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French Manuscripts

Date range: 13th-19th centuries

Medium: Manuscript

Number of items: 145 items

There are over 140 French manuscripts, comprising Biblical, devotional, literary, historical, legal and genealogical works. Twenty-eight of these pre-date the mid-16th century, among them items of the first importance. Special mention should be made of:

  • A 13th-century Bible Historiée, or Bible picture book, containing 48 full-page images from Genesis (French MS 5);
  • An early 13th-century saints’ lives in verse and prose (French MS 6);
  • A copy of La Vie Seint Edmund le Rei by Denis Piramus, a 12th-century monk of Bury St Edmunds, illustrated with forty-two lively drawings, late 13th or early 14th 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 14th century, part of the monumental ‘Rochefoucauld Grail’ manuscript, one volume of which is now Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce 215, while three further volumes, formerly in the Ritman Library, were sold at Sotheby's on 7 December 2010 (French MS 1);
  • A 14th-century Salutations to the Virgin and Passion de Nostre Seigneur de Jésus Christ, with miniatures executed en grisaille (French MS 3);
  • A mid-14th-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 15th century (French MS 2);
  • A mid-15th-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 15th century (French MS 63);
  • Three 15th-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 15th-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 16th-century copy of Les Dits Moraux des Philosophes of Guillaume de Tignonville (French MS 65).

In addition there are several other medieval chronicles (13th–15th centuries); armorials of French, English, Irish and Scottish nobility; 17th- and 18th-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.

See also:

Further information:

  • Published catalogue: 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. PDF version available online via Manchester Digital Collections.
  • Published catalogue: F. Taylor, Supplementary Handlist of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library(Manchester, 1937), pp. 34-7. PDF version available online via Manchester Digital Collections.
  • French MSS 1-7, 54-58, 62-66, 71-75, 87-88, 98-99 and 142-143 are catalogued in detail in N. R. Ker, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, III, Lampeter - Oxford (Oxford, 1983), pp. 428-52. Copy available via Special Collections reading rooms.
  • 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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