MS 17 remained at Thorney until at least 1422, the date of the last of the main series of Paschal table annals.1 That it was read with some interest is attested by the annals themselves, and the modifications introduced by the "Gothic" hands. Other later medieval hands inserted the Greek alphabet on fol. 11v, made additions to the verb list on fols. 164v and 165v, wrote explanatory legends on the table of poetic feet on fol. 170r, and pencilled in Arabic numerals on fol. 81r and 89r. The universal chronicle which forms ch. 66 of Bede's De temporum ratione exerted a special attraction. One reader flagged the chronicle in the capitula (fol. 66r) with a large signe de renvoi and an explanatory note; the signe is duly picked up at the beginning of the chronicle on fol. 120r. On fol. 115ba, a 13th (?) c. reader corrects Scribe B's "Archadius frater theodosii" to "filius theodosii", and a later reader (14th c.?) refers in a note in the left margin to Bede's chronicle in De temporibus ("nota bedam libro Io de gestis") where the correct relationship of Arcadius to Theodosius is indicated. On the same folio, two fists, one visible in ink in the left margin and the other in drypoint beneath it, point to the account of how the tyrant Maximus withdrew the Roman troops from Britain. On fol. 116rb, another fist marks the adventus Saxonum.

By the mid-15th century, another hand was drawing fists and making notes in the chronicle. This one belonged to Thomas Gascoigne (1404-1458), theologian, preacher, chancellor of Oxford, and enthusiastic collector of books.2 The relics of Gascoigne's own library can be recognized by his signature invocation of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, usually inscribed at the head of one or more pages of the manuscript.3 This reflects his devotion to St Bernardino of Siena and his cult of the Holy Name: the repulse of the Turks at Belgrade in 1456 was ascribed to the Name and the power of Bernardino's relics, and Gascoigne preached a sermon on this occasion.4 The Jesus-Maria sign also appears in MS 17 on fols. 95v, 103v, 105r, 109v, 111r-v, 114r and 115r-v , and a note in Gascoigne's hand can be found at the foot on fol. 111v, pointing out that Scribe B uses an ampersand for et even within a word (&iā for etiam). Gascoigne seems to have been irritated by this habit, for on the same folio, col. 1 line 7, and col. 2 line 12 he expanded &iā into etiam in an interlinear gloss.

Gascoigne was a Yorkshireman, and interested in Bede as a north country scholar. On fols. 1v and 83r of MS Lambeth Palace 202, he wrote notes referring to a number of Bede's works, including De temporum ratione. These notes strongly suggest that he encountered De temporum ratione on the pages of MS 17. On fol. 83r of the Lambeth manuscript he writes:

iohannes apostolus et euangelista 66 uel 68 anno post passionem domini ephesi morte quieuit. anno etatis sue 99o. hec sanctus et uenerabilis beda monachus giruensis in libro suo de temporibus set non in libro suo de natura rerum et de tempore.

(Sixty six or sixty eight years after our Lord's passion, the apostle and evangelist John rested in death at Ephesus, in the ninety ninth year of his age. The holy and venerable Bede, monk of Jarrow, wrote this in his book on time, but not in his book on the nature of things and on times.)

De temporibus was the medieval title of De temporum ratione, but so was De natura rerum et de tempore (the incipit of De temporum ratione), so the purport of Gascoigne's comment is not totally clear. Bede mentions St John's age at his death in the chronicle in De temporum ratione, and not in the chronicle in De temporibus. However, the age given by Bede is 98, not 99.5 But a gloss at the foot of fol. 111v of MS 17 (Gloss 159) states that St John died in AD 99, and it is directly beside this gloss that Gascoigne penned his remark about Scribe B's etiam. Gascoigne's error, in short, might be a memory of the gloss in MS 17.

In fact, Gascoigne undoubtedly read MS 17 in Oxford, for it had been given to the University by none other than Duke Humfrey, whose benefaction of books arrived in two consignments in 1439 and 1444. The Duke acquired it from Abbot Thomas Cherwalton during a visit to Thorney in 1427, though how he came to know about the book, or why he might have been attracted to it (or the abbot willing to part with it), remain a mystery.6 No manuscript resembling MS 17 can be found in the Thorney book distribution lists for 1324-1330,7 so it may have been kept by the abbot, or in the sacristy or choir, where it could be shown to visitors. But if it ever had a Thorney ex libris or press mark,8 these were expunged after the Duke acquired it.

MS 17's departure for Oxford did not diminish its fascination to readers, especially those of a historical bent. The annals for 1450 and 1455 were undoubtedly added there. Annal-writing picks up again in 1519, with a note on the condemnation of Lutheranism. Further entries on the foundation of Cardinal College in 1526 and the outbreak of sweating sickness in 1528 focus directly on Oxford.

