The English Historical Review/Volume 37/'King Harold's Books'

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'King Harold's Books'

Adelard of Bath, philosopher, astronomer, and translator from the Arabic, remains an enigmatic figure in the early history of English learning. That he was no mere closet scholar appears from his connexion with the household of Henry I and the education of the young Henry II,[1] and is further evident from his hitherto unnoticed treatise on the royal sport of hawking. This brief tract is found unidentified, with the title De Avibus Tractatus, in a manuscript of about 1200 in the Nationalbibliothek at Vienna;[2] and extracts from it, in Adelard's name, are preserved at Clare College, Cambridge.[3] The style is Adelard's, and, like his Questiones Naturales, this is in the form of a dialogue with his nephew, to whom his De Eodem et Diverso is also addressed. The mention of their recent discussion of cause rerum seems to refer specifically to the Questiones[4] and thus place our tract in the reign of Henry I. It begins:

Quoniam in causis disserendis rerum animus noster admodum fatigatus[5] est, ad eiusdem relevationem id magis delectabile quam grave interponendum est. Intellectus enim similiter ut arcus si nunquam cessas tendere mollis erit. Quare in eo iudicio tale ad quod et iocundum et utile sit eligendum est. Id autem recte fieri spero si de accipitrum natura et usu[6] elegantius aperias, precipue cum et nos Angli sumus genere et eorum inde scientia pre ceteris gentibus probata sit et ea deinde scientie qualitas constat[7] ut[8] quanto pluribus dividitur tanto magis efflorescet. Adel[ardus]. Sit sane ne aut inscientia aut invidia[9] arguamus. Ea igitur disseremus que et modernorum magistrorum usu didicimus et non minus que Haraoldi[10] regis libris reperimus scripta, ut quicunque his intentus disputatione[m] habeat si negotium exercuit paratus[11] esse possit. Tuum itaque sit inquirere, meum explicare.

Nepos. Inde audire desidero quales[12] esse velis qui huic studio conveniant. A. Sobrios, pacientes, castos, bene hanhelantes, necessitatibus expedites. N. Quare ? [A.] Ebrietas enim oblivionis mater est. Ira lesiones generat. Meretricum frequentatio tineosos ex tactu accipitris facit. Fetidus vero anhelitus et osores hominum eos facit et egro odore implet unde reumatici efficiuntur. Necessitas demum quando legem non habet id efficit ut vel per pluvias vel turbines feriantur vel nimis vexentur vel parum teneant. Ideoque huiusmodi artifices a necessitatibus expedites esse convenit. …

It ends:

Hec habui que de cura accipitrum dicerem. Ceterum si tibi vel alicui alii suam addere sententiam placet, non invideo.

The discussion is severely practical, with mention of English usage[13] and English simples which suggest the Anglo-Saxon leechdoms,[14] and there is no trace of Oriental influence. There is a family resemblance to other early works on the subject,[15] but Adelard's treatise is anterior to all of these which have been identified. One would particularly like to compare it with the lost libre del rei Enric d'Anclaterra on falconry.[16]

It would be still more interesting to identify the libri Haroldi regis which Adelard cites as a source. The phrase is vague, as there was more than one King Harold, and the books may conceivably have been either written by Harold, or dedicated to him, or possessed by him. It is, perhaps, simplest to assume that the reference is to books possessed by Harold Godwin's son, whose devotion to falconry is well known from the Bayeux tapestry.[17] These might easily have fallen into the hands of the Conqueror with the royal treasure, and thus have been handed down to the time of Henry I. As a member of the royal household Adelard would have had access to these books, and his citation is the earliest mention of a library of the Norman kings. But if any one can suggest a better explanation, non invideo!

Charles H. Haskins.

  1. Ante, xxvi. 491–8; xxviii. 515 f.
  2. Cod. lat. 2504, fos. 49–51. The text is often corrupt.
  3. MS. 15 (KK. 4. 2), fos. 186-186v; cf. James, Catalogue, p. 33: 'Incipit quarta particula Alardi ad nepotem suum. Nepos. Quales debent esse qui huic studio vacant?'
  4. See the dedicatory epistle in Martene and Durand, Thesaurus, i. 291. The Questiones Naturales breaks off at evening and announces a succeeding dialogue on fundamentals: 'Mane autem, si tibi idem sedet, conveniamus ut de inicio vel de iniciis disputemus. Nepos. Michi vero nichil magis sedet. … Quietis igitur refectionem libens accipio, ut ad tractatum novum novi veniamus.' MS. lat. 6425, fo. 39 V . The dialogue thus announced has not yet been identified.
  5. MS. fatigatitus.
  6. Corrected from usque ad.
  7. MS. et stat.
  8. MS. ett(?)
  9. MS. individua.
  10. The scribe may have tried to correct the a into an o or vice versa.
  11. MS. paritus.
  12. Here begins the Cambridge extract, with a paraphrased and somewhat briefer text.
  13. 'Alii enim per gambas eos capiunt digitis ex anteriori parte nterpositis, Angli vero a parte dorsi manibus alis subiectis eos apprehendunt' (fo. 49V).
  14. A certain plant which grows by streams 'poete electrum vocant, phisici boricam, Angli sua lingua nigram herbam dicunt, cuius ramus quadrangulus est ad modum dice factus, folia vero foliis magne urtice similia' (fo. 50V). 'Salva alia confortiva que apud veteres Anglos vocatur milda, alia purgativa que apud eosdem dicitur strica. Milclam [sic] sic facies: betonice, serpilii, malve, albule regie quam Angli woeronam vocant, plantiginis, millefolii equales mensuras in butiro coque et deinde secundum arbitrium tuum mel liquidum adde et amisce … Stricturam autem sic compones. …' (fo. 51).
  15. See in general Werth, in Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, xii. 146–191, 381–415; xiii. 1–34.
  16. Ante, xxxvi. 347 f.
  17. On falconry in Anglo-Saxon times compare Liebermann, Gesetze, ii. 501, 525 f.; Hoops, Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, ii. 7–9; and the entries in Domesday (Ellis, Introduction, i. 340 f.).