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

Christ Church MS. 121

Gesta Romanorum; ?Wales, s. xv2/4


Language(s): Latin

Fols 1–153
Incipit: Ancelmus in ciuitate romana regnauit prudens valde qui portabat scutum de argento
Explicit: [fol. 149v] nephas tales tandem in eternum ignem mittentur quia iusti ibunt in vitam eternam Ad quam nos perducat qui [form ending] Amen.
Incipit: (index) De perseverantia
Explicit: (index) rectores ecclesiarum
Final rubric: Expliciunt Gesta Romanorum
Gesta Romanorum

Ed. Hermann Oesterley (1872; rep. Hildesheim, 1963), without reference to this copy; that edition is in the process of being superseded by one for Oxford Medieval Texts based upon Anglo-Latin copies, by Philippa Bright and Diane Speed. Text followed (fols 149v-53) by an index with headings for the 110 sections. A large amount of textual correction in the first fifteen leaves.

The exact transmission of the text remains unclear, but copies produced in England clearly differ radically in contents and order from continental ones; see Walter Röll, ‘Zur Überlieferungsgeschichte der “Gesta Romanorum”’, Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch, 21 (1986), 208–29. This MS appears to agree in many respects with those English copies described by J. A. Herbert, Catalogue of Romances in . . . the British Museum, 3 (London, 1910), 183–229. For example, the contents table in BL MS Harley 2270 has the same incipit and explicit as our manuscript, as well as the same five anecdotes at the head and at the end (with some disordering of the tales at the end), and a comparable total of 102 stories (213–15). Also similar at incipit and explicit are, inter alia , MSS Harley 5369 and 5259 (191, 197–98 and 199, 212, respectively). Our manuscript does not appear in the listing of witnesses provided by Brigitte Weiske, Gesta Romanorum,2 vols [Fortuna Vitrea, 3 & 4] (Tübingen, 1992), 2:121–44, or in the addenda provided by Philippa Bright, ‘Anglo-Latin Collections of the Gesta Romanorum and their Role in the Cure of Souls’ in Juanita Feros Ruys ed., What Nature does not Teach. Didactic Literature in the Medieval and Early-Modern Periods(Turnhout, 2008), 401–424 (404n).

Physical Description

Secundo Folio: mi oportet
Form: codex
Support: Parchment (FSOS)
Extent: Fols: i + 153
Dimensions (leaf): 215 × 145 mm.
(with some folios eg 60, 61, 97, 98, 103, 104 smaller)
Dimensions (written): 145 × 115 mm.


1–188 198 (with one added as last). Catchwords, written across the bounding line into the gutter, a few of them red-slashed or underlined in red. From quire 3, evidence of all leaves in the first half of each quire being signed with a letter and an arabic numeral (a good many cut away); in this system, quires 3–19 = c-t. In addition, quires 4 and 5 are signed similarly in red at the centre of the leaf; they are quires ‘e’ and ‘f’ in this system.


The bottom half of fol. 153 cut away, no text loss.


In long lines, 32 lines to the page.

Frequent signs of pricking the height of the written space, close to outer margin (in quire 13, fol. 97–104, two sets of prick-holes); bounded and ruled in brown crayon, with single borders extending to edges of page.


Written in anglicana with secretary a.

Punctuation by point only.


At fol. 1, a six-line champe with crude vine and leaf extenders in blue, green, and red, much faded. At the openings of chapters, three-line blue lombards with red flourishing, extended in the margins. The text is divided by alternate red and blue paraphs and red-slashed capitals. See AT no. 461 (46).


White leather over bevelled wooden boards, s. xv. Sewn on four thongs, taken straight into the board but unstaggered, as depicted by Pollard, fig. 3. Two straps intact, with metal fittings, and metal clasps at the leading edge of the lower board. A chain staple mark in Watson’s position 5 (see provenance). No pastedowns, a ChCh bookplate on the inside of the upper board. The single parchment flyleaf at front was perhaps once a pastedown, raised before its donation to ChCh.


Origin: ?Wales ; s. xv2/4

Provenance and Acquisition

As, given the date of donation, the placing of the chain-staple does not accord with ChCh practice (on this generally, see Introduction, ‘Christ Church, From Foundation’, and see Appendix I), the mark is presumably evidence of this manuscript’s place in an institutional collection. By the third quarter of the sixteenth century, it appears to be circulating in private hands: there are several notes many erased, some only probationes pennae – written, usually upside down in the lower margin. They are contributions from perhaps fifteen individuals, and they provide a series of names, including ‘Henrys mywyn’ (fol. 17), and ‘John Stoodlinge’ (fol. 72v); at fol. 114v a schoolboy manifestly fibs when he scrawls ‘Edward Corrocke ys A good boye wytnes of Davide phillip Ane’ (Corrock’s name also occurs at fol. 132v). Dated entries include the opening of an indenture ‘20 May 20 Elizabeth’ (fol. 90, upside down in the lower margin); and a note of ‘1560’ and ‘2 Elizabeth’ mentioning one ‘llewelin’ and ‘John Lloyd’ (fol. 153v).