The 1519 note about the condemnation of the "Lutheran heresy" is in the hand of the antiquarian Robert Talbot.9 The entry is undoubtedly retrospective, since Talbot would have been only thirteen or fourteen at the time. He probably also composed the retrospective annals on the death of Wycliffe in 1385 and the anathemas against Lollardy of 1411, as well as the note on the destruction of a chalice by Oxford Jews in 1255. In addition, Talbot wrote out the versus intextus of Abbo's acrostic (fol. 3r), some marginalia on fol. 23v (the pagina regularis), the heading on fol. 41r (Spheres of Life and Death), and Gloss 135a to De temporum ratione. How Talbot acquired MS 17 is a mystery: he graduated from Oxford in 1529 and started on an active teaching and clerical career, but this does not necessarily mean that MS 17 came into his possession before 1529. It was certainly in his library by the time he became prebendary and canon of Norwich in 1547, because it was examined at Talbot's Norwich residence by John Leland.

Leland was a close friend of Talbot's, who introduced him to many important early English manuscripts, including the "C" or Abingdon version of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. By way of thanks, Leland wrote an ode to Talbot in this Principium ac illustrantium aliquot et eruditorum in Anglia virorum encomia... (London: Thomas Orwin, 1589), 75-76. In volume 4 of his notebooks or Colleactanea, Leland describes a manuscript belonging to Talbot, and which is without question MS 17. This identification was for some time in doubt, however; Singer protested that Leland's codex could not be MS 17 because Singer could not identify one item in Leland's description, namely the cryptogram on fol. 5v of MS 17.10 Forsey was somewhat more positive, declaring the two manuscripts to be highly similar, but declining to state that they were identical.11 However, the chances that the same cryptograms, with the same superscript solutions, could be found in two different manuscripts, are very low, and there are numerous other positive elements of identification, such as Bythferth's figura (i.e. the Diagram on fol. 7v) and his Proemium (fol. 12v-13r).

Talbot died in the year of Elizabeth's accession, and willed his choicest books to New College, Oxford; however the friends whom he assigned to supervise this transfer, Henry Cole, dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London, and John Harpsfield, dean of Norwich Cathedral, were shortly thereafter arrested as Catholics, and so the collection never arrived at its intended destination. MS 17 next turns up, by ways unknown, in the library of a country parson named Antony Anderson, whose erased signature may be seen under ultra-violet light in the upper margin of fol. 3r. Anderson is also the subject of an obit on the March page of the calendar (fol. 17r). The italicized words in the following transcription were erased, but are visible under ultra-violet light.

Antonius Anderson sacrae theologiae professor natus secundo die martis gratia diuina anno salutis 1537. ad predicandum admissum 1560. ad rectoriam de wymington in comitatu Be>dford< 1550 et 1571 ad rectoriam de medburn in com>itatu *** (about 9 letters illegible)< nunc deo per christum saluatorem solem nostrum.

The register of the bishop of Lincoln confirms that Anderson was rector of Wymington until 1571, when he resigned to take up the parish of Medbourne in Leicestershire. In 1582, he resigned Medbourne, but was promptly reinstated, and in the following year was presented to one of the churches in Haloughton.12 Whoever penned this obit may not have known Anderson well, for he seems never to have taken the degree of S.T.P.13 But the author of the Anderson notice owned MS 17 for a time, because he made other annotations in the manuscript: two in the world-chronicle in Bede's De temporum ratione (fols. 99v and 105v), marginal comments on pathology tract (fol. 176r) and receptarium (fol. 177v), and an annal in the Paschal table against the year 1570 - the single, tantalizing word "rebecka." He also wrote the number 9 to 120 against the anni domini 1595-1620 on fol. 145v, so he may have owned MS 17 in the last decade of the sixteenth century.

The next trace of MS 17's wanderings is a negative one: the erasure of Anderson's name on fol. 3r and on the March calendar page. Someone who owned the book after the author of the obit wished to hide its previous connections. The annals in the margin of fol. 145r from 1538 to at least 1571 were also cut away, perhaps for their intrinsic interest, but perhaps again to efface Anderson from the record.

What attracted the next owner of MS 17 may, in fact, have been its annals. The Elizabethan phase of the English Reformation coincided with an unprecedented interest in the historical narratives and records of early medieval England, and this on the part of men who hitherto had been on the margins of the learned world: the high bourgeoisie, lawyers and government officials. It was this type of man who joined the Elizabethan Society of Antiquaries, and who were responsible for salvaging, copying, studying and publishing many of the monuments of the national past. They were also keenly interested in pedigrees and genealogies.14 From this perspective, it is fitting that Hugh Wicksteed, who eventually gave MS 17 to St John's College (see the ex libris on fol. 2r) should have been a London Merchant Tailor, and that the son in whose honour he made the gift should have graduated B.C.L.15

Two of the most accomplished Elizabethan antiquaries, John Stow and John Speed, were tailors by profession;16 St John's College itself was founded by a Merchant Tailor, Sir Thomas White, in honour of the patron of the craft, John the Baptist. At the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries, the Library at St John's College was expanding rapidly, stimulated by the erection of the Library building in 1596-1597.17 MS 17 was one of a number of gifts acquired at that time. It was certainly in the Library by 1610, when Christopher Wrenn, father of the architect and fellow of the College,18 wrote a signed and dated notice in the upper margin of fol. 62r stating that the first sixteen chapters of Bede's De natura rerum were wanting. Beneath Wrenn's signature is a second signature and date: "Chris. Coles 1611." Coles was a scholar of St John's at the time.19 The double attestation suggests that this is an official acknowledgement of the defect, noted at the time the book was received.

