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

St John's College MS 56

John Lydgate, Life of our Lady, etc


Language(s): English with some Latin. LALME (1:153) identifies the language of the final leaves (fols. 83–4v) as ‘north-western’.

1. Fols. 1–71:
Rubric: LYTGATE Here begynnethe the prolog of the ber⟨t⟩he o⟨f⟩ oure ladye
Incipit: ⟨O⟩ thoughtfull hert plownge..n dystresse | With slomber of slowthe this lon..
Explicit: To kepe and saue from all aduersyte Amen
JOHN LYDGATE, The Life of Our Lady (IMEV 2574), ed. Joseph A. Lauritis, Ralph A. Klinefelter, and Vernon F Gallagher, A Critical Edition of John Lydgate’s Life of our Lady (Pittsburgh, 1961), with a description of our MS at 48–9. The MS lacks partial lines from 1.673–739, and 2.1053–1137 is completely lost, with its leaf. The text is followed (fols. 71v–3) by a table of chapters, introduced by the more explicit rubric: ‘⟨T⟩his book was compyled be IOHAN LYDGATE monke of Bury at the excitacioun and stering of oure worschepfull Prince king henry þe fyfte […] ’ On the presentation of the text, see George R. Keiser, ‘Ordinatio in the Manuscripts of John Lydgate’s Lyf of Our Lady... ’, in Tim William Machan (ed.), Medieval Literature: Texts and Interpretation (Binghamton, NY, 1991), 139–57, our MS mentioned at 149–50 n. 25. There is a fair amount of marginal annotation in the text ink.
2. Fols. 73v–5:
Incipit: Quis dabit capiti meo fontem lacrimarum Who schall yeue to myne heed a welle | Off bytter teeris
Explicit: That for ther loue was nayled to a tree Amen Explicit
LYDGATE, ‘A lamentacioun of our lady Maria’ (IMEV 4099), ed. Henry Noble MacCracken, The Minor Poems of John Lydgate, EETS ES 107 (1911), 324–9.
3. Fols. 75v–83v:
Rubric: Hic incipit interpretacio Misse in lingua materna secundum IOHANNEM LITGATE Monachum de Buria ad rogatum domine Comitesse de Suthefolke Suthefolchia
Incipit: ⟨T⟩he folkes alle whiche han deuocioune | To here messe Ffyrst dothe
Explicit: The to re reforme wheras they see nede
Final rubric: Quod IOHANNES LYDGATE under Correccioun
LYDGATE, 'Virtues of the Mass'

IMEV 4246, ed. MacCracken 86–115.

4. Fol. 84:
Incipit: || I hadde on ⟨ ⟩ | For þe consi ⟨ ⟩ | Seynt Thom ⟨ ⟩ | he putte his han ⟨ ⟩
Explicit: nowe for thy modrys n ⟨ ⟩ | atte her request be to vs ⟨ ⟩ ||
LYDGATE, ‘Whi artow froward sith I am mercyable’ (IMEV 3845), fragments of lines 17–40 only, ed. MacCracken, 253–4.
5. Fol. 84v
Explicit: […] good | ⟨ ⟩ oun ⟨ ⟩ diatricem Amen
The fragmentary explicit of a poem,

apparently three stanzas of rime royale

6. Fols. 84v–5v:
Incipit: || ⟨ ⟩ meke and mylde | ⟨ ⟩ abriell the tolde | ⟨ ⟩ ne and be with chylde | ⟨ ⟩ þat ys oure lord ryght bolde
Explicit: ⟨ ⟩ e borne | ⟨ ⟩ nygnyte | ⟨ ⟩ beforne | ⟨ ⟩ duplycite | ⟨ ⟩ plycite | ⟨ ⟩ vsage ||
Hail blessed Mary

IMEV Sup. 1037.5, unedited fragments from twelve eight-line stanzas of a Marian lyric, each stanza beginning ‘Heyll blessid Marie’.

Added text:

fol. 83v, lower margin

‘Adde Ihesus fine quociens tu dixeris Aue | Bis triginta dies venie fiet cibi merces’ (in a contemporary hand), not in Walther.

Physical Description

Secundo Folio: Yiff for the
Form: codex
Support: Paper: the quires, excluding losses, are regular groups of six sheets (seven in quire 6) folded in folio. There are three paper stocks:

A: Stern/Étoile: not in Briquet, but most closely resembles no. 6046, dated 1453; the sole stock of quires 1–4 (twenty-four sheets).

B: Lilie/Fleur de lis: certainly of the type Piccard XIII, nos. 715–21, German, in the main 1447 x 1453, but with later examples 1458, 1469, 1472; the sole stock in quire 5 and on three sheets, the two outside and the fifth from the outside in quire 6 (ten sheets).

