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Inventing History : forgery: a great British tradition (British History)
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John Hailey


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I now believe I can put the whole picture together. Hitherto, you will remember, I have assumed that Beowulf and similar poetic fragments were the product of fecund sixteenth century minds producing antique material for the gentry library trade (because the previous "signals of gentility" -- mostly saintly relics -- were now illegal in England). But the larger truth is much more interesting.

Consider the position of England and the Continent in the 1520's and onwards. The Lutheran Revolution is sweeping Germany and (apparently) all before it. Henry VIII 'writes' (it is generally accepted that he was personally involved) an intellectual treatise in support of the Catholic Church. This is hugely successful in political terms (Henry and his successors are awarded the title of "Defender of the Faith" by the Pope).

Then comes the Catherine of Aragon Divorce. This is conducted entirely as a war of words while Henry's pet clerics and the English universites take on the Papacy's pet clerics and the Sorbonne, with one document being traded against another about whether the Divorce should be permitted or not. Everybody understands that the documents in question are just ammunition -- whether they are genuine or not is scarcely an issue.

But of course, in the end, it's just a matter of power politics (Is the Pope more afraid of Charles V or Henry VIII?) and the verdict goes against Henry. So he breaks with Rome...and later dissolves the monasteries. But now the question is: How can England assist in the anti-Catholic fight without actually having to fight (the Lutheran Schmalkaldic League is at war by now with the Catholics under Charles V)? Answer: by utilising its unique position to undermine the whole Catholic ideology. And with a countryful of unemployed monastery types it has just the shock troops to do it.

England is unique in being the repository both of virtually all Anglo-Saxon documentation and of virtually all Anglo-Saxon scholars. So what? you ask. Well, here's why. The Papacy fights with paper, it has little by way of armed forces but it does have the whole corpus of "history" -- and Late Medieval Europe is obsessed with legal rights and precedents and privilege and traditional usages (which is why forging documents was such Big Business in the first place). But the Papacy has one Big Gap in its records: the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries when it has nothing...even such a basic thing as a List of Popes is acknowledged to be hopelessly corrupt (this is the time of Pope Joan and stuff like that).

The only place in Western Europe where a decent bureaucracy existed in these centuries was...wait for it...Anglo-Saxon England. (In fact Anglo-Saxon scholars were in huge demand all over the shop.) So what does Henry VIII do? He gets his scribal shock troops to start forging Anglo-Saxon documents for this period, making sure that they subtly undermine the Papal position on things like transubstantiation. And supports the Protestant position (which is that the communion service is merely celebratory and the wine stays as wine and the bread stays as bread.). I expect, when we come to look more closely, that loads of apparently Anglo-Saxon dox (whether written in A/S or in Latin) will turn out to have strangely discordant features ...more in keeping with the controversies of the sixteenth century than of Anglo-Saxon times.

This is why our own dear scholars keep getting it all wrong. Once the State is in control of the business, historians haven't got a chance. Remember Hatty's

apparently his Catholic Homilies survive in thirty manuscripts dating from the time of their original composition up until the thirteenth century

...well, of course they did...on paper. The State has complete control over all the records (including of course, in England, complete control over Church records) so if Henry (or Edward or Elizabeth or James) is pushing Aelfric's Colloquy on an unsuspecting world, it will make absolutely sure that its provenance is Simon Pure.
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Mick Harper
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Another candidate for the Forgery Mill, plucked from Peter Acroyd's Albion (highly recommended for other reasons):

Passages in Paradise Lost, complete by Milton in 1603...bear a startling resemblance to an Anglo-Saxon poem entitled 'Genesis B' by scholars and tentatively dated to the mid-ninth century....An early nineteenth century scholar, in reviewing both poems, wrote of 'a resemblance to Milton so remarkable that much of this portion of Genesis B might be almost literally translated...'

However, there is an explanation...kinda...

