Owners and Readers

The scale and quality of the Vernon manuscript suggest that it must have been made for a rich patron. Only the richest monastic and noble households had sufficient wealth to pay for such a manuscript. Unlike in many contemporary manuscripts, there are no features that clearly identify the patron. On one page there is a shield outline, possibly for a coat of arms, but it has not been painted. The kneeling figure on fol. 265r might indicate an association with a particular religious order, or even individual. But there are other ways of reading this image.

Without explicit evidence we can only piece together clues as to the identity of the patron. The dialect of the manuscript suggests a patron with strong West Midlands connections. The contents and decoration suggest they had connections with particular literary and artistic tastes and resources; access, directly or indirectly, to book producers; and a strong commitment to the provision of religious texts in English. Not many patrons fit this profile. One who does is Sir William Beauchamp, a member of the family of the earls of Warwick.

Traces of early readers are few. The word ‘pope’ has been erased by a thorough reader or readers, and passages about Purgatory crossed out.  Probably these processes were carried in the sixteenth century, in response to anti-Roman Catholic feeling and legislation. One reader, probably also in the sixteenth century, repaired a damaged passage by writing replacement text on a flap of vellum and attaching it over the damage. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, someone recorded some history of the Vernon and Littleton families on the last leaf. The faces of the images in the Estorie del Evangelie have been disfigured, but the motivation for this and the date at which it took place are unclear. Also at a time unknown, users of the volume cut out some images. Perhaps they could not read the text or it was not to their taste.

A book plate stuck on the inside of the front board records that the manuscript was donated to the Bodleian Library by Edward Vernon. This must have taken place c. 1677, around the time that he was given an honorary degree by the University of Oxford. It is not known how the volume came into the Vernon family’s possession.

 

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