Posted on 15 January 2011 by Bruce

Editing the Instituta Cnuti 2: Finding the Witnesses

My first task in editing the Instituta Cnuti has been to locate all of its witnesses—whether preserved in medieval manuscripts or in early modern antiquarian commonplace books.  This task began with the work of the last editor, Felix Liebermann, whose Gesetze der Angelsachsen is still the standard edition of most of the texts being reedited for Early English Laws.  Liebermann had identified the following witnesses by these sigla and shelfmarks:

1.    Cb      Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Lat. 4771, fols. 1–35.

2.    Ct      Cambridge, Trinity College R. 5. 42, fols. 135ff .

3.    Di      Oxford, Bodley Digby 13, fols. 41ff .

4.    H       Rochester Cathedral, Textus de ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulphum episcopum, fols.  58ff.

5.    Jl       British Museum, Cotton Julius C.II, fols. 65ff.

6.    Jo      Cambridge, St. John’s College G.16, no folios provided.

7.    Ko     Copenhagen, Arne-Magnaeanus 1.

8.    Lb      London, Lambeth 118, fols. 94–104.

9.    Pa      Paris, Bibliothèque nationale Lat. 6044, no folios provided.

10. Pl      A manuscript which was, until 1895, Phillipps 8078, and then belonged to H. S.  Nichols & Co. in London, fols. 11ff.

11. Rc      London, British Museum, Regius 13.C.II, fols. 108–119.

12. Rl      Oxford, Bodley Rawlinson C.641, fols. 30ff.

13. S        London, British Museum Harley 746, fols. 77ff.

14. Sin    Rome, Vatican, Christina reg. 451.

15. T       British Museum, Cotton Titus A.XXVII, fols. 159vff.

16. Va    Rome, Vatican, Christina regina 587, fols. 99v.

17. Vl     British Museum, Cotton Vitellius A.XIII, fols. 189v, 181, 195, and 172.

18. Vc    Rome, Vatican 3495.

Four further copies he listed were not assigned sigla:

19.  British Museum Additional 5485, fols. 39ff.

20.  British Museum, Harley 596, fols. 42ff.

21.  British Museum, Harley 785, fols. 13ff .

22.  Rome, Vatican, Christina reg. 451.

Liebermann listed 22 copies, but this total included lost manuscripts and derivative texts.  Ko had been lost before Liebermann began his work, while Jl, Pa, Rc, Va and Vc, along with the four copies not assigned sigla, were, he concluded,  all derivative of surviving witnesses.

While most of these copies are still where they were in Liebermann’s day, a few had moved.  His Rochester Cathedral manuscript, known familiarly as Textus Roffensis, is now Stroud, Medway Archive and Local Studies Centre, MS DRc/R1.  His Pl, which had been in the Phillipps collection, was acquired by the British Museum, where it is now British Library, Additional MS 35,179.

This is my starting list of witnesses—what Liebermann identified as original witnesses (meaning that no other manuscript stands between these and the archetype) and what he claimed were derivative.  My two first tasks were to see if I could add to the list and to check to see if any he identified as original witnesses or as derivative copies were in fact misidentified.  Index and catalogue searches in major libraries turned up nothing new.  Since the Instituta travels with one version of Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum, I checked Diana Greenway’s 1996 edition to see if there were any there I had missed.  She says that inclusion of the Instituta is one of the distinguishing marks of version 5B, and lists (according to Liebermann’s sigla) Lb (copied in Rc); Jo; Ct; Va and Bd.  Greenway adds two more to Liebermann’s list:

23. Ba             Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. 10185, of which she says Liebermann’s Bd is a  copy.

