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

MS. Ashmole 34

Summary Catalogue no.: 6915

Fifteenth-century single text codex of John Harding's Chronicle.


(fols. 2r-177v)
John Harding, Chronicle (second version) (also known as the Metrical Chronicle)
Incipit: The most substaunce of power and of myght | Thurgh age destelled in to debelyte
Explicit: For langer þan ye haue hem in subjeccyone |Trest neuer truthe in hem ne perfeccyone
Rubric: In the upper right margin of folio 1r is a note in a fifteenth century hand: ‘John Hardyng maker of thyse cronycles’

The text in Ashmole 34 descends from Harding's second, unfinished version of the Chronicle, which he was writing at the time of his death c. 1465. The first version was finished in 1457 and is extant in what is thought to be Harding's presentation copy for Henry VI: British Library, MS Lansdowne 204. Harding began work on the second version between Richard, Duke of York's election as heir in November 1457 and his death in December 1460. The second version is extant in eleven other manuscripts, several fragments, and two printed editions of 1543.

As is the case with all manuscripts of the second version, the text in Ashmole 34 also contains a significant number of blank spaces throughout the codex, of both single and multiple lines. The majority of these gaps are likely descended from the incomplete archetype. A few gaps are unique to the manuscript: explicable as spaces left for decoration (e.g. folio 9r, likely for the arms of Brutus; and folio 145v, likely for a depiction of the ‘pedigree unto the crowne of ffraunce’ mentioned in the text above), or explicable as scribal error (e.g. the probable eye-skip of lines 609, 1115, and 1603). This manuscript also lacks the chapter on the King’s title to his lands, the author’s excusation, and the itinerary of Scotland. Prose passages which are present in other manuscripts of the text (e.g. British Library, MS Harley 661 and Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden B. 10) are also omitted here.

Marginal glosses present in English and Latin, rubricated (as in other manuscripts of the second version).

DIMEV 1174
Language(s): Middle English, with Middle English and Latin glosses

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: parchment
Extent: ii (paper endleaves, seventeenth century) + 1 (parchment, with woodcut) + 176 (parchment, with text) + 3 (parchment endleaves, blank) + ii (paper endleaves, seventeenth century).
Dimensions (leaf): 335 × 245 mm.
Foliation: Paper flyleaves unfoliated. Three blank parchment flyleaves at the end of the manuscript foliated. Modern pencil foliation throughout in the lower outer corner. The same hand has foliated 2r-11r incorrectly in the upper outer corner, beginning their count on folio 2. These numbers have been crossed out.


11 (single leaf containing woodcut), 2-17 8 (fols. 2-129), 18 6 (fols. 130-135), 1910 (fols. 136-145), 20-238 (fols. 146-177). Leaf signatures trimmed but are partially visible. Quire signatures occasionally visible but predominantly cropped. Catchwords present in lower inner margin and predominantly enclosed in banderoles, except quires 18, 21, and 22.


Board attachment to spine is fragile. Some holes in parchment but overall in good condition. First leaf (containing woodcut) loosely attached.


Text ruled in graphite, interlinear for 40 lines (35 long lines of text in 5 stanzas of 7 lines) with a blank line after each stanza, including the last.

Page ruled in red ink: double horizontal bounding lines at top and bottom (at bottom always blank), double vertical at either side of text, inner margin frame ruled, a separate ruled column in the outer margin for glosses. The width of this outer column varies depending on the gloss. Each stanza is divided by a horizontal line. Occasionally, when a single line is missing, the gap is rubricated, suggesting the red ruling was added after the text had been written. Glosses (both rubricated and black) are predominantly frame ruled.

Pricking (for both graphite and red ruling) occasionally visible in outer and lower margins.

Ruled space for verse: 225 × 125 mm.


One hand throughout which writes the text and marginal glosses. Bastard secretary, in a professional and consistent hand. Sarah Peverley identifies the same hand in MS. Douce 345.


Folio 1v contains a full-page pastedown woodcut, hand-coloured, which depicts a priest with a book and prayer-beads on a blue background. The border has been painted with a thick black paint, but traces of green leaves are visible beneath. In each corner are pasted fragments of parchment with illuminated decoration (likely from a border, of the second quarter of the fifteenth century) in red, blue, green, and gold. These fragments cover four coats of arms which were original to the woodcut, likely in an attempt to repurpose the woodcut for its present context. (Pächt and Alexander iii. 1069, pl. C) At the figure’s foot is a shield party per bend sinister argent and gules - comparison with an unmutilated copy of this woodcut in a 1577 edition of Des Hochwirdigen reveals this shield is original. Above the figure is a pastedown strip of parchment which reads ‘The portratvre of Iohn Harding maker of these chronicles’. D.R. Woolf identifies the woodcut as a portrait of the German prince George III, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau (1507-1553) by Lucas Cranach the younger.

Heraldic shields are drawn in the margins of fols. 34r (the arms of St George and Constantyne - argent, a cross gules) and 38v (argent a cross gules with bars).

