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

Christ Church MS. 148

John Gower, Confessio amantis; England (London), s. xvin (after 1405)


Language(s): Middle English and Latin. Jeremy J. Smith has discussed the scribe’s linguistic behaviour on several occasions, first in ‘Linguistic Features of Some Fifteenth-Century Middle English Manuscripts’ in Derek Pearsall ed., Manuscripts and Readers in Fifteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1983), 104–12. The scribe’s ‘native language’ appears that of northern Worcestershire (110) but always in admixture with the language of the texts he copies, especially, given his protracted experience with Confessio amantis, Gower’s own. See further Smith’s contributions in M. L. Samuels and J. J. Smith ed., The English of Chaucer and his contemporaries (Aberdeen, 1988), and the summary report of his findings communicated by Charles A. Owen, Chaucer Review, 23 (1988), 25–26 n5.

1. Fols 1ra-207rb
Incipit: Torpor hebes sensus scola parua labor minimusque | Causant quo minimis
Incipit: Of hem þat writen vs tofore | The bookes dwelle
Explicit: [fol. 206vb, the last verse] testament of loue | As þou hast do þy schrift aboue
Explicit: [fol. 207ra] Explicit iste liber qui transeat obsecro liber | Vt sine liuore
Final rubric: [fol. 207rb] Tercius iste liber anglico sermone in Octo partes diuisus qui ad instanciam serenissimi principis dicti domini Regis anglie Ricardi secundi conficitur . . . Nomenque presentis opusculi Confessio Amantis specialiter intitulatur Explicit
John Gower, Confessio amantis

The so-called first recension (IMEV 2662, this copy unnoted in either the original publication or the Supplement), ed. G. C. Macaulay, EETS es 81–82 (1900–1). Owing to missing leaves, the text lacks Pro.138–594, 1.83–217, 5.3994–4161, 6.1736–1893, 7.1330–1470, 8.2956*-3114*. (At least potentially, some excisions, especially those in the first and last quires, are Lancastrian expurgations of features of the first recension referring to Richard II.) Fol. 207v was originally blank but ruled.

Added text:

a. Fol. i
Incipit: Anno domini Mlo CCCCmo lxxx The yer of owr’ lord A Ml CCCC | The Scottis shall aryse

Bits of a prophecy for 148., probably verse unrecorded in IMEV, a quatrain and three lines with interspersed Latin, but the ends of all lines cut away; with the incipit, cf. IMEV 3510 (DIMEV 5540). Written in anglicana, s. xvex.

Physical Description

Secundo Folio: As Nabugodonosor
Form: codex
Support: Parchment (HSOS?)
Extent: Fols: i + 207. Flyleaf is medieval parchment, cut down to the width of a column.
Dimensions (leaf): 395 × 270 mm.


18 (lacking second to fourth after fol. 1) 28 (lacking first before fol. 6) 3–148 158 (lacking eighth after fol. 115) 16–198 208 (lacking third after fol. 149) 218 (lacking last, a stub after fol. 161) 22–268 278 (lacking sixth and last, before and after fol. 207, the last a stub). Catchwords added in an informal hand, s. xv med. No signatures.


The leading edges cut away on fols 1 (with loss of text), 56, 108, 126, and 130; a bit of fol. 2 cut away and the first four leaves soiled.


In double columns, each column 237 × 80 mm. (to the bounds, not the line ends), with 16 mm between the columns, in 42 lines to the column.

No signs of pricking; bounded and ruled in brown ink.


Written in anglicana, by the early London ‘Scribe D’.


A. I. Doyle and M. B. Parkes, ‘The Production of Copies of the Canterbury Tales and the Confessio Amantis in the Early Fifteenth Century’ in Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts and Libraries, 163–203 (full reference at MS 115 above), offer an extensive analysis of this unusually prolific scribe; see 164, 166, 174–82, 192–96, 200–1, 206–8 (for his apparently close relationship to ‘Scribe Delta’), 208–10. They identify as in this hand part or all of six more Gower MSS: Cambridge: Trinity College, MS R.3.2, fols 66–73v, 113rb/15–54v; BodL, MSS Bodley 294 and Bodley 902, fols 2–16v; Oxford: Corpus Christi College, MS 67 (on which see also Scott, 2:109–11 (no. 28), with discussion of the scribe’s artistic connections); New York: Columbia University Library, MS Plimpton 265; BL, MS Egerton 1991; as well as: University of London Library, MS V.88 (the ‘Ilchester’ Piers Plowman, C Version); BL, MS. Add. 27944, fols 2–7v, 1 96–335v (Trevisa’s Bartholomæus); BL, MS Harley 7334, and Oxford: Corpus Christi College, MS 198 (both Canterbury Tales). The scribe now appears in the on-line database developed by Profs Linne Mooney and Simon Horobin of Late Medieval English Scribes, where he is equated with John Marchaunt, and Princeton: University Library, MS Taylor 5 (olim Phillipps 8192) added to his oeuvre. The database provides an image of fol. 102v [last accessed 29th December 2015]. The equation of Scribe D with Marchaunt is proposed in detail by Linne R. Mooney and Estelle Stubbs, Scribes and the City: London Guildhall clerks and the dissemination of Middle English literature, 1375–1425, York Medieval Press (Woodbridge, 2013), 38–65.


