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Editor's preface


– Ancrene Wisse

– The Preface to Ancrene Wisse

– Principles of editing

– Methods of editing

– About the manuscripts

Outline summary

Edited text

Translated text

Text and translation

MS Reproductions

MS Transcriptions

Apparatus criticus

Textual Commentary




Ancrene Wisse

Ancrene Wisse, a Middle English ‘rule’ or ‘guide’ for female recluses, was composed in the West Midlands in the early thirteenth century. There is still no scholarly consensus on its exact date, localization, authorship, or audience, but recent research has helped to narrow down the possibilities, and to suggest at least what its broader cultural and institutional context might have been.

It is a carefully-structured work, divided into the Preface edited here and eight parts (called by the author distinctiones). The first, which deals with the anchoresses' devotional routine, and the eighth, which covers their remaining outward observances, constitute the ‘Outer Rule’. The remaining distinctiones, which deal with the custody of the senses, the nature of the solitary life, the Seven Deadly Sins and their remedies, confession, penance, and the love of God, constitute the ‘Inner Rule’, and offer general spiritual guidance as well as specific advice on the anchoritic life. The work draws on a wide variety of sources: the Church Fathers, particularly Augustine of Hippo and Gregory the Great; later monastic writers, particularly Bernard of Clairvaux and Aelred of Rievaulx (whose Latin rule for anchoresses, De Institutione inclusarum, c. 1160, is an important source); and the pastoral manuals and preaching aids developed in the Paris schools during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries (see Millett 1999).

Ancrene Wisse is clearly the work of a highly-educated author, but it does not assume an equally highly-educated audience; although both French and Latin versions survive, it seems to have been composed originally in Middle English, and most of the Latin it contains, apart from the prayers and hymns which would have formed part of the anchoresses' daily routine, is translated or glossed. It appears to have been composed originally for three well-born (gentile) sisters who gave up the world in the flower of their youth to become anchoresses (Nero A. xiv, f. 50, ed. Day 1952, 80/23-37), and a probably authorial addition to the later form of the work in Corpus 402 addresses a larger and more scattered group of anchoresses, ‘twenty now or more’ (4. 69r/14); but the internal evidence of the work suggests that from the beginning the author had other possible audiences in mind, not only anchoritic but secular (in the section on confession, Part 5, he tells the anchoresses that most of its material is relevant to everyone, addressing their specific concerns only briefly at the end; and much of the material on the sins in Part 4 is similarly generalized). The accessibility of his work, its vivid, colloquial, and elegant style, and the relevance and interest of its content to a variety of audiences, meant that from a very early stage it began to be revised, adapted, and translated for other kinds of audience, both religious and lay. It survives in seventeen medieval manuscripts and manuscript fragments, and borrowings from it also appear in a number of late-medieval sermons (see Spencer 1993) and devotional works (Millett 1996a; see also Diekstra 1998).

It now seems increasingly likely that the origins of Ancrene Wisse are Dominican; both its structure and some of its content appear to have been influenced by the early Dominican constitutions, and there are some textual indications that its author itself was a friar (see Millett 1992, Millett 2000). If so, it must have been written after 1216, when the Dominican order was founded. The revised form of the work in Corpus 402, which refers approvingly to regular visits to the anchoresses by both Franciscan and Dominican friars, must postdate the arrival of both orders in England (by 1224), and probably their settlement in the West Midlands (by the early 1230s); but since the original version does not mention such visits, and indeed warns the anchoresses not to trust clerical visitors of any kind, it seems likely that it was composed earlier than the 1230s.

This places Ancrene Wisse in the period following the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which initiated a major programme of pastoral reform and religious education of the laity across Western Europe. From an early stage, the newly-founded orders of friars were recommended by the Papacy to support local bishops in the implementation of this programme by preaching and hearing confessions. In this period, the West Midlands dioceses of Worcester, Hereford, and Coventry and Lichfield were occupied by a series of reforming bishops (one of whom, Alexander Stavensby, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield 1224-38, had taught Dominic himself at Toulouse, and founded Dominican priories in Shrewsbury and Chester in the 1230s); it is possible that Ancrene Wisse (which includes a substantial proportion of general material on confession), should be seen in this broader context of pastoral reform, as part of a drive to provide a literature of pastoral instruction in the vernacular (see Millett 2003b).

