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Van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross
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London, British Library, MS Harley 1701

Described by: Ryan Perry
Source: Microfilm analysis
Revision Date: June 1st, 2010


Robert Mannyng, Handlyng Synne, Meditations on the Supper, Robert of Sicily, and the Clementine Mass, late C14-C15.

Condition of the MS

The condition of the book is very good, with some darkening suggesting use, but relatively clean leaves in comparison with its sister MS, Bodley 415; the last leaf, containing the Clemintine Mass is much darkened, but the text is legible.

Number of Items


Title(s) of Pseudo-Bonaventuran Text(s)

Meditations on the Supper of our Lord and Hours of the Passion.


  • Item 1: Here begynneþ þe boke þat men clepen yn frenshe manuele pecche þe whych / Boke made yn frenshe Roberd Gros test . Bysshope of lyncolne, fol. 1r.
  • Item 2: Here begynneþ medytacyuns of þe soper / of our lord Ihesu and also of hys passyun / . and eke of þe peynes of hys swete modyr / mayden marye . þe whyche made yn latyn / Bonauenture Cardynal , 84r. [The layout is different from Bodley 415, with the incipit here in a single column].
  • Item 3: "Prynces proude þat beþ on pres/I wyl 3ow telle of þyng no les", 95r; there may have initially been plans to provide a title in the upper-margin for this text, but as with the initials, the plans were unfulfilled.
  • Item 4: Prefatory material to the mass begins, "Scis pipa clemens fecit et constituit (et?) collegio cur Cardinalib3 audientib3...."; the mass opens Recordare domine testamenti tui...", fol. 95v.



Secundo Folio

"The fyrst askyng ys yn oure boke".



  • Item 1: "But graunte vs alle vs self to 3eme / And yn oure shryfte Ihesu to queme } Amen"; in the middle of the page and at the centre of a 6-line space between the end of item 1 and the beginning of item 2 is " Here endyþ manuel pecche- in a plainly decorated tray device.
  • Item 2: "To þt pes pereles we prey þou vs bryng
    That leuyst & reynest wt outen ['am'- stroked through and under-dotted] endyng } Amen", 87v.
  • Item 3: "God graunte þat hyt so be / Amen . Amen . per charyte", 95r.

Languages of the MS

Items 1-3 are in English, the Clementine mass is in Latin.

Detailed Description of Contents

  • 1. Robert Mannyng, Handlyng Synne, fols 1-80r; this text has a number of small omissions caused by eye-skip. It was originally thought on paleographical grounds to be the oldest extant copy of the text, and for that reason was selected by Furnivall for his edition of the text.
  • 2. Meditations on the Supper of Our Lord and the Hours of the Passion, fols 80r-87v; as with item 1, this was initially thought to be the earliest copy of the Meditations and used by Cowper in the 1875 edition.
  • 3. Robert of Sicily

Estimated Date of Production

ca. 1400

Writing Support



ii + 95 fols; (the manuscript is foliated in pencil on each recto side).

Dimensions of Page and Writing Space

  • Leaf size: 280-285mm x 202-210 mm (approx.; courtesy of Joan Baker's online description)
  • Writing Space: 220 mm x 168 mm (approx.)


1-108, 117 (either one leaf has been trimmed from a quire of 8 without loss of text, or a singleton has been added to a quire of 6), 12 8.


Items 1-3 have 2 columns, 38 lines per page, with lines and columns ruled and some signs of pricking;

Rubrication/ Ordinatio


  • Initials: Handlyng Synne opens with a 3-line gold initial; major divisions, such as the beginning of the seven deadly sins, or seven-sacraments are announced with 3-line gold initials with purple pen work infilling and flourishes; subdivisions, such as the beginning of each commandment or deadly sin, are similarly signalled with a 3-line initial, blue with red flourishes.
    The Meditations begins with a 3-line initial, (originally gilt?) with purple pen work flourishes; subsequent initials at the top of sections are 2-line initials, blue with red-penwork; the first letter of each line is touched with red.
  • Titles, Headings, Rubrics: Running titles occur at the top of every side in Handlyng Synne and relate to the major divisions in the text- therefore, a title relating to each of the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly sins eg. The þrydde dedly synne [over column 1 and with a space between the text hanging over each column- all longer titles are written in this manner] ys Enuye" [over column 2], Sacrilege, the Seven Sacraments and Shrift; sub-headings in the section of HS on Shrift, and the sectional titles of Meditations on the Supper are in red ink; 'A Tale' (only rarely with paraph) marks the beginning of each of Mannyng's tales in the margin; there are 4 blue paraphs beside four of the five 'Points of the Supper' (a further mark seems to suggest a supervisor's intention that a paraph be placed by the other point).

