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The Harley lyrics

Wigmore Castle'The Harley lyrics' is the name usually given to the Middle English lyrics in the miscellany of English, French, and Latin works collected in London, British Library, MS Harley 2253. A facsimile of the manuscript, with an introduction by N. R. Ker, was published in 1965 (Ker, 1965); Ker provides a detailed list of its contents, which include both religious and secular material, in prose and verse and in a wide variety of genres. 

The manuscript is mainly written in 'Anglicana formata', a more formal version of the English business script current at the time (though Parkes (1969), p. 1, sees its attempt at formality as 'somewhat half-hearted'). Both its dialect and some local connections link it to the West Midlands (its binding incorporates an early-C14 set of accounts for the Mortimer family, the great Marcher lords whose main seat was at Wigmore Castle in northern Herefordshire, and also extracts from the ordinal of Herefordshire Cathedral). Its date and location were pinned down more exactly in the 1970s by Carter Revard, who identified the hand of the MS with that of a professional scribe working in Ludlow, in Southern Shropshire, and dated it to the 1340s (Revard, 1970).

LudlowThe manuscript includes the largest single collection of early Middle English lyrics, which are otherwise only sparsely recorded, and is particularly important for the secular verse it preserves; Derek Pearsall notes that 'of the English religious pieces within the MS itself all but five appear elsewhere, whereas there is no other MS of any of the secular love-poems or political poems' (Pearsall (1977), p. 120).


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Set up by Bella Millett, enm@soton.ac.uk. Last updated 05 March 2003 . Photographs of Wigmore Abbey and Ludlow by Bella Millett.