Professor Sharpe's interests are broadly the history of medieval England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. He has a special concern with first-hand work on the primary sources of medieval history, including palaeography, diplomatic, and the editorial process, which is the core of his teaching in Oxford.
In the context of medieval archives and documents, this finds expression in research on charters of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In the context of books and libraries his long-term research project on medieval library catalogues has opened up a mass of information on what works were available to read in medieval England, at what periods and in what settings. He takes a view of medieval bibliography that combines the textual and material aspects of books, and in his Handlist of the Latin Writers of Great Britain and Ireland before 1540 the biographical and antiquarian dimensions are not forgotten. It was interest in what could be added to our knowledge and understanding of medieval sources from the work done by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century antiquaries that led him to investigate antiquarian correspondence, particularly that of Edward Lhwyd, which has opened up some fruitful lines of research. Charters and letters have much in common, medieval manuscripts and early printed books are inseparable parts of the history of the works read down the centuries, and all of these uses of writing serve as a means to enhance modern understanding of the distant and not-so-distant past. Books or documents in their material reality communicate with modern students on several levels, all worth our understanding.
Relates the history of the late medieval banners of St Cuthbert and St John of Beverley, the thee saints' banners at the battle of the Standard, and the claims made by the churches of York, Beverley, and Ripon to military exemption by the service of their saints' banners alone to the historiography on banners as a symbol of the church's engagement in warfare in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The role of the banners of St Cuthbert and St John in battles against the Scots can be traced in detail, and its background can be followed through the hagiography of St John of Beverley.
Banners of the Northern Saints
Relates the history of the late medieval banners of St Cuthbert and St John of Beverley, the banners of St Peter, St Wilfrid, and St John at the battle of the Standard (1138), and the claims made by the churches of York, Beverley, and Ripon to military exemption by the service of their saints’ banners alone to the historiography on banners as a symbol of the church's engagement in warfare in the eleventh and twelfth
King Ceadwalla and Bishop Wilfrid
Medieval Libraries of Great Britain
Medieval libraries are attested first by their surviving books and second by surviving medieval catalogues of the collections. The intention of this resource is to unite these complementary fragments in a way that allows the evidence to be approached in an integrative manner. It brings together two standard research tools for medieval libraries: Neil Ker’s Medieval Libraries of Great Britain and the Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues. The Royal Historical Society handbook Medieval Libraries of Great Britain by Neil Ker lists, by its modern shelf-mark, every manuscript that bears evidence of its institutional home in the middle ages. The first edition was published in 1941; it was revised and augmented in 1964, and a Supplement was published by Andrew Watson in 1987. Preparing this handlist involved examining thousands of medieval manuscripts for physical or textual evidence of their original medieval provenance. The information was recorded on cards, still retained in the Bodleian Library. The evidence harvested in this way allowed lists to be drawn up of extant medieval books arranged according to the libraries they had belonged to. The user has always needed to instruct himself in Ker’s method in order to make best use of the handbook. It is a model of lucidity, but the detailed evidence, including that on which the provenances themselves were established, could not be given space. Each extant book is indicated by its modern shelf-mark and followed by a brief indication of its contents in a few words: ‘Augustinus etc.’; ‘Medica’; ‘Sermones’. The evidence by which the provenance was established is signalled by an italic letter-code. For example, should the book contain an ex libris inscription, an italic letter e supplies that clue to the reader. It has been a limitation of the handbook that the user, should he want to understand and interrogate that evidence for himself, cannot do other than go either to the modern manuscript catalogue, or to the medieval books themselves, or to the file cards on which Ker and his contributors recorded their judgements. This digital version will allow the user to access more information about the evidence of provenance, about the contents of the medieval book, and about how it was catalogued, shelf-marked, and shelved in its medieval library setting, than was permitted by the concision of the printed editions.
