that the rubric in Gelas. is Orationes et Preces Dominica Pentecosten while that
in Greg. is Die Domc. ad Sanctum Petrum; but note that concordance-tables in some
recent editions of sacramentaries wrongly treat the Gelasian and the Gregorian
prayers as identical. In Gelas. the text reads . . . sanctus apostolos plebemque credentium
praesentia suae maiestatis implevit, in Greg. in contrast . . . sanctus apostolis innumeris (later
al. in variis) linguis apparuit. Homily: II 7, ed Hurst, p. 230, compare Sacr. Grég. 1,
no. 429 (p. 202) and Sacr. Gelas. III. xcv

xcvii, ed. Wilson, pp. 303–5, ed. Mohlberg,
nos 1647, 1648, 1655, 1656, etc.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 209
early Mercian copy and complete in a twelfth-century Kentish book,
it includes among a majority of feasts characteristic of Gelasian books
(including the passio of John the Baptist), all in correct calendar order,
two unequivocally ‘Gregorian’ ones and a third that is almost cer-
tainly ‘Gregorian’: namely, the commemoration of Pope Silvester
(29 December) and of Euphemia on 16 September, as against the
Gelasian’s 13 April, and Pancras on 12 May. Wilmart thought that
this pointed to the presence at York of both kinds of Roman sacra-
mentary. I argue elsewhere, however, that that inference was mistaken
and unnecessary, and that elsewhere in his discussion of the text he
had indicated the right route to follow: the ‘Metrical Martyrology’,
like the oldest hagiological stratum in the calendars previously referred
to, is derived from an abbreviated, partly reconstructable, northern-
English version of the Hieronymian Martyrology (pre-Echternach-
text), in which all three of the ‘anomalous’ commemorations figured.
It is not evidence for the type of sacramentary used at York in the
mid-eighth century nor, except in its inclusion of recently added
feasts, for the liturgical calendar followed there.
A. Wilmart, ‘Un témoin anglo-saxon du calendrier métrique de York’, RevBén
46 (1934), 41–69, the text on 65–8, from the fragmentary London BL Cotton
Vespasian. B. VI (of ?805/14), fols 104
, with the missing opening lines from later,
Continental, redactions of the text; for the latter, and for the copy in Cambridge,
Trinity Coll. O.2.24 (1128) (Rochester or Christ Church, Canterbury, s. xiiin), fols
(of which Wilmart was not aware) see M. Lapidge, ‘A Tenth-Century Metrical
Calendar from Ramsey’ (1984), Anglo-Latin Literature 900–1066 (1993), pp. 349–59,
345–6 (332–42, 328–9).
Compare for Eufimia on 13 April, the ‘Old Gelasian’, II. xv, ed. Wilson, pp.
170–71, ed. Mohlberg, nos 854–859, and Sacr. Gell., ed. Dumas and Deshusses, nos
870–4 (with a Preface not in the ‘Old Gelasian’); ninth-century and later sacra-
mentaries and missals usually have mass-sets at both dates. The mass-set at 12 May
in the ‘Old Gelasian’, II. xviiii, ed. Wilson, pp. 173–4, ed. Mohlberg, nos 873–875,
is for Nereus et Acilleus fratres, although sancti Pancrati has already been added to the
title. The same set is Sacr. Gell., ed. Dumas and Deshusses, nos 961–964. Here it
is followed (idem nos 965–967) by a totally different mass-set for natalis sancti Pancrati,
which is that of the ‘Gregorian’ in both the Hadrianum and Paduense versions, ed.
Deshusses, Sacr. Greg. 1, nos 491–493. An early corrector of Cambrai Bib. mun.
164 modified its collect to read beatorum martyrum tuorum Nerei Acillei et Pancratii; while
in the tenth-century English ‘Winchcombe Sacramentary’ which unusually combines
the two sets (ed. A. Davril, HBS 109 (Woodbridge and London, 1995), nos 1000–1006)
it is the Gelasian collect that is similarly modified. In (?)most later books the mass-
set for the feast is the Gelasian and not the Gregorian one: see Sacramentarium Fuldense
saec. X, ed. G. Richter et al., p. 106 (nos 908–11) and D.H. Turner, The Missal of
the New Minster, HBS 93 (1962), pp. xv, xvii

xix. The comments on the early English
cult of St. Pancras by Wallace-Hadrill, Bede Commentary, p. 135, are unfortunately
wholly mis-conceived.
See Meyvaert’s study referred to in n. 234. Mark the Evangelist on 18 May,
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210 cn.r+rn oxr
Confirmatory evidence from a geographically-wider area is to be
found in the prayers in the English eighth/ninth century devotional
handbooks, which although generally quite distinct from liturgical
orationes often incorporate their characteristic phraseology, sometimes
from more than one tradition. Edmund Bishop’s remarkable pioneer
analysis of their origins and affinities has not always stood up to
more recent textual criticism; and even the assertion that ‘As regards
Roman material there is no sufficient ground for assuming that the
writers [of prayers in the ‘Book of Cerne’] knew or used any other
book than Gelas. . . . the resemblances being distributed over Gelas.
as a whole’ may not be as securely based as its wording suggests.
Bishop, moreover, was more confident than later scholars, and the
trend of recent scholarship, that the contents of the volume were pre-
dominantly of eighth-century Northumbrian origin, much of them
current there ‘when Alcuin was a boy’. It is not to be gainsaid, how-
ever, that one or two of ‘Cerne’s’ prayers have a pre-history in
Ireland and others have a strongly Irish imprint; or that among the
reflections of liturgical orationes, formulae of a distinctively ‘Gelasian’
character predominate.
Gelasian formulae, but also possibly Gallican
ones, are likewise reflected in another group of prayers from a cycle
of the life of Christ, which is nowhere transmitted in its entirety but
from which overlapping selections are in the ‘Royal’ book, the ‘Book
however, presumably reflects liturgical observance: Bullough, Carolingian Renewal, pp.
25, 211; and to the later English calendar evidence should be added Oxford, Bodl.
Libr., Digby 63, although reading sancti Maurici (ed. Wormald, English Kalendars, p.
6). Boniface of Mainz, martyred in 754, is commemorated at June 5th; for the
eighth-century bishops of York who are named, see below, p. 215. No argument
against a dating of the Martyrology to the 760s can be found in its inclusion of a
Feast of All Saints at November 1st (for which this may be the earliest evidence
anywhere): see below, p. 217 and n. 263.
E. Bishop, ‘Liturgical Note’, in Kuypers, Book of Cerne, pp. 234–83, the quo-
tation from p. 283. For criticisms of and corrections to Bishop’s interpretations, and
of my reliance on them in ‘Alcuin and the Kingdom of Heaven’ (original version
of 1983; partly corrected in Carolingian Renewal, Ch. V), see P. Sims-Williams,
‘Thoughts on Ephrem the Syrian in Anglo-Saxon England’, Learning and Literature . . .
Studies presented to Peter Clemoes, pp. 205–26, idem, Religion and Literature, pp. 302–4,
311–18. Note that the ‘canon of the Mass’ is common to all ‘Roman’ books.
Brown, Book of Cerne, pp. 137–8 lists ‘Prayers of Irish origin’. For the seventh-
century Lorica of Laidcenn (Brown, pp. 140–1), see M. Herren, The Hisperica Famina.
II. Related Poems (Toronto, 1987), pp. 3–14, 76–89, 113–37. Some of the prayers in
Brown’s list should certainly be deleted, including Book of Cerne, ed. Kuypers, no.
31 Sancte sator suffragator (which was known to and copied by the adult Alcuin), lat-
terly attributed by Lapidge, Archbishop Theodore, pp. 276–80, to Theodore of Canterbury.
For late-eighth-century Northumbrian (York-region?) ‘additions’ to Cerne associated
with the hermit Alchfrith, see above, p. 179.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 211
of Nunnaminster’ and (as nos 38–41, 43) in the ‘Book of Cerne’:
since they are absent from ninth-century Continental books, Patrick
Sims-Williams has ingeniously suggested that they were composed
(or at least circulated) after Alcuin had left Northumbria for Francia.
Finally, there is the scanty evidence of Alcuin himself in his cor-
respondence. Addressing the religious communities of the provincia
Gothorum, i.e. Septimania, on the importance of confessing sins to
priests and countering the view that it was sufficient to confess pri-
vately to God, Alcuin protests: ‘If sins are not exposed to priests,
why are prayers of reconciliation written in the sacramentary?’ (Si
peccata sacerdotibus non sunt prodenda, quare in sacramentorio reconciliationis
orationes scriptae sunt?).
Alcuin must here be referring either to the
group of four prayers that figure under the rubric item ad reconcilian-
dum poenitentem in the ‘Old Gelasian’ sacramentary (although the con-
text is still that of public penance) and with a similar title in some
‘Frankish Gelasians’, or to its penultimate section ad poenitentiam dan-
dam; or, just possibly, to some of the rather larger group drawn from
more than one section of the ‘Old Gelasian’—all of them quite
unknown to the Hadrianum and other unsupplemented ‘Gregorians’—
which figure in various combinations, and at times with other prayers,
in the supplementary sections of ninth-century ‘Gregorian’ sacra-
mentaries including two from Tours which are thought to reflect
Alcuin’s own ‘missal’.
To set against this, there is only the evi-
dence of the Gregorian ad complendum prayer with which the Temporal
portion of the De antiphonario section in Alcuin’s De laude concludes,
and which occurs also in ‘Frankish Gelasian’ books.
Sims-Wiliams ‘Ephrem the Syrian’, pp. 209, 226, and Religion and Literature,
pp. 310–12. For a different approach to this group of prayers, however, see Brown,
Book of Cerne, p. 137.
Ep. no. 138 (discussed more fully below).
Sacr. Gelas. I xxxviii, ed. Wilson, pp. 65–6, ed. Mohlberg, nos 360–363, cf.
Sacr. Gellon., ed. Dumas and Deshusses, nos 597–600, etc.; Sacr. Gelas. I xv and I
xxxviii, ed. Wilson, pp. 14 and 65–6, ed. Mohlberg, nos 78–82, 356–362, 368 =
Sacr. Grég. ed. Deshusses, 3, nos 3951–56, 3960, 3965, 3968, 3977–78. (The num-
bers in Deshusses, 3, omitted here are prayers peculiar to Verona Bib. Cap., cod. XCI
or to one or both of the Tours manuscripts, except for no. 3957, inc. Domine Deus
omnipotens propitius esto mihi peccatori, which is also in Cambrai 162+163). The dispo-
sition of the prayers in ‘Alcuin’s missal’ and in the Verona manuscript is best indi-
cated by Sacr. Grég., ed. Deshusses, 3, pp. 121–6. Chavasse, Sacramentaire Gélasien,
pp. 145–55 analyses the several groups included in the ‘Old Gelasian’ and their
supposed earlier history.
Above, p. 197.
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212 cn.r+rn oxr
‘Occasional’ Services
It has been said that ‘in the absence of surviving liturgical texts it
is difficult to determine which baptismal rite was used’ in early
England: which is true only if the evidence of the ‘Old Gelasian’
sacramentary (and of Bede) is treated as irrelevant.
The southern-
English council of Clofesho in 747 required the office of baptism to
be performed ‘in accordance with the written version acquired from
the Roman church’, but gives no indication what this involved; priests,
however, should be able to explain it and communicate the elements
of the faith in the vernacular. The ‘Northumbrian Disciple’s’ version
of Archbishop Theodore’s rulings ‘on baptism and confirmation’—
the most extensive of the several versions—is largely concerned with
marginal issues, historical and disciplinary, including the interesting
response that it is possible for one and the same person to be sponsor
( pater) for entry into the catechuminate, baptism and confirmation,
but that it is customary to have different ones.
Sponsors were
acknowledged as increasingly important in the baptism of infants
during the the eighth and ninth centuries: the 786 legatine synod’s
description of those who receive the little ones from the font, having
renounced Satan and all his works on their behalf, as their fideiussores
to God (the language of Caesarius of Arles in his sermons nearly
three centuries previously) is, however, unparalleled in English texts
of the period and very exceptional in Carolingian-Frankish ones.
S. Foot, ‘ “By water in the spirit”’: the administration of baptism in early
Anglo-Saxon England’, Pastoral Care before the Parish, ed. J. Blair and Richard Sharpe,
(Studies in the Early History of Britain (Leicester, 1992), pp. 171–92, at p. 173. For
the ‘Old Gelasian’ sacramentary’s baptismal rite (more accurately, rites: Vogel, Medieval
Liturgy, rev. Storey and Rasmussen, pp. 165–6), see Chavasse, Sacramentaire Gélasien,
pp. 155–76, Andrieu, Ordines, 2, pp. 380–7; and J.D.C. Fisher, Christian Initiation:
Baptism in the Medieval West, Alcuin Club Collections (London, 1965), pp. 1–17. For
certain aspects of the rite see also P. Cramer, Baptism and Change in the Early Middle
Ages, c. 200–c. 1150 (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 140–8, 172–7. For Ordo XI (ed. Andrieu,
Ordines, 2, pp. 417–47) as a later and dependent text, see—contra Andrieu—Chavasse
Sacramentaire Gélasien, pp. 166–8, and the literature cited by J.H. Lynch, Godparents
and Kinship in Early Medieval Europe (Princeton, 1986), p. 290 n. 7.
Clofesho acta, cc. 13 and 10: Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 366–7, where
sponsors/ godparents are those qui [infantes] in baptismate suscipere voluerint. Theodore:
Canones Theodori, II iv, ed. Finsterwalder, pp. 316–18; and note that II. iv.10 already
allows ‘cross-sex’ sponsorship (compare Lynch, Godparents and Kinship, p. 161).
MGH Epp. IV, p. 21 (c. 2). For Caesarius’s use of that Roman legal term for
a baptismal sponsor, see e.g. his sermo 200, ed. G. Morin (Maredsous, 1937), p. 811
(c. 6). Whether or not he was the first person to do so, the terminology failed to
establish itself in the language of Gallic councils; compare Lynch, Godparents and
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 213
Letters written by Alcuin in his later years have much to say about
baptism and its forms; yet they include no direct reference nor clear
allusion to the practices of the church in which he had been brought
up. His account and interpretation of the central ceremony and its
preliminaries inc. Primo paganus catechumenus fit, whether his own com-
position or taken over from an earlier (anonymous) writer, contains
no hint of the three Lenten-period scrutinia provided for in the Gelasian
book, let alone the seven described in the probably Gallicanized
Roman Ordo XI; but equally it seems to assume that the candidates
are adults rather than infantes.
‘Scrutinies’ are simply questions
about the basic tenets of the Christian faith, asked at the last prepara-
tory stage before anointing and three-fold immersion in the name
of the Trinity; they have been preceded by the rituals of exorcism,
for which Bede provides independent evidence. The conclusion of
the rite with the bishop’s imposition of hands after the newly-bap-
tized had made their first communion may, however, reflect early
English practice.
In early England, whatever the contemporary situation in main-
land Europe—the evidence from Italy and southern Gaul is not, in
this case, matched by that from Francia—there is no suggestion that
the cathedral font was of special importance in the baptism of a dio-
cese’s infants. Alcuin’s only references to the one at York are his-
torical and ambiguous.
Stephen of Ripon’s Life of Bishop Wilfrid
reports him as ‘baptizing and also confirming [country] people by
Kinship, pp. 156–9 with Jussen, pp. 143–4. For the rare early-Carolingian instances,
see below, ch. 3, p. 352 and n. 69.
For the relationship between the Sacramentary and Ordo XI, see n. 246 above.
Exorcism: Bede, HE V 6 (the story of Herebald), me cathecizare ipse curavit, fac-
tumque est ut exsufflante illo in faciem meam etc.; in I Samuhelem iii, xvii 53 (ed. Hurst,
CCSL 119 (Turnhout, 1962), p. 162), omnem spiritum immundum exsufflando et cathecizando
abigant. Note that catechizare here does not have its familiar original meaning of ‘to
instruct’ (compare almost any translation of HE and Foot, ‘Administration of bap-
tism’, pp. 176–7) but means ‘to lay hands on’ a person as part of the ritual of
exorcism, as in Sacr. Gelas. I. xlii, ed. Wilson p. 78, Mohlberg, no. 419a. For epis-
copal ‘confirmation’s’ place in the baptismal rite, compare Primo paganus in epp. nos
134, 137 (pp. 203, 215) with ordo XI cc. 100–4, ed. Andrieu, Ordines, pp. 446–7.
Euboricae celsis etiam sub moenibus urbis/ in qua tecta Deo iussit cito parva locari/
sumeret ut sub eis sacram baptismatis undam, ‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 196–8; . . .
Ubi bellipotens sumpsit baptismatis undam/ Eduuin rex, praesul grandem construxerat aram/. . . ./
atque dicavit eam sancti sub nomine Pauli, idem, lines 1490–1, 1493. The poeticism
unda(e) for ‘water(s) of the baptismal font’, although infrequent elsewhere, may have
been commonplace in early Anglo-Latin: compare Felix, Vita Guthlaci c. 42, ed.
Colgrave, p. 130, sacrati fontis undis abluit. The ‘source’ is perhaps Venantius Fortunatus
carm. IX, v. 9, abluit unda lavacri.
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214 cn.r+rn oxr
the laying on of hands’ in (probably) south-west Northumbria in the
The first Life of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne records that in his
short time as bishop he travelled round his diocese, preaching, heal-
ing and imposing post-baptismal anointings, but not explicitly as bap-
Baptism in a local rural church is implicit in Alcuin’s account
of Willibrord’s beginnings, although it is not very likely that he had
any specific information on the matter; of the setting of his own
baptism we know nothing.
The ‘Christianization’ of death, burial and their associated rituals
was no more than partial, even when the actual entombment was
in the precincts of a church or monastery.
Nevertheless, com-
memorative or anniversary masses for lay persons as well as for
monks and clerics were becoming a familiar phenomenon: the fullest
evidence from early England is in the chapter De missa defunctorum in
the ‘Northumbrian Disciple’s version of ‘Theodore’s Penitential’.
The third book of the (Old) Gelasian sacramentary includes the
appropriate Orationes post obitum hominis etc. and mass-sets; Alcuin
echoed one or more of the prayers when considering his own future
burial at York in ?794.
C.18, ed. Colgrave, p. 38. The biographer’s villa quae dicitur Ontiddanufri is per-
haps identifiable with Tidover in Kirkby Overblow: The Place-names of the West Riding
of Yorkshire 5, ed. A.H. Smith, English Place-Name Society 34 (Cambridge, 1961),
p. 43.
Vita anon. IV cc. 1–10, ed. Colgrave, pp. 110–28. Bede’s re-writing of one of
those episodes (Vita Cuth. pr. c. 29, ed. Colgrave, p. 252) introduces the words nec
non etiam nuper baptizatis ad accipiendam spiritus sancti gratiam manum inponeret. Bede uses
the verb confirmare in his Epistola ad Ecgbertum (c. 7: ed. Plummer, p. 410) but not,
apparently, the substantive. Both are found in the ‘Northumbrian Disciple’s’ text
of Theodore’s ‘Penitential’: above, n. 247, also II. ii.1 (Episcopo licet in campo confirmare
si necesse sit: ed. Finsterwalder, p. 313). For the importance of early English and
missionary practice in the historical development of the second, post-baptismal,
anointing see A. Angenendt, ‘Bonifatius und das Sacramentum initiationis’, RömQuart,
72 (1977), 133–83.