    Robert of Sicily has spaces for initials with guide-letters, but they have not been completed.

    The Clementine mass is adorned with black 2-line unflourished initials, and paraphs within the text.
  • Other: Quire signatures are distinct from those in Bodley 415, in this case a small light hand that uses roman numerals- although neither manuscript retains any trace of catchwords; couplets are bracketed in red- initially the brackets are crude, boxy shapes, but within 20 or so leaves come to resemble those in the Bodley MS.



Number of Scribal Hands

  • A: fols 1-91v (items 1-2)
  • A*: fols 92r-95r (item 3)
  • B: fol. 95v (item 4).

Style of Hands

  • A: Anglicana
  • A*: Linne Mooney made a fascinating comparison of hands A and A* that it seems apt to include as part of this description:
      The hand of folios 1ra to 91vb is certainly early 15th century as you said. The hand of 92ra to 95ra is roughly contemporary with it. I'd be inclined to say that this is the same scribe as hand 1, just coming back to add the text some years later, though I suppose it could be someone of very similar training. If you compare folios 89va (where he writes smaller and more neatly towards the end of the 1-91va stint) with folio 94va (where writes more loosely and less vertically in the 92ra-95ra stint) they look more similar than by comparison of the images you sent me. Hand 1 had ruled all of the last quire (88-95), so the layout of 38 lines per column continues, of course. Letter forms by which one could argue that either same scribe or scribes of very similar training: tall vertical downstrokes of 'w'; 'y' often dotted and the peculiar arched descender from left side; hooked z-shaped 'r'; curling feet of minims; short, squat anglicana 'g' with both lobes horizontal ovals, stroke from right of upper lobe; habit of indicating final 'e' or 'er' by the 'er' sigle even when plenty of space to write out; use of yogh and thorn; upper case 'N' with exaggerated feet on both sides (f. 89va, line 14 'None', f. 94vb, line 12, 'No'); other upper case letterforms, S, B, D, G, I, T, etc. Differences: larger and rounder script on folios 1-91v generally, height of ascenders greater in relation to minim height on folios 92-95 where also smaller, neater, more compact; only on folios 92-95 do rounded terminal 'e's appear; treatment of descender of 'h' differs (this is the only one that bothers me, others might be just differences in repertoire or over time), with 1-91 having a backward 's' curve and 92-95 having a simple arching curve; forms of upper case 'A' on 92-95 not found in 1-91, esp. the one with very angular lower lobe, but scribes do seem to have had several graphs for this letter at this period, e.g. Hengwrt-Ellesmere scribe has 4, and changed over time. The scripts are sufficiently similar that it would be an unusual coincidence for another scribe who happened to pick up the volume and added 92-95 to be this similar to hand 1, but I suppose it could have happened. There is certainly no reason to date 92-95 much later than 1-91, whether by same scribe or another, though obviously somewhat later since either added by main scribe sufficiently later for script to be different (might not be long, but some space of time) or by another scribe.
  • B: Secretary bookhand

Estimated Date of Hands

  • A and A*: 1st quarter C15
  • B: 2nd quarter C15-mid C15.

Scribal Annotation

    There are several examples of scribal annotation in the manuscript:
  • Fol. 9r: 'nota bene ' beside a discussion of false executing, and Mannyng's advice that it is unwise to make one's heir the executor over one's belongings (1219 ff.).
  • Fol. 42r: 'nota bene ' beside another of Mannyng's diatribes against false executors (6259-60); Mannyng's criticisms of false executors centre on the fact that they usually fail to invest in prayers and masses for the departed's soul.
  • Fol. 62r: 'nota bene ' beside Mannyng's account of the four blessings that come to those that pay their tithes; this nota may provide a clue that the manuscript was copied from Bodley 415 as there is also a nota at this point in the Bodley manuscript (9333-40).
  • Fol. 66r+v: In line 9940 the word 'wlates' is glossed 'steynyst'; when the word "Wlate' occurs again at the beginning of line 9990 the word is not glossed, but a 2-shaped sigil has been placed beside both lines, presumably to allow the reader to translate the dialectally problematic word.