The Preface to Ancrene Wisse

The Preface to Ancrene Wisse is a more complex piece of work than it appears to be at first sight, simultaneously drawing on and reacting against an earlier tradition of monastic legislation.

Its overall model (see Dobson 1976, Ch. 1), supplying its framework of argument and some of its content, is the prologue first added to the statutes of the Premonstratensian canons when they were revised c. 1174 (ed. Lefèvre 1978). The Premonstratensians were one of the independent congregations of Augustinian canons, following the ‘Rule of St. Augustine’ but supplementing its relatively brief prescriptions with their own more detailed regulations; like the Cistercians, the reformed order of Benedictine monks on whose legislation they initially drew, they were noted for the strict discipline and austerity of their way of life. When St Dominic—who had been an Augustinian canon himself—founded his new order of friars in 1216, and found himself obliged by Canon 13 of the Fourth Lateran Council to accept the rule and regulations of an existing order, he adopted the Premonstratensian regulations (though in a modified form, to fit the very different mission of the Dominicans); it is likely that this is the route by which their prologue, which remained largely unaltered in the early Dominican constitutions (ed. Thomas 1965), reached the author of Ancrene Wisse. The influence of the Premonstratensian/Dominican legislative tradition is also reflected in some of the content of Parts 1 and 8, the ‘Outer Rule’, and in the structural subdivision of Ancrene Wisse into distinctiones and chapters, a feature whose explicit mention here goes back to the original Premonstratensian prologue (which drew attention to a formal innovation, since twelfth-century monastic regulations were normally subdivided only by chapter); see Millett 2000, Millett 2003a. The Preface goes beyond this model, however, to a critical reassessment of what constitutes the religious life, based on a discussion of some key terms associated with it, religio (ME religiun), ordo (ME ordre), and regula (ME riwle). The author tells us that the anchoresses have repeatedly asked him for a rule, and that they complain that people keep asking them what religious order they belong to. Taken together, these points suggest that they felt a certain unease about their institutional status; and they had some reason, in the early thirteenth century, for feeling marginalized. Lay-anchorites (that is, anchorites who, like these anchoresses, had entered the solitary life from the world rather than from a religious community) counted technically as religious (religiosi): they had taken formal vows of chastity, obedience, and stability of abode, and led an enclosed life under the supervision of the local bishop. However, by the early thirteenth century, the term religio had come to be used in an increasingly narrow sense; it tended to be applied primarily (as it is in Canon 13 of the Fourth Lateran Council) to the way of life of those belonging to a religious order (ordo or, sometimes, religio), renouncing personal property, living in an enclosed community, wearing a distinctive habit, and following a written rule (regula). We do not know whether the anchoresses addressed in Ancrene Wisse had turned to the solitary life as their first choice, or whether they had chosen it as an alternative to communal religious life because of the excess of demand over supply in this period for places in women's religious houses; in either case, a central theme of the Preface is the value of forms of religious life other than the traditional monastic model (see Millett 2002). The terminology of religious life is reclaimed for extra-monastic forms of vocation, and for the inner, rather than the outer, life: the religious life (religio / ordo) is redefined, using an unusual allegorization of James 1: 27, in terms of pastoral care and the solitary life rather than monasticism, and the rule (regula) that the author offers does not have the legislative status of a traditional monastic rule, but is made up instead of a combination of optional external recommendations (the ‘Outer Rule’) and general moral guidance, which the author emphasizes is of divine rather than human origin (the ‘Inner Rule’). The Preface to Ancrene Wisse, like the work as a whole, reflects an ambivalent attitude to the monastic tradition on which it draws. Although the anchoresses are offered a ‘Rule’ which owes much to an existing tradition of monastic legislation, the Preface also represents a reaction against traditional monasticism, looking back beyond it to the solitaries of the early Church, and outside it to other kinds of religious life, both in the world and in solitude. Similar attitudes can be found in other writers from the late eleventh to the early thirteenth centuries, reflecting the development of new approaches to the religious life during what has been called the ‘Medieval Reformation’ (see Bolton 1983). Although Giles Constable saw the essential feature of this movement as ‘the application of the monastic life to all people, and the interiorization of monastic values and spirituality’ (Constable 1996, p. 7), the democratization of monastic ideals seems, in some cases at least, to have been less a process of peaceful dissemination than of active reaction against the identification of religio with traditional monasticism. A similar reclamation of the terminology of religious life, in this case for all devout Christians, can be found in the Historia Occidentalis composed in the early 1220s by the reforming preacher James of Vitry: ‘We do not consider regulars [regulares, i.e. those living according to a rule] only those who renounce the world and go over to a religious life [religionem], but we can also describe as regulars all the faithful of Christ who serve the Lord under the rule [regula] of the Gospels and who live in an ordered way [ordinate: i.e. each following their own ordo or vocation] under the one highest and supreme Abbot’ (Ch. 34, ed. Hinnebusch 1972). James's concluding image is paralleled in the later addition to Ancrene Wisse Part 4 mentioned above, where the larger group of anchoresses is described as ‘as if in a cloister over which Jesus is the high Prior’ (4. 69v); the author of Ancrene Wisse offers his readers not a real but a virtual cloister, a religio which is a matter of inner disposition rather than outward observance.

