Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Seeking to identify the scribe of Domesday Book

The Independent reports on a project which claims to have identified the facts that Domesday Book was written by a Normandy born scribe who was probably a member of the monastic community attached to Winchester cathedral priory. The thing that is lacking is an actual name for the scribe.

That the writing up of Domesday occurred at Winchester should not surprise us - the city was a principal royal residence, the base for the Treasury, a long m-standing place associated with the processes of government. Recognising the text to be largely the work of one scribe is not suprising given the nature of the work and the desire for an accomplished, clear copy of the results of what we often today term the Domesday Inquest. 

Whether a name can ever be attached to the scribe is another matter but intriguing. I imagine most medieval scribes, and particularly monastic ones, were usually content to remain anonymous. Anonymity was perceived as a virtue and an expression of humility. Indications of artistic or similar self-identification were rare at the time - hence the fame of Giselbertus at Autun or St Dunstan’s little pen-portrait of himself. What eventually became known as the Civil Service appear usually to have been and indeed are content with discreet and polite anonymity.

Nonetheless if this interpretation by the researchers is correct it adds to one’s appreciation of the austere Norman work of the transepts in Winchester Cathedral - for the monastic scribe must have witnessed their building.

1 comment:

John R Ramsden said...

Perhaps this scribe was King Edward the Confessor's former chief scribe, Regenbald.

Although one might expect that next to nothing was known about Regenbald besides his name, whose survival in itself was a miracle, amazingly there is quite a long Wikipedia article on him, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regenbald

However, re-reading that article, a couple of points make me somewhat doubt my own suggestion.

Firstly, he would have been seriously cogging on by 1086, when the Domesday Book was written up. So by then his eyesight, steadiness of hand, and endurance were probably not all what they once had been.

He also seems to have held quite exalted positions after the Conquest, such as chancellor and judge, which makes one wonder if he would be an appropriate choice for months of exacting and laborious donkey work.

But perhaps King William specifically required a highly trusted senior scribe would would not be tempted or bribable to amend any entries as they were being written, and who was fairly familiar with land tenure data from the Confessor's time and who could read and understand Saxon records from then.

But in support of my idea, with tongue in cheek, Regenbald sounds like a German name, and Germans always have been notorious for writing long books!

John R Ramsden