A Princely Manuscript: Attributes of the Alberta Text


An illuminated capital from the Alberta manuscript

Scholars have long been aware of three extant manuscript copies of the French translation of Tinctor’s text: one (ms. 11209) housed in the Bibliothèque royale in Brussels; one (ms. fr. 961) in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris; and one in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (ms. Rawl D.410). They have also known that the Flemish printer Colard Mansion had produced a printed copy of the treatise in the late 1470s or early 1480s—giving Tinctor’s text the honour of being among the earliest books ever printed in the Low Countries.

Until recently, however, almost no one knew about the existence of the copy in Bruce Peel Special Collections at the University of Alberta. The Alberta manuscript (ca. 1465) is probably the oldest of the known copies. It was probably a source text for the Brussels manuscript—a copy held in the library of Duke Philip of Burgundy, one of the most important bibliophiles of his day. It may have been owned by an English monarch, or by a member of his retinue, in the late fifteenth century. Its historical value, furthermore, is on a par with its lofty provenance; for it once featured one of the first-ever depictions of witches flying through the air, an image of profound significance to the history and iconography of witch-hunting. 

The curators have shared their conclusions about the manuscript’s provenance and features in scholarly conferences across western Canada; their key claims and evidence are summarized below. First, though, it is helpful to consider the basic features of the manuscript.

Next: Features of the Text