Following the Riche Cheyne: Research in England

This post was originally several posts and has been condensed into one post for easier readability. 

The library is very happy to have a guest blogger this week, LMU senior Michael Madrinkian, who is writing to us from London:

Hello from England, LMU!  It’s my third day since coming here to research for my senior thesis.  I began work on the project at the beginning of the summer, and have finally made it here.  My research involves an anonymous, 16th century manuscript, held by our own Hannon Library’s special collections.  The manuscript, entitled The Riche Cheyne, contains all of the Biblical books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  The order of the verses, however, has been cleverly rearranged so that each verse has some connection to the verse before it, i.e. a common word or phrase.

RichCheyne_Binding_01 Although the Cheyne is dated 1589, there is no indication of who the author actually is.  On the cover there are the initials E. C., although there is no way to tell if they refer to the owner or the binder.  The only evidence of its provenance is a note pasted to the inside cover saying that it was “found” (probably meaning stolen) in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.  The manuscript, which was acquired from some unknown donor, had been a mystery to the library for quite some time; no one even knew what was inside it, since it was written in old, Elizabethan shorthand that is extremely hard to decipher.  So, I decided to take up the challenge, and try to find out what this really was.  I spent the summer transcribing the script, and discovered what was inside for the first time.

As I was starting to investigate the origins of the manuscript, I realized that what I really needed was to go to where it all started, England, in order to carry out the research.  Since no grants were available, I presented my project to several different departments, asking for the funds for the trip.  Within a couple of months I had all the money I needed from both the Library and the Honors Program, and set out on a two-week voyage to England.

RichCheyne_014I have now spent my first two-and-a-half days in Oxford, studying at the incredible Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.  Getting my Bodleian card, I went down through the long underground tunnel into the library’s new, sophisticated “Gladstone Link.”  I poured through books on bindings to see if I could find anything that seemed to match.   I also looked up famous book collectors from the Cheyne’s time period, looking for the E. C. initials.  But none of this work revealed anything useful.

I did have a theory that, because the manuscript was religious and highly academic, the writer was probably some kind of religious official.  I went into the Bodleian’s stunning Duke Humphry’s special collections library, with vaulting wooden ceilings and walls filled with ancient books as far as the eye can see.   There I found microfilms (manuscript images on a film reel) of the Episcopal Registers of all the English Bishops through the Renaissance.   Looking at their handwriting, I tried to find a match for the Cheyne.  Several handwriting samples from the late 16th century period were surprisingly similar, but none of them seemed to be an exact match.  What that did tell me, however, was that I was very likely correct in assuming that it was a religious official, and was on the right track.

Finished for now in Oxford, I am making my way towards London…

It has only been a few days since I last posted, but they have been extremely eventful!  Going into the trip I was beginning with a blank slate.  Finding and identifying a matching handwriting among the sea of manuscripts from the 16th century seemed like an impossible feat. But I believe that I just may have found the needle in the haystack.  Recent evidence suggests that I may have actually discovered the author of the Riche Cheyne.

While in London I went to the University of London’s Senate House Library to follow up on a theory I had developed.  Before my trip I had started research by leafing through the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a detailed account of important people throughout English history.  I went page by page through all the “C” volumes, trying to find someone with the initials E. C. (which appear on the Riche Cheyne’s cover). Studying each person with these initials, I tried to find someone with a story that might line up.  Finally I stumbled across a man named Edmund Calamy, who was a Presbyterian minister around the time that the manuscript was written.  What caught my attention was that Calamy had served as chaplain to Nicholas Felton, a high-ranking bishop.  Looking up Nicholas Felton, I started doing some detective work, making some pretty broad conclusions.

I found that Felton was also an academic and a lecturer in Greek, both traits that would help him to write the Cheyne.  Plus, Felton was Protestant, which also made sense, as the manuscript’s wording sounded distinctly like Renaissance Protestantism.  My theory was that Felton had written the manuscript and passed it on to Edmund Calamy, whose initials were put on the cover.  It was a long shot, but I had to start somewhere.  I got in contact with a few experts and library researchers, telling them about my theory, but most told me that, while it was possible, there was not much supporting my conclusion.  But, I still wanted to compare the handwriting just to be sure.

Bishop Felton didn’t write for himself, however, so there were no copies of his handwriting.  But, he did have a scribe named Edmond Willis, a pioneer in shorthand, who did all of his copying.  So, I knew that if the Cheyne were Felton’s doing, then it would have been Willis’ handwriting.  At the Senate House Library, there was a manuscript containing Willis’ handwriting, a book of sermons that he had copied down from Nicholas Felton called Certain Sermons.  So, I went up into the huge, white stone tower that is the Senate House Library and into the special collections to check it out.

Since my theory was such a long shot, my expectations weren’t very high.  The manuscript was a small miniature, about the same size as the Cheyne.  I opened it up, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I had seen many hands that had resembled the Cheyne, but never anything like this.  It seemed to be an almost perfect match.  I feverishly went through the text, testing all the intricacies of the Cheyne’s unique handwriting, and all of them began to match up.  I spent most of the next day carefully making my way through the text, comparing every detail.  I had compiled a list of all the ways that other handwritings often differed, but this script passed all the tests.  There were several differences that I noted, but since the Sermons were written sixteen years later, it was nothing that couldn’t be explained by passing time and increased experience.

