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English Manuscripts

Date range: 14th-20th centuries.

Over 1,300 collections or individual items, comprising historical, biblical, devotional, literary and genealogical texts, and collections of letters and papers relating to military, political, industrial, social and local history, literature, art, and the history of Dissent.

There are forty-one Middle English manuscripts, dating from the mid-fourteenth century to the beginning of the sixteenth.

Among the earliest items are:

  • a richly-illuminated copy of John Lydgate’s Siege of Troy from the mid-fifteenth century, which includes a miniature showing the author presenting his work to Henry V (English ms 1)
  • a deluxe manuscript of Lydgate’s translation of Boccaccio’s Falle of Pryncys, with heavily decorated borders, mid-fifteenth century (English ms 2)
  • a two-leaf fragment of the so-called Oxford Manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, containing a pen-and-ink drawing of the Miller on horseback, later fifteenth century (English ms 63)
  • a late fifteenth-century manuscript of the complete Canterbury Tales along with other verse texts (English ms 63)
  • three manuscripts of The Pricke of Conscience, traditionally attributed to the mystic Richard Rolle de Hampole, from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries (English mss 50, 51, 90)
  • a very extensive collection – nineteen items in total – of manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible or of parts of the Bible, and Wycliffite treatises such as The Pore Caitif, written in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (English mss 3, 75–92)
  • six copies of the Brut chronicle, from the mid fourteenth century to the second half of the fifteenth (English mss 102–105, 206, 207)
  • a late fourteenth-century copy of the Forme of Cury (‘proper method of cookery’), a recipe book compiled by the master chefs of Richard II, in its original vellum binding (English ms 7); and other devotional works, legal texts and medical treatises such as On Urines (English ms 1310)

The most significant collections of later material are described individually in this Guide.

They include:

There are also several miscellaneous autograph collections containing many hundreds of holograph letters from (primarily 19th-century) statesmen, theologians and churchmen, artists, literary figures, men of letters and members of the nobility.

Finding aids

  • Catalogues available online via ELGAR.
  • M. Tyson, Handlist of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library (Manchester, 1929), and additional volumes by M. Tyson (1935), F. Taylor (1951), and G.A. Matheson and F. Taylor (1977).
  • F. Taylor, Supplementary Handlist of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library (Manchester, 1937), pp. 21-31.
  • Card index of autograph collections.
  • Middle English manuscripts described in detail in N.R. Ker, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, III, Lampeter–Oxford (Oxford, 1983), pp. 398–428.


The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

Image collections

View on-line high-resolution images of the English manuscripts, via Luna Insight, the Library's image management system.