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Select Medieval Manuscript Books

King Alfred’s Notebook Select features carefully curated medieval manuscript books.

If you’re interested in a particular manuscript, please contact us for a detailed description and link to images.

Complete Early 15th-Century Italian Translation of De re rustica on Agricultural Science by the Roman Author Palladius in a Contemporary Binding of Limp Vellum, with an “Expositioni de vochaboli di Palladio,” and a Sonnet


Palladius (Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius), De re rustica. 46 fols. on paper, complete. Central Italy, probably Tuscany, early 15th century: 295 mm x 225 mm.

Immensely popular because of Palladius’ stature as a Roman authority on agriculture, De re rustica was translated into Italian on three occasions. Our manuscript preserves the oldest of these translations, a probable descendant of Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana MS Ricc. 2238. It is one of eleven copies, none of which resides in North America, and includes a rare sonnet in praise of Palladius which only appears in the Riccardianus copy and in two other witnesses. Doubtless intended as a field manual of practical agronomy, this vernacular version documents an ongoing interest in the agricultural science of the classical period.


Superb Humanist Compilation of Four Greek Texts on Teaching the Classics in Latin Translations by Leonardo Bruni and Guarino of Verona, Copied in Genoa by Giovanni di Logia and Dated 1439

Anthology of Works on Teaching the Classics. St. Basil, De liberalibus studiis (trans. Leonardo Bruni); Plutarch, Vita Marci Antonii (trans. Leonardo Bruni); Pseudo-Plutarch, De liberis educandis (trans. Guarino of Verona); Xenophon, Hiero (trans. Leonardo Bruni). 64 folios on paper, complete. Italy, Genoa (by colophon), dated 1439: 268 mm x 195 mm.

A humanist manuscript compiled and copied during the lifetimes of the most famous Italian humanist translators of Greek texts: Leonardo Bruni (sometimes called Leonardo Aretino, d. 1444) and Guarino Veronese (of Verona, d. 1460). Both Bruni and Guarino learned Greek from Manuel Chrysoloras, Bruni in Florence, ca. 1397-1400, Guarino in Constantinople, ca. 1403 to 1408/9. It was an exhilarating novelty at the time.

This remarkable compilation made four famous Greek texts on education accessible to Westerners. Bruni began translating Greek authors soon after concluding his studies with Chrysoloras. He began with the epistle of St. Basil on teaching the classics to the young and continued with the Hiero of Xenophon.

The choice of texts in our manuscript may be traceable to a debate between Bruni and Coluccio Salutati (d. 1406) on tyrants and the Republic. In Xenophon’s work, the tyrant Hiero states that he is no happier than a commoner, and Bruni used the work to defend Republican principles. Since Coluccio served (like Bruni) as chancellor of the Florentine Republic and invited Chrysoloras to teach Greek, this translation has meaningful historical intersections. Not only did the work preserve moral lessons for the youth of Renaissance Italy, but it also publicized the teaching of Latin and Greek to children and promoted the pagan classics for moral instruction. The other three texts in this anthology correspondingly reflect the profit a Christian could draw from the pagan Greece. These writings became standard in the humanist curriculum of Renaissance Italy. De liberalibus studiis, De liberis educandis, and the Hiero already circulated together in the 1474/1475 Padua edition of Xenophon and in a later anthology, undated but probably Florence, 1496.


Apparently Unique and Unpublished Text on the Passion


Anonymous, Materia passionis domini. 30 fols. on paper, complete. Germany, probably Hildesheim, apparently dated 1495: 310 mm × 215 mm.

Theological study and the articulation of dogma in a scholastic mode remained important components of Benedictine spirituality. A monk clearly labored over this text, which seems unique, as a personal contribution to the theological debates of his day. The work probably had a practical application in preaching during Lent or Easter.


Cardinal Francesco Zabarella, Commentarius in V libros Decretalium: Massive Manuscript in Original Condition on Book IV of the Decretals, “De matrimonio,” with Diagrams of Consanguinity and Affinity


Francesco Zabarella, Book IV “De matrimonio” of the Commentarius in quinque libros Decretalium. 246 folios on thick paper and vellum, complete. This manuscript has the heft of a phone book. Northeastern France or Flanders, early 15th century, probably ca. 1405-1415.

Francesco Zabarella (d. 1417) was the most famous canonist of his day, and this volume represents his major work, a commentary on the Decretals penned over a period of eight years, from 1396-1404. Our volume on marriage is the fourth book of the Commentarius, and covers the subject of marriage in minute detail. It highlights the legal and religious attitudes of the medieval Church on intimate behaviors, such as fornication, infidelity, impotence, incest, bigamy, and illegitimacy.


Interpreting the Abbreviations of Civil and Canon Law Manuals by Werner Von Schussenried

Werner von Schussenried, De modo legendi abbreviaturas in utroque iure. 44 folios on paper, complete. Germany, possibly Saxony, ca. 1450-1475: 285 mm x 195 mm.