Principles of editing

The existing EETS editions of Ancrene Wisse provide a detailed record of the readings of its individual MSS, but are difficult for non-specialists to use. The first aim of this edition is to provide a corrected and fully-annotated working text, based on a good manuscript, for general use; the second is to establish a context for the edited text within the broader historical development of the work.

Ian Doyle noted the ‘exceptionally dynamic character’ of the textual transmission of Ancrene Wisse (Doyle 1954, i. 234). Between the early thirteenth century and the end of the Middle Ages, the work was repeatedly revised and adapted for different audiences and for different functions; it was also translated once into Latin and twice into French. Some major early revisions were probably authorial. Dobson made a strong case for identifying an early annotator of Cleopatra (‘Scribe B’, referred to in this edition as ‘C2’), who both corrected and revised its carelessly-copied text, with the author himself (Dobson 1972, pp. xciii-cxl). The more extensively revised text in Corpus 402 (A), adapted for a larger group of anchoresses, incorporates both some of the C2 revisions (in some cases further revised) and additional revisions, some shared with other manuscripts, a few unique to A; some at least of these additional revisions are likely to be authorial. However, it is clear that from its earliest stages the work was seen by other users as open to alteration and adaptation, and we cannot assume that all the additions in A were the responsibility of the original author. The internal evidence of a revision (e.g. marked similarities of style and approach to the original, or the use of the first person) may sometimes suggest authorial origin; but these clues are not always present, particularly in shorter additions, and in a social and institutional context where works of popular instruction might be composed, annotated, revised, and sometimes copied, by clerics with relatively similar educational backgrounds, it is not always easy (or even useful) to distinguish between authorial and non-authorial contributions.

Most recent editors of Ancrene Wisse have based their editions on A, and it has generally become the standard reference text. There are good reasons for this. Corpus 402 is a carefully-copied, consistently-spelt manuscript, which offers a particularly good text with relatively few errors; it also brings together most (though not all) of the early revisions to the work.

Dobson argued further for its textual authority as ‘a close copy of the author's own final and definitive revision of his work’ (Dobson 1962, p. 163). However, there are problems with this view. Although much of the added material in A is likely to be authorial, it is less clear that its text as a whole is the product of direct authorial supervision, or that it constitutes (as has often been assumed) a distinct ‘version’ of the work. The only part of the work which has been thoroughly overhauled is Part 8; elsewhere, there is less evidence of systematic revision. The significant gap left in the argument by the cutting of an address to the original three anchoresses in Part 4 has not been repaired, and a briefer reference to them in Part 2 remains undeleted; the attribution of more offspring to Envy and Wrath in Part 4 has not been accompanied by a corresponding adjustment to their numbers in the surrounding text; the A text of the long Quomodo obscuratum addition in Part 2 is markedly inferior to those in F and V; and some originally marginal annotations have been entered at unsuitable points in the text. The A text seems to be less a ‘coherent and harmonious’ recasting of the original (to borrow a phrase from Bédier) than the multi-layered product of an ongoing process of textual change; its revisions and deletions reflect a sequence of changing—sometimes even conflicting—intentions, not all of them necessarily authorial.

