A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges

Exeter College MS. 186

Suetonius, De vita caesarum; Italy, s. xivmed


Summary of Contents: The manuscript is fully described by N. Mann, 'Petrarch manuscripts in the British Isles' Italia medioevale e umanistica, 18 (1975), 139–527, at 494–95, and by Ker, MMBL iii (1938), 616–17. For various aspects, especially its history and its use by Petrarch, see R. W. Hunt, Times Literary Supplement (23 Sept. 1960), 619, repr. in MSS at Oxford, 141–43; G. Billanovich, 'Nella biblioteca del Petrarca', Italia medioevale e umanistica, 3 (1960), 1–58, at 28–58.

Language(s): Latin

(fols. 1r-60v (61v))
Gaius Tranquillus Suetonius, De vita caesarum
Rubric: Versus [Sydonij] ^Ausonii^ in libros Suetonij Cesareos proceres ... obitumque peregit ... Gaii Suetonij tranquillj de uita .xii. cesarum. Liber primus diuus Iulius Cesar incipit feliciter.
Incipit: Iulius cesar annum agens sextum decimum patrem amisit
Explicit: [fol. 38v (39v)] assurgere ||
Incipit: || [fol. 39r) (40r)] genere
Explicit: [fol. 59v(60v)] ac triumphaliter(?) ||
Incipit: || [fol. 60r (61r)] sima suspitione
Explicit: insequentium principum.
Final rubric: Gaii Suetonij Tranquillj De uita duodecim cesarum liber duodecimus domicianus Imperator feliciter explicit. Explicit liber Gaii Suetonij Tranquillj de uita cesarum feliciter. Versus Sydonii ^Ausonii^ de xij Cesaribus. Primus regalem ... nec morte Vitellius ut uir ||

Ed. M. Ihm (Leipzig, 1907). The Caesares of Ausonius preceding and following the text is pr. by S. Prete, Ausonii opuscula (Leipzig, 1978), 202, and Ausonius, Works, ed. R. P. H. Green (Oxford, 1991), 161–2. Because of the loss of two leaves in quire 5 our text has a gap in the life of Claudius between fols. 38 (39) and 39 (40), from ‘assurgere’ (6.1) to ‘genere’ (21.5), and the loss of two leaves in quire 8 causes a gap between fols. 59 (60) and 60 (61), in the life of Domitian between ‘ac triumphaliter [sic? recte triumphans]’ (2.1) and ‘sima suspitione’ (15.1). Our text ends abruptly at line 14 of the Ausonius verses.

The text is heavily annotated by Petrarch: Watson, Exeter, Plate 1 reproduces detail of fol. 7r (8r). Other examples of his annotations are reproduced by Billanovich, op. cit., pls. 5, 6 (details fols. 7r (8r), 23r (24r), 25v (26v), 60v (61v); in MSS at Oxford, fig. 104 (fol. 21r (22r)); and by A. C. de la Mare, The Handwriting of Italian Humanists, i (Oxford, 1973), pl. III f, h (details of fols. 20r (21r), 38v (39v) respectively).

Physical Description

Secundo Folio: sum penitentia.
Form: codex
Support: parchment FHHF
Extent: 60 leaves, prepared in the Italian manner, preceded and followed by one post-medieval membrane flyleaf
Dimensions (leaf): 340 × 235 mm.
Dimensions (column): 220 × c. 65–70 mm.


1–48 58 (wants 7, 8), 68–78 (wants 6, 7). Catchwords in centres of final leaves, in ornamental boxes. No quire numbers or signatures.


Two columns, each 44 lines. Ruled in faint ink.


A good Italian gothic rotunda, punctuated by low point; see our Plate 1. For reproductions see Billanovich, loc. cit., MSS at Oxford, loc. cit., de la Mare, Handwriting, loc. cit. Spaces were left for Greek tags and quotations and were filled in in very imperfect Greek letters, probably by Petrarch himself.


On fol. 1r is a 21-line blank space, extending over both columns, intended for a miniature, and before each life thereafter a space for a 7-line initial, not filled in;

otherwise 2-line lombards, red flourished mauve and blue flourished red. 1-line capitals in the ink of the text touched with red; blue and red paraphs.


Sewn on four bands between thin wooden boards covered with gilt brown morocco, s. xv; holes on both covers indicate that two ties are missing from each; patterned fore-edge; spine labelled down the length ‘SUETONIUS MS. MEMBR: DEPICTIS INITIALIBUS.’ No. 2660 and pl. A5 in T. De Marinis, La Legatura artistica in Italia nei secoli xv e xvi, 3 (Florence, 1960), 29. In the centre of the front cover is a blind roundel showing the judgment of Paris (illus. by De Marinis, pl. after p. 16) and on the back cover a roundel containing a satyr and a woman as on a Suidas at Trinity College Cambridge which belonged to Jean Grolier (H. M. Nixon, Bookbindings from the Library of Jean Grolier: A Loan Exhibition [at the British Museum] (London, 1965), no. 3 and pl. III). See also Fine Bindings 1500–1700 from Oxford Libraries [exhibition cat., Bodleian Library]; Oxford, 1968), no. 9. The patterned fore-edge may contain Grolier’s arms. Through the pastedowns can be seen three fragments of a written text extending round the spine, each c. 240 mm wide and 70–80 mm high. In his doctoral thesis, Norditalienische Plakettenbände der 1. Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts und ihr Bezug zu Grolier. Diss. zur Erlangung der Würde des Doktors der Philosophie (Hamburg, 1984), Gustav Beck advances the view that the binding was done in Venice in 1515 or 1516, for Lodovico Ricchieri da Rovigo, b. 1469, and not in Milan for Grolier c. 1509–15 as generally accepted.


Origin: s. xivmed ; Italy

Provenance and Acquisition

The early history of the volume is not easy to establish since it bears no signs of early ownership, which were probably on the removed and replaced flyleaves and on a removed and replaced strip cut from the foot of the last leaf. For such history as can be deduced see references in the headnote above.

The book is one of three copies of the text owned by Petrarch, the most heavily annotated copy and evidently his working one, and was perhaps written for him (but not necessarily in 1351 as stated by de la Mare, Handwriting, loc. cit., which is a date not proposed by her elsewhere and is otherwise unsupported).

After Petrarch, the book was presumably owned by Francesco il Vecchio da Carrara since it later passed to the Visconti library which received many of his books.

In the Visconti inventory of 1426 it is no. 363 and in the 1459 inventory no. 570 (see E. Pellegrin, La Bibliothèque des Visconti et des Sforza ... (Paris, 1955), 153 (A363), 315 (B570), and Supplément (Paris, 1969), 57);

to Lodovico Richieri;

Jean Grolier (d. 1565);

to ‘H[enry] Drury, Harrow’ (name on fol. ir) at whose sale by Evans, 19 Feb. 1827 it was lot 4263 and was bought for £6 by Thomas Thorpe who sold it in his 1827 sale (lot 233) for £12.12s.

It was given to Exeter by C. W. Boase (1825–95), fellow, in or after 1868.

An unidentified number 12 is at the top of the pastedown.

Exeter library identifications are, on the front pastedown, the Eric Gill bookplate of 1931 with ‘MS 186’ written on it in pencil.

Record Sources

Andrew G. Watson, A descriptive catalogue of the medieval manuscripts of Exeter College, Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 2000.


For enquiries relating to this manuscript please contact Exeter College Library.

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (full digital facsimile)

Funding of Cataloguing

Conversion of the printed catalogue to TEI funded by the Rector and Fellows of Exeter College.

Last Substantive Revision

2020-04-29: First online publication

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