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English Manuscripts

Date range: 14th-20th centuries

Medium: Manuscript

Number of items: Over 1,500 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 41 Middle English manuscripts, dating from the mid-14th century to the beginning of the 16th. Among the earliest items are:

  • A richly-illuminated copy of John Lydgate’s Siege of Troyfrom the mid-15th 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-15th 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 15th century (English MS 63);
  • A late 15th-century manuscript of the complete Canterbury Tales along with other verse texts (English MS 113);
  • Three manuscripts of The Pricke of Conscience, traditionally attributed to the mystic Richard Rolle de Hampole, from the late 14th and early 15th 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 14th and 15th centuries (English MSS 3, 75-92);
  • Six copies of the Brutchronicle, from the mid-14th century to the second half of the 15th (English MSS 102-105, 206, 207);
  • A late 14th-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);
  • Other devotional works, legal texts and medical treatises, such as On Urines (English MS 1310).

The most significant collections of later material have individual entries in the A-Z list.

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.

Further information:

  • Catalogues available online via ELGAR.
  • Published outline catalogues: M. Tyson, Handlist of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library (Manchester, 1929). PDF version available online via Manchester Digital Collections; and additional volumes by M. Tyson (1935), F. Taylor (1951), and F. Taylor and G.A. Matheson (1977).
  • Published outline catalogue: F. Taylor, Supplementary Handlist of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library (Manchester, 1937), pp. 21-31. PDF version available online via Manchester Digital Collections.
  • The Middle English manuscripts are catalogued in detail in N. R. Ker, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, III, Lampeter - Oxford (Oxford, 1983), pp. 398-428. Copy available via Special Collections reading rooms.


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