Vita Willibr. I, 3: ed. Levison, MGH SRM VII, 117–18. Willibrord was entrusted
as an infantulus to Ripon.
Bullough, ‘Burial, community and belief ’ (as n. 2); idem, ‘The Carolingian
liturgical experience’, Continuity and Change, ed. Swanson, SCH 35, pp. 55–7, both
with references to other literature.
Canones Theodori, ed. Finsterwalder, pp. 318–28, esp. cc. 5 and 6.
Sacr. Gelas. III xci, xcii

cv, ed. Wilson, pp. 295–301, 301–13, ed. Mohlberg,
nos 1607–19, 1620–95. The Gelasian orationes are analysed at length by Sicard,
Liturgie de la Mort, pt.2, with summaries at 335–9, 346–8: but for their ‘origins’,
compare Chavasse, Sacramentaire Gélasien, 57–61 and B. Moreton’s review in JTS
31 (1980), 231–7, esp. 232–4; also Deshusses in ALW 9 (1965), 52–58, arguing for
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New Liturgical Commemorations
York, like other major churches, not only regularly prayed for mem-
bers and benefactors, living and dead, whose names had been entered
in some album or Liber Vitae: it also from time to time added to its
calendar a more specific commemoration of the ‘Heavenly Birthday’
of its bishops and, in certain circumstances, of its monarchs, although
‘proper’ masses and offices lay in the future. Thus, Bosa who died
in 706 (or 705) and Wilfrid II who died in 745, thirteen years after
his resignation from the bishopric, are entered in the York ‘Metrical
Martyrology’ respectively under 2 October and 29 April (in both
cases apparently the only evidence for their death-days); the church’s
founding-bishop Paulinus is there under 10 October, although with
the epithet magister, and the controversial Wilfrid I, who died as
bishop of Hexham, likewise correctly under 24 April. The depositio
of Bosa’s successor, John of Beverley, on 7 May (721), which also
featured in the ‘authentic’ text of the Martyrology, had been entered
previously in a Northumbrian calendar of which only fragments sur-
vive and occurs later in northern-English calendars and liturgical
books; one of these was presumably the source of ‘Florence’ (i.e. John)
of Worcester’s correct reporting of the day in his Chronicle.
In con-
trast, none of the great figures from Wearmouth and Jarrow are
a Visigothic Spanish origin of Mohlberg, no. 1612. The continuation of the pas-
sage quoted above, strengthens the view that here Alcuin had particularly in mind
the prayers in Sacr. Gelas. III xcvii, ed. Mohlberg nos 1610–12: but the next sen-
tence, Et sicut unus sol omnibus lucet etc., has a quite different source.
‘Metrical Martyrology’, vv. 21–3 (Wilfrid I), 24–5 (Wilfrid II), 61–2 (Bosa),
64 (Paulinus): Wilmart, ‘Calendrier métrique’, pp. 66, 68. The other early evidence
for the commemoration of Wilfrid’s dies depositionis on April 24th—by no means
exclusive to York—is assembled in Bullough, ‘Albuinus deliciosus Karoli regis’, p. 79(–80)
n. 22: the more recent statement by P.Ó. Riain, Anglo-Saxon Ireland: the evidence of
the Martyrology of Tallaght, H.M. Chadwick Memorial Lectures, 3 (Cambridge, 1993),
p. 10, is misleading. For the ‘York poem’s account of Bosa and Wilfrid II, see ed.
Godman, lines 847–75, 1216–48; for Paulinus, see ibid. line 210: Sic pius antistes pri-
mum Paulinus habebat. For John in the Martyrology, see Wilmart, ‘Calendrier métrique’,
p. 66 app., confirmed by the texts in early Continental copies from Rheims, St.-
Riquier, Lyon, etc., reported by Lapidge, ‘A tenth-century Metrical Calendar’, [as
n. 237], p. 346 [329]. The calendar-fragments, Munich Hauptstaatsarchiv Raritäten-
sel. no. 108, are ed. R. Bauerreiss, ‘Ein angelsächsisches Kalendarfragment . . .’,
Studien und Mitteilungen zur Geschichte des Benediktinerordens 51 (1933), 178–9 (here 178).
A ninth-century calendar entry is that in Oxford, Bodleian Libr., Digby 63 (ed.
Wormald, p. 6); the chronicle record is The Chronicle of John of Worcester, ed. R.R.
Darlington and P. McGurk, 2 (Oxford, 1995), p. 176 and n. (where the calendar
evidence is not cited).
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included in the Martyrology—not Benedict Biscop, nor Ceolfrith, nor
Bede; although the depositio of the first-named on 12 January is one
of several Wearmouth-Jarrow entries in the Phillips 1869 calendar.
Among non-York names, however, Pope Gregory I, the commem-
oration of whose dies natalis had been commanded by the council of
Clovesho in 747, duly appears in the Martyrology under 12 March,
without an epithet, and similarly (as papa) in the Phillips 1869 calendar
and its relatives. So do the two Hewalds, martyred shortly before or
shortly after 700, and Boniface, martyred in 754, under the inde-
pendently-documented dates of 3 October and 5 June respectively.
Not all these saints were to become a permanent feature of the
Northern diocese’s annual liturgical commemorations: Cuthbert of
Lindisfarne, of course, and Bishop John are among the exceptions.
Familiarity with and presumably the liturgical observance of the
post-Gregorian feast of ‘the Presentation of Christ in the Temple’
and the three (other) feasts of Mary the Mother of Our Lord—
Annunciation, Assumption and Nativity—at York in the third quarter
of the century, and possibly at Wearmouth-Jarrow a little earlier,
are demonstrated by the ‘Metrical Martyrology’ and the calendar in
Berlin Phillips 1869. The passages referring to the Virgin Mary which
were collected by Alcuin in his De antiphonario have been associated
(not uncontroversially but probably correctly) with the feast of
the Assumption and with another in December. Celebration of the
Ed. Borst, p. 255. Borst’s identification of the preceding depositio domni Iohannis
pape with ‘Archbishop John II of Ravenna’ (!) is incomprehensible. This is almost
certainly Pope John VI (ob. 705), who heard Wilfrid’s appeal in 704: see Bullough,
‘York, Bede’s Calendar and a pre-Bedan English Martyrology’ (forthcoming in AnBoll
Gregory: ‘Martyrology’, ed. Wilmart, v. 14, and similarly in the Phillips 1869
calendar, ed. Borst, p. 263; but already in ‘Willibrord’s calendar’, by the first hand,
and in all versions of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum. Boniface and the Hewalds:
‘Martyrology’, ed. Wilmart, vv. 30–2 (unexpectedly jointly with Tatberht), 63. 3
October is also Bede’s date (HE V 10: ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 482); but
Willibrord’s calendar in Paris BNF lat. 10837 (facsimile and edition by H.A. Wilson,
HBS 55 (London, 1918), which is earlier, has the martyrdom of the Hewalds under
4 October. Wallace-Hadrill, Bede Commentary, p. 183, is inacccurate and unhelpful;
and there are better arguments for preferring 4 October than those put forward
latterly by Ó. Riain, Martyrology of Tallaght, p. 7. That is also the day in the Berlin
Phillips 1869 calendar and in the anomalous form Natl. scorum Eouualdi et Aldi in
the related calendar in Milan Ambros. M.12 sup., ed. Bischoff, p. 254; but the lat-
ter also has, under 3 October, et duorum Heuualdorum! Neither Boniface nor the
Hewalds are in the Cologne version of the calendar.
And not only at York itself: as Plummer noted (Bedae Opera Historica, 1, 432),
in the William of St. Carilef book, Durham Cath. B. ii. 35, the section of Bede’s
Historia Ecclesiastica relating to John (V. 2–4) is marked for eight lections.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 217
Assumption, the Nativity and the Annunciation at southern-Nor-
thumbrian ?Crayke in the time of Abbot Sibald (ob.771), together
with a fourth feast which has been variously understood, is recalled
in Æthelwulf ’s poem De Abbatibus.
The two martyrology/calendar-
texts are likewise the earliest evidence for the observance of a Feast
of All the Saints on 1 November, whether or not this had been
imported into Northumbria from an unidentified Irish church; the
arguments for its origin in ‘the other island’ are in fact much weaker
than they once seemed, although it is still possible to regard it as
originating in characteristically-Insular ‘private devotion’.
Calendar and Computus
The liturgical calendar of Sundays and week-day Holy Days, of
Feasts of Our Lord and Commemorations of Saints, had from the
start been in part determined by, but also involving, the sometimes
awkward adaptation of existing secular and ( Jewish) religious calen-
dars, that were themselves based in varying degrees on observable
or measurable natural phenomena; and the different ways in which
such a calendar should be constructed to establish a common date
for the Church’s moveable but eventually recurrent Easter festival
created difficulties in the fourth century and provoked a consider-
able and controversial literature in the fifth and sixth.
The learned
Spaniard Isidore summarised Antique notions of Time and its divi-
sions in the fifth book of his Etymologies, De Legibus et Temporibus, and
gave a brief account of the Easter Cycle in the following book, De
Libris et Officiis ecclesiasticis. Useful for their definitions, these sections
See for this Mary Clayton, The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England,
Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 2 (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 30–40, 52–61;
and below, Additional Note (pp. 250–1). De antiphonario extracts: above, p. 198 at
n. 209 and Clayton, pp. 55–59.
Bullough, ‘York, Bede’s Calendar and a pre-Bedan English Martyrology’ (forth-
coming in AnBoll ?2003); and, for the strangely-neglected evidence of the comes, above,
p. 19 & n. 42. The earliest Irish evidence for the 1 November feast is the ‘Martyrology
of Oengus’, ed. Whitley Stokes (HBS 29, 1905), p. 232, a text now regarded as not
earlier than the fourth decade of the ninth century: see P.Ó. Riain, ‘The Tallaght
Martyrologies Redated’, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, no. 20 (1990), 21–38.
Previous English-language summaries of the inherent problems and of suc-
cessive attempts to resolve them have been largely superseded by Faith Wallis’s
exceptionally lucid Introduction to her translation of Bede: The Reckoning of Time,
Translated Texts for Historians, vol. 29 (Liverpool U.P., 1999), pp. xv–lxxxv.
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218 cn.r+rn oxr
were of almost no practical value. Perhaps in Spain, certainly in
Ireland already in the first half of the seventh century, didactic hand-
books on the calculation (compotus, -utus) of time and the Christian
calendar were being compiled from existing, although often corruptly-
transmitted, texts, and from new ones that were the creation of
anonymous teachers. Typically, in eighth-century and subsequent
copies and re-fashionings, they were accompanied by extracts from
Isidore, and by verses of Antique or more recent origin composed
as aids to memory. Bede’s concise De Temporibus, the earliest of his
writings on Time which collectively brought early-medieval under-
standing of the subject to new heights and were indispensable for
centuries thereafter, was (in one of its aspects) ‘designed to eliminate
students’ dependence on Irish computi and the works of Isidore’ even
though these had provided him with much of his material, in con-
junction with an exposition of the nineteen-year luni-solar cycle and
the Dionysian Paschal table.
Bede’s fuller treatment of the subject, the De temporum ratione writ-
ten more than twenty years later, was explicitly a response to those
who had complained that his previous writings were too condensed
to be intelligible. But it also enabled him to introduce and explain
topics that had formed no part of ‘On Times’: in particular, cos-
mological material that had been dealt with somewhat differently in
his De natura rerum. The definitive version accompanied by a dis-
tinctive annalis libellus or (secular) calendar, of which copies were
quickly made and circulated, was to be epoch-making.
In one of
the later chapters, Bede refers in passsing to what might or might
not have been learnt in schola puerili; moreover, the opening chapter,
devoted to finger-calculation and its ‘language’, has suggested to some
commentators that he had in mind the teaching of very young pupils.
There are cogent objections to that intepretation;
certainly the bulk
of the material in later chapters, with their climax in the interpretation
of Easter and the Resurrection as a foreshadowing of Eternity, must
Jones, Bedae de Temporibus, edition at pp. 295–303, the quotation in the text
at p. 132, cf. pp. 130–1. Compare D. Ó Croinin, ‘The Irish provenance of Bede’s
Computus’, Peritia 2 (1983), 229–47; but, above all, Wallis, Bede: The Reckoning of
Time, pp. lxiv

v. For the verses and some of their early manuscript contexts, see
below, this chapter and ch. 2.
Wallis, Bede: The Reckoning of Time, pp. lxv–lxvii (Bede here innovatively ‘fus[es]
natural history and calendar science’); Meyvaert, ‘Discovering the Calendar’, Anacleta
Bollandiana 120/1 ( June 2002).
See Wallis’s Commentary, pp. 260–1, cf. Introduction, pp. xxxi

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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 219
always have been intended for more mature minds. Whatever the
nature of Bede’s own oral teaching of computus as a practical discipline
and its place in Creation and the Divine purpose, to which he several
times alludes, older students ‘were expected to master a few sections
each year’.
Nothing in Alcuin’s own teaching of computus in the 770s and
780s, in so far as this can be reconstructed from later evidence, or
of astronomy (cosmology) to the Frankish king in the 790s
unequivocally how and to what degree Bede’s teaching had been
passed on to him. His reminiscent record of instruction in the sub-
ject begins only with the ‘York poem’s description of Ælberht’s
achievements as magister—in the late 750s/760s, therefore. Here it is
recorded that as well as instructing the young in ‘the Arts’, he
paschalique dedit solemnia certa recursu.
Professor Godman’s proposed translation, ‘He regulated the time for
Easter’s celebration’, is hardly adequate; and the punctuation that
links it with the following reference to the ‘mysteries of Holy Scripture’
can be misleading. Recursu, although unusual, is surely a reference
specifically to the now-established cycle of calendar years and their
Easter Days presented in tabular form.
But Alcuin is here appar-
ently adapting two lines in Bishop Wilfrid (I)’s epitaph, as reported—
indeed, probably composed—by Bede:
paschalis qui etiam sollemnia tempora cursus
. . . . . . . . . . . .
certa suae genti ostendit moderamine ritus.
Since Wilfrid was, to the chronicler and epitaph-author, the man
who made sure that the English church adopted the ‘Roman’ Dionysian
Easter-datings, Alcuin’s verse is interpretable not only as a conscious,
if oblique, compliment to him but also to underline the York church’s
earlier contribution to and continuing importance in the teaching of
Jones, Bedae de Temporibus, pp. 175–291, the reference to the schola puerilis in
DTR c. 38 (here copying Bede’s undated letter Ad Helmuualdum) at p. 251; the quo-
tation ibid., p. 135.
Below, ch. 3.
‘York poem’, ed. Godman, line 1447, with p. 115. Compare Aldhelm’s De
virginitate metr. line 1577 (ed. Ehwald, p. 418), Hic pater illustris celebrans solemnia paschae;
and the same scholar’s reference to the old Roman 84-year cycle, defended by the
Irish at Whitby but subsequently almost everywhere abandoned (MGH Epp. IV, Ad
Gerontium: ed. Ehwald, p. 483) as iuxta Sulpicii Severi regulam, que lxxxiiii annorum cur-
sum descripsit.
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220 cn.r+rn oxr
the subject, without slighting Bede.
There is no evidence that
Alcuin was aware of Bede’s letter of 708 suggesting, without actu-
ally stating, that Wilfrid had once let him down by not defending
him against unjustified criticisms by members of his community who
were ‘in their cups’.
It is very likely that a range of simple mnemonic texts, such as
the ‘Pachomian verses’ inc. Nonae Aprilis norunt quinos which gave the
date of the Easter full moon and a ‘ferial regular’ for each year in
the nineteen–year cycle and Ausonius’s Eclogue on the zodiacal ‘Signs
of the twelve Months’ as modified by Bede so that it began with
Aries and April—both of them neumed in some later manuscripts
so as to provide simultaneous instruction in cantus—were common
currency in the eighth-century York scola. But not even their pres-
ence (un-neumed) in manuscripts that apparently preserve parts of
‘Alcuin’s computus’ conclusively demonstrates this. It is also possi-
ble, but again unproven, that Alcuin’s allusion, when trying to ‘explain’
the calculation of epacts to the king in 797, to boys who ‘recite [a
table] from zero by elevens’ is a reminiscence of York as much as
of the Frankish Court.
‘Grammatica’. The Practice of Writing and Reading
Pueri and adolescentes who were wrestling with texts like Bede’s had
obviously passed well beyond the rudimentary stages of learning
Bede, HE V 19 (ed. Colgrave and Mynors, pp. 528–30); Bede’s authorship
of the epitaph was argued by Jaager, Bedas Metrische Vita Cuthberti, pp. 50–1 For a
rather different, but surely unnecessary, reaction to its evidence, see Ó Cróinìn,
‘Irish provenance’, Peritia 2, 232–3.
Epist. ad Pleguinam, ed. Jones, Bedae de Temporibus, pp. 307–15, esp. at p. 315.
For substantial criticisms of the generally-accepted translation and interpretation of
this section of the letter, see D. Schaller, ‘Der verleumdete David’, in: Literatur und
Sprache im europäischen Mittelalter. Festschrift für Karl Langosch, ed. A. Önnerfors et al.
(Darmstadt, 1973), pp. 39–43.
Nonae Aprilis: S.-K. no. 10525, ed. Strecker, MGH Poet. IV, pp. 670–1, using
neither of the related manuscripts, BAV, Pal. lat. 1448 (pt. iii) and Pal. lat. 1449 (for
their Alcuinian elements, see below, Ch. 2), where the verses are at respectively fol.
71 and fol. 11; compare Jones, Bedae de Temporibus, pp. 32–3. Respicis Apriles: S.-K.
no. 12589, Bede, DTR c. 16 (sicut quidam veterum etiam versibus explicavit heroicis), ed.
Jones, Bedae de Temporibus, p. 213. For their neuming see W. Irtenkauf, ‘Der com-
putus ecclesiasticus in der Einstimmigkeit des Mittelalters’, Archiv f. Musikwissenschaft, 14
(1957), 1–15. Epacts: ep. no. 126 (p. 186), where decantatur means ‘is recited’ (com-
pare memoriter decantare consuescas in De temporum ratione, c. 22, Jones, Bedae de Temporibus,
p. 223), although earlier in the letter (p. 185) it means ‘is declared, is asserted’.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 221
Latin. How they did so and what texts they used, in Alcuin’s day
and for some time afterwards, seems to be largely irrecoverable. The
calendarial and other mnemonic verses no doubt helped; but more
varied and substantial fare was needed. In the ninth century the
Disticha Catonis, a substantial late-Antique collection of moral max-
ims each consisting of two syntactically simple hexameters, as:
Plus vigila semper nec [al. neu] somno deditus esto
Nam diuturna quies vitiis alimenta ministrat,
came to be used widely in elementary teaching. It may have reached
Carolingian Francia via Spain.
Aldhelm and Bede show no knowl-
edge of it. The elderly Alcuin was thoroughly familiar with one ver-
sion of it, since he uses it extensively and freely in his own Praecepta
vivendi per singulos versus; the evidence that he knew it already when
he was composing his ‘York poem’ is, however, very thin.