The manuscript was discovered by a seventeenth century scholar, Junius, who was in fact a close acquaintance of Milton's.


"Junius" is often used as a left/political pseudonym (from Marcus Junius Brutus, the Et tu, Brute bloke in Julius Caesar) but everyone seems to treat this particular Junius as a real person. He was quite a busy-bee:

This file contains translations from the Anglo-Saxon of the following works: "Genesis A", "Genesis B", "Exodus", "Daniel", and "Christ and Satan". All are works found in the manuscript of Anglo-Saxon verse known as "Junius 11" (Oxford, Bodleian Library 5123), which was compiled sometime toward the end of the 10th Century A.D.
These works were originally written in Anglo-Saxon, sometime between the 7th and 10th Centuries A.D. Although sometimes ascribed to the poet Caedmon (fl. late 7th Century), it is generally thought that these poems do not represent the work of one single poet
.


This Caedmon bloke is probably the most famous named Anglo-Saxon poet of all. Have a butchers at this, bearing in mind that we have reason to suspect that parts of Bede might not be so Venerable after all, but in fact Tudor interpolations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C3%A6dmon
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Mick Harper
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I wish Miss Marple would join us. This is how far I've got. The starting point is this (all quotes are from Wikipedia)

Cædmon is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets identified in medieval sources, and one of only three for whom both roughly contemporary biographical information and examples of literary output have survived

So, I thought, a perfect candidate if you wanted to come up with an Anglo-Saxon poet to be the source for your newly-minted poem. Especially as

Cædmon's only known surviving work is Cædmon's Hymn, the nine-line alliterative vernacular praise poem in honour of God he supposedly learned to sing in his initial dream

And there can be no doubt about his existence because

A second, possibly pre-12th century allusion to the Cædmon story is found in two Latin texts associated with the Old Saxon Heliand poem. These texts, the Praefatio (Preface) and Versus de Poeta (Lines about the poet), explain the origins of an Old Saxon biblical translation (for which the Heliand is the only known candidate)

which is back-confirmed by

in language strongly reminiscent of, and indeed at times identical to, Bede's account of Cædmon's career

But 'ang about....how can a twelfth century German source use the exact same language as an eighth century English source? It's just possible I suppose that the Germans had a Bede to hand and decided to crib without acknowledgement but the unworthy thought cannot help but pop into your head that if your were a Tudor forger interpolating Bede...you might use a German source! So we'd best have a quick dekko at this German source.

The Heliand is the largest known work of written Old Saxon. The original manuscript would have been approximately 6000 lines, of which four incomplete fragments have been found that span most of the original

Well, at least that's authentic anyway. Do go on.

and the first fragment of the manuscripts was found by

Aagh! No! It can't be...

Junius by the year 1587
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Hatty
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In: Berkshire
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Junius didn't exactly 'find' the Caedmon MS, it was given to him by the Archbishop of Armagh (how on earth could he have got his hands on it?) who was a friend of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, Surrey and Norfolk and Junius was said earl's librarian. Howard was a Protestant outwardly but came from a Catholic background (his dad was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as a martyr, his grandfather tried to marry Mary Queen of Scots and then was involved in a plot to put her on the English throne to restore Catholicism to the country).

The Earl of Arundel was an art collector rather than a politician, however, and had a huge and impressive collection so must have known a thing or two about historical documents and works of art, forgeries too. Junius would have had access to the earl's library and doubtless came into contact with some shady characters, art being big business.
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Mick Harper
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This Archbishop of Armagh (better known as Bishop Ussher) is most famous for being the person who worked out that the world started at 3.57 pm on 14th April, 4004 BC (or something like that). This was believed (it is said, but really I wonder) by everybody up until Darwin's time.
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Hatty
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The Beowulf MS was part of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton's vast library, which owed its existence to the hoard of treasures available after the dissolution of the monasteries, and is described in Wikipedia:

Consequently, his collection is the single greatest resource of literature in Old English and Middle English we have. We owe Beowulf, Pearl, and the Lindisfarne Gospels to Cotton's collection. The leading scholars of the era came to use his library. Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, James Ussher and others came to use his works.

