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

MS. Ashmole 46

Summary Catalogue no.: 6930

Anthology of Lydgate's verse. xv.


Language(s): Middle English

1. (fols. 1r-96v)
John Lydgate, Lives of Ss Edmund and Fremund with associated texts and miracles of St Edmund
(fols. 1r-49r)
The life of St Edmund
Incipit: THe noble stoory to putte in reme(m)bra(u)nce | Off Seint Edmond mayde martir & kyng
Explicit: As kyng and martir wheer he may not mysse | Eternally ffor to Regne in blysse

Opens with a lavish illuminated miniature (badly worn) of the author presenting his book to the King (see ‘Decoration’). Stanzas cancelled on folios 5v, 6r, 12v, and 17r. The final page of the text, folio 49r, contains a marginal ‘exp(lici)t’ in a fifteenth century hand, and a blank space the size of one stanza in which a later owner has added an ownership inscription (see ‘Provenance’). The following text, The life of St Fremund, begins on the following page with a decorated initial but no rubric.

(fols. 49v-84r)
The life of St Fremund
Incipit: NOw gloryous martir which of gret meknesse | ffor Crystes feith Suffredyst passyo(u)n
Explicit: Geyn alle Our Enmyes this lond for to diffende

Begins with a three stanza prologue on folio 49v, followed by the main text on folio 50r.

(fols. 84v-85v)
Incipit: O gloryous martir which of devout humblesse
Explicit: As iust Enherytour of Ingelond and France

DIMEV 3911, 'Prayer to St. Edmund'

(fols. 85v-87r)
Incipit: Blyssed Edmond martir and virgine
Explicit: For his merytes aboue the sterrys sevene. Amen.

DIMEV 864, 'Banner of St Edmund'; functions as a prologue in some other manuscripts of the Lives.

(fols. 87r-96v)
Miracles of St Edmund
Incipit: Laude of our lord up to the hevene is Reysed
Explicit: Wolde interupte his Royal dignite | Be deregacio(u)n doon to his ffra(u)nchyse

DIMEV 3036. A three-line decorated initial marks the beginning of the Miracles, but there is no explicit or rubric to signal that this is a separate piece. As on folio 49r, a contemporary hand marks the end of the text with a marginal ‘exp(lici)t’.

These texts survive in thirteen manuscripts and fragments (excluding those copied by John Stow); for a comprehensive list, see Bale and Edwards (2009, 11-18). Although distinct texts, The life of St Edmund and The life of St Fremund are predominantly paired together in surviving witnesses, excluding the fragment Exeter Devon County Record Office Misc. Roll 59. The Miracles of St Edmund occur alongside the saints' lives in only 2 other manuscripts: Bodleian Library MS Tanner 347, Oxford Corpus Christi MS 61. There is one witness that comprises the Miracles without the saints' lives: Bodleian Library MS Laud Misc. 683. Both of the lives and the miracles are edited in John Lydgate's Lives of Ss Edmund & Fremund and the Extra miracles of St Edmund, eds Anthony Bale and A. S. G. Edwards (2009).

The Lives are catalogued together as DIMEV 5422.

The present manuscript is unique in replacing references to Henry VI with Edward IV and also differs somewhat from other manuscripts in its ordinatio , arrangement of contents, and text; the differences are summarized by C. Horstmann, Altenglische Legende, neue Folge (1881, 376-7).

2. (fols. 97r-160v)
Ps. Aristotle, Secreta secretorum (Middle English translation by John Lydgate and Benedict Burgh)
Incipit: GOd almyghty save and cons(er)ve our kyng | In al vertu to his Encrees of glorye
Explicit: Which the mvt graunte the lord moost Imp(er)ial | A bove alle hevenys supra celestial
Final rubric: Amen

Glosses rubricated in margin. On folio 131r the poem is interrupted by the rubric ‘Here deyed this translatour and | nobyl poete , And the yonge folwere | gan his prologe on this wyse’.

DIMEV 1544.

3. (fols. 161r-163v)

blank except for later additions.

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: parchment
Extent: i (modern end leaf, parchment) + i (modern end leaf, paper) + 164 (parchment) + i (modern end leaf, parchment)
Dimensions (leaf): 215 × 170 mm.
Foliation: Modern pencil foliation throughout, flyleaves unfoliated. Two consecutive folios numbered 101, henceforth known as 101a and 101b.


1-198 (fols. 1-151, including folios 101a and 101b), 208+1 (fols. 152-60, ninth folio added as a singleton with stub visible), 214-1 (fols. 161-163 (blank), with the loss of the fourth leaf, stub visible).


Good. Minor wear to gutters. Brown staining on folios 22v-23r,51r, 80r, 131v-132r, and to the outer edges of the last six folios.


Ruled in lilac ink with frame. Ruled for 21 or 24 long lines of text in 3 stanzas or 7 or 8 lines; gaps between stanzas without ruling. Glosses unruled. Ruled space: 145 × 95 mm.


