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Who used paper and who could read middle English

Posted: Thu Jul 17, 2008 12:04 pm
by Echo
How many people read english in 14th/15th century?
I thought it was very unusual for anyone outside the church and the Law to read but Chaucer says he wrote his Treatis on the Astrolabe (in Middle English) for his 10 year old son to read - if Chaucer was an "educated layman" was he bragging about his son's reading ability or was it more common for 10year olds (or anyone else) to read english?

Plus, when was paper used for writing? And was it more expensive/common than velum etc? In her book "Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts" Michelle Brown says "paper was commonly used in low grade books (?) from c.1400" but this seems to defy usually accepted understanding - wasn't paper rare? why would it then have been used in "low-grade" books? - anyone?

Posted: Thu Jul 17, 2008 7:08 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Christopher de Hamel states: "There are very many medieval manuscripts written on paper. Cheap little books made for clerics and students were probably more often on paper than on parchment by the fifteenth century."

He goes on to say that imported paper was the most common medium in England for little volumes by about 1400 . . . by 1480 the University of Cambridge ruled that only parchment books could be offered as security on loans, paper being considered "insignificant".

It's really not my period, but as for how many people could read, I suspect that by the 15th century more English people could read Middle English than could read Latin; cheap books on paper would be almost like American "Dime Novels", while the important stuff would be more permanent, in Latin and on parchment/vellum. The fact that Chaucer wrote in ME shouts to me he was appealing to the masses (but I am open to persuasion!).

As for when paper first began to be imported, Alexander Neckham mentions it several times (around 1180), but not for writing - as a wrapping material for cheese! This would tend to argue against it being in any way expensive or luxurious. I have not seen anything written on paper (from an English source) before the late 13th century, but then paper does not survive well . . .

Rowan Watson states that in 1500 a single sheet of parchment cost the same as 100 sheets of good linen paper; he also records that the first reported paper mill in England dates to the 1490s.

It seems that the idea of medieval paper being rare and expensive is another one of those urban myths with its origins in a 1980s pub :?

Reading ME

Posted: Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:36 pm
by Echo
Benedicite Brother

Thanks for the info it's really interesting, I knew we would find an expert here.

Can you rember the full reference for the Christopher de Hamel quote as that would be really useful.

When you say these paper books were like "dime novels" we are still talking about hand-written manuscripts aren't we? So who was producing all these little cheap books? People itemised books in their wills as valuable items, so how common were they?

Posted: Fri Jul 18, 2008 7:05 pm
by Brother Ranulf
The de Hamel quote is from his "Scribes and Illuminators" in the British Museum's Medieval Craftsmen series (small, but reasonably priced and packed with reliable information).

The Rowan Watson reference is from his "Illuminated Manuscripts and Their Makers" (V&A Publications 2003). He devotes an entire chapter to mass-produced books, mentioning the Pocket Bibles, Books of Hours and French literary texts (all hand written); when the first printed books became available in the 1490s the pages were almost identical with the handwritten forms since the capitals and illuminations were still often completed by hand.

Who was producing these cheap books? Not the Church, but lay booksellers using their own teams of lay scribes and illuminators - apparently most towns had thriving book trades by the late 13th century, with Paris in particular noted as a centre for both new and second hand books.

How common were books of paper? Since few early paper books survive there is little evidence, but the inventory for the library of the Dukes of Burgundy in about 1467 lists just over 900 volumes, recording which were on parchment and which on paper - just over 20 per cent were on paper, with 2 books of mixed parchment and paper leaves.

Posted: Sat Jul 19, 2008 9:33 am
by gregory23b
To add to the Brother's words, second the De Hamel book, it is a nice primer for anyone wanting to look at late medieval writing.

Paper was typically imported into England from France, certainly in the 14thc.

Different paper varieties were available, certainly by the 15thc you get:

scribable paper - writing paper

spendable paper - wrapping paper

gold, silver, black and few others.


Paper was not that expensive and soon overtook parchment and vellum as the substrate of choice for even quite important documents.


It also gets used for papier mache, a few impressions survive, mainly continental.

As for reading:

in some trades learning to read was expected, moreover some apprenticeship indentures stipulated that the master was to teach the apprentice how to read, complaints that they didn't also showed a laxity.

Also, if you are in any form of commerce, literacy as we know it is a must, that includes any major guild membership and civic functions (often one and the same). Bailiffs and other employees had accoutn books, one survives at the Suffolk Record Office, it is mid 15thc and full of accounts of herring, rent collections, all the boring stuff of everyday life. Also single sheet accounts and inventories are often on paper in the 15thc, most record offices will hold some early paper items, they are not as rare as people might think. The advent of printing in the first quarter of the 15thc also saw a need to have a cheaper substrate, paper is cheaper and quicker to produce than animal based 'papers'.