It can be argued, then, that A is not a definitive authorial version of Ancrene Wisse, or (because of the extensive revisions it incorporates) even a representative form of the work; there is also the problem that its relatively unsystematic incorporation of these revisions does not always make sense in isolation, leaving apparent inconsistencies, discontinuities, or even contradictions in its text. To be understood fully, it needs to be contextualized within the broader textual history of the work, and presented in a way which will make the multi-layered nature of its textual development clearer to the reader.

The editorial approach I have taken does not fit easily into the traditional classifications. This edition is not ‘critical’ in the traditional sense, although it uses the tools of the critical editor (the analysis of manuscript relationships and of individual variants) to help establish the direction of textual change; it does not attempt to recreate a hypothetical ‘author's original’ (either of the original work or of a later ‘version’), but to provide an edition of a specific historical form of the work, the text in Corpus 402. It is not a ‘best-text’ edition, since it does not give privileged status to the A text, but uses it rather as a vantage-point from which the early textual development of the work can be retrospectively surveyed. It is not a ‘parallel-text’ edition (a function already carried out in practice by the EETS series of diplomatic or semi-diplomatic editions of the work); although it prints alongside the text material from other early manuscripts not found in A, it offers a convenient overview of their most significant variations rather than providing full evidence. It could be described as an attempt to realize in practice the concept of ‘social editing’ proposed by Jerome J. McGann (see McGann 1992), which sees the work not simply in terms of authorial intention, but as a communal product which may be significantly influenced by the broader social context of its production and transmission. My aim has been not, as with traditional textual criticism, to reverse the process of transmission, but to trace its historical development, using the evidence of the manuscript tradition as a whole to remove mechanical errors and misunderstandings from the A text, and to identify and account for other differences between A and the original form of the work.

The main influences on my editorial conventions have been editions of Latin works showing analogous patterns of continuing textual development: A. H. Thomas's edition of the early Dominican constitutions (Thomas 1965), and David d'Avray's edition of thirteenth-century model sermons on marriage (d'Avray 2001), both of which use a combination of typographical mark-up and extended citation of variants to indicate the relationship of their base text to other forms of the work.

Methods of editing


The edited text is based on Corpus 402 (A). Alterations by the main scribe have been silently incorporated in the text. Where the text has been emended, the MS reading is given in the Apparatus criticus. Square brackets are used to enclose emendations, and material omitted (for whatever reason) in A which has been been supplied from other MSS.

Material found in A but not in the original version of Ancrene Wisse is indicated by bold type. My use of bold type to indicate later additions does not distinguish between earlier and later stages of revision (which may sometimes coexist in a single passage), but is simply intended to alert the reader to the presence of changes from the original form of the work; fuller information is given in the Apparatus criticus and the Textual Commentary.

Rubrics in A are indicated by red type. Rubrics in MSS other than A are not recorded in the footnotes or Apparatus criticus unless there is a corresponding rubric in A, though they may be commented on in the Textual Commentary (for a discussion of possibly authorial rubrics in the early MSS and in F not found in A, see Dobson 1972, pp. lvi-lxii).

Abbreviations are silently expanded, and capitalization, punctuation, and paragraphing modernized. Word-division has been standardized, and in most cases modernized. The accent-like hairlines sometimes used by the A scribe above vowels (see Ker in Tolkien 1962, p. xiii) are not reproduced.

For the Middle English, I have followed the spelling of A, unless it is clearly erroneous by the scribe's normal standards. Words or short passages incorporated into the text from other MSS are normally silently adapted to A's spelling-conventions; where longer passages from other MSS are used to supply gaps in A, the spelling of the alternative base MS is retained. The spelling of the Latin in A is retained.

On the line-numbering and paragraph-numbering used in the text, see the Editor's Preface, under ‘Problems’. Also incorporated in the text are folio-references to the base MS, Corpus 402.


