Wycliffe Gospels

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 3
  • Dates of Creation
      Beginning 15th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Middle English
  • Physical Description
      1 volume. xii + 200 + iii folios (including a slip, f. 47), foliated 7-206 (modern foliation). Dimensions: 173 x 120 mm. Collation of ff. 7-206: 1-48, 58 plus a slip after 8 (f. 47), 6-168, 176 (ff. 136-41), 18-248, 2510 lacking 10, blank. Medium: vellum. Binding: full black morocco with silver ornaments and two silver clasps, 19th century.

Scope and Content

The four Gospels in the later Wycliffite version. According to the elaborate nineteenth-century title page, the manuscript was presented to Queene Elizabethe by ffrauncis Newport, Mdlx + Restored by James Dix, Bristol, Mdccclx.

Contents: Later version Wycliffite Gospels of Luke (f. 7r), John (71v), Matthew (119v) and Mark (172v). The usual prologue precedes each Gospel. The scribe missed all between 'Be glad wiþ' (Luke 15:6) and 'me. for' (Luke 15:9) and made good his error on a slip, f. 47.

Script: A fairly large textura. Written space: 130 x 82 mm. 2 columns, 24 lines.

Secundo folio: in his natyuyte.

Decoration: At the beginning of each book is a 4- or 5-line initial in blue and red ink with red penwork infill and flourishes.

Other features: Folios 1-6 contain a nineteenth-century transcription of what purports to be a long address to the Queen by Francis Newport. Fawtier considered this to be a fabrication (see Bibliography).

Description derived from N.R. Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 400-1. By permission of Oxford University Press.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Wycliffe, or Wyclif (1328-1384), was an Oxford-educated theologian and early proponent of reform in the Catholic Church during the 14th century. His teachings were characterised by a belief in the supremacy of Scripture over Church law and tradition and in this he is often seen as a precursor of the Protestant Reformation. He argued for the strict division of the secular and ecclesiastical, with secular government having jurisdiction over all temporal matters including Church property and churchmen who committed secular crimes. As a result of this the Papacy and the monastic orders were subject to particular censure; Wycliffe demanded the restriction of the former's interference in English ecclesiastical affairs and the straightforward abolition of the latter. His methods of publication went beyond the usual academic circles and he deliberately set out to win over the masses through polemical tracts and sermons written in English, including a complete translation of the Bible. Although never condemned as a heretic during his lifetime, supported as he was by many of the English aristocracy, most notably John of Gaunt, Wycliffe was declared a heretic posthumously at the Council of Constance in 1415. His teachings became the core doctrine of both the Lollards in England and the Hussites in Bohemia.

One of the most important beliefs held by Wycliffe and his followers was that the Bible ought to be the common possession of all Christians and should be made available for common use in the language of the people. Wycliffe set himself to the task and under his supervision a complete English translation of the Bible was undertaken. In spite of the zeal with which the hierarchy sought to destroy it, citing mistranslations and erroneous commentary, there remain in existence about 150 manuscripts, complete or partial, containing the translation in its revised form.

Source: Anne Hudson and Anthony Kenny, 'Wyclif , John (d. 1384)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). By permission of Oxford University Press: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/30122.

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) Allegedly presented by Francis Newport to Queen Elizabeth in 1560. Fawtier and Ker regard this claim as spurious.

(2) James Dix of Bristol. The manuscript is first noticed as part of the collection of James Dix esq. of Bristol (fl. 1870), who had an interest in early English Bibles.

(3) Lord Crawford. In 1861 Alexander William Crawford Lindsay, later 25th Earl of Crawford, purchased it from Dix for £250 through the offices of the bookseller Bernard Quaritch. See Barker, pp. 199-201.

Related Material

The JRUL holds several other manuscripts of the works of John Wycliffe:


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. 199-201, for information on Lord Crawford's acquisition of the manuscript.

Robert Fawtier, manuscript 'Catalogue of the English manuscripts in the John Rylands library'.

Anne Hudson and Anthony Kenny, 'Wyclif , John (d. 1384)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004): http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/30122.

N.R. (Neil Ripley) Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 400-1.

G.A. (Godfrey Allen) Lester, The index of Middle English prose. Handlist 2, a handlist of manuscripts containing Middle English prose in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester and Chetham's Library, Manchester (Cambridge: Brewer, 1985), p. 1.