C.3. The Manuscripts of St. Erkenwald and The Destruction of Troy

The only surviving manuscript of St. Erkenwald (Harl. MS 2250, dated internally at 1477) was owned about 1530 by Thomas Bowker, a priest in Eccles, Lancashire, just across the river Mersey from Dunham Massey.  A note in the margin (also dated to about 1530) contains the name of Elisabeth Boothe of Dunham-Massey [LUTTRELL58].

There are some interesting and relevant (but un-answerable) questions here.  How did the manuscript of St. Erkenwald get to Dunham Massey (from London?) and into the possession of Elizabeth Booth?  Obviously it was a copy added to the Harley manuscript 2250 (folios 72v - 75v) but where was the copy made?  Who came first, Bowker or Booth?  One possibility is that an original copy of St. Erkenwald passed through the family of James Cottrell from London to Cheshire, and a copy made locally passed by marriage into the possession of Elizabeth Boothe, and then to Bowker.

We are still very reluctant to attribute St. Erkenwald to the Gawain-Poet, but just possibly it might have been some of his early work, it would be rather unreasonable to assume that the Gawain-Poet burst into poetic life with fully mature work such as Pearl or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

We also know that the only surviving copy of The Destruction of Troy (Hunterian MS 388, Glasgow University) was made by Thomas Chetham of Nuthurst about 1540.  Chetham was a landowner in south Lancashire, and a bailiff in the service of the Stanley family (compare William Chantrell who was Sergeant-at-law to the Stanleys in 1434,) and at his death in 1546 the manuscript was bequeathed to his son, John, “to be an heyrlome at Notehurst”.  Nuthurst no longer exists, but used to lie in Moston in Greater Manchester, and there is a record of this Thomas Chetham at that place for April 4, 1527:[36]

It seems clear that the manuscripts of The Destruction of Troy, and St. Erkenwald [STE], the former from Whalley in Lancashire, and the latter probably originating in London, but written in a dialect very similar to The Destruction of Troy are both tied very closely to a few families, all related by marriage: the Booths, who owned St. Erkenwald, married to the Chantrells of Bache, the Chethams of Nuthurst, who copied The Destruction of Troy, and later married with the Sheburnes who inherited the Catterall estates at Whalley and the Newtons, of whom Humphrey was influenced by the work of the Gawain-Poet.  I will try to show in a later paper that one of the Catteralls, John Catterall [of] Heton [in] Lonsdale[,] Lancaster (a 35 letter anagram from the first 35 books of The Destruction of Troy) was the patron of John Clerk of Whalley who produced the The Destruction of Troy.


[36] About eight o'clock in the morning, Thomas Radclyffe of Chaderton, gentleman, John, son of Edmund Tetlow, Ralph Cowper, of Chaderton, husbandman, John Smethhurst, of the same place, husbandman, with other wrongdoers to the number of 30, whose names were unknown, assembled on the waste of Nuthurst, in the hamlet of Moston and within the vill of Assheton, riotously, and drove off the animals of Thomas Chetham and Edmund Chaderton, gentleman, which were feeding there according to anticessorial custom.  (The quotation is from Vol XXV-52. Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society.)

  --Edward Baines,History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster [BAINES36]