Much Eaten by Mice: a fragmentary pilgrimage itinerary by Sir Gilbert Hay?
This is a re-blog of a post which first appeared on the Pilgrim Libraries blog. The author, Dr Marianne O’Doherty, is Associate Professor in English, University of Southampton, UK and a member of the Pilgrim Libraries Project Network. She’s also a former Pelagios Commons Committee Member. Thanks to both the Pilgrim Libraries Project and Marianne for allowing us to share this post.
Anthony Bale’s recent blog-post ‘A fifteenth-century itinerary through Europe to Jerusalem‘ points out that pilgrims’ itineraries in the Middle Ages can turn up in surprising places — sometimes in entirely unconnected books. I wanted to follow up with an interesting example found in the back of a copy of Walter Bower’s fifteenth-century Scotichronicon:
The handwriting of this scrap is particularly difficult to read, and made more so by the loss of much of the left-hand margin to hungry mice (a not uncommon medieval problem). But this is what makes it a useful text to test with a new, experimental, mapping and annotation tool: Recogito.
Recogito: A tool for transcription and annotation
Part of the Pelagios Linked Open Data infrastructure, the Recogito online platform – designed by Rainer Simon at the Austrian Institute of Technology –allows any registered user to upload a text or image (including maps) into a personal workspace. Users can then mark out place names in their text or map by selecting them with boxes, transcribe the place names, link them up to known past or present place names, and (for places with geocoordinates), quickly and easily visualize or plot them on a modern map:
The system has a map visualizer, which makes it easy to see the places in the world to which a particular text refers and check transcriptions. Users can hover over a place to see the relevant excerpt of transcribed text, the transcription, and the place to which it’s mapped:
One particularly useful feature of Recogito, however, is its potential as a tool for collaboration. Recogito allows users to share documents privately with other users and collaborate on them, for instance to complete a partially-transcribed place name, or identify an obscure toponym:
Once users have annotated, tagged, and mapped place references in Recogito, it’s easy to download the data created to analyse. For instance, one question this text excerpt raised was the extent of its reliance on the popular fourteenth-century account Mandeville’s Travels. The itinerary talks about a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary at ‘Sardonade’ (Saidnaya) that Mandeville describes in detail (p. 58). However, when both texts are ‘mapped’ (here using the free online Carto DB platform) it becomes clear that there is not much overlap beyond this one distinctive element.
The Corpus Christi 171b itinerary may, perhaps, be a version of the kind of splicing together of sources about pilgrimage– possibly including personal experience – with Mandeville that Anthony Bale has recently observed in other fifteenth- and sixteenth-century sources (Bale 2016).
Working on itineraries using Recogito opens up new possibilities for tracing trends over time. It might allow to compare itineraries easily, using one to shed light on another. In the longer term, it’s planned that the Recogito infrastructure will enable this kind of work by allowing for searching and comparison of place references across a wide range of sources.
Whose itinerary is it anyway?
But there are still some unanswered questions. Who wrote these strange scraps of itinerary? Are they records of the writer’s personal experience, things he has heard, things read, or a mixture of all of these?
We can at least identify the writer of these notes, because an accident of the book’s history means he has left us his name. At some point in MS 171a’s early history, somebody cut out half one of its empty leaves (folio xix, MS 171a), presumably to use the purloined paper for other purposes. This has precipitated a ‘book curse’ directed at the thief, written on the remainder of the damaged folio in the same messy handwriting as the itinerary notes. The ‘curser’ signs himself ‘Gilbert ye Hayes’ (fol. xixv).
Gilbert was a fairly common name among the Hays, an important Scottish family, in the later Middle Ages (Brown, p. 21), yet we can be fairly sure who this one was. As Watt noted in his edition of the Scotichronicon (IX: 50-53), the same ‘large, untidy’ hand is responsible for additions and corrections to what the Chronicle has to say about a Gilbert Hay active France in the early fifteenth century, where he became chamberlain to, and was knighted by, Charles VII. This Sir Gilbert (d. 1465) can in turn be firmly identified as the author of a number of mid-fifteenth-century writings, including a verse Buik of King Alexander the Conqueror.
Did Sir Gilbert embark on any of the journeys that he sketches out in this note? The fragment provides no clue. But another, longer itinerary fragment of Gilbert’s in the same book suggests that Hay collected details of journeys he had not himself undertaken. It features an itinerary from Rome that stretches as far east as the Empire of the Great Khan of Cathay (MS 171b, fol. 370r), but this empire had fallen nearly a century before Sir Gilbert wrote. Hay’s biographers have, however, noted gaps in his biography in the late 1440s and early 1450s, and after 1460 (ODNB; Brown, p. 20). Might Sir Gilbert, perhaps, have undertaken or contemplated a Jerusalem pilgrimage during any of these periods, prompting him to note down this pilgrim’s itinerary?
- —–, Pelagios Commons. Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Online Resource. Accessed 8 May 2017
- A. Bale, ‘A fifteenth-century itinerary through Europe to Jerusalem‘. Pilgrim Libraries: books & reading on the medieval routes to Rome & Jerusalem. 20 April 2017. Online resources. Accessed 8 May 2017
- A. Bale, ‘“ut legi”: Sir John Mandeville’s Audience and Three Late Medieval English Travelers to Italy and Jerusalem’, Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 38 (2016), 201-37
- W. Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. D. E. R. Watt and others, new edn, 9 vols. (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987–98)
- M. Brown, ‘The stock that I am a branch of”: patrons and kin of Gilbert Hay’, in Fresche fontanis: Studies in the Culture of Medieval and Early Modern Scotland, ed. by Janet Hadley Williams and Derrick McClure (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), pp. 17-30
- C. Edington, ‘Hay, Sir Gilbert (b. c.1397, d. after 1465)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Online resources. Accessed 8 May 2017
- M. R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge: University Press, 1912)
- J. Mandeville, The Book of Marvels and Travels, ed. by Anthony Bale (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)
- N. Wilkins, Catalogue des manuscrits français de la bibliothèque Parker. (Cambridge: Parker Library Publications, Corpus Christi College, 1993
- T. Porck, ‘Paws, Pee and Mice: Cats among Medieval Manuscripts’. Turning Over a New Leaf: Manuscript Innovation in the Twelfth Century. Institute for Cultural Disciplines, Universiteit Leiden, NL. 22 February 2014. Online resources. Accessed 8 May 2017
- R. Simon, Recogito: Linked Data annotation without the pointy brackets Austrian Institute of Technology. Online resource. Accessed 8 May 2017
- J. H. Stevenson, ed., Gilbert of the Haye’s prose manuscript (AD 1456), 2 vols., STS, 44, 62 (1901–14)