Epigrammata of Prosper of Aquitaine, whose concise renderings of
selected sententiae of St. Augustine happily combined elementary ‘gram-
matical’ and moral instruction, may have established itself in north-
ern school-rooms somewhat earlier. Both Aldhelm and Bede cite
verses from it in their works on metre and elsewhere; and Alcuin
includes more than twenty excerpts in his florilegium De laude Dei.
Whatever the form of oral instruction, whether ‘question-and-
answer’, reading aloud with accompanying exposition (lectio) or dictating
Ed. M. Boas, rev. H.J. Botschuyver (Amsterdam, 1952), here pp. 35–6 ‘It is
a better thing to be awake than given over to sleep; prolonged rest gives nourish-
ment to vices’. It is one of the texts in the ‘Spanish anthology’, Paris BNF. lat.
8093 fols 1–38 + Leyden Voss. lat. F.111, written in Visigothic script at or near
Lyons at the very beginning of the ninth century. The only pre-800 manuscript is
the small (35 fols) verse anthology from the Verona area, Verona Bib. cap. CLXIII
(150) (CLA IV, 516) of s. viii
. But the initial distich Si deus est . . ./ . . . mente colendus
is among the Visigothic marginalia ( probationes) of the Spanish manuscript Autun
Bibl. mun. 107 (S.129) (CLA VI, 729). Spain might, however, be the source of only
one branch of the tradition.
MGH Poet. I, pp. 275–81 (carm. lxii; S.-K. no. 5960); compare M. Boas, Alcuin
und Cato (Leiden, 1937). ‘York Poem’ ed. Godman, lines 155–6, certainly seem to
echo Disticha I 1: but Alcuin could easily have encountered this separately, cf. last
note and S.-K. no. 15020; and he would have found pondere pressus (line 127) in
e.g. Aldhelm, De virginitate metr., line 2401.
Epigrammata ex sententiis: CPL
no. 526; the one pre-800 manuscript (Paris BNF.
lat. 11326; CLA V, 609) is an Italian-origin libellus (at Fleury in the ninth century)
of thirty-seven folios, in which the only other item is Augustine’s sermo CL. For the
Liège manuscript (Antwerp, Mus. Plantin-Moretus Museum 17.4), see below, ch. 2.
For Aldhelm’s use, see Aldhelmi Opera ed. Ehwald, p. 545; for Bede’s, see his De arte
metrica, ed. C.B. Kendall, CCSL 123A (Turnhout, 1975), pp. 59–141, with CCSL
123C (Turnhout, 1980) and ‘York poem’ ed. Godman, p. lxviii. For the De laude
Dei excerpts, see below, ch. 2, pp. 277–8 and n. 79.
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222 cn.r+rn oxr
an exercise, the written word was both its well-spring and outcome.
The process by which pueri in monasteries and cathedrals acquired
and developed the necessary minimum skills is broadly known; the
painful physical effort involved, still deplored by mature scholars how-
ever good it might be for their souls, was a commonplace that Alcuin
shared with others.
The sloping writing-desk may already have been
a normal feature of a well-organized ninth-century scriptorium, and
of the space allocated to an established scholar; school-pupils, and
probably most notarii and amanuenses, continued to rest their writ-
ing-surface, in the form of a waxed or other tablet, on their knees.
On this and on related topics Alcuin says disappointingly little,
even when praising scribes. His one allusion to writing in wax, and
a doubtful figurative allusion to tabulae, are not in the context of
schooling: but it is possible that the unique and puzzling reference
to ‘playing with litterali tessera’, previously quoted, belongs here.
is none the less likely that Alcuin’s earliest writing-exercises were
phrases based on the Psalter, such as omnium inimicorum suorum domi-
nabitur (from Ps.[Vulg.; Ro. = Ga.] 9.26), which is a probatio in a
Mercian manuscript c. 700 and commonly thereafter; and perhaps
subsequently the penning of ‘school’ or secular verses previously
memorized by oral repetition. The writing of opening lines by a
master, which less-skilled copyists then try to imitate, is a feature of
W. Wattenbach, Das Schriftwesen im Mittelalter (ed. 3; Leipzig, 1896), pp. 264–89;
B. Bischoff, Latin Palaeography (Engl. ed.; Cambridge, 1990), pp. 38–42. The three
distichs in two Tours Bibles (carm. lxv/4: ed. Dümmler, MGH Poet. I, p. 284) Nauta
rudis pelagi ut sevis ereptus ab undis/ in portum veniens pectora leta tenet/ Sic scriptor fessus
calamum sub calce laboris/ Deponens etc. are reputedly Alcuin’s own version (cf. ‘York
poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1649–53, where the nauta rudis returning safely to his
home-port is the poet) of a prose scribal topos current at least as early as the sev-
enth century (Wattenbach, Schriftwesen, pp. 279–80): they were very soon copied or
adapted by others, contemporaneously with independent poetic versions of the sim-
ile. For benefit to the soul see carm. xciv (ed. Dümmler, MGH Poet. I, p. 320, S.-
K. no. 6704; a good English translation is in Godman, Poetry, p. 139), lines
11–14—with Mt 20.1,8 presumably in mind.
The upper of two pen- and wash-drawings on fol. 1a
of the tenth-century
Tegernsee (Froumund) manuscript Munich clm. 19437 (a small-format copy of Alcuin’s
De dialectica) has been claimed as a representation of Alcuin writing in this way—
because the lower seated figure is labelled KAR/OLUS and because a later folio
) has an illustration of Alcuin standing before the king. It is almost certainly a
weak copy of a Carolingian-period Evangelist-picture, perhaps specifically Mark.
Ep. no. 28, quoted above, p. 42 n. 93; non in membranis tantum calamo, sed etiam
in tabulis cordis carnalibus Dei spiritu scripta: comm. in Apoc. IV 6 (v. 14), PL 100, 1127C;
ep. no. 215, and above, p. 110 n. 273. For late-medieval waxed tablets and iron
stylus found at York (but also not from a scola), see S. O’Connor, D. Tweddle, ‘A
set of waxed tablets from Swinegate, York’, Bibliologia 12 (Les Tablettes à écrire. . . .)
1993, 307–22.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 223
several late-eighth-century and early-ninth-century books.
The young
Alcuin necessarily learnt the recently-created additional letters for
sounds peculiar to his English vernacular, if only for use in personal-
and place-names in his correspondence. Unsurprisingly, when in 797
he made marginal indications in a manuscript he had recently read,
he used the letter-forms of the ‘Insular minuscule’ he had been taught
to write at York.
To a whole range of scholars writing in the past two decades, pri-
vate reading in this period is hardly to be envisaged: Ambrose the
silent reader is a wholly abnormal phenomenon; early- and high-
mediaeval reading (it is asserted) is a shared and public act; and the
private, and silent, reading of recent centuries had its beginnings
only in the later Middle Ages.
Alcuin himself, however, is testi-
mony that such a reading (in another sense) of the evidence is not
wholly satisfactory. Much of what he wrote, including many of the
letters, was undoubtedly intended to be read aloud; and the effect
of aging on eyesight may cause what had previously been private to
Probationes: Würzburg Univ. bibl. M. p. th. q. 2 (the ‘Cuthswith ms.’; CLA IX,
1430a: incorrect on this feature) on fols 1, 113
. Model lines: D. Ganz, ‘Temptabat
et scribere: Vom Schreiben in der Karolingerzeit’, Schriftkultur und Reichsverwaltung unter
den Karolingern ed. R. Schieffer, Abhandl. der Nordrhein-Westfälischen Akad. der
Wiss. 97 (Opladen, 1996), pp. 13–33, at p. 19.
In the Tours-origin book Paris BNF lat. 1572: Bischoff, ‘Aus Alkuinsleerdentagen’,
MaSt 2, 12–19 and pl.I. The additional English letters are, for the voiceless dental
spirant (th), and ‘wyn(n)’, the earliest manuscript evidence for which is the ‘Épinal
Glossary’ of ca. 700, Épinal bibl. mun. 72, fols 94–107 (complete facsimile with
introduction by B. Bischoff et al., The Épinal, Erfurt, Werden and Corpus Glossaries;
EEMF 22 [Copenhagen, 1988]; cf. Ker, Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon, p. 152
[no. 114]); for the use of the ‘wyn’ in English manuscripts of Alcuin’s letters even
for non-English names, see above. At least one commentator (F.C. Gardiner, The
Pilgrimage of Desire (Leiden, 1971), p. 61) has supposed that the opening lines of ep.
no. 43 include an allusion to the script in which a letter from York had been writ-
ten. I can see no justification for such an interpretation: in the phrase pacificam
inscriptionis seriem the word series is, as frequently in Pope Gregory I’s letters and else-
where in Alcuin, ‘content’, and inscriptio ‘that which has been written down’ in con-
trast with allocutio ‘that which is spoken, verbal exchange’; while the plural litterae
means simply (as already in Antiquity) ‘text, the written word, epistle’.
Rooted in modern, post-Derrida, critical theory, key stages in the historicist
application of that notion are the original (1977) version of Susan Noakes’s ‘A sketch
of a fragment from a story of reading’, in: Timely Reading: between Exegesis and
Interpretation (Cornell U.P.; Ithaca-London, 1988), pp. 14–37 and Brian Stocks’s The
Implications of Literacy (Princeton, 1983). For recent re-statements (‘new readings’!) see
Noakes, Timely Reading, and J. Boyarin (ed.), The Ethnography of Reading (California
U.P.; Berkeley-Oxford, 1993), esp. pp. 10–37 (D. Boyarin, “Placing Reading: Ancient
Israel and Medieval Europe” and 58–79 (N. Howe, “The Cultural Construction of
Reading an Anglo-Saxon England”).
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224 cn.r+rn oxr
be shared.
But the contents of the De laude Dei (for example) were
in the first instance for personal and private use; and it cannot be
assumed that prayers once written down were thereafter ‘recited from
memory’. Bede contrasted ‘ruminating [on the mysteries of the
Resurrection] by murmuring them with our mouths’ with ‘recol-
lecting them in the inner recesses of our hearts’. Alcuin used related
language in the prefatory letter to his opus geminatum of the ‘Life of
St. Willibrord’, sent to the abbot of Echternach (and bishop of Sens)
Beornred. The prose version, he explained, was designed ‘to be read
publicly to the brethren in church’; the shorter verse text, addressed
to the so-called ‘fictive reader’, was to be ‘ruminated on among your
pupils in a private place’—the latter identifiable as the dormitory or
an oratory, in contradistinction to the school-room.
Private read-
ing has a normal place in the religious life, and is perfectly com-
patible with the mumbled articulation of what is being read.
Biblical Study
The stage in their lives at which clerici and monks, already formed
in ‘cantus, grammatica and computus’,
were first exposed to the
In ep. no. 170 (pp. 280–1), Alcuin complains that whether he was by the
Loire or in the Aachen region his vision was now cloudy: nostros oculos . . . caliginare
(sic) facit. But for someone who in spite of oculos caligantes could still read in his six-
ties or even seventies, see Wulfstan’s Vita Æthelwoldi (of Winchester), ed. M. Lapidge
and M. Winterbottom (Oxford, 1991), c. 35 (pp. 52–4).
Bede: Homil. II 7, ed. Hurst (CCSL, 122), p. 231. Alcuin: ep. no. 120; MGH
SSRM VII, ed. Levison, 113. The language of the letter, in secreto cubili inter scolas-
ticos tuos tantummodo ruminare (al. -ari ) debuisset, has invariably been understood as a
reference to an enclosed space or room and generally (because of scolasticos) as the
monastic school-room. Secreto . . . tantummodo fits ill, however, with the notion of
shared instruction: compare, therefore, Isidore, Etym. XV iii (De habitaculis), 9, which
begins with Cella dicta quod nos occultat et celat and concludes with Cubile autem cubandi
locus est. Secessus quod sit locus secretus . . .; and Bede, HE IV 25 (the account of
Coldingham), domunculae quae ad orandum vel legendum factae erant nunc . . . sunt inlece-
brarum cubilia coversae. But in his ?794 letter to York, ep. no. 42 (p. 85), Alcuin uses
cubilia metaphorically, ‘the secret recesses of my mind’ (compare the Bede passage).
Was he, in his letter to Beornred, trying to combine the literal and a metaphori-
cal sense? Note that athough ruminare, -atio are now particularly associated with
monastic study, the figurative usage is in fact pre-Christian and not a feature of
any early Rule nor (I think) of Cassiodorus.
The tenth-century John of Gorze commented that the murmur of his lips in
the private recitation of the Psalms resembled the buzzing of a bee! PL 137, col 280.
C.W. Jones (in e.g. Bedae Opera Didascalica I (CCSL 133A; Turnhout, 1975),
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 225
continuous texts of Old and New Testament Books and to the com-
mentaries of the Fathers, is not (so far as I know) stated explicitly
in any eighth-century text. Even the most ‘biographical’ of Vita-
authors speak of their hero’s absorption of spiritalia dogmata only in
a very general way, loosely associated with their years of adoles-
cence. Alcuin is characteristically vague on this topic when describ-
ing Willibrord’s life at Ripon until he was twenty (in 678) and
subsequently in Ireland.
His own progression to that stage is indi-
cated indirectly, in the account of his remembered experience when
reading the Fourth Gospel to his teacher and fellow-pupils.
Much of Bede’s substantial corpus of ‘works unravelling the mys-
terious volumes of Holy Scripture’,
even when apparently incor-
porating elements of his oral teaching and shortening and clarifying
the writings of his predecessors, assumes a good previous grounding
in the subject. In the dedicatory letter—to Bishop Acca of Hexham—
of the first version of his commentary In Genesim he claimed that it
would instruct the beginner and be a stepping-off point for the
learned; but as the work progressed and was extended, not without
signs of haste, it was increasingly directed to the eruditi. His exege-
sis of Gospel pericopes in his homilies, whether these had been
preached or not, is markedly simpler, with almost no direct citation
praef., pp. vi ff.) and others have latterly emphasised this triad as the basic early-
medieval ‘educational programme’: but for a different, specifically York, teaching-
triad see above, p. 170 and n. 122; and for alternative ‘programmes’, compare
further ch. 2 ad init.
Igitur in sacris eruditionibus et in omni sobrietate morumque honestate beatissimo usque ad
vicessimum aetatis suae annum adoliscente proficiente: ed. Levison, MGH SSRM118 (c. 4),
and cf. ibid. c. 3. According to Boniface’s biographer Willibald (c. 2), ‘the fiery pas-
sions of youth and the fleshly lusts which at first made violent assaults on him lost
their power through his assiduous enquiries into the meaning of Sacred Scripture’,
although it was only after he had moved to Nursling in his mid/late twenties that
he became ‘proficient . . . in the literal and spiritual exposition of the Bible’: Vitae
sancti Bonifatii ed. W. Levison, MGH SSRG (Hanover-Leipzig, 1905), p. 8.
Above, p. 173.
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1306–8. For the words Plurima . . . opuscula . . .
edidit, compare ep. no. 216 (written nearly two decades later, referring to opuscula
which Bede sermone simplici sed sensu subtili conposuit. Opuscula is not a diminutive, as
in Classical usage: it reflects Isidore’s definitions De generibus opusculorum in Etym. VI.
viii, where he generalises Jerome’s categorizing of Origen’s exegetical works in the
preface to his translation of that Father’s homiliae in Ezechielem (PL 25, 585A; new
ed. by W.A. Baehrens, in GCS 33 = Origenes Werke, 8 (Leipzig, 1925), p. 318); or
possibly Jerome himself, since a letter to Alcuin from Gisla (ep. no. 196 (p. 324),
badly mis-translated by S. Wemple in: A History of Women, ed. Klapisch-Zuber, 2,
199) speaks of Jerome’s dedication to women in propheticas obscuritates opuscula.
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226 cn.r+rn oxr
of ‘authorities’.
A letter of Jerome’s to one of his female disciples,
quoted by Bede and possibly known elsewhere in eighth-century
England, recommended that her (young) daughter should follow the
Psalter with, successively, the Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Job
and New Testament books, but the Song of Songs only at the end
of her programme of reading.
In the opening section of his com-
mentary on Ecclesiastes (whose inclusion in the Old Testament needed
some explanation, as he subsequently acknowledged), Jerome claims—
following Origen—that Solomon wrote Proverbs for the instruction
of children, Ecclesiastes to remind adults of the transitoriness of
worldly things and the Song of Songs for those approaching death;
and with only slight verbal changes Alcuin began his own com-
mentary, written in the last years of his life and substantially based
on Jerome’s, similarly.
Earlier in the century, Bede had commented
on Proverbs. A mid/late-eighth-century Insular-written two-part codex,
possibly but not certainly from a Northumbrian scriptorium, in com-
mon with others of that period contains the four Solomonic books
plus Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), with extensive corrections added through
(apparently) many decades and, in places, guide-notes for a rubricator.
Alcuin’s own early acquaintance with the ‘Wisdom books’ of the
Latin Vulgate is suggested by the forms in which he recalls and cites
them. Although they are very unevenly distributed through the cor-
respondence, over half of all the quotations of Old Testament pas-
sages, excluding the Psalter, are taken from the four Sapiential Books
Libri IV in Principium Genesis, ed. C.W. Jones, CCSL 118A (Turnhout, 1967),
pp. 1–2. For the homilies (ed. Hurst; CCSL 122, pp. 1–378), compare L.T. Martin’s
brief but pointed remarks in the Introduction to his and D. Hurst’s translation of
Bede the Venerable: Homilies on the Gospels 1 (Kalamazoo, 1991), xi

xxiii. Bede’s tech-
niques and purpose in his commentaries are interestingly discussed by R. Ray, ‘What
do we know about Bede’s Commentaries?’, RTAM 49 (1982), 5–20.
Epist. 2, ed. Hilberg, CSEL 55 (1912/1996), no. cvii. For its supposed ‘pop-
ularity’ in the early Middle Ages, see Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature, p. 196,
with references to Laistner, etc. It was certainly known to Bede (one of six or seven
Jerome letters quoted by him); the only pre-800 (or s. viii/ix) manuscript in which
a copy will be found, however, is the unusually-comprehensive Épinal, BM 149 (68)
CLA VI, 762, written at Tours in 744/45 but in the early-ninth century already
elsewhere (Bischoff, Katalog, 1, no. 1169a).
S. Hieronymi presbyteri commentarius in Ecclesiasten, ed. M. Adriaen, CCSL 72
(Turnhout, 1959), pp. 247–361, here p. 250; PL 100, 668–9. For a probably
Northumbrian copy of Jerome’s commentary, see ch. 2, pp. 264–5 and n. 38.
London, BL Egerton 1046, CLA II, 194a, b. Marsden, Text of the Old Testament,
pp. 262–304, is now the fullest description: for its codicology and palaeography,
see esp. pp. 262–9, 304. But for its non-York and possibly non-Northumbrian (even
Continental) origin, see below, ch. 2, p. 259 and n. 23.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 227
and preponderantly from Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), which
Alcuin commonly credits to Solomon. The very first quotation (scrip-
tum est) in what is probably his earliest extant letter combines clauses
from those two Books, with minor differences from the standard
Vulgate text; and it is repeated in the same or slightly variant form
in later letters.
Elsewhere conflation and misquotation are frequent.
When, some months after his move to Tours, Alcuin included in a
long letter to the Frankish king an exhortation to the encouragement
of learning at the Court, he introduced it with a catena of appro-
priately-adapted quotations from Proverbs.