The footnotes are used to present separately, with a translation, material from the original version of Ancrene Wisse, and from the earlier stages of its textual development, either not found, or found in altered form, in A. Normally only the more substantial variants (i.e., more than a few words long) are included; shorter ones are recorded only in the apparatus criticus, unless they change the meaning of a larger unit of text.

Apparatus criticus

The Apparatus criticus is selective. Variations in spelling, and variations in word-form which do not affect the sense, are not normally cited, unless the variant is ambiguous or helps to cast light on other MS readings. Variations between þe and þet (both as demonstrative adjective and as relative pronoun) are not cited. As a rule, only those variants are cited which are shared by more than one MS (though single-MS variants may be cited where they are related to a preceding or following variant shared by more than one MS, or where they are of interest in themselves).

Variants are recorded more fully from CFGNTV than from the rewritten versions LPSR (for the MSS and their sigla, see the following section of the Introduction, ‘About the manuscripts’). The revisions made by C2 to C are recorded (except where they do no more than correct errors in C, or modify its spelling and punctuation); also the alterations to adjust the work to a different audience found in two of the early MSS, G and T. Modernizations of vocabulary and word-order, and minor verbal expansions which add nothing to the sense, are not normally recorded.

Lemmata are from the A text unless otherwise indicated; where a different base MS is being used, the MS sigil is given before the line-number. If the word in a lemma occurs more than once in the line, the particular instance is identified by number.

The form of a variant given in the Apparatus criticus is that of the first MS listed; the readings of the French and Latin versions are not given separately where it is clear that they are translating one particular variant in the English. Variants are normally cited in alphabetical order of sigil; but this order may be departed from to group variants according to their distance from the lemma, to put the English form of a variant before the French and Latin, and (occasionally) to avoid citing a variant in an anomalous form. It should not be assumed that all MSS not cited support the reading of the lemma; fuller variants, however, are cited where the reading in A is not shared by the other MSS, has only minority support, or is otherwise problematic. Where supporting evidence for the A reading is given, any MS not cited is either temporarily not running or casts no light on the variants in question (e.g. where the French and Latin versions could be translating either of two English synonyms).

Abbreviations are silently expanded, and capitalization, punctuation, word-division, and paragraphing are modernized; where any of these are relevant to the reading, however, they are discussed in the Textual Commentary.

Typographical conventions

  • Bold type indicates material in the A text which was not in the original version.
  • Red type indicates rubrication.
  • In the text, square brackets indicate emendations, and material from other MSS supplying omissions; in the translation, they enclose words supplied for the sense (e.g. where a Latin quotation in the text has been cited in truncated form), and occasionally brief editorial explanations.
  • In the Apparatus criticus, a single square bracket follows the lemma.
  • In the Apparatus criticus, diamond brackets enclose illegible text, indicated by three dots regardless of its length.
  • In the Apparatus criticus, round brackets enclosing three dots indicate intervening words not relevant to the reading in question; they are also used to enclose surrounding or intervening words which are not part of the variant but are supplied to explain it, and editorial comments (in italics).


conjecturally emended (by)
continued (citation of Scriptural texts or prayers)
corrected (to reading of lemma)
deleted (by any method)
omitted (referring back to reading of lemma)
replaced (by)
similarly (referring back to immediately previous reading)
v. r.
variant reading(s)

About the manuscripts

List of manuscripts and sigla

A Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, 402. description
C London, British Library, Cotton Cleopatra C. vi. description
C2 ‘Scribe B’, the earlier corrector of C
C3 ‘Scribe D’, a later corrector of C
F London, British Library, Cotton Vitellius F. vii. description
G Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, 234/120 [not running in Preface]
H Oxford, Bodleian Library, Eng. th. c. 70 (‘the Lanhydrock Fragment’) [not running in Preface]
L the Latin translation of Ancrene Wisse, ed. by d'Evelyn from Oxford, Merton College, C.i.5 (Coxe 44) (Me), with variants from London, British Library, Cotton Vitellius E. vii (V1), London, British Library, Royal 7 C. x (R2), and Oxford, Magdalen College, Latin MS 67 (Ma). The text cited in the Apparatus criticus is normally d'Evelyn's edited text (based on Me except for Part 8, which survives only in V1); if not, the individual MS is specified.
N London, British Library, Cotton Nero A. xiv. description
P Cambridge, Magdalene College, Pepys 2498. description
R London, British Library, Royal 8 C. i [not running in Preface]
S the later French translation of Ancrene Wisse, ed. by Trethewey from Cambridge, Trinity College Cambridge, R. 14. 7 (Tr), with variants from Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fonds français 6276 (BN) and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 90 (Bd). The text cited in the Apparatus criticus is normally Trethewey's edited text; if not, the individual MS is specified.
T London, British Library, Cotton Titus D. xviii [not running in Preface]
V Oxford, Bodleian Library, Eng. poet. a. 1 (‘the Vernon MS’). description

