Interpreting MS Digby 86

Interpreting MS Digby 86

A Trilingual Book from Thirteenth-Century Worcestershire

Edited by Susanna Fein


York Medieval Press



A range of approaches (literary, historical, art-historical, codicological) to this mysterious but hugely significant manuscript.
Extravagantly heterogeneous in its contents, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86 is an utterly singular production. On its last folio, the scribe signs off with a self-portrait - a cartoonishly-drawn male head wearing a close-fitted hood - and an inscription: "scripsi librum in anno et iii mensibus" (I wrote the book in a year and three months). His fifteen months' labour resulted in one of the most important miscellanies to survive from medieval England: a trilingual marvel of a compilation, with quirky combinations of content that range from religion, to science, to literature of a decidedly secular cast. It holds medical recipes, charms, prayers, prognostications, magic tricks, pious doctrine, a liturgical calendar, religious songs, lively debates, poetry on love and death, proverbs, fables, fabliaux, scurrilous games, and gender-based diatribes.
That Digby is from the thirteenth century adds to its appeal, for English literary remnants from before 1300 are all too rare. Scholars on both sides of the vernacular divide, French and English, are deeply intrigued by it. Many of its texts are found nowhere else: for example, the French Arthurian Lay of the Horn, the English fabliau Dame Sirith and the beast fable Fox and Wolf, and the French Strife between Two Ladies (a candid debate on feminine politics). The interpretations offered in this volume of its contents, presentation, and ownership, show that there is much to discover in Digby's lively record of the social and spiritual pastimes of a book-owning gentry family.

SUSANNA FEIN is Professor of English at Kent State University.

CONTRIBUTORS: Maureen Boulton, Neil Cartlidge, Marilyn Corrie, Susanna Fein, Marjorie Harrington, John Hines, Jennifer Jahner, Melissa Julian-Jones, Jenni Nuttall, David Raybin, Delbert Russell, J.D. Sargan, Sheri Smith


July 2019
16 black and white, 2 line illustrations
272 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Manuscript Culture in the British Isles
ISBN: 9781903153901
Format: Hardback
York Medieval Press
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Table of Contents

Introduction - Susanna Fein
Fellow Travellers with Saint Nicholas - Delbert W. Russell
Anglo-Norman Religious Instruction in MS Digby 86: Echoes of Lateran IV - Maureen Boulton
Latin and Vernacular Prayers in MS Digby 86 - Sheri Smith
Science, Medicine, Prognostication: MS Digby 86 as a Household Almanac - Marjorie Harrington
Literary Therapeutics: Experimental Knowledge in MS Digby 86 - Jennifer Jahner
Petrus Alfonsi, the Disciplina clericalis, and Le Romaunz Peres Aunfour of MS Digby 86 - David Raybin
Misogyny in MS Digby 86 - Marilyn Corrie
Gender Trouble? Fabliau and Debate in MS Digby 86 - Neil Cartlidge
The Middle English Poetry of MS Digby 86 - Susanna Fein
MS Digby 86 and Thirteenth-Century Scribal Poetics - Jenni Nuttall
The Scarlet Letter: Experimentation, Design, and Copying Practice in the Coloured Capitals of MS Digby 86 - J. D. Sargan
Below Malvern: MS Digby 86, the Grimhills, and the Underhills in Their Regional and Social Context - John Hines and Melissa Julian-Jones

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