Recusancy in manuscript

Robert Southwell’s Short rule of good life, first printed c. 1597, is a spiritual conduct manual based on the Benedictine rule. Though in many ways plainly Catholic, it led a life less bounded by confessional categories than we might expect, published with relatively minor differences both by clandestine and continental Catholic presses and by legitimate London publishers. The text pictured here represents one of very few known manuscript copies of the Short rule.* Made around the turn of the seventeenth century, it is accompanied by a copy of John Mush’s life of Margaret Clitherow, the York recusant who was executed upon refusing to recant in 1586, making it an avowedly recusant text. Another, similar copy of roughly the same date is held in Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, where it is one of fifteen texts in a manuscript with a decidedly Protestant orientation, sharing space with memorialisations of major English reformers and men charged with heresy under Mary I. The transmission history of Southwell’s work generally, and of the Short rule specifically, testifies to the movement of texts across confessional boundaries. BW

*We would like to acknowledge Maureen Pickman, whose research brought the York MS to our attention.

YML: MS Add 151

Further Reading

M.R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Gonville and Caius College (Cambridge, 1907), no. 218/233.

Robert Southwell, Two Letters and Short Rules of Good Life, ed. Nancy Pollard Brown (Charlottesville, 1973).

Extended captions