Title Background

Confronting the Scribe-Poet Binary: The Z-Text Writing Office Redaction, Writing Office Redaction, and the Oxford Reading Circles

Confronting the Scribe-Poet Binary: The Z-Text Writing Office Redaction, Writing Office Redaction, and the Oxford Reading Circles

In this essay, Kerby-Fulton presents new evidence relating to the copy of PPl Z in the John Wells manuscript (now Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 851), and asks what this text might tell us about the kinds of ‘imitative adulation’ that PPl provoked amongst its scribes and earliest readers. Kerby-Fulton argues that scribe X, who copied the PPl Z text in booklet III of Wells’s manuscript and who corrected the texts of Map’s De nugis curialium and Whiteacre’s Speculum stultorum in booklets I and II, was part of a community of monks who traveled between Ramsey Abbey in East Anglia and Gloucester College, Oxford, where the Abbey had its own rooms, and where Wells himself was prior of students. Scribe X copied the Z text in Oxford using an exemplar from Ramsey, and appended it to the earlier booklets of Wells’s manuscript, which were originally copied in Oxford. Kerby-Fulton also raises the possibility that Wells himself sought out a copy of PPl, having noticed a reference to the poem in ‘Heu, quanta desolacio’, a pro-Wycliffite broadside that attacked him personally for his role as the first speaker at the 1382 Blackfriars Council, and which circulated in Oxford in the years after the council took place. If so, the Z text was probably added to the earlier booklets of Bodley 851 in the mid-1380s.
Unlike scribe X, the Z text redactor was apparently based in London, and Kerby-Fulton argues that his responses to PPl reflect his immersion in London writing office culture. The Z redactor omits the tearing of the pardon, and concludes instead with the merchants’ joy as Will writes them into this document, a scene that might reflect the redactor’s own experience of grateful merchant clients. In Bodley 851, a later scribe, Q1, writing in an East Anglian dialect, restores the tearing of the pardon from the A text, which he continues to the end of A.VIII. Kerby-Fulton argues that Q1 worked from an exemplar in the textual tradition of N, which is the only tradition where the A text ends in the same place. The surviving witness to N concludes with a rubric that identifies the search for Do-well in the language of legal bureaucracy, as an ‘inquisicio’. Thus, the unusual place where Q1 concludes his A text may provide further evidence for the links between London writing office productions and the Ramsey Abbey community in Oxford.


New Directions in Medieval Manuscript Studies and Reading Practices: Essays in Honor of Derek Pearsall, ed. by Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, John Thompson and Sarah Baechle (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014), pp. 489-515.


Kerby-Fulton, Kathryn