Exeter Book of Old English Poetry

Exeter Book of Old English Poetry Facsimile Edition

Wessex or Sussex (United Kingdom) — 950–1000

The oldest copy of English literature in the world: an incredible collection of riddles and secular poems

  1. This codex is one of the four most significant verse manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon period

  2. It includes two works by Cynewulf, one of only 12 Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today

  3. Created ca. 960-980, it was added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register in 2016

Exeter Book of Old English Poetry

MS 3501 Exeter Cathedral Library (Exeter, United Kingdom)
  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Exeter Book of Old English Poetry

The manuscript referred to as the Exeter Book, was written down by a single scribe ca. 970 and is one of the oldest items in Exeter Cathedral Library. Its great importance lies in its contents and the language in which it is written, Old English, as opposed to the vast majority of medieval western manuscripts that are written in Latin. Furthermore, rather than containing a biblical text, this is a literary manuscript consisting of a collection of poems. Most surviving Old English texts are in prose – the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, for example – and there are only four known poetic manuscripts: the Beowulf manuscript in the British Library, the Junius manuscript in Oxford, the Vercelli Book in Italy, and the Exeter Book. Of these four manuscripts, the Exeter Book is the largest, best preserved, and probably the oldest. What is more, it is the oldest specimen of English literature in the world.

Exeter Book of Old English Poetry

The Exeter Book, which belongs to the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral, is one of the four most significant verse manuscripts written in Old English to survive from the Anglo-Saxon period. It was created ca. 960–80 by one scribe from a variety of sources and was acquired in the 11th century on behalf of Exeter Cathedral by Bishop Leofric (before 1016-1072). A list of donations made by Leofric dated to 1069-72 is believed to refer to the Exeter book: mycel Englisc boc be gehwilcum þingum on leoðwisum geworht or “a large English book about many things written in verse”. In 2016, this historic manuscript was added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register.

A Fascinating Mix of Texts

The Anglo-Saxons distinguished themselves in numerous arts, such as gold smithing, but also enjoyed a sophisticated intellectual tradition expressed presented in gorgeous manuscripts created with the intricate artistry of Insular illumination, also known as Hiberno-Saxon art for the mixing of Irish and English influences. This manuscript’s contents are both fascinating and diverse, ranging from 95 riddles, various saints’ lives, and numerous elegies, reflective poems usually lamenting the dead. The characters of these 34 poems include lonely seafarers, banished wanderers, and estranged lovers who are otherwise put in normal, everyday settings. The poems are often filled with double entendre and other bawdy allusions. Lastly, the manuscript is notable for containing two poems signed by the 9th century poet Cynewulf – one of only 12 poets from the Anglo-Saxon period identifiable by name today. In some cases, this is the only written testament to stories that have otherwise only been passed down in an oral tradition.


Alternative Titles
Buch der altenglischen Poesie
Exeter Book
Size / Format
262 pages / 38.0 × 24.0 cm
Insular Minuscule
Decorative initials preceding individual texts and marginalia added in the 16th and 17th centuries
34 poems and 95 riddles (partly fragmentary) in Old English (West Saxon dialect)
Previous Owners
Leofric, Bishop of Exeter

Available facsimile editions:
The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry Facsimile Edition
Lund Humphries – London, 1933
Limited Edition: 100 copies
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry

Lund Humphries – London, 1933

Publisher: Lund Humphries – London, 1933
Limited Edition: 100 copies
Commentary: 1 volume by Raymond W. Chambers, Max Förster and Robin Flower
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.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
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