The Trinity Gower D Scribe (fl. 1390–1420), often referred to simply as Scribe D, was a professional scribe and copyist of literary manuscripts active during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century in London, England. Despite the fact that his real name remains, as yet, unknown, Scribe D has been described as "so well known to students of late Middle English manuscripts that he hardly needs any introduction".
Identification and conjectured biography
Scribe D was first identified in the 1970s by Ian Doyle and Malcolm Parkes, who noticed that the same scribal hand occurred in a range of prestige manuscripts of late fourteenth and early fifteenth century date. The hand has been characterised as "Anglicana formata at its best"; restrained, traditional and rather austere, with a slight influence of secretary hand. The manuscripts in which this hand appears show that Scribe D was active between the 1390s and 1420s.
Although the manuscripts seem to have been produced in London, the spellings used by Scribe D indicate that his original dialect was that of the south-west Midlands of England. In particular, he has been identified as originating from north Worcestershire: the development of language in the manuscripts he copied appears to indicate that he made an increasing effort to eliminate the dialect of his youth. However, Scribe D's particular specialisation in the works of John Gower seems to have resulted in him picking up several unusual word forms used by Gower, who had a London ("East Midlands") dialect with idiosyncratic Suffolk and Kent influences, and subsequently using them when copying the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Kerby-Fulton has suggested that Scribe D can be regarded as one of a class of "'reasonably educated men' who came up from the provinces seeking their fortunes, Dick Whittington style".
One of Scribe D's earliest identified works, based on the style of the illumination used in the manuscript, is the important "C text" of William Langland's Piers Plowman, contained in University of London MS. v.88. This contains scribal editing of "real skill" in addition to unique material written either by a "Langland enthusiast" or Langland himself. It may be significant that Scribe D's first surviving commission was for Piers Plowman, a work written in the same south-west Midland dialect that he would have spoken himself.
Once established in London, Scribe D may have worked with other professional scribes. He is known to have worked on the same manuscript, the "Trinity Gower" manuscript, as the scribe of the Ellesmere and Hengwrt manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales (now tentatively identified as Adam Pinkhurst) and either both men or the bookseller they worked for seem to have had good links to the London literary world, being able to obtain high-quality draft copies of texts. Another of the scribes working on the Trinity Gower was Thomas Hoccleve, himself a poet and an admirer (and possibly friend) of Chaucer.
Some academics, such as Estelle Stubbs, have argued that Scribe D and his colleagues may, rather than trying to assemble the Cantebury Tales after Chaucer's death in 1400, have been steadily revising and recopying manuscripts in several stages with possible authorial supervision or input.
Manuscripts attributed to Scribe D
- London University Library v. 88 (the so-called "Ilchester manuscript" of Piers Plowman, regarded as possibly Scribe D's earliest work).
- Cambridge, Trinity R.3.2 (quires 9, 15–19) (Confessio Amantis)
- British Library, Egerton 1991 (Confessio Amantis)
- Columbia University, Plimpton 265 (Confessio Amantis)
- Oxford, Bodley 294 (Confessio Amantis)
- Oxford, Bodley 902 (Confessio Amantis)
- Oxford, Christ Church 148 (Confessio Amantis)
- Princeton, Taylor 5 (Confessio Amantis)
- British Library, Add. 27944 (John Trevisa's translation of De proprietatibus rerum)
- British Library, Harley MS. 7334 (Canterbury Tales)
- Oxford, Corpus Christi 198 (Canterbury Tales)
- Thaisen, J. "The Trinity Gower D Scribe's Two Canterbury Tales Manuscripts Revisited", in Mooney & Connolly, Design and distribution of late medieval manuscripts in England, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2008, p.41
- The text is as follows: And natheles how that it is / I woot my self, but for al this/ Unto my prest, which cometh anon / I wol thow telle it on and oon / Bothe al thy thought and al thy werk / O Genius myn owne Clerk / Com forth and hier this mannes schrifte
- Doyle, A. I. and Parkes, M. B. "The Production of Copies of the Canterbury Tales and Confessio Amantis in the Early Fifteenth Century" in Parkes and Watson (eds), Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts and Libraries, London, 1978, pp.163–210
- Parkes, M. B. Their hands before our eyes: a closer look at scribes, Ashgate Publishing, 2008, p.111
- Thaisen, p.42
- Transcript of discussion on "Manuscript Studies and Literary Geography", in Laing & Nicholson (eds) Speaking in our tongues: proceedings of a colloquium on medieval dialectology, Boydell & Brewer, 1994, p.113
- Kerby-Fulton, K. Written work: Langland, Labor, and Authorship, Publisher University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997, p.118
- Benson, C. D. Public Piers Plowman: modern scholarship and late medieval English culture, Penn State, 2004, p.66
- Stubbs, E. "'Here's One I Prepared Earlier': The Work of Scribe D on Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 198", Review of English Studies (2007) 58 (234): 133–153