Conversely, the quotations
in his letters have a notable lack of overlap with the lections from
Libri Sapientiae (mostly, in fact, Ecclesiasticus) listed in ‘his’ lectionary.
‘Vita quidem qualis fuit magistri’: Bede and Egberht
The mature Alcuin, like his ‘biographer’, was declaredly interested
in teachers and the teachers of teachers. A thirty-line excursus on
Bede in the ‘York poem’ includes a shorter digression on Abbot
Ceolfrith of Wearmouth-Jarrow; and Ceolfrith and his predecessor,
the founder Benedict Biscop, were in turn commended as models to
later abbots and their congregations.
Alcuin’s customary epithets
for Bede, in poems and letters, are praeclarus magister, ‘outstanding
teacher’, and magister noster, ‘the teacher of our time’ or ‘of our land’;
and he names him more than once as the latest in a succession of
Fathers of the Church that began with Hilary of Poitiers or Ambrose.
Sir 5.8, Prv 27.1: in epp. nos 1, 131 (p. 196) (both Ne tardes), 34 (pp. 76–7)
(Noli tardare); also Prv 27.1 in ep. no. 105.
Thus, (iuxta sententiam Salomonis) Thesaurus invisus et sapientia abscondita, quae utili-
tas in utrisque? in ep. no. 289 (p. 448) and (quod Salomon ait) Thesaurus occultatus [al.
occultus] et sapientia abscondita, quae utilitas in utrisque? in Gisla’s letter to Alcuin, ep. no.
196, are incorrect versions of Sir 20.32 sapientia absconsa et thesaurus invisus quae util-
itas in utrisque? or Sir 41.17 sapientia enim abscondita et thesaurus occultus etc.’ Salomone
dicente Frater si a fratre adiuvatur, civitas firma in ep. no. 17 (p. 47) is a mis-rendering
of Prv 18.19; in ep. no. 29 iuxta Salomonem filius sapiens gloria est patris, and again in
ep. no. 61 in conjunction with benedictio parentum filios exaltat, are seemingly misquo-
tations of ?Prv 13.1 and Sir 3.11; and Alcuin gives a version of Ecclesiastes 11.6
in ep. no. 121.
Ep. no. 121.
Wilmart, ‘Lectionnaire d’Alcuin’, pp. 151–64, 165–8.
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1288–1295, 1301–1318, summarising Bede’s
monastic career and writings, lines 1296–1300 on Ceolfrith’s death and translation;
epp. nos 67, 19, 282, etc.
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 685–6, 846, etc., also praeclarus doctor in line 1306;
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228 cn.r+rn oxr
With the help of the remarkable library assembled by the first abbots
of the monastery and his own qualities of mind, Bede had made a
major contribution to Latin Christian learning in little over thirty
years. His admirers (which means almost every medievalist) are reluc-
tant to acknowledge that he apparently failed to establish any schol-
arly tradition in his own communities. The deacon Guthbert, later
abbot of Jarrow, composed the vivid and moving account of Bede’s
death which circulated widely; in the earlier of his two surviving let-
ters, written to Lul in 764, he describes himself as discipulus Beda pres-
biteri, with whom he had spent seventeen years, and refers to the
recent scribal activity of his pueri; with the second he sent a copy of
Bede’s ‘On the Temple’.
There is not much else from his commu-
nity. It is possible that some of the many, usually short, texts derived
from Bede’s writings and/or transmitted under his name from the
early-ninth century onwards were in fact ‘created’ at Wearmouth or
Jarrow after his death; but even if they could be proved to be
Northumbrian, it is equally possible that they originated in some
other house that flourished in the eighth century and disappeared
in the next (Hackness, Lastingham and Whitby among them).
How much of Wearmouth-Jarrow’s learning—Bede’s writings, books
or text-copies—passed to York and by what stages will never be
known. Boniface’s assumption in the late 740s that Egberht’s church
would be able to supply him with copies of Bede’s writings (unspecified)
and his subsequent request for others, ‘especially his commentaries on
the lectionary for the cycle of the year and on the Proverbs of Solomon’,
stand alone.
It is none the less legitimate to claim that the mid-
century cathedral community had taken over from Bede a concept of
carm. lxxii (MGH Poet. I, pp. 294–5): Baeda magister . . . nostrae cathegita terrae; epp. nos
19, 216, 284 etc.; also epp. nos 203, 213. Ray’s assertion, art. cit. p. 6 that in ep.
no. 216 Alcuin ‘put [Bede] among the five fathers of the Church’ is mistaken.
Epistola de obitu Bedae, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, pp. 580–6; MGH Epistolae
selectae 1, ed. Tangl, nos 116, 127, cf. the letter from Lul to him, idem, no. 126.
The deacon is commonly referred to in modern literature as Cuthbert, which is
not in fact the same name; and the consistent use of the Gut(h)ber(c)t form in all
four letters (in contrast with Cuthuuin and St. Cuthbert) makes the identification
with the abbot not so much probable as certain.
Epist. select. 1, ed. Tangl, nos 75, 91. Bede’s list of his writings in HE V 24
includes both Omeliarum evangelii libros II and Capitula lectionum of Books of the Old
Testament and In totum novum testamentum, excepto evangelio. The character of these
‘summaries of readings’ or ‘summaries of chapters’ has been definitively established
and many of the capitula identified in manuscripts by P. Meyvaert, ‘Bede’s Capitula
Lectionum for the Old and New Testaments’, RevBén 105 (1995), 348–80. (The Capitula
lectionum de circulo anno of, e.g., Würzburg Univ. bibl. M. p. th. f. 62 (CLA IX, 1423
a; s. viii
) fol. 2
is something quite other, namely, a listing of Mass epistle-pericopes.)
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 229
Christian education memorably characterised as ‘the only serious and
successful attempt to put into practice the principles of Augustine’s
De doctrina christiana’, and proceeded to develop it in directions for
which there were few, if any, recent precedents.
The corollary of
Alcuin’s reverence for the presbyter eximius meritis was an early depen-
dence on his writings, in four or five different fields, and unusually
frequent references to them in his letters; and he was not really falsi-
fying the record when he spoke of Bede as someone who had taught
him, although he was dead before Alcuin’s schooling began. His read-
ing of Bede must surely have helped him to develop a prose-style
largely free of the elaboration and affectations associated with Aldhelm,
and adopted in part by the young Boniface and some of his English
correspondents. But what above all Bede seems to have done for the
young Alcuin was to provide a standard by which he could measure
himself, to have given or confirmed the sense of purpose underlying
the most immediately practical parts of a Christian education and,
by implication, to have drawn attention to some of the areas (in exe-
gesis, for example) where his work required supplementation.
Most of what Alcuin knew of ‘the master’ other than through his
books presumably came from Egberht, who had himself received
instruction from Bede both in person and in writing. Contrary to
what might have been expected from the affectionate reminiscence
in the Vita Alcuini, previously quoted, Egberht is never mentioned by
name in surviving letters nor even referred to indirectly except in
so far as he is included among the antecessores of late-eighth-century
The Egberht of the ‘York poem’ is an admired but
essentially political figure, not very different from the skeletal picture
provided by the two sets of ‘northern annals’.
Bede’s own letter
They cannot be the subject of Boniface’s request, which in spite of the ambiguity
of lectionarium anniversarium—a term apparently peculiar to himself—is evidently for
the Homiliary (ed. Hurst, CCSL 122, pp. 1–378; cf. Bieler’s review in Scriptorium,
10 (1956), 323–4).
The quotation is from a lecture by Gerald Bonner, the published text of which
I have failed to trace; but see his similar remarks in ‘Bede and medieval civiliza-
tion’, ASE 2 (1973), 72–90, at p. 87. As always, of course, one has to say ‘if only
we knew more about Spain . . .’.
When William of Malmesbury gave short extracts from ep. no. 121 in his
Gesta regum Anglorum, I 65 (ed. Mynors, Thomson and Winterbottom, p. 96), he erro-
neously introduced the words Egberti archiepiscopi after magistri mei.
I.e. the Continuation of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica (ed. Colgrave and Mynors,
pp. 572–76, ending with Egberht’s death in 766) and the ‘Northumbrian (?York)
Annals’ incorporated (via Byrhtferth) in pseudo-Symeon, Historia Regum, ed. Arnold,
2, 31–43.
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to Egberht, written in his last year, touches on ‘learning’ only as an
introduction to a succession of admonitions to the then new bishop;
he had already expressed his teaching-philosophy in the autobio-
graphical section of the Historia Ecclesiastica.
The earliest of the three extant manuscripts of the letter suggests,
but hardly proves, subsequent dissemination from York. The limited
‘literary’ heritage of Egberht himself belongs to a very different tradi-
tion from that which has given Bede his fame. The substantial
authenticity of the Dialogus ecclesiasticae institutionis, with the possible
exception of its concluding Interrogatio de jejunio Quatuor Temporum, has
been generally accepted, even though the only complete text is in a
post-1066 Salisbury manuscript.
In the form in which it has come
down to us, it consists of sixteen ‘questions and answers’ (interrogationes,
responsiones) preceded by a short explanatory preface, which has some
unusual vocabulary but not of a kind to throw serious doubt on its
supposed date. The preface can be interpreted as being directed by
the unknown questioner (not necessarily a cleric!) to the archbishop, who
had perhaps previously answered the queries orally but is now invited
to confirm or modify his answers, or else as an invitation by Egberht
to a fellow-bishop to approve or comment on the suggested responses.
Many of the problems are concerned with churchmen’s relations
with a brutal and litigous secular society,
and the answers are often
agreeably pragmatic. The second interrogatio is: Can a cleric testify to
a layman’s ‘last words’ in which he disposes of his possessions (de
rebus suis: but perhaps relating to moveables only)? ‘yes’ is the answer,
but better have two or three present, since relatives will be only too
ready to challenge a single witness! The thirteenth is: Can married
couples agree to divorce and one of them then re-marry? no, but
account has to be taken of the consequences of ill-health, and sepe
namque temporum permutatione, necessitas legem frangit ! Overall, the ques-
tions and answers mingle secular and church law, in much the same
way as Frankish royal capitularies half-a-century and more later.
Letter ed. Plummer, Bedae Opera Historica, 1, 405–23. Plummer knew only two
manuscript-sources, one of which (BL Harl. 4688, a Durham ms. of s. xii in) he
dated much too early. P. Lehmann located a third in Den Haag, Kon. Bibl., 70
H.7 (pt. iv), fols 45–58—this part of s. x in—where it follows Cuthbert’s Epistola de
obitu Bedae in a distinctive version (ed. by N.R. Ker in: Medium Aevum 8 (1939),
40–4) and precedes Alcuin’s letter of 792/3 to Offa.
Above, p. 135 and n. 22.
Above, p. 135.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 231
What canon-law sources were used here is quite uncertain, even
the most recent computer-generated concordances proving surprisingly
unhelpful. At least two of the interrogationes and their replies, however,
suggest knowledge of a selection of Pope Gregory I’s letters: which
may, on the evidence of a letter from Boniface to Egberht, indicate
a dating post-746/7 for the Dialogus.
The one surviving copy of a
major collection that is almost certainly Northumbrian, although it
was on the Continent at an early date, is the book now Cologne
(Diözesan- u. Dombibl.) cod. 213. Textually, this is a version of
the so-called Collectio Sanblasiana, the exemplar of which is likely to
have been of Italian origin. Unusually for a law-book, it is quite
elaborately decorated: recent art-historians’ attribution to Lindisfarne
or its orbit—for presentation to another church?—is shared by
qualified palaeographers, with Echternach as the only serious alter-
In the Northumbrian Disciple’s version of Archbishop
Theodore’s comprehensive and particularized rulings on the remedies
or medicine of penance,
only Liber Primus is strictly a penitential.
Parts of intt. xiv and xv, Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 409–10 seem to
depend on Greg. Reg., ed. Ewald and Hartmann, II 37, IV 26, ed. Norberg, II 31,
IV 26, with the first of these reading (probably) poenitentiam vel curiae aut cuilibet con-
ditioni obnoxium, and the second being the only other letter to refer to curia. In a
letter of 746/7, Boniface told Egberht that ‘I have sent you copies of letters of Saint
Gregory which I have obtained from the Roman church’s archive (scrinio), which
so far as I know have not reached Britain (non rebar ad Brittaniam venisse); and I will
send some more if you so request, since I have obtained many others’: Epist. select.
1, ed. Tangl, no. 75 (p. 158).
CLA VIII, 1163; for the content, see Maassen, Geschichte, pp. 504–12. The
discussion of Cologne 213 by R. McKitterick, ‘Knowledge of canon law in the
Frankish kingdoms before 789: the manuscript evidence’, JTS n.s. 38 (1985), 110–14,
is not helpful, and neither it nor the more summary account in N. Netzer, Cultural
Interplay in the Eighth Century: the “Trier Gospels” and the making of a scriptorium at Echternach
(Cambridge, 1994), pp. 8, 38–9 and nn., is entirely correct. The Sigibertus scripsit
entry is not a colophon or part of one, and is penned with a ductus and in a script
(and ink!) quite different from any in the text-part. There is no ‘inscription . . . indi-
cat[ing] that the book was at Cologne by the eighth century’ or even in Archbishop
Hildebald’s time (compare another canon-law manuscript, Cologne, Dombibl., cod.
212, Bischoff, Katalog, 1, no. 1946a). Its presence in the Middle-Frankish region by
ca. 800 is, however, suggested by the isolated OHG. gloss chelactrot (as well as a sin-
gle OE one): J. Hofmann, ‘Altenglische u. althochdeutsche Glossen . . .’, Beiträge zur
Gesch. der deutschen Sprache u. Literatur 85 (1963), 42; R. Bergmann, Mittelfränkische
Glossen, Rheinisches Archiv 61 (Bonn, 1966), pp. 89–90; Bischoff, MaSt 3, 75.
‘Prefatio libelli ’, Canones Theodori, ed. Finsterwalder, p. 287: . . . ad remedium tem-
peravit pentitentiae . . . propriae animarum medicis . . . Fomenta quod sequitur medicaminis . . .,
etc. The character and origins of the various versions, and especially of that for
which the self-styled ‘Northumbrian Disciple’ was responsible, have been notably
clarified by T. Charles-Edwards, ‘The Penitential of Theodore and the Iudicia
Theodori ’, in: Archbishop Theodore, ed. Lapidge, pp. 141–74.
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232 cn.r+rn oxr
‘Book II’ is a distinctive collection of canons: that is, regulations and
guidance for both clergy and laity ‘without any specification of a
penance, or indeed any penalty at all’, and subsequently recognised
as such in early copies. These range very widely, from what should
happen when churches—typically wood-built—are demolished or
moved to a new site, and the right of bishops to ‘confirm in open
country (in campo) if it is necessary’, to what spritual remedies are
available to those who kill themselves when ‘vexed by the devil’ and
the proper treatment of carrion-flesh.
Many, perhaps a majority,
of the topics are not known to have figured previously in Western
canons; and they often reflect evolving practice or local conditions,
including (probably) popular, pre-Christian, ‘taboos’, such as the fate
of bees which have stung a man to death.
It is, however, in the
Disciple’s ‘Book I’, not ‘Book II’, that quotations from the canoni-
cal collection in Cologne 213 have been discerned.
It has been suggested that the Disciple and those who taught him
were associated with York cathedral. If so, the limitations of its
schooling in the early part of the century are indicated by the com-
ment that ‘our Disciple has too much literary ambition, and too
infirm a grasp of Latin grammar, to be able to write lucid prose’.
The early manuscript tradition is exclusively Continental; the indi-
rect evidence does not include Alcuin, in his letters or elsewhere.
Both Books of the Northumbrian Disciple’s version or the corre-
sponding chapters of other versions are, however, a major source of
the Penitential attributed to Egberht. Here, common material is sub-
stantially re-ordered, often chaotically, and many passages are slightly
Charles-Edwards, ‘Penitential of Theodore’, p. 147; ‘Discipulus umbrensium’, II
i, 1–5, II ii, 1, X and XI, Canones Theodori, ed. Finsterwalder, pp. 311–12, 313,
The bees should be killed but the honey may be eaten: II. xi, 6, Canones
Theodori, ed. Finsterwalder, p. 325; for bees in early Continental law-codes and soci-
etal attitudes, see the references in Bullough, Friends, Neighbours and Fellow-drinkers,
p. 2 n. 4. The early-eleventh century Burchard of Worms’s citation in his Decretum
of more than thirty of Theodore’s canons (together with nearly twenty passages
from Bk. I) provides a convenient partial test of their originality or uniqueness: see
H. Hoffmann and R. Pokorny, Das Dekret des Bischofs Burchard von Worms, MGH
Hilfsmittel 12 (Munich, 1991), ‘Quellenregister’, p. 271.
See M. Brett, ‘Theodore and the Latin canon law’, in Archbishop Theodore, ed.
Lapidge, p. 136. But they must almost certainly have been taken from the lost exem-
plar of the Cologne copy, not from the existing manuscript.
Charles-Edwards, ‘Penitential of Theodore’, p. 148. The York connection was
proposed by W. Levison in his review of Finsterwalder’s Canones Theodori, repr. in:
Aus rheinischer und fränkischer Frühzeit (Düsseldorf, 1948), p. 301.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 233
adapted or shortened. Penances for drunkenness which constitute the
first chapter in the Disciple’s text are the subject of ‘Egberht’s’ chapter
eleven; while (lay) fornication, covered at length in ‘Theodore’, second
chapter, is a very small part of ‘Egberht’s’ chapter four, titled in some
manuscripts De cupiditate ceterisque flagitiis. ‘Egberht’s’ twelfth chapter
De eucharistia omits the positive aspects of Theodore’s corresponding
chapter De communione eucharistiae vel sacrificio.
But prescriptions about
polluted foodstuffs and liquids and the penances due for their consump-
tion are in some respects more detailed than any version of Theodore’s
rulings, although with omissions also; the additional matter is drawn
from the Penitential of Cummian and at least one later penitential.
A noteworthy change, for which there is no obvious explanation, is
‘Egberht’s’ substitution of iuramentum (here with the sense of ‘false
oath’) for Theodore’s periurium, together with more varied penances.
Its lengthy Prologue depends on a different range of source-texts,
in combination with some apparently ‘original’ material; and this,
with its title Excarpsum de canonibus catholicorum patrum vel paenitentiale ad
remedium animarum domni Ecgberhti archiepiscopi Eburacae civitatis or a vari-
ant, was subsequently to enjoy a partially-independent history of
transmission in late Anglo-Saxon and early Anglo-Norman England.
It begins with a distinctive elaboration of the comparison between
Canones Theodori, ed. Finsterwalder, pp. 288–92, 305–6; Penitential ‘of Egberht’,
Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 426–7, 420, 427–8.
‘Egberht’ ch. xiii, cc. 2–6, 9, 10, Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 428–9;
Paenitentiale Cummeani, (ix) x, 3 and 16, (xi) xii, 12–18, ed. Bieler, Irish Penitentials,
pp. 124, 126, 130; ‘Discipulus’, I. vii, 6–12, cf. II. xi, Canones Theodori, ed. Finsterwalder,
pp. 299–300, 326–7. The Disciple’s cc. 7, 9, 10 and 12 in I. vii have no coun-
terpart in the other versions. L. Körntgen, Studien zu den Quellen der frühmittelalterlichen
Bussbücher (Qu. u. Forsch. zum Recht im Mittelalter, Bd. 7; Sigmaringen, 1993),
pp. 170–7 provides some indication of the extremely complex development and
inter-connections of ‘alimentary’ regulations in eighth- and ninth-century Insular
and Continental penitentials.
