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

MS. Don. b. 31

Summary Catalogue no.: Not in SC (late accession)


Choirbook (fragment of a choirbook containing polyphonic music)
Agnus Dei

last section, for three voices in score, the the words 'Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi dona no[bis ...]', in two complete lines of three-part score and text, with a seventh stave containing the top voice only to the conclusion of the piece. At the start of the page, the music for each voice is marked 'Sicut iacet' in a smaller, less formal contemporary hand, not necessarily that of the scribe: perhaps an instruction concerning the key-signature.

Language(s): Latin
Agnus Dei

The complete top voice of a polyphonic Agnus Dei in choirbook format, the words 'Agnus Dei' set to plainchant (the intonation?) inside the initial 'Q' of 'Qui tollis peccata mundi'. The text is followed by the title 'Agnus Dei' in red by the main scribe. A later 15th-cent hand has added the direction 'Feria 2ª' in a small cursive in the upper left margin opposite the start.

Language(s): Latin
Language(s): Latin

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: parchment
Extent: Single fragment.
Dimensions (leaf): 235 × 315 mm.


Single vertical rulings in brown ink.


Written in a fine formal angular gothic script.

Musical Notation:

Staves in red.


A single rubric in red ink, preceded by a blue paragraph sign.

(verso) One large initial 'Q': in the centre the words 'Agnus Dei' inscribed by the main scribe (the 'A' in blue) under a 4-line red stave with red plainchant notation and supported by a fabulous beast with long horns and tusks, probably a yale.

Minor initials in the text in plain red or blue; spaces between words filled out with red line-fillers.


Origin: 15th century, c. 1420–1430 ; English

Provenance and Acquisition

Written in England c.1420–30; a number of related leaves have been identified, many in the same script: Oxford, Magdalen College, MS. Lat. 267, fols. 89–91, and the associated fragment fol. 92; Oxford, University College, MS. 192, fol. 27a, and the associated fragment fol. 28; Cambridge, University Library, Add. MSS. 5963(8) and 4435(16) a-d; Canberra, Australian National Library, MS. 4052/2, Nan-Kivell collection of medieval fragments, fragment 1 (see G. A. Anderson and G. A. Dittmer, Canberra National Library of Australia MS. 4052/2 1–16 [Publications of Medieval Musical Manuscripts, 13](Henryville etc.: 1981), 2 and col. pls.). Another leaf was acquired by the Bodleian, and is now MS. Don. b. 32.

These leaves are similar in appearance and contents to the Old Hall manuscript (London, B. L., MS. Add. 57950), with which it shares many pieces, but no the two setting here, which have not been identified elsewhere. A. B. Wathey notes that the yale was an emblem of the Duke of Bedford.

Used as a pastedown (the recto was the glued side) in an unidentified binding of tanned leather (c. 315 × 225 mm.) with two clasps and four bands, perhaps of the first half of the 16th century. The Magdalen leaves come from the binding of a partial set of incunables: J. Bertachinus, Repertorium iuris utriusque, vols. I and III (Lyons: 1499), now Magdalen College, F.13, 1, 3, decorated with tools associated with the Cambridge binder Nicholas Spierink (d. 1545/6).

16th-cent scribbles, including the word 'pater' added on the verso.

Sold at Sotheby's, 22 June 1982, lot 5; bought by the Bodleian through Bodley's American Friends.

Record Sources

Draft description by Peter Kidd, late 1990s.


Last Substantive Revision

2017-07-01: First online publication.