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

MS. Douce 104

Summary Catalogue no.: 21678

Illustrated Piers Plowman; Ireland, 1427–28


Language(s): Middle English, Irish dialect

1. (fols. 1r–112v)
William Langland, Piers Plowman ('C' text)
Incipit: IN a sommur sesoun whan softe was þe sonne | I shop me in to schrudes as y a schep were
Explicit: & send me halp & hole to I haue peres þe ploughman | And sith he gred after grace til I can a wake
Final rubric: Explicit liber de Petro Ploughman Anno regni regis henrici sexti sexto Et fir’ Iouis ante festum Michaelis Incept’ trassup’
DIMEV 2460
2. (fol. 112v)
Poem on chattering in church
Incipit: Tutiuillus þe deuyl of hell | He wryteþ har names soþe to tell
Explicit: þe blis of heuen þan may ȝe wyn | god bryng vs al to his In | Amen Amen dicentes
DIMEV 6084

Added in a fifteenth-century hand, written over two other lines of writing, possibly a financial account.

Francis Douce’s transcription is pasted into the volume after fol. 33 (now numbered fol. 33a). Another transcription of the poem, signed by Eric Otto Winstedt (1880–1955), attached to the inside of the former lower board.

Rubric: unde beda
"Qui osculetur meretricem: pulsat ianuam inferni war⟨thes(?)"

Further addition prompted by the Tutivullus poem. Not in Walther.

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: parchment
Extent: 112 leaves
Dimensions (leaf): 217 × 148 mm.
Foliation: Modern foliation.


1–38, 4–510, 6–108, 1110, 12–138, 142. Catchwords at the foot of most verso leaves.


Frame ruled in ink; no line ruling. Written in 32–36 long lines, ruled space 175–85 × 115 mm.


Cursiva antiquior, written by a single scribe.


72 marginal miniatures. Miniatures (coloured drawings). (Pächt and Alexander iii. 886, pl. LXXXIV) Description of miniatures based on the extensive interpretation of Kathleen Scott, ‘The Illustrations of MS Douce 104’:

