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

MS. Ashmole 41

Summary Catalogue no.: 6921

Summary Catalogue no.: 8099

Middle English composite manuscript in two parts, A The Prick of Conscience, B miscellany of religious verse and prose (both s. xv1)

Physical Description

Composite, in two parts: A || B
Form: codex
Extent: v (modern end leaves, paper) + 1-2 (contemporary end leaves, parchment, unfoliated) + 3-135 + 136-161 + v (modern end leaves, paper)
Dimensions (binding): 278 × 185 mm.
Foliation: Uniform modern pencil across both parts (folio 3b foliated, and 3a refoliated, March 2023). Occasional notes in the margin to mark some, but not all, missing leaves.


Part 1: 18-2 (fols. 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5; quire of eight with the later loss of the first and eighth leaves before foliation), 28-2 (fols. 6-11, quire of eight with the later loss of the third and sixth leaves before foliation), 3-178 (fols. 12-131), 182 (fols. 132-133). | Part 2: 198-3 (fols. 134-138, with the later loss of the first, fourth, and fifth leaves before foliation), 208-2 (fols. 139-144, with the later loss of the fourth and fifth leaves before foliation), 218 (fols. 145-152, with the outer half of the fifth leaf excised after writing), 228-1 (fols. 153-159, with the later loss of the eighth leaf) (collation diagram of part 2).

Catchwords in first part only, on folios 11v, 19v, 27v, 35v, 51v, 59v, 67v, 75v, 83v, 91v, 99v, 107v, 115v, and 123v, in scrolls. Leaf signatures occasionally visible in both parts but predominantly trimmed.


Slight staining to outer leaves of both parts. Binding worn around spine. Gutters in second part fragile.


Late seventeenth-century calf binding over pasteboards, with raised bands and gold-tooled laurel wreath on spine, typical of Elias Ashmole's collection. Restored in December 1955.

A more specific binding date can be suggested from the flyleaves. The watermark on the rear flyleaf can be identified as Churchill, 'Foolscap' 348 (1935), dated to 1672 from a manuscript in Worcester Cathedral Library by Churchill. The same watermark appears in Folger Shakespeare Library, C 185, Cabala, Sive, Scrinia, Sacra, printed for G. Bedell and T. Collins in London in 1663.


Provenance and Acquisition

The difference in condition and size of the two parts of the manuscript suggests they initially circulated separately and bound together much later. Provenance for each part has been recorded separately.

The manuscript was later owned by Elias Ashmole, who signs his name in the upper margin of folio 1r and adds a note to the verso of the flyleaf opposite: ‘This treatise de Stimulo Conscientiae was written by Richard Rolle alias de Hampole, a hermite, who dyed on Mich'as day 1349, and was buryed in Hampole Monastery neere Doncaster in Yorkshire. Vide Baleum fo: 431.’. It is likely that Ashmole aquired the two composite parts separately and combined them into one volume when he rebound them in the 1660-70s, as it was his practice to compile multiple booklets.

The manuscript was bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum by Elias Ashmole in 1692, in one volume, as part of his donation of 1,100 printed books and 600 manuscripts.

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

MS. Ashmole 41 – Part 1 (fols. 1-133)


1. (fols. 1r-130r)
The Prick of Conscience

Text imperfect. Begins incomplete at line 63 due to the later loss of the first leaf. Lines I.100-159, I.299-364, and I.498-II.17 also missing due to the later loss of leaves. Extracts of up to sixty lines also missing without loss of leaves, possibly due to a corrupt exemplar. Belongs to group IV of the textual tradition. The dialect has been located to central Staffordshire.

Rubric: Stimulus consientie thys boke ys | namyd I tel the (in a sixteenth-century hand)
Incipit: Monkynde is to godus wille | And alle his biddyngus to fulfille
Explicit: To whethe place be vs alle brynge | Þat for oure loue on rode gan hynge
Final rubric: Amen
Final rubric: Stimulus consientis | hys boke ys I telle the 1567 (in a sixteenth century hand, same as folio 1r)
IMEV 3428
Language(s): Middle English with Latin rubrics

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: parchment
Dimensions (leaf): 265 × 175 mm.


Frame ruling in brown crayon, and interlinear ruling in graphite, in a single column of usually 34 long lines. Ruled space 185 × 100 mm.


One hand throughout, in a bold and neat anglicana formata.


