Skip to Main Content

French Special Collections: Highlights of the Bodleian French Collections

Highlights of the Bodleian French Collections

‘The Oxford Roland’, Digby 23, the oldest manuscript of this the oldest major work of French literature was written in Anglo-Norman in the 12th century.  Perhaps it was already bound with a copy of the Latin translation of Plato’s Timaeus when the latter was bequeathed to Oseney Abbey by Master Henry of Langley in the late 13th century.  The volume containing the two booklets was left by Thomas Allen to Sir Kenelm Digby who gave it to the Bodleian in 1634.  It consists of 4,002 decasyllables divided into 291 laisses of irregular length, the lines of each laisse being linked by assonance.  It is an example of a chanson de geste (a song about a hero) and is about the defeat of the rear guard of the  French army led by Roland in 778 at the Battle of Roncevaux, a high mountain pass in the Pyrenees.  In the manuscript version of the story Roland and his men fight against Muslims whereas in fact the Franks were attacked by Basques.  There are seven other manuscripts extant but the Bodleian manuscript is the oldest. The Bodleian Chanson de Roland MS was featured in a Bodleian exhibition The Romance of the Middle Ages (28 Jan - 13 May 2012).

The Bodleian has no fewer than eleven manuscript editions of the Roman de la Rose.


MS. Don. f. 33

Book of Hours, Use of Angers, in Latin
France, Angers(?); 15th century, c. 1470s

Book of Hours, in Latin and French France, Rouen; late 15th or early 16th century

MS. Buchanan e. 2 (formerly MS. Lat. liturg. e. 23) Author: Title: Book of Hours, Use of Paris Language: Latin, French Origin: France Paris(?) Date: 14th cent., last quarter, c. 1380 Provenance: Made for an unidentified laywoman Typescript description available?: Yes; a full draft catalogue description is available

Select Bibliography:

S. J. P. van Dijk, Handlist of the Latin Liturgical Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library Oxford, 7 vols. in 8, 1957-60 (unpublished typescript), IV-A, 78.

O. Pächt and J. J. G. Alexander, Illuminated Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, 1, Oxford, 1966 (repr. with corrections, 1969), no. 609, pl. XLVI © S.