The Red Book of Hergest, one of the treasures of Jesus College, is now in Oxford once more. It had been on loan to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth for the exhibition 4 Llyfr/4 Books, which brought together for the first time the manuscripts known as the Four Ancient Books of Wales.
The Red Book is a Welsh manuscript, written around 1400, and is a rich compendium of medieval Welsh literature, including the tales of the Mabinogion. It was given to Jesus College in 1701 by the Reverend Thomas Wilkins, whose father had read law here; in 1886, the College placed it on deposit in the Bodleian Library, where it has now returned. Every page has been photographed for Early Manuscripts at Oxford University and most of the texts transcribed for Welsh Prose 1300-1425.
Jesus College has often supported requests to borrow its manuscripts and printed books. Before an item can be loaned, the College has to be satisfied with security and environmental conditions in the exhibition space, as well as arrangements for insurance and transport. Recent loans include Margaret of Anjou’s prayer roll (MS 124) to the British Library’s Royal Manuscripts show, Lawrence of Arabia’s thesis on Crusader castles (MS 181) to an exhibition in Germany, and the Red Book to the Bodleian exhibition The Romance of the Middle Ages. The College is grateful to the curators and exhibitions staff at the National Library of Wales and the Bodleian Libraries for all their work on the 4 Books exhibition.
Owen McKnight (Librarian)