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Anon. The Brut. (View Images)

Anon. The Brut in Middle English. Three 15th-century manuscript fragments on vellum, written in England. Fragment A, 9.5 x 26.5 cm.; Fragment B 12 x 29.5 cm.; Fragment C 20.5 x 15 cm., to which has been added a thin strip of vellum 20.5 x 2.8 cm. The three fragments were uncovered in the course of arranging the present exhibition, and the University has no record of their earlier provenance. When found, they were enclosed in three separate picture frames, and when they were removed it was discoverd that the fragments had been backed with newspaper tearings from the London newspaper The Sun dated March 12, 1934, and with tearings from a catalogue published from the the Chelsea Auction Rooms, Ltd. dated December, 1933. It seems probable that the manuscript was cut up earlier in the present century, and that the folios were sold separately, perhaps in London, so that the private owner could realize a high return.

All three of the fragments are clearly from the same double-column manuscript. Fragment B is marked (folio) 28 (?25), Fragment C (folio) 51. Most regrettable though it is, the destruction of the manuscript is hardly a major catastrophe. There are extant some 121 other manuscripts of the work, and the whole has been published in a satisfactory edition for the Early English Text Society by Friedrich W. D. Brie in 1906 (vols. 131, 136, in the Original Series). I list below the page and line numbers contained in the Lehigh Fragments. All references are to vol. I of Brie's edition, EETS 131.

Fragment A, recto. p. 46 line 31 to p. 47 line 11.
verso. p. 48 line 11 to line 29.

Fragment B, recto and verso. p. 54 line 7 to p. 55 line 9.

Fragment C, recto p. 127 line 15 to line 26, and p. 127 line 33 to p. 128 line 9.
verso. p. 128 line 16 to line 27, and p. 129 line 6 to line 19.

Fragments A and B arc entire columns, Fragment A recto a left hand column, verso a right hand column. Fragment B recto contains a right hand column, versa the next continuing column; thus Fragment B contains the longest continuous narrative of the three fragments. Fragment C contains the top half of the cut folio, with two abbreviated columns on each side. Fragment A contains a miniature in initial of King Constantine on his throne.

The Brut of England or The Chronicles of England was a late 14th- or early 15th- century translation from the French Brut d'Engleterre, a history of England from the time of Brutus, the great-grandson of Aeneas, who was taken to be the founder of England. Later English versions of the chronicle continue up to the year 1479, and some of these provide valuable contemporary accounts. The translation is written with much vigor, if little art, and it is hardly necessary to conclude with Brie that "as literature the Chronicle is as worthless —except for a few inserted poems— as a mediaeval Chronicle possibly can be." Whatever its intrinsic value, however, it clearly touched a responsive chord in the heroic and increasingly nationalistic imagination of its readers, and Kingsford insists that "the constant writing and rewriting during the fifteenth century of an original popular history in English carries us much further than any translation of a monastic chronicle, and marks an important stage in the development of our historical literature."

I print below the whole of Fragment B as an interesting exerpt from the chronicle. Readings taken from Brie's edition are placed in round brackets. The passage deals with the return to 5th-century England of Engist, earlier an ally of King Vortyger, but now suspected of trying to overthrow the king in order to sieze the land himself. His request for a love day is anachronistic; a love day was a later medieval institution whereby the king would appoint a time and place to meet with an enemy and be reconciled. The source for this story is to be found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's popular 12th-century History of Britain, book VI chapter 15, though there are earlier versions of the story, one of the more popular set at a banquet. Needless to say, the etymologies here presented are as incorrect as they are interesting. Britannia was the ancient Roman name for the island, and England meant originally "the land of the Angles," an old tribe, not "Engist's land." But the passage has a certain artless vigor which makes even its fascination with war and heroism palatable.

Fragment B

(Vortyger) herde telle that Engist was come aʒen with a grete power into þis lande˘ ̣ he assemblede his Britouns and wente ageyn Engist forto haue ʒeuen hym batayle and his folke. But Engist dradde hym sore of the Britouns. For thei had descomfited hym bifornehand and dryuen hym out with strengthe. Wherfore Engist praiede of a loueday. and seide that he was not comen into the land forto fighte: but to haue his lande ageyn of kent ʒif he myghte accorde with the Britouns. and of hem haue grace.¶

The kyng Vortiger thorough counseile of his Britouns grauntede a loueday. and thus it was ordeyned through the Britouns þat the same loueday shulde be holden faste bisides salusbury vpon an hille. and Engist shulde come thidre with .iiij c. knyghtes withouten mo. and the kyng with as manye of the wiseste of this lande.¶

And at that day the kyng come with his counseile as it was ordeyned. But Engist hadde warned his knyghtes priuely and hem comaunded þat eueriche of hem shulde putte a longe knyf in his hose. and whan he seide faire sires now is tyme to speken of love and pees: euerychc of hem anoen shulde draw his knyf and sle a Britoun. and so they quellede xxx M. and .lxj. knyghtes. and with moche sorwe many of hem escapede. And Vortiger hymself was taken and ladde to Thwongcastell. and putt into prisoun. and some of Engistes men wolde þat þe kyng hadde be brende al quyk.¶

And Vortiger tho to haue his lyf grauntede hem as moche as they wolde aske. and ʒaf vp al the lande tounes and casteles Citees and Boutghes˘ ̣ to Engiste and to his folke. and alle the Britouns fledde thennes. into Wales. and þere helde hem stille. And Engist wente thorough the launde and seisede al þe lande with Fraunchises. and in euery place lete caste doun chirches and houses of religioun. and destroiede cristendome thorough al the lande. and lete chaunge þe name of the lande þat noman of his were so hardy after þat tymc to calle this londe Britaigne˘ ̣ but to calle it Engistes lande. And he departede al the lande to his men and þere made .vij. kynges forto strengthe þe lande þat þe Britouns shulde neuere comen the(r)ynne.¶

The firste kyngdome was kent there þat Engist hym self regnede and was lorde and (maystre) ouer al the othere.¶

Another kyng hadde Southsex where is now (Chichestre) ...

The later English versions of the chronicle arc described in Charles L. Kingsford, English Historical Literature of the Fifteenth Century, (Oxford, 1913), 113-139.

***Description taken from: Hirsh, John C. Western Manuscripts of the Twelfth through the Sixteenth Centuries in Lehigh University Libraries: A Guide to the Exhibition. Bethlehem, Pa.: Rare Book Room, Linderman Library, Lehigh University, 1970. pp.11-14, manuscript no. 7.

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