Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

B is for Juliana Berners


Juliana Berners, O.S.B., (or Barnes or Bernes), was born in 1388, and was probably the prioress of the Priory of St Mary of Sopwell, near St Albans in Hertfordshire.

It is likely that Juliana Berners was of the nobility or gentry, since most prioresses were from the gentle classes. Her love of hawking and hunting is also very common, given her upbringing. As a gentlewoman, she would not have been expected to give up her enjoyment of these pursuits upon entering the convent.  Juliana Berners is alleged to be the author of  The Boke of Saint Albans, first printed in 1486 by an unknown schoolmaster at St Albans. Although there is no title-page, the colophon at the end of the book gives “Dam Julyans Barnes” credit for writing the book.

When Wynkyn de Worde printed the book in 1496, still without a title-page, he changed her name in the colophon to “Dame Julyans Bernes.” De Worde also added other treatises: one about horses, and another about fishing. When Joseph Haslewood printed a facsimile of De Worde’s edition in 1811, he gave Juliana Berners credit for the section on hunting and part of the section on hawking, but said that the rest of the treatises were translations. I may be too sensitive, but it seems that Haslewood was trying to diminish Berners’ contribution to the work. Although she cannot be given credit for translating the treatises on horses or fishing that De Worde added to his edition, it is still an accomplishment for a woman of that period to have translated treatises on hawking or hunting as well.

I found it impossible to find a modern English rendition of The Book of St. Albans. There is a facsimile of the section by Juliana Berners, English hawking and hunting in the Boke of St. Albans by Rachel Hands, Oxford University Press, 1975. A facsimile of the entire book,  The Boke of St. Albans, was printed by Elliot Stock in 1881.

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