John Lydgate, The Siege of Troy

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 1
  • Dates of Creation
      Mid 15th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Middle English
  • Physical Description
      1 volume. ii + 174 + iii folios. Dimensions: 450 x 325 mm. Collation: 1-218, 22 six (ff. 169-74). Medium: vellum. Binding: purple velvet-covered boards, rebacked in the 19th century in purple morocco; single ornate gilt catchplate on foredge of upper board (clasp and hinge missing).

Scope and Content

A richly-decorated mid fifteenth-century manuscript of John Lydgate's Siege of Troy, containing numerous illuminations, with floriated borders, a half-page miniature at the beginning of each of the five books, and 64 other paintings.

Contents: John Lydgate, Siege of Troy, ed. H. Bergen, Lydgate's Troy book, A.D. 1412-20, 4 vols (1906-35): see Bibliography below. This copy is collated by Bergen as Cr. and is described in vol. 4, pp. 29-36. Index of Middle English verse, no. 2516/18. Bergen notes a special textual resemblance to Bodleian Library, Douce 230, which also contains the verses 'Pees makith plente...' (Index of Middle English verse, no. 2742: printed by Bergen, vol. 4, p. 26). f. 174 is blank except for the arms of the Carent family on the recto.

Script: Gothic bastard secretary with anglicana influence (a), by two hands. The second hand begins at f. 113r, col. b, line 27, at the words 'And of my herte' (Bergen edition, vol. 4, line 189): in this and the next 69 lines (lines 189-257) the new scribe uses the punctus elevatus as a mark of punctuation within the line, instead of //. Written space: 305 x 200 mm. 2 columns, 44 lines at first, 43 from f. 89 (beginning of quire 11) and 45 from f. 113 (beginning of quire 14).

Secundo folio: To bathe.

Decoration: There are five pictures in the text space before the prologue and books 2-5 (ff. 1r, 28v, 78v, 112r, 151v: continuous borders on these pages), and more or less large pictures in 64 margins. Among the miniatures are a painting of Lydgate presenting his work to Henry V on f. 1r; a detailed painting of the 'Wheel of Fortune' on f. 28v; the funeral of Hector on f. 109v; and the arms of the Carent family on a red ground hatched in gold, with floral ornament and a frame, on f. 173r (this leaf, if original, is not likely to be in its original position). The principal initials, other than those on the five pages listed above, occur at irregular intervals and not always at an obvious point: book 1, lines 1, 429, 623, 723, 1015, 1197, 1345, 1513, 2373, 2723, 3201, 3431, 3589, 3721, 3907, 4069; book 2, lines 203, 479, 1067, 1323, 1697, 1903, 2063, 2305, 3319, 3755, 4097, 4255, 4509, 5067, 5391, 8015; book 3, lines 821, 2365, 2667, 3323, 3755, 4077, 4889, 5423; book 4, lines 343, 545, 1223, 1701, 2029, 2401, 2525, 3107, 3271, 3363, 4281, 4637, 6023, 6731; book 5, lines 217, 697, 1011, 1207, 1665, 1839, 2111, 2315, 2623, 2937. The decoration in the margins of these 64 pages is continuous, consisting partly of a picture which takes up the lower margin and often some part of the side margins and partly of border work like that on the five pages where the borders are continuous. The pictures are listed and described by Bergen, vol. 4, pp. 32-6. J.J.G. Alexander notes (p. 169) that the artist is close in style to William Abell, an important mid-fifteenth century English illuminator.

Description derived from N.R. Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 398-9. By permission of Oxford University Press.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Lydgate (1370?-1451?), poet, was born at Lydgate, near Newmarket, Suffolk. A monk of the Benedictine monastery at Bury St Edmunds, he was well educated and had literary ambitions. He was an admirer of Geoffrey Chaucer and a friend to his son Thomas. A prolific writer of poems, allegories, fables and romances, Lydgate was regarded as the unofficial court poet in the reigns of Henry V and the early part of Henry VI. His most famous works are The Troy Book (composed 1412-1420), The Siege of Thebes (1420?-1422) and The Fall of Princes (c.1431-1438/9).

