Date of Completion

January 1981


Literature, Medieval




The Auchinleck MS (National Library of Scotland, Advocates' MS 19.2.1) is one of the most important surviving Middle English Manuscripts. The manuscript is a miscellany of 43 secular and religious items, all but two of them in English verse, and includes 17 of the earliest or unique versions of Middle English metrical romances and other long fictional poems. Besides its role in literary history, the place of the manuscript in the history of production of books is important. In "The Auchinleck MS and an Possible London Bookshop of 1330-40" PMLAS, 57 (1942), 595-627), Laura Hibbard Loomis developed the thesis that the manuscript was produced by a group of hack writer/translators and scribes working together in a commercial London bookshop. There is, however, no evidence whatsoever that such scriptoria existed in England before the 15th century. Nevertheless, the so-called "bookshop theory" has remained largely unchallenged. This dissertation reviews Loomis's theory in the light of more recent studies of manuscripts and their production.^ Both aspects of the Auchinleck MS, its physical characteristics and the nature of its literary contents, are discussed within the context of contemporary manuscripts produced in England. The primary focus, however, is on the physical make-up of the Auchinleck MS. Discussion of the manuscript is based on detailed examination of copying, rubricating, and illuminating practices evident in it. The sequence in which much of the scribal work was done is established by comparison of the major scribe's hand in various fascicles of the manuscript and of changes in page-format and allowance for decoration that occur after work on the manuscript began. It is shown that at times more than one scribe was at work on the manuscript, while at others the major scribe was working alone. The use (and possible sharing) of exemplars is considered in relation to this sequence. The Auchinleck MS is also compared with other manuscripts of the early 14th century containing romance material, and with the other major collections of romances from the late 14th and the 15th centuries. The view is arrived at that the manuscript is not a commercial product made on speculation, but the bespoke product of the traditional scriptorium of a religious house in which inmates worked together with lay craftsmen. ^