Archive for December 2012

Editing the Instituta Cnuti 5: Peculiar witness or new code?

14 December 2012

The most recent piece in this series dealt with distinguishing an original witness from a derivative copy, one of the problems which transcriptions put you in a position to solve.  Another result of accurate transcriptions is the identification of texts whose readings raise a question about whether the text is a copy of the text being edited, or represents an entirely new code.  Such a judgement is subjective, but most would agree that a text showing a significant number of revisions, including significant omissions, the rearrangement of derivative materials, and the incorporation of new materials, was probably thought by its creators and readers to be something quite different than another copy of an existing code.  Some later texts seem to be both: the fourth version of the Leges Edwardi Confessoris, for example, is both an enlargement and revision of the third version of the same code and a component of a completely new entity known to us as the Leges Anglorum.  This problem exists in preconquest Old English texts as well.  For quite some time the laws of Cnut in CCC 201 were considered a defective copy of Cnut’s Winchester code (I-II Cn); we now see it as a separate text representing a preliminary agreement between Cnut and the English after he became king of the whole kingdom, a text we call Cnut 1018 (  These two texts, Cnut 1018 and I-II Cnut, separate based on our current understanding of Archbishop Wulfstan’s working method and the politics of the year 1018.

A similar problem arises with one copy of a text very similar in the majority of its clauses to other copies of the Instituta Cnuti.  This copy, found in Paris, BnF lat. 4771 (MS Cb at, is unique in many of its readings where the readings are revisions, not errors, and such revisions appear throughout the text.  Its beginning (prologue and first chapter) and end (final chapters) have been borrowed from another Latin translation of Cnut, the Consiliatio Cnuti.  One could see this as a much revised copy of the Instituta Cnuti, and ignore the radical alteration of its beginning and end as well as the changes made throughout the text—this is indeed how it has been seen and used.  The alternative is to see it as a separate code, which is how I am treating it for the Early English Laws website.  I have four reasons for doing this.  First, the revisions change the substance of the law in many places.  Second, new chapters have been inserted into the body of the text, chapters which are unsourced and possibly composed for this text.  Third, the addition of new beginning and end radically change the explanation of the genesis of the text.  Fourth and last, the reviser has dropped or rearranged many chapters found in all other copies of the Instituta.  These reasons I feel justify treating the text in this manuscript as a separate code, and one that deserves to be edited on its own.  Of course the connections to the Instituta Cnuti are strong, and these links can be examined and identified in the commentary; it is a text built squarely on the base of a copy of the Instituta.  To distinguish this separate text, I have named it the Colbertine Cnut (with the abbreviation Cn Cb) from the fact that the manuscript was for some time in the Colbertine library before being acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and is still referred to on occasion as the Colbertine manuscript (hence Liebermann’s use of the abbreviation of Cb for it).  An extended and detailed study of this code, and in particular of the oddities of its contents and paleography, will appear in due course in an article entitled ‘Anglo-Saxon laws and lawmakers in the twelfth century’, which will be published in The Long Twelfth-Century View of the Anglo-Saxon Past, edited by Martin Brett and David Woodman.

Because of the flexibility of digital editing on Early English Laws, I have the freedom to respect eccentric texts such as the Colbertine Cnut as objects worth examining in their own right and to represent each text either with a separate transcription (with its own translation and commentary) as part of an edition, or with its own edition.  For my edition of the Instituta Cnuti, I will have to ignore the witness provided by MS Cb’s text.  Because of the level of revision of the ‘Instituta’ in that manuscript, I cannot use its readings or errors to reconstruct the text of the Instituta Cnuti.  I do intend, however, to include copious cross-references between the editions of the Instituta and the Colbertine Cnut.