Theophilus, Roger of Helmehausen in the late 12thc mentions 'Byzantine Parchment made from linen' he meant paper imported from the east, where the Arabs had developed it from the Chinese. Parchment and paper can be synonymous at times, so one might not mean the other all the time.

The thing to bear in mind is that although paper was available in the 14thc, it had not reached the levels of distribution that it had in the 15thc, so you get many more items on parchment/vellum, however, the Jodrell Pass, a leave pass signed by Edward the Black Prince was written on paper, second half of the 14thc, but he was in France at the time.

If you want to sample paper as it was then, drop me a pm.

Posted: Sat Jul 19, 2008 10:09 am
by Marcus Woodhouse
I think it's safe to say that England was not populated by uneducated idiots-at least not in the 15th century.

Posted: Sat Jul 19, 2008 10:58 am
by guthrie
As for how many actual people could read and write, (I'm making this up out of what I remember from various books) by the 15th century most noblemen could probably read and write a little bit, and a lot of their wives could as well. Same goes for skilled craftsmen, merchants and itinerant scribes. Therefore, I suspect several percent of the populace could read and write. At this point the vast majority of the populace was still working on the land of as servants for richer people, but in a populace of 2.5 to 3 million, I would think several hundred thousand could read and write.
Examples include the Paston letters, books of hours, and of course Chaucers treatise on the astrolabe.
The escape of literacy from the Priesthood actually began in the 13th century, and was well underway by the beggining of the 14th century- much earlier than I had previously thought before I actually read up on it.

Posted: Sat Jul 19, 2008 8:54 pm
by Jenn
It is much easier to learn to read than it is to write it is only in modern times that we have have come to put the the two together.
In general for every person who could read they could and would spread the information out to large number of people (or at least every one with in earshot since it is only in early modern times that people begin for the first time ever to read silently)

ME Manuscripts

Posted: Sat Jul 19, 2008 10:06 pm
by Echo
So here's the point: we have been researching into a "Physicians Handbook" described as "unique" and now held at the Wellcome Library in London (MS8004). It is dated 1454 and became well known a few years ago as one of the first medieval manuscipts to be fully digitalised and made available on the internet FOC for anyone to study. Click http://library.wellcome.ac.uk/physician ... k/toc2.asp to see for yourselves.

The MS is on velum, is in Midddle English is illuminated in Gold and "uniquly" includes a variety of content other than that which may have been of interest to a "Physician" particularly details of a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a history of memorable dates as well as the standard urinology, veine man, zodiac man etc etc

So our question is, who would have owned a book like this? It is written in ME so very accessable, but well decorated so not a "Dime novel" - is it too fancy to be a "hanbook" i.e. a day to day reference for a working physician - have a look and tell us what you think?

Posted: Sun Jul 20, 2008 1:07 am
by guthrie
Physcians would have been able to read and write, and were actually rather well paid. I was reading something about it a few days ago, but cannot recall where- I'll have a dig around tommorrow.

Posted: Sun Jul 20, 2008 7:31 am
by Brother Ranulf
Echo wrote

" . . .but well decorated so not a "Dime novel" - is it too fancy to be a "handbook" i.e. a day to day reference for a working physician - have a look and tell us what you think?"

I think it's a matter of comparison. Look at the 1454 Book of Hours shown half way down the page at
http://rareandexoticbooks.freewebtools.com/photo.html

This is what I call well decorated and fancy - the Physician manuscript you mention is to my eyes badly ruled out, clumsily written, poorly decorated and generally "cheap" looking. Since lay illuminators were paid per initial and there was a sliding scale of pay depending on the complexity of those initials, you are looking at the very bottom end of the scale (particularly from about two-thirds of the way through the book) - exactly what I had in mind when I mentioned Dime Novels.

As for how unique that manuscript is - we generally do not have enough surviving examples of such texts to be able to make that evaluation. I suspect that they were copied out in huge numbers and it is simply a matter of chance that only one is known to have survived. This looks like a hastily done copy to me.

Posted: Sun Jul 20, 2008 12:02 pm
by gregory23b
"but well decorated so not a "Dime novel" - is it too fancy to be a "handbook" i.e. a day to day reference for a working physician"


it is not that elaborate, if you look at physicians' charts you will see similar embellishment, such work is common, it might seem high end to our rather austere eyes, but to be honest even quite mundane books have rubrication and interesting capitalisation.

It would certainly be in keeping with it being a day to day reference, inasmuch as any reference book is, no one actually uses it all the time. Also such books could easily be hired and passed on, they were not cheap but 'common' for their trade. Others are cruder and on paper, but it is relative.