Latin rubrics interlinear and marked with blue paraphs.

Glosses, in margin, rubricated and marked with blue paraph.

The beginning of each part is distinguished by an illuminated initial on a red and blue ground with white details, of between three and four lines, which extend vertically and horizontally into the margins extending into a partial bar border decorated with flourishes, spray, and daisy bud motifs. Each initial is preceded by a rubric with blue paraph. With the exception of part two, which began on the excised leaf between folios 9 and 10, and the seventh part, which is present and but lacks a rubric. See also Pächt and Alexander iii. 977.

Text marked with blue paraphs folios 36v-54r, and alternate red and blue paraphs folios 105v-106v.

The ownership mark of Antony Alderle on folio 131r begins with a strapwork initial A elaborately drawn with blank scrolls, faces, and pen flourishes.

Marginal drawings (see Additions).

Additions: Occasional manicules, for instance on folio 1r. Pen trials and alphabets on parchment flyleaves, and folios 57r, 61r, 130v, and 131r. Later drawings of a flower with three petals (folio 21r), cross (folio 21v), and a heart and tree (folio 23v) in margins.


Origin: 15th century, first half ; English Scribal dialect located by McIntosh, Samuels, and Benskin to Staffordshire, Linguistic Atlas Grid Reference: 392 323, LP 243 (1986, p. 237).


LALME locates the dialect of The Prick of Conscience scribe to Staffordshire. The branch of the stemma to which it belongs (IV) contains manuscripts which have been located to Worcestershire and Staffordshire (MV 40: North Worcestershire; MV 31: Lichfield, Staffordshire; MV 36: North Worcestershire; following Britton, 1979), suggesting a possible area of origin for the first part of the manuscript.

A rhyme written on folio 131r shows that al least the first part of the manuscript (containing The Prick of Conscience) was owned by Anthony Alderle in 1567: ‘Antony Alderley ys oner of this boke & ho so ever will say the contrary wytnes I haue of god almity Willam Hedge(?) will not say the contrary’. This rhyme is in the same hand as the rubric and colophon which open and close the text.

A fifteenth-century annotation in the lower margin of flyleaf ii recto, written upside down, records: ‘Swynsdon In Wylt re ’, possibly in the same hand.

Fol. 133r, ‘... Thomws(?) Huett dic' quod’, 16th century

This part of the manuscript was likely bound as a single text codex before it was compiled with part 2, as the outer flyleaves show evidence of rust, possibly from clasps, and bookworm damage.

MS. Ashmole 41 – Part 2 (fols. 134-159)


1. (fols. 134r-v)
Poem on the Passion of Jesus Christ

Verse. Incomplete, lacking the poem's beginning. 69 lines in alexandrine verse present.

Incipit: Throw hys hond wyth hammur knak þai mad a gresely wound
Explicit: Marie & cristes passioune . vs help a sorrow. Amen.
DIMEV 5915
Language(s): Middle English
2. (fols. 135r-v)
Religious treatise on reason, will, and mind

Prose. Incomplete.

Incipit: I che crysten sowle hath þre myghtes resoun wylle myende . resoun
Explicit: whyt owtyn ymagynacyo(u)ns and renand thowghtes
Joliffe D.5 and O.10
Printed, in part from this manuscript, in Medieval Studies 36 (1974), 273.
Language(s): Middle English
3. (fol. 135v)
Counsels for religious

Prose. Incomplete.

Incipit: B e deuoute in god and tempere þyn herte whyt hyn als mykyl
Explicit: women haue pyte of dyssesyd . be chast in all and þu schalt be saf .
Joliffe I.4 and O.6
Language(s): Middle English
4. (fol. 135v)
þe Reule of þe Liif of Oure Lady

Prose. One of seven witnesses of the text, and the only incomplete fragment. Belongs to the RB textual tradition.

Incipit: A bowte þe gloryouse mayden of wham owr lord ih(es)u cryst
Explicit: herte and of þys loue comyth alle fulnes of g(ra)ce
Language(s): Middle English
5. (fol. 136r)
Song of Love to Jesus

Verse. Incomplete, missing lines 1-92.

