The Old English manuscript whose charred and burnt remains are now MS BL Cotton Otho B. xi was written at Winchester during the reign of Æthelred, partly in the middle of the tenth century and partly about the middle of the first half of the eleventh. In its pristine state it contained Anglo-Saxon texts of some importance, including a collection of laws. Unfortunately, the manuscript fell victim to the Cottonian fire of 1731 and was largely destroyed. Before the fire, however, in 1562, Otho B. xi was transcribed practically in its entirety by the antiquarian Laurence Nowell, whose work formed the basis for the printed edition of the Anglo-Saxon Laws contained in William Lambarde's
Archaionomia of 1568.
The present edition offers a brief discussion of the laws of the Anglo-Saxons as they survive in manuscripts and printed editions and then concentrates on the work of Nowell and Lambarde. Two Laurence Nowells and at least three Nowell transcripts of Cotton Otho B. xi are known to modern scholarship and require consideration before proceeding to an edition of what can be reconstructed of MS BL Cotton Otho B. xi.
The texts of the law codes known as II Athelstan, V Athelstan, Iudex, and Alfred and Ine found originally in MS BL Cotton Otho B.xi are printed from the Nowell transcript contained in MS BL Additional 43703, while on facing pages the corresponding passages from Lambarde's
Archaionomia are reproduced. Variants from the other Nowell transcripts of the same texts are noted, manuscript relations are discussed in an appendix, and a select bibliography is offered.
The importance of the present edition is that it makes it easier to compare the Otho B. xi text and Lambarde's printed version than is possible with Felix Liebermann's
Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen. Comparison of the Nowell and Lambarde texts with one another shows that there can be little doubt that Lambarde for his
Archaionomia used Otho B. xi or a transcript of it made by Nowell Comparison of the Nowell and Lambarde texts with the other extant manuscript and printed versions casts some further light on the relations between the surviving law codes of the Anglo-Saxons.