Hemming’s Cartulary: How to Organise a Medieval Library and Archive

You might think that administering libraries and archives in the Middle Ages would be a relatively simple affair, owing to the fact that their holdings would have been far smaller to those of libraries today. However, when one monk of Worcester undertook the task of cataloguing the contents of the Priory’s documents just after the Norman Conquest, it proved to be no mean feat.

That monk was Hemming. During the 11th Century, Hemming was a member of the Worcester monastic community who was elevated to the rank of Subprior in the last years of St Wulfstan’s term as bishop (c. 1090). His name appears in a number of documents, usually in the capacity of scribe. He is most well-known, however, for his role in the compilation of a cartulary (document list) which was commissioned by St Wulfstan, but was probably completed after Wulfstan’s death in 1095.

Worcester Cathedral Library

Detail from the frontispiece of Graves’ and Hearne’s 1723 Transcription. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

‘Hemming’s Cartulary’, as it is now styled, consists of two sections: the first is titled Codicellus possessionu, and consists of a prose narrative list of lands wrongfully taken from the Church of Worcester’s control during the upheavals following the Norman Conquest. It contains copies of the original title deeds (subdivided into those existing prior to Domesday, and those recently acquired under bishops Eadred and Wulfstan) and of leases made by St Oswald between 962 and 991 are included to provide ‘proof’ (in many cases the authenticity of the documents is questionable). This was intended to aid Wulfstan’s successors in their conduct of estate management.

The second section or Enucleatio libelli explains the purpose and circumstances of the preceding work. In this, Hemming recounts that St Wulfstan ordered the scrinium (document chest) to be brought forth and thoroughly examined, in order to recover those documents in danger of rotting. Once this had been completed, they were to be copied into the church bible for preservation, as was common throughout Medieval England. Only fragments of this bible remain (and are now housed in the British Library), but the complete Cartulary, together with the earlier Liber Wigorniensis (c. 1002 – 1016) survive in British Library manuscript Cotton Tiberius A xiii. Both of these works are interesting for the research of local history, as they contain some of the earliest records of manorial estates or minsters which have developed into towns and cities over the intervening centuries.

Anglo-Saxon Old English Worcester Cathedral Library

Page of Anglo-Saxon text from Graves’ and Hearne’s 1723 transcription. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

Worcester Cathedral Library possesses a printed transcription of Hemming’s Cartulary, made in the 1722 by Richard Graves and Thomas Hearne, less than a decade before the original manuscript was damaged in the devastating fire at the Cotton Library. Although not entirely accurate, this copy does make the Cartulary accessible for further exciting research, and provides another window into our Early Medieval past.

Joana Perks

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