Lydgate's Troy Book, or Siege of Troy, was one of the most ambitious attempts in medieval vernacular poetry to recount the story of the Trojan war. He began composing the poem in October 1412 on commission from Henry, Prince of Wales (the future King Henry V), with the express purpose of ensuring that the great epic about the Trojan War could be read in the English vernacular. He completed it in 1420. The work is a translation and expansion of Guido delle Colonne's Historia destructionis Troiae, a Latin prose account written in 1287 but based, without acknowledgement, on Benont de Sainte-Maure's Old French Roman de Troie (c.1160). Troy Book presents the full narrative and mythographic sweep that the Middle Ages expected for the story of Troy's tragic downfall. Though Lydgate wrote the poem some three decades after Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, it furnishes the essential background that educated medieval readers would have brought to Chaucer's poem and to Chaucer's source, Boccaccio's Filostrato. It is background as well for the myths of origins adopted by medieval nations and regions, which claimed descent from the heroes driven to new lands by Troy's fall.

Source: Douglas Gray, 'Lydgate, John (c.1370-1449/50?)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). By permission of Oxford University Press:

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by Mrs Enriqueta Rylands in 1901 from James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford, and later transferred to the John Rylands Library.

Custodial History

(1) Carent family. The coat of arms on f. 173r has been identified as being that of a member of the Carent family, a 15th-century Somerset gentry family of Lancastrian political affiliation. The individual could possibly be William Carent (1395?-1476), of Toomer in Somerset, who was a retainer of the Duke of Somerset, and served as an M.P. and occasionally sheriff for both Dorset and Somerset. Other possibilities are William's lesser-known brother, John Carent 'Senior' (d. 1478), or in the next generation, William's son John Carent 'Junior' (1425?-1483), who also served as sheriff of Somerset and Dorset. See J.J.G. Alexander in the Bibliography below.

(2) Sir Humphrey Talbot. Clark-Maxwell (see Bibliography below) argues that this is the copy of the 'Seege of Troy' mentioned in 1492 in the will of Sir Humphrey Talbot (d. 1494) and in 1503 in the will of his executor, Thomas Booth, who left it to his executor, Sir John Mundy (goldsmith and lord mayor of London in 1522), failing the daughter of Dr Roger Marschall, physician of London (Emden, A biographical register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500, p. 392: he died in 1477), to whom Talbot had bequeathed it.

(3) On folio 174 recto is written in a 16th-century hand 'Hugh Morgan of Monmouth in the marches of Walys'.

(4) Mundy family of Markeaton Hall, Derbyshire. There is an inscription on f. 173v, which, according to Longman's Bibliotheca anglo-poetica of 1815 (see Bibliography below), p. 186, reads: 'Mem. that I John Mundy Knight have yevyn to my Welbelovyd Son Vyncent Mundy this p[re]sent booke of the Seig of troy the xxvth Day of May Ao. xxv. nostri Regis Henr. viii. [1533] and delyvred it to him wt myne owne hands wt Godds blessyng & myne.' This inscription is now almost illegible even under ultra-violet light, perhaps due to the application of a chemical reagent to enhance the ink in the 19th century. Also inscribed on f. 174r: 'Francys Mundy of Markeyton, Esquire, September 18th, 1615' [Francis Mundy, great-grandson of Sir John, sheriff of Derbyshire in 1617]; 'Adryan Mundy'; and 'Adryan Mundy is my name and with my penn I writ the same and if My penne had bene anye' (incomplete) [presumed to be Adrian Mundy (1608-77), third son of the above Francis]. For the Mundy family see Burke's, Genealogical and heraldic history of the commoners of Great Britain and Ireland (1833-8), vol. 1, pp. 25-7.

(5) John Somers, Baron Somers. Seymour de Ricci and Ker suggest that this is likely to be the copy of the Siege of Troy entered as Poet. 7 in the catalogue of manuscripts of John, Baron Somers (1651-1716) (British Library, Harley 7191) and sold for £8 15s in the Somers-Jekyll sale, 26 February 1739, lot 416: 'John Lydgate's Poem on the golden Fleece and Siege of Troy, finely written on Vellum, and illuminated, being the original Book presented by the Author to K. Henry V'.

(6) Thomas Barrett of Lee, Kent. Clark-Maxwell argues that this is the copy of the Siege of Troy referred to in a letter to the owner of Markeaton Hall from Samuel Pegge in 1786, who saw the manuscript in the possession of Thomas Barrett of Lee, Kent.