I quickly ordered digital images, and when I receive them I intend to have other experts look at the two hands, and judge whether or not my conclusion is correct.  In light of this discovery, I have begun to focus my research on this one particular idea, trying to uncover as much information as I can on the figures involved.  I also still need to pinpoint where the manuscript was bound and by whom.

This is a very exciting time for my research.  Nothing is for certain yet, but whether or not this turns out to be the provenance of the Ryche Cheyne, it is an extremely important step in my journey.  I can’t wait to share what I find next!

I am now well into my journey abroad, and there is no end to the amazing discoveries that my search has revealed!  Continuing on my quest to identify the Ryche Cheyne, I next wanted to research its provenance.  The only thing that is known about where the Cheyne comes from is what can be discerned from a little note that is pasted to the inside cover.  The note is, however, extremely vague, only saying that it was “discovered in Errary (underground cellars) of Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.”  Intrigued by this statement, I decided to investigate, and traveled to Windsor myself to see if I could find any evidence of the Cheyne.

Saint_Georges_Chapel_1 When I got to Windsor Castle it was, of course, flooded with tourists.  But, as an archival researcher, I was ushered to the restricted areas behind St. George’s Chapel, the church where the manuscript is said to have been found.  At the chapel archives I met Dr. Claire Rider, who lent a great deal of help to my search.  First, Dr. Rider brought me a list of all the Deans and Canons of the College of St. George during the time the Cheyne was written.  I looked through to see if any might have the initials E. C., but with no luck.

More importantly, however, I wanted to see handwriting samples, to see if I could find any that might be similar.  The library at St. George’s, however, was entirely printed works, with no literary manuscripts.  Yet there were manuscript materials in their extensive archival records, containing formal documents from the chapel’s history.  I was brought an entire box full of ancient-looking scrolls containing accounts of all the mundane accounts from the chapel in the 16th century (paying the plumber his wages, purchasing a new bucket for the well, etc.)  Many of these documents showed similar hands, but none of them struck me in any particular way.

What I was most interested in at St. George’s, however, was the “Errary” where the manuscript was found.  But, I learned that the “Errary” (actually spelled Aerary) was off limits to almost everyone, even the staff, for preservation purposes.  The Aerary, which means treasury, is one of the oldest parts of St. George’s Chapel, built in the mid-14th century.  Originally, it was used as a storeroom for the valuable goods of all the Deans of the college of St. George, as well as many formal, administrative documents.  It was not, however, a library; books and manuscripts would have been kept elsewhere.  Dr. Rider told me that it would have been unusual for a manuscript such as the Cheyne to appear there.

Along with this information, I found an even stranger inconsistency.  Because of the note, I was under the expectation that the Aerary would be in the “underground cellars” as the note parenthesized.  Upon learning more, however, I realized that, on the contrary, the Areary is actually up in a tower.  In fact, Dr. Rider assured me that St. George’s Chapel does not have any underground cellars at all!  This discovery led me to realize that perhaps the note of provenance is not entirely reliable.  Certainly whoever wrote it had very little knowledge of St. George’s let alone the Aerary.

I was still not satisfied, however, and was still intrigued by the mysterious Aerary.  Finally, despite the exclusivity of the Aerary, Dr. Rider, who seemed genuinely interested in the manuscript, arranged access for us to tour the room.  The Aerary is truly as marvelous as its mystique.  To get to the room, we went through the Deans’ meeting room, which is still in use today.  A door opened that led to a dark, winding stone staircase.  At the top there was a heavy wooden door that opened with a huge iron key.  The room was smaller than expected, and was in an immaculate state of preservation.  The intricately carved ceiling, which survives from the 14th century, looked as though it was crafted yesterday.  The floor was made of individually painted tiles, which still held a vibrant color.  The walls were lined with wooden cabinets, filled with drawers.  On each drawer was painted the name of one of the chapel Deans, which was where they would have stored their treasures, yet all now lie empty.

Although it was an amazing experience, I did not find any clues in the Aerary itself.  It did show me, however, that ‘discovering’ something in such a secure room and carrying it off would be quite difficult and unlikely.  Having discovered the inconsistencies of the note, however, is a very important step in understanding the whole context of the Cheyne.  It may well be that the Cheyne was taken from St. George’s, perhaps found in the general library and stolen.  The story of the Aerary is likely the product of the manuscript being handed down along with imaginative embellishments.

With my newfound information, I intend to investigate further into who the Cheyne’s donor might have been, and attempt to track down the real story of its provenance.  Continuing on, I can’t wait to see what will be revealed!

Saint_Georges_Chapel_2 Exterior of Saint George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.  Photo by Michael Madrinkian.

The Riche Cheyne (along with everything else in the Archives & Special Collections) is available by appointment in the Department of Archives & Special Collections.  To make an appointment, simply give us a call at 310-338-5710, email us at, or drop by in person.  We’re located on Level 3 of the William H. Hannon Library.