Textus Roffensis: Law, Language and Libraries in Early Medieval England – conference at the University of Kent

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 A three-day conference on the Textus Roffensis, the priceless 12th century Rochester Cathedral manuscript which was named Britain’s ‘Hidden Treasure’ by the British Library, will take place at the University of Kent between July 25-27.

Textus Roffensis is a Rochester Cathedral book of the early 12th century that holds some of the most significant texts issued by England’s various early medieval kingdoms going back to the laws of King Æthelbert of Kent (c. 604). It also preserves abundant records from one of England’s earliest episcopal sees.

The conference, “Textus Roffensis: Law, Language and Libraries in Early Medieval England” will gather for the first time work in the disciplines of History, English, Linguistics, Political Science, Law and Codicology in order to address the context for the creation of Textus Roffensis, the language of its texts, English laws and their legal, political and cultural agendas, the relationship of the Church and royal government and the legacy of the book and its texts.

Kenneth Fincham, Professor of Early Modern History and Head of the University’s School of History, said, “Textus Roffensis holds some of the most significant texts issued by England’s various early medieval kingdoms going back to the laws of King Ethelbert of Kent. It also preserves abundant records from one of England’s earliest episcopal sees. Given that there is some important interdisciplinary research being conducted on areas of early medieval law, linguistics and codicology, it is a very timely moment to bring together some outstanding scholars in these fields and make the Textus the focus of their discussions. This international gathering over three days will review current scholarship and help shape the research agenda for the future.”

The conference will feature papers presented by many distinguished scholars, including Bruce O’Brien (University of Mary Washington), Martin Brett (University of Cambridge), Nicholas Brooks (University of Birmingham), Carole Hough (University of Glasgow) and Mary Richards (University of Delaware). Michael Wood, broadcaster and historian of early medieval England, will deliver a public lecture on the legacy of Textus Roffensis at 6 pm on 26 July in the Pilkington Lecture Theatre on the Medway campus. Titled ‘The Legacy of the Textus’, the lecture is free of charge and open to all.

Professor Sir Robert Worcester, Chancellor of the University of Kent, added, ‘This is the first occasion where scholars of medieval history and others who study the importance of this period have gathered anywhere in the world specifically to exchange knowledge about the role of the Textus Roffensis in the history of England. It can be argued that the history of England began in Kent over 1400 years ago. The history of English law began in the early seventh century. The arrival in 597 of St Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory, with the mission to introduce the pagan people of Kent and nearby kingdoms not only to Christianity but also to written history; the mission and letters were directed at King Ethelbert to the people of Kent (in their own language, Cantwara). Before he died in around 617 he equipped his subjects with a codified statement of law, the first surviving text of any type written by as well as for Englishmen.’

Delegates will receive a private tour of Rochester Cathedral and Rochester Castle (led by the University of Kent’s Research Fellow Richard Eales), as well as a visit to the exhibition of Textus Roffensis itself and Rochester and Canterbury Cathedral papers of the same period in the Crypt of Rochester Cathedral, which will be open free of charge to the public 26-28 July.

The booklet The First Code of English Law by Patrick Wormald expands on the background to the Textus and will be available for sale at the public lecture and at the exhibition in the Cathedral Crypt (price £3.50).

Click here to go to Conference website

Click here to see a digital version of Textus Roffensis from the British Library

Source: University of Kent

Sharan Newman