Robert Flemyng (c.1417-1483) and the Arrival of the Renaissance in Lincoln

On Wednesday 7th February, we welcomed our Hilary Term Lincoln Unlocked lecturer, Dr David Rundle. He addressed Vivian Green’s statement, in The Commonwealth of Lincoln College, 1427-1977 that

The greatest donor [of manuscripts] was the founder’s nephew, Robert Fleming, Dean of Lincoln, a man of conspicuous taste and culture… His princely gift, including many classical and humanistic works, made Lincoln’s holding momentarily the finest in Oxford, second only to that of the University Library itself. (pp.173-4)

MS Linc.Coll.Lat.46 2r 1 (2)
Robert Fleming’s bookplate, Linc. Coll. Lat. 46 2r.

The manuscripts donated by Robert Fleming are the jewel in the crown of Lincoln’s collection and the foundation of Lincoln College as a scholarly entity.

MS Linc. Coll.Lat.77 3r ed
Linc. Coll. Lat.77 3r, in Fleming’s own Humanist hand.

Dr Rundle explained with great humour that, whilst our collection was outshone by Bishop William Gray’s later bequest to Balliol College, both in terms of number of volumes and the lavishness of their manufacture, Fleming’s collection was amassed as a scholar in the centre of Humanism and, that in many of the volumes, he himself was the scribe, exhibiting great proficiency in a variety of scripts. Fleming was also an author in his own right: the earliest English humanist poem, published in Rome in 1477, is attributed to him.

I was particularly taken with the account of Robert Fleming and another priest making up such a paltry royal delegation to Pope Pius II that the Pope refused to see them and so Fleming used the time he gained from the Pope’s refusal to see them to buy books. Among those he bought were volumes produced by the renowned bookseller Vespasiano di Bisticci of Florence, but they are not quite up to his usual standard, as if they had rushed to get stock together for him to take to sell at the Congress of Mantua. I had never thought about the fact that such events would have drawn traders, like the stalls at academic conferences!

MS Linc.Coll.Lat.47 1v-2.jpg
Linc. Coll. Lat. 47 1v-2r, workshop of Vespasiano di Bisticci.

It was very exciting to be able to exhibit five of our manuscripts, which are usually housed in the Weston Library, to accompany David’s lecture. On display were four 15th century volumes: Cyprian, Letters; Cicero, On Duties; Pliny, Epistles & Ps-Pliny, On illustrious men, preceded by Johannes Mansionarius, Brief note on the two Plinies; Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers, & Guarino da Verona, Life of Plato and a 12th century Isidore, Etymologies, formerly owned by the monastery of Worksop in Nottinghamshire (image below).

MS Linc.Coll.Lat.63 5v-6r ed
Linc. Coll. Lat.63 5v-6r.

Author: Lucy Matheson

Librarian, Lincoln College, Oxford.

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