(7) Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, booksellers. Described in Bibliotheca anglo-poetica: or, a descriptive catalogue of a rare and rich collection of early English poetry: in the possession of Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown (1815), item 413, £350. According to Seymour de Ricci, nearly the whole of the collection had been obtained by Longman from Thomas Hill (1760-1840), who had purchased the large poetical library of Thomas Park (1759-1834). The manuscript may have remained unsold in 1818, for Clark-Maxwell cites a letter to the owner of Markeaton Hall from H. Smedley who saw it in 1818 when it was still with Longman. It appears for sale again in Bibliotheca selecta: a catalogue of the library of an eminent collector [i.e. James Midgeley], removed from the north of England; comprising a rare and rich assemblage of old English poetry, history, topography, illustrated books, as well as splendid, rare, and useful books in general, which will be sold by auction by Mr. Saunders... on Monday, February 16th, 1818, and five following days (London: T. Bensley and Sons, [1818]). This catalogue notes the associations with the 'Munday family' and cites the Longman catalogue above. As was common practice at the time, Robert Saunders doubtless brought together a number of properties for sale under the cloak of a single collection.

(8) Henry Perkins. Perkins sale at Sotheby's, 3 June 1873, lot 634, sold to Bernard Quaritch for £1,320 on his own account.

(9) Bernard Quaritch. Catalogues 332 (1880), no. 47, and 343 (1882), no. 7375 (£1,720).

(10) Lord Crawford. Bought from Quaritch by James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford, in 1882: Barker, pp. 256-7, 278.

Related Material

The JRUL also holds English MS 2, a manuscript copy of John Lydgate's Fall of Princes (GB 133 Eng MS 2).


J.J.G. (Jonathan James Graham) Alexander, 'William Abell "Lymnour" and 15th century English Illumination', in Artur Rosenauer and Gerold Weber, Kunsthistorische Forschungen, Otto Påcht zu seinem 70, Geburtstag (Salzburg: Residenz Verlag, 1972), p. 169, n. 35, for information on the Carent family and coat of arms.

Nicolas Barker, Bibliotheca Lindesiana: the lives and collections of Alexander William, 25th Earl of Crawford and 8th Earl of Balcarres and James Ludovic, 26th Earl of Crawford and 9th Earl of Balcarres (London: Quaritch for the Roxburghe Club, 1977), pp. 256-7 and 278, for information on Lord Crawford's acquisition of the manuscript.

Henry Bergen (ed.), Lydgate's Troy book, A.D. 1412-20, Early English Text Society Extra Series, vols xcvii, ciii, cvi, cxxvi (London: Early English Text Society, 1906-35); the present manuscript is described in vol. 4, pp. 29-36.

Carleton Brown and Rossell Hope Robbins, The index of Middle English verse (New York: printed for the Index Society by Columbia University Press, 1943); the present manuscript is no. 2516/18.

John Burke, A genealogical and heraldic history of the commoners of Great Britain and Ireland (London: published for Henry Colburn by R. Bentley, etc., 1833-8).

W.G. Clark-Maxwell, 'An inventory of the contents of Markheaton Hall made by Vincent Mundy esq. in the year 1545', Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, vol. 51 (1930), pp. 117-40.

Douglas Gray, 'Lydgate, John (c.1370-1449/50?)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004):

Stuart Handley, 'Somers, John, Baron Somers (1651-1716)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004):

N.R. (Neil Ripley) Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 398-9.

Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, Bibliotheca anglo-poetica: or, a descriptive catalogue of a rare and rich collection of early English poetry: in the possession of Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown (London: printed by T. Davison for the proprietors, 1815), pp. 185-7 containing a description of the manuscript.

Derek Pearsall, John Lydgate (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970), for information on John Lydgate and his Troy Book.

Seymour de Ricci, English collectors of books & manuscripts (1530-1930) and their marks of ownership (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930); see pp. 90-1 on Longman and Thomas Hill.

Margaret Roseman Scherer, The legends of Troy in art and literature, 2nd edition (New York: Phaidon Press for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1964).

H.J. Spencer, 'Perkins, Henry (bap. 1777, d. 1855)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004): .