WYCLIFFITE NEW TESTAMENT, in Middle English, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[England, probably London, first half of 15th century)
215 x 140mm. 218 leaves: 15(of 8, lacking i-iii), 24, 3-288, and a final singleton, plus a loose bifolium once front endleaves, added table of lections at beginning lacking first three leaves but New Testament COMPLETE, catchwords at the end of each gathering following on, occasional cut signature marks, Bible text in two columns of 36 lines written in black ink in an anglicana bookhand between four verticals and 37 horizontals, top and bottom pairs across margins, ruled in black, justification: 156 x 45-9-45mm, rubrics, chapter numbers and running headings in red, blue paragraph marks, each prologue and chapter opening with a two-line initial in blue with red flourishing and marginal extensions, the books of the Bible opening with ILLUMINATED INITIALS four-lines high with staves of burnished gold against grounds and infills of blue and pink with white penwork decoration, manicoli and lesson letters in many margins, the table of lections in six columns of 40 lines written in black and red (first three leaves of table of lessons with tears or losses to lower outer corner, lower corner lost from f.193 with losses from 8 lines of text in outer column, water-stain in inner upper corner of first 8 leaves of Matthew, further unimportant spots and stains). English 16th-century brown calf with gilt-stamped fleurons at corners, brass bosses, cornerpieces, clasps and catches and stamped with the initials A C on upper and lower cover, the spine with the monogram stamp of Francis Ferrand Foljambe (lacking inner corner-pieces, straps and one catch, rebacked).
Among the pentrials on the final blank verso and the detached endleaves are the names of ?Mister Solbethe and Thomas Pygott in 16th-century hands, Ane Pigott (also in her hand 'ane isbel'), and the ownership note, three times, of John Cowper dated 25 April 1641. The initials A and C stamped either side of the central bosses on the covers may relate to a member of Cowper's family.
Francis Ferrand Foljambe: his crested stamp at the foot of the spine.
Table of lessons from both Old and New Testaments, including the incipits and explicits translated into Middle English, to be used in the Latin Mass throughout the liturgical year, arranged according to the Temporal, then votive Masses, and then according to the Sanctoral 'bothe of the propper and the comyn' ff.1-9, mostly as Forshall and Madden 1850, vol.IV, pp.687-698, lacking three folios, so that the table opens in Easter Saturday, and with one leaf misplaced so that the leaf that ends with the feast of St Bride in February of the Sanctoral (f.5) now follows the leaf that opens with the feast of Candlemas in February of the Sanctoral (f.4);
This table of lessons appears not to have been part of the original manuscript: it inappropriately cites readings from the Old Testament as
New Testament, with Prologues attributed to St Jerome, in Middle English in the later of the versions of the translation associated with John Wyclif ff.10-218: Forshall and Madden 1850, vol.IV, pp.2-681.
As follows: Prologue to Matthew f.1, Matthew ff.1v-37; Prologue to Mark f.37r&v, Mark ff.37v-53v; Prologue to Luke ff.53v-54, Luke ff.54-81; Prologue to John f.81r&v, John ff.81v-102v; Pauline Epistles ff.102v-164v: Prologue to Romans f.102v, Romans ff.102v-113; Prologue to Corinthians I f.113r&v, Corinthians I ff.113v-124v; Prologue to Corinthians II f.124v, Corinthians II ff.124v-132; Prologue to Galatians f.132, Galatians ff.132v-136; Prologue to Ephesians f.136, Ephesians ff.136-140; Prologue to Philippians f.140, Philippians ff.140-142v; Prologue to Colossians f.142v, Colossians ff.142v-145; Prologue to Thessalonians I f.145, Thessalonians I ff.145-147v; Prologue to Thessalonians II f.147v, Thessalonians II ff.147v-149; Prologue to Timothy I f.149, Timothy I ff.149-152; Prologue to Timothy II f.152, Timothy II ff.152-154; Prologue to Titus f.154, Titus ff.154-155v; Prologue to Philemon f.155v, Philemon 155v-156; Prologue to Hebrews f.156, Hebrews ff.156-164v; Prologue to Deeds of the Apostles f.164v-165, Deeds of the Apostles ff.165-193; Catholic Epistles ff.193-205: Prologue to Epistles of the Christian Faith f.193r&v, James ff.193v-196, Peter I ff.196-199, Peter II ff.199-201, John I ff.201-203v; John II f.203v; John III ff.203v-204; Jude ff.204-205; Prologue to the Apocalypse ff.205-206, Apocalypse ff.206-218.
