Textus Roffensis

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First page of the Textus Roffensis. From Rochester Cathedral Library, MS A.3.5; formerly in the Medway Studies Centre, now in the crypt of Rochester Cathedral.

The Textus Roffensis (Latin for "The Tome of Rochester"), fully titled the Textus de Ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulphum episcopum ("The Tome of the Church of Rochester up to Bishop Ernulf") and sometimes also known as the Annals of Rochester, is a mediaeval manuscript that consists of two separate works written between 1122 and 1124. It is catalogued as "Rochester Cathedral Library, MS A.3.5" and is currently[when?] on display in a new exhibition at Rochester Cathedral, Rochester, Kent.[1] It is thought that the main text of both manuscripts was written by a single scribe, although the English glosses to the two Latin entries (items 23 and 24 in table below) were made by a second hand.[2] The annotations might indicate that the manuscript was consulted in some post-Conquest trials.[3] However, the glosses are very sparse and just clarify a few uncertain terms. For example, the entry on f. 67r merely explains that the triplex iudiciu(m) is called in English, ofraceth ordel (insult ordeal = triple ordeal).

There is a clear, digitised version in the Rylands Medieval Collection.[4]


The first part is a collection of laws and other, primarily secular documents, whilst the second is the cartulary of the Cathedral priory.[5] The first part is of fundamental importance to the study of Anglo-Saxon law. It begins with the earliest surviving royal law-code, from King Æthelberht of Kent, dating to c 600, followed by those of two Kentish successors, the joint kings Hlothere and Eadric, c 679–85, and Wihtred, 695. This is the only manuscript source for these three laws, though Wihtred's are heavily reliant on the laws of the contemporary West-Saxon King, Ine (see item 6 below). The full contents of the first part are:

Item Dates Description Manuscript Pages[5] Language
1 c 600 Æthelberht's Laws 1r–3v English[6]
2 c 679-695 Hlothere and Eadric's Laws 3v–5r English
3 695 Wihtred's Laws 5r–6v English
4 Early 11th Century[7] Hadbot (compensation for the ordained) 7r–v English
5 ? Lists of Kings (West-Saxon genealogy), Saints and Bishops 7v–8v English
6 Probably after 893;[8] Laws of Ine, c. 694 Laws of Alfred, (Alfred's Domboc), containing the Laws of his West-Saxon predecessor, Ine 9r–32r English
7 ? Ordal 32r–v English
8 990s Walreaf (penalties for grave-robbery) 32v English
9 924–939 Æthelstan's Grately Law Code (II Aethelstan) 32v–37r English
10 924–939 Æthelstan's Exeter Law Code (V Aethelstan) and a fragment from the London Code (VI Æthelstan, 6) 37r–38r English
11 990s Pax ('Peace'), for use in Æthelred's Danelaw territories 38r English
12 Early 11th Century Mircna laga 38v–39v English
13 c. early 11th Century[9] Fraudulent peace Treaty between Edward the Elder and Guthrum 40r–41v English
14 10th Century? Wer (on bloodfeud) 41v–42r English
15 899–924 Edward the Elder's First Law Code 42r–43r English
16 899–924 Edward the Elder's Second Law Code 43r–44r English
17 942–946 Edmund's First Law Code (ecclesiastical laws) 44r–45r English
18 942–946 Edmund's Second Law Code 45r–46r English
19 c 997 Æthelred's First Law Code (Woodstock Code)[10] 46r–47r English
20 1066–1087 Willelmes cyninges asetnysse (laws of William I dealing with lawsuits by Englishmen against Frenchmen)[a] 47r–v English
21 997 Æthelred's Third Law Code (Wantage Code) 48r–49v English
22 Post-1066 Judgement of God X (Iud Dei XV) 49v–57r Latin
23 1016–1035 a text of Cnut's reign 57v Latin
24 1016–1035 Institutes of Cnut (collection of laws) 58r–80r Latin
25 1066–1087 Not entirely William's actual laws: see http://www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk/laws/texts/wl-art/</ref> 80r–81v Latin
26 ? Accusatores (Papal decrees on accusers/ prosectors) 81v–87r Latin
27 c 1008 Æthelstan's Sixth Law Code (London Code)[12] 88r–93r English
28 ? Geðyncðo (On status) 93r–v English
29 No later than mid-10th Century Norðleoda laga (concerns wergeld in Northumbrian society)[13] 93v–94r English
30 ? Wifmannes beweddung (Of a woman's betrothal) 94v–95r English
31 ? Cattle-Theft Charm 95r English
32 ? Hit becwæð (On bequests: 'he that owned it bequeathed it and died')[14] 95r–v English
33 1100 Henry I's Coronation Charter 96r–97v Latin
34 10th–11th Century Excommunicatio VIII (laws on excommunication 98r–99v Latin
35 ? Excommunicatio IX (formula for excommunicating criminals) 99v–100r Latin
36 ? List of Kings 100r–v English
37 ? Lists of Kings, Saints, and Bishops: West-Saxon Genealogy 102r–104r English
38 ? Lists of Kings, Saints, and Bishops: Lists of Popes, Emperors, Patriarchs and English Archbishops and Bishops 105r–116r English
39 ? Lists: of 24 elders, of popes responsible for various liturgical reforms, and of 7 archangels 116v Latin

