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Shaping the World: The Geographies of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 108

  • Author(s): Lankin, Andrea Allison
  • Advisor(s): Miller, Jennifer
  • et al.

Shaping the World: The Geographies of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 108 takes a manuscript from late thirteenth-century and early fourteenth-century England as an entrance point for explorations of politics and cultural history. I read multiple scribes' contributions to Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 108 (Laud 108) as a dialogue among writers and readers. This previously unrecognized conversation, in Laud 108's South English Legendary collection of saints' lives and in the romances Havelok the Dane and King Horn, reveals thirteenth- and fourteenth-century conceptions of the geographical shape of the world. It also betrays the scribes' consistent engagement with the process of creating Englishness. The Laud 108 texts define English identity against and in reference to imagined Jews and Muslims. They also contrast English people with the exotic, wondrous beings who occupy both the far and mythical east and the near, but still exotic, western lands of Scotland and Ireland.

Laud 108 appears in the aftermath of the Third Crusade, the 1237 Crusade of Richard of Cornwall and in the period surrounding the 1290 expulsion of the Jews from England. Memories of the civil wars of the 1130s and 1250s still trouble English stability, and the conflict between church and state that led to Thomas Becket's 1170 death and subsequent canonization has not been forgotten. Laud 108 engages, sometimes openly, often obliquely, with twelfth- and thirteenth-century English unrest. Its saints' lives and romances hide subtle, politically dangerous allusions to English politics in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, including the civil wars of the 1130s and 1250s.

Chapter 1, Shaping the World: Laud 108 as a Map, argues that Laud 108 is itself a map, parallel to contemporaneous physical maps such as the Hereford Map, and that we can use geographical and cartographical theory to determine how Laud shapes and imagines the world. In this chapter, I explore the impact of Laud 108's placement of England in the imagined map of the world. Chapter 2, Thomas Becket's Saracen Mother, examines the Laud 108 Life of Thomas Becket, the longest, most elaborately decorated section and therefore most important part of the codex. The chapter connects the nameless heathen lands from which Thomas Becket's legendary mother originates to the deeply and carefully constructed England where Thomas lives and dies. Chapter 3, "Time out of Mind" and the Jews of the South English Legendary, looks at the Laud South English Legendary (SEL)'s investment in English historical memory and asks whether the constructed Jews in the SEL can mirror actual, historical Jews in England until their expulsion in 1290, around the time of the production of the codex. Chapter 4, The Case of the Missing "Vita": Shadows of History in Havelok the Dane, extends the examination of English historical memory to the traumatic histories of civil war that may underlie Havelok the Dane and Part B of Laud 108. The final chapter, The Wonders of the West: Displacing Marvels in Laud 108, returns to the conception of Laud 108 as map, investigating the imagined peripheries of the world and studying the ways in which the margins of the world connect back to England. I close the project with a coda, The Enemies are (Almost) Here: The Geographies of King Horn, in which I examine the Saracens who invade an England-like space in King Horn. Using these invaders, I argue that the project of Laud 108 as a whole codex includes bringing societal threats near to, but not quite into, English narrative and England itself.

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