Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 1986
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Brown , Michelle P.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Female Book- Ownership in England During the Ninth Century: The Evidence of the Prayerbooks [Seventh Biennial Meeting of the International Society of Anglo- Saxonists, "Old and New Ways in the Study of Anglo- Saxon Culture," Stanford University, August 6-12, 1995. Session 8].
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 28, 3 (Spring 1995):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Literacy Manuscripts, Ownership of Prayerbooks
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8-9
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  • Abstract: There is much evidence pointing to high standards of female literacy in pre-Alfredian England, and yet none of the few surviving manuscripts from thc period c.600-900 have been demonstrated conclusively to have been made by or for women. However, other sources can supply infomlation on the subject. Hagiographical, literary, diplomatic, and archaeological sources, for example, attest to the learning of women such as the abbesses Hild of Whitby, Leoba of Tauberbischofsheim, Cuthswith, Hildelith and the nuns of Barking, and Eadburh and Cwenthryth of Minster-in-Thanet. Neither is the secular sphere completely devoid of such evidence. The paper begins by providing an overview of some of the evidence for the role of women as producers, users, and disseminators of written information in England prior to the tenth century. Nonetheless, the extant books produced in early Anglo-Saxon England offer scant evidence of female production or ownership. This being the case, it is perhaps surprising that what limited physical evidence of female ownership does survive is largely to be found within the depleted corpus of books made in England during the ninth century, a period of particular upheaval which offered restricted scope for their manufacture and survival. This evidence is contained within three of a group of four prayerbooks, the script and decoration of which would suggest that they were made in southern England, and probably in Mercia (although not necessarily within the same scriptorium), during the late eighth and first half of the ninth century. These are the Harleian Prayerbook (BL, Harley MS 7653), the Royal Prayerbook (BL, Royal MS 2.A.XX), the Book of Nunnaminster (BL, Harley MS 2965), and the Book of Cerne (Cambridge, University Library, MS Ll.l.10). Within the three former there is a steady stream of evidence, all of it circumstantial, pointing to female ownership. That this stream should surface in the context of books intended for use in personal devotions is understandable. The processes of selection apparent within the prayerbooks imply a measure of personal tailoring to the needs and interests of their owners. This suggests that they were more susceptible to textual variations of the sort that might indicate a female interest than more formal liturgical and literary texts would have been. If any or all of the prayerbooks in question were indeed owned by women, they provide a valuable insight into female devotions of the pre-Alfredian era and into book production for, and perhaps even by, women [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
  • Author's Affiliation: British Library
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1995.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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