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

MS. Arch. Selden. B. 24

Summary Catalogue no.: 3354

Anthology of English and Scottish poetry ('The Sinclair manuscript'); Scottish, after c. 1489


Language(s): Middle English and Irish

1. (fols. 1r–118v)
Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde
Incipit: The double sorowe of Troylus to tellen | That was the king P(ri)amus sonne of Troye
Explicit: So make vs Ih(es)u for thy m(er)cy digne | ffor love of maide and moder thyne benigne. Amen
Final rubric: Here endeth the book of Troylus | of double sorowe In loving of Criseid⟨e⟩
DIMEV 5248
2. (fol. 118v)
Grenacres stanza
Incipit: Blak be thy bandis and thy wede also | Thou soroufull book of mat(er) disesparit
Explicit: That hast within so many a soroufull claus(e) | Suich be thyne habyte as thou hast thy caus(e)
3. (fol. 119r)
Chauceres counsaling
Incipit: Flee from the pres and duell with suthfastness | Suffice vnto thy gude thoch It be small
Explicit: Wayue thy lust and lat thy goste the lede | And treuth the schall deliu(er) this is no drede
Final rubric: Explicit Chauceris counsaling
DIMEV 1326
4. (fol. 119r)
Quod Chaucere
Incipit: Richt as pou(er)t causith sobirnes | And febilnes enforcith contenence
Explicit: Thare is no more p(er)ilous pestilence | Than hie estate gevin vnto schrewis
Final rubric: Quod Chaucere
DIMEV 4490
5. (fols. 119v-120r)
Deuise proues and eke humilytee
Incipit: DEuise prowes and eke humylitee | That maidnys hath In euery wise
Explicit: Tharfor thou from the Ioye of p(ar)adise | And thyne of spring was banyst for thy vice
Final rubric: Q(uo)d Chaucere quhen he was ryt auisit

Fol. 120r contains a note of the birth of Prince James IV in 1472 in Latin.

DIMEV 1123
6. (fols. 120v-129v)
John Lydgate, A Complaynt of the Black Knight
Incipit: In Maye quhan fflora the fresche Lusty queene | The suyl hath cladde In rede quhite grene aricht
Explicit: Exiled be(e)n þ(a)t I may no(ch)t atteyne | Recou(er) to fynd of my(ne) adu(er)sitee
Final rubric: here endith the maying and disport | of Chaucere
DIMEV 2541
7. (fols. 130r-131v)
Thomas Hoccleve, Mother of God
Incipit: Moder of god and virgyne vndefouled | O blisfull quene of quenys Emperice
Explicit: Be In my hert now and eu(er)more | And of my saule wesche away the sore
Final rubric: Explicit or(aci)o Galfridi Chaucere
DIMEV 3568
8. (fols. 132r-136r)
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Complaint of Mars
Incipit: Gladith ȝe foules of the morow gay | O phebus rising among the rewis rede
Explicit: That neu(er) did bot al way gentilness | kithith therfor(e) to hir sum kyndness
DIMEV 1518
9. (fols. 136r-137r)
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Complaint of Venus
Rubric: The compleynt of venus folowith
Incipit: There nys non(e) so hie confort to my pleasance | Quhen þ(a)t I am In any heuyness
Explicit: To folowe word all the curiositee | Off Graunso(u)n the best þ(a)t makith France
Final rubric: Q(uo)d Galfrid(us) Chaucere
DIMEV 5590
10. (fols. 137v-138r)
Wiliam Dunbar, Ane Ballat of Our Lady
Incipit: O hie Emperice and quene celestiall | Princes eterne and flour Immaculate
Explicit: In eu(er)y place blissit mote ȝe be | Et(er)naly abufe all erdly wicht
Final rubric: Q(uo)d Chaucere
DIMEV 3933
11. (fol. 138r)
This worldly joy is only fantasy
Incipit: This warldly Ioy Is onely fantasy | of quhich non(e) erdly wicht ca(n) be c(on)tent
Explicit: P(re)sume no(ch)t gevin þ(a)t god has done bot lent | Within schort tyme the quhiche he thinkis to craue
Final rubric: Leaulte vault Richesse
DIMEV 5799
12. (fols. 138v-141v)
John Clanvowe (?), The Cuckoo and the Nightingale
Incipit: The lorde of loue a.a. benedicitee | How mighty and how grete a lord Is he
Explicit: And though thou be for wo In poynt to dye | That schall full mikle lessing of thy pyne
DIMEV 5299
13. (fols. 142r-152r)
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls
Incipit: Off vsage olde quhat for loue quhat for lore | On bokis red I oft as I ȝou told
Explicit: The lyf so schort the craft so long to lere | To full connyng I can no(ch)t cum suppose I rede all ȝere
Final rubric: Here endis the P(ar)liament of Foulis | Q(uo)d Galfride Chaucere
DIMEV 5373
14. (fols. 152v-191v)
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women
Rubric: Here begyn(n)is the legendis of ladyes
Incipit: A thowsand tymes haue I herd me(n) telle | That there is Ioy In heuen and peyne In hell
Explicit: Till sche was take and fettred In p(ri)so(u)n | This tale is said to this conclusio(u)n
Final rubric: And thus ended Chaucere | the legendis of ladyis
15. (fols. 192r-211r)
James I of Scotland (?), The Kingis Quair
Rubric: Heirefter followis the quair Maid be | King James of scotland þe first | callit þe kingis quair and | Maid q(ua)n his Ma(jeste) wes In | England
Incipit: Heigh In the hevynnis figure circulere | The rody sterres twynklyng as the fyre (fol. 191v) | Explicit etc. etc.
Explicit: I reco(m)mend my buk In lynis sevin | And eke thair saulis vnto þe blisse of hevin Amen
Final rubric: Quod Iacobus primus scotor(um) rex Illustrissimus