‘Egberht’ c. vi, Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 423; ‘Discipulus’, I. vi, Canones
Theodori, ed. Finsterwalder, pp. 297–8. Iuramentum in Charlemagne’s capitularies seems
always to mean ‘(valid) oath’ and similarly periurium for ‘false testimony’.
R. Aronstam, ‘The Latin Canonical Tradition in late Anglo-Saxon England:
the Excerptiones Egberti ’, Columbia University [N.Y.] Ph.D., 1974; P. Wormald, The
Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century, 1 (Oxford, 1999), pp. 213–19.
An early example of the Prologue totally dissociated from the Penitential proper is
the English pontifical (with benedictional), Paris BNF. lat. 10575, which has accord-
ingly acquired the illegitimate name ‘the Egberht pontifical’: ed. H.M.J. Banting,
Two Anglo-Saxon Pontificals, HBS 104 (London, 1989), the Egberht prologue at pp.
5–7; but for a dating ca. 1000, see D.N. Dumville, Liturgy and the Ecclesiastical History
of Late Anglo-Saxon England, Studies in Anglo-Saxon History 5 (Woodbridge, 1992),
pp. 85–6 (with references).
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234 cn.r+rn oxr
soul-doctoring and medical treatment of the body which had been
taken over from the early Latin Fathers, and perhaps from Caesarius
of Arles, by both Columbanus (who is quoted verbatim) and Cummian
in their penitentials, and from them very succinctly by Theodore’s
‘Northumbrian Disciple’, and by the ?early-eighth-century compiler
of the so-called Excarpsus Cummeani.
Unusually, however, ‘Egberht’
interposes a further comparison with the practice of ‘judges of sec-
ular cases’. After a long section attacking those who are inadequately
prepared to heal wounded souls or be shepherds of their flocks, it
lists the books with which priests should arm themselves to fulfil their
responsibilities; and it continues with a detailed instruction to take
account of age, rank or status and wealth when dealing with mis-
Since the middle of the nineteenth century, Egberht’s authorship
of the Paenitentiale has been almost unanimously rejected by Continental
scholars, although intermittently defended by others, particularly in
Britain and North America. The principal arguments have traditionally
been the presence in the text of anachronisms, real or supposed,
such as the list of prescribed liturgical books, and of words for which
the early testimonies are exclusively ‘Continental’ (Frankish); and the
widespread early dissemination of versions in which it is combined
Compare ‘Egberht’s’ penitentiale ad remedium animarum . . . Institutio illa sancta que
fiebat in diebus patrum nostrorum . . . quae statuta erunt penitentibus . . . medicamenta salutis
eterne, Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 416, and the corresponding phrases in the
Discipulus umbrensium Prologue, with Cummian’s Prologus de medicinae salutaris animarum.
De remediis vulnerum secundum priorem patrum . . . antea medicamina [al.-enta] conpendi[ i]
ratione intimemus, ed. Bieler, Irish Penitentials, p. 108 = ‘Excerpta Cummiani’, ed. H.J.
Schmitz, Die Bussbücher und das kanonische Bussverfahren (Düsseldorf, 1898), p. 597.
Egberht’s, quia diversitas culparum diversitatem facit penitentibus medicamentorum vel sicut medici
corporum diversa medicamenta . . . solent facere contra diversitatem infirmitatum . . ., Haddan and
Stubbs, cit., corresponds with Columbanus’s Paenitentiale (B): Diversitas culparum diver-
sitatem facit paenitentiarum; nam et corporum medici diversis medicamenta generibus conponunt.
Aliter enim vulnera . . ., ed. Bieler, Irish Penitentials, p. 98 = ‘Exc. Cummiani’, ed.
Schmitz, cit. For the structure and transmission of Columbanus’s Penitential, T.M.
Charles-Edwards, ‘The Penitential of Columbanus’, Columbanus Studies, ed. Lapidge,
pp. 217–39 is essential reading. A new edition of the Excarpsus is being prepared
by Dr. F.B. Asbach (Regensburg); the oldest manuscript is Copenhagen Kong. Bibl.
Ny. Kgl. Saml. 58 8
, which can hardly be later than mid-eighth century. J.T.
McNeill, ‘Medicine for sin as prescribed in the Penitentials’, Church History 1 (1932),
14–26 has not been superseded, although subsequent studies occasionally correct and
amplify McNeill’s account. For the pseudo-Augustine sermo 254, inc. Hortatur nos
saepius, sancta Scriptura ad medicamenta confessionis, see below, ch. 3.
Consultation of CETEDOC showed no very close parallels to the wording of
any of these passages!
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 235
or conflated with the (Continental-origin) Penitential attributed to Bede.
To these have latterly been added the apparent use of the Paenitentiale
Remense, also supposedly of eighth-century Frankish origin.
transmission of the Penitential under Egberht’s name and see begins
already ca. 800, with two manuscripts in (Continental) Anglo-Saxon
minuscule respectively from the Main region and from an unlocated
scriptorium; and it is difficult to imagine the circumstances in which
a writing-centre in Francia would attribute a newly-composed pen-
itential to an ill-documented northern-English bishop—unless, con-
ceivably, in the circle of (Arch)bishop Lul of Mainz.
The possibility
of early Continental interpolation of a text that had originated in
R. Haggenmüller, Die Überlieferung der Beda und Egbert zugeschriebenen Bussbücher
(Europäisches Hochschulschriften, Bd. 461; Frankurt-Bern-New York-Paris, 1991),
reviews the literature on pp. 27–48. The history of the text of ‘Egberht’ is sum-
marised idem, pp. 187–95; for the use of the Paen. Rem. (F.B. Asbach, Das Poenitentiale
Remense und der sogen. Excarpsus Cummeani, diss. Regensburg; Regensburg, 1979), see
idem, p. 194 and passim. The list of books ( psalterium, lectionarium, antefonarium,
missalem, baptisterium, martyrologium, ?homiliary and computus) is claimed to be taken
from an ‘Aachen conciliar decree of 802’; but this is in fact a Liège episcopal decree
of 802/9, MGH Capitula Episcoporum 1, ed. Brommer, pp. 39–40, which omits ante-
fonarium, baptisterium, homily and computus. These are, however, all included in a
comparable list in a near-contemporary Basel episcopal decree, idem, p. 211; but
both synods are almost certainly later than ‘Egberht’. ‘Frankish’ lexica include caraios
‘soothsayers’ in ‘Egberht’ viii. 4, Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 424 (compare Concilia
Galliae, A. 511–A. 695, pp. 256, 265 and Pirmin, Scarapsus, c. 22. ed. G. Jecker, Die
Heimat des Hl. Pirmin (Münster i. W., 1927), p. 54); catto in ‘Egberht’ xiii. 4, Haddan
and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 428, replacing Cummian’s muriceps, Bieler, Irish Penitentials,
p. 130 (for the word-history of cattus—this being the earliest place?—see Meyer-
Lübke, REW. p. 170 [no. 1770]); and perhaps causa but hardly iuramentum, cf. DMLBS
s. vv. Another possible ‘Continental’ feature is laici tres dies sine vino et carne al. sine
cervisa vel vino et carne in ‘Egberht’ xi. 10 and 4, Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, 3, 427,
in place of Theodore’s laici sine cervisa (compare Alcuin’s complaint in ep. no. 8),
Discipulus umbrens.’ I. i. 6, Canones Theodori, ed. Finsterwalder, p. 289; but Cummian
speaks of both wine and beer.
Because the only two letters (other than Bede’s) addressed to Egberht and the
two surviving letters exchanged between his successor, under his bye-name Koaena,
and Lul (none of them, it should be noted, naming York) are included in ninth-
century letter-collections, component elements of which were assembled at Mainz
in Lul’s lifetime (+786) and possibly not long after 773: see Tangl’s introduction to
his edition in Epist. Select. 1 and Levison, England and the Continent, pp. 235, 280.
Familiarity with Alcuin’s ‘York poem’ would have been required for a fuller knowl-
edge of Egberht. The manuscripts are Vienna Nat. bibl. cod. lat. 2223 and Vatican
BAV Pal. lat. 554: for the former, see Bischoff, ‘Panorama’, in MaSt 3, 27–8 (Engl.
transl., p. 43), Haggenmüller, Überlieferung, pp. 114–15 (with extensive bibliography);
for the latter, see CLA I, no. 95; Bischoff, Lorsch
, pp. 57–8, 124, Haggenmüller,
Überlieferung, pp. 108–9 (again with extensive bibliography). For Pal. lat. 554, Bischoff
did not exclude an origin in ‘England selbst’ as an alternative to ‘einem deutsch-
angelsächsischen Skriptorium’.
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236 cn.r+rn oxr
York before 766 still seems to me an alternative explanation of the
but in view of the uncertainty, it is impossible to rely
on the ‘Egberht’-penitential as evidence for York learning, episcopal
teaching or attitudes to ‘handling sin’ in Alcuin’s adolescent years.
Master and School
The scola of a religious community, whether Bede’s Wearmouth-
Jarrow or Egberht’s York, is before all else the continuous appren-
ticeship of a younger generation in its common worship and the
skills associated with it. But these lead almost imperceptibly to the
scola as a context of formal instruction in the more advanced gram-
matica and mathematica of that worship, and of a programme of access
to the ‘spiritual knowledge’ which, through thoughtful reading, under-
pinned and justified it. The organization of such a ‘school’ is hardly
possible until a cathedral community reaches a certain size, with a
regular intake of boys of varying ages whose education can no longer
be left entirely to the bishop. That development seems to have
occurred at York in the later years of Egberht’s pontificate; linked
with it was the naming of the archbishop’s relative Ælberht, already
in priest’s orders and defensor of the clergy (according to Alcuin) and
with a reputation for learning, as magister.
Without Alcuin, Ælberht would be little more than a name, the
writer of a single letter to Lul of Mainz and the recipient of one
from him.
Because we can see him through the eyes of a devoted
pupil who succeeded him as teacher at York, and because cathedral
schools and their magistri are commonplace in the High Medieval
centuries, it is easy and customary to see nothing unusual about the
early York school except its achievement. Yet it was clearly excep-
tional and perhaps even unique in its day. We shall look in vain for
Rob Meens seems to hold a similar view: see his ‘The frequency and nature
of early medieval penance’, Handling Sin: Confession in the Middle Ages, ed. P. Biller
and A.J. Minnis, York Studies in Medieval Theology 2 (Woodbridge, 1998), pp.
35–61, at p. 52 n. 77.
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1427–31. For the significance of defensor (clero
omni)—a rhetorical or a technical term?—compare Godman’s commentary and ref-
erences, ed. cit., p. 112: but add Alcuin, De rhetorica c. 16, ed. Heil, p. 533, ed.
Howell, p. 92.
As n. 322.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 237
anything comparable in continental Europe, on both sides of the
Alps. The original version of Chrodegang’s Rule for Metz, unlike
the later expanded version, makes no specific provision for the instruc-
tion of the young; indeed, its only reference to teaching is when it
prescribes that the archdeacon and the primicerius should have the
appropriate qualities ut possint docere clerum in lege divina and the canon-
ical way of life. The magistri who figure intermittently in Italian char-
ters and inscriptions, including one recently discovered at the cathedral
of Narni (north of Rome), have no obvious teaching function. The
Lucca cathedral magister scholae recorded in mid-century is in charge
of its cantores, and may indeed not have been fully literate; even at
the turn of the century, the compilation of a miscellaneous manu-
script there (including one of the earliest copies of an Alcuin letter
outside the primary collections), written by clerics in a variety of
scripts reflecting their individual teachers, was apparently under the
personal supervision of the bishop—a local man, yet writing a
Visigothic-influenced hand. The books produced between ca. 770 and
810 by members of the cathedral community at Freising (S. Germany),
including a probably Northumbrian Peregrinus, offer no evidence for
a dominant ‘master’, either in their scripts or their contents.
It has been said that the passage in the ‘York poem’ that comes
closest to true inspiration (which is unfair only to a small number
of other passages) is that in which Alcuin gives a character-sketch
of the man who influenced him most deeply during his late teens
and twenties, and in so doing ‘was effectively sketching a portrait of
himself in later years’. This was his most intense attachment before
Arn: on Ælberht’s death in 780, Alcuin (according to the Vita)
‘wept for him as if he had lost a mother and yet would not be com-
forted (nolebat tamen consolationem recipere)’—an allusion to Matthew’s
quotation of a familiar line in Jeremiah, which could so easily be a
hagiographic commonplace but apparently isn’t. ‘My master’, ‘my
beloved master’ is recalled at least nine times in the letters of Alcuin’s
Metz: Regula c. 25, ed. Pelt, pp. 20–1. Narni: G. Binazzi, ‘Appunti su di una
singolare iscrizione imprecatoria Narniense’, Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana 67 (1991),
337–45. Lucca: L. Schiaparelli, Il codice 490 della Biblioteca Capitolare di Lucca, Studi
e Testi 36 (Città del Vaticano, 1924); CLA III, 303; H. Schwarzmeier, Lucca u. das
Reich bis zum Ende des 11. Jahrhunderts (Tübingen, 1972), pp. 85–7; for the magister
scholae, cf. Bullough, ‘Le scuole cattedrali’, p. 114. Freising: Bischoff, Südostdeutsches
Schreibschulen, 1, 60–4, 71–94.
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238 cn.r+rn oxr
last eight years, always warmly but only once with the addition of
his name.
Neither the reminiscences in the letters nor the second-
or third-hand references to Ælberht’s time as teacher in the Vita
Alcuini provide precise chronological indications. Alcuin’s assertion in
the epitaph he composed for him that ‘he initiated me in the lib-
eral arts during my tender years’ is equally imprecise, and any argu-
ment based on the assumption that Alcuin became Ælberht’s pupil
in his (early) teens is simply circular. The letters of Boniface, mar-
tyred in 754, never name Ælberht; and even if, as is not excluded,
Ælbercht was corresponding with Boniface’s successor at Mainz, Lul,
before his own promotion to bishop, this is neither certain nor of
much help. Dating the beginning of his mastership to sometime in
the mid/late 750s (even a slightly later date being possible) is as pre-
cise as we can hope to be.
A New Régime and a Wider World
Quite apart from the emergence of Ælberht as ‘my teacher’, the
years 758/9–61 could be seen subsequently, not least by Alcuin him-
self, as marking a caesura in his adolescence. They also constitute
an unmistakeable turning-point in the history of his patria. The ‘York
poem’, although continuing until the death of Bishop Ælberht (780),
names no Northumbrian king after Eadberht. In 758 he had handed
over the kingdom to his son Oswulf and become a cleric, dying at
York ten years later;
but in late July of that same year or (more
probably) the next year, 759, Oswulf was murdered by his house-
hold. Nine or ten days afterwards, on August 5th, Eadberht’s one-
time patricius Æthelwald Moll, ‘chosen by his following (a suo plebe)’
Vita c. 8: ed. Arndt, p. 189; epp. nos 112, 114 (where uniquely he is also
named), 116, 121 (p. 127), 143, 148 (p. 239), 200 (p. 332), 233, 271. For William
of Malmesbury’s misquotation of nos 114 and 121, see ASE 22, 118 n. 82 and
above, n. 303. For the Vita’s nolebat etc. compare, however, Bede’s exegesis of Ier
31.15 (= Mt 2.18, part of the Gospel reading for 28 December) in his Homiliary,
I 10 (ed. Hurst, CCSL 122, p. 69): ‘the Church bewails the removal of the saints
from this world, but she does not wish to be consoled in such a way that (non ita
velle consolari ut) those who have been victorious over the world by death should
return once again to bear with her the strife of the world’ and so on; and com-
pare further Alcuin’s comments in his carm. ix, lines 208–11 (MGH Poet. I, p. 234),
on those killed at Lindisfarne in 793.
HR ed. Arnold, 2, 41 and 44. Having already been included in the ‘Lindisfarne’
Liber Vitae list of kings and dukes at twenty-third place, he is also fiftieth in its list
of abbots, as Eadberct rex: Gerchow, Gedenküberlieferung, pp. 304, 306.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 239
according to the Historia Ecclesiastica Continuation, formally assumed
the kingship of Northumbria. The date, recorded by the ‘Northumbrian
(?York) Annals’, is surely not mere chance. It was the ‘Heavenly
birthday’ of the seventh-century Northumbrian king and eventually
martyr-king, Oswald, entered as such in Willibrord’s personal cal-
endar and in the early calendar or calendars underlying those in the
manuscripts Berlin Phillips 1869 and Milan Ambr. M. 12 sup.; and
Æthelwald almost certainly lacked royal blood.
The annalistic Continuation goes on to say that in the second year
of Æthelwald’s reign there was a distressing outbreak of ‘pestilence’
which lasted for nearly two years, the population suffering from sick-
nesses of various kinds but especially the wasting-effects of dysen-
Æthelwald’s rule, moreover, was not unchallenged: in 761 an
unidentified Oswine (from a royal line? a patricius?) was killed in open
warfare. The winter of 763–4 was an exceptionally hard one all over
north-west Europe, like no other in living memory, so that trees and
plants withered and ‘marine animals’ were found dead; later in the
year towns in several kingdoms, including southern Northumbrian
Doncaster and York, were devastated by fire.
In 765 Northumbria
Cont. Bedae, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 574; HR ed. Arnold, 2, 41. Calendars:
of Willibrord, ed. Wilson, pp. 10 and 36 (‘apparently by the original hand’); Phillips,
ed. Borst, Karolingische Kalenderreform, p. 281; Ambr., ed. Bischoff, p. 253. August 5
was a Saturday in 758, a Sunday (Pent. VIII) in 759. We do not know what mass-
set would have been used on that day, but it is probable that the Gospel-lection
for Pent. VIII was Mc 8.1–9 (‘the Feeding of the Four Thousand’). Janet Nelson’s
notable studies of royal inauguration rituals in the eighth and ninth centuries, con-
veniently brought together in Politics and Ritual in Early Medieval Europe (London and
Ronceverte, 1986), pp. 239–360, do not ( I think) consider the evidence for
Northumbrian practice before Eardwulf ’s consecration in 796: but see generally
‘Inauguration Rituals’, ibid., pp. 284–7, and her arguments for the presence in the
royal ordines in the earliest English pontificals of Insular material of very much ear-
lier date: ‘The earliest surviving royal ordo’, ibid., pp. 341–60, and esp. pp. 350–9.
Cont. Bedae, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, pp. 574–6. For mortalitas’s semantic
shift in early Christian texts and their early-medieval successors, see Herren, Hisperica
Famina 2, 114, noting that in ‘the Book of Cerne’ (‘Lorica of Laidcenn’, Kuypers,
Book of Cerne, p. 85 and pl.) the OE gloss is wòl. But in the seventh and eighth cen-
tury it does not necessarily or only refer to bubonic plague (cf. Herren, cit., Wallace-
Hadrill, Bede Commentary, p. 131): in the ‘Vatican Gelasian’ sacramentary’, the masses
in Bk. III xxxviii

xli (ed. Wilson, pp. 255–7, ed. Mohlberg nos 1377–92) with the
heading Orationes tempore quod absit mortalitatis are followed (III xlii: ed. Wilson, pp.
