On Wednesday 18 July, Clare Hall members had the opportunity to attend a private tour by the new librarian at Corpus Christi’s Parker Library, Dr Alex Devine. Organised by Dr Keri Wong the trip typified the intellectual stimulation and diversity as well accessibility of the University’s rich history of my year as a student at Clare Hall. Attendees included students, Postdocs, Fellows and Life Members from a wide range of disciplines who were curious about the history of Cambridge and its libraries, the library’s digitisation project, Keri’s Biology Point, as well as the collection itself.
As part of Alex’s mission to increase the library’s accessibility, we were able to see the collection’s rare medieval and renaissance manuscripts, many of which were given by Matthew Parker, Corpus’ Master, university Vice-Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury in the 16th century. One highlight of the tour, which delighted all attendees, was Alex’s whimsical account of Matthew Paris’ drawing and description of the first elephant on British shores in the Chronica Maiora. The elephant had been a gift from King Louis IX of France in the 13th Century to Henry III of England, who kept it at the Tower of London. Sadly, the elephant died within three years of its arrival despite its keepers following the latest veterinary advice that elephants should only drink wine in winter to keep out the cold.
As a law student, I was most excited to see the library’s Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the oldest existing written English history and a document central to the development of the English constitution. Scribes wrote the earliest version of the Chronicle in the 9th Century under England’s greatest early lawmaker and statesman King Alfred the Great. Alfred made up for his mythical lack of culinary skills (allegedly burning a peasant woman’s cakes whilst fleeing invading Danes) by creating a shared Anglo-Saxon identity amongst his subjects and Christians in the neighbouring kingdoms through his legal, organisational and military reforms. As I learnt on my favourite course this year, Birth, Development and Afterlife of States, taught by Professor David Feldman and Dr Veronika Fikfak, these included the law codes in the Chronicle, which are arguably the original foundation of English common law. The code does not look like modern legislation: rules setting fines for crimes such as carrying a maiden off by force (the assailant did not have to return said maiden) sat alongside Jewish Mosaic Law and biblical exaltations. The combining of enforceable and aspirational law is still done in many modern constitutions.
The trip exemplified how Clare Hall has enhanced my academic studies. Exposure to history, ideas and different geographic perspectives, whether from enlightening dining hall conversations with Fellows, kitchen conversations with my fellow students or Clare Hall trips and events, has helped widen my understanding of law through questioning assumed knowledge and approaches. Visiting the Parker Library with Clare Hall was the perfect ending to my Master of Laws here at Clare Hall.
Dora Robinson - Master of Law (LLM) student at Clare Hall