From the Publisher
"[Lost Letters of Everyday Life] will prove a treasure trove of sources for undergraduate teaching, but is equally valuable as a scholarly resource of such material, since careful editions of the Latin are provided together with a translation of and brief commentary on every item. ... There is something here for everyone."—Eras
"A fascinating and important collection. It will add significant new source material to the known corpus of surviving thirteenth-century letters and will shed light on a host of central issues in the history of thirteenth-century England."—Robert Stacey, University of Washington
Read an Excerpt
In 1847 the English antiquary Thomas Hudson Turner published a brief note about a manuscript that recently had come to his notice, and which contained a collection of model business correspondence. Turner included tantalizing transcriptions of three letters, all in Latin, between an earl and the merchants who supplied him with wine, cloth, and furs. However, other than saying that the collection dated from the reign of Henry III (1216−72), he provided no detailed description of its contents and no means of identifying the manuscript itself. But such as it was, this was the first printed notice of the work that provides the bulk of the documents in this collection.
Intrigued by Turner's extracts from the business correspondence, of which few examples survive from thirteenth-century England, Martha Carlin searched for the manuscript and located it at last in the British Library, where it formed one section (Article 5, folios 88−133) of a larger volume, Additional MS 8167 (hereafter Add. 8167). Turner's letters proved to be drawn from a formulary, a collection of model correspondence designed for the instruction of business students.
Although Turner's article of 1847 seems to have escaped later scholarly notice, a number of scholars since his day have also noted the existence of the formulary material in Add. 8167. In 1879 Georg Waitz printed a description of urban trades and crafts that occurs on folios 88r−90v but did not discuss the other contents of Article 5 or of the manuscript more generally. Waitz also mistakenly identified the manuscript as dating from the fourteenth century. Charles Homer Haskins printed one of the student letters in the collection in 1898. In 1935 Noël Denholm-Young discussed the model manorial account in Add. 8167, and shortly afterward H. G. Richardson described Article 5 in some detail and identified it as containing the earliest English formulary. In 1947 and again in 1971, Dorothea Oschinsky briefly discussed the formulary's material on estate accounting. More recently, Martin Camargo examined the significance of Add. 8167 in the history of dictamen (the art of letter-writing) in England, and Christopher Woolgar mentioned the model diet account in Add. 8167 in his study of medieval household accounts. Each of these scholars, however, focused on individual elements of the formulary; none of them remarked on the extraordinary range of the documents themselves or their significance as a collection.
As our study of the documents expanded we discovered that, despite Richardson's belief that Add. 8167 was the oldest English formulary, several other collections (discussed below) were even earlier. A particularly rich and important one is in the Bodleian Library, where it forms part of Fairfax MS 27 (hereafter Fairfax 27). As we planned out the project that has become this book, it was clear that the letters in Fairfax 27 form a significant complement to the material in Add. 8167. This book therefore is a selection of letters and other documents drawn from these two early thirteenth-century formularies. They allow us to rediscover a lost medieval world through the model documents they preserve, which represent whole classes of genuine letters and other material that have not survived to the present day because they were discarded as of no lasting importance. Luckily, we can infer their existence and character from these surviving exemplars. It has to be said that the selection of material was the easy part. One reason why this is the first serious study of these documents is they are by no means easy to read. Many of them were ineptly drafted, and clumsily transcribed and altered by the medieval copyists, a not unusual feature in what were classroom products. Recovering their sense was frequently a frustrating task, but the importance of the material meant that it was a worthwhile and necessary endeavor.