Elaboration of texts was much more commonplace than now, compare a novel to a 15thc rendering of a common story and the aesthetic goes to the older one, maybe because there was a real value of letters and words on the page.

Posted: Sun Jul 20, 2008 5:53 pm
by guthrie
On physicians and apothecaries and barber surgeons, mention is made in the COuncil for british archaeology report no. 121, of medieval glass found in England, that the kind retained physicians dor 40 to 100£ a year, that a non-graduate doctor was able to charge anything from 20 pence to 5 shillings and eight pence, and that the first treatise on urology to be translated into English was "The Dome of urines" in 1377 by a Dominican friar of the name Henry Daniel.
HAmel's "Scribe and illuminators" mentions a cost of 20 pence a gathering for a psaleter bought by the PAston family in the 2nd half of the 15th century, the church's cost of some manuscripts of St Augustine and St Jerome, from the 15th century, was about 3 pence a gathering for vellum for books under 12 inches high, and writing is 16 pence a quire for a smaller book. THen there is binding costs of a couple of shillings.

Thus, I think it clear enough that comparatively large sections of society could afford books by the 15th century, including non-graduate barber surgeons etc.

Illuminated "Handbooks"

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2008 11:36 am
by Echo
It's really useful to get your opinions ...

We still feel this is unusually well decorated for a "physicians handbook" yes, Books of Hours and Psalters etc can be fabulously illustrated, but weren't they intended to be studied, even meditated over; trust me we have looked at many "physicians" MS at the BL, Gonville & Caius in Cambridge, Wellcome, Guildhall Library etc - apart from the Barber Sugeon Guild Book few of this type of "book" are as well illuminated - the urinilogy is a particular comparison - the colours in MS8004 are varied and several include guilding - most are more like a "common place book" ...

Anyway, thanks again for your input

Glenn & Toni
www.echoesfromhistory.co.uk

Posted: Mon Aug 04, 2008 1:02 pm
by Colin Middleton
I'm guessing that a good physician doesn't really need to study his 'text book' too often as he should know most (if not all of it), probably by the time he's qualified. However, having a nice book to wave under that wealthy customer's nose that happens to agree with exactly what you've just said, seems to be worth quite a bit. Perhaps this is more the purpose of books like this, rather than for actually reading!

Posted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 7:13 pm
by craig1459
*digs out his Talbot accounts again* wrote:
1392 1 quire of paper bought for household writings 8d

1402 1 quatern of paper and 1 skin of parchment at Shrewsbury, for various necessaries for writing, 9d

paid for paper bought for various necessaries for writings above 5d

Posted: Sat Oct 04, 2008 6:10 pm
by Echo
craig1459 wrote:
*digs out his Talbot accounts again* wrote:
1392 1 quire of paper bought for household writings 8d

1402 1 quatern of paper and 1 skin of parchment at Shrewsbury, for various necessaries for writing, 9d

paid for paper bought for various necessaries for writings above 5d
It would be really helpful if you could give us book and page number reference for this - pretty please - Toni says if you do she will stop wearing her fox tail as she doesnt want to be mistaken for a lepper or a prostitute !!

G

Posted: Sun Oct 05, 2008 3:26 pm
by craig1459
Echo wrote:
craig1459 wrote:
*digs out his Talbot accounts again* wrote:
1392 1 quire of paper bought for household writings 8d

1402 1 quatern of paper and 1 skin of parchment at Shrewsbury, for various necessaries for writing, 9d

paid for paper bought for various necessaries for writings above 5d
It would be really helpful if you could give us book and page number reference for this - pretty please - Toni says if you do she will stop wearing her fox tail as she doesnt want to be mistaken for a lepper or a prostitute !!

G
lol I just picked up some old fur via freecyle and the owner threw in a foxtail as well - can't escape the things ;-)

page 8 and 43-44 of the Accounts of Talbot Household at Blakemere (Barbara Ross) Shropshire Record Series volume 7

Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 5:20 pm
by Echo
Thanks Craig, looks like to fox tail will be used as a duster in future

G & T

Re: Illuminated "Handbooks"

Posted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 12:08 pm
by Chris, yclept John Barber
Echo wrote:- the urinilogy is a particular comparison - the colours in MS8004 are varied and several include gilding...
The colours on a urine chart can be surprising (mine was painted for me by a consultant pathologist so the shades match her modern texts), but I'd be seriously worried if I came across a patient whose wee matched gold-leaf! :lol:

Posted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 3:38 pm
by gregory23b
You cannot use the colours in medieval urine charts as anything more than a general idea, the main information is in the text, its description eg Kyanos Urinam (blue) and moribundus, ie blue p*ss is bad news.

Given that some urine charts are in all black with some red, regardless of the colours described.

That is before we get to the idea of paint colours fading or changing over time.

wee is lovely