But the attraction exerted by its annals did not always play a positive role in the fortunes of MS 17. On 22 November 1623, William Laud, then Bishop of Durham, wrote to the antiquarian Sir Robert Cotton. Laud's letter relates that a few years earlier, when he was still President of St John's (that is, before 1621), William Paddy, a benefactor of the College,20 asked to borrow MS 17 of Cotton's behalf: Cotton, he said, was interested in the annals, which might have bearing on his family's history. Cotton's family came from Conington in Huntingdonshire, a few miles from Thorney,21 and a list of volumes which Cotton had persuaded their owners eventually to give to him included a "Liber Thorney" owned by Sir Robert Wingfield (perhaps the lost "Green Book of Thorney"), as well as the Red Book of Thorney, then owned by Sir Frances Fane. The list also records an agreement by Laud and St John's College to donate a manuscript on the abbeys of Gloucestershire to the Cotton library.22 In sum, Cotton was actively seeking out historical records of Thorney, and had expectations of receiving gifts from Laud and the College, though not specifically the gift of MS 17. However, Cotton entered MS 17 into his own library catalogue as soon as he received it, which suggests that he did not intend to return it.23

When Laud stepped down as President of St John's, the ensuing electioneering for his successor made an issue of the loan of MS 17, and Laud felt he was under some pressure to secure the books' return. Hence he wrote to Cotton, asking that MS 17 be restored to the College.24 Fussner accuses Laud of scoring off Cotton as an opponent of the Crown,25 but there is little evidence of this in the tone of Laud's letter. In any event, Cotton repaid Laud and College rather badly; he did indeed return MS 17, but not before removing five leaves of the Paschal tables and their annals, now fols. 80-84 of Cotton Nero C.VII (see discussion in Background Essay: MS 17: Structure and materials).26 It was not until 1938 that the primitive connection between the two manuscripts was noticed by N.R. Ker.27 By then, MS 17 had rested undisturbed in the Library of St John's College for over three hundred years.

1 The mistaken notion that it belonged to St Augustine's, Canterbury (Derolez 1954, 26-27, n.5; Gough 1974, 281) is based on a misreading of James 1903, 326 (no. 1157) and 250, who merely suggested comparisons between item 1157 and MS 17.

2 Christina von Nolcken in ODNB; R.L. Poole in DNB 7 (1908), 920-923; Pronger 1938 and Pronger 1939.

3 Ker 1938, 131.

4 Pronger 1938, 626.

5 See Jones' ed. 499.103 and MS 17 fol. 112rb, line 25.

6 An account of this discovery is being prepared by Dr David Rundle of Corpus Christ College, Oxford, reader in Latin Palaeography at the University of Oxford.

7 Humphreys 1948.

8 The standard Thorney ex libris is "liber succentorie thorneye" and is found in Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland Adv. 18.6.12 and 18.7.8, as well as Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland Adv. 18.6.12 and 18.7.8.

9 For samples of Talbot's hand, see Ker 1949-1953, pl. 1 (facing p. 2), Wright 1958 159, and Wright 1949-1953, 235. For biographical information, consult James P. Carley in ODNB, A.F. Pollard in DNB 19 (1909):336-337, McKisack 1971, 8, 10, 20 and 29.

10 Singer and Singer 1917-1919, 51 n. 2.

11 Forsey 1928, 508-509.

12 Foster 1913, 44-45, 56, 288, 317.

13 In Bishop Cooper's act book, he is always referred as clericus, though others are designated by their degrees. He does not appear in the index of Boase 1885.

14 Fussner 1962; McKisack 1971.

15 Clark 1887, pt. 2, p. 257 and pt. 3, p. 244.

16 Fussner 1962, 178 and ch. 8; McKisack 1971, 82.

17 Stevenson and Salter 1939, ch. 7; Hunt 1975, 67; Ker 1959, 511-512.

18 Wrenn (who always spelled his name with a double n), also a Londoner and son of a Merchant tailor, matriculated in 1608, graduated B.A. in 1609, M.A. in 1613, and B.D. in 1620: Clark 1887, pt. 1, 405, pt. 2, 302, 374, pt. 3, 288; Nicholas W.S. Cranfield in ODNB. He became custos of the Library in 1616.

19 Clark 1887, pt. 2, 314 and pt. 3, 196.

20 For Paddy's gifts to the Library, see Costin 1958, 71-78.

21 see Stuart Handley in ODNB.

22 London British Library Harley 6018, fol. 150v: Tite 1994, fig 6, p. [18]-19.

23 Tite 1994, 107.

24 Laud 1847-1860, v. 6, 242-243.

25 Fussner 1962, 136.

26 Cotton had a reputation in his own day for acquiring items for his collection is less than scrupulous ways, though his biographers go to some lengths to explain or excuse his practices: Tite 1994, 14, 106-112. MS 17 was not the only manuscript which he treated in this manner, though in other cases he may have acted with the assent of the owner: see Carley and Tite, 1992.

27 Ker 1938, 131.