A discovery in the historic books collection of Bristol Central Library has revealed fragments of a thirteenth century manuscript of the Vulgate Merlin, with its tale of King Arthur’s magician.
The pieces seem to have ended up in Bristol thanks to the early seventeenth century Archbishop of York, Tobias Matthew, a benefactor to the original library in Bristol. They survived as part of the binding of the printed works of Jean Gersom, produced in 1494-1502. The Archbishop may have acquired them during his time as Bishop of Durham.
What is now referred to as the Bristol Merlin and the analysis of the surviving portions has now been published in book form.
The ‘Vulgate Merlin’ was composed in the period 1220-25, and the copy whence came the Bristol fragments was made in the period 1250-75 in north or north-eastern France. It was in England by 1300-50 when a marginal note was added.
One suggestion is that this older version of the story went out of fashion with the publication of Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur at the end of the fifteenth century. As a result the manuscript was broken up and reused around 1500-20 for binding purposes.
The online article about this interdisciplinary project can be read at Bristol manuscript fragments of the famous Merlin legend among the oldest of their kind
The story is also recounted, in a slightly shorter form in the Daily Express at King Arthur breakthrough as Bristol manuscript fragments detail famous Merlin legend