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French Manuscripts

Date range: 13th–19th centuries.

There are over 140 French manuscripts, comprising biblical, devotional, literary, historical, legal and genealogical works.

Twenty-eight of these pre-date the mid-sixteenth century, among them items of the first importance.  

Special mention should be made of:

  • a thirteenth-century Bible Historiée, or Bible picture book, containing forty-eight full-page images from Genesis (French ms 5)
  • an early thirteenth-century saints’ lives in verse and prose (French ms 6)
  • a copy of La Vie Seint Edmund le Rei by Denis Piramus, a twelfth-century monk of Bury St Edmunds, illustrated with forty-two lively drawings, late thirteenth or early fourteenth century (French ms 142)
  • a beautifully illuminated manuscript of the Lancelot del Lac, Queste and Mort Artu sections of the Arthurian romances, from the early fourteenth century (French ms 1)1
  • a fourteenth-century Salutations to the Virgin and Passion de Nostre Seigneur de Jésus Christ, with miniatures executed en grisaille (French ms 3)
  • a mid fourteenth-century manuscript of the Roman de la Rose of Guy de Lorris and Jean le Meun, from north-eastern France (French ms 66)
  • the Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine and other works of Guillaume de Deguileville, with many fine illustrations, from the early fifteenth century (French ms 2)
  • a mid fifteenth-century illustrated copy of the Grandes Chroniques de France ending in 1380 (French ms 62)
  • a handsome copy of books 1–5 of the Facta et Dicta Memorabilia by Valerius Maximus, with Latin commentary and French translation, early fifteenth century (French ms 63)
  • three fifteenth-century coutumiers, two of Brittany (French mss 58 and 74)  and one of Normandy (French ms 73)
  • a Mappemonde (world map) made in 1546 by the noted cartographer Pierre Desceliers of Arques near Dieppe (French ms 1*)
  • two fifteenth-century chronicle rolls recording popes, emperors, kings of France and kings of England (French mss 54 and 99), the latter measuring over seventeen metres in length and containing sixty-six roundels
  • an early sixteenth-century copy of Les Dits Moraux des Philosophes of Guillaume de Tignonville (French ms 65)

In addition there are several other medieval chronicles (thirteenth–fifteenth centuries); armorials of French, English, Irish and Scottish nobility; seventeenth- and eighteenth-century correspondence, including letters of Marie le Bailleul, Marquise d’Huxelles,  which shed light on the social and political history of France in the reign of Louis XIV; and newsletters, or gazettes manuscrites, and other records relating to the French Revolution.

1A third volume of this manuscript is now Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce 215, while three further volumes, formerly Phillipps manuscripts, were offered for sale by H.P. Kraus of New York in 1979 (catalogue 153); see Ker pp. 428–31.

Finding aids

  • M. Tyson, 'Handlist of the Collections of French and Italian Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 14 (1930), pp. 563-628.
  • F. Taylor, Supplementary Handlist of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library (Manchester, 1937), pp. 34-7.
  • John P. Tuck, 'French Studies: A Guide to Research Resources in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 72, no. 2 (1990), pp. 3-25.
  • Caroline S. Hull, 'Rylands MS French 5: the form and function of a medieval Bible picture book', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 77, no. 2 (1995), pp. 3-24.
  • Alison Stones, ‘The Grail in Rylands ms French 1 and its sister manuscripts’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 81, no. 2 (1999), pp. 55–95.


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