Apologies to those, if there are any, who wondered what had happened this week but I wanted to wait until after the London Medieval Society conference that took place yesterday.
To keep up the momentum, I thought I would add a second post this week as a way of getting up-to-date. Moreover, having attended the Chaucer Lecture at the University of Kent last night, it reminded me of the ‘Books and Manuscripts’ strand at the Medieval Canterbury Weekend. For not only had Weekend participants witnessed two amazing lectures on Anglo-Saxon manuscripts by first Richard Gameson and then Michelle Brown late Saturday morning, but others had had the benefit of seeing copies of some of the earliest printed books in England from the late 15th century – a rare treat. These Canterbury Cathedral Library tours had been led by Karen Brayshaw, the librarian, who was able to discuss with participants matters regarding where, by whom and how these books had been printed. She had also been able to indicate how such books would have been part of the book culture circulating in London and cities such as Canterbury in the later Middle Ages, and how readers of such books as Dives and Pauper, and The Golden Legend were just the type of men (and women) who would have enjoyed Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, alongside more ‘worthy’ texts. As books in English rather than Latin, they were also prime examples of the reading matter discussed by Peter Brown during his talk last Sunday morning in the Kentish Barn. Again an appreciative audience was treated to a detailed (within the confines of a 50-minute lecture) assessment of what people wanted to read, as well as what people wanted to write. For the audience was/is crucial, especially when books were being produced for an increasingly discerning readership who wanted romances as well as ‘improving’ literature.
Earlier this week I was pleasantly surprised to see Dr Ryan Perry (University of Kent) on the BBC regional news talking about William Caxton’s printed version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and why he would have chosen that book rather than a religious treatise to print when he first set up his print shop in London. As Ryan explained, Caxton was an astute business man who knew a ‘best-seller’ when he saw one, and this link between Becket and Canterbury, and Chaucer is still very much in place today, as it was in the late Middle Ages. Ryan was filmed standing inside the ‘Canterbury Tales’ experience in St Margaret’s Street, but this is far from the only location the TV producer could have chosen.