  • (fol. 5r) The Castle of Care (?): pencil sketches only.
  • (fol. 8r) Lady Meed: young upright woman wearing a gold crown with a circlet of braids over each ear, bearing three goblets in each hand.
  • (fol. 9r) Liar: barefoot man in an orange tunic with yellow cowl and hood, a sword on his belt, holding a document with a hanging seal.
  • (fol. 10r) Lady Meed and a sheriff.
  • (fol. 11r) Lady Meed.
  • (fol. 11v) Lady Meed at confession.
  • (fol. 15r) Conscience: man with a forked beard, looking away from the text.
  • (fol. 18r) The King: man with a forked beard in ermine copy and lavender robe, holding a red sceptre.
  • (fol. 19r) Reason (?): seated figure with a short forked beard, wearing a hat and gloves.
  • (fol. 23r) Tom Stowe: young man in a cote-hardie (jacket) and hat.
  • (fol. 24r) Pride: young man dressed in tights and doublet, white collar, with a belt hung with ‘folly bells’, gloves, cuffs, and a jewelled chaperon.
  • (fol. 25r) Envy: short-bearded, middle-aged man leaping and clenching his fist, whilst tearing at his shirt front with his other hand.
  • (fol. 26r) Wrath: young man with ugly features, wearing a doublet, tights, a long sword, and with two dagers on each side of his waist, with his hand behind his head.
  • (fol. 26v) Lechery: kneeling young man with a sword on his belth, raising both hands in fists above his head.
  • (fol. 27r) Avarice: standing bearded man in a knee-length gown, grasping a pouch fastened through his belt, gesturing towards the text.
  • (fol. 29r) Gluttony: man holding a bowl to his mouth with both hands, wearing hose and short gown to show a distended stomach and navel.
  • (fol. 31r) Sloth: seated young man in a rumpled gown, open at the front, with one bare foot, asleep with his head in his hand.
  • (fol. 33b recto) Pilgrim: standing figure of a beaded man, with a broad-brimmed straw hat, a rough hooded outer garment, and a bell on the wrist or waist, holding a staff.
  • (fol. 34r) The Castle of Truth: in pale pink and orange, a gate flanked by two towers with pinnacles.
  • (fol. 35r – upper) Contemplation: head of a bearded man in an orange-red chaperon.
  • (fol. 35r – lower) Piers the Plowman: a standing man dressed in an orange-red gown with pinkish-tan shoulder cape, hose, shoes, gloves, and hat.
  • (fol. 35v) A knight: man with a forked beard in a chaperon and ankle-length down, looking at the text.
  • (fol. 37v) The ‘Bretener’: standing man in a short green houppelande with bagpipe sleeves, with a sword on the far side and pouch on the near side of the belt.
  • (fol. 38r) (?) Hunger: man in a white tunic, seated, barefoot, holding root vegetables and raising one to his mouth.
  • (fol. 39r) A labourer: man in a short blue gown, hose, hat, and belt with sheath or tool, digging with a spade.
  • (fol. 40r) A rowing boat.
  • (fol. 41r) A lawyer: man with curly hair, standing behind a lectern or barrier, wearing a pink-grey gown with a white collar, gesturing and speaking.
  • (fol. 42r) One of the ‘lunatyk lollares’: unclothed man with a yellow cloth on one shoulder, walking and looking back towards the text.
  • (fol. 43r) A blind beggar: bearded man in a long gown with hooded cowl, black cap, and green hose, his eyes closed and head bowed, holding a staff.
  • (fol. 44r – upper) A false friar: standing man in white, with a hood pulled up, gesturing and looking with a hesitant expression at the text.
  • (fol. 44r – lower) A slothful bishop: tonsured young man in white alb and red chasuble, lying with eyes closed, head in his left hand, with a crozier in his right hand; his mitre has fallen off his head. In the lower left margin, a wolf seizing a sheep, with blood running down its throat.
  • (fol. 44v) A priest with a pardon: young tonsured man, his tongue protruding, in a long white gown, holding a folded sheet with dangling seal.
  • (fol. 46r) A full figure of a barefoot friar in a grey-black habit with hood pulled up and a knotted cord hanging from the waist, standing in profile, speaking and gesturing: a Friar minor or Franciscan
  • (fol. 47r) Dobet: tonsured man in white tunic with brown mantle, standing in a pulpit, leaning on the edge, with his mantle draped across the front, and looking at the text with a sad expression.
  • (fol. 48v) Cain: young man in green tunic, holding his hands to his head, apparently in distress.
  • (fol. 49r) A calf and a sheep.
  • (fol. 51r) A beggar: man with bare legs and feet, wearing a cloak with hood pulled up, carrying a staff, and turning away as he makes a begging gesture.
  • (fol. 52r) A schoolmaster: seated man in black academic cap and tan gown, whipping a student with a bundle of sticks.
  • (fol. 52v) (?) St Augustine or a scribe: man in orange cowl with hood thrown back, seated in a chair, writing with pen and scraper on a lap board.
  • (fol. 53r) Dame Fortune: bust of a woman, hair in circlets of braids and possibly in a headdress (cropped at top), with a spoked wheel tinted yellow.
  • (fol. 53r) Recklessness: young man in a short orange-red tunic, gesturing upwards with one arm and holding a stick or small club with the other.
  • (fol. 54r) A clerk: bust of a man in black cap and pale tan shoulder cope.
  • (fol. 55r) (?) The dreamer/narrator: bearded man in tan gown, seated with head in hand, looking towards the text.
  • (fol. 56r) Emperor Trajan: head of a man in profile with a large nose and protruding tongue, in a bizarre headgear with feathers, pointing to his tongue.
  • (fol. 60v) ‘A parfit priest’: standing figure of a tonsured priest in a plain white gown, pointing at the text.
  • (fol. 61r) A hand outlined in red, in a sleeve, holding a handful of silver coins (oxidized).
  • (fol. 63r) ‘Imaginatif’ or a clerk: seated man in grey-blue gown with red hooded cowl, wearing a black cap, with head in hand.
  • (fol. 65r) A thief: bust of a young man in pale gown with untidy black hair.
  • (fol. 67r) A friar: corpulent, middle-aged, tonsured man dressed in a white habit with cope and hood and seated at table with a bowl.
  • (fol. 67v) A false friar: side-view figure of a tonsured man in light brown habit with cope and hood, walking, looking upwards, and gesturing upwards as if in prayer. Written over in the scribal hand, ‘be war of fals friars’.
  • (fol. 69r) ‘Actiua Vita’: a bearded man in a belted, knee-length, lavender tunic, with a green head-covering and hose and open shoes, carrying a short-handled spatula over one shoulder and holding a detached (?)plough handle in the other hand.
  • (fol. 70r) Patience: a man in a yellow travelling coat, red chaperon, red hose and boots, wearing a pouch across his back and bearing a staff.
  • (fol. 71r) Death: a skeleton leaping in the air.
  • (fol. 72r) A poor man: seated on the ground with his back to the text, in a green tunic and white hose, with bare feet and disheveled blond hair, leaning over and grasping his hunched up knees.
  • (fol. 74r) ‘Lele Loue’: a young man in a short jacket speckled in red, in tight-fitting hose and tight knee-high boots, holding up a red ring in his right hand.
  • (fol. 75v) Nota bene sign: hand in a rose-tinted sleeve.
  • (fol. 78r) A bad penny: a round circle of silver (partly oxidized).
  • (fol. 79r) A hanged thief: partially clothed young man hanging by the neck from gallows, mouth open and eyes blank.
  • (fol. 79v) Nota bene hand: added (possibly by the artist), uncoloured.
  • (fol. 80v) The prophesying angel: uncoloured angel looking downwards away from the text, with open mouth.
  • (fol. 88r) Hand of God with the world: a hand holding a roughly circular object, thinly outlined in red.
  • (fol. 94r) Mercy: young woman with long hair, wearing a red fillet (a form-fitting gown).
  • (fol. 96r) Satan: a devil with goat-like pale orange body, semi-circular horns, red eyes and protruding tongue, cloven hooves, and (?)tail, walking towards the edge of the page but turning back to the text.
  • (fol. 101r) Caiaphas: bust of a bearded man in cowl with hood, wearing the mitre of an Old Testament priest.
  • (fol. 102v) A merchant: a man with short beard in an orange gown, yellow chaperon, and yellow footwear; holding up the skirt of the gown with one hand and fingering coins with the other.
  • (fol. 103r) Symbols of the Evangelists: two oxen, tinted yellow and rose, with the backs of two more possibly indicated by strokes of rose colour at the rear.
  • (fol. 105r) The uneducated vicar: a tonsured man in a pale brown tunic.
  • (fol. 107r) Antichrist: head of a youngish bearded man with tousled yellow hair and orange complexion.
  • (fol. 108v) Lyf: barefoot rough-featured man in short yellow tunic and pale hood, holding a long stave, with one leg raised.
  • (fol. 109r – upper) Tom Two-Tongue: bust of a young man in brown sleeves, yellow cowl, and pulled-up hood, with two tongues, pointing at the text.
  • (fol. 109r – lower) A physician: half-figure of a middle-aged man, with his eyes closed, in brown cowl and hood, both edged in white, and yellow gown.
  • (fol. 109v) A proud priest: standing young man, tonsured, in a tight decorated jacket and hose, long shoes, a sword hanging at his front, gesturing and looking at the text.
  • (fol. 111v) Sir Penetrans-domos conducting uroscopy: friar in a brown hooded cloak and pale gown, holding up a diagnostic urine flask (jordan), coloured blue. Possibly meant to depict Henry Daniel: cf. John B. Friedman, ‘The Friar Portrait in Bodleian Library MS. Douce 104: Contemporary Satire?’, The Yearbook of Langland Studies 8 (1994): 177–85.

