Another Lydgate Manuscript Digitised at Christ Church Library

After making available John Lydgate's Poems including 'The churl and the bird' and 'The sege of Thebes' (see MS 152), the imaging team - in this particular case: Alina Nachescu and Lynda Sayce (photography), Cristina Neagu (metadata), Tim Dungate and Joanna Bek (migration to online viewer) -  has brought to light another manuscript by the same author, John Lydgate's Troy Book (MS 153).

The manuscripts are reachable via Christ Church Digital Library: Western Manuscripts. Both MS 152 and MS 153 have detailed descriptions online and in Ralph Hanna and David Rundle, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts, to c.1600,in Christ Church, Oxford.

Lydgate's Troy Book in Christ Church Collections is a rather unassuming manuscript dating from the last quarter of the fifteenth-century, in long lines, written in unpunctuated anglicana. The first two pages of the codex are fragments of leaves, now mounted on nineteenth-century paper, and all leaves through to fol. 8, as well as fols 13 and 79, have lost their leading edges. The binding (tan reversed calf, with incised border) is relatively new. Inside the back cover there is a note of repair dating from 21 February 1900. Other than this, MS 153 is in good condition, welcoming readers to engage and sample some of its magic.

It appears that it was none other than Harry, then Prince of Wales, (future King Henry V of England) who commissioned John Lydgate, the monk of Bury, to write a poem in Middle English on the subject of the Trojan War. The poem is a verse narrative minutely faithful to its source,Guido delle Colonne's Historia destructionis Troiae, a late thirteenth-century Latin prose work so popular that it survived in about a hundred manuscripts. Lydgate's Troy Book is one of the many attempts in medieval vernacular poetry to recount the story.

Some have illustrious provenance and are beautifully illuminated. This is the case, for example, of the famous Rylands Library, English MS 1, a mid fifteenth-century manuscript of John Lydgate's Siege of Troy, richly decorated, with floriated borders, a half-page miniature at the beginning of each of the five books, and 64 other illuminations.  

Overall, there is no shortage of manuscripts containing Lydgate's Troy poem. The Bodleian alone has at least seven early versions. However, in the context of the University of Oxford, the manuscript at Christ Church is the first to be fully digitised.

Dr Cristina Neagu
Keeper of Special Collections

Further reading

Douglas Gray, 'Lydgate, John (c.1370-1449/50?)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: 2004).
Stella Halkyard, 'All that glisters is not gold': John Lydgate's Troy Book', PN Review; Manchester Vol. 41, Iss. 3,  (Jan/Feb 2015): 1.
Ralph Hanna and David Rundle, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts, to c. 1600, in Christ Church, Oxford (Oxford, 2017).
N.R. Ker, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries (Oxford:1983).
Derek Pearsall, John Lydgate (London:1970).
Seymour de Ricci, English Collectors of Books & Manuscripts (1530-1930) and Their Marks of Ownership (Cambridge: 1930).
Margaret Roseman Scherer, The Legends of Troy in Art and Literature, 2nd edition (New York:1964).

* For other news related to Special Collections, please go the library Exhibitions and Events.