The ‘Tremulous Hand of Worcester’

The Perne & Ward Libraries

Most of the older Oxbridge colleges have collections of manuscripts – the handwritten books that made up their reference libraries before the Reformation.  Peterhouse has a substantial collection, about 280 items, most of them still the College’s property, though a few strayed to other places in the course of the 16th and 17th centuries.  Not many Colleges have larger collections than this.  Trinity, with about 1500 items, is exceptional, but these came largely in the 17th century.  Peterhouse, on the contrary, has a complete library catalogue from 1418, and about half of the items in it still survive.  The survival of the catalogue itself is a piece of luck, and if did not exist we would be hard put to prove that very many of the surviving MSS were at Peterhouse as early as that.

Being handmade, MSS differ from printed books precisely in the fact that no two are…

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