MS Arch. Selden. B. 24 is the sole surviving witness to The Kingis Quair.The rubric on fol.191v was added later, c.16th century.

DIMEV 2024
16. (fols. 211v-217r)
Thomas Hoccleve, Letter of Cupid
Incipit: Cupido vnto quhois com(m)andement | The gentill kynred of goddis onely
Explicit: The ȝere of god Ioyfull and Iocund | A thousand foure hundrith & secund &c.
Final rubric: Explicit &c.
DIMEV 1092
17. (fols. 217r-219r)
The Lay of Sorrow
Incipit: Befor my deth this lay of sorow I sing | With carefull melodye and entunyng
Explicit: Of him the quhich enheryitt hath þe Rent | Of fair langage to all þe Worldis ere
Final rubric: Explicit &c.
18. (fols. 219r-221v)
The Lusfaris Complaint
Incipit: Be cause that teres waym(en)ting and playntee | Scloknis the fyre that langour doith encresse
Explicit: And sa fer as I c(un)nyng haue to writt | This Is my bittir langoure and Distresse
Final rubric: Here Endis the lufaris complaint &c.
19. (fols. 221v-228v)
Quare of Ielusy
Rubric: Here begin(n)ith þe quare of Ielusy | a vise ȝe gudely folkis and see
Incipit: This lusty maii the quhich all tend(re) flouris | By nature nurisith with hir hote schouris
Explicit: In to this erth syne w(i)t(h) þe falouschip of hell | In body and soule eternaly mot Duelle
Final rubric: Explicit quod Auchen(?)
DIMEV 5729.3
20. (fol. 229r)
My friend if thou will be a servitor
Incipit: My frende gif thou will be a s(er)uiture | Thou tak gude and lere this document
Explicit: yne array mak na comp(ar)iso(u)n | ⟨My⟩ frend gif thou will be a s(er)uitoure
DIMEV 3601
21. (fol. 229v)
Thy beginning is barren brittleness
Incipit: Thy begyning Is baran(e) brutelness | W(i)t(h) wrechitnes wofull away thou w⟨endis⟩
Explicit: And this but contrair tha | Quho leste here traist
DIMEV 5934
22. (fol. 229v)
Man be also merry as those
Incipit: Man be als mery as tho
Explicit: Or thame thy wynnyng han
DIMEV 3337
23. (fols. 231v-230r)
O lady I shall me dress with busy cure
Incipit: O lady I schall me dres w(ith) besy cure | W(ith) hart and mynd(e) for to do observaunc(e)
Explicit: languor þ(a)t is my hart sa neir | ⟨Haf⟩ piete of me cative bond & thrall
DIMEV 3952
24. (fol. 230r)
Go fro my window
Incipit: ⟨Go fro my⟩ window go go fro my window | ⟨wi⟩ndow si⟨r⟩ quho ys at ʒour w(in)dow
Explicit: with hir go
DIMEV 6884

