The manuscripts of Sir John Prise

The following article appears in the 2015 Jesus College Record. Chris Jeens prepared it for publication in February 2015. He died in August 2015 and is remembered in the College Record.

Sir John Prise’s supposed gift of 47 medieval manuscripts to Jesus College has long posed a puzzle. He died in 1555, 16 years before the foundation of the College. In his will he made specific and different arrangements for the disposal of the manuscripts he had acquired in the course of supervising the closure of religious houses in the West Country. His ‘written books of history’ were to go to his (second) son Richard, while his ‘written
books of divinity’ were left to Hereford Cathedral Library.

MS 94 front

A 13th-century theological manuscript. (MS 94, photo: Andrew Dunning, © Jesus College, Oxford)

Hereford Cathedral did indeed receive some such works, but the greater part found their way to Jesus, where in a register entry c. 1621/22 (RE.1, page 42) they were listed under the heading Nomina Librorum Manuscriptorum ex Donatione Johannis Prise Equitis Aurati Herefordiensis – ‘Titles of manuscript books from the gift of Sir John Prise of Hereford’.

Recent research by the College Archivist has provided an answer to how Prise’s bequest was so disposed to the benefit of the College. Sir John’s eldest son, Gregory Prise (1535-1600), was principal executor of his father’s will and a leading figure in the city of Hereford where he resided in his father’s old property of St Guthlac’s Priory. Gregory’s own will, made and executed in 1600, is preserved in the National Archives (TNA:PROB 11/95). Again, it makes provision for written books of divinity, but in this case Jesus College is the named recipient: ‘And all that the rest of my books of Divinitie in wrytten hand I geve and bequeath to the colledge or howse called Jesus Colledge Oxfforde to be there regestred kepte and reserved forever.’

MS 94 folio 79r

Alexander Neckam (1157-1217), Tractatus super mulierem fortem (Treatise of the virtuous woman) (MS 94, folio 79r, Photo: Andrew Dunning, © Jesus College, Oxford)

It is a matter of speculation as to why these manuscripts remained in Gregory’s possession after his father’s death, and why he subsequently chose to leave them to Jesus College, with which he had no other known connection. However, it seems clear that it was Gregory Prise rather than Sir John who was our real benefactor in this case.

Chris Jeens (Archivist, 2007-2015)

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In memoriam Chris Jeens, College Archivist (1954-2015)

The following article appears in the 2015 Jesus College Record.

Chris by K_Wloch (33)

Chris Jeens in the Archives in 2012. (Photo: Kat Wloch, © Jesus College, Oxford)

The College was saddened by the unexpected death of the Archivist, Chris Jeens, on 13 August 2015.

Chris joined Jesus College in 2007. He was in College one day a week, but worked much more than that, often sending emails from home to ensure a timely response. He devoted the rest of his working week to the medieval library at Gloucester Cathedral.

The role of the College Archivist is not bound to one department. The corporate memory of the College resides in the Archives, to be drawn upon by the Estates Bursar, the Development team, the Librarian, and many others. Not just ancient documents but modern records fall under their care: the Property Director might need details of building projects; the Chaplain might need the deed of consecration of the Chapel; a Fellow might have an open-ended question about College life.

The outside world, too, has reason to be grateful for the Archivist. Both professional historians and amateur genealogists find themselves wanting to confirm the details of a student’s time at Jesus. Admissions registers preserve the facts while photographs, especially of sports teams, can hint at character.

Colleagues across Oxford contributed to a book of condolences, which drew forth reminiscences of Chris’s sharp mind, his dry humour, his breadth of knowledge, his generosity, and his professionalism. To quote the words of the Chaplain, ‘Not only
was Chris our greatest source of knowledge about our College history and identity, indeed the careful keeper of so many of our treasures, he was himself a treasure to this place.’

Chris could be droll about the self-importance of an Oxford college, but he was always conscientious in giving a full response to every enquiry, whether from inside or outside Jesus. With characteristic practicality he had recently established an inventory of all the College paintings, and he was beginning to work through basement stores of more unglamorous modern records.

We at Jesus have just committed ourselves to publishing a new history of the College. Chris had been invited to contribute and advise and was looking forward to being intimately involved. Even without his words, the College history will benefit from his dedicated stewardship of the Archives.

Owen McKnight (Librarian)

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Lib Lab

Plaque 1

The plaque installed on Friday 5 February 2016 (© Owen McKnight, CC BY-SA 2.0)

A new plaque marks the former home of the Sir Leoline Jenkins’ Laboratories in Jesus College. As explained in the post ‘150 years of the Meyricke Library’, the labs are now occupied by one of the College’s three libraries.

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The entrance to Staircase XVII, showing the new plaque alongside chalked records of rowing successes (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Owen McKnight (Librarian)

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December 2015 Book of the Month: Tomus quartus omnium operum by Martin Luther (1552)


Title-page of Tomus quartus omnium operum with Rowland Heylin’s donation book label: Fellows’ Library F.15.12 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

This volume forms part of Martin Luther’s complete works, which collectively had a profound impact on the German Reformation. Published around the time of his death, the collection displays the range of genres Luther adopted: Biblical translation and commentary, sermons and catechisms, and polemics against the Catholic Church. In contrast to his seminal Bible translation and many of the controversial tracts printed during his lifetime, the texts in this imposing collection are in Latin rather than German. These volumes were produced by a number of printers, including Hans Lufft, whose trade in Lutheran Bibles made him the richest man in Wittenberg.


