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

MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1

Summary Catalogue no.: 3134

Codex Mendoza

Códice Mendoza

‘Codex Mendoza’, etc.; A: Mexico, c. 1541 (?); B: England, early 17th century (?)

Physical Description

Composite: A, fols. i-ii, 1–72; B, fols. 73–84; two manuscripts still separate c. 1655, after John Selden’s death, but listed as together by Thomas Lockey during his period as Bodley’s Librarian (1660–1665) (Barker-Benfield, 2000, pp. 99–102).
Extent: i (paper, 16th cent.) + ii (paper, added 1985–6) + i (paper, 16th cent.) + 71 + i (paper, 16th cent.) + 10 + iii (paper, 17th cent.), foliated i-ii, 1–85.


Plain vellum-covered boards, either London, c. 1655 × 1659, or Oxford, c. 1655 × 1665 (Barker-Benfield, 2000, pp. 99–102).


Provenance and Acquisition

John Selden, 1584–1654.

The two parts of the manuscript were still separate after John Selden’s death and are listed separately in the handwritten catalogue (c. 1655) of his books and manuscripts, MS. Selden Supra 111 (Barker-Benfield, 2000, p. 100).

Acquired by the Bodleian from Selden’s executors at some point between 1655 and 1659 (Barker-Benfield, 2000, pp. 101–2).

MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1 – Part A (fols. i-ii, 1–72)


‘Codex Mendoza’: Mexican pictorial manuscript
(fols. 1r-17r or 18r; quire 1 and part of quire 2)

A pictorial history of the Aztec empire from 1325 to 1521, focussing on Aztec rulers and their conquests.

For the question of whether fols. 17v and 18r belong to part 1 or part 2, see Codex Mendoza I.55–6.

(fols. 17v or 18v-54v; part of quire 2 and quires 3–6)

An illustrated catalogue of the annual tribute paid by the towns of the empire to the last emperor, Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (Montezuma II); closely related to, and perhaps copied from, the pre-Conquest Matrícula de Tributos.

(fols. 56v-71v, quires 7 and 8)

An illustrated account of Aztec life-cycles, male and female, from birth to death.

For full commentary, reproduction, transcription and translation see The Codex Mendoza, ed. F. F. Berdan and P. R. Anawalt, 4 vols. (1992); abbreviated as The Essential Codex Mendoza, ed. F. F. Berdan and P. R. Anawalt (1997).

Digital edition: Códice Mendoza / Codex Mendoza

Language(s): Spanish and Classical Nahuatl

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: Paper, Spanish. Six watermarks (Codex Mendoza I.20–23, and Barker-Benfield, 1985–2000, pp. 2–3): A-D, of Briquet’s type ‘Pilgrim’, are used in quires 1–6 and 8 (fol. 71); E (‘Cross’) and F (‘Sphere with five-pointed star above’) in quires 7–8.
Extent: i (paper, 16th cent.) + ii (paper, added 1985–6) + i (paper, 16th cent.) + 71 + i (paper, 16th cent.)


1(10, fol. 2 is a contemporary replacement leaf) (fols. 1–10), 2(10)-5(10) (fols. 11–50), 6, five leaves (fols. 51–5, misbound, original order 51–2, 55, 53–4; perhaps 10(-5), with the sixth to tenth leaves cancelled) | 7(10) (fols. 56–65; fol. 65 perhaps a contemporary replacement leaf), 8, six leaves (fols. 66–71; perhaps 10(-4), with the seventh to tenth leaves cancelled). For detailed charts see Barker-Benfield 1985–2000, pp. 7–19. Fols. 1–10 can also be reconstructed as a bifolium (fols. 1–2) followed by a ternion (fols. 3–8) followed by two singletons (fols. 9–10). Two sequences of signatures at the beginning of quires, top centre and top right.


Coloured pictures. The decoration has been attributed (first by Gómez de Orozco, 1941, latterly by Batalla Rosado, 2007), to the native ‘master of the painters’ Francisco Gualpuyogualcal or Cuauhpoyouacatl (of whom nothing is otherwise known). Batalla Rosado (2007) has identified the artist as the artist of fols. 6r-11v of the Matrícula de Tributos.


The manuscript is likely to have been unbound for some time. The outer pages (fols. 1r, 71v) show some discolouration. Crease marks visible throughout the text-block, especially in the first two sections, also suggest that the manuscript was folded after painting and writing.

