The University of Sheffield
School of English

Early Modern Manuscript Poetry: Recovering our Scribal Heritage

Professor Steve May, Professor Cathy Shrank, and Dr Alan Bryson were awarded £588,879 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a four-year project, running from October 2009-September 2013.

This project—which included a researcher (Alan) and two PhD students (Jessica Edmondes and Claire Bryony Williams)—sought to enrich our knowledge and understanding of early modern English and Scottish scribal communities, literary activity, and the more covert political culture which, for reasons of censorship, operated outside print.

Outputs include three critical editions of important verse miscellanies. Two of these—British Library, Harleian MS 7392 (2) and National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, MS Dyce 44 (edited by Jessica and Claire under the supervision of Steve and Cathy)—contain works by some of our best-known Renaissance writers, including John Donne, Sir Edward Dyer, Thomas Nashe, Sir Walter Ralegh, and Sir Philip Sidney. The third—BL, Additional MS 82370—has only just come to light after centuries in private ownership. Allusions to families and property in this miscellany suggest that it was compiled in the West Riding of Yorkshire. This collection, edited by Steve and Prof Arthur Marotti (Wayne State), gives a rare and valuable insight into the types of verse available to provincial scribes and casts light on literary production and activity beyond London and southern England. Together, these three critical editions provide a comprehensive study of more than 500 works in prose and verse, nearly half of which are new to the literary canon.

The project has also produced a critical edition of over fifty extant English and Scottish verse libels dating from the second half of the sixteenth century. At present, these are almost wholly unknown to scholars and, with that, a substantial part of our understanding of the dissemination and debate on the political, religious, and social concerns raised in them is lost. 

For further information, contact Cathy Shrank.