C: Croissant: cf. Briquet, no. 5291, from Grenoble and other southern French localities 1443 x 1457; the fourth sheet from the outside and the central bifolium of quire 7 (two sheets; the now mainly lost fol. 84 had a watermark, presumably either this one or stock B).

Extent: Fols. i + 85 + iii (numbered fols. 86–7, ii).
Dimensions (leaf): 295 × 215 mm.
Dimensions (written): 203–7 × 120 mm.
(to the rules, not the ragged ends of the verses)


112 212 (12, fol. 24, mostly torn away, only part of the first stanza on the recto present) 3–1512 614 712 (10 and 11, fols. 84 and 85, fragments only, –12). Catchwords at the centre of the leaf or towards the gutter; after quire 1, all leaves in the first half of each quire signed with a letter and roman numeral (quires 2–7 = b–g).


Fols. 1 and 2 mounted and with reconstructed margins; fol. 9 also mounted and with a tear, about 50 mm wide, running from the upper margin to mid-leaf, with text loss. Fols. 81–3 have substantial repairs to the leading edge, and fols. 84–5 are only fragments.


In long lines, 47 lines (six stanzas plus inter-stanzaic blanks) to the page. No prickings or rules; bounded in purplish-brown ink.


Written in secretary. Punctuation by virgula at mid-line and a descendant of the punctus versus at line ends.


Three- and four-line blank spaces for capitals at the heads of texts, all unfilled with guide letters; some red underlining and rubrics on fols. 1 and 31.

Occasional running titles and divisions marked in the margins, all in text ink.


A modern replacement. Sewn on five thongs. At the front and rear, one modern paper flyleaf (the rear ii).


Origin: s.xv3/4 ; England

Provenance and Acquisition

A variety of pen-trials and signatures, all s. xv/xvi (fols. 1, 15v, 84v); names include: ‘Thomas Pope’ (fol. 56v, lower margin); ‘Allgernone? Togess?’ (fol. 74, leading edge margin).

Fols. 86 and 87 are added materials, two letters, s. xvi ex., sent from Cambridge by Thomas Elmes to Mr. Bachouse, Dean of Oundhill (he was the source of several of Richard Butler’s donations); and to Robart Andrewe at Peterborough.

A note identifying the texts (fol. 1, upper margin, s. xvii ex.).

‘Liber Collegii Sancti Joannis Baptistae Ex dono Venerabiis Viri Richardi Tilesly Sacrae Theologiae Doctoris Archidiaconi Roffensis et Quondam Socij’ (fol. 1, margin).

Record Sources

Ralph Hanna, A descriptive catalogue of the western medieval manuscripts of St. John's College, Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) (with a revised transcription for the explicit of item 3 and corrections of typographical errors relating to the rubric on fol. 71v and the incipits of items 4 and 6)


For enquiries relating to this manuscript please contact St John's College Library.

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (full digital facsimile)


    C-M Briquet, ed. Allan Stevenson, Les filigranes: Dictionnaire historique des marques du papier des leur apparition vers 1292 jusqu'en 1600: A Facsimile of the 1907 edition with supplementary material contributed by a number of scholars, 4 vols. (Amsterdam, 1968)
    Carleton Brown and Rossell Hope Robbins, Index of Middle English Verse (New York, 1943); Robbins and John Cutler (eds.) Supplement (Lexington, Ken., 1965).
    George R. Keiser, ‘Ordinatio in the Manuscripts of John Lydgate’s Lyf of Our Lady... ’, in Tim William Machan (ed.), Medieval Literature: Texts and Interpretation (Binghamton, NY, 1991), 139–57.
    Joseph A. Lauritis, Ralph A. Klinefelter, and Vernon F Gallagher (eds.), A Critical Edition of John Lydgate’s Life of our Lady (Pittsburgh, 1961).
    Henry Noble MacCracken (ed.), The Minor Poems of John Lydgate, Early English Text Society Extra Series 107 (1911).
    Angus McIntosh, M. L. Samuels, et al., A Linguistic Atlas of Later Mediaeval English, 4 vols. (Aberdeen, 1988).
    Gerhard Piccard, Die Wasserzeichenkartei Piccard im Hauptstadts-archiv Stuttgart: Findbuch, currently 17 vols. (Stuttgard, 1961– ).
    Hans Walther, Initia carminum ac versuum Medii Aevi posterioris Latinorum, 2nd edn (Göttingen, 1969).

Funding of Cataloguing

Conversion of the printed catalogue to TEI funded by the Thompson Family Charitable Trust

Last Substantive Revision

2022-12: First online publication

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