Mannyng, Robert (DNB00)

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MANNYNG, ROBERT, or Robert de Brunne (fl. 1288–1338), poet, was, as he says himself, 'of Brunne wake in Kesteuene' (Handlyng Synne in Dulwich MS. 24); the reading of other manuscripts' Brymwate 'led to the erroneous notion that he was an inmate of an imaginary' Brimwake priory.' But it is abundantly clear that Robert Mannyng—as he calls himself in his chronicle—was a native of Brunne or Bourne in Lincolnshire, and entered the house of the Gilbertine canons at Sempringham, six miles from his native place, in 1288. He says that he wrote 'Handlyng Synne' in 1303, and had then been in the priory fifteen years. It is possible that, as Dr. Furnivail suggests, Mannyng was not a canon, but merely a lay brother. He would seem to have been educated at Cambridge, for he speaks of having been there with Robert de Bruce, the future king of Scotland, and his two brothers, Thomas and Alexander. If so, it is evident, from the way in which Mannyng refers to the Bruces, that this must have been subsequent to his entry at Sempringham, for Robert de Bruce the eldest was born only in 1274. It may be, however, that Mannyng is referring to a casual visit, for the Gilbertines had a house at Cambridge. In 1338, when Mannyng finished his 'Chronicle,' he was resident in the priory of his order at Sixhill, Lincolnshire. The date of his death is unknown, but he must at this time have been about seventy years of age.

Mannyng's works consist of:

  1. 'Handlyng Synne,' a translation of the 'Manuel des Fechiez' of William of Wadington, who wrote under Edward I. Tanner wrongly describes the French original as being by Bishop Grossetete. Mannyng made a free use of his original, often curtailing, amplifying, or omitting altogether, and even inserting new matter drawn at times from his own experience. The whole gives an excellent picture of the social life, and forms a keen satire on the vices of his time. The known manuscripts are Harley 1701 (of the end of the fourteenth century), Bodley 415, and Dulwich 24 (incomplete). The first, collated with the Bodley MS., was edited by Dr. Furnivall for the Roxburghe Club in 1862, together with Wadington's French text from Harley MSS. 273 and 4667; a new edition by Dr. Furnivall is promised for the Early English Text Society. Halliwell, in his 'Dictionary of Old English Words and Phrases,' quotes a manuscript in the midland dialect which appears to be lost.
  2. The 'Chronicle of England.' Of this there are two manuscripts, Petyt MS. 511, in the Inner Temple Library, and Lambeth MS. 131. The earlier part has been edited by Dr. Furnivall for the Rolls Series. The second part was edited by Hearne, under the title 'Peter of Langtoft's Chronicle, as illustrated and improved by Robert of Brunne, from the Death of Cadwallader to the end of King Edward the First's Reign,' in 1725; a second edition appeared in 1800. The work is throughout unoriginal, Mannyng only claiming to write 'in simple speech for love of simple men.' In its earlier portion it follows for the most part Wace, with occasional insertions from Bede, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Langtoft. Mannyng would not follow the last writer entirely, because he 'over hopped' too much of Geoffrey's Latin narrative. The last part of Mannyng's chronicle onwards is simply a translation of Langtoft.
  3. 'Meditacyuns of þe Soper of our Lorde Ihesus; and also of hys Passyun; and eke of pe peynes of hys swete moder, Mayden Marye, þe whyche made yn Latyn Bonaventure Cardynall.' This work follows the 'Handlyng Synne' in the Harley and Bodley manuscripts, and may be by Mannyng, as Mr. Oliphant and Mr. Cowper, its editor, think; but the ascription is open to doubt. It was edited for the Early English Text Society in 1875.

Mannyng is in no sense to be regarded as an historian, and his 'Handlyng Synne' is historically more valuable than his chronicle. His importance is entirely literary, but in this department his work is of the first interest. Mr. Oliphant speaks of the 'Handlyng Synne' as 'the work which more than any former one foreshadowed the path that English literature was to tread from that time forward; … it is a landmark worthy of the carefullest study.' In the same spirit Dr. Furnivall speaks of Mannyng as 'a language reformer, who helped to make English flexible and easy.' The extension of the midland dialect, and by this means the creation of literary English, was no doubt aided by Mannyng's writings.

[Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 132, s.v. 'Bronne;' Hearne's Pref. to Langtoft; Furnivall's Prefaces to Handlyng Synne and the Chronicle; T. L. Kington-Ohphant's Old and Middle English, chap. vi.; Ten Brink's Early English Literature, pp. 297-302, transl. by H. M. Kennedy; Warner's Cat of Dulwich MSS. p. 347.]

C. L. K.