Medieval manuscripts

More on the Bristol Vulgate Cycle fragments about Merlin

Bristol library fragment showing Old French Merlin passage
Detail from one of the fragments showing the name Merlin
University of Bristol

Fragments of a medieval Merlin manuscript in Old French discovered two years ago in a Bristol’s central library have been more thoroughly examined. The fragments, found in a binding, are from the Old French Vulgate Cycle or Lancelot-Grail Cycle. While the Vulgate Cycle was composed circa 1220-1225, the fragments are dated to 1250–1275 via paleographic analysis, with a provenance in northern, possibly north-eastern, France.

Professor Leah Tether, medieval historian and manuscript specialist Dr Benjamin Pohl and medievalist Dr Laura Chuhan Campbell, after digital processing images of the fragments, realized that the Bristol fragments offer previously unknown variants of the texts. Dr Laura Chuhan Campbell:

“In most manuscripts of the better known [version], Viviane casts a spell whereby three names are written on her groin that prevent Merlin from sleeping with her. In several manuscripts of the lesser-known version, these names are written on a ring instead,” said Tether. “In our fragments, this is taken one step further: the names are written on a ring, but they also prevent anyone speaking to her. So the Bristol Merlin gets rid of unchaste connotations by removing reference to both Viviane’s groin and the idea of Merlin sleeping with her.”

Bristol’s library has posted additional information about the seven fragments. The researchers have collaborated on a book: , published by ARC Humanities Press.