Week 1: Thursday
Read the "General Rule" for insights into the kinds of jobs, social relationships, and household "technologies" you would find in a Medieval noble household. When in doubt about a word, first sound it out aloud, and use the OED to look it up, seeking its meaning around 1400-1450. Remember that "y" is often used for "i," and "u" for "v," and by now you have certainly realized that spelling is at the writer's discretion, not standardized yet by printers (ah, heaven!). Try to get a feel for the kinds of events that take place in the hall, including the bad behavior that the "Rule" attempts to prevent or punish. See below for a note about Furnivall and Chambers, who were responsible for editing and publication of British Library MS. Addl. 37969, the unique surviving copy of the "General Rule."
For the two wills, as in the assignment for the will of Robert Corn, using this guide to English currency, try to get a rough idea of how much Lady Alice West is worth, and note the identities of the people to whom she leaves bequests. She makes far more bequests of cash--what does that mean? And are cash bequests the things she gives those she is most closely related to by blood or service, or does she gives other sorts of valuable things? Compare the kinds and numbers of goods she must dispose of, and to whom does she give them. How many "layers" of relationships can you see in her immediate kin and household staff? It would take you a long time to compute the worth of Dame Isabel, Countess of Warwick, so don't bother unless you have a lot of spare time this week! Do notice the extraordinarily detailed instructions she gives for her grave and memorial, including a specific bribe to the Abbot of Tewkesbury so that he will comply with her plan. Given what you know about Christian beliefs (consult Everyman in the Norton), how can you explain this. Also, pay attention to the elaborate tomb and the sculpture of her image which will rest above the grave beside her husband's, and the vast number and kinds of bequests she makes to current and former servants, and to clergy for masses to save her and her husband's souls. Note, too, this will's codicil threatening to disinherit her son and his wife if they should refuse to be her executors. What do you suspect has happened? Most importantly, how does the household of Lady Alice West, a knight's wife, differ from the household of a commoner like Corn. And how does the household of Dame Isabel, a great magnate's wife and mother-in-law of the Richard Neville, the duke of Warwick known as "the Kingmaker," differ from that of Lady Alice, a member of the petit nobility? Before you read "A generall Rule," read this short excerpt from Joinville's "Life of St. Louis" (IX, King of France, 1226-1270) and note what he considers relevant evidence when describing the king holding the "finest" or "best ordered" court" he ever saw.
If you want to know more about the two scholars who made this unique medieval manuscript text available to us, click here for Bernard Myers' biographical memoir of F. J. Furnivall, and just Google "R. W. Chambers," taking care to look for "Raymond Wilson" not the novelist, Robert William. Furnivall should be known to all English majors for having been the first to imagine the existence of the Oxford English Dictionary and for instigating its construction by an ingenious pre-Internet system of "cloud sourcing," asking English and American scholars all over the world to send their literary usage examples with an eye to tracing each word's origins and meaning in all the ages of its use. Furvinvall also founded societies to encourage the publication and study of the works of Chaucer, Wyclif, Shakespeare, and Browning, organizations that still exist today. Finally, he founded the Early English Text Society (EETS), which published modern scholarly editions of hundreds of unique or dangerously rare texts in Old and Middle English. Without EETS, there could have been no twentieth-century emergence of medieval literature studies and we would know next to nothing about our own ancestors' literature. He is sometimes called "the Great Instigator." R. W. Chambers was just beginning his career as Furnivall was ending his, and Chambers played an important role in the next generation of medieval English literary scholarship. He also inspired, supported, and encouraged the scholarship and creative writing of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, author of Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, and The Lord of the Rings, among other works.