24. Ab     London, British Library, Additional 21088, which she says is a copy of   Liebermann’s Bd.

I was able to add another manuscript which neither Liebermann nor Greenway was aware of, a manuscript that includes a copy of the Instituta extracted from Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum.  I found this copy by chance.  Liebermann had mentioned a manuscript in the College of Arms that he could not locate, but which he said had a text of the revised version of the Leges Edwardi Confessoris (his ECf retr., now abbreviated for Early English Laws as ECf3).  A manuscript holding the Leges Edwardi did not appear in the 1988 Catalogue of Manuscripts in the College of Arms, ed. L. Campbell and F. Steer, and I decided to see what evidence there was that it had ever been part of the collection.  I initially thought that perhaps Liebermann’s MS Ar had belonged to the collection—Liebermann certainly must have had reason to think it had—but that it had been one of those manuscripts notoriously pawned by John Vincent to his friend Richard Sheldon and never redeemed.  I discovered a text of the Confessor’s laws in the Catalogue of the Books Printed and Manuscripts in the Herald’s Office, produced in May 1690.  There, it was listed as follows: ‘no. 98   King Edward the Confessor’s Laws and severall other things promiscuosly.’  Vincent 98, however, appeared to have disappeared as the librarian, Robert Yorke,  was unable to find it.  I then proceeded through more recent catalogues and found that in the 1788 catalogue it was listed as having been rebound with Vincent 65 and 75.  Vincent 65 did indeed hold all three of these manuscripts, and Vincent 98 had a copy of the Leges Edwardi.  It was not, however, the third version of the Leges, as Liebermann had thought, but the second version.  More important, however, for my present work was my discovery that Vincent 98 also held a copy of the Instituta Cnuti, something none of the earlier catalogues had noted. So quite by chance, I had found a new witness to the Instituta.

25. Ar     London, College of Arms, Vincent 98, [unnumbered, but by my count fols. 42v–49v].

Are there other copies yet to be found?  I suspect there are.  Nevertheless, the labor involved in tracking down further copies, about whose existence I have no clues, would be misspent.  The edition, then, will be built on a base of 25 manuscripts.  This total includes both original witnesses and derivative texts, and rather than take Liebermann and Greenway’s word on this, I will collate the copies to see if I can determine which are which.  That is my next step.

Digital Editing

Posted on 16 December 2010 by Jenny

The last few weeks have seen a real leap forward for our website and the way in which we will in the future edit and publish editions of texts and other material. You’ve probably not noticed because most of this work has been done behind the scenes, as it were, by our technical team at CCH, King’s College, London. To coincide with a presentation at our Digital Editing workshop on 18 November, the team developed a new content management system which enables the research team to edit the static content on the live website. What does this actually mean to those of us whose technical knowledge is still confined to sending and receiving emails? Well, this content management system, or database to you and me, replaces the TEI-based publication system and it requires no technical knowledge of xml or html. Instead, it uses highlight and click functions in much the same way as Microsoft Office programmes such as Word or Access. 

The system was first developed for our bibliography and it allowed us to enter text, which could then be highlighted and marked up for author, title of article or monograph, date of publication, subject and so on – information that allows visitors to our website to use the bibliography and to filter or search it according to their own interests. Now, the system has been expanded to include all content on the site and also future materials like manuscript images and editions of specific law codes.

Not only is this system much simpler to use and allows the research team to directly create and edit pages and publish them on the live site, but, in addition, it makes it easier for us to collate and enter information about different texts and manuscripts. For instance, in the last six months I have been trawling my way through our large number of manuscript images, matching each folio to a text and also to the correct page number in the older editions of the laws by Liebermann and Stubbs. This data will eventually enable users to look at and compare specific paragraphs of a law text. Initially, the information was simply entered on an Excel spreadsheet, which then had to be emailed over to the technical team and converted to fit the system; now, however, data can be entered directly, thereby making quite an efficiency saving.

I should perhaps acknowledge the months of hard work that our colleagues in CCH have put in to make the new system work. I’m certain they could tell a different story about all this simplicity!

Celebrations begin

Posted on 12 November 2010 by Jenny

Celebrations for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015 have begun. Today, the Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke are due to address a public launch at a memorial site in Runnymede, where King John sealed Magna Carta in 1215 (see The event, organised by the Magna Carta Trust, is one in a series of events and campaigns planned by the trust over the next five years. Among the items planned can be found the campaign for an extra bank holiday in 1215, a commemorative stamp and coin, and a number of exhibitions.

