Pearl Manuscript

Pearl Manuscript Facsimile Edition

London or Cheshire (United Kingdom) — Second half of the 14th century

A father's grief for his little daughter: four magnificently illuminated Arthurian poems of world renown, uniquely preserved in this volume

  1. One author, four Arthurian poems: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

  2. The only manuscript containing them originated in southern England during the second half of the 14th century

  3. It is adorned with 12 full-page miniatures and 48 initials in red and blue

Pearl Manuscript

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Pearl Manuscript

The only source for four extremely charming Arthurian legends to survive to the present originated in southern England during the second half of the 14th century. The poems Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight all probably originated from one author and testify to the literary flowering of 14th century England with their creativity. The twelve full-page miniatures, which accompany each poem and impressively visualize them for the beholder, are also probably from the same hand. The decoration is complimented by a total of 48 initials in red and blue that visualize certain sections of the allegorical poems.

The Pearl Manuscript

The Pearl Manuscript is one of the most important manuscripts of English literature and its texts testify to the impressive flowering of literary creativity at the end of the 14th century. The four poems Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight all belong to the genre of Arthurian literature and probably originate from the same author. This person was also probably responsible for the twelve full-page miniatures, which accompany each poem. Originating in the second half of the 14th century, the precious manuscript barely escaped destruction in 1731 when a fire destroyed the library of the antiquarian Robert Cotton (1571–1631) and a large number of medieval manuscripts fell victim to the fire.

Four Allegorical Poems

The collection is named after the first poem, Pearl, which tells the tale of a grieving father, who after falling asleep finds himself in paradise and engages in a dialogue about Christian doctrine. As he awakes from this dream, he is filled with spiritual power and new confidence. The most famous of the four poems is, nevertheless, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It was first published in 1839 with other Gawain stories. The other three texts followed a short time later.

An Exciting Chivalric Romance

The Middle English chivalric romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight tells the tale of Sir Gawain, who accepted the Green Knight’s challenge to behead him. However, this came with the condition that he himself will suffer the same fate one year and one day later. After the beheading of the knight, Sir Gawain begins his journey to the place where his fate will come to pass. It is his courage that makes him the ultimate example of the chivalric codex.

The Question of the Author

The Pearl Manuscript represents the only source for all four poems and is of particular significance for research as a result. Who the author of these fairy-tale Arthurian legends is remains a mystery. Due stylistic similarities, such as the usage of alliteration, abstract ideas, and a strong Christian orientation, have prompted the assumption that all four poems stem from one author, who has been given the provisional names Pearl Poet or Gawain Poet.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Pearl Manuskript
Size / Format
184 pages / 17.1 × 12.0 cm
Date
Second half of the 14th century
Style
Language
Script
Variant of the Gothic Textura Rotunda with features of the Anglicana
Illustrations
12 full-page miniatures; 48 fleuronné initials in blue and red
Content
4 allegorical poems: Pearl (ff. 41r-59v), Cleanness (ff. 60r-86r), Patience (ff. 86r-94r), and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (ff. 94v-130r)
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Henry Savile of Bank in Yorkshire
Robert Cotton (1571–1631)

Available facsimile editions:
Pearl Manuscript – Cotton Nero A.x – British Library (London, United Kingdom) Facsimile Edition
The Folio Society – London, 2015
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Detail Picture

Pearl Manuscript

The Temptation of Sir Gawain by Lady Bertilak

In the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Lady Bertilak plays the role of seductress when she is ordered to seduce Sir Gawain in order to test his purity. Depicted caressing the sleeping Gawain’s beard, she comes to his bedchamber at dawn three mornings in a row, appearing more alluring each time and tempts him with various objects that she claims will protect him. Gawain eventually gives in and accepts a green girdle with protective properties that he will use in his battle with the Green Knight.

The Pearl Manuscript
Single Page

Pearl Manuscript

The Dreamer and the Pearl-Maiden

Considered to be one of the most important works written in Middle English to survive today, the poem Pearl concerns a father mourning the loss of his “Pearl”. He falls into a sleep while in his garden and encounters a beautiful divine woman, the Pearl-Maiden, who he sees standing on the other side of a stream, but when the Dreamer attempts to cross it, he wakes up.

The dreamer is dressed in a red houppelande, a long, loose-fitting robe with flared sleeves that was popular in the late 14th and 15th centuries, especially in England. On the other side of a stream filled with fish, the Pearl-Maiden is crowned and dressed in white. The number 38 has been crossed out and replaced with a 42, a sign that the foliation was corrected at some point.

The Pearl Manuscript
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Pearl Manuscript

The Folio Society – London, 2015

Publisher: The Folio Society – London, 2015
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Commentary: 1 volume by Malcolm Andrew, Ronald Waldron and Bernard O'Donoghue
Language: English

The commentary volume contains a comprehensive introduction to the manuscript, its contents, origin, and history. It also provides an accurate transcription of the original Middle English texts as well as a modern translation. First published in 1978 by medievalists Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron, it appeared in 2007 in the fifth revised edition that accompanies this facsimile edition and is still the standard work on the Pearl Manuscript. The preface was written by the poet and medievalist Bernard O'Donoghue.
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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