The Quest for Arthurian Manuscripts

One of the projects I’ve been working on this summer is creating a spreadsheet of Arthurian names and the manuscripts in which they’re used. Wikipedia was helpful in listing Arthurian character names and stories, but we found it a little harder to track down the manuscripts in which a given story might exist.

Enter ArthurianFiction.org. Created for a project led by Bart Besamusca from 2004-2008 at Utrecht University, this website provides a searchable database of Arthurian manuscripts. Obviously, I couldn’t wait to check it out.

There are three different types of searches you can do in this database, and each provides many filters to sort your results. 

The first is the Manuscript search. Here, you can find a list of manuscripts and their locations. You can filter by physical qualities of the manuscript, such as presence of illustrations, leaf size or quantity, or, my personal favorite, narratives contained within. 

You can also search for Narratives, either by their length or origin, or even by the manuscript in which they appear. This will give you a list of the Arthurian stories that meet your criteria. 

Finally, you can search for Persons, which allows you to filter by creative type, gender, or manuscript to help you find real people who contributed to the Arthurian texts. 

Since my team already has a list of the stories we want to study for names, we mostly stick to the Manuscripts tab. This is an example search I made for the project last week.

The names Loholt, Dindrane, and Claudas are all mentioned in the story “Perlesvaus,” so I went to the Manuscripts tab, and scrolled down to the Narratives filter. When I typed in “perlesvaus,” it indicated I had found eight results. 

I clicked to see my results, and the database gave me this list of manuscripts that contain the story of Perlesvaus. 

I clicked on the first result, a manuscript from the library Bürgerbibliothek in Bern. It gave me the shelfmark and some information about its date of origin, as well as some info further down the page about the other contents of the manuscript and what bibliographies have cited it in the past. 

The database has a field for linking to a digital facsimile of the manuscript, but this one was blank. In my experience, though, you can’t give up hope of finding an online manuscript that quickly. Because this project is from 2008, it is not completely up to date. This may occasionally influence the actual manuscripts found, but the most frequent error I noticed was a lack of links to digital versions– many have been uploaded in the last ten years or so. 

But that’s all right, because the database gave me enough information to look for a digital version myself. I typed the library and shelf number into a basic Google search, and it took me right to the manuscript page on the Switzerland’s virtual library website. Not only did this page have some more detailed information missing from the Arthurian database’s entry, it had a link to an online text!

Links to digital facsimile and top of a page for of Composite Manuscript: Garin le Loherain, Perceval, Chroniques, Parthenopeus de Blois, Durmart le Gaulois etc., French

Not all of the manuscripts I google like this have digital versions, but it’s definitely worth a try– it worked out for this manuscript!

Overall, the Arthurian Database has been extremely helpful for us in tracking down manuscript options for specific narratives. It’s not completely up to date, so outside research is still necessary, but it provides a great starting point. Although it doesn’t contain every Arthurian text we are seeking, it contains a great deal. I have a much easier time finding manuscripts for the stories catalogued on this website than when I search for manuscripts on my own. 

Check out the Arthurian Database for yourself here. It’s a great website for research– or for fun!

Besamusca, Bart. “Arthurian Fiction in Medieval Europe: Narratives and Manuscripts.” Arthurian Fiction, 2008, http://www.arthurianfiction.org/.

Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 113: Composite Manuscript: Garin le Loherain, Perceval, Chroniques, Parthenopeus de Blois, Durmart le Gaulois etc., French (https://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/bbb/0113).

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