The second part of Textus Roffensis is just over 100 pages long. It consists of the cartulary for Rochester Cathedral, in Latin. However, its final entry (222r–v) is in English, listing the number of masses to be recited for those institutions in England and Normandy which were in confraternity with Rochester.[5]


A textus was a book with a decorated cover suitable to be kept in the church by the high altar. The term does not mean a text concerning Rochester Cathedral. A liber was a less decorated book, suitable only for the cloister. It is rare that a secular book is a textus, and the name given to the Textus Roffensis by the cathedral is considered indicative of the book's importance during the Middle Ages.[15]

The Textus Roffensis Scribe[edit]

The unknown scribe was remarkable for his knowledge of old forms of English, and was able to transcribe accurately from a range of original manuscripts written in Anglo-Saxon dialects, including the local Kentish used for the laws of the kings of Kent. Two or more generations after the Norman Conquest, this was distinctly unusual.[16] Few of his records were contemporary and, to read the Laws of Aethelberht, he was looking back at an obsolete dialect of early Anglo-Saxon English, some 500 years old.

He followed standard practice of distinguishing between written English and written Latin. The overall aspect is Protogothic[17] with, for example, narrow letter-forms and forked tops to ascenders. However, he used a modified Insular Minuscule for the English and a modified Caroline Minuscule for the Latin. This was standard practice in the years around 1000, but proficiency in writing Insular Minuscule was in terminal decline by the time of the Textus Roffensis.[18]

The double-page opening of f95v and f96r is a good place to examine differences in the two scripts. The left-hand page contains the end of Hit becƿæð. ond becƿæl in English and the right-hand page the start of Henry I's Coronation Charter, in Latin. It is not only the general letter-shapes which show some differences. In the English, the only abbreviations are the tironian et for ond and the suspensions on dative endings e.g. beÞinū/ beminū for –um (concerning yours/ - mine). The number of abbreviations, suspensions and ligatures in the Latin give a different look, accentuated by different letter-forms, such as g, h and r in gehyrde (f.95v, line 11) and erga uos habeo (f.96r, line 9); the f in forðam (English, line 10) and in facio (Latin, line 10)[19]

The Roffensis scribe made remarkably few errors and only some minor edits which lightly modernise the text.[20] This can be seen in the Laws of Ine. The original laws were written in the late seventh century. They were already updated when recorded in Alfred's Domboc two centuries later. The earliest preserved version is from c. 925.[21] In clause 2, this has Cild binnan ðritegum nihta sie gefulwad ('a child shall be baptised within thirty days'). The scribe substitutes for the tenth-century term for baptism (gefulwad) the twelfth-century term gefullod. Similarly, the scribe substitutes þeow (slave) for Alfred's fioh (wealth). There is some dispute whether this reflects the changing position of slaves after the Conquest or whether it is just correcting the term, since slaves were chattels.[22]

Overall, the Roffensis scribe treated his sources with respect. He did not, for example, make erroneous 'corrections' to the Old English law texts, unlike the "incompetent translations of Quadripartitus's author".[23]