257–8, ed. Mohlberg nos 1393–97) by Orationes pro mortalitate animalium.
For annalistic references to the long and bitter freeze-up see, e.g., the
‘Northumbrian Annals’ in HR ed. Arnold, 2, 42, Ann. Ulst., ed. Mac Airt and Mac
Niocaill, p. 216 (nix magna .iii.bus fere mensibus) and Ann. s. Amandi, ed. Pertz, MGH
SS I, p. 10, which gives the precise dates 14 December (763) to 16 March. See
also the letter from the abbot of Jarrow, Epist. Select. 1, ed. Tangl, no. 116.
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240 cn.r+rn oxr
experienced what seem to have been severe electrical storms. This
is very much the conjunction of disasters that the anonymous Irish
author of the ‘Twelve Abuses <of the World>’ associates with the
Unjust King, and the ?Englishman Cathwulf summarises from an
intermediate source, with a listing of some of their opposites, when
writing to Charlemagne in the mid 770s.
At the end of October
Æthelwald abdicated; the location, the unidentified Wincanheale where
two Northumbrian church councils were subsequently held, in con-
junction with Irish evidence for his clerical tonsuring, strongly sug-
gests that in his case this was involuntary.
His successor was a previously undocumented Alchred, ‘sprung,
as some say, from the stock of King Ida’ via a father Eanwine: which
suggests that his royal ancestry was at least dubious, but accords
with other indications that his territorial connections were with the
Bernician north, rather than (as were Æthelwald’s) with the Deiran
south. In spite of Æthelwald’s manifest failure as a ruler, later evi-
dence—all of it circumstantial but cumulatively powerful—suggests
that Alcuin none the less identified himself and his primary loyalties
thereafter with the deposed king’s line, not that of Eadberht or any
other claimants to the throne, although with increasing reservations:
and this gives added point to his remark in a letter to Æthelwald’s
son nearly thirty years later (the earliest of his ‘admonitory letters’
addressed to a king) that anyone reading the Holy Scriptures and
reflecting on Histories of older days and considering how things turn
out in the World ‘will find that kings have lost kingdoms and peo-
ples have lost their homeland’ for their misbehaviour.
Whether Alcuin’s attachment reflects an earlier family connection
with the patricius as its lord or unrecorded favours to the young cler-
De XII Abusivis, ed. Hellmann, pp. 51–3 (fuller details below, ch. 2, pp. 275–6
and n. 71; MGH Epp. IV, p. 503, with the recent comments of J. Story, ‘Cathwulf,
kingship and the royal abbey of Saint-Denis’, Speculum, 74 (1999), 3–21, esp. 7–11,
20–1, and M. Garrison, ‘Letters to a king and biblical exempla: the examples of
Cathuulf and Clemens Peregrinus’, Early Medieval Europe 7/iii (1998), 305–28.
HR ed. Arnold, 2, 43: for Wincanheale, cf. idem, 51 (also ASC ‘E’ s.a. 788, which
is not to be confused with the legatine synod of 786), 59–60; Annals ‘of Tigernach’,
ed. W. Stokes, in Revue Celtique 17 (1896), p. 262: Moll rì Saxan clericus eficitur.
Ep. no. 16 (only in the ‘English collections’, and apparently therefore—since
it was written in Francia—the ‘recipient’s text’), p. 43. For the language, compare
‘York poem’, lines 110–12: eventus venientis dicta probavit/ hospitis: occubuit statim rex ense
nefando/invidus imperii vitae simul illius atque; and the two OT passages Gn 41.13,14,
postea rei probavit eventus . . . ad regis imperium eductum, and Sir 18.33 . . . in saeculo (so a
majority of early testimonies, including the pre-Alcuin Tours manuscripts and the
Alcuin Bibles, for the correct in sacculo) eris enim invidus tuae vitae.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 241
icus by the king is not now determinable. It is certainly arguable that
that same attachment is one of the reasons why in the composition
of his ‘York poem’, and particularly if this is (as I believe) a work
of the 780s rather than of the 790s, Alcuin pays so much attention
to the miraculous powers of Oswald’s relics, both soon after his ‘mar-
tyrdom’ and more recently. The almost fifty-line account of two
visions and the subsequent death of an unnamed young man who
‘deeply influenced my boyhood with his advice’—the only such allu-
sion anywhere in his writings—with which, as a contrived after-
thought, he finally brings his poem to an end, seems to be modelled
on the account of one such miracle which figures only in one branch
of the Historia Ecclesiastica tradition. (The second vision, but not the
death, was also recalled in the letter of 794 quoted at the beginning
of the present chapter, where he is called puer noster Seneca.)
putative loyalty, the introduction of the anchorite Echa in the ‘York
poem’ narrative where a reference to Alchred might otherwise have
been expected, and Alcuin’s age at the time are, collectively, pow-
erful reasons for doubting whether he could have played any part
in the compilation of ‘genealogies’ intended to strengthen the new
king’s claims to the Northumbrian throne.
In a brief civil war during 757/8, as the Northumbrian Annals
record, Offa, grandson of his murdered predecessor’s long-dead cousin
Eanwulf, had imposed himself on the Mercian kingdom. He was to
rule it for thirty-eight years: whatever the basis of his authority—
and sheer ruthlessness seems to have been a major factor—its superficial
stability in those years and the achievements that that made possi-
ble were in sharp contrast with Alcuin’s own patria, duly reflected
in his writings. By the date of the ‘York poem’, two decades of
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 302–406, predominantly but not entirely from
HE III 12 and 11; ibid., lines 1600–48, with which compare HE IV 14 (in ‘M-
type’ manuscripts only) and Godman’s commentary at pp. 130–1. Note, however,
that the declared reason for including the story in the poem is that some months
previously Seneca had been granted a vision of what is now commonly called ‘the
provisional Heaven’.
The genealogies are those in the multi-part manuscript London BL Cotton
Vespasian B. vi, fols 104 ff. (Mercia, 805 × 814 [?812]), which also include the
text of the ‘York metrical martyrology’ (above, pp. 208–9 and n. 237), as ed. and
expounded by D. Dumville, ‘The Anglian collection of royal genealogies and reg-
nal lists’, ASE 5 (1976), 23–50 (of which there is a reprint with supplementary notes
which I have not seen). ‘A close connection’ between the collection and Alcuin was
proposed by P. Wormald, The Anglo-Saxons, ed. Campbell, p. 117, although he also
notes the omission of Æthelwold Moll, etc.; and see further, below.
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strained relations between the two kingdoms were close to ending,
if they were not already in the past: Alcuin provides there, briefly,
the only pre-800 record of Offa’s benefactions to Oswald’s tomb at
Bardney (Lincolnshire), without actually naming the place.
In his
maturity, Alcuin exchanged letters with the Mercian king, with mem-
bers of his family and with courtiers and former courtiers; he was
in touch with bishops and with religious houses in widely-separated
regions of the Mercian kingdom; and he seems for a time even to
have had authority over an unidentified monastery there. Whether
any of these connections derived from early encounters in the
Northumbrian ‘capital’, and if so when, is unknown and unknow-
able; equally, there is no unambiguous evidence in the letters or else-
where for contact with or visits to the Mercian Court and ‘capital’
(i.e. Tamworth [Staffs?]) before the year 786.
In the light of Alcuin’s
later expressed dismay that kings ‘of ancient stock’ were hardly to
be found in England, it is not excluded that he was the instrument
of the transmission of the ‘northern’ collection of genealogies to
Mercia, from which the earliest manuscript copy comes, and thence
to Wales; but there is unfortunately no supporting evidence.
From York to Rome—and Places Between
Because of Ælberht’s relationship by blood (although only a distant
one?) with the Northumbrian king who was murdered in ?759, his
political loyalties, and conversely his sources of patronage, could have
been very different from Alcuin’s; and this finds some support in his
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 388–91. King Æthelred of Mercia (abd. 704,
ob. 716) had been a benefactor, then abbot, of Bardney; for the possible political
significance of this, see D. Rollason, Saints and Relics in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford,
1989), p. 121.
Correspondents: see Bullough, ‘What has Ingeld to do with Lindisfarne?’, pp.
115–20, and the earlier ep. no. 70; also ep. no. 61, to Offa’s son Ecgfrith. Alcuin’s
monastery: the monasterium In Mercum (which I take to be a locative form of the
English regional name, like Bede’s In Feppingum, HE III, 21, cf. Eddius’s monasterium
eius quod in Undolum positum est, Vita Wilfr. c. 65), which in ep. no. 62 (p. 106) he
appears to be saying had been unfairly taken from him by the Mercian rulers. For
the 786 visit, see below, ch. 3.
Ep. no. 129 (p. 192) of 797, included in his ‘personal’ collection. His involve-
ment in the transmission of the genealogical collection, which is also included in
the ninth-century historical miscellany associated with the name of Nennius, is sug-
gested by Wormald, The Anglo-Saxons, ed. Campbell, pp. 116–7; but cf. n. 336 above.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 243
advancement from the mastership to the (arch)bishopric of York after
Alchred had replaced Æthelwald, although only after almost a year’s
interregnum in the see, and his later resignation during the first reign
of Æthelwald’s son.
That the warm and sometimes distinctively-
phrased letter from King Alchred to Lul of Mainz in 773 was com-
posed by a York cleric is highly likely, but tells us nothing about
the political stance of others at the cathedral or in the town.
Whatever may have been the immediate context or prompting,
Ælberht spent a part of Æthelwald’s discomforting reign on an
extended Continental journey. In doing so, he introduced his disci-
ple, then in his early twenties, to a wider world, well beyond the
Humber. Alcuin’s account of Ælberht in ‘the York poem’ says that
while still a teacher and before he became bishop ‘he travelled
devoutly to the city of Rome . . . visiting holy places far and wide’.
Characteristically of the poem, no autobiographical statement is linked
with that passage: but in his earlier epitaph for Ælberht, probably
written not long after his return from another journey to Rome (781)
and as much about himself as about its nominal subject, he recalls
how he had eagerly followed his master wherever he went, and
notably to ‘universally-honoured Rome’ and the ‘flourishing king-
dom of the Franks’.
Stages on the journey are the subject of
remarks in two much-later letters; a third may provide the one explicit
reference to that first visit to the Papal City.
In a letter of unknown date which he preserved in his ‘personal’
collection Alcuin recalls how, ‘following in the tracks of his master’,
he had once visited Murbach and greatly admired its monastic
life-style: indeed, he would (he claimed) have liked to share it!
See ch. 3, ad init.
Epist. select. 1, ed. Tangl, no. 121. The king’s assurance that Lul’s name and
the names of others he had sent in cunctis monasteriis nostris dicionibus subiunctis perpe-
tuis litterarum monumentis commendantur, and remembered in daily prayers, interestingly
anticipates Alcuin’s request (ep. no. 302; cf. ASE 22, 117 n. 81) to the probably
Mercian Ealdorman Ardbertus that nostri nominis memoriam per ecclesias . . . ditionis vestrae
deprecor ut iubeatis fieri. But the closing formula Divina maiestas indefesso certamine pro
Christi ecclesia desudantem (!) te conservare dignetur will not be found in Boniface’s, Lul’s
or Alcuin’s letters; and Alcuin does not use the salutation-formula nobis perpetuali
amicitia copulato.
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1458–9 (imitating both Paulinus of Nola and
Venantius Fortunatus: but loca sancta is his own phrase, and in his letters seems
generally to be used of monasteries); carm. ii, MGH Poet. I, pp. 206–7, in which
Alcuin is effectively the subject of eight out of fourteen lines! For the transmission
of the epitaphium, see below, ch. 2.
Ep. no. 271, with the title Ad fratres Corbeienses in both H manuscripts, although
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journey to or from Italy via Murbach, founded little more than thirty
years previously in a side-valley approachable only from the east,
suggests—without conclusively establishing—the travellers’ use of the
Great St. Bernard pass and the Val d’Aosta to enter Italy, and per-
haps of the river Rhine.
A letter to the Frankish king, in which
Alcuin specifically refers to the Roman journey made when he was a
young man (adolescens) and which is closely datable (799, Febr.-Mar.),
is in some other respects very problematic; it has also prompted extra-
ordinary fantasies in otherwise reputable scholarly literature. Alcuin
here recalls that while he was lingering for some days in the Lombard
capital Pavia, the grammarian Peter (of Pisa) engaged in a dialogue
(disputatio) with an otherwise unrecorded Jew whom he names as (?)Iulius,
and that he heard that their exchanges were recorded in writing; he
goes on to suggest that the king should ask Angilbert whether Peter
had ever told him anything about it. Alcuin does not say (as most
modern accounts assert) that he had been present at the debate. But
if this is implied, then the further implication—from his suggestion
that Angilbert should be consulted—is that he recalled little or noth-
ing of it. Could the truth be that the adolescent Alcuin was there
and simply failed to understand what the disputants were saying?
In a letter to the king a year previously, in which he reported the
explanations given to his Tours pupils of the terms Septuagesima,
Sexagesima, Quinquagesima (substantially correct ones), Alcuin adds that
sub protectione beati Leodegarii episcopi shows that its destination was in fact Murbach.
(The next letter in the manuscripts, ep. no. 237, is to filio carissimo Antonio, identifiable
as Abbot Adalhard of Corbie. The semi-literal use of vestigia here and in the ded-
icatory preface of the Vita Richarii (vestrae pietatis [sc. Karoli ] vestigia ibidem prosecutus:
ep. no. 306; MGH SSRM IV [ed. Krusch], p. 389) contrasts with the metaphorical
veterum vestigia patrum . . . secutus (of Bede’s life) in ‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines
1313–14, and similarly of the York book-collection in id., line 1536. Paul Meyvaert
has noted that it was a favourite expression of Bede himself (Famulus Christi, pp.
62–3 n. 7); and Alcuin’s lines 1535–7 seem to be echoing verses attributed to Bede
in their unique late manuscript source (Leland).
For Alcuin’s subsequent use of the Rhine river-route to visit the Frankish
Court, or less plausibly on a second journey to Rome, see below, Ch. 2; for early
Carolingian use of the route via St.-Maurice d’Agaune, Mons Iovis and Ivrea, through
the Val d’Aosta, which could be approached from the north-west or north, see e.g.
ARF s.aa. 773, 801, 804: ed. Kurze, pp. 36, 114, 116, 119.
Ep. no. 172 (p. 285), a letter with an unusually complex manuscript-trans-
mission; a detailed critique in Bullough, ‘Reminiscence and Reality: Text, Translation
and Testimony of an Alcuin letter’, JournMedLat 5 (1995), 174–201, esp. 177–92.
That the disputatio referred to is reflected in a question-and-answer commentary on
Daniel in the early-ninth century Court-related manuscript Brussels Bib. roy. II
2572 is suggested idem, 193–200.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 245
‘while he was at Rome’ he had heard ‘certain teachers’ assert that
Orientals fasted for nine weeks, Greeks for eight, Romans only for
seven, but he did not know the authority for such a claim.
Unfortunately this could equally well have been during his visit in
(780–)781, when he was almost certainly in the city on Septuagesima
Sunday (February 11th); but the fact that ‘my master of blessed
memory’ is included with the king and his family in the letter’s
unusually-elaborate exordium perhaps points to the earlier occasion.
It is possible, finally, that the journey with Ælberht also took in a
visit to the court of King Pippin, although this cannot safely be
inferred from the language of the epitaph; and if the reported exchange
of gifts between Pippin and King Eadberht has a basis in fact, it
would have been too early (because not later than 758) to be linked
with the Roman visit.
The impact on Alcuin of his youthful introduction to both Francia
and Rome seems in many ways a muted one. The only Roman
churches mentioned in the entire corpus of his poems and letters
are those of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s; and the first of these is named
only because ‘it is said to have been sacked by treacherous hands’
(i.e. the Lombards?).
In Alcuin’s extended verse-lament on the
destruction of Lindisfarne in 793, where this occurs, the city had
previously provided him with a type of a once great place, like
Jerusalem, ‘city of David’, now ruined and desolate; and writing to
Adalhard of Corbie in 799, he associates Rome with being ill!
Against this, however, must be set other evidence in the poems: the
Ep. no. 143 (p. 225). The standard eighth-century—Roman? Frankish?—under-
standing of the length of the Lenten fast is presumably that stated in OR XV c. 82,
ed. Andrieu, Ordines, 2, 115: Greci autem a LX
de carne levant ieiunium, monachi vero et
Romani devoti vel boni christiani a L
levant, <rustici autem et> reliquus vulgus a quadrages-
ima. The words bracketed are unique to the text in Montpellier, Bibl. Univ. (Fac.
de Médécine), 412, written at Tours or in its vicinity, possibly in Alcuin’s lifetime:
could they be a local addition?
Above, p. 238 and n. 328.
St. Peter’s: carm. ix, lines 73 ff. (MGH Poet. I, pp. 230–1), Iam domus alma Dei,
princeps qua corpore pausat/ Petrus. . . ./Perfidiae manibus fertur vastata fuisse. Ep. no. 180,
the author of which had planned to visit Rome et ad sanctissimum Petri sepulchrum
calidis buccis oscula in pavimento figere, has nothing to do with Alcuin; and ep. no. 127
(p. 189) is a letter from Pope Leo III to the Mercian king. St. Paul’s: epp. nos 150,
156 (in the light of the king’s letter to Angilbert, ep. no. 92).
Carm. ix, lines 37–40 (MGH Poet. I, p. 230), concluding with Lutea pars tegetum
sola videtur iners; ep. no. 175 (in the ‘personal’ collection): prohibuit me Romanus comes . . .;
si illius insurgat me praelium, in hoc ego sperabo, quia virtus ex infirmitate perficitur. The ill-
ness seems to have been malarial.
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conventional praise of Rome as potens, caput orbis al. mundi, mundi decus
and so on already in the Lindisfarne lament as well as in his epi-
taph for Pope Hadrian (796), and in several poems written in the
last years of the century, among them one addressed to ‘David’, the
Frankish king.
The only hint that he may have followed one or
more of the ‘pilgrim itineraries’ round the city is his description of
it, in a letter closely linked to the Lindisfarne poem, as ‘surrounded
by a circle (corona) of holy apostles and innumerable martyrs’. It is
none the less likely that Alcuin’s later use of Roman epigraphic verse-
formulae reflects direct acquaintance with its Christian epitaphs as
well as familiarity with manuscript copies and with Venantius
Fortunatus’s poetry; and it is possible also that his interest in acquir-
ing relics, a prominent feature of later correspondence, began with
his first Roman journey.
Perhaps most significantly, when in his
De ratione animae (of 801 or later) he wished to illustrate how the Soul
(or Mind) formed images of things seen and then ‘stored in the trea-
sure-house of memory’, Alcuin took as his example enim qui Romam
vidit. Whenever subsequently such a person ‘hears or recalls the name
Rome’, he observes, his attention immediately turns to the memory
where he has the image of Rome stored away’, in contrast with the
mental image of Jerusalem, which he has never seen: whereas
Augustine, in a passage of the De Trinitate which is evidently Alcuin’s
model (although developing a quite different argument about images
formed and held in the mind) names Carthage and Alexandria.