Quatrain in Irish, fol. 231v

Language(s): Irish

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: Paper. Barker-Benfield lists the watermark-content of every leaf in the Appendix to the facsimile (see pp.36-41). The distribution of watermarks confirms that the manuscript was made up of quires of bifolia before the gutters were trimmed. Seven watermark patterns have been identified, all of which can be matched in Briquet and/or Piccard to common patterns used in France, Germany, and the Low Countries in the late fifteenth century. These are (as cited by Barker-Benfield): ‘Lettre Y’ (Briquet, 9198), ‘Armoiries. Trois Fleurs de Lis posées deux et une. – Armoiries de France’ (Briquet, 1808), ‘Armoiries. Troid Fleurs de Lis … with letter t’ (Briquet, 1739-41), ‘Chien’ (Briquet, 3627), ‘Coeur’ (Briquet, 4324), ‘Armoiries. Trois Fleurs de Lis … without supplementary external designs’ (Briquet, 1806), and ‘Étoile’ (Briquet, 6056).
Extent: iv (modern endleaves) + 231 + ii (modern endleaves, foliated 232-233)
Dimensions (leaf): c.260 × c.175 mm.
Foliation: modern pencil, but not uniform; perhaps done at two stages: initially every fifth leaf in larger numerals, and later the intervening leaves. Both were presumably done before 1993, when the manuscript was disbound for conservation and the collation error of fols. 230-231 was corrected.


18 quires: 116 (fols. 1-15, 2 leaves cancelled, first leaf added), 2-616, 7-912, 1012-1 (fols. 131-141, twelfth leaf cancelled), 1112 (fols. 142-148, 150-154, from foliation error rather than cancelled leaf), 12-1312, 1412-1 (fols. 179-189, twelfth leaf cancelled), 1512, 1612-1 (fols. 202-212, twelfth leaf cancelled), 1712, 185 (fols. 225-229 are non-conjugate leaves), 2 leaves (fols. 230-231). See B. C. Barker-Benfield, ‘Appendix: Technical Notes and Collation Charts’, in The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer and the Kingis Quair: a Facsimile of Bodleian Library, MS Arch. Selden. B. 24 (Cambridge: 1997). There are no visible catchwords or signatures.

The collation of fols. 225-229 is complicated by the fact that all five leaves are singletons, which implies that (unless the structure was abnormal) their other halves are now missing. If the regularity of the 12-leaf quire structure was continued, the eighteenth quire may also be lacking two more leaves (although as it is the last quire these may have been cancelled). Furthermore, fol. 229 is distinct in ink colour, ductus, and hand, however the inner margin shows that it has been positioned with fols. 225-229 since at least the time of the damp damage. Fols. 230 and 231 were incorrectly ordered prior to disbinding in 1993: the folios were shuffled, and fol. 231 was positioned back to front so that the gutter became the external edge. The correct order is fols. 231v, 231r, 230r, 230v. B.C. Barker-Benfield shows that damage on fol. 230v suggests it was once the last flyleaf before the back cover (1997).


The manuscript is now unbound and each leaf encapsulated independently in Melinex. Extensive damp damage can be seen in the gutters and lower cover. There are further patches of brown or black mould, most severe after fol. 99. The pages show signs of heavy handling, and early stitched repairs can be seen on the lower edges. Where not affected, the paper is generally strong and in good condition.


In the first scribe’s stint, the vertical left text frame is generally ruled in red up to the change of hand on fol. 209v. Curiously, the first scribe’s ruling stops at the end of his stint mid-page, at the foot of the second stanza. In the second scribe’s stint, the vertical left text frame and the top horizontal margin are ruled in plummet. The text is not ruled throughout. The number of lines to a page varies from 32 to 43. Pricking trimmed.


The manuscript was copied by two main scribes, both writing in a secretary book hand (see M.B. Parkes, plate 13.ii, English Cursive Book Hands 1250-1500 (Oxford, 1969; rpt. 1980)).

The first scribe wrote fols. 1-209v, stopping halfway down the page at line 1239 of The Kingis Quair, and probably also fol. 229r (see below). The first leaf of the manuscript is a cancel and replaces the original (presumably lost) first page of Troilus and Criseyde. Whether this leaf was written by the same scribe at a later date or a third scribe has been the topic of debate (see R.K. Root, 1914; W.A. Craige, 1940). The identity of this scribe has been suggested by George Neilson (1899) as the Scottish scribe James Graye, although this has been refuted. The first scribe’s hand has been identified in three other Scottish manuscripts: National Library of Scotland, MS acc. 9253; St John’s College, Cambridge, MS G.19 (187); and an unnamed late fifteenth-century Latin and Scots manuscript in the possession of the Right Honourable the Earl of Dalhousie.

The second scribe wrote fols. 209v-228v. The identity of this scribe has been linked with ‘V. de F.’ whose name appears in Part VI of Cambridge University Library, MS Kk.1.5, but this is unconfirmed. The hand of fol. 229 closely resembles the first scribe, and potentially once belonged to a now lost quire which was originally bound earlier in the manuscript.

The short poems on fols. 231v-230r are in another hand (or hands) to the main scribes.