Incipit: To gold hym hys lufe haue I ne myght | But loue hym trewly I schuld þ(er)fore
Explicit: And bryng me to þyn endlees blysse | Owiyt þe to wone w(i)towtyn ende
DIMEV 2940
Language(s): Middle English
6. (fols. 136v-159v)
The Chastising of God's Children

Prose. Folios 136v-137v contain a table of contents which lists the twenty seven chapters of the text, beginning ‘These ben þe titles of þis bok folwyng’, and ending ‘Recapitulacion of all þese matters to fore and of some maner of prayers’. The Chastising of God's Children begins on folio 137v. The text is incomplete, ending during the fourteenth chapter. Something in the margin of folio 137r has been erased and obscured with a strip of black ink (illegible under UV).

Incipit: In drede of almytty god religious suster a short pistil I sende ȝow of the mater of temptacions
Explicit: a man shal þinke on his owne strengthe þat he hath be þe ȝifte of god
Language(s): Middle English

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: parchment
Dimensions (leaf): 250-260 × 167 mm.


Single column throughout, between 26 and 35 unruled lines. Some leaves, but not all, are frame ruled. Written space 190 × 120 mm.


The second part of the manuscript contains the hands of two scribes, the first copying folios 134r-6r (containing Poem on the Passion of Jesus Christ, Religious treatise on reason, will, and mind, Religious poem on counsel, þe Reule of þe Liif of Oure Lady, and Song of Love to Jesus), and the second copying folios 136v-159v (containing only The Chastising of God's Children).

The first hand is a neat and consistent anglicana formata.

The second hand is a larger and more cursive anglicana with secretary a.


Folio 135r, Religious treatise on reason, will, and mind, opens with a five line blue lombardic capital with elaborate red pen flourishes which extend down the gutter. Two line lombardic capitals in the same style mark the beginnings of the next two texts on folio 135v.

Folio 136r, Song of Love to Jesus, has braces in the outer margin to signal the rhyme scheme.

On folio 136v, red and blue lombardic capitols mark each item in the table of contents of The Chastising of God's Children. The text opens with a two line blue lombardic capital with red pen flourishes which extend into the vertical margin. Subsequent textual divisions are marked with rubricated titles and the same lombards as the table of contents in alternating red and blue, followed by two-line blue lombards with red flourishes. Red paraphs throughout.

Additions: Marginal drawings on folios 136r, 137r, and illegible annotations throughout in a cursive hand. Erased inscription in the upper margin of folio 138r in a fifteenth century hand, mostly illegible under UV but possibly begins ‘lyng’ as if to copy the next line below.

The Chastising of God's Children is extensively annotated by one hand, in a late-fifteenth/sixteenth century cursive, who leaves annotations in the margins of most folios. The lower and outer margins of folio 148 are filled with three stanzas of verse, unrelated to the main text and thought to be unique: ‘Syns partyng is the caus of peyn | Wherin can be no stedfast staye | Suche gr at lengthe may grow agayn | To led my hert in a happye waye ’; ‘ Why I of partyng do complain | I shall you tell yf yow wyll here | I loued un witout dysdayn | Whyche in myn hert I hold so dere | That yf I had ben lord or kyng | and al thyngs haue at myn desyer own wyll | She shold haue ben ladye of everye thyng ’.

Several annotations have been erased or covered with ink, for instance on folios 146v, 153r, and 157r. These annotations were added before this part of the manuscript was trimmed as several are cropped.


Origin: 15th century, first half ; English


The condition of the external leaves of the second part, and its loss of leaves, suggest this booklet may have circulated in a limp binding. This part shows evidence in the centre of the gutter of previous sewing before the present binding.

There is little evidence for the provenance of this part due to its fragmentary state. Various late 15th/16th century names and scribbes including fol. 136r, ‘Henry Scales’; fol. 142v, ‘Rogiers(?)’; fol. 144v, ‘Boothes sone edward S ’ (the name ‘Boothes’ also appears on the facing folio); fol. 149v, partly excised, ‘ard G(?)ownes’; fol. 159r, ‘Item for stelyng of the’.

Additional Information

Record Sources

Description by Charlotte Ross (March 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). Decoration, localization and date follow Pächt and Alexander (1973).

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (1 image from 35mm slides)


    Online resources:

    Print resources:

    McIntosh, Angus, M. L. Samuels, Michael Benskin, et al., A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English (Aberdeen, 1986).
    Churchill, William Algernon, Watermarks in paper: in Holland, England, France etc, in the XVII and XVIII centuries and their interconnection (Amsterdam, 1935).

Last Substantive Revision

2023-02-10: Charlotte Ross Revised with consultation of original.