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

MS. Laud Misc. 581

Summary Catalogue no.: 987

Piers Plowman, ‘B’ text; London (?), 1390s × 1400s


Language(s): Middle English with some Latin

(fol. i recto)

Leaf previously used as a wrapper for a legal book, inscribed ‘⟨Te⟩rmino sancti Michaelis Anno x’.

(fols. ii recto–iii verso)

Two modern paper leaves, pasted to fol. i, with Skeat’s description of the manuscript, annotated with critical views by E. W. B. Nicholson.

1. (fols. 1r–91v)
William Langland, Piers Plowman (‘B’ text)
Rubric: ⟨Incipit liber de⟩ Pe⟨tro⟩ Plow⟨m⟩an
Incipit: In a somer seson⹎ whan soft was the sonne | I shope me in shroudes as I a shepe were
Explicit: And sende me happe and hele til I haue piers þe plowman | And sitthe he gradde after grace til I gan awake
Final rubric: Explicit hic dialogus petri plowman

The scribal hand adds occasional interlinear glosses to clarify ambiguous spellings, such as above ‘bakkis’ (10.373), ‘id est panni’ (fol. 42r).

This manuscript forms the base text in Walter William Skeat, William Langland: The Vision of Piers Plowman, vol. 2, Text B, EETS o.s. 38 (Oxford, 1869), who speculated that the manuscript was autograph.

2. (fols. 92r-93v)

Originally blank, but ruled.

(fol. 92v)

Added couplet on meddling

"Amongest all other take hede of one thynge | matters make lyttle medling"

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: parchment
Extent: iii + 93 leaves
Dimensions (leaf): 265 × 185 mm.
Foliation: Foliation of the 17th century at the foot of pages; replaced by modern foliation.


1-118, 126–6. Catchwords mostly bordered in red.


Frame ruled in brown ink, 45–50 long lines, ruled space 225 × 130 mm.


Gothic cursiva antiquior.


Initial letters at beginnings of passus are 3–5-line initials in blue with red flourishing. (Pächt and Alexander iii. 781)

Passus titles rubricated. The text is divided by blue paraphs. Latin verses and words, proper names, and marginal additions boxed in red.


Standard Laudian binding, brown tanned calf over laminated pulpboard; rebacked.


Origin: 1390s × 1400s ; English, probably London

Provenance and Acquisition

‘R L’ (fol. 92r).

‘Liber Ricardi Iohnson’ (fol. 92r); a different hand from the Richard Johnson of MS. Laud Misc. 739.

Ralph Coppinger (d. 1551). Inscribed, ‘Raffe Coppynger’ (fol. 93r), probably 1530s × 40s. He also makes two notes: ‘Robart langeland borne by malbovrne ⟨hi⟩lles’ (fol. 1r, head); ‘Memorandum þat I haue lent to Nicholas brigham the pers ploughman which I borowed of Mr. Le of Addyngton’ (fol. 93r, beneath the signature). On Nicholas Brigham (d. 1558), see James Alsop, ‘Nicholas Brigham (d. 1558), Scholar, Antiquary, and Crown Servant’, Sixteenth Century Journal 12 (1981): 49–67. ‘Mr. Le of Addyngton’ is likely Nicholas Leigh (1495–1581), lord of the manor of Addington (Surrey). See Ralph Hanna, ‘Two New (?) Lost Piers Manuscripts (?)’, The Yearbook of Langland Studies 16 (2002): 169–77.

Sir John Thynne (d. 1580). Inscribed, ‘In desire spede is tariaunce. Ion Tynne’ (fol. 92r).

T. Long of Dorchester’ (fol. 92r), late 16th or early 17th century; Ralph Hanna suggests that this could have been the widow of Ralph Coppinger.

William Laud (1573–1645). Inscribed, ‘Liber Guilielmi Laud Archiepiscopi Cantuarij et Cancellarij Vniuersitatis Oxoniensis 1633’ (fol. 1r, lower margin), with his shelfmark ‘E.64’ (fol. 1r, upper leading edge).

Part of Laud’s first donation, 22 May 1635.

Record Sources

Description by Andrew Dunning (August 2022), largely abbreviated from observations in the The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive. Previously described in the Quarto Catalogue (H. O. Coxe, Laudian Manuscripts, Quarto Catalogues II, repr. with corrections, 1969, from the original ed. of 1858–1885). Decoration, localization and date follow Pächt and Alexander (1973).

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (full digital facsimile)
Piers Plowman Electronic Archive (links to images of individual folios are available via the edition)


Last Substantive Revision

2022-08-27: Andrew Dunning Revised with consultation of original.