(fol. 1r) A historiated initial, seven lines high, containing four figures (two male, two female) in the foreground of a green field with a figure pointing with a golden speer from above. Behind the figures is the walls of a city. One of the figures is labelled ‘Troylus’ and another ‘Cr[ ]’ in gold.

There are 21 demi-vinets (or bar-borders) across the manuscript which include penwork tracery, gold studding, blue acanthus leaves, strawberries, and floral shapes in blue and gold. The majority include birds. The demi-vinets mark significant points of division between texts and within Troilus and Criseyde: fols. 1v, 41v, 67r, 91v, 111v, 120v, 132r, 134r, 137v, 138v, 152v, 192r, 111r, 163r, 166r, 172v, 177r, 180r, 185r, and 187v.

Decorated initials appear at the beginning of Books III-V of Troilus and Criseyde, with shades of blue wash on a gilt background infilled with florals. More simplistic initials appear at the beginning of five texts, once within Troilus and Criseyde, and at the beginning of each legend in The Legend of Good Women. These are characterised by a gilded and quartered design in purple and blue.

Ascenders are occasionally decorated, perhaps by a later hand. The arms of Henry, 3rd Lord Sinclair appear on fol. 118v.


The text of Troilus and Criseyde has been extensively annotated by multiple hands, and the margins contain some glosses in the main scribe’s hand. Some (see fol. 111v) are accommodated in the demi-vinet, suggesting they were present before decoration.

A note on fol. 120r by the first scribe dates and locates the manuscript: ‘Natius principis n(ost)ri Iacobi quarti anno do(imi)ni Mmo iiiic | lxxiio xvii die me(nsis) marcii vi(delicet) in festo sancti pat(ri)cii confessor(is) | in monasterio sancta crucis prope Edinburgh’.

Fols. 231v and 230v have been annotated with various names, and fol. 231v notably contains two lines of a Gaelic inscription.


Prior to its disbinding in 1993, the manuscript was bound in seventeenth-century calfskin which was re-backed in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Disbinding revealed that the seventeenth century binding was not a conventional sewn binding, but rather comprised a series of broad horizontal slots which had been cut in the paper and filled with glue in order to attach lengths of cord. This technique was necessary as the quires had been trimmed on all four sides (due to damp damage) and thus were no longer attached at the fold.

The manuscript is currently preserved as a sequence of detached singletons, each independently encapsulated in Melinex, and ordered following the hypothetical arrangement of the original quires.


Origin: after c. 1489 ; Scottish

Provenance and Acquisition

The manuscript appears to have been compiled for Henry, Lord Sinclair (d. 1513) (created lord Sinclair in 1489), whose arms appear on fol. 118v and whose ownership is noted on fol. 230v: ‘liber Henrici domini Sinclar’. Further evdience for dating is the note on fol. 120r that King 'James IV' (reigned from 1488) was born in 1472.

The manuscript likely remained in the Sinclair family for some time, as the names ‘Elezebeth synclar’ (fol. 231r) and ‘Jen Sinclar’ (fol. 231v) are also recorded.

Other names present include ‘Agnes findlason’, ‘Mr John Duncan’, ‘patrik schiner’, ‘Lawrence smolo’, ‘villem crusstance’, and ‘William’ – possibly a Sinclair. The name ‘Donald Gorm’ on fol. 231v could pertain to the late sixteenth-century chief of the MacDonalds of Sleat in Skye, however this name could also represent a form of ‘album amicorum’. This page also contains the note ‘Charmois 1592’.

John Selden: in his collection on his death in 1654.

Acquired by the Bodleian Library either in 1654 or in September 1659.

Record Sources

Description by Charlotte Ross (September 2022). Previously described in the Summary Catalogue:


To ensure its preservation, access to this item is restricted, and readers are asked to work from reproductions and published descriptions as far as possible. If you wish to apply to see the original, please click the request button above. When your request is received, you will be asked to contact the relevant curator outlining the subject of your research, the importance of this item to that research, and the resources you have already consulted.

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (7 images from 35mm slides)


    Printed descriptions:

    The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer and The Kingis Quair: A Facsimile of Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Arch. Selden. B. 24, ed. Julia Boffey and A.S.G. Edwards, with an Appendix by B.C. Barker-Benfield (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1997)
    Brian Ó Cuiv, Catalogue of Irish Language Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and Oxford College Libraries, 2 vols (Dublin, 2001–3), I.319–20
    T. S. Miller, ‘Chaucer Abroad, Chaucer at Home: MS Arch. Selden B. 24 as the ‘Scottish Ellesmere’, The Chaucer Review 47:1 (2012), 25-47

    Online resources:

Last Substantive Revision

2022-09: New description by Charlotte Ross.