Elizabeth I's New Year's Gifts of 1559

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MSS 117 and 117a
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Middle English  and Latin
  • Physical Description
      Extent of unit of description: Roll: 3470 x 428 mm; volume: 310 x 200 mm. 1 roll and 1 volume (35 folios); Medium of roll: vellum (8 membranes).

Scope and Content

The roll contains on one side a list of gifts presented to the Queen, and on the other side a list of gifts made by the Queen. The signature 'Elizabeth R' appears at the head and foot of both sides of the roll. Rollers are attached to the head and foot of the roll. Also included in the collection is a transcript of the roll (English MS 117a) probably made by its former owner, Frederick W. Joy.

Administrative / Biographical History

The custom of making gifts to the sovereign at New Year dates back at least to the thirteenth century; according to the English chronicler Matthew Paris, Henry III followed the Roman precedent of extorting New Year's gifts from his subjects. In later reigns these became 'voluntary', but none the less expected of those who wished to curry royal favour. The custom reached its apogee in the reign of Elizabeth I, when the queen's courtiers rivalled each other in the extravagance of their gifts. The presents were made not only by courtiers, the nobility, and the great officers of state, but also by the lower rungs of the Royal Household, from physicians down to Her Majesty's dustman. The presents included sums of money, costly articles of ornament for the Queen's person or apartments, caskets studded with precious stones, valuable necklaces, bracelets, gowns, embroidered mantles, smocks, petticoats, looking-glasses, fans, silk stockings, and a great variety of other articles. In Edward VI's time, if not earlier, it was also usual for the sovereign to give rewards to those who presented New Year's gifts, and Elizabeth was said to have been most conscientious in this regard.

The custom of offering New Year's gifts to the reigning sovereign became obsolete during the Commonwealth (1649-1660) and was not revived at the Restoration.

Frederick Walker Joy, only son of Walter Joy of Leeds, gentleman, matriculated at Oriel College, Oxford, on 20 April 1871, aged 18; he gained his BA in 1875, MA in 1877. He was ordained a deacon at Ely Cathedral in 1876, and a priest in 1877. He held a series of curacies between 1876 and 1881, when he was appointed an assistant minor canon and librarian of Ely Cathedral. He served as rector of Bentham, Lancashire (1884-93); rector of Tatham, Lancashire (1893-1901); vicar of Andover with Foxcote, Hampshire (1901-10); and rural dean of Andover (1905-1910). He published almost thirty articles in Notes and Queries between 1880 and 1893, and was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1882. His last appearance in Crockford's Clerical Directory is in the 1911 edition, when he was living in Winchester, and he is presumed to have died soon after.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by the John Rylands Library from the bookseller Percy Mordaunt Barnard of Royal Tunbridge Wells for £80 in December 1913.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, and John Hodgson, Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, with reference to:

  • Crockford's Clerical Directory (1911).
  • Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, part 2, 1715-1886 (Oxford: Parker and Co., 1891);

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MSS 117 and 117a).

Custodial History

Exhibited to the Society of Antiquaries by George Holmes on 21 October 1736; owned, before 1789, by Dr Osmund Beauvoir; probably owned in 1804 by John Nichols; J.G. Nichol's sale in December 1874, lot 2766; property of Rev. Frederick W. Joy; Sotheby's sale, 27 May 1887, lot 131; offered for sale by Messrs Ellis and Elvey, around 1890-5; purchased by P.M. Barnard at Sotheby's, December 1913.

Related Material

For a list of similar rolls of New Year's gifts, see A. Jefferies Collins, Jewels and plate of Queen Elizabeth I (London: 1955), p. 249.


Frederick W. Joy, a former owner of the roll, published a description with extensive extracts in 'Queen Elizabeth's new year's gifts', Notes and Queries, 6th series, vol. 9 (1884), pp. 241-2.

The provenance of the MS is rehearsed in A. Jefferies Collins, Jewels and plate of Queen Elizabeth I: the inventory of 1574, edited from Harley Ms. 1650 and Stowe Ms. 555 in the British Museum (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1955), p. 249.

The roll is cited in Janet Arnold, 'Elizabethan and Jacobean smocks and shirts', Wassum und Kostümkunde, 19 Band, Heft 2 (1977), pp. 89-110.