The manuscript was bound for André Thevet (see Provenance) between 1553 and 1587; the end-leaves (pastedown, fols. i-ii, 72) of French paper are from this binding, although the binding itself is lost. (Barker-Benfield, 2000, pp. 96–8)


Origin: 16th century, second quarter (1529 × 1553); perhaps c. 1541 (?) ; Mexican


The manuscript must date from after 6 July, 1529 (since Cortes is referred to on fol. 15r as ‘marques del Valle’ (Codex Mendoza, I.5) and before 1553 (when it was in the possession of André Thevet (below)).

The circumstances of its production are partly explained on fol. 71v (as translated in Codex Mendoza IV.148): ‘The reader must excuse the rough style in the interpretation of the drawings in this history, because the interpreter did not take time or work at all slowly ... The interpreter was given this history ten days prior to the departure of the fleet, and he interpreted it carelessly because the Indians came to agreement late; and so it was done in haste and he did not improve the style suitable for an interpretation, nor did he take time to polish the words and grammar or make a clean copy.’ That is, the manuscript was first painted by native artists, then hurriedly glossed in Spanish, to be sent to Spain. Although there is no definitive association with Antonio de Mendoza, viceroy of New Spain (1535–50), he is a plausible patron.

Dating to c. 1541 is based on the following testimony (?1547) of the ex-conquistador Jerónimo López, as translated by H. B. Nicholson (in Codex Mendoza, I.1–2): ‘it must have been about six years ago more or less that entering one day into the home of an Indian who was called Francisco Gualpuyogualcal, master of the painters, I saw in his possession a book with covers of parchment and asking him what it was, in secret he showed it to me and told me that he had made it by the command of Your Lordship [i.e. Viceroy Mendoza], in which he had to set down all the land since the founding of the city of Mexico and the lords that had governed and ruled until the coming of the Spaniards and the battles and clashes that they had and the taking of this great city and all the provinces that it ruled and had made subject and the assignment of these towns and provinces that was made by Motezuma to the principal lords of this city and of the fee that each one of the knights gave him from the tributes of the towns that he had and the plan that he employed in the aforesaid assignment and how he sketched [?] the towns and provinces for it.’ Zavala (1938) and Gómez de Orozco (1941) believed that the manuscript referred to by López was the Codex Mendoza, but the identification is disputed.

André Thevet (d. 1592), cosmographer of Henri II of France, by 1553: his name and date, fols. 1r, 71v; his name, fols. 2r, 70v. Perhaps one of the ‘two books about the idols writ by hand containing the genealogy and history of the kings and great lords of that country, and the pictures of the idols they adored’, which Thevet claimed came into his possession ‘after having been presented to the late Queen of Spain, daughter of Henry II of France’ (Codex Mendoza, I.5). There is no direct evidence of how Thevet acquired the present manuscript. Samuel Purchas, writing in 1625, claimed that the manuscript, while travelling from Mexico to Europe for presentation to the Emperor Charles V, was captured by French pirates, from whom Thevet obtained the manuscript, but other aspects of Purchas’ narrative are unreliable (see below and Codex Mendoza, I.7).

Richard Hakluyt, 1552?-1616. According to Purchas (Codex Mendoza, I.7) Hakluyt purchased the manuscript for 20 French crowns after Thevet’s death (in 1592) while he was chaplain to the English ambassador in France. In fact Hakluyt served as chaplain from 1583 to 1588, but then left Paris. An English inscription on fol. ii verso implies that the manuscript was in England in 1587.

Samuel Purchas, 1577?-1626, obtained according to his own testimony from Hakluyt’s papers in accordance with the terms of Hakluyt’s will.

His son, Samuel Purchas, 1605/6–1658/9.

MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1 – Part B (fols. 73–84)


Tables of the comparative value of Roman, Greek, English and French money.

Attributed in the seventeenth century to Sir Thomas Smith (1513–1577).

Language(s): English and Latin

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: Paper. Two watermarks, one common throughout the seventeenth century, the other similar to Heawood no. 1199, used in 1616 (Barker-Benfield, 1985–1999, p. 4).


Fols. 73–82, tables: each table written across a single sheet; the sheets then folded and pasted together to form a booklet. Fols. 83–4, a separate bifolium containing a note about the tables by John Greaves, 1602–1652 (Barker-Benfield, 1985–1999, p. 20).


Origin: 17th century, first half ; England

Additional Information

Record Sources

Summary description by Matthew Holford, based on published descriptions, especially The Codex Mendoza, ed. F. F. Berdan and P. R. Anawalt, 4 vols. (1992), and Barker-Benfield 1985–1999 and 2000. Previously described in the Summary Catalogue.


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Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (full digital facsimile)
Digital Bodleian (117 images from 35mm slides)

Last Substantive Revision

2018-07-01: Record fully revised from published sources to provide more detailed account of contents, physical description and history.