3-line decorated initials at passus beginnings, blue with red background.

Passus headings, Latin words, and some names underlined in red.


Brown tanned calf over laminated pulpboard, seventeenth century. Rebacked with the arms of the Ley family as baronets, perhaps for Sir James Ley (d. 1628). Removed and kept separately within the box.

Rebound, 1987.


Origin: Colophon dating the start of the manuscript’s creation 25 September 1427, with it evidently being completed in 1427–28 (fol. 112v). ; Ireland, The Pale (?)

Suggested to be written in the dialect spoken by English settlers in Ireland by Angus McIntosh, M. L. Samuels, and Michael Benskin, A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English (Aberdeen, 1986), 1:147, based on analysis from fols. 50r–79v, with a few additions from text to fol. 108v. Irish scribes were also active in London, but this possibility seems less likely based on the artistic style and text: see Pearsall, p. xiii.

Provenance and Acquisition

James Ley, first earl of Marlborough (1550–1629), chief justice of king’s bench in Ireland: his arms on the former binding.

John Jackson (1753/4–1794), antiquary. Purchased at the sale of his estate by:

Francis Douce (1757–1834). His bookplate, notes (upper pastedown and fol. 33a), and sporadic line numbering referring to a printed edition of Piers Plowman. Douce bought the manuscript for £1. 5s. 0d. at the sale of John Jackson, 28 April 1794, lot 346: see his annotated catalogue, Douce CC 393(3). He bought six manuscripts at this sale for a total of £15. 7s. 0d. Cf. The Douce Legacy (Oxford, 1984), items 205–208. Bequeathed to the:

Bodleian Library, 1834.

Record Sources

Description by Andrew Dunning (August 2022), largely based on the detailed discussions by Derek Pearsall, introduction to Piers Plowman: A Facsimile of Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Douce 104 (Cambridge, 1992); and Kathleen L. Scott, ‘The Illustrations of Piers Plowman in Bodleian Library MS. Douce 104’, The Yearbook of Langland Studies 4 (January 1990): 1–86, reprinted in Piers Plowman: A Facsimile.

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (full digital facsimile)
Digital Bodleian (71 images from 35mm slides)


Last Substantive Revision

2018-10-14: Mitch Fraas Provenance and acquisition information added using https://github.com/littlegustv/oxfordupdates/blob/master/test_case_for_oxford_prov.rb in collaboration with the Mapping Manuscript Migrations project.