Back board showing use of a Latin manuscript as binding material: Fellows’ Library F.15.12 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

With unintentional irony, Luther’s diatribes on the Catholic Church were bound in pages of text and music from a dismembered monastic manuscript. This common binding practice was both economical and practical, as parchment was valued as a tough material. The hole in this binding is not a sign of neglect by its owners, but a flaw which dates back to the parchment’s preparation. This is shown by how the medieval scribe has carefully written around the tear and even tried to sew it together: although the thread has disappeared, the puncture holes of the needle are still visible.


Tear in manuscript binding with needle puncture holes: Fellows’ Library F.15.12 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Emma Sillett (Library Assistant)

Sources and further reading:


After two years, this blog is taking a break from monthly books. See all 24 books displayed at

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November 2015 Book of the Month: Somnium (‘The Dream’) by Johannes Kepler (1634)

‘How would the phenomena occurring in the heavens appear to an observer stationed on the moon?’ 

Somnium is the first treatise on lunar astronomy and is widely considered to be the first work of science fiction. It was written in Latin over a 37 year period, and began as a student dissertation defending the Copernican model of the solar system.

The title page of Somnium: Fellows Library L.4.17.Gall, Jesus College, Oxford

The title page of Somnium: Fellows’ Library L.4.17 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Kepler imagines practicing astronomy on the moon to demonstrate that the Earth moves around the sun, later adding a dream framework to distance himself from that controversial claim. A mixture of fantasy and scientific argument, the narrative recounts the space travel of an astronomer and his mother, Fiolxhilde, a sorceress.  A manuscript copy circulated in 1611, and was taken to be autobiographical: Kepler’s mother, Katherine, was conflated with Fiolxhilde, and was arrested on suspicion of witchcraft in 1615. She was acquitted five years later.

Kepler died before Somnium’s publication, to which he had added 223 footnotes describing the scientific and allegorical elements of the text.  These form the largest part of the text, and were intended to refocus attention on the narrative’s scientific speculations.

The price paid for the book and Lord Herbert's signature

The price paid for the book and Lord Herbert’s monogram: Fellows’ Library L.4.17 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

The college’s vellum-bound edition bears the initials of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, an important benefactor to the library, and records how much he paid for it: 3 shillings and 4 pence—or around 17 pence today.

Anna Thomas (Graduate Library Trainee 2012-13)

Sources and further reading:

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October 2015 Books of the Month: Partridge’s The Treasurie of Hidden Secrets (1633) and Read’s The Manuall of the Anatomy or Dissection of the Body of Man (1655)

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Title-page of Read’s Manuall: Fellows’ Library K.5.19 Gall (© Jesus College, Oxford)


Title-page of Partridge’s Treasurie: Fellows’ Library R.4.5 (7) Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

These books illustrate some of the range of medical publications in early modern England. Read’s work attempts to distil anatomical concepts, while Partridge’s Treasurie is a cheap, popular household manual of ‘kitchen physic’ and culinary recipes. Their intended readerships vary from learned (male) students to ‘Courteous Gentlewomen, honest Matrons, and virtuous Virgins’. While different in emphasis, however, they bear an interesting similarity in publication history: both were printed by women.

Despite being prohibited from establishing businesses by the Stationers’ Company, women stationers comprised approximately eight percent of the book trades in Britain (Smith, p.164). These women were permitted to manage the family business in the intervening period between remarriage or a son’s coming of age. Sarah Griffin had an unusually long career, spanning two decades. Although only five of her publications are confirmed, the records detailing her two printing presses, one apprentice and six workers suggest that her print shop was a successful one (McKenzie, p.116).


Illustration to accompany the treatise on muscles in Read’s Manuall: Fellows’ Library K.5.19 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Women chose to print a variety of subjects, from prayers for pregnant women to grammar textbooks. Some women printers exploited their lower legal status to print seditious texts with fewer reprisals. However, for the majority like Allde and Griffin, their gender did not define the content of their work.

Emma Sillett (Library Assistant)

Sources and further reading:

  • Catalogue records for Treasurie and Manuall on SOLO.
  • McKenzie, D., McDonald, P., & Suarez, M., Making meaning : “Printers of the Mind” and Other Essays (Amherst: University Of Massachusetts Press, 2002).
  • Smith, Helen, ‘Print[ing] your Royal Father off’: Early Modern Female Stationers and the Gendering of the British Book Trades”, TEXT 15 (2003), 163-86.
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150 years of the Meyricke Library

1865 is the telephone dialling code for Oxford. Coincidentally, it is also the year in which Jesus College opened its first reading room for undergraduates. The College had established a library in the 1620s, the room now called the Fellows’ Library, but as its current name suggests, this was not open to undergraduates.

The reading room was established by J.R. Thursfield, Fellow in Classics. Its first home was beneath the Fellows’ Library, apparently on the location of the present Memorial Room. In 1882 it was named the Meyricke Library and moved to the northwest corner of Second Quad, near the site of the current Middle Common Room.

Edmund Meyricke (pronounced ‘Merrick’ and often spelled Meyrick) was one of the College’s major benefactors. His portrait hangs in the Hall, next to Queen Elizabeth’s. From 1882, when a new statute was approved, the Meyricke Trust paid an initial £50 each year “for the maintenance and improvement of the Meyricke Library”, as well as for the continuing scholarships in his name.

(C) Jesus College, Oxford. Photography by the Public Catalogue Foundation.

Presumed to be Edmund Meyricke