Of the Making of Little Books: The Minor Works of William of Newburgh

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Contribution to Book

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Among the most celebrated historians of twelfth-century England, William of Newburgh (1135/6-c. 1200) has a long-standing reputation for bookishness. According to Rachel Fulton: 'The world came to William in books, and it was through books that he was most comfortable making sense of it.' Fulton follows the Rolls Series editor, Richard Howlett, in adducing a long list of sources used by William in his Historia Anglorum, including the histories of Symeon of Durham (d. after 1129) and Henry of Huntingdon (d. c. 1157). Yet there is good reason to doubt whether William's reading was as extensive as Howlett suggested - and this not just because of the apparently negligible size of Newburgh's library. Indeed, John Gillingham has demonstrated that many of William's alleged sources, Symeon and Henry included, almost certainly reached him second-hand, mediated through the compiling efforts of another Yorkshire historian, Roger of Howden (d. c. 1201). This dependence on another northern writer, one whose history could be found in the library at nearby Rievaulx (now London, Inner Temple, MS 511.2), suggests the local and limited nature of William's bibliographical resources. This sense of regional limitation is reinforced by his other major work, a Marian commentary on the Song of Songs. Though he could find in patristic writings 'quomodo ... vel in ecclesiam vel in excellentis meriti animam idem nuptiale carmen intelligi debeat' ('how this nuptial song should be understood either in regard to the Church or a soul of distinguished merit'), William was apparently unaware of the more recent Marian commentaries on the Song by such writers as Rupert of Deutz (d. c. 1129) or Honorius Augustodunensis (d. 1154). In light of these limitations, William's elaborate historical and exegetical writings are all the more impressive, revealing that even with a small library one can still be bookish.


Katie Ann-Marie Bugyis, A. B. Kraebel, & Margot E. Fassler


York Medieval Press





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Medieval Cantors and Their Craft: Music, Liturgy, and the Shaping of History, 800-1500

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