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

MS. Fairfax 3

Summary Catalogue no.: 3883

John Gower, Confessio Amantis and other poems in Latin and French; England, late 14th or early 15th century


1. (fol. 2ra-186v)
John Gower, Confessio amantis (Prol. 1-VIII.3172 end)
Incipit: Torpor hebes sensus scola parua labor | minimusque, etc. (6 lines of Latin verse).
Incipit: Off hem þat written vs | tofore
Explicit: Wher resteþ loue and alle pes | Oure ioye may ben endeles
(fol. 1) flyleaf, blank

Prologue (fol. 2ra); Book I (fol. 5rb); Book II (fol. 27va); Book III (fol. 47va); Book IV (fol. 62rb); Book V (fol. 82va); Book VI (fol. 125va); Book VII (fol. 138vb, Latin; fol. 139ra, English); Book VIII (fol. 168vb).

The text has been extensively revised (see Macaulay [ed.], Works of John Gower, II.clvi-clix; Nicholson, 'Gower's Revisions', 'Poet and Scribe', and 'Gower's Manuscript', and also with further invaluable help in private communications: M. B. Parkes, 'Patterns of Scribal Activity and Revisions of the Text in Early Copies of Works by John Gower', in Richard Beadle and A. J. Piper (eds), New Science out of Old Books: Studies in Manuscripts and Early Printed Books in Honour of A. I. Doyle [Aldershot, 1995], 81-121, see esp. 89-90). Scribe I wrote the whole poem, fols 2r-185v, but fols 2 and 185 have been replaced. Scribe 2 wrote fol. 185, a leaf inserted in place of the one cut away, containing VIII.2967–3146, with the preceding twenty-nine lines (VIII.2938-66) copied in on fol. 184vb over the same number of lines erased. Scribe 3 wrote the first leaf of the text, to replace the one cut away, with Prologue 1-146, and also fols 186-94 (quires xxiv and xxv), including the last lines of the English poem (VIII.3147-72), the Latin poems and rubrics, and the French Traitié. The purpose of scribe 2's changes was to remove lines with Venus's praise of Chaucer (VIII.2941-70*), replacing them with lines that do not mention Chaucer. The purpose of scribe 3's changes was to replace the reference to Richard II's 'commissioning' of the book in the Prologue with a reference to 'a bok for Engelondes sake' and mention of Henry of Lancaster; and at the end of the poem to replace the praise of Richard II with a lament for the state of England, and to introduce the revised form of 'Quia unusquisque' with vilification of Richard II (now dead) and dedication to Henry of Lancaster. (The changes at the end of the poem may have been anticipated by scribe 2 in leaves now removed.) With the same purpose, scribe 3 also added a marginal gloss at Prol. 193 and erased one at Prol. 331. The original scribe added passages not present in earlier versions of the poem in order to deal with problems of layout caused by the effort to place the beginnings of tales or sections in the first line of the column (with the appropriate decorated initial) and to add text so that column-for-column copying of the exemplar could begin at fol. 22. These changes involved the composition of twenty-six new English lines that can be associated only with the poet's direct intervention.

Language(s): Middle English with Latin apparatus

For further information about the following Latin and French addenda that Gower caused to be added to MSS of the Confessio, see Derek Pearsall and Linne Mooney, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts of John Gower's Confessio Amantis (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2021), Appendix III.

2. (fol. 186r)
John Gower, 'Explicit iste liber'
Incipit: Explicit iste liber
Explicit: sub eo requiesce futurus

Later six-line version with dedication to the earl of Derby. Macaulay (ed.), Works, III.478.

Language(s): Latin
3. (fol. 186r)
Ralph Strode (?), 'Quam cinxere freta'
Rubric: Epistola super huius
Incipit: Quam cinxere freta
Explicit: stat sine meta

Macaulay (ed.), Works, III.479.

Language(s): Latin
4. (fols 186v-190r)
John Gower, Traitié pour essampler les amantz marietz
Incipit: Puisquil ad dit cy deuant
Explicit: saluement tenir
(prose rubric)
Incipit: Le creatour de toute creature
Explicit: lamour parfit en dieu se iustifie
Incipit: Quis sit vel qualis
Explicit: omne latus
(concluding rubric) Macaulay (ed.), Works, 1.379-92.
Language(s): French
5. (fol. 190v)
John Gower, Carmen de variis in amore passionibus
Incipit: Est amor in glosa
Explicit: adhibo thorum

Macaulay (ed.), Works, IV.359.

Language(s): Latin
6. (fols 190v-194r)
John Gower, Carmen super multiplici viciorum pestilencia
Incipit: Non excusatur
Explicit: iura tenenda deo

Macaulay (ed.), Works, IV.346.