James Ussher, as you say, was the Archbishop of Armagh. James the First wanted Cotton to write a history of the Church of England but Cotton provided all the material to Ussher, who did produce a widely respected history of the early Celtic church in Britain and Ireland, Britannicarum ecclesiarum antiquitates. Unlike most libraries of the time, his wasn't predominantly ecclesiastical; its importance was due to the manuscript collection, which meant in effect that Cotton had a monopoly of records of early English history. Cotton's patron was Henry Howard, brother of the Duke of Norfolk. His great legacy, the collection of manuscripts, he acquired from the likes of Robert Cecil, John Dee and Howard himself. People were beginning to fear Cotton's library. The DNB (Dictionary of National Biography) puts it thus:

A feeling was taking shape... that there was danger to the state in the absorption into private hands of so large a collection of official documents as Cotton was acquiring. In 1614... a friend, Arthur Agard, keeper of the public records, died, leaving his private collection of manuscripts to Cotton. Strong representations were made against allowing Cotton to exercise any influence in filling up the vacant post. The Record Office was injured, it was argued in many quarters, by Cotton's `having such things as he hath cunningly scraped together.' In the following year damning proof was given of the evil uses to which Cotton's palaeographical knowledge could be put. ...

The cause of his fall from grace was his advocacy of parliament and he was framed for 'treason' by an irate Charles I. In 1630 Cotton's library was confiscated due to "anti-Royalist activities" though it was returned to his heirs after his death (in 1631). The library was passed to the state in 1701 (it was eventually housed in the British Museum in accordance with Cotton's wishes) but the state showed remarkably little interest in its acquisition - why not, it was supposed to contain the only surviving copies of Beowulf and other A/S texts? The government of the day didn't seem to take much interest in the nation's literary past, whether real or mythical.

I wonder how Cotton, who came from a modest though 'gentlemanly' background (went to Jesus College, Cambridge) managed to amass this huge, seemingly priceless, library -- must have cost a bob or two to acquire. According to the DNB, the library at Cotton House became a meeting-place for all the scholars in the country.
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Hatty
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Not forgetting Laurence Nowell who had a leading role in the rediscovery of Anglo-Saxon, according to Matthew Todd:

Nowell's work on Anglo-Saxon manuscripts was done within the scholarly circle which gathered around Archbishop Matthew Parker. From about 1560, he transcribed the Alfredian translation of Bede into Old English, along with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and a collection of Anglo-Saxon laws. This manuscript is Cotton Ms. Otho B xi and it was almost totally destroyed in the fire of 1731, so that Nowell's transcript is almost all we have. He moved on to further study of early English history and antiquities. As he himself owned the famous manuscript, which contains the Beowulf epic, he might be seen as having an unusual advantage

That "unusual advantage" is a somewhat cryptic observation...

Nowell's patron was Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth I's chief advisor throughout most of her reign, aka Lord Burghley (his sister-in-law via his second marriage was the mother of Sir Francis Bacon). Cecil was a master of intrigue, he managed to serve Edward, then Mary (went to Mass, confessed) and of course Elizabeth, discretion was clearly the better part of valour in his case.

Cecil wasn't from an aristocratic family but he did his best to rectify the situation, manufacturing pedigrees with the help of William Camden, so forgery wasn't alien to him and his circle. As Wkipedia puts it

Pedigrees elaborated by Cecil himself with the help of William Camden, the antiquary, associated him with the Cecils or Sitsyllts of Altyrennes in Herefordshire, and traced his descent from an Owen of the time of King Harold and a Sitsyllt of the reign of King William Rufus. The connection with the Herefordshire family is not so impossible as the descent from Sitsyllt; but the earliest known authentic ancestor of the Lord Treasurer is his grandfather, David, who, according to Burghley's enemies, kept the best inn in Stamford, Lincolnshire

In 1563 Nowell became tutor to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who was Cecil's ward, the same year that Nowell signed his name on the only known copy of the Beowulf manuscript according to Wikipedia - what made him do that? Maybe he felt he had to leave his mark, occupying a relatively lowly position in the intrigue-ridden Cecil household despite his scholarly attributes?