Michael Casey (?1752–1830/31), herb doctor, his Irish manuscripts, and John O’Donovan
Official and unofficial Latin words in eleventh- and twelfth-century England
The terminology of official documents in England changed with the Norman Conquest, and this chapter focuses on the words used for ealdorman, earl, and count, thegn and baron, sheriff and reeve, and shire during the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. Unofficial texts sometimes preferred not to use the official terms but drew instead on a more classical vocabulary, investing words with the specific connotations of the underlying terms for which they were substitutes. Words that carry such specific meanings are identified by using unofficial Latin translations of official documents in Old English, law tracts that translate or reflect Old English terms, and translations or reworkings of narrative sources in both languages. Examples of the unofficial vocabulary are then reviewed, and how far both the Dictionary and modern
editions of texts have recognized their use is appraised. Such lexical substitution has not been treated as a semantic category by dictionaries, but the argument here shows how important it is to recognize it if one is to arrive at a true contextual understanding of the words used in primary sources. The examples shed light on categories of office and rank across this period, and the argument will lead to much rethinking of how passages in the sources are understood. The linguistic implications extend beyond the words used as examples to make the argument.
Peter of Blois and Abbot Henry de Longchamp
The eighth-century Life of St Guthlac and a twelfth-century account of miracles at Crowland were rewritten in more fashionable Latin by Peter of Blois, in his day a famous stylist who served as Latin secretary to two archbishops of Canterbury. The date and circumstances of this commission, it is argued, ought to reflect what is known of Peter’s movements and those of William de Longchamp, chancellor of England, who is the likely intermediary between his brother Abbot Henry of Crowland and Peter. The commission is best dated to the late summer of 1191, though delivery may have been a little later, and it was the first step in Henry’s intermittent efforts to promote the veneration of saints at Crowland. Peter’s fame sustained his memory at Crowland, so that the later medieval forger of the Crowland history attributed the second part of his no doubt unfinished work to him.
Peter of Blois and Abbot Henry de Longchamp
‘Henry I’s Coronation Charter’, ‘Henry I’s county and hundred court regulations’, Henry I’s coinage regulations’, and ‘Stephen’s coronation charter’ (Latin texts)
Humfrey Wanley, Bishop John O’Brien, and the colophons of Mael Brigte’s Gospels
Mael Brigte's Gospels, BL MS Harley 1802, a manuscript written at Armagh in the twelfth century, is datable from reference in its colophons to the killing of Cormac Mac Carthaig, king of Munster and of Ireland. The date was first worked out as 1139 from unpublished annals by Humfrey Wanley (1672--1726), Harley's librarian, in 1713--14, in a remarkable piece of scholarship. Wanley understood the importance of a dated manuscript as a basis for palaeographical judgement of undated books. The manuscript and, almost certainly, Wanley's discussion came to the notice of John O'Brien (1701--1769), bishop of Cloyne, who saw the manuscript in the British Museum in 1767. Using the so-called Dublin Annals of Inisfallen, compiled for him by Fr John Connery, O'Brien was able to refine the dating to 1138, and he added a discussion of this colophon when he prepared his Focaloir for the press in 1767--8. The tenor of one colophon's reference to Cormac's killing is interpreted as itself significant: from the perspective of the all-Ireland primatial see where Mael Brigte wrote, the killing of King Cormac ended hope of a faithful all-Ireland monarchy. The colophon can be read as a contemporary judgement.
I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding anything related to my broad range of research interests
I currently teach:
Introductory courses for masters candidates studying within the area of the Latin West in the middle ages, providing instruction in palaeography and diplomatic, and practice in reading documents from medieval england.
Advanced courses in English Royal Diplomatic and in Books and Libraries in the Middle Ages.
Podcast: Magna Carta in the Bodleian. A talk given during the exhibition of four engrossments of Magna Carta in the Divinity School on 11 December 2007. Richard Sharpe explains that the seventeen surviving original manuscripts of the Magna Carta are engrossments, not copies: official documents from Royal Chancery bearing the ruler's seal. Prof. Sharpe also reveals why so many examples of the Magna Carta survive.