Anglicana Formata with Secretary influence, in a consistent professional hand of the late fifteenth century. Typical double-compartment ‘a’, looped ascenders on ‘d’, ‘l’, ‘b’, and ‘h’, and sigma-shaped ‘s’. The ‘g’ closed with a separate crossbar and the angular looped ‘d’ with a triangular lower lobe suggest a hand with Secretary influences of the second half of the fifteenth century, perhaps the third quarter.

In their edition of Lydgate's Lives of Ss Edmund and Fremund (2009), Anthony Bale and A.S.G. Edwards identify this scribe's hand in two other fifteenth century manuscripts of this text: British Library, MS Yates Thompson 47 and an un-numbered manuscript owned by the Duke of Norfolk. Bale and Edwards suggest this scribe was based in Bury St Edmunds, either within the Abbey or in a secular environment.

Kathleen Scott identifies a total of ten manuscripts containing this hand, which she dubbs the 'Edmund-Fremund scribe', all containing works by Lydgate (‘Lydgate's Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund’, 1982). Four of these are copies of the Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund. There is ongoing debate regarding the full extent of the scribe's contribution to British Library MS Harley 2255.

The Quarto Catalogue suggests the manuscript shares a scribe with the presentation copy of The Lives of Ss Edmund and Fremund, British Library MS Harley 2278, however a comparison of the scripts suggests they were copied by different individuals, although likely in the same environment in Bury St Edmunds. MS Harley 2278 can confidently be dated to between 1434 and 1444 (due to its connection to Henry VI and his sojourn at Bury St Edmunds Abbey in 1434), whereas MS Ashmole 46 suggests a date of several decades later after 1461 (due to the replacement of references to Henry VI with the name of Edward IV). The dates therefore also make it unlikely that these two manuscripts shared a scribe.


Bale and Edwards suggest the artists who decorated MS Ashmole 46 also decorated British Library, MS Yates Thompson 47 and an un-numbered manuscript owned by the Duke of Norfolk, which also share a scribe with MS Ashmole 46. They also note similarities in the decoration of British Library MS Harley 2278 (the presentation copy of The Lives of Ss Edmund and Fremund for Henry VI). Scott (1982) adds to this list British Library MSS Sloane 2464, Harley 1766 (folios 42v-99r), and Harley 2255 (folios 113v-153v) - manuscripts which also contain the hand of the ‘Edmund-Fremund scribe’ (see ‘Hands’). Scott also identifies this artist in British Library MS Cotton Vespasian B.xii, not affilliated with the ‘Edmund-Fremund scribe’.

Fine miniature on folio 1r of a poet (presumably John Lydgate) in monk's habit with an empty scroll kneeling before a king (Henry VI or Edmund IV) who holds an arrow and scepter and sits on a canopied throne. Figures coloured in white, grey, blue, and gold, on a ground of red and green with gold designs. Framed by blue and gold bars on three sides. A similar miniature, in the same style and colours, appears in British Library MS Yates Thompson 47 and the un-numbered manuscript owned by the Duke of Norfolk. The miniature in MS Ashmole 46 is significantly worn over the figure of the poet, likely post-reformation damage provoked by his monk's habit. In comparison with the Yates Thompson and Norfolk manuscripts, MS Ashmole 46 is far less lavishly illustrated with only this singular miniature.

Partial borders on three-sides (upper, left, and lower margins) on folios 1r, 4v, and 97r, developing from a three-line decorated initial (in the style below), with bars on the left-hand side of the text in gold, pink, and blue, decorated with sprays of foliage and gold disks,

Two and three-line decorated initials throughout in gold on a quartered red and blue ground with white designs, with extended spray work ending in gold balls and leaf motif along the inner margin.(See Pächt and Alexander iii. 895, pl. LXXXVI.)

Two line paraphs mark each stanza throughout, alternating blue with red flourishes and gold with green flourishes.

Edge gilding in gold.

Additions: Folio 72v contains the Latin palindrome ‘Rome tibi subito motibus ibit amor’ written twice in the upper margin, in a sixteenth-seventeenth century hand.

‘A.46’ in lower margin of folio 158r, the Bodleian shelf-mark.

On the blank folios at the rear of the manuscript (fols. 161r-163v), there are several inscriptions: ‘The wiche other sortes’ (161r), ‘A man withe out marsi no marsi shall | haue in tyme of ned when he dothe it | crave but all his lyive go lick a slaue’ (?) and ‘Questa altra sorte’ (162v), ‘The whiche’ (163r). Folio 163v is now blank but once contained many fifteenth century inscriptions, some of which are legible under UV light: a small drawing of a shield with illegible writing, ‘boke’, ‘Clerk’, ‘Thomas Hll at the syne of the hartes heyd’


The binding is made of gilt punched leather, using the technique whereby repetitive patterns of geometrical shapes were punched onto the parts of the design that would be left unpainted. It has been coloured with a yellow-gold glaze or tinted varnish, and is decorated with abstract floral designs and a mixture of overlapping punch patterns. On this technique, see Posthuma De Boer, Martine, E. F. Koldeweij, and Roger M. Groves, Gilt Leather Artefacts (2016).