These notes point to a Glamorgan provenance; the county appears explicitly in the opening of an indenture by ‘Thomas .....’, with a reference to a locale in the county no longer legible (fol. 110) and the note ‘Memorandum that I Adam Mychell of the parich of Luntwit in the counteye of glamorgane yeman’ (fol. iv). The place name in that entry helps provide narrower localisation, as do the following notes: ‘This byll witnessith that I Iohn Spenser of flominyn hath’ (fol. 73, the upper margin, perhaps earlier s. xvi); ‘The person of Lammayse hath a sarvay(n)t dothe stele all thinge that She may com by truth ys so to be hind’ (fol. 101, the lower margin, upside down); ‘this writynghe was done at bovebone ⟨....scraped⟩‘ (fol. 109v, the lower margin, upside down). The represent towns and villages in south-west Glamorgan, near the Bristol Channel: ‘Luntwit’ is likely to be Llantwit Major with ‘flominyn’ perhaps Flemingston, a dozen miles north-east of Llantwit; ‘Lammyse’ is surely Llanmaes, just five miles north, and ‘bovebone’ Boverton, three miles east of Llantwit. The last of these is the home settlement of the man who was later to donate the volume to ChCh. This geographical concentration should encourage us to speculate that the institution from which this manuscript was ‘liberated’ was a nearby religious house, of which the most plausible candidate in the proximity would be the Cistercian Abbey of Margam, seventeen miles from Boverton, and from whose library 242 titles were recorded in the Registrum (289–91), though by the fifteenth century its wealth and significance had declined; MLGB3 records four extant volumes.

The donor to ChCh was Matthew Seys: ‘Ex dono Matthæi Seys huius Ecclesiæ Alumni et Theologi 1640’ (fol. i); cf. the 1641 entry in the Donors’ Register, MS LR 1, p. 93b, where Matthew Seys is recorded as the donor of this manuscript ([1] below) and four printed books:

Inisgnissimus Vir MATTHÆVS SEYS in Artibus Magr Ædis huiusce Alumnus in Tesseram Numerosioris Doni deposuit Libros hosce subsequentes

  • [1] Gesta Romanorum Ms. 4º
  • [2] Præceptorium divinæ Legis Johis Nider fo. Argentinæ 1483
  • (Strasburg, 1483) [ISTC, no. in00212000], in situ as e.3.59 [Rhodes, 1249(a)], with Seys’ ownership note, as well as signs of early ownership (‘Liber M. Beston’, ‘liber mr lannynge’ at front flyleaf; other signs cropped) and marks of use.
  • [3] Q. Elizabeth her Iniunctions. 4º. Lond.
  • STC 10104.7, only copy in ChCh WT.5.11(10), with no provenance marks.
  • [4] W. Fulbeck his Parallel of the Civil Canon & Common Law of this Realme of England. 4º London 1618’
  • STC 10416, this copy now lost.
  • [5] Quæstiones Joh. de Ianduno de physico auditu etc unà cum Comment: eius in 3 libros Aristotelis de Animo. fº. Venet. 1506
  • The commentary included here was published in Venice in 1480 [ISTC ij00352000]; this volume must be e.3.55 [Rhodes, 1027(a)], though it has no note of donation; only name inscribed, at verso of the final flyleaf, is ‘Nathaniell Catterall’.

Seys came from Boverton and matriculated at Christ Church in 1627; he received the degrees of BA and MA in 1627 and 1630, respectively. He is last heard of in his home county, as rector of Eglwys Brewis in 1629 (AO, 1337). The book includes its former shelfmarks. At top right of fol. i, the cancelled shelfmark ‘A.7’ which relates to the 1676 catalogue, though this volume is not listed there (see Appendix I); on a paper tab at the head of the spine, there is written the number ‘12’, relating to its place in the early-eighteenth-century Old Archives Catalogue as D.12 (Appendix II); finally, at the centre of fol. i, its New Library shelfmark: ‘B.2’, written by Edward Smallwell (Appendix IV).

Record Sources

Ralph Hanna and David Rundle, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts, to c. 1600, in Christ Church, Oxford (Oxford, 2017).


For enquiries relating to this manuscript please contact Christ Church Library.

Last Substantive Revision

2017-07-01: First online publication.

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