Carm. ix, line 37; Wallach, Alcuin and Charlemagne, pp. 182–3, compare idem.
pp. 181, 183–91; carmina xxi, xxv, xlv (MGH Poet. I, pp. 241–2, 245, 257–9), with
carm. xlv, lines 31–2, Roma caput mundi primi quoque culmen honoris/ In qua gazarum
munera sancta latent. Gazae ‘treasures’, both material and figurative, occurs frequently
in the ‘York poem’; there, potens is an epithet of the Saxons and some of their kings
and (once: line 427) of the Cross. A rare prose example of Roma orbis caput is Vita
Willibrordi I. 32, ed. Levison, MGH SSRM VII, 139, which I would date ca. 797.
Ep. no. 20 (793). Corona is, of course, also ‘the martyr’s crown’; the context
excludes that meaning here, but the word’s other associations can hardly have
escaped him. For knowledge of older epigraphic verse, see below, ch. 2, p. 278
at n. 82; and compare the later Fulda-written Einsiedeln cod. 326, pt. iv, which
contains successively a sylloge of inscriptions, an itinerary and OR XXIII, ed. Andrieu,
Ordines, 3, 265–73. Relics: see below, ch. 2, ad fin. A reminder of relics promised
and not forthcoming is a feature of what may be one of his earliest extant letters,
ep. no. 28, to Paulinus of Aquileia: diu dilectionis tuae exspectavi promissa, hoc est vivificae
crucis Christi vel aliarum reliquiarum patrocinia; noli me, obsecro, tanto fraudare munere nec te
veritatis mercede!
De ratione animae, PL 101, 642A (c. vii), ed. Curry, pp. 48 f. (c. iv); Augustine,
De Trin. VIII 5–6, ed. Mountain and Glorie, CCSL 50 (Turnhout, 1968), pp. 281–2.
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 247
There may be a salutary warning here against assuming a consis-
tency in Alcuin’s responses to places, people and events which did
not exist, and certainly against building too much on silences in sur-
viving letters to shape a fuller portrait of the young Alcuin.
York Consecrations, 767
767, the second year of King Alchred, was a notable one for the
church of York and its clergy and, in the event, for Alcuin himself.
After vacancies of several months in the two sees, bishops of York
and of Hexham were consecrated on April 24th.
Alchmund of
Hexham’s background is unknown, although he later enjoyed a local
cultus. Alcuin records that the new bishop of York, the magister Ælberht,
was a kinsman of his predecessor; but he also asserts that he was
made bishop populo rogitante, which if true and not merely a poeti-
cism would seem to have been highly unusual in eighth-century
The date and day are abnormal, which is evidently why
the Annalist recorded it: it was a Friday and in the post-Easter sea-
son when fasting was traditionally suspended. There can be little
doubt that it was chosen because it was the heavenly dies natalis of
Wilfrid I of York and Hexham. A ‘proper’ mass for that day did
not exist; but April 24 in the year 767 was feria VI in Easter Week,
for which the ‘Old Gelasian’ mass-set is the distinctive (coll.) Deus qui
ad caeleste regnum, (praef.) UD Qui secundum promissionis suae, which was
presumably the context of the ordination ceremonies.
If the canonical
For Augustine’s conception of memoria, see the neat summary by R.A. Markus in
The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy ed. A.H. Armstrong
(Cambridge, 1970), pp. 370–3.
‘Northumbrian Annals’ s.a., HR, ed. Arnold, 2, 43; without the date also in
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ‘D’ text, ed. Classen and Harmer, p. 18 (= ‘E’ text, ed. Plummer,
Two Saxon Chronicles, p. 51), which are here using a lost variant of the ‘Northumbrian
Annals’ with Whithorn connections (below, n. 357).
‘York Poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1429, 1468; C. Cubitt, ‘Wilfrid’s “Usurping
Bishops”: Episcopal Elections in Anglo-Saxon England, ca. 600–ca. 800’, Northern
History 25 (1989), 18–38, at 26 where, however, Alcuin’s remark on the ‘election’
is not noticed. Note that King Alchred (765–74) had a son (ut dicunt quidam) Alchmund
who was murdered in 800: ‘Annals’, s.a. HR ed. Arnold, 2, 63. The ‘Lindisfarne’
Liber Vitae Nomina regum vel ducum [34] Alchmund seems more likely to be the Mercian
dux of that name temp. Offa than the Northumbrian king’s son.
For the evidence for Wilfrid’s dies depositionis, see above, n. 258. The mass-
set is Sacr. Gelas. I li, ed. Wilson pp. 94–5, ed. Mohlberg nos 489–93 (similar but
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248 cn.r+rn oxr
requirement of three bishops for the consecration of the archbishop
was followed, as it certainly was thirty years later, these must nec-
essarily have been the bishops of Lindisfarne, Candida Casa and
(presumably) ‘Mayo of the Saxons’.
Subsequently, perhaps in the weeks after Pentecost, a more remark-
able episcopal consecration took place. The Northumbrian Aluberht
returned to York from Utrecht, where he had been helping Willibrord’s
successor Abbot Gregory, to be ordained ‘bishop to the Old Saxons’.
The Vita prima Liudgeri which describes the background, and although
written only in the 840s embodies obviously good traditions, reports
that he was accompanied by two young men, Sigibod and Liudger,
who were then ordained priest and deacon respectively.
such actions could have been regarded as a challenge to the author-
ity recently exercised in missionary areas by the bishop of Rome or
a Frankish arch-bishop recognised by him. At the time, however,
the Papacy was in no position to protest and there was probably no
recognised successor to Boniface; consecration by the bishop of the
church from which he had earlier gone ‘with permission and advice’
was Aluberht’s own request; and his status thereafter was that of
corepiscopus to Gregory. If the Northumbrian Annalist’s eodem tempore,
coming immediately after the account of Ælberht’s consecration, is
to be interpreted strictly, he could be indicating the Saturday and
Sunday immediately following April 24th, highly irregular though
this would be in a non-fasting season; the next Ember Saturdays
and recognised ordination days were June 13th (in both Roman and
Gallican usage) and September 19th. Episcopal consecrations are not
linked to the quattuor tempora, although with very few exceptions they
were on Sundays (following fasting Saturdays); and the English evi-
dence shows an overwhelming preference for what the ‘Frankish
Gelasian’ sacramentaries and the Gregorian Supplement (but not the
‘Old Gelasian’ sacramentary) call dominicae post Pentecosten, even when
consecration at an earlier date would have been possible.
A more
not identical, Sacr. Gellon., ed. Dumas, nos 778–83); Gelas.’s collect is given as an
alternative to the standard Gregorian one for feria VI in the late-tenth-century
Sacramentarium Fuldense, ed. Richter and Schönfelder, no. 774.
HR ed. Arnold, 2, 43; Vita prima Liudgeri, ed. Pertz in MGH SS II, p. 40, ed.
Diekamp (Münster, 1881), pp. 15–17; Bullough, ‘Albuinus deliciosus Karoli regis’, pp.
At Canterbury (the one see in the southern province for which there is evi-
dence), the only exception is Jaenberht’s consecration on 2 Febr. 765 (f. d. (H)Ypapanti
Domini or Presentation in the Temple). In the northern province the fullest evidence
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 249
obvious political statement was the consecration at the same time of
a bishop of Lindsey, in the person of Ceolwulf. In a previous entry,
the Annalist had recorded that, following the death of Aldulf, Ceolwulf
electus et consecratus est: is the implication that the latter had been cho-
sen within his own diocese but then, whether for personal or polit-
ical reasons, turned to the northern metropolitan for consecration?
or was he a Northumbrian-backed candidate? Whatever the cir-
cumstances in 767, by 777 at latest Ceolwulf was regularly in atten-
dance at the Mercian king’s court.
Later tradition recalled that Aluberht and his companions remained
in York for a further year before returning to Utrecht—in the same
calendar year as that in which the Frankish king Pippin died and
was succeeded by his two sons Charles and Carloman, the one-time
Northumbrian King Eadberht died in clericatu at York, a new bishop
of Mayo was consecrated, and King Alchred married.
comes from Whithorn (Candida Casa) because of the use by ASC ‘D’ and ‘E’ texts
of a version of the ‘Northumbrian Annals’ with additional Whithorn material:
Frithowald was consecrated ‘on Ceastre(-um)’(apparently York, although this usage
is not noted in EPNS Yorks. 6 [1970], 275 ff.) 15 Aug. = Pent. XIII 734 (Ceolwulf ’s
‘sixth year’ if he succeeded Osric between 9 May and 15 Aug. 729; contra Cont.
Bedae, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 572) and died 7 May 763; Pehtwine was con-
secrated at Elvet 17 July = Pent. VIII 763 (cf. Watt, Series Episcoporum, p. 22) and
died 19 September 776; Æthelberht was consecrated at York 15 June = Pent. IV
777, cf. Handbook of British Chronology, ed. 3, pp. 222–3. In the metropolitan see,
Eanbald II was consecrated hastily and in the monastery of Sochasburg on 14 Aug.
= Pent. XII 796; and (accepting the reliability on this point of Symeon of Durham’s
Libellus: ed. Arnold, Symeonis Opera, 1, 52) Eanbald II and his fellow-bishops conse-
crated Egberht as bishop of Lindisfarne on 11 June, which was Pent. I in 803. For
Ember Days and the English evidence, see Pt. I.
Absent from the witness-lists of the earliest Mercian charter or charters after
his election/consecration, Sawyer nos 106 (of 767), 108 (of 772), Ceolwulf is there-
after (references in n. 11) consistently in fourth place, until he moves up to third,
behind the incumbents of Canterbury and Lichfield. The proper interpretation of
a letter from the Frankish king Charles, composed by Alcuin, to Bishop Ceolwulf
and Archbishop Æthelheard of Canterbury in ?794–6 (ep. no. 85) asking them to
intercede with King Offa seems to require more knowledge than we have of rela-
tions between the Frankish king and his Mercian counterpart after the resolution
of the tensions in 789/90 (below, ch. 3).
All, except the names of Pippin’s successors, recorded by the ‘Northumbrian
(?York) Annals’ for 768: HR 2, ed. Arnold, 44.
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‘Marian feasts’ in late-seventh/eighth-century Northumbria
Clayton, Cult of the Virgin Mary, here esp. pp. 28–40, is an excellent and
comprehensive account of the origins of the ‘four Marian feasts’ in the
Latin West and their adoption in the liturgy of early England. But it may
be that Clayton pp. 52–60 is over-cautious about the distinctive character
of some of the eighth-century Northumbrian evidence for an evolving Marian
cult; certainly the Ambrosiana and Phillips calendars, and the hypothesised
breviate of an English text of a Hieronymian Martyrology which underlies
them, have a little to add to that evidence.
Milan Ambr. M. 12 sup (not, however, Berlin Phillips 1869 or Bede etc.)
has et dep. scae Mariae as the second of its three entries for 18 January, thus
confirming the evidence of ‘Willibrord’s Calendar’s’ et adsumptio sanctae Mariae
that the lost breviate recorded the ‘Gallican’ feast on that day: at that time
and in this context adsumptio meant no more than ‘death in the flesh, admis-
sion into Heaven’. Whether the feast had a proper liturgical celebration—
a mass-set is no. XII, Siffrin nos 94–105, in the ‘Missale Gothicum’, BAV
Reg. lat. 317—in late-seventh-century Northumbria is a question I cannot
The ‘Marian’ feasts are necessarily lacking from the earliest known ver-
sion of the Roman epistle-lectionary, that in Würzburg, Univ. bibl., M. p.
th. f. 62 (CLA IX, 1417). Clayton p. 37, following its editor Dom Morin,
characterises it as ‘reflect[ing] the state of the Roman liturgy before . . .
c. 650’. Chavasse (Sacramentaire Gélasien, passim, and elsewhere) proposed
pushing its date back to the end of the previous century, to find room for
the comes associated with Alcuin (above, p. 19 n. 42), the original form of
which—he believed—left Rome not long after 626/7. This, however, intro-
duces an immediate complication, since it includes three of the four feasts,
the one missing being apparently the Assumption on 15 August (assuming,
from its place in the comes, that the in festivitate sanctae Mariae is the Nativity
on 8 September—in contrast, therefore, with the evidence of De laude Dei,
as Clayton, p. 61). If, therefore, Alcuin was responsible for the adding of
the ‘Marian’ feasts as well as the masses for All Saints and for the Vigil
of St. Martin it is hardly possibly to describe the Roman source-text as
only ‘slightly corrected’ by Alcuin (as some recent commentators have done);
and Wilmart’s ‘un document sui generis de la fin de la VIII
(Lectionnaire d’Alcuin, p. 139) certainly seems more appropriate. This still
leaves undetermined whether Alcuin’s supposed contributions were ‘early’,
i.e. at York, or ‘late’, presumably at Tours. One argument against Alcuin’s
responsibility for adding the ‘Marian’ feasts is the De laude Dei’s unusually
long sequence of office antiphons (cf. below). It should be added that the
‘Sergian’ feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is not in the comes ‘of
Alcuin’ but has an entry in both the Ambrosiana and Phillips calendars
and a mass-set (II. lvi, Mohlberg nos 1023–5) in the ‘Vatican Gelasian’
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xon+ntvnni.x .rctix 251
In Pope Sergius’s conception, of course, the feasts of 2 February and 25
March were not Marian feasts but feasts of Our Lord. The Ambrosiana
and Phillips calendars naturally reflect this: for the former feast, Phill. has
Beata Maria dnm.nrm. ihm.xpm. offerebat in templum. YPAPANTI id est susceptio,
Ambr. Beata Maria Christum offert in templo . . . Ypapanti, the last word preceded
by Tironian notes for quidam libri habent and a later addition Purificatio scae.
Mariae. et repraesentatio in templo! The comes and the ‘York metrical martyrol-
ogy’ are here similarly conservative, the latter having et quartus nonas Christus
templo offerebatur (ed. Wilmart, p. 66). On the other hand, for the feast of
25 March Ambr., Phill. and comes all have Adnuntiatio [archangeli] ad Mariam,
while the ‘metrical martyrology’ stays with Octavas merito gaudet conceptio Christi.
The eighth-century re-focussing and re-naming of two of the ‘Sergian’
feasts was surprisingly credited by Chavasse, Sacramentaire gélasien, pp. 375–402,
to the (early) Carolingian period, for the Feast of 2 Febr. esp. 376–7. But
Bede, Dtr. c. 12 (ed. Jones (1943), pp. 207–8, CCSL 123B (1977), pp. 348–9)
not only shows familiarity with the feast of the Purification as an essen-
tially Marian one, but is also in no doubt that it originated in Rome: on
this see the helpful note in Wallis, Bede: the Reckoning of Time, p. 149
n. 147.
It is inevitably not possible to say with any confidence what mass-sets
and Old Testament/Epistle readings were used for these feasts in mid-cen-
tury York: the ‘Old Gelasian’ sets are quite distinct from the correspond-
ing ‘Gregorian’ ones, and the first and third of the Old Testament readings
for (e.g.) the Feast of the Nativity are different from any used later (although
all from Wisdom books), see Wilmart, ‘Lectionnaire’, p. 161. The office-
antiphons De antiphonario in the De laude Dei are still the best evidence for
the form and character of the ‘Marian cult’ that Alcuin experienced as a
boy and young man at York—evidence also of what a ‘secular’ cathedral
in northern Europe could include in its chant, whether or not it owed all
or most of it to Rome (on this, see Clayton, pp. 59–60).
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On the first Sunday after Pentecost, users of ‘Gelasian’ mass-books
prayed that:
Timentium te domine salvator et custos averte ab ecclesia tua mundanae
sapientiae oblectamenta fallaciae, ut spiritus tui eruditione formandos
prophetica et apostolica potius instituta quam filosophiae verba delectent,
ne vanitas mendatiorum decipiat, quos erudicio veritatis inluminat . . . .
The seventh-century Irish-origin (but credited to Augustine) Quattuor
necessaria sunt . . ., ‘There are four things essential to God’s Church’,
suggests a structure of Christian education appropriate to such a
petition: ‘The Divine Canon, in which the future life is related and
foretold; History, in which past events are related; Number, by which
what is to come and Divine celebrations are reckoned up; Grammar,
by which the science of words is comprehended . . . the four foun-
dations of Scripture, as it were’. The same passage is to be found
in various contexts in Carolingian-period computus collections; and
in a mid-century south-German manuscript, it is one of several short
texts accompanying Alcuin’s De vera philosophia and De grammatica.
Sacr. Gelas. I lxxxiv, ed. Wilson, p. 129, ed. Mohlberg, no. 676; Sacr. Gellon.,
ed. Dumas and Deshusses, no. 1062; Sacr. Sangall., ed. Mohlberg, no. 844: also in
the tenth-century English ‘Winchcombe Sacramentary’ ed. A. Davril, HBS 109
(London, 1995), no. 639. For the language of the collect, compare Col 2.8: Videte
ne quis vos decipiat per philosophiam et inanem fallaciam—the only instance of philosophia
in the Vulgate and in an unequivocally pejorative sense.
De computo dialogus, PL 90, col. 647D; incorporated in the Irish De ratione con-
putandi, ed. M. Walsh and D. Ó. Cróinin (Toronto, 1988), p. 117. A characteristic
Carolingian example, with the rubric De laude computi, is in the Pacificus of Verona
computus in Florence, Bibl. Medicea Laurenziana pl. XVI, 39, ed. G.G. Meersseman
and E. Adda, Manuale di Computo con ritmo mnemotecnico dell’Arcidiacono Pacifico di Verona
(Padua, 1966), p. 104. Accompanying Alcuin-texts, with the heading Augustinus ait,
in Munich clm. 6404 (Bischoff, Südostdeutsche Schreibschulen, 1
, p. 118), fol. 30; also
in the slightly later clm. 6411, fol. 56
, without a heading and immediately after
the title of Priscian’s De institutione de nomine . . . . C.D. Wright, The Irish Tradition in
Old English Literature (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 55–7 and passim, lists several early-Irish
quaternities, but not this one. For History, i.e. the ‘literal sense’, as a fundamentum
of Scriptural understanding, compare Jerome’s epitaphium sanctae Paulae = epist. cviii,
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Other early Irish scholars had, with the help of Isidore’s Differentiae,
worked out a categorization of Knowledge ( philosophia without pejo-
rative connotations) different from the late-Ancient World’s ‘Seven
Liberal Arts’, in which logica and physica were further divided, the
latter embracing seven (or six) disciplines: it was familiar to Aldhelm
and, ca. 800, to the circle around Alcuin at Tours.
When, however,
Alcuin composed an epitaph for Archbishop Ælberht of York in ?781,
he recalled particularly his teaching of artes liberales, ‘the Liberal Arts’;
and the sixteen lines of the ‘York poem’ in which he illustrates how,
as magister, Ælberht had ‘watered parched hearts with learning’s
diverse streams and studies’ varied dew’ are the first medieval descrip-
tion of a programme of instruction based on that scheme.
The concept and the term were ones that Alcuin and his teacher
could have found in Isidore, or in Cassiodorus if the Second Book
of his ‘Principles of Divine and Secular Learning’ were available to
them: they would not have encountered them as such in Aldhelm’s
The strongest argument for believing that the poem pro-
vides an essentially authentic, if schematized and idealized, record
of what and how Ælberht had taught the York community’s adolescents
is that it provides the pattern for Alcuin’s later pedagogic writings:
these would, accordingly, reflect early experiences that were built on
26.1 (ed. Hilberg, 2, 344), and the ?Isidoran text later annexed to Alcuin’s Inst. et
resp. in Genesin, which begins (PL 100, col. 559A) Prius historie fundamenta ponenda sunt
ut aptius allegorie culmen priori structure superponatur.