De Vere who was from one of the foremost aristocratic families married Anne Cecil, Burghley's daughter, a "parvenu"; he became a Catholic but recanted and denounced his Catholic friends in 1580. Sounds a nasty piece of work altogether - he himself was accused of pederasty, bestiality and of plotting to murder various people, including Sir Philip Sidney. Hardly a credit to his tutor and hardly a credible contender for authorship of Shakespeare's plays. One of his grand-daughters married Lord Montgomery to whom Shakespeare's First Folio was dedicated (it was dedicated to the Earls Pembroke and Montgomery, "incomparable" brothers, presumably on the grounds that Montgomery would be the next Lord Chamberlain and therefore an appropriate patron).

P.S. Further to the 5th November discussion, Cecil's son, Robert, inherited his father's mantle, he's described as "statesman, spymaster and minister" to Elizabeth and James I (Wiki). He was made Earl of Salisbury in 1605 and there's speculation that he may have instigated the Gunpowder Plot, seeing James's assassination as serving the best interests of the nation maybe, as Wiki rather daringly suggests:

On the other hand, if the King was assassinated, then his heir, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, would be made Sovereign, someone more closely associated with the 'Rosicrucianist' networks spreading through Europe, and likely a more pliable sovereign for the English parliamentary state's interests. A number of these arguments are interesting but ultimately inconclusive. Certainly it would not be the only occasion when the agenda of the British secret service was somewhat less desirable than would appear to be for the greater public good.
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Mick Harper
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During your indefatiguable researches, Hatty, did you form an impression of just when Beowulf, as it were, came into verifiable public existence? (As opposed to possibly being 'seeded' into a genuine and earlier collection of manuscripts.)
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Hatty
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The Beowulf MS, variously called Caedmon/Nowell/Cotton, was first mentioned by name in 1705 by Humfrey Wanley in an inaccurate description of the story, i.e. either he hadn't read it or had misunderstood it.
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Mick Harper
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The later the better. The one great and apparently insurmountable argument that is always deployed against the Beowulf-is-a modern-forgery thesis is, "Come off it, how could a forger come up with a masterpiece to order?" Which I had hitherto replied with the somewhat lame, "Beowulf is no masterpiece." But if we can show that Milton (1608-74) was the author then not only are we home and dry but we'll have an international cause celebre on our hands.
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Hatty
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A concise history of the ownership of Beowulf MS:

It may have been kept in monasteries from when it was created in the early eleventh century until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1536-1540, which may have caused it to eventually be acquired by Laurence Nowell, dean of Lichfield, who then apparently gave it to Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, who lived from 1571-1631. In 1700 Robert Cotton's grandson John Cotton gave the Cotton Library to the British people


A lot of "may have's" and "apparently's". The earliest known owner was Nowell (1520-1576). In Cotton's library, the Beowulf MS was lumped together with other A/S bits and pieces, it certainly didn't have pride of place in the catalogue.

