Berners, Juliana (c. 1388–?)

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Berners, Juliana (c. 1388–?)

English writer on hawking and hunting. Name variations: Julyans or Julians Barnes or Bernes. Born around 1388; either the daughter of Sir James Berners, who was beheaded in 1388, or the wife of the holder of the manor of Julians Barnes near St. Albans.

Considered one of earliest published women writing in Britain, Juliana Berners was possibly the daughter of Sir James Berners who was beheaded in 1388 or possibly the wife of Julians Barnes. Though not much is known of her life, as a noblewoman she was probably brought up at court and certainly possessed a love of hawking, hunting, and fishing, as well as a passion for field sports. The only documentary evidence regarding her is the statement at the end of her treatise on hunting contained in the Boke of St. Albans, "Explicit Dam Julyans Barnes in her boke of huntyng."

The first and rarest edition of the Boke of St. Albans, which has no title page, was printed in 1486 by an unknown St. Albans schoolmaster. Wynkyn de Worde's edition ten years later, also without a title page, begins: "This present boke shewyth the manere of hawkynge and huntynge: and also of diuysynge of Cote armours. It shewyth also a good matere belongynge to horses: wyth other comendable treatyses. And ferdermore of the blasynge of armys: as hereafter it maye appere." Adorned by three woodcuts, this edition included a "Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle" not contained in the St. Albans' edition. Worde also changed her name to "dame Julyans Bernes."

J. Haslewood, who published a facsimile of that of Wynkyn de Worde (London, 1811), with biographical and bibliographical sections, closely examined Worde's claim that Berners was the earliest woman author in the English language. Haslewood asserted that the book was the work of multiple authors and attributed little to her, except part of the treatise on hawking and the section on hunting. It is expressly stated at the end of the "Blasynge of Armys" that the section was "translatyd and compylyt," and it is likely that the other treatises are translations, probably from the French. An older form of the treatise on fishing was edited in 1883 by T. Satchell from a manuscript in possession of A. Denison. This treatise probably dates from about 1450 and formed the foundation of that section in the book of 1496. Only three perfect copies of the first edition are known to exist. A facsimile, entitled The Book of St. Albans, with an introduction by William Blades, appeared in 1881. During the 16th century, the work, edited by Gervase Markham in 1595 as The Gentleman's Academie, was extremely popular and often reprinted. The theory that Berners had been prioress of Sopwell nunnery, Hertfordshire, near St. Albans is thought to be false. There is a gap, however, in the records of the priory of Sopwell between 1430 and 1480.

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