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

MS. Bodl. 638

Summary Catalogue no.: 2078

Poetic anthology on the courtly game of love; England, 15th century, third quarter


Language(s): Middle English with Latin and Anglo-Norman

1. (fols. 1r–4v)
John Lydgate, The Complaint of the Black Knight

Begins imperfectly at line 468.

Incipit: ||So doth this god with his sharp flone | The trew sleith & letith the fals gone
Explicit: Exiled be that I may not atteyne | Recure to fynde of myne aduersyte
Final rubric: Explicit the Compleynt of a loveres life
Colophon: Lityus
DIMEV 2541
2. (fols. 5r–11r)
Geoffrey Chaucer
(fols. 5r–7r)
Anelida’s Complaint
Rubric: The complaynte of feyre Anelida ouer fals Arcyte
Incipit: So thyrlid with the poynt of Remembraunce | The swerd of sorow I whet with fals plesavnce
Explicit: Now that Arcite Anelida to fore | Hath thirled with the poynt of remembraunce.
Final rubric: Explicit So thirlid with the poynte of Remembraunce
Colophon: Lyty
DIMEV 4949
(fols. 7v–11r)
Anelida and Arcite
Rubric: The boke of feyre Anelida & fals Arcyte
Incipit: The fers god of Armes Mars the rede | that in the frosty contre callid trace
Explicit: And with her owne hond she gan hit write | & sent hit to her theban knght Arcyte
Final rubric: So thrillyd with the poynt. vt supra et cetera
DIMEV 5823
3. (fols. 11v–16r)
John Clanvowe (?), The Cuckoo and the Nightingale
Rubric: The boke of Cupide god of loue
Incipit: The god of loue a benedicite | how mighti & how grete a lorde is he
Explicit: Terme of life loue hath withhold me | so loude that with that songe I a woke
Final rubric: Explicit the boke of Cupyde god of loue
DIMEV 5299
4. (fols. 16v–38r)
John Lydgate, The Temple of Glass
Rubric: The Temple of Bras
Incipit: For thoght constrynt & grevous heuynesse | ffor pensifhed & for high distresse
Explicit: I mene that benigne & goodly of hir face | Now go thi wey & put the in hir grace
Final rubric: Explicit The Temple of Bras
Colophon: Lyty

Fol. 35 is torn.

DIMEV 1403
5. (fols. 38v–45v)
Thomas Hoccleve, Letter of Cupid
Rubric: The Lettre Of Cupide god of Loue
Incipit: Cvpide vnto whos commaundement | The gentill kynrede of goddis an hye
Explicit: The yere of grace ioifull & iocunde | A thousand & foure hondrid & secounde
Final rubric: Explicit the Lettre of Cupide god of loue directide to his suggestys louers
Colophon: Lyty
DIMEV 1092
6. (fols. 46r–47v)
Geoffrey Chaucer, Complaint unto Pity
Rubric: The complaynte vnto Pyte
Incipit: Pite that I haue sought so yore ago | with hert sore & full of besy peyne
Explicit: Thus for youre deth I may well wepe & pleyne | With herte sore & full of besy peyne
Final rubric: The Complaynte vn to Pyte
DIMEV 4375
7. (fols. 48r–95v)
Geoffrey Chaucer, Legend of Good Women
Rubric: The Prologe of ix good women
Incipit: A Thowsand sithes I haue herd tell | Ther ys ioy in hevin & peyn in hell
Explicit: and then she was kaught & fetryd in prycoun | this tale ys seide for this conclusioun

With prologue. Fol. 71 is mutilated.

8. (fols. 96r–110r)
Geoffrey Chaucer, Parliament of Fowls
Rubric: The Parlement Of ffowlys
Incipit: ||Cometh al this new corne fro yere to yere | And out of olde bokys in good feyth

Begins at line 23 of Prologue.