The two manuscripts were bound together in around 1300.[15]The first part is a collection of documents which includes the Law of Æthelberht, attributed to Æthelberht of Kent (c. 560–616), and the 1100 coronation charter of Henry I of England. The Law of Æthelberht is the oldest surviving English law code and the oldest Anglo-Saxon text in existence. The second part of the Textus Roffensis is the oldest of the Rochester Cathedral registers. The entire volume consists of 235 vellum leaves.[15][24]

Over the centuries, the Textus Roffensis has been loaned, lost and recovered on several occasions and has been in the custody of a variety of different people and places: was once held at the Medway Archives Office in Strood under reference number DRc/R1 and has since been withdrawn. It is currently held in the in an airtight case in the Cathedral’s Crypt.[25] Sometime between 1708 and 1718 the book was immersed for several hours in either the River Thames or the River Medway when the ship transporting it overturned; water damage is apparent on a number of pages.[15]

The book was named 'Britain's Hidden Treasure' by the British Library, and was the subject of a conference at the University of Kent in 2010.[24] It has been digitised and published on line by The University of Manchester's Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care.[26] The full digital facsimile is available through Rochester Cathedral's website.[25]

A short film was also produced about the book by Rochester Cathedral about its history and digitization process. [27]


  1. ^ The only surviving version is in Textus Roffensis[11].


  1. ^ It was deposited in the Kent Archives Office in Maidstone in 1969, and was transferred to the Medway office in 1992 following its creation.
  2. ^ Treharne, Textus Roffensis.
  3. ^ Nicholas Kar, 'Information and Its Retrieval' in Julia Crick and Elisabeth van Houts (eds.), A Social History of England, 900-–1200, 375
  4. ^ "Manchester Digital". enriqueta.man.ac.uk. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  5. ^ a b c "Rochester, Cathedral Library, A. 3. 5. – The Production and Use of English Manuscripts: 1060 to 1220". LE. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  6. ^ The definitive translation of items 1–3 is now Oliver, Lisi (2002), The Beginnings of English Law, Toronto: Early English laws.
  7. ^ "Hadbot". Early English Laws. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  8. ^ "Alfred's domboc". Early English laws. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  9. ^ Not from the reign of Edward (899–924) but a fraud, probably written by Archbishop Wulfstan (1002–1023): http://www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk/laws/texts/egu/
  10. ^ "Æthelred's Woodstock code (I Atr)". Early English Laws. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  11. ^ "Textus Roffensis", Early English Laws
  12. ^ Textus Roffensis is the only source: http://www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk/laws/texts/vi-as/
  13. ^ "Early English Laws: Norðleoda laga (Norðleod)". www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  14. ^ "'be-cwelan'". Bosworth–Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  15. ^ a b c d "The Textus Roffensis". Medway Council. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011.
  16. ^ Julia Crick, 'English Vernacular Script' in R. Gameson (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 1 (2011), 185–6
  17. ^ http://www.le.ac.uk/english/em1060to1220/mss/EM.RCL.htm, 'Hand Description'
  18. ^ Julia Crick, 'English Vernacular Script' in R. Gameson (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 1 (2011)
  19. ^ For image, see the digitised manuscript: http://enriqueta.man.ac.uk/luna/servlet/detail/Man4MedievalVC~4~4~990378~142729?qvq=q:%3DTextus%2BRoffensis%2B&mi=0&trs=2
  20. ^ For details, see Stefan Jurasinski, 'Scribal Malpractice and the Study of Anglo-Saxon Law in the Twelfth Century' in B. R. O'Brien and B. Bombi (eds.), Textus Roffensis Law, Language, and Libraries in Early Medieval England (2015), 83–101
  21. ^ Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 173, ff. 47r-52v
  22. ^ Jurasinski, 99
  23. ^ Jurasinski, 99, 94
  24. ^ a b University of Kent, "England’s 'Hidden Treasure'."
  25. ^ a b "Leaf Through the Textus Roffensis". 17 July 2020. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  26. ^ "A book 100 years older than the Magna Carta goes digital". University of Manchester.
  27. ^ Phil Smethurst (5 November 2014). "The Textus Roffensis A Hidden Treasure". www.youtube.com. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 1 December 2020.


Further reading[edit]

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