Document Type


Publication Date



New Chaucer Society

Source Publication

Studies in the Age of Chaucer

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London, Westminster Abbey Library, MS 21, a French lyric anthology dating to the mid-fifteenth century, bears the names of two male figures. Thomas Scales (c. 1399–1460), an English war commander, had his name and personal motto elaborately incorporated into the explicit of Christine de Pizan’s Epistre au dieu d’amours. Decades later, a Tudor reader added the name “Wyllam courtnay” to the manuscript’s margins. These two male names, physically visible on the surface of the manuscript, represent stable points of provenance data that provide important information about the use, meaning, and circulation of this medieval miscellany and the texts it contains. But how did Westminster 21 move from a fifteenth-century war commander to a Tudor courtier? A close examination of Westminster 21’s texts and marginalia reveals an invisible social network of female book owners undergirding the male-dominated historical record for this manuscript. This study traces a direct line between the two recorded male owners of Westminster 21 and finds that the compilation passes through several generations of women who married into homosocial male networks and built them up through their literary activities and social standing. By piecing together the available evidence surrounding Westminster 21’s male owners, we can produce an outline of the absent female presences in the history of this material artifact. We demonstrate that visible transnational, horizontal reading networks of men are invisibly and transhistorically structured by vertical female reading networks, rendering women’s reading practices integral to late medieval literary culture as a whole, rather than separable from men’s reading practices.


Published version. Studies in the Age of Chaucer, Vol. 43 (2021): 151-180. DOI. © 2021 The New Chaucer Society. Used with permission.

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