Manuscript descriptions

MS A (Corpus 402)

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, 402.

Description Ker in Tolkien 1962, pp. ix-xviii.
Diplomatic edition Tolkien 1962.
Bibliography Millett 1996a, pp. 49-50.

117 parchment leaves. Two leaves (the central opening of the second quire) missing after f. 14. 215 x 148 mm. (after rebinding); written space c. 156 x 95 mm. (ff. 1-68), 156 x 100 (ff. 69-117), single column of 28 lines. Coloured initials and paragraph-marks (red and blue). Carefully written in a smaller Gothic book hand, dated by Ker, Tolkien 1962, p. xv) to the first half of the thirteenth century. Dialect localized by Jeremy Smith to northern Herefordshire or southern Shropshire (see Millett 1996a), p. 11, fn. 7). In the bottom margin of f. 1v, an ex libris inscription added towards the end of the thirteenth century records the gift of the MS by John Purcel (a Shropshire landowner) to the house of Victorine canons at Wigmore Abbey in Herefordshire, at the request of its precentor, Walter of Ludlow (see Ker, Tolkien 1962, pp. xvii-xviii). The MS includes minor corrections, alterations, and marginalia in hands of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; further annotations were added in the sixteenth century, when it was owned by Archbishop Parker. On Parker's death in 1575 it passed to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

The text of Corpus 402 is generally of high quality, though not free of errors (mainly of omission). It reflects a major (though not comprehensive)overhaul of the work for a changed audience, the group of twenty or more anchoresses addressed in a unique addition in Part 4 (ff. 69r/12--69v/11), now apparently regularly visited by the friars (ff. 16v/13-17r/2, 112v/10-14). It brings together most of the early revisions and additions found elsewhere in the MS tradition, sometimes developing them further, and also includes some added material not found elsewhere. The main alterations to the text, much of which remains largely untouched, are in Parts 2, 4, and 8. Part 4 includes an expanded account of the offspring of the Seven Deadly Sins (apparently based on an earlier stage of revision) and some direct addresses to the larger group of anchoresses (found only in A); there are also three substantial additions (shared with F, and in one case V as well) in Part 2. Part 8, the most thoroughly worked-over section, takes further the revisions to the ‘Outer Rule’ found in the C2 annotations of MS C, possibly again building on an intermediate stage of revision.

MS C (Cleopatra C. vi)

London, British Library, Cotton MS Cleopatra C. vi.

Description Dobson 1972, Introduction.
Bibliography Millett 1996a, pp. 51-52.
Diplomatic edition Dobson 1972.

203 parchment leaves; text of Ancrene Wisse ff. 4r-198v. One leaf missing between f. 190 and f. 191. 194 x 140 mm.; written space 56-72 mm. wide, 114-142 mm. long, single column of 18-28 lines (Dobson 1972, xxix-xlvi, explains these variations by the initial influence of an exemplar in ‘a smaller, more compact hand’ than the scribe's own; their pattern, together with some irregularities in quiring and in the continuity of the copying, indicates that the scribe copied his exemplar in six sections, some out of sequence, suggesting that ‘some form of the pecia system was in use’). Coloured initials and paragraph-marks (red and blue). Not very carefully written in a smaller Gothic book hand, dated by Ker 1964, p. 29, to the first half of the thirteenth century. Dialect of main scribe localized by Jeremy Smith to North Worcestershire (see Laing 1993, pp. 74-75). An inscription (c. 1300) on f. 3r records the gift of the MS to the house of Augustinian canonesses at Canonsleigh in Devon by Matilda de Clare, Countess of Gloucester; it was later owned by Robert Talbot (d. 1558), prebendary of Norwich, before its acquisition by Sir Robert Cotton.