Language(s): Latin
7. (fol. 194r)
John Gower, 'Quia unusquisque'
Incipit: Quia unusquisque
Explicit: specialiter sortitus est

Later version, with condemnation of Richard Il and praise of Henry, earl of Derby. Macaulay (ed.), Works, III.479-80, IV.360.

Language(s): Latin
8. (fol. 194v)
Ralph Strode (?), 'Eneidos Bucolis'
Incipit: Carmen quod quidam Philosophus
Explicit: gratanter transmisit
(prose rubric)
Incipit: Eneidos Bucolis que Georgica
Explicit: laus sit habendalocis

Macaulay (ed.), Works, IV.361.

Language(s): Latin

Physical Description

Secundo Folio: (fol. 3 as now foliated) Be kept vpriht in such a wyse
Form: codex
Support: parchment
Extent: ii (paper) + 1 + 193 + 1 + i (paper) leaves
Dimensions (leaf): 390 × 235 mm.
Foliation: Foliated (modern) i-ii, 1-196


i-xxii(8) xxiii(8, fol. 185, cut away and replaced by a singleton with stub following) xxiv(6) xxv(4) (wants 4, after fol. 194). Catchwords regularly written by the scribe in lower margins of last leaf verso of each quire. The leaves of quire vii are disarranged, as Macaulay explains (ed. Works, II.clvii). This disarrangement is noted by a contemporary hand at the foot of fols 5lv, 53v, 55v and 56v, as noted by A. I. Doyle, who commented that the hand noting this disarrangement was 'a very neat secretary that could well be Hoccleve's' (Doyle's handwritten note about the MS).


Written space 240 × 160 mm. In two columns, forty-six lines per column, except that from fol. 186 onward the third scribe employs a single column layout (for the Latin and French). Ruled in brown crayon for text blocks, but not for marginal glosses and only occasionally for running titles. Running titles across opening (Liber primus, etc.), except Prologus, Confessor, Amans, etc. consistently in margin, without decoration or paraph. Paraphs are never used in this MS. Latin verses pushed out when in the left column into the left margin (to avoid running on the longer Latin lines into the central column): where books begin in the left column (recto or verso), the border is pushed out around the protruding Latin verses (III, VI, VII, VIII), and in one case the whole border is pushed out left to accommodate the Latin marginal gloss as well (V); in the right column, the Latin verses are lined up with the regular margin, sometimes with a lightly decorated vertical line in the central column to ensure the correct line-up (e.g. fols 16v, 18v, 2lv, etc.). Sometimes this line migrates to the left of the left column (perhaps to make sure decorated initials are properly lined up? e.g. fols 148r, 156r, 164r, etc.). The differentiation in the treatment of the Latin verses in left and right columns is well illustrated in those groups of verses that run over the two columns (e.g. fols 23ra and 23rb, 138vb and 139ra, 112va and 112vb, etc.). Latin glosses are in the margins, placed in relation to the main text in the exact positions observed by Macaulay: the long moralising glosses often run out under one or both of the text-columns, e.g. fols 5vb, 14vb, 21v, 221, 25v (an extreme example, 1.3067). Latin glosses and Latin verses are written in the same black ink as the Middle English text, and even the textura quadrata headings and running titles are written in black ink.


One very good hand, with later interventions by two other hands, as explained in the description of the text, above. Many corrections by original hand, especially to correct the use of final -e (described in detail by Macaulay (ed.), Works, II.clix). The principal scribe writes in a late fourteenth-century anglicana formata hand showing influence of the secretary script in its use of single compartment 'a'. The second scribe writes in a similar style of anglicana formata of the beginning of the fifteenth century, using the two-compartment 'a' and writing in a less angular style than the principal. The third scribe uses the most angular form of anglicana formata, with quadrata feet at the base of minims and stalks of other letters, again datable to the early fifteenth century.

Careful punctuation, including a raised point to mark a strong caesural break after enjambement. There is detailed description by Macaulay (ed., Works, II.clix). There is also arbitrary use of various forms of punctuation at the ends of lines. The normal tyronian abbreviations appear frequently in the Latin but sparingly in the English text; the scribe prefers to write out and' rather than use the tyronian 'et'. Thorn is used except as line-initial where the scribe spelled out 'Th'; and yogh is used for the 'y' sound ('3et', '3e', '3ou') but not for the 'gh' sound ('noght', 'briht', ynowh').


