Bringing to Light an Unknown Manuscript in the Allestree Library

We would like to draw attention  to the latest in the series of  Christ Church fully digitised manuscripts: MS Allestree M.3.1 - Tristram Sugge's Scholastique Catechisme (Oxford, c.1648). Until now, the manuscript has never been carefully examined. It consists of a doctrinal manual for the Christian Church discussing mainly patriarchal kingship, authority, ecclesiology, the Law of Moses and the Sabbath. There are also two other incomplete draft treatises near the end of the volume. This, together with a significant number of little studied manuscripts by Tristram Sugge now reside in the Allestree Library at Christ Church.

The Allestree Library is situated in a long, narrow room above the south walk of the Cathedral cloisters. This is a separate library bequeathed by Richard Allestree in 1681 for the use of the Regius Professor of Divinity and his successors. As it stands, the collection would have provided a base for their teaching and research. The room housing this particular resource appears to have been built in 1612, sixty nine years before the Allestree Library was founded. Apart from the impressive collection it houses, the place has another noteworthy feature: the spectacular stone floor. The space is paved with medieval encaustic tiles, very likely re-used from the surrounding buildings of the old St Frideswide’s Priory.

As mentioned above, the Allestree Library houses mostly printed books, but shelved with them are also manuscripts: three medieval theological codices (a large compilation of St Bernard's sermons, the Middle English gospel harmony Oon of Foure, and a small collection of Augustine tracts), one Turkish manuscript, and several dozen early-modern volumes, many of which are theological notebooks.

These have been recently examined by John Hawke, to whom we would like to extend our gratitude for bringing them to light. This particular cache of manuscripts has not yet been catalogued, and is shelved in bay M. It contains ten unassuming, similar looking volumes, carefully bound and very well preserved. The texts are varied in form and authorial intent, relatively easy to navigate, and can offer both broad and focused insights into the intellectual tumults of the Civil Wars and Interregnum. In 1986, Nicholas Tyacke has identified them as the work of a man called Tristram Sugge.

The case of Tristram Sugge is an interesting one. He was expelled from his Wadham College fellowship in 1648, at the age of about 37. He returned at the Restoration, only to die in 1661. Nothing from his pen apparently got into print, save some verses celebrating the birth of a daughter to Charles I. Nevertheless, as Nicholas Tyacke remarks, a number of his manuscript notebooks are to be found in the Allestree Library at Christ Church. Their authorship was long lost to view and has had to be recovered from the volumes themselves. Some of these can be dated internally to the 1650s, after Sugge's expulsion, and all were probably bequeathed by the author to Richard Allestree.

Sugge covers a wide range of questions. His alienation from the official religion of the Interregnum was profound. Sadly, none of his ideas made it into print. However, with the digitisation of the first notebook in the series preserved at Christ Church, we can finally access some of them.

For detailed information about this manuscript, please see John Hawke's excellent study 'The Scholastique Catechisme of Tristram Sugge: Reconciling Ecclesial and Monarchical Authority During the English Civil Wars' published in The Seventeenth Century (35/6:2020).


Dr Cristina Neagu
Keeper of Special Collections

Further reading

John Hawke, 'Peeled Onions, Papal Authority and Divine Kingship in the Allestree Library – the Neglected Manuscripts of Tristram Sugge (1610-1661)', Christ Church Library Newsletter, Vol.12 (2020-21) [due to be published soon].

Ralph Hanna and David Rundle, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts, to c. 1600, in Christ Church, Oxford (Oxford, 2017).

Christ Church Library Newsletter, Vol.7, Issue 2 (2011), pp. 15-18.

Mark Purcell, ‘”Useful Weapons for the Defence of That Cause’” Richard Allestree, John Fell and the Foundation of the Allestree Library’, The Library, 6th Series, vol.21 (1999), pp. 124-147.

Nicholas Tyacke, 'Religious Controversy', The History of the University of Oxford. Vol. 4 (Oxford: 1997), pp. 569-619.  DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199510146.003.0011 (Accessed on 8 August 2020).

W.G. Hiscock, A Christ Church Miscellany (Oxford, 1946), p. 215.


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

* To see the library holdings digitised so far, please go to Christ Church Digital Library. "MS Allestree M.3.1" is listed in Western Manuscripts.