Hannah Bokenam, neé Scot, died on 21 November 1509, at the age of fifty, so the records tell us, having suffered torture before being executed. Hannah was denounced for relapsed heresy in August 1509, confined to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, where she was already working as a governess to a young lady named Margaret Bray, later tortured under the orders of the Franciscans and given over to the secular authorities for burning near the end of that year. Her husband, whom she had married at the age of twenty-two, was no longer there to protect her. He had met with an uncertain fate in Italy the year before. None of her sons had survived into adulthood and a daughter, Susannah, was married and living in London at this time.
The stepdaughter of a Hexham landowner, Hannah had spent her teenage years in educated surroundings. There is evidence that Hannah may have copied eleven of the tales which make up Volume Gowther in her late teens or very early twenties, perhaps from manuscripts in her stepfather's library. There is even a small hint in her confession that she may, in her teenage years, have been personally acquainted with the author of the poem The Floure and the Leafe. This was certainly the first tale that she chose to copy into her personal collection of writings, which would later become Scot MS Gowther. Scot MS Ragnelle is likely to have been her second volume of stories, collected and transcribed in a similar way, perhaps whilst she was still unmarried.
By good fortune, it has now been shown that four manuscript volumes which came to light in a private library in the south of England in the nineteen seventies are also Hannah's work. The scribal hand is clearly that of Hannah, although small differences in letter formation, when viewed against Scot MSS Gowther and Ragnelle, show that none of them could derive from the same period. They must therefore be later transcriptions from Hannah's scribal pen, probably made as and when she came into temporary possession of work that interested her. Further proof of this comes from the final tale in Scot MS Gowther, which is clearly an addition from a later re-binding of this volume and in a hand identical to that of Hannah's work in the White Book of Mottistone.
Hannah's confession betrays a love of mystery and a deep fascination with the past. Her imagination had been stimulated by the remains of an ancient stone circle in Simonburn, near Hexham, Northumberland, and by an ancient carving incorporated into the fabric of the church in the village there, a church in which she would later be married. And as she confided to her inquisitors, she was intrigued by the remains of antique and mysterious circular shapes that were carved into an old standing stone that had been incorporated into the fireplace where she warmed herself on winter evenings when she was a girl. She had traced the circular groves with her fingers and claimed to have felt their mystery. The books in her stepfather's library had also kept the young Hannah spellbound, and she could not help but try to interpret the perplexing clues that surrounded her, often as she walked along the line of the old wall that the Romans had built.
These tales and romances that Hannah copied and retold with such an eager curiosity are presented here in Modern English translation so that you can make up your own mind. All of them are found in manuscript copies elsewhere, sometimes uniquely. Many of them are tales that led Hannah ultimately to the stake.