This fifteenth-century manuscript contains a treatise on reading the abbreviations of civil and canon law. Werner was identified as the author in 1911, when it was observed that the section De decreto versificato (fols. 18r-22r in our manuscript) incorporates an acrostic yielding his name, birthplace, and profession.


Gerhardus de Monte, Commentary on De Ente Et Essentia by Thomas Aquinas; Philosophical Works Attributed to Thomas Aquinas; Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea in the Latin Translation of Robert Grosseteste

Gerhardus de Monte, Commentary on De ente et essentia by Thomas Aquinas; Fourteen anonymous philosophical works often attributed to Aquinas; Aristotles Latinus, Nicomachean Ethics, in the Latin translation of Robert Grosseteste. 102 fols. on paper, incomplete. Germany, ca. 1450-1475: 295 mm x 200 mm.

This exceptionally rare fifteenth-century theological text stands as an example of the continued cultural importance of Thomas Aquinas in German lands at the very end of the Middle Ages and into the modern period. There are no copies in North America.


Legal Miscellany, ca. 1400, in Original Condition with Three Rare Texts on Canon and Civil Law

Anthology of Three Legal Texts: 1. Castellanus filius Nicolai de Bonarellis [de Bononia], Arbor syllogistica; 2. Anon., Liber propositionum; 3. Anon., Commentary on Justinian’s Digestum novum. 160 fols. on paper, complete as copied. Italy, doubtless Bologna, ca. 1400: 313 mm x 215 mm.

This anthology of three rare legal texts was almost certainly compiled in Bologna at the turn of the fifteenth-century. Since the university in Bologna was a major European center of legal study, this compilation could arguably have belonged to a doctor of canon and civil law lecturing there. The obscurity of these encyclopedic works perhaps explains their theoretical interest to a professor, but a practitioner might also benefit from their utilitarian approach to the law.



Scholastic Copy Dated 1479 of Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae, with a Vita Boethii, Accessus, Scholia, and Commentary

Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae with anonymous accessus, scholia, and commentary. 93 fols. on paper, complete (fols. 86r-93v blank). Northern France, dated 3 July 1479: 300 mm x 195 mm.

Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius (d. 524) was a leading nobleman during the reign of Theodoric I, the Ostrogothic king. Appointed consul in 510, he was implicated in a senatorial conspiracy for which he was imprisoned and ultimately executed. During his imprisonment Boethius composed the prosimetric dialogue with Philosophy called De consolatione philosophiae. Steeped in Stoicism and Neoplatonism, the work was not overtly Christian in outlook. De consolatione was popularized the Carolingian period and became a staple of the medieval classroom.


Unique and Unpublished Treatise on Superstitions and Tractatus de superstitionibus by the Polish Scholar Nicholas Magni of Jawor and Tractatus de indulgentiis by François De Meyronnes

Treatises on superstition and indulgences. 83 folios on paper, complete (penultimate leaf cancelled). Germany, ca. 1460-1480: 308 mm x 215 mm.

Superstition in the late medieval church was a prominent feature of confession, and Pastoral Care manuals often detailed the kinds of superstitions to which the European populace was prone. It seems curious that these treatises on superstition circulated with a tract on indulgences, which could be described as formalized, church-sponsored superstition.


Thirteenth-Century Copy of Distinctiones Sacrae Scripturae by Maurice of Provins



Maurice of Provins, Distinctiones Sacrae Scripturae. 407 fols. on “uterine” vellum, incomplete (missing five folios, one of them blank). France, doubtless Paris, ca. 1260: 119 mm x 91 mm.

The genre of biblical distinctions emerged in tandem with the broad trends of academic Scholasticism and the preaching mission of the friars. The scholastic enterprise of the universities required ever finer and more subtle examination of texts. New lexical tools enabled them to parse texts with granular precision. For theologians, distinction collections enabled access to passages of Scripture. A distinction collection represents a lemmatized concordance: the same terms found throughout the bible are gathered under a single headword, often with a numerical reference to book and chapter plus a short excerpt. Words can have different meanings in different contexts, however. “Flower” (flos) might mean “life,” “grace,” or the Virgin, depending on its context. So a distinction will “distinguish” these various meanings for the specified term in each of the passages cited. One can immediately appreciate the utility of these collections for writing homilies. In the thirteenth century the homily became a quasi-sacramental component of the mass, and a veritable industry emerged in composing homilies. The homily was based on a single Scriptural reference or pericope, and distinctions enabled authors explore its key words to those in other biblical passages. The friars innovated the genre of biblical distinctions, and Maurice made two major contributions to this tradition. First, his Scriptural references were much longer than normal. This advance meant that a bible need not be consulted for the fuller context of a citation. Second, Maurice focused on distinctions with moral content, especially the vices and virtues, since these would be most useful to friars in their sermonizing. His handy distinctions proved popular, but only one manuscript of them exists in North America—at the Library of Congress.