Explicit: That I shall mete som thinge for to fare | The bet & thus to rede I will not spare
Final rubric: Explicit tractatus de congregacione volucrum die Sancti Valentini
DIMEV 5373
9. (fols. 110v–141r)
Geoffrey Chaucer, Book of the Duchess
Rubric: The boke of the Duchesse
Incipit: I haue grete wondir be this light | how that I leue for day ne nyght
Explicit: As I kan best & that Anone | This was my sweuyn now it ys done
Final rubric: Explicit The Boke of the Duchesse
Colophon: JL

Lacking lines 24–96. Fol. 122 is torn.

DIMEV 2181
10. (fols. 141v–193v)
Geoffrey Chaucer, House of Fame
Rubric: The hows Of ffame
Incipit: God turne vs euery dreme to good | ffor a ys wondre by the rode
Explicit: Be he semyd for to be | A man of grete auctoryte

Fols. 187, 190 are torn.

DIMEV 1620
11. (fols. 195r–203v)
On the chance of the dice
Rubric: The chaunce of the Dyse
Incipit: Fyrst myn vnkunnyng & my Rudenesse | Vnto you all that listen know her chaunce
Explicit: ffor hasard hath with maistry quytte me so | My while that I ioyles now leue yn wo
Final rubric: Explicit The Chaunce of the Dyse

Folio 195 torn; fols. 197, 201 mutilated; lacks lines 295–336.

DIMEV 1318
12. (fols. 204r–207v)
Geoffrey Chaucer, ABC hymn to the Virgin
Incipit: Almighty & almercyable quene | To whom all this world fleith for socor
Explicit: Bringe os to that paleis that is bilte | To penitentis that ben to mercy abull

Fol. 204 is torn.

13. (fols. 208r–209v)
Geoffrey Chaucer, Ballad of Fortune
Rubric: Balade de Vilage saunz peynture
Incipit: This wrechid worldis transmutacion | As wele & wo now pore & now honoure
Rubric: (fol. 208v) La Repons du ffortune Au pleyntyff
Rubric: (fol. 209r) le pleyntyff encountre ffortune
Rubric: (fol. 209v) Lenvoye du ffortune
Explicit: Praieth his best ffrende of his noblesse | That to som bettyr estate he may Atteyne
Colophon: Lyty
Final rubric: Explicit
DIMEV 5803
14. (fols. 209v–212r)
The complaint against hope
Rubric: The complaynte A geyne Hope
Incipit: As I stode in studyenge allone | Astonyed in studye well colde
Explicit: Than I do that I with yen se | hope yn hope out thus kan ye folys fede
Final rubric: Explicit
15. (fols. 212r–214r)
Geoffrey Chaucer (?), Compleint Damours
Rubric: Complaynt damowre
Incipit: I which that am the sorwefullist man | That in this worlde was euyr yit leuynge
Explicit: And yit wull I euyrmore hir serue | And loue hir best although she do me sterue
Colophon: be me humffrey fflemyng
DIMEV 2312
16. (fols. 214v–218v)
Ragman's Roll
Rubric: Ragmanys Rolle
Incipit: My ladies & my mastressys echon | like hit vnto youre humble womanhede
Explicit: And yn the Rolle last as yn wrytynge | I rede that this game ende yn youre hood
Final rubric: Explicit Ragmanys Rolle
DIMEV 3618
17. (fols. 219r–219v)
John Lydgate, The Order of Fools
Rubric: The ordre of ffolys
Incipit: The ordre of ffolys well yare age bigonne | Newly provessid encrecyth the Couente
Explicit: Or when that sperado louyth pa⟨ramours⟩ | On ⟨of⟩ the noumbre that will neure the||

Fol. 219v is half erased by ill usage, and a leaf or two are wanting after it: only the first six stanzas are here, omitting lines 41–48 and 57–176.

DIMEV 5428

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: Parchment forms the outermost and centre bifolia of each quire; the remaining leaves are paper. Watermarks, quires 1–7 (fols. 1r–111v): a crown with centre piece of lance heads, cf. Heawood 1929, fig. 27; quires 8–10 (fols. 112r–59v), grapes, cf. Briquet nos. 12992–13006; quire 11 (fols. 160r–75v), bull, cf. Briquet no. 2783; quires 12–14 (fols. 176r–219v), mount, cf. Briquet no. 11706.
Extent: i + 219 + i leaves
Dimensions (leaf): 195 × 137 mm.
Foliation: Modern foliation.