Celebrations have also been held for William I’s Charter for London, which in July of this year became one of the first inscriptions to the UK Memory of the World Register, a list of documentary heritage which holds cultural significance specific to the UK (see The register is part of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) programme to support and raise awareness of archives (see William I’s Charter for London was issued soon after the Battle of Hastings and is the oldest document in the archive of the City of London. Its significance is based on its survival as the earliest royal or imperial document which guarantees the collective rights of the inhabitants of any town. London Metropolitan Archives have kindly given permission for the charter to be part of the Early English Laws and the image of the document together with the edition of the text prepared by Professor David Bates will be available on our website in early 2011.

While celebrating these documents, I thought I’d also mention a few upcoming events at which Early English Laws will have a presence. On Thursday 18 November, we will be holding our annual workshop in the UK. This year we are focussing on the digital aspect of our work and by collaborating with three other projects have put on a programme relating to digital editing (see Early English Laws will also be coming to the US in May 2011, where you’ll be able to find us at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at the Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo. In June, the University of St Andrews is organising a three-day conference on Law, Violence and Social Bonds, c. 900-1250, for which a call for papers has recently gone out (see

If you are planning an event or have news regarding any document featured on the Early English Laws website, please let the project team know.

Editing the Instituta Cnuti

Posted on 18 September 2010 by Bruce

The Early English Laws project will in the end produce new editions of well over 100 texts of laws from Æthelberht’s Old English dooms to the first Anglo-French law code, the Leis Willelme and the well-known Latin text of Magna Carta 1215.   Like most editions, almost all of the work will be done invisibly.  All one generally sees in any edition is the final product, supported by a statement about witnesses and method.  This is fine, since what we generally want from an edition is the result.  This result is exactly what I will be publishing on the project’s website when I have completed my work on a peculiar Latin text known as the Instituta Cnuti.

What I would like to do here is somewhat different.  I will describe my own process of editing this early twelfth-century Latin law text step by step.  I am making this process transparent— with all its speculations and false turns along with its insights and conclusions—for a few reasons.  I want to convey something of the pleasure editing produces.  As the classicist (and poet) A. E. Housman wrote in 1921, ‘A textual critic engaged upon his business is not at all like Newton investigating the motions of the planets: he is much more like a dog hunting fleas’.  I want to share with you the pleasures of the hunt (the tastiness of the fleas I’ll leave to your imagination). Another reason for these posts is that I want to provide a description of what an editor does, week by week, much in the spirit of J. H. Hexter’s wonderful 1954 essay, ‘The Historian and His Day’.  Here I’ll bring what skills I have in paleography, codicology, medieval Latin, history, and English law to bear on my work with the Instituta.  This will also be a way to convey what is different about doing an edition online–not just the technical differences, but conceptual ones as well, since, unlike what is available in print editions, here many of the key manuscript witnesses will be linked to the text and translation, and commentary space is virtually unlimited.  Last, I am hoping that readers who are trained in the languages and necessary skills will consider participating in future work for the project.  There are already a number of editors and editorial teams at work on some texts, but much more work remains.

My editorial method is not mysterious.  The method I use is what I would consider the standard method used for editing Latin texts from all periods.  It is a method created in the 19th century and refined in the 20th, and is generally referred to as textual criticism  The aim of a textual critic is to reconstruct a text that will be as close to the author’s as possible.  The ‘as possible’ holds within itself one of the many methodological assumptions which I will employ.  What I will actually be reconstructing will be the copy (called an archetype) from which all other copies of my text descend.  This copy may or may not survive, and may or may not be the author’s text.  When a text has a known author—whether John of Salisbury or Bede—the gap between what can and cannot be said about the closeness of the archetype to the author’s text (the original) creates more anxiety on the part of the editor.  Are these, the editor asks, Bede’s own words?  For me, editing an anonymous text, the issue remains but is of less moment.  I may through identification of certain types of errors present in the archetype be able to say that the archetype is probably the author’s text (by and large) or I may have to conclude that it stands at some distance from the original authorial text, and that there is not sufficient justification for emending the text to take me from archetype to author.  The anonymity of my author (or authors) redirects my attention to the many copies of the laws that were produced and used by readers in (mostly) the twelfth century.  The distance between my reconstruction of the archetype and the supposed original diminishes in importance when contemporaries were content with what they had available.

