Scribes and the City

Scribes and the City

London Guildhall Clerks and the Dissemination of Middle English Literature, 1375-1425

Linne R. Mooney, Estelle Stubbs


York Medieval Press



Scribes played a crucial part in the flourishing and availability of literature in English during the time of Chaucer. This book reveals for the first time who they were, where and how they worked, and the crucial role they played in bringing this literature to a wider public.
"A sensational book... will permanently affect and change the way we see the history of the book in England." Professor Derek Pearsall, Harvard University.

Geoffrey Chaucer is called the Father of English Literature not because he was the first author to write in English - he wasn't - but because his works were among those of his generation produced in sufficient numbers to reach a wider audience. He and his contemporaries wrote before the age of print, so the dissemination of his writings in such quantity depended upon scribes, who would manually copy works like The Canterbury Tales in manuscripts.
This book is the first to identify the scribes responsible for the copying of the earliest manuscripts (including Chaucer's famous scribe, Adam). The authors reveal these revolutionary copyists as clerks holding major bureaucratic offices at the London Guildhall, working for the mayor and aldermen, officiating in their courts, and recording London business in their day jobs - while copying medieval English literature as a sideline. In particular, they contributed to the new culture of English as the language of not only literature, but government and business as well.

Linne R. Mooney is Professor of Medieval English Palaeography in the Department of English and Related Literature, and Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York; Estelle Stubbs is a researcher in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics based at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield.


March 2013
53 black and white, 1 line illustrations
168 pages
31.2x23.7 cm
Manuscript Culture in the British Isles
ISBN: 9781903153406
Format: Hardback
York Medieval Press
BISAC LIT011000, HIS037010, LIT004120
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Table of Contents

The Clerks of the London Guildhall
Richard Osbarn, Chamber Clerk 1400-1437
John Marchaunt, Chamber Clerk 1380-1399, Common Clerk 1399-1417
Adam Pinkhurst, Scrivener and Clerk of the Guildhall, c. 1378-1410
John Carpenter, Common Clerk 1417-1438
Other Scribes Associated with the Guildhall or its Clerks


There is much to examine and ponder - an act which is made easier by the book's handsome production and lavish (and readable) illustrations. SHARP NEWS

This is an important and stimulating contribution to our knowledge of scribal practice and the context of production of some of the major English texts of the period, and a valuable reminder that the study of archival documents is as essential to literary scholars as to historians. ENGLISH

This most remarkable study... major veil and explains much better than ever before the conditions of how late medieval English literature was created, produced, copied, and disseminated. MEDIAEVISTIK 26

Offers an exciting insight in the discussion of medieval book production. (It) is a significant contribution and(...)an achievement to be celebrated. AMARC NEWSLETTER

Mooney and Stubbs use their assembled materials to mount a large-scale historical argument...they argue... that all the scribes knew intimately the poets they communicated in manuscripts. (...) Mooney and Stubbs' s study will certainly stimulate further discussion of an important stage of London book production. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

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