B. Bischoff, ‘Eine verschollene Einteilung der Wissenschaften’ [1958], MaSt 1,
273–88; for Aldhelm cf. note 5.
Alcuin, carm. ii, MGH Poet. I, p. 206, on which see below, ch. 3; ‘York poem’
ed. Godman, lines 1432–3 (influenced, like line 5, by Fortunatus, Vita S.Martini,
i.131), 1434–49.
Isidore, Etym. I ii.1 says De septem liberalibus disciplinis. Disciplinae liberalium artium
septem sunt, which he did not take directly from Cassiodorus, although the latter uses
the term in Inst. II iii.19 (ed. Mynors, p. 129). It is generally supposed that this
work of Cassiodorus was unknown in pre-Carolingian England. Aldhelm in the
prose De virginitate uses liberales adjectivally of studia, litterae and disciplina, but never
of artes, although here and elsewhere he refers to particular disciplines as artes: see
the excellent indices, s.vv., to Ehwald’s masterly edition (MGH AA XV). Bischoff’s
observation (‘Verschollene Einteilung’, p. 276 n. 13) that Aldhelm’s apparent list-
ing of the subjects of the trivium is a modification of the authentic text in a group
of English tenth-century manuscripts (to which Salisbury Cath. 38 should be added;
and Brussels Bib. roy. 1650 is a late, not an early, member of the group) has been
generally overlooked: historians of early-medieval learning and education continue
to ‘discuss’ Aldhelm’s familiarity with trivium and quadrivium, following Roger rather
than the texts.
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and extended in his adult years, as his master’s helper and then suc-
cessor. ‘My master often said to me’, he told the Frankish king in
798, ‘ “They were the most learned of men who found out about the
nature of things; it is a great shame if we let those arts die in our
own time”’.
The verses begin conventionally and unambiguously with the first
two subjects of the Trivium, Grammar and Rhetoric. The poem’s
next line reads, in the unique medieval copy, Istos iuridica curavit cote
polire: whether or not Alcuin himself wrote veridica, there is little doubt
that the reference is to Dialectic, which in Isidore’s words ‘teaches
us in several kinds of questions how to distinguish the true from the
false by argument (disputando vera et falsa diiudicentur)’.
Without any
obvious break, Alcuin now passes to Music, which seems to cover
practice as well as theory and which he, unusually, links with the
teaching of versification. Three or more lines devoted to Astronomy
(for which Alcuin later preferred the word astrologia) are extended by
a brief account of Ælberht’s teaching of ‘natural history’, perhaps
under the influence of the recent treatises De natura rerum.
A single
line covers both Arithmetic and either numerology, which played a
greater part in Alcuin’s thinking than is commonly acknowledged,
or Geometry, the other art in the standard seven: numeri . . . varias
and this is followed by a one-line description of Ælberht’s
teaching of a special and practical aspect of ‘number’, Easter-calcu-
lation. Alcuin concludes with a reference to the bishop’s exploration
of ‘the mysteries of Holy Scripture’: to this all the other studies are
preparatory, although necessary if the truth of Scripture is to be fully
revealed; and in turn, as Alcuin remarks subsequently, the sacred
texts are a means of instruction in other disciplines.
Ep. no. 148 (p. 239). The specific context is the study of the Heavens and arith-
metica, quam necessaria ad cognoscendas scripturas divinas!
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, line 1436 app. and comment; Etym. I. ii, 1. See also
Tatwine of Canterbury’s est felix mea qui potuerit cognoscere iura for a riddle on Philosophy
in his Enigmata, ed. F. Glorie (CCSL 133; Turnhout, 1968), p. 168.
Below, p. 269 at n. 50.
Compare, for example, Quaestiones in Gen., Int. et Resp. 25 (PL 100, col. 519C):
Cur Deus senario numero mundi creationem perfecit?—Quia ille numerus perfectus iuxta arith-
meticae disciplinae rationem legitur esse . . .—which is not, like the immediately preced-
ing answers, taken from Bede—and the quotation from ep. no. 148 in n. 6. For
medieval numerology see H. Meyer, Die Zahlenallegorese im Mittelalter (Munich, 1975).
‘York poem’, lines 1448–9 (wrongly punctuated), 1452–3. Compare the inter-
pretation of Alcuin’s carm. lxix, proposed below (ch. 3).
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It is when we try to flesh out this skeletal account that the prob-
lems begin. There is a single letter from Ælberht when he was already
bishop, addressed to Lul of Mainz and preserved, with a later one
to him from Lul, among the latter’s collected correspondence. Six
lines of verse appended to it, the third, fourth and sixth adapted
respectively from Fortunatus (and Dracontius?), Bede’s Vita S. Cuthberti
( poet.) and Sedulius, give some substance to one part of Alcuin’s
description and point to an element in his own education.
York ‘metrical martyrology’ in the earliest form in which it has come
down to us, perhaps composed collectively and surely intended as a
mnemonic text, may well be (but cannot be proved conclusively to
be) of the 760s.
The listing of the authors of books ‘that the illus-
trious master energetically collected’ on his travels abroad, or more
locally, and which Alcuin always insisted had been bequeathed to
him—the misnamed ‘York library list’ or ‘book-list’
—are dubious
evidence for Ælberht’s teaching years: the letter to Lul concludes
with regrets that some of the books he had been asked to send had
not yet come to hand, and that he hadn’t been able to get copyists
(scriptores) for ones that were available.
York Books?
The manuscript evidence that will provide direct testimony to what
was taught and what was read in privileged monasteries and cathe-
dral schools in the Carolingian regna
is almost wholly (perhaps
Epist. select. 1, ed. Tangl, nos 124, 125 (the latter apparently not prompting
Ælberht’s letter and, despite Tangl. p. 262 n. 4, almost certainly written after 773,
when the pallium was sent to the bishop of York). The former’s v. 3 is also ‘York
poem’ ed. Godman, line 138 (of Paulinus); idem, line 1121 adapts in part, but more
closely, the same line of Bede as v. 4. Lul’s letter uses the noteworthy phrase quia
moderni principes novos mores novasque leges secundum sua desideria condunt to explain why
the church suffers daily.
Above, ch. 1, pp. 199–200, with nn. 211, 212. There are no good grounds
for connecting the text specifically with Alcuin.
‘York poem’ ed. Godman, lines 1533–57 and notes (pp. 121–7); M. Lapidge,
‘Surviving booklists’, p. 45, with commentary pp. 45–9.
Compare, most notably, D. Ganz, Corbie in the Carolingian Renaissance, Beiheft
der Francia, 20 (Sigmaringen, 1990). The earliest-known encyclopedic handbook of
‘the liberal arts’, with heavy emphasis on grammatica and a short section on compu-
tus, is the manuscript Paris BNF. lat. 7530 (CLA V, 569), written at Monte Cassino
during the last years of Paul the Deacon: see L. Holtz, ‘Le Parisinus Latinus 7530,
synthèse cassinienne des arts libéraux’, StudMed ser. 3, 16 (1975), 97–152.
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totally) lacking for mid-eighth century York. Hopeful ascriptions to
it have often been ‘mere conjectures without evidence’, as for exam-
ple of the fragments of Bede’s Vita Cuthberti metrica now at Budapest
and Berlin.
Most of the rest are inferences, of varying degrees of
plausibility, from the evidence provided by Alcuin’s own writings
after his peregrination from Northumbria, supported by the author-
names in his versified ‘book-list’.
A possible starting-point is none the less offered by the codex
Durham Cathedral B.II.30, containing an abbreviated text of
Cassiodorus’s massive Expositio psalmorum, and a textually- and palaeo-
graphically-related leaf at Düsseldorf, from the archives of the for-
mer abbey of Werden.
The 260 eighth-century leaves of the former
are the work of six different scribes, two of whom write what the
late Julian Brown called ‘phase I minuscule’ and the rest ‘phase II
minuscule’ (‘compressed half-uncial’ according to other palaeogra-
phers); the last of these was responsible for only four leaves and,
unlike his fellow-scribes, ‘signed’ his quire with a cross in the top
left-hand corner of the first recto (fol. 261). The Düsseldorf leaf is
the work of a seventh scribe, with marginal annotations by yet another
hand; and although its text is a part missing from the Durham book,
it is unlikely that it once formed part of it.
Lowe himself was never
inclined to localize the script-home of either manuscript more pre-
cisely than ‘a Northumbrian centre’ or date them more closely than
the first half of the eighth century. Julian Brown dated the Durham
CLA XI, 1589. Lowe, with Bernhard Bischoff’s support, judged their script to
be a neat and expert variety of minuscule which seems rather to have been prac-
ticed in southern England and in German centres under Anglo-Saxon influence;
Fulda is not excluded (Bischoff, pers. comm.). There is likewise little merit in the
supposition (A. Grabar, C. Nordenfalk, Early Medieval Painting from the Fourth to the
Eleventh Century (Lausanne, 1957), pp. 120, 122) that the Evangelist-picture and
canon-tables which now precede the (incomplete) ‘Maeseyck Gospel-book’, CLA X,
1558, or the Gospel-book itself, are products of ‘the school of York’: on this man-
uscript see most recently Netzer, Cultural Interplay, pp. 7–8, 13–32, 56–62 and passim.
CLA II, 152; CLA XI, 1786 (formerly in the Düsseldorf [Haupt] Staatsarchiv,
deposited in the Universitätsbibliothek, but missing in 1982 and apparently not sub-
sequently traced); R.N. Bailey, R. Handley, ‘Early English manuscripts of Cassiodorus’
“Expositio Psalmorum”’, Classical Philology, 78 (1983), 51–5.
Bailey and Hadley, ‘Early English manuscripts’, the cross signature noted at
p. 53. Other early English examples are known (ibid., n. 12); but it is a far more
common feature of Greek manuscripts, cf. E.A. Lowe, ‘Greek symptoms in a 6th-
century manuscript of St. Augustine’, Palaeographical Papers ed. L. Bieler (Oxford,
1972), 2, 466–74 (whose account of early Greek practice is strangely wrong) with
G. Garitte in Le Muséon, 56 (1943), 47–8 and J. Irigoin in Scriptorium, 12 (1958), 223.
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book ‘early in the eighth century’ and at different times associated
it, in general terms, with manuscripts from Lindisfarne and from
Wearmouth-Jarrow. Art-historians, who predominantly favour a ‘sec-
ond quarter of the century’ dating for the book, have similarly
wavered over its place of origin; and an alternative claim for York
gains no obvious support from the palaeography of inscriptions,
including that on the Coppergate helmet.
Werden was a founda-
tion of Alcuin’s early pupil Liudger, but there is nothing to show
when the book from which the leaf was taken entered its library.
To the mature Alcuin, Cassiodorus was ‘an outstanding interpreter
of the Psalms’ whose work provided a text for his own discussion of
how Man was redeemed by Christ’s death on the Cross, and who had
(probably) helped him consolidate his notion of the Seven Penitential
Bede, who described Cassiodorus’s work as egregia, was
almost certainly familiar with the full text, or at least with one that
was substantially complete, by at latest c. 725.
The anonymous
(Northumbrian?) epitomator has generally omitted entire sections of
the commentary, to produce a text which retains a degree of coherence,
even where its overall sense is significantly different from Cassidorus’s
original: at other times, the excisions create a series of unconnnected
obiter. The defects of existing editions and the lack of a complete
collation of the ‘Durham epitome’ text make precise comparisons
difficult and provisional.
There are none the less arguments for
believing that substantial sections of Alcuin’s commentary on the
A Palaeographer’s View: Select Writings of Julian Brown, ed. J. Bateley et al. (London
and New York, 1993), pp. 108, 189, 210, cf. 273 (summarizing Koehler’s views);
J.J.G. Alexander, Survey 1: Insular Manuscripts 6th to the 9th Century (1978), no. 17;
R.N. Bailey, The Durham Cassiodorus ( Jarrow Lecture, 1978: Jarrow, 1979), favour-
ing a later date and possibly a Wearmouth-Jarrow origin. For the helmet inscrip-
tion and York’s epigraphic palaeography, see Elisabeth Okasha’s contribution to
Tweddle, Helmet from Coppergate, at pp. 1012–15.
Ep. no. 307 (pp. 468–9), quoting in Ps 110.9, ed. Adriaen, p. 1018; Bullough,
‘Kingdom of Heaven’, Carolingian Renewal, pp. 173, 216–17 (nn. 42–3).
R.N. Bailey, ‘Bede’s text of Cassiodorus’ Commentary on the Psalms’, JTS
n.s. 34 (1983), 189–93.
For the ‘Durham epitome’ text and the inadequacies of Adriaen’s edition, see
Halporn, art. cit. in ch. 1, n. 156; also Bullough, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in: Carol-
ingian Renewal, pp. 173, 216 (n. 41) (which require correction). A supposedly related
text is the epitome-fragment (Pss 73–88 only) which now constitutes pt. 1 (fols 1–33
of Halle, Univ.- u. Landesbibl., Qu. cod. 76 (s. x; ?north Germany): see J. Fliege,
Die Handschr. der ehemaligen Stifts- u. Gymnasialbibl. Quedlinburg in Halle (Halle, 1982),
pp. 49–50. This may be so; but Adriaen’s apparatus would be a poor basis of com-
parison, and the connection has not (to my knowledge) been demonstrated.
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Penitential Psalms, and several parts of those on Psalm 118 and the
Gradual Psalms, are taken from Cassiodorus’s Expositio, in an abbre-
viated version represented most completely by the Durham book (D).
The comments on Psalms 6 and 31 are particularly instructive. For
Ps 6.6, D has retained almost all the original commentary on its first
half, including quotations from Isaiah and Paul: Alcuin seizes on five
words in the Isaiah quotation and creates a new short text empha-
sising that it is the living who will praise God. On the second half-
verse, the epitome has omitted a long parenthesis emphasising the
importance of compassion in the world; Alcuin repeats exactly the
shortened passage and omits all that follows. In v. 7 the epitome has
shortened Cassiodorus’s comments on all three clauses; Alcuin reduces
those on the first and second still further, copies verbatim the first
part of the comments on the third, and omits the rest. In Ps 31.4,
Alcuin’s rubric includes the Gallican configitur mihi spina, although D
and other early manuscripts of Cassiodorus have the Roman con-
fringitur spina:
he none the less copies the first part of the D-text
comment up to comprimeret (in place of imprimeret), only to abandon
it completely thereafter, glossing spina quae configitur (sic) as ‘the goad
(or prick: stimulus) of a sinner’s conscience’. At the end of the next
verse, 5, although Alcuin (in the printed text) gives the Gallican ver-
sion, his comment is on the Roman version, which is that of the
epitome. There are many places in the comments, even on the
Penitential Psalms, where Cassiodorus is not Alcuin’s main source;
but I have noted none where the form of his text indicates use of
a fuller version than that represented by the ‘Durham book’. The
possibility that this or a very close copy was read and excerpted by
Alcuin in his early adult years is a strong one, and would indicate
the existence at York of a sizable scribal community before mid-cen-
tury: it is not proven.
Lowe’s suggestion of a palaeographical association between D and
the combined codex of the Sapiential Books and Canticum Canticorum,
now BL Egerton 1046, can hardly be sustained. The most recent
and detailed analysis of this complex manuscript favours a somewhat
later date for the ‘hybrid-minuscule’ Part II (Wisdom; Sirach prol.
I.1–35) than for the ‘set-minuscule’ Pts. I + III, although always within
the eighth century, with emendation of the second of these ‘a con-
tinuous process . . . lasting for several generations’; and extensive cor-
Bullough, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, p. 217 n. 44, is erroneous.
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rection was demanded because both components had been ‘produced
in a context of poor latinity and inaccurate copying’. In the light of
other (admittedly, rarely unambiguous) evidence York, even though
beset by political disturbances and their probable consequences from
the late 760s, is unlikely to have been that context.
Alcuin’s later citing and exegesis of the Old Testament books included
in the Egerton manuscript have only occcasional links with its text
forms and corrections.
Even if the two incomplete leaves of a copy
of the Roman historian named in the ‘York list’ as Pompeius (the
Augustan Pompeius Trogus, whose substantial work reached the
Middle Ages in an epitome by M. Iunian(i)us Iustinus ( Justin)) are
correctly credited paleographically to Northumbria in mid-century,
arguments for an origin at York rather than some other centre are
completely lacking. It is, however, likely that the book to which they
once belonged was at the Frankish Court in Alcuin’s lifetime and
became the archetype of the entire later northwestern-European tra-
dition, whether or not it was also the copy given by the former
Court librarian Gerward to Lorsch in the later ninth century.
CLA II, 194a, 194b; Marsden, Text of the Old Testament, pp. 262–304. Lowe
(and, by implication, Bischoff who characterised the script of fols 17–31 as ‘com-
pressed half-uncial’: Latin Palaeography (1990), p. 91) believed that the hands were
Northumbrian; and Marsden posits his detailed analysis of the text and its subse-
quent corrections (pp. 269–304) on a Northumbrian origin of both parts. But the
late Julian Brown, in his unpublished Lyell lectures, maintained that the—in his
terms—‘Phase II hybrid minuscule’ and the minuscule of other folios were southern;
and Dr. Michelle P. Brown, who generously ‘excavated’ in the lecture drafts for
his comments, suggested that features of the sections written in ‘cursive minuscule’
make ‘a continental origin in an ultimately Bonifatian milieu . . . likely’ and observed
that the guide-notes are ‘an extremely unusual feature for this period’ (letter of 30
November 1993).
Marsden, Text of the Old Testament, loc. cit., does not refer to Alcuin in this con-
nection. For quotations from Proverbs and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) in non-standard
forms in the letters, see above, ch. 1; for some very brief remarks on Alcuin’s
Ecclesiastes text, see my ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, Carolingian Renewal, p. 217 (n. 45).
The non-Vulgate form of the quotation of Ecclesiastes 11, 6 in ep. no. 121 (pp.
177–8), Mane semina semen tuum etc. (Vulg. = Am. mane semina sementem tuam) is that
of both Eg. and of the Tours Bibles, but also that of many other testimonies:
Marsden, Text of the Old Testament, p. 280.
CLA IX, 1370 (formerly Weinheim, E. Fischer Samml.; currently untraceable)
+ London BL Harley 5915 fol. 10; Texts and Transmission, ed. Reynolds, pp. 197–9
(Reynolds); Julia Crick, ‘An Anglo-Saxon fragment of Justinus’s Epitome’, ASE 16
(1987), 181–96, with pl. viii. Cf. Bischoff, Lorsch
(1989), pp. 23, 65, whose revisions
of his 1974 edition do not include a reference to the newly-identified leaf or its
publication. The later tradition begins with the north(-east) French manuscript Paris,
BNF. lat. 4950, ca. 800. Crick seems to have been mistaken (so P. Rusche in Scriptorium,
48 (1994), 143) in doubting whether the Northumbrian book could have been the
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260 cn.r+rn +vo
are no grounds of any sort for linking an early-eighth-century North-
umbrian copy of a part of Pliny’s Naturalis historia with either York
or the Frankish Court library. It is certainly not excluded that frag-
ments of Chrysostom, De compunctione cordis, etc., which on palaeo-
graphical grounds are attributed to mid-eighth century Northumbria,
were once part of a book that Liudger had taken from York: seven
of th