The MS, whose text is flawed by errors, frequent small-scale omissions, and arbitrary rephrasing, has been extensively corrected and revised, mainly by two scribes, C2 and C3 (Dobson's ‘Scribe B’ and ‘Scribe D’). C2, plausibly identified by Dobson 1972, xciii-cxl, with the author of Ancrene Wisse, appears to have worked on the MS before it was bound; he corrects many of C's misreadings and rewritings, also adding clarifications of difficulties and a number of revisions, reflecting an earlier stage of some of the revisions found in MS A (Corpus 402). The late-thirteenth-century scribe C3, working at Canonsleigh, added further corrections and annotations; Dobson 1972, cxlvii-cxlviii, argues that he was an Augustinian canon, but the evidence cited suggests rather that he was a Dominican (he copies out a Dominican prayer for preachers on f. 198v, and his familiarity with the Rule of St Augustine need not indicate an Augustinian connection, since the Dominicans also followed this Rule).

MS F (Vitellius F. vii)

London, British Library, Cotton MS Vitellius F. vii.

Description Herbert 1944, Introduction.
Bibliography Millett 1996a, p. 54.
Diplomatic edition (Ancrene Wisse only)Herbert 1944.

French translation of Ancrene Wisse ff. 2r--70r, followed by various devotional works in French: a treatise on the pains of Purgatory and Hell and the joys of Heaven, OF versions of the Tractatus de tribulatione and part of Gregory's Regula Pastoralis, and miscellaneous prayers and meditations translated from Augustine, Anselm, Bernard, and the Scriptures.

164 parchment leaves, damaged at top and bottom (by the Cottonian fire of 1731), c. 80 x 137 mm. at most. Double columns of 41-43 lines. Coloured headings (red) and initials (red and blue).Written by a single scribe in a smaller Gothic book hand, dated by Herbert, p. ix, to ‘about the beginning of the fourteenth century’. An inscription on the last page indicates that the MS was given between 1433 and 1441 to Eleanor Cobham, second wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, by Joan, wife of the 8th Earl of Kent.

This is the only surviving copy of the earlier of the two French translations of Ancrene Wisse; although the MS is relatively late, and the scribe careless, the translation is a close rendering of what appears to have been a good early text of the English version. It includes three substantial additions in Part 2 shared with A, in one case (Herbert 1944, 49/24--53/4) drawing on a better text than A's, and a unique addition in Part 8 (304/1-16), comparing the regulations of different orders on abstinence.

MS N (Nero A. xiv)

London, British Library, Cotton MS Nero A. xiv.

Description Dobson 1972, Introduction.
Bibliography Millett 1996a, pp. 52-53.
Diplomatic edition (Ancrene Wisse only) Day 1952.

Text of Ancrene Wisse ff. 1r--120v, followed (in a different hand) by an Ureisun of ure Lefdi in rhyming verse, three ‘Wooing Group’ works (Ureisun of God Almihti, ‘Lofsong of ure Lefdi’, and ‘Lofsong of ure Louerde’), the Apostles' Creed in English, 12 lines of Latin verse on death, and a Latin prose meditation (see Day 1952, pp. xxii-xxiv).

139 parchment leaves (foliated 1*-4*, 1-135), 144 x 107 mm.; written space, single column of 28-30 lines. Coloured initials and paragraph-marks (mainly red). Written in smaller Gothic book hand, dated (by Day, advised by Ker) to the second quarter of the thirteenth century. Dialect has been assigned to West or South Worcestershire (LALME (1: 25); Laing 1993, p. 78). Day suggests, from the evidence of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century annotations on the first flyleaf, that the MS may have been owned towards the end of the Middle Ages by the Benedictine abbey of Winchcombe Abbey in Gloucester, passing at the Dissolution to a local family, before it entered the Cotton collection in the early seventeenth century.