Fine miniatures, borders, initials. (Pächt and Alexander iii. 710, pl. LXXI)

There are two miniatures. The first is the statue of Nebuchadnezzar's dream ("The Dream of Precious Metals'), showing Nebuchadnezzar in bed (with a splendid pink bedcover), and the image and a hill beside, as is usual, but also showing the differentiation of metals (in blue and gold), which is not. See Pächt and Alexander, Illuminated Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, III. pl. 71. The image appears at the beginning of the poem, fol. 2ra, and occupies eighteen lines. The other miniature occupies sixteen lines at the beginning of Book I, fol. 8rb, and shows the confession scene, Genius dressed in green with a wreath of roses on his head, not much like a priest (Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts, II. 110), the penitent, kneeling, wearing a hood and collar of SS (Gower was presented with a collar of SS by Henry Bolingbroke in 1393) with a badge, probably a swan, hanging from it (see Figure 6). The collar and badge, perhaps added later, are part of the Lancastrian livery, as well as the livery colours of white and blue noted by Harris, "Ownership and Readership', 121. S. Drimmer, The Art of Allusion, discusses the collar of SS in relation to limhers' treatment of authorial identity with Amans on p: 95 and Figure 38 on p. 98, illustrating the detail of the collar in colour plate 11.

Fairfax 3 was used by Macaulay as his copy-text, and his division of the poem into paragraphs and chapters' corresponds exactly to the hierarchy of the decorated initials. Six-line decorated initials, combined with bar-borders, mark the beginnings of all books except the Prologue (four-line). The borders consist of a single decorated column on the left, alone (Prol.) or with lateral extensions the width of the page at top and bottom (II, III, VI, VII) or at the bottom only (V); or a single decorated column between the text-columns with lateral extensions to left and right at top and bottom (IV, VIII) or at the bottom only (D). The branches are variously decorated with little ball-ornaments, trefoils, petals, sprays and occasionally thistles.

Four-line decorated initials in gold, blue and pink, with pen-flourishing, mark major text-divisions, especially those that follow Latin verses and are marked by Macaulay as 'chapters' with small Roman numerals (e.g. 1.575, 1235, 1343).

Three-line initials, with flourishing, mark the less important major text-divisions (Macaulay's line-spaces). One-line decorated initials mark minor text-divisions (corresponding to Macaulay's paragraphs), and are also used for the Latin verses. In the French and Latin poems, the same kind of hierarchy of initials is observed, as appropriate to the different structure of the poems, but with no borders.

  • Fol. 42r, across bottom, 'Dominus illuminacio mea et salus mea quem timebo'. Psalm 27:1 (Vg. Ps. 26:1). In a good s.xv hand. Pale rusty-brown ink.
  • Fol. 69r, top margin, 'Nota fabula pro mulieribus', referring to the story of Rosiphelee, IV. 1245.
  • Fol. 100r, central space between text-columns, 'Thystory of Jason and Medea', V.2232.
  • Fol. 109va, 'adryan and bardus', at V.4937, beside initial at beginning of tale.
  • Fol. 194r, across bottom, 'Confessio Amantis'. Informal s.xv hand.


On five bands, stippled calf with marbled paper endleaves and pastedowns, probably s.xviii, maybe early s.xix.


Origin: 14th century, late - 15th century, early ; England

Provenance and Acquisition

Fol. 2r, top margin, 'The Ladie Isabell Fairfax | daughter and hare of Thwates hir bouk'. Fol. 8r, top margin, 'This boke be longythe to my lady farfax off Steton'. Lady Isabel Fairfax (fol. 2r) was the granddaughter and heiress of John Thwaites of Denton, in Yorkshire, who died in 1511. She was married to Sir William Fairfax of Steeton (fol. 8r), also in Yorkshire.

Fol. 1r, top margin, 'Sr Thomas fayrfax of Denton Knighte | true owner of this booke, 1588'. Sir Thomas Fairfax (fol. 1r) was her grandson.

The book was bequeathed to the University of Oxford by Sir Thomas Fairfax, the parliamentary general, grandson of the above Sir Thomas Fairfax, and was placed in the Bodleian Library in 1675. See Macaulay (ed.), Works. II.clvii.

MS. Fairfax 3 - endleaf, fol. 195


Language(s): Latin

Nicholas Lyra, Postilla litteralis,

1 Cor. 5.6 - 7.3, 'subdicitur quia modicum fermentum' (fol. 195va) - 'circa primum dicit uxori' (fol. 195rb), as pr. Rome, 1471-2 (ISTC in00131000), vol. V or Basle, 1498, vol. 6; Stegmüller, Bibl. 5903.

Misbound with recto as verso. In its current position in an earlier binding, as shown by wormholes.

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: parchment


2 cols., 64 lines; column space 285 × c. 88 mm.


Texualis libraria


3-line initials alternating red and blue with penwork in the contrasting colour.


Origin: 14th century, late, or 15th century, early ; England

Additional Information

Record Sources

Derek Pearsall and Linne Mooney, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts of John Gower's Confessio Amantis (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2021), reproduced by kind permission of Linne Mooney. Additional description of endleaf (fol. 195) by Matthew Holford, August 2022. Previously described in the Summary Catalogue.

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (3 images from 35mm slides)


Last Substantive Revision

2022-08: Description revised for publication on Digital Bodleian.