Headings and Gower’s extensive Latin passages in red, the latter written within the column. At the openings of the books, four-line champes in blue and violet with gold leaf, with vinets, bars of gold with leaves and buds in blue and violet. A decorative hierarchy within the text: at large divisions, two-line gold leaf champes with blue and violet and floral sprays; at smaller divisions, one-line lombards, blue with red flourishing, sometimes alternating with gold leaf lombards with navy flourishing. Line openings frequently ochre-slashed. A reader, s. xvi1, has added informal running titles to identify some stories.

The opening of the prologue, more ornate, but cut into and damaged, has an armorial (see provenance) with gold leaf, rather than a champe. See AT no. 388 (39).


Dark brown leather over bevelled wooden boards, s. xv, heavily wormed, with an outline pattern in blind. Bound on six thongs, taken straight into the board, as in Pollard’s Figure 4, but not staggered. The upper board has slots for two straps, but no trace of them; impressions and nail holes from the plates to which they were clasped, about 60 mm in from the edge of the lower board. Evidence of a chain staple at Watson’s position 6, presumably a ChCh intervention (see Appendix I and below). Pastedowns modern paper, a ChCh bookplate on the front pastedown.


Origin: England (London); s. xvin

Provenance and Acquisition

The manuscript was prepared for a younger son of Henry IV, probably Thomas, duke of Clarence, identified by the royal arms, including ‘France modern’ (thus post-1405) and with a mark of cadency, in the opening initial (fol. 1). The scribe produced another Confessio manuscript with a similar history of ownership, if not patronage: BodL, MS Bodley 294, with erased ownership inscription of Thomas’s brother, Humfrey, duke of Gloucester; see Doyle and Parkes, 208. Jeanne E. Krochalis, ‘The Books and Reading of Henry V and his Circle’, Chaucer Review, 23 (1988), 50–77 at 57, places the manuscript in the wider context of early Lancastrian book-ownership.

A variety of late medieval and early modern indications of ownership or use occurs: (a) ‘Champer (?pro)... (fol. 163, upper margin, washed, s. xv); (b) ‘Nouerunt vniuersie per presentes me Iohannem hill de Okehampton’ (fol. 207rb following the explicit, s. xvex); (c) ‘This is george coper his hande Record of m’ ni\c/colas amen.’ (fol. 207v, amid a mass of pentrails, verses, and drawings, s. xviin). Two small signatures of comparable age ‘gerg coper his boke’ and ‘roger coper his booke’ (along with several ‘george’ signatures, the front and rear pastedowns). Cf. ‘by me Georg | coper’ (fol. 179, s. xvi).

More extensive still are indications of ownership by Cottells: ‘By me markes Cottell’ (fol. 132 upper margin, s. xvimed); ‘M: Cottell’ also wrote verse ‘The wilde and coulte that Runs in pasture . . .’ and ‘god saue the Quene Elizabeth’ (fol. 175v, upper margin); and the verses again fol. 207rb (reading ‘wild and wanton’, signed ‘by me markes cottell’). Also ‘Mr. ... Edward Cottell’, as well as signing his name with Greek lambdas below (the front pastedown, s. xvi/xvii). Of comparable age is the set of notes ‘a remembraunce of such corne as is severall by itself in every close’ (across the foot of fol. 267). Various members of a Devon family of Cottells came up to Oxford c. 1560–1620, but none with these Christian names (AO, 1:333). An early-modern Devon location for this manuscript would suggest it had stayed in the same locality as when it was owned by John Hill (note (b) mentioned above).

Donated by Henry Byam: ‘ex dono Henrici Byam’ (fol. 206v, lower margin, s. xvii). Cf. also ‘O god my god wherfor doste thu forsak me vtterly . . .’, four lines (fol. 176v, upper margin, s. xviiin). Henry Byam came up from East Luckham (Somerset), matriculating at Exeter College in 1597/8 and was elected a Student of Christ Church in December 1599; he received four degrees: BA in 1602, MA in 1605, BD in 1612, and (on Charles I’s orders) DD in 1642/3. A royalist divine, he was rector of East Luckham from 1614 and of Selworthy from 1618 until he was sequestered in 1647. Additionally, he was a canon of Exeter in 1632 and of Wells in 1660 and died in 1669 aged about 89 (AO, 225; J. Sears McGee in Oxford DNB, noting further books owned by Byam). His link with Exeter is suggestive of how he came by this book which had been in that diocese.

The manuscript is not recorded in the Donor’s Register so the date of its donation is uncertain but the evidence of its chain staple is suggestive: it in the same position and of the same dimensions as MS 146, which was donated in 1629. The first ChCh record of its presence only comes, however, with the 1676 Catalogue where it has the shelfmark C.3 (see Appendix I). There is a slight difference with what appears in the volume itself where, at the very left centre of the front pastedown, the relevant shelfmark is given as ‘C.2’, though the number may be written over an erasure. At top left of the same pastedown and at the top left of fol. 1, the New Library’s ‘E.5’ (see 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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