The harsh criticism of the quality of the Nero text in Dobson 1962, p. 133 (‘an innovating manuscript, the most remote from the original of all the thirteenth-century English texts ... written by a fussy and interfering scribe’), has recently been qualified by Scahill 2002, who explains its linguistic modifications by the scribe's ‘desire to produce a readily intelligible text’, and emphasises N's ‘value as a guide to the meaning’ compared with the other early MSS C, G, and T. It preserves a passage on the circumstances of the original three anchoresses (Day 1952, 85/8-27) abridged or cut in other MSS, and a possibly authorial addition (10/25--11/5), recommending the lay brothers' Hours of the writer's order, not found elsewhere.

MS P (Pepys 2498)

Cambridge, Magdalene College, Pepys MS 2498.

Description McKitterick and Beadle 1992, pp. 86-88.
Bibliography Millett 1996a, pp. 50-51.
Diplomatic edition (Ancrene Wisse only) Zettersten 1976.

A collection of religious works in Middle English; text of Ancrene Wisse (called on p. 449a this good book Recluse) pp. 371a-449a. 232 parchment leaves, c. 340 x 240 mm.; text in two columns, each c. 290 x 100 mm., 52-54 lines. Coloured headings (red), initials (red and blue), and paragraph-marks (blue). Written by a single scribe in Anglicana Formata, dated by Ker to ‘the middle of the second half of s. xiv’ (Zettersten 1976, p. xix, fn. 1); Colledge 1939 suggests 1381-1401 on internal evidence. Dialect localized in LALME (1: 64) to the Waltham Abbey area of Essex.

The version of Ancrene Wisse in P has been extensively abridged, rewritten, and interpolated; it addresses a general audience of both sexes, and often works against the sense of the original, celebrating the active rather than the contemplative life. Colledge 1939 identifies two stages of reworking, the first by a Lollard reviser (though recent research suggests that the revisions may be too early to be ‘Lollard’), the second by the Pepys scribe himself. The text of P is extraordinarily garbled, probably through a combination of its remoteness from the original and the scribe's inability to cope adequately either with Latin or with the Ancrene Wisse author's difficult Middle English; but its textual history, which reflects an earlier stage of the process of revision seen in MS A, and links it particularly with MS V (see Doyle 1990, is of some interest.

MS V (Vernon)

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Eng. poet. a. 1 (‘the Vernon MS’).

Description Doyle 1987, pp. 1-16.
Bibliography Millett 1996a, p. 57.
Facsimile Doyle 1987.
Diplomatic edition (Ancrene Wisse only) Zettersten and Diensberg 2000.

A very large, handsomely-illuminated anthology of religious and moral literature, mainly in Middle English, compiled in the West Midlands probably towards the end of the C14; its exact date, place of origin, patron(s) and intended audience are uncertain. Internal evidence places it after 1384; dialectal and other evidence links it with the area including S. Staffordshire, N. Worcestershire, and W. Warwickshire. Doyle 1987 suggests tentatively that its production may have been initiated by the Cistercian abbey at Bordesley, N. Worcestershire, for the house of nuns at Nuneaton, Shropshire; though an audience of pious laity cannot be ruled out. The text of Ancrene Wisse (called in the medieval list of contents Roule of Reclous) is on ff. 371vb--392ra, preceded by A Talkyng of the Loue of God (which draws on two ‘Wooing Group’ works, The Wohunge of ure Lauerd and On Ureisun of ure Louerde). Three folios (389-391) are missing from the text, which lacks the later part of Part 6 (from heaued, Corpus 402, f. 97v/18), all of Part 7, and most of Part 8, from which only two sections survive, part of the addition on wimples and the paragraph warning against idleness (Zettersten and Diensberg 2000, 128/26--129/12).

350 parchment leaves (originally probably 422 or 426), 544 x 393 mm. Written space in Section IV (ff. 319-406) c. 412-20 x 284-94 mm.; two columns of 80 lines, 132-7 mm. across; illuminated initials, coloured paragraph-marks (red and blue). Text of Ancrene Wisse written by the second Vernon scribe, ‘Scribe B’, in Anglicana Formata. In spite of its late date, the Vernon text of Ancrene Wisse is of relatively high quality, with only minor modifications (mainly modernizations of vocabulary). For the main body of the text, its closest affinities are with MS N and (where it is running) G, but it also incorporates a number of the revisions found in MS A.