This is a hitherto unrecorded manuscript of one of the most evocative of medieval texts: the Wycliffite New Testament.
The first complete translation of the Bible from Latin into English was inspired and undertaken by John Wycliffe (or Wyclif) and his followers from the 1370s to around 1390. It brought together two radical developments in 14th-century England: the rise in the use of English as a literary language, and the earliest stirrings of effective opposition to the authority of the church of Rome. Described in the most recent study as 'a major cultural landmark', the Wycliffite Bible has a unique place in the history of England.
John Wycliffe (d.1384) was a philosopher, theologian and religious reformer whose academic career was centred on Oxford from around 1350 until his retirement from the city in 1381. His departure to Lutterworth, where he held a benefice, followed the Oxford chancellor's condemnation of his views as heretical. His teachings had been the subject of papal condemnation in 1377 and, even after he had left Oxford, action continued against him and his followers, who were known as Lollards: a further condemnation was published in Oxford in the summer of 1382 when Wycliffe and his disciples were forbidden to preach or teach until they had purged their heresy. Wycliffe's death on 31 December 1384 caused no amelioration of the authorities' anxiety over the spread and influence of his ideas.
Although the Gospels in English were already attributed to Wycliffe by 1394, it is evident that it took a large team of academic collaborators, most probably at Oxford, to bring the translation of the whole Bible to completion. If the extent of Wycliffe's own role in actually translating the text is uncertain, there is no doubt that he was the inspiration behind the project. Providing his fellow countrymen and women direct access to the teachings of Holy Scripture accorded precisely with Wycliffe's stated views: his emphasis on the Bible as the sole true source for spiritual and moral guidance; his antagonism to the intervention and powers of the church; the desirability of teaching the laity in the vernacular. It was the association of the translation with the man regarded by the church as a notorious heretic that led to the 1407/1409 action against it by Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury. In his Constitutions, the production of biblical translations and the ownership of existing translations were forbidden unless they antedated Wycliffe or the owner was in possession of a licence from the diocesan authorities. This legislation remained in force until 1529 and throughout this period the possession of a Wycliffite Bible could be taken as evidence of heresy and might lead to prosecution, imprisonment and even death by burning. The severity of the prohibition and its consequences endowed such manuscripts with a significance that led to their being regarded with especial reverence and status by Protestants, who saw them as an underlying and determining element of the Reformation.
Two separate versions of the translation, known as the Earlier and Later Versions, exist. The Earlier Version is more closely literal, confusingly following the word-order of the Latin, and may originally have been intended only as a tool in the achievement of the more idiomatic and readily understood Later Version. Both versions, however, continued to be copied and to circulate independently. The present manuscript is of the Later Version but is distinguished from most of its fellows by its large-format and illuminated initials.
Although around 250 manuscripts of portions of the Wycliffite Bible are known, they rarely appear at auction: only seven others have been offered in the last half century. Lacking only the lower corner of one leaf, the present New Testament is more complete than any of these. Its sale affords an unparalleled opportunity to acquire an unusually grand and intact copy of this major English contribution to European culture.
The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and the New Testaments with the Apocryphal Books, in the Earliest English Versions made from the Latin Vulgate by John Wycliffe and His Followers, eds Josiah Forshall and Frederic Madden, 4 vols, Oxford 1850. Forshall and Madden list the 170 manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible then known. The listing was augmented by C. Lindberg, 'The Manuscripts and Versions of the Wycliffite Bible: A Preliminary Survey', Studia Neophilologica, XLII 1970, pp.333-47. M. Dove, The First English Bible, Cambridge 2007 combines these and adds to them. A summary listing is available on the website of the Wycliffite Bible Foundation, wycliffitebible.org. The Foljambe manuscript is not identifiably included on any of these.