Notable Dialect Features

  • The dialect of the text has been profiled in LALME, vol. I, p. 138; vol. III, pp. 651-2, LP 6620. Grid 499 212.
  • Localisable on Google Earth
    (click markers to view sample dialect forms)

    Annotation and Marginalia

    • Fol. 59v: In the tale of the sacrilegious couple who became joined together whilst having sex in a holy building, a reader has obliterated the lines (presumably offended by Mannyng's wonderfully graphic language, "þey yghte no more be broght asondre / þan dog & bych þat men on wondre" (8955-6) and below, "To prey for hem yn orysun / þat þey myghte be vndoun" (8965-6).


    There are several later attempts to provide a date for the book: On the front flyleaf iiv is written, "Thys booke was written in Anno dom 1303", with the date inclosed in a rectangle, C17-18? On fol. 1r: "Ano domine", is written in a different, C15-C16 hand; in the bottom margin "1303" is penned in a rectangular shape beside Mannyng's announcement that he began his transcription at that time.

    Names recorded, signatures, ex libris marks

    The earliest provenance of this book is uncertain, however, Joan Baker has succinctly described the later provenance of the book: "Based on a transaction involving another group of Harleian manuscripts that was purchased by Robert Harley in 1710 through the Bishop of Chester acting on behalf of a Randle Holme, the last male survivor of a family of heraldic painters in Chester, C.E. Wright deduces that the acquisition of the group of manuscripts containing Harley 1701 must have occurred before 1710. These manuscripts were a gift to Robert Harley from Col Henry Worley, d. 1747, a member of the Appuldurcome family from the Isle of Wight. Worsley, owned Harley MSS 1585-1747, a group of manuscripts Wanley began to catalogue in his Catalogus Brevior--now BL MS Additional 45705--in December 1712."


    This is one of three closely related manuscripts- the texts of Handlyng Synne and the Meditations on the Supper in Bodley 415, Harley 1701 and Folger V.b.236 (the Clopton MS) are textually related, although there is disagreement as to the precise nature of that relationship. My own exhaustive study of the textual, orthographic and physical elements of these books has led me to believe that the Bodley and Folger texts were copied from the same exemplar- the Harley texts were in all likliehood copied from Bodley 415, and perhaps like the Bodley MS, in the scriptorium at Ashridge College. I also think it possible from orthographic evidence that the Harley scribe may have had some access to the same exemplar used by the Bodley and Folger scribes near the beginning of his transcription. For my account of the relationships between these books see "The Cultural Locations of Handlyng Synne", chapters 3-4. For other interpretations of the relations see the introduction to the Sullens edition and Raymond Biggar's review of Handlyng Synne .
    (Line numbers from Handlyng Synne relate to the edition edited by Idelle Sullens from MS Bodley 415.)

    References and Other Resources

    Joan Baker, 'Manuscript Description: BL Harley 1701,' 'Robert of Sicily': Virtual Library, 2004 .

    Raymond Biggar, Review of Handlyng Synne, ed. Idelle Sullens, Speculum 62 (1987): 969-73.

    Meadows J. Cowper, ed. Meditations on the Supper of Our Lord, and the Hours of the Passion, EETS, OS 60 (London, 1875).

    Robert Mannyng, Robert of Brunne's  'Handlyng Synne', A.D. 1303: with those parts of the Anglo-French treatise on which it was founded, William of Wadington's 'Manuel des Pechiez', ed. F.J. Furnivall. EETS, OS 119 (London,1901).

    _ _ _, Handlyng Synne, ed. Idelle Sullens (Binghampton, New York, 1983).

    C.E. Wright, English Vernacular Hands from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Centuries, Oxford Palaeographical Handbooks (Oxford, 1969) pp. 12 (facsimile of f. 12v) and 13.

    H.L.D. Ward and J.A. Herbert, Catalogue of Romances in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum (1893), p. 303.

    Ryan Perry, "The Cultural Locations of Handlyng Synne" (PhD Diss., Queen's University, Belfast, 2005).