Compilation of Oxford

Compilation of Oxford – Oxford University Press – MS. Digby 86 – Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom)

Worcester (United Kingdom) — 1271–1283

A true unicum among medieval manuscripts: a blend of secular, religious, and practical texts written in Anglo-Norman French, Middle English, and Latin

  1. The manuscript was created from 1271-83 by Richard de Grimhill II (ca. 1263 – ca. 1308)

  2. Its contents range from prayers to bawdy, even obscene tales written for a lay audience

  3. This rare “commonplace book” give precious insights into the daily lives of the literate gentry

Compilation of Oxford

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Compilation of Oxford

The Compilation of Oxford is a late-13th century commonplace book created between 1271 and 1283 and written in Middle English, Anglo-Norman French, and Latin containing nearly 100 texts of various genres including inter alia fabliau, romances, devotional and didactic texts, prognostications, charms, spells, and prayers. This manuscript was written by its owner and has amateurish scribal drawings and decoration, but also contains extremely rare and important examples of Early-Middle English. It is a priceless artifact for scholars of English and French linguistics as well as the history of literature.

Compilation of Oxford

With its marvelous variety of contents, the manuscript stored under the shelf mark MS Digby 86 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library is completely unique. On its last folio, the scribe signs off with a self-portrait – a cartoonishly-drawn male head wearing a close-fitted hood – and an inscription: scripsi librum in anno et iii mensibus – “I wrote the book in a year and three months”. His fifteen months' labor resulted in one of the most important miscellanies to survive from medieval England: quirky combinations of nearly 100 texts ranging from religion to science to secular literature and written in three languages: Middle English, Anglo-Norman French, and Latin. The so-called Compilation of Oxford includes medical recipes, charms, prayers, prognostications, magic tricks, pious doctrine, a liturgical calendar, religious songs, lively debates, poetry on love and death, proverbs, fables, fabliau, scurrilous games, and gender-based diatribes. Judging by the dialect used by the scribe, the manuscript originated in Gloucestershire or south Worcestershire from 1271-83.

A True Rarity

The fact that Digby is from the 13th century adds to its appeal, for English literary remnants from before 1300 are very rare. Scholars on both sides of the vernacular divide, French and English, are deeply intrigued by it. Some of its texts are found nowhere else, e.g. the French Arthurian Lay of the Horn and Strife between Two Ladies (a candid debate on feminine politics), and the English fabliau (comic, contrarian, and obscene tales originating from high medieval France) Dame Sirith and the fable The Fox and Wolf. It also contains the earliest surviving version of The Thrush and the Nightingale. The interpretations offered in this volume of its contents, presentation, and ownership, show that there is much to discover in Digby's lively **record of the social and spiritual pastimes of a book-owning gentry family. Aside from literary and religious texts, this is largely a handbook of practical information containing a calendar, a text on Arabic numerals, prognostications according to the day of the week on which Christmas falls, care of hunting birds, directions for calculating moveable feasts, and a list of English kings to Edward I. Two texts even deal with avoiding bad luck, one calculates lucky and unlucky days according to the moon, the other simply lists the unlucky days of the year – like feast days some are fixed and others are not.

History of the Manuscript

The manuscript was produced by the scribe Richard de Grimhill II (ca. 1263 – ca. 1308) for his own use and after his death seems to have passed to the Underhill family via his daughter Amice. Various marginal notes from members of the Underhill family along with a will appear in the manuscript. Thomas Allen (1540-1632) was a member of Trinity College, Oxford who acquired the book during the 16th century. The catalogue of his collection drawn up in 1622 lists Digby 86 as '80 A.I' with the reference number “I” written on f. 1r of the manuscript. The manuscript was bequeathed by Allen to Kenelm Digby (1603-65), who in turn donated it to the Bodleian Library in 1663.


Alternative Titles
Sammelband von Oxford
Facsimile of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86
Size / Format
420 pages / 20.6 × 14.0 cm
About two dozen marginalia
Compilation of 97 texts, including fables and romances, recipes, spells, as well as prayers and a calendar.
Richard de Grimhill II
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Richard de Grimhill II
Amice Grimhill
William Underhill
Thomas Allen
Kenhelm Digby

Available facsimile editions:
Compilation of Oxford – Oxford University Press – MS. Digby 86 – Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom)
Oxford University Press – Oxford, 1996
Facsimile Editions

#1 Facsimile of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86

Oxford University Press – Oxford, 1996

Publisher: Oxford University Press – Oxford, 1996
Commentary: 1 volume by Judith Tschann and Malcolm B. Parkes
Language: English
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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