Folio 2r opens the text with a six-line illuminated decorated initial, red and blue on gold background, from which extends a two-side spray border with red and blue leaves. Kathleen Scott identifies the limner as the ‘English Illuminator’ whose work is found in other manuscripts produced in 1470s London, and connects MS Ashmole 34 to a large group of manuscripts (including MS Arch. Selden B.10) which were produced between 1470-80 in the same London workshop. (Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts, 1390-1490, vol. ii, p. 354).

Illuminated initials on a blue and red background with white filigree work and spray work extending along the margin on fols. 6r, 8v, 12r, and 100r.

Paraphs mark the start of almost every stanza, inconsistently alternating between red and blue.

The change of monarch in the text is marked with two, three, or four-line lombardic capitals, blue with red flourishes that extend along the margin. The first letter of each line has a yellow wash. After folio 136r, ascenders on the top line are occasionally flourished and filled with the same yellow wash.

Glosses in red and black. Rubricated glosses marked with a blue paraph with red flourishes.

Additions: Marginal annotations by several fifteenth to sixteenth century hands throughout in black ink. At least three hands can be identified. The first, neat and upright late fifteenth century hand, marks battles and topographical details. The second, a cursive late fifteenth to early sixteenth century hand, marks key historical events discussed in the text. This hand also adds a note on folio 33r which describes Westminster Hall, suggesting first-hand knowledge of London, and notes an error in the text on folio 40r: ‘This in the romane histories is called maximus not maximianns’. The third, a later hand of the eighteenth (?) century, marks the names of some of the kings mentioned in the text.

On folio 110r, the initials ‘ROHA’ are written in the form of a square in the inner lower margin.


Late seventeenth-century calf binding typical of Elias Ashmole's collection.


Origin: 15th century, third quarter, perhaps 1470s (after 1464) ; English, London

Provenance and Acquisition

The Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval England qualifies MS Ashmole 34 as containing a mixed, but northern, Middle English dialect, and suggests the manuscript is a southern copy of an earlier northern exemplar. (See McIntosh, Samuels, and Benskin, I. p. 145.)

Kathleen Scott identifies the illuminator of the manuscript as the ‘English Illuminator’, who was also responsible for decorating the London Skinners' Company Book of the Fraternity of the Assumption of our Lady, which contains the date 1477/8. This evidence, combined with the presence of green lobes in the border decoration, suggests a production date in London in the early 1470s.

The manuscript was owned by the judge and antiquary Sir Peter Manwood (1571-1625), who purchased the volume in 1604. Folio 177v contains his note: ‘bought the 14th day of februarie. 1604. pretium – 20s. Pe: Manwood’. Another manuscript owned by Manwood, now MS Bodl. 885, contains a similar ownership note in the same hand.

Manwood was acquainted with Elias Ashmole and is known to have gifted him manuscripts. A colophon on folio 1r of MS Ashmole 1511 notes (in Ashmole's hand) ‘This booke was gyven mee by my good freinde William Man esquire, this thirde day of August 1609. Peter Manwood’. Another of Manwood's manuscripts ended up in Ashmole's collection: now MS Ashmole 849. It is not certain when MS Ashmole 34 entered Ashmole's collection.

Ashmole bequeathed the manuscript to the Ashmolean Museum in 1692 as part of his donation of 1,100 printed books and 600 manuscripts.

The manuscript was kept in the Ashmolean until 1860, when the Bodleian Library acquired the collection.

Record Sources

Description by Charlotte Ross (Feb. 2023). Previously described in the Quarto Catalogue (W. H. Black, A descriptive, analytical, and critical catalogue of the manuscripts bequeathed unto the University of Oxford by Elias Ashmole Esq...., Quarto Catalogues X, 1845). Date follows Pächt and Alexander (1973).

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (1 image from 35mm slides)



    Edwards, A.S.G., ‘The Manuscripts and Texts of the Second Version of John Hardyng's Chronicle’, England in the Fifteenth Century, ed. Daniel Williams (Woodbridge, 1987), pp. 75-84.
    McIntosh, Agnus, M. L. Samuels, and Michael Benskin, The Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English, 4 vols. (Aberdeen, 1986).
    Ovenden, Richard, ‘The Libraries of the Antiquaries (c. 1580–1640) and the Idea of a National Collection’, The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland, ed. Elisabeth Leedham-Green and Teresa Webber (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 527-62.
    Peverley, Sarah, ‘Adapting to Readeption in 1470-1471: The Scribe as Editor in a Unique Copy of John Hardyng’s Chronicle of England (Garrett MS. 142)’, The Princeton University Library Chronicle, 66(i) (2004), pp. 140-72.
    Scott, Kathleen, Later Gothic Manuscripts, 1390-1490, Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, vol. ii (London, 1996).
    Woolf, D. R., Reading History in Early Modern England, (Cambridge, 2005).

Last Substantive Revision

2022-12-22: Charlotte Ross Revised with consultation of original.