This is the third volume in The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, a project devoted to publishing in electronic form documentary and color facsimile texts of all the relevant medieval and renaissance witnesses to William Langland's Piers Plowman. This volume presents Oxford, Oriel College, MS 79, one of a genetic pair of manuscripts within the beta group. They are the Oriel manuscript, known as O, and the manuscript known as C2, Cambridge University Library Ll.4.14. These two manuscripts share more agreements in error (Kane and Donaldson list 335) than any other pair of B manuscripts except RF (with 504). Both M. R. James (in an opinion recorded in unpublished papers in Cambridge University Library) and W. W. SkeatNW.W. Skeat, ed., The Vision Concerning Piers the Plowman. Part 2. The "Crowley" Text; or Text B. EETS 38 (London: Oxford University Press, 1869), p. xxi. believed C2 to have been copied from O at a time when O was intact. Although there are approximately forty instances in which C2 preserves original readings where O does not, most of these involve short words or function words that might easily have been supplied by anyone. However, at least one of these readings in C2 is difficult to explain except by the use of a different exemplar. At O.3.259, O has low with the group WCr1GYCBL, where C2 has lewed, with the group HmRFH. Kane and Donaldson conclude that the two manuscripts share an exclusive common ancestor up to 17.98, the point after which they no longer appear closely related.NGeorge Kane and E. Talbot Donaldson, eds., Piers Plowman: The B Version. Will's Visions of Piers Plowman, Do-Well, Do-Better and Do-Best (London: Athlone Press, 1975; Rev. ed. 1988), p. 24 n. 23. The process of editing C2, now in progress, should help to clarify the relationship between these two manuscripts.

In the preface to his edition of the B-text, Skeat describes Oriel College, MS 79 as "much the neatest, and probably altogether the best, of the MSS. which are written continuously, i.e. without a break at the end of each paragraph."NW. W. Skeat, The Vision Concerning Piers the Plowman. Part 2. The "Crowley" Text; or Text B. EETS 38 (London:Oxford University Press, 1869), p. xvi. In a letter to the Oriel College librarian who had lent him the manuscript, now attached to its endleaves, he mentions his discovery that four leaves are missing from it: "it is a great pity, as the MS. is a very good one." The four missing leaves include three from the tenth quire (encompassing lines numbered by Kane and Donaldson 17.99-346) and one from the twelfth (KD.19.281-358). As Skeat notes in his letter, they seem to have been already missing at the time the manuscript was last bound, in the eighteenth century.

The manuscript is a professional production, written in a small, regular anglicana formata by a scribe of North Hertfordshire whose language is almost perfectly consistent. The quality of the vellum is poor, and the manuscript is only modestly ornamented: the initial at the beginning of each passus is rubricated, line initials are touched in red, and Latin lines are often underlined in red. There are no illustrations. The scribe is not an innovator; he obviously attempts close fidelity to the text, and most corrections in his hand are good. The manuscript's most striking unique reading is at 15.126, where OC2 substitute the line "Schulden go synge seruyseles  wiþ sire philip þe sparwe" for the completely different line which Kane and Donaldson render as "[And beere] bedes in hir hand and a book vndir hir arme" (KD.15.122). It appears at this point in our editorial project that O does not uniquely preserve any archetypal readings at all, and that the pair OC2 uniquely preserves only five: dedes in place of dredes at OProl.152; þee at O.3.194; þe at O.5.478; wittili in place of witterly at O.9.4; and þeise at O.10.53 where the majority reading is þis. The notes to this edition record all variants, even the purely formal, unique to O or shared by OC2 alone, as well as substantive variants shared by O and three or fewer other manuscripts.

This edition includes a complete color facsimile of part one of Oriel College, MS. 79, including its other contents (enumerated in the Introduction). The manuscript consists of two separate parts bound together in the eighteenth century: the Piers Plowman manuscript, from the first half of the fifteenth century, and other materials written on paper and dating from mid-fifteenth century to perhaps the early years of the sixteenth. Among them is the text of Caxton's Boke of Curtesye on which Furnivall based his 1868 EETS edition.NFrederick Furnivall, Ed., The Boke of Curtesye, EETS ES 3 (Trubner 1868). In this edition, we have attempted a close transcription of the Piers Plowman manuscript. The Diplomatic style sheet represents the text with the greatest fidelity possible in typographical format. The Critical style sheet provides a lightly corrected, more easily readable text: minor scribal lapses are corrected, brief omissions supplied, and word divisions regularized.

For invaluable help in the preparation of this edition over a period of several years, the editor is indebted to the general editors of SEENET and to the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia. The Institute's director, Professor John Unsworth, has supported the Archive with equipment, software, space, and monies for research assistants; he has also contributed his personal time and his vast knowledge of hardware and software. Other members of his staff have been unfailingly generous with their time and knowledge, especially Daniel Pitti, Project Director of IATH; programmers Stephen A. Ramsay and Richard A. Peterson, whose PERL scripts simplified many a complicated task; and Robert W. Bingler, David Cosca, and Chris Jessee, all of whom helped us over many technical and conceptual hurdles with competence and courtesy. Peter Baker, in permitting us to use and extend his Old English fonts, has made it possible for us to display non-standard characters such as the yogh and the punctus elevatus.

Thanks are due as well to the Provost and Fellows of Oriel College, Oxford, who gave us access to the manuscript, and to the Librarian and staff of the Bodleian Library, who prepared the color slides on which the digital images are based. We owe much to the labors of Patricia R. Bart, John I. Carlson, and Timothy Stinson who scanned the slides, in some instances several times, and worked to improve the focus and clarity of the photographic images.

The editor and SEENET are deeply grateful to Jonathan Rodney who wrote the style sheets that permit readers to access our introductory texts via Internet Explorer.

We are grateful to the research assistants named on the title page, and to the National Endowment for the Humanities which supported their work. Rhonda McDaniel, formerly of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, made valuable contributions to the edition with financial support from the Department of English and from the James and Dorothy Kennedy Distinguished Teaching Professorship, which also supported travel to Oxford for work on the manuscript.

A fundamental debt of every editor of Piers Plowman is to the Athlone edition of Professors George Kane and E. Talbot Donaldson, whose accuracy and editorial candor have ensured its permanent value to students of the poem. Our work has turned up only a few errors in the transcription of O as it is recorded in that editionNO.6.145/KD.6.141—They fail to note deletion of the second instance of or deluen; O.10.242/KD.10.239 articules vs. their articul; O.12.163/KD.12.163—symme vs. their swymme; O.13.319/KD.13.321—They fail to note deletion of wicked; O.19.84/KD.19.88—They fail to note that gold reed is marked for transposition., and in many more than a few instances their edition has served as a guide and corrective to our own reading.

Katherine Heinrichs

University of Tennessee in Chattanooga

1 January 2004