Signatures and text indicate that the first and last quires have been lost. The leaves remaining are arranged as 116 (fols. 1-16), 220 (fols. 17–36), 316 (fols. 37–52), 414 (fols. 53–66), 516 (fols. 67–82), 616–1 (fols. 83–97; 14th excised, before fol. 96), 716–2 (fols. 98–111; 2nd and 15th excised, before fols. 99 and 111), 8–1216 (fols. 112–91), 1316–1 (fols. 192–206; 11th excised, before fol. 202), 1414 (fols. 207–220; 13th excised, before fol. 219). Catchwords enclosed in scrolls at the centre foot of final leaves. Signatures in the outer corner of the opening leaf of each quire, most cropped in binding; those still legible are ‘ij’ (fol. 1r), ‘iiij’ (fol. 37r), ‘vii⟨j⟩’ (fol. 98r).


Ruled in dry point, or brown or red ink, written in 21–36 long lines, ruled space 144–154 × 85 mm.


Written in gothic cursiva antiquior, apparently by a single scribe.


Coloured capitals.

Rubrics, running heads, paraphs, and brackets for poetic structure in red.


Early seventeenth-century binding from the Bodleian Library, reversed calf over laminated pulpboard with printed binding waste used as pastedowns. Formerly chained.

Accompanying Material

Upper pastedown: upper portion of an edition of Nicholas de Tudeschis’ commentary on the Decretals from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries.

Lower pastedown: edition of Rudolph Agricola’s De inuentione dialectica from the early sixteenth century.


Origin: 15th century, third quarter ; English Possibly written by a ‘Lity’ or ‘Lyty’ (inscribed, fols. 4v, 7r, 38r, 45v, 209v), whose initials appear to be JL (fol. 141r).

Provenance and Acquisition

Numerous sixteenth-century inscriptions, possibly indicating ownership by a school, include ‘Richard Becher’ (fols. 17r, 159r), ‘James Hedington’ (fol. 83v), ‘be me Humffrey Fflemyn’ (Humfrey Flemyng?, fol. 214r, cf. 127r, 162r), ‘Antony Sherington in Lemsster’ (Leominster), 1563 (fol. 36v, cf. 144v), ‘John Smart’ (fol. 191r), ‘S. Pot’ (fols. 193v, 194r), ‘TH 1573’ (fol. 194v).

Robert Copland (fl. 1505–1547) used the manuscript as the printer’s copy in his edition of The Parliament of Fowls for Wynkyn de Worde in 1530. See Mary C. Erler, ‘Printers’ Copy: MS Bodley 638 and the “Parliament of Fowls”’, The Chaucer Review, 33.3 (1999), 221–29.

Apparently acquired between 1613 and 1620. Former shelfmarks: ‘MS T.9.7 Iur’ (fol. i recto and 1620 catalogue), ‘NE C.3.10’ (fol. i recto). An inscription ‘Gyl: Astley 1410’ (upper pastedown) may be from a Giles Astley (died 1666) who was an undergraduate at Hart Hall in the 1630s.

Record Sources

Description by Andrew Dunning (August 2022), drawing on the Digital Index of Middle English Verse and the more detailed description by Pamela Robinson, Manuscript Bodley 638: A Facsimile (Norman, OK, 1982). Previously described in the Summary Catalogue (1922):


This item is on display in the exhibition "Chaucer Here and Now", Bodleian Libraries, Weston Library, 8 December 2023 – 28 April 2024. It will not be orderable between those dates or for a short period before or afterwards.

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (full digital facsimile)
Digital Bodleian (1 image from 35mm slides)


Last Substantive Revision

2022-07-28: Andrew Dunning Revised with consultation of original.

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