852 Rare: Hands in Manor Rolls

This is the fourth in a series of five blogs about Historical & Special Collections’ English Manor Rolls (1305-1770). HSC was honored to have Eleanor GoerssPforzheimer Fellow ’17, with us to perform research on and enhance description of this internationally-important collection, including authoring these posts.

In the margins of Harvard’s manor court rolls, little hands point the way. Here is a selection:

Four samples of hands drawn on manor court rolls
(clockwise) Folder 10, Membrane B. Moulton (Multon), Norfolk; Folder 162, Membranes D, E, and O, Great Wishford, Wiltshire.

In the manor court, an inquest jury would be convened to gather evidence and pronounce judgment on a specific dispute. On occasion, they would refer back to the court rolls to find this evidence. Jury members or scribes drew pointing hands (sometimes called manicula or manicules) to note the cases under examination. With a little bit of flair, the hands give a sense of how the rolls were handled, unfurled, searched, and marked beyond the initial court session that they record.

Sometimes parchment tags and little hands mark important cases, for good measure:

Two images showing parchment flags attached to the manor roll as well as a hand drawn pointing to the case of note
Folder 162, Membranes G and H, Great Wishford, Wiltshire


Further reading:

Sherman, William H. “Toward a History of the Manicule” in Used Books Marking Readers in Renaissance England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

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