The poem doesn't seem to have attracted that much attention considering how valuable a contribution it's supposed to be to Old English studies - the first (modern) English translation was in 1837, it was translated into Danish by the Royal Danish archivist who was researching Danish literature in England in 1786.
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Mick Harper
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When you say "the earliest known owner was Nowell (1520-1576)" -- which would clearly rule out Miltonian authorship -- do you mean that there is some reasonably reliable contemporaneous evidence attesting to that fact, or do you mean that somebody much later is reporting that it used to be owned by Nowell?
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Hatty
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There's no evidence that Nowell did own the MS, it's supposition based on the fact that he signed his name on the first page; no-one has analysed this signature, as far as I know, nor is there info about how many other Nowell signatures abound. His handwriting has been identified (he compiled the first Saxon dictionary it seems though it was never published) and was supposed to have consulted various Anglo-Saxon documents so presumably he annotated them in an identifiable way but no signature is mentioned. Our Laurence Nowell had a cousin called Laurence Nowell, who was dean of Lichfield, and the two names were inevitably mixed up as until the 1970's they were thought to be the same person, which adds to the general murk.
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Hatty
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Seems to me that if a Beowulf MS existed, it would have been rescued or purloined by John Leland, scholar, antiquarian and Henry VIII's librarian.

Leland received a posting as a "sub-librarian" in one of Henry's royal libraries in 1530. Three years later, in 1533, he wrote poems celebrating the coronation of Anne Boleyn, which were read at the coronation ceremony. Later in that year, perhaps as a gratuity for having written the poems, Leland received a royal commission "to make a search after England's Antiquities, and peruse the Libraries of all Cathedrals, Abbies, Priories, Colleges, etc. as also all places wherein Records, Writings and secrets of Antiquity were reposed." This commission amounted to a guaranteed admission ticket to virtually every place in the realm where documents and historical treasures were kept.

Leland applied to Cromwell for permission to transfer the manuscripts and documents from the monasteries after their dissolution to the king's library.

Henry also appointed him his library keeper, and conferred on him the title of Royal Antiquary; Leland is the only person ever to hold this title. In 1533 Henry commissioned him to search after England's antiquities, and explore the libraries of all cathedrals, abbeys, priories, colleges, and all the places wherein records, writings, and whatever else was lodged that related to antiquity. "Before Leland's time," says Hearne, in his preface to the Itinerary, "all the literary monuments of antiquity were totally disregarded; and the students of Germany apprised of this culpable indifference, were suffered to enter our libraries unmolested, and to cut out of the books deposited there whatever passages they thought proper, which they afterwards published as relics of the ancient literature of their own country."

The beginning of English Heritage perhaps. The royal commission suggests a dawning realisation of the political worth of antique writings. Did Leland's collection actually end up in the royal library (his own writings are in the Bodleian)? After his death some, if not all, of his manuscripts were inherited by Sir John Cheke, classical scholar and statesman and first Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge, fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1529. Among his pupils were William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, who married Cheke's sister. So if there was a Beowulf MS, Leland's brother-in-law, Cecil, would have surely known about it. (Cecil was Laurence Nowell's patron).

Leland was a tutor of Thomas Howard, later Duke of Norfolk, member of one of the most prominent Catholic families in Tudor England, imprisoned for hatching a scheme to marry Mary Queen of Scots. Howard's mother was Frances de Vere, daughter of the 16th Earl of Oxford (father of the more famous would-be Shakespearian author) - the trustees of de Vere's will were the Duke of Norfolk and Lord Robert Dudley, arch-conspirators the lot of them. Nowell was tutor to De Vere (the "Shakespearian" one) and being in the 'antiquaries trade' would have been aware of Leland's collection; however no mention of a Beowulf MS appears in any of Leland's writings. Arthur yes, Beowulf no.
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Komorikid


In: Gold Coast, Australia
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Everything in this thread starts with AS in England. The Saxons were a Germanic tribe, so we are told, and prior to their establishment in England they shared a Runic Script with their German and Scandinavian cousins. Then suddenly they fetch up on Mother England's shore and miraculously start writing in a Romanised script.

So how did a bunch of semi-literate immigrants suddenly become educated?
Roman civilisation hadn't reached that far north at the time the Romans were leaving Britain and it wasn't until Charlemagne employed Alcuin to educate the German elite that they started to read and write in Romanised script.

There seems to be a very large anomaly regarding the language we know as Old English, in fact the script known as Old English looks to me like the work of Benedictine illuminators.
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