The leather covers paste boards typical of the sixteenth century, and shows remnants of two metal clasps with flower motif pins, which were once attached to leather straps. Comparable hardware can be seen in the bindings of Matthew Parker from the second half of the sixteenth century, now Corpus Christi College Cambridge SP.66, SP.57, and SP.244.

The binding is recycled from a larger piece of punched leather, likely a sixteenth century panelled wall hanging or screen - although the dating of the punched pattern is much harder to determine. Similar designs are found on sixteenth century Italian wall hangings in the V&A Collection (items O304822, O304824, and O369581) which suggest a plausible place and date of origin.

Although this leather was prevalent in luxury homes and churches from the sixteenth century, the practice of recycling leather wall hangings into book bindings is a rare phenomenon. A few examples can be found on printed books which were bound in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Italy and Spain. The binding of MS Ashmole 46 represents one of the earliest known examples of this practice, and to date is the only known manuscript with this style of binding. It is also the only example identified thus far in England.

The current binding is not the manuscript's original binding, as the text block has been trimmed and the page edges gilded at a later date after its production. This binding was likely made before 1588, as it does not match the style in which Sir Thomas Tresham, who owned the manuscript in 1588, bound his manuscripts with his family crest embossed in the centre of the front cover (see British Armorial Bindings, ‘Tresham, Thomas (1543-1605)’, stamps 1, 2, 3). Paper pastedowns, that on the left board with watermark, hand with five-pointed star (or flwoer).


Origin: Third quarter of the fifteenth century, after 1461 due to the replacement of all references to Henry VI, for whom the text was written, with the name of Edward IV (for instance, folio 85v ‘fforte Edward’. ; English, Bury St Edmunds (see Kathleen Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts II, no.112).

Provenance and Acquisition

The hand of John Stow, 1525?-1605 appears on folios 131v and 133v. Stow's annotations appear in numerous other Lydgate anthologies and miscellanies, including manuscripts of the Lives of Ss Edmund and Fremund MS Yates Thompson 47 and the Arundel Castle manuscript.

In 1588 the manuscript was owned by Sir Thomas Tresham (1543-1605), a prominent member of the landed gentry and recusant. Folio 49r contains his ownership inscription dated 1588: ‘T. Tresami . M . | et Amicorum | credo | eh’. The ‘et Amicorum’ (‘and of friends’) was a popular formulation of ownership by an individual collector which implied that he shared the book with his circle of friends. ‘Credo’ was Tresham's personal motto. Tresham leaves the same style of inscription in his copy of the 1589 edition of Antonio of Nebrissa’s Dictionarium latino-hispanicum (see Barker and Quentin, Library of Thomas Tresham, 50). Tresham was sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1573 and knighted in 1575. When he acquired the manuscript, Tresham had just emerged from a long period of imprisonment from 1581 for recusancy. It is not listed in his inventories, edited in Barker, Quentin, and Robinson, The Library of Thomas Tresham & Thomas Brudenell.

The margin of folio 93r contains the erased name ‘Thomas’ in a fifteenth century hand, now only legible under UV light.

The name ‘Edward Woorsoppe me tenet’ is recorded on folio 49r in a sixteenth century hand.

Owned by the poet William Brown(e), author of Britannia’s Pastorals (1613–16) and Oxford alumnus (matriculated 30 April 1624). His name appears on folio 1r: ‘W. Browne’ and his annotations on the parchment flyleaves and throughout the text block. Browne is known to have owned other manuscripts with Lydgate and Lydgatean material, such as BodL MS Ashmole 45, MS Ashmole 40, MS Ashmole 59, BL Additional MS 34360, BL Lansdowne MS 699, Durham V ii 15, and Durham V ii 16.

The manuscript was later owned by Elias Ashmole (1617–1692), who acquired other manuscripts from Brown(e), for instance MS Ashmole 59 and MS Ashmole 40.

Bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum by Elias Ashmole 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 collection was transferred to the Bodleian Library .

Record Sources

Description by Charlotte Ross (Sept. 2023). Previously described 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).

Printed descriptions:

Barker, Nicolas, David Quentin, and John Martin Robinson, The Library of Thomas Tresham & Thomas Brudenell (London, 2006).
John Lydgate's Lives of Ss Edmund & Fremund and the Extra miracles of St Edmund, eds Anthony Bale and A. S. G. Edwards, Middle English Texts 41 (Heidelberg, 2009).
Posthuma De Boer, Martine, E. F. Koldeweij, and Roger M. Groves, Gilt Leather Artefacts: White Paper on Material Characterization and Improved Conservation Strategies within NICAS (Delft, 2016).
Scott, Kathleen L., Later Gothic Manuscripts, 1390-1490, Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles V.6., in 2 volumes (London, 1996), vol.II no.112.
Scott, Kathleen L., ‘Lydgate's Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund: A Newly-Located Manuscript in Arundel Castle’, Viator 13 (1982), 335-66.

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (2 images from 35mm slides)

Last Substantive Revision

2023-06-30: Charlotte Ross Revised with consultation of original.