But I get ahead of myself.

What I will be doing over the next year are a series of tasks that are laid out by the method.  First, I have to find all existing copies of the Instituta Cnuti.  This will ensure I have the most evidence possible for understanding the value of my witnesses and for reconstructing the text. Second, I will transcribe all of these witnesses.  The transcriptions will show the relationship of the manuscripts, reveal the eccentricity of some, and provide the basis for the reconstructed text.  Third, I must select my text—which essentially means I have to choose between variant readings in those places where the manuscripts disagree.  This is also the point where I might emend the text in spite of what its witnesses tell me.  Once I have established my text, I conduct my fourth step as an act of quality control.  I read the text and its apparatus against each transcription to ensure that the evidence for what I argue (since the reconstructed text is in itself an argument) is in fact absolutely clear and accurate in my text and apparatus.  The result will be a new critical edition of the Instituta Cnuti.

I will be taking you through each of these steps, one by one, to show a very commonly employed method for editing a Latin text in action.  Editing texts in Old English and Anglo-French, of which there are a great number in this project, are another story entirely!

Bruce O’Brien, chair, Literary Board of the project

The latest research in legal history

Posted on 16 August 2010 by Jenny

The conference season is in full swing and I have had the good fortune to listen to a number of papers on law in the medieval period.

At the recent Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman studies, Professor Stephen D. White of Emory University showed in a masterly paper how the fables in the border of the Bayeux Tapestry might be interpreted within a context of the judicial process, while Thomas Roche of the Archives départementales de la Nièvre discussed the role of the Norman duke in settling disputes in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

On the hottest day of the year so far, I attended a conference on the Imprint of Roman law in Lombard and Carolingian Italy, organised by Projet Volterra (see Peter Sarris of Trinity College, Cambridge, gave a useful discussion of the colonate in late Antiquity, reminding us all of the difficulties in using legal texts to define the status of people.  Simon Corcoran of University College, London, discussed the practices of the Byzantines in southern Italy, which for me raised some interesting questions about the role of notaries, while Professor Michael Crawford of the Institute of Classical Studies, London, showed, in an insightful paper, the evidence and perceptions of Roman law that can be found in the work of Paul the Deacon. In a tour-de-force, Professor Luca Loschiavo of Teramo university then not only showed the different approaches taken by scholars of Lombard law, but also gave some of us the chance to refresh our Italian.

And, finally I should mention briefly some forthcoming events relating to early legal history. For those who like to plan in advance, a three-day conference on Law, Violence and Social Bonds, c. 900-1250 to be held at St Andrews University in June 2011 (see Then there is also our annual workshop and our international conference to be held in 2011, the details for both of which will be found here shortly.

Robin Hood all at sea

Posted on 3 June 2010 by Jenny

Everyone has a favourite Robin Hood story. Mine is an audio tape and book of the Disney version, both duly voiced over and translated into Swedish! I am not ashamed to say that after more than thirty years, I still happen to have this particular cassette and accompanying book and I still remember all the words to the songs. Such is the impact of the legend that is Robin Hood.

It is hardly surprising then that the new Hollywood blockbuster released at the cinemas in May is attracting a fair bit of attention. Partly, this is because it is not following the usual story of Robin as the outlaw fighting for the common people against the evil Prince John and his ally, the sheriff of Nottingham. Instead, this film is firmly set during the reign of John, and Robin is occupied juggling rebellious barons and a French invasion, setting the scene for Magna Carta.

In some ways what is most interesting about all of this is the continuous notion of Magna Carta, the most famous document in English history, as the foundation of the rights of the common man. The notion is not necessarily wrong, it is just placed in the wrong year. In 1215, Magna Carta was essentially an agreement to solve the dispute between King John and a significant number of his barons – a peace treaty, if you like – and most of the clauses were intended to limit the king’s exploitation of the rights and customs of the nobility, not the common man. After 1215, however, the charter was re-issued several times in revised forms and it is these versions rather than that issued in 1215 that were seen as containing important legal principles.

Magna Carta of 1215 lasted only a few weeks before the king, supported by Pope Innocent III, declared it null and void, and hostilities between the king and his barons broke out again. Clause 61 of the charter outlines that, as security that he would adhere to the articles of the peace, King John would grant to his barons the right to elect twenty-five of their number who would be responsible for overseeing any transgressions. These barons would have the right to seize any of the king’s castles, lands or possessions until redress had been made. Here, and perhaps I’m being cynical, lies the answer to why Magna Carta was a failure in 1215: the king was only ever going to agree to such terms long enough for him to re-group, enlist further support and allies, and continue the war.

And, where is Robin of Loxley, aka Robin Hood of 2010, in all of this? Well that’s just it – he isn’t.

“Off with their heads!”

Posted on 15 March 2010 by Jenny

Some of you may have spotted a news item on the BBC website about a recent find in Weymouth, Dorset. Fifty-one decapitated skeletons were found in a burial pit and an analysis of their teeth has now revealed the remains to be those of Scandinavian Vikings. According to the news item, archaeologists from Oxford believe the men were probably executed by local Anglo-Saxons in front of an audience sometime between AD 910 and AD 1030.

Of course, we don’t yet know the circumstances surrounding this execution – it could simply have been a raiding party gone wrong. However, there are some other intriguing possibilities, which are of interest to this project. For instance, in 1002 King Aethelred II ordered the killing of all the Danes who were living in England.  Historians are divided over whether this statement applied to those Danes that had settled during the course of the tenth century or whether it referred to those Scandinavians that were living in England as part of an agreement, such as that anticipated in the lawcode known as II Aethelred where the Viking leaders were expected to remain in England, being provisioned with all that they could want and need in return for dealing with any threats to the English people, presumably other Viking armies. Such agreements were commonly used by kings, but not always successfully.

The laws from the reigns of Aethelred (978-1016) and Cnut (1016-1035) are littered with references to the importance of loyalty and trustworthiness, and there are also some indications of what might happen to a person who had proved to be untrustworthy. For instance, an oath breaker could lose his hand for swearing falsely on a relic. Could Aethelred’s order of the killing of all the unfaithful Scandinavians in England refer to what might happen to those Viking bands that had broken their agreements with the king? If so, it is just possible that the evidence of the punishment being meted out is found with the decapitated skeletons in Dorset. Certainly, the theory that they were killed in front of an audience might indicate that it was an act of deterrence.

Wild speculations apart, I look forward to hearing more about this intriguing find in the future. However, if you’d like to add your voice to the debate or merely want to read the original news story, it can be found on

Collaborative editing of texts online

Posted on 7 March 2010 by Jane

The collaborative editing of texts is central to the Early English Laws project. The complexity of the texts means that they are often best served by a team of editors taking an interdisciplinary approach. In addition to historians and language specialists, palaeographers, anthropologists, sociolinguists and lawyers all have an important perspective to bring to the task. And these researchers may well not be based in the same country, or even on the same continent.

The team at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities (CCH) is developing a bespoke system to allow this collaborative editing to occur online, but last Wednesday Jenny and I had the chance to look at a service being developed in Germany, TextGrid ( Dr Stuart Dunn at the Centre for e-Research, King’s College London, is working on a JISC-funded ‘use case’ project, TEXTvre, which aims to foreground the needs and practice of researchers in the development of e-infrastructure (see for more information). The project is focusing on TextGrid, and the developing TextGridLab toolkit, which is still in its beta version. Stuart has been talking to the teams responsible for a number of digital editing projects, including EEL.

The potential offered by TextGrid and other virtual research environments or collaborative editing platforms of this type is immediately obvious, but whatever the possibilities, ease of use will be crucial to their adoption by historians and other scholars in the humanities. I’ve been involved in a number of projects where the tools that are supposed to make project management and research easier end up becoming an obstacle to clear communication, usually because one or more members of the team opts out completely on the grounds of difficulty. The TextGrid interface was familiar and intuitive, presenting complicated options and functionality in a way which would not scare a researcher who has only previously used MS Word. Roles were easy to assign (editor, author, etc.) and both text and images straightforward to upload. The ability to link from the text of an edition to a specific point on a manuscript image simply by drawing a box around it (automatically capturing that link in the underlying XML) will be of enormous value to projects such as ours which seek to connect images, editions, commentary and translation.

There were multiple options for interacting with the text of our test edition, from the traditional XML view, to a view which hid all of the XML encoding, to a very easy to navigate hybrid which offered an excellent insight into XML for researchers new to digital editing. Of course, there were any number of new features that we would like to see, including clear differentiation between the contributions of different editors and a highlighter tool, but that’s precisely what the TEXTvre project is about. We very much look forward to Stuart’s report, and will add a link from this blog post when it’s available.

The calm before the storm

Posted on 23 February 2010 by Jenny

We seem to have ended up in a sort of calm.

Following the hive of activity during the autumn, the project seems to have entered a slow period. Only, I know that it’s the calm before the storm. For instance, in the last few weeks we have met with our technical team more frequently than before, because the analysis has reached a critical stage whereby we are hoping to be able to test the modelling and mark up one of our law texts, together with its transcription, translation, commentary and, of course, its manuscript images. We have also been thinking about how we will display the bibliography on the website and how we can enable students and scholars to search it.

In addition, we have completed the scanning of the works by Liebermann and Stubbs and, we have started to make plans for the next workshop, which will take place later this year in the U.S. For my part, I have been busy thinking about how to create a database that can keep track of all the editors of the lawcodes and the authors of the contextual essays. Having spent three days trying to create something that would do this efficiently, I was then dismayed to find that when I switched on my computer last Thursday, the database wouldn’t work because something had gone horribly wrong with Word and Access after a system update!

However, talking about editors brings me neatly to my final point. Early English Laws is offering 20 bursaries worth £2,000 each to assist scholars in the preparation of editions of early English legal texts for publication as part of this AHRC-funded project. Eligible expenses include travel, accommodation, and reproduction and permission fees. Guidelines for proposals, together with a list of possible texts, are available on this website. If you have any enquiries about the bursaries or the project, you can contact me on jenny.benham [at]

The excitement of trivial things

Posted on 16 December 2009 by Jenny

A considerable amount of my time over the past few months has been spent trying to get images of manuscripts and permissions to reproduce them on our website. Some twenty libraries and archives across the UK and Europe hold manuscripts containing texts that are relevant to the project; that translates to something like 75 different manuscripts and hundreds of folios. So far, we have negotiated successfully with about three quarters of these libraries and we are very grateful for the tremendous help we have received from the library staff, who have patiently checked folio pages, and arranged for photography and permissions.

With so many folio pages and manuscripts, there have been mistakes. Imagine my surprise when the requested image of the articles of William I turned out to be a beautiful illustration of a fourteenth-century French market town! However, more commonly, problems have related to multiple folio pagination, making the requested text difficult to find, or to manuscripts whose conditions were such that photography could not be undertaken.

For me, the most surprising thing about this part of the project has been the almost childlike excitement I have experienced every time a parcel containing a CD with images has landed on my desk. Completely disregarding the fact that most of these manuscript images look the same, if with different texts, I have unwrapped the parcel, put the CD in my computer, and looked through the images with the anticipation of a child at Christmas!

Of course, now, the real work begins. Our technical team will have to mark up the images so that they can go up on the website and provide excitement to more than one historian.