Wyatt and Surrey (and Others) "B.T." (Before Tottel): Manuscript Circulation

        Before Tottel published Songs and Sonnets in 1557, knowledge of Wyatt's and Surrey's poems was limited to those with access to a few elite manuscript compilations that circulated in and around the royal court.  Because the poems expressed transgressive thoughts about royal power, as well as about sexuality and love, their content was extremely dangerous to the possesor.  To identify poems known only from the manuscripts, look below and to the right of the Norton text for the codes.  Many poems are found only in one MS in the group, although "Mine own John Poins" is found in both MSS D and E.  See note 1 (604) for the lines found only in the Devonshire MS, and not in E--what's going on there?

       Although these MSS have been known to scholars for a century and more, they were initially studied only as imperfect vehicles for getting "the text" of the poems to editors for proper critical interpretation (see New Criticism and English 200).  The study of the manuscripts as social artifacts of immense complexity and importance, and study of their individual versions of the poems as texts more meaningful than any modern editor's revision of them, are recent scholarly developments.  To see a recent online collaborative analysis of authorship and textual patterns in the Devonshire Manuscript, see: Ray Seimens, et al., "Drawing Networks in the Devonshire Manuscript (BL Add 17492): Toward Visualizing a Writing Community's Shared Apprenticeship, Social Valuation, and Self-Validation," Digital Studies 1:1 (2009), available at:  http://www.digitalstudies.org/ojs/index.php/digital_studies/article/viewArticle/146/201#_2.2._People_and

The Devonshire MS poems identified as coming from the hands of Lord Thomas Howard and Margaret Douglas appear to originate during Howard's imprisonment by Henry VIII for daring to contract a private marriage with Douglas, a marriage forbidden because its descendents might have had a minor claim to the throne.  See Bradley J. Irish, "Gender and Politics in the Henrician Court: The Douglas-Howard Lyrics in the Devonshire Manuscript (BL Add 17492)," Renaissance Quarterly 64.1 (2011):79-114 (available in photocopy from Arnie).  Unlike Wyatt, who was released from the Tower with Surrey's aid and died in the king's service, Thomas Howard died in prison.  Surrey, of course, was executed for his opposition to the Seymour family and Henry's last wife.  Does this make sense of the sonnets' frequent use of war and the hunt as metaphors for love?

E. MS.  The Egerton Manuscript: In 1829, Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater, bequeathed his 67 manuscripts to the British Museum (now part of the British Library), along with an additional fund used to purchase additional manuscripts.  Egerton MS 2711 contains 123 poems, many in Wyatt's own hand and others identified in the margin with "Tho." 

D. MS.  The Devonshire Manuscript: British Library, MS Add. 17492, is a bound quarto paper manuscript of 114 leaves containing 185 complete poems and fragments.  The MS contains poems written in the hands of Mary Shelton (one of Anne Boleyn's maids), Lady Margaret Douglas, Lord Thomas Howard, and Mary Howard (Surrey's sister).  According to the study by Seimens et al. these writers composed their own poems and recopied the poems of others while circulating the manuscript among themselves.   Of those 185 poems, 129 poems are probably or possibly by Wyatt, and one ("O Happy Dames") is by Surrey (Seimens et al. 2.1).

A. MS.  The Arundel Manuscript: BM MS 28635 is a 145 leaf paper folio manuscript that was compiled by John Harington of Stepney, and his son, Sir John Harington of Kelston. 

B. MS.  The Blage Manuscript: now MS D.2.7 located at Trinity College, Dublin, this MS was one of the most recently discovered sources of Wyatt's poetry (Kenneth Muir, 1961).  Sir George Blage was Wyatt's friend.