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Imperfect Apocalypse: Thomas of Erceldoune’s Reply to the Countess of Dunbar in MS Harley 2253

Imperfect Apocalypse: Thomas of Erceldoune’s Reply to the Countess of Dunbar in MS Harley 2253

Flood, Victoria (University of Swansea)

Marginalia, Vol. 11, (2010)

Abstract

The reply of ‘Thomas de Essedoune’ to the Countess of Dunbar in Harley 2253 is the earliest recorded prophecy ascribed to the Scottish prophet Thomas of Erceldoune, known elsewhere as Thomas the Rhymer. Although, as far as I am aware, the total series of formulations found here do not recur in any laterprophecies attributed to Thomas, the political pessimism and apocalyptic leanings of the Harley prophecy are echoed in later texts bearing his name.

Studies of medieval prophecy frequently gloss over this crucial early phase of material attributed to Thomas; the Harley reply is often felt to be too obscure to sustain any sizeable attempt at interpretation. This assumed obscurity largely stems from the absence of a positive political centre to the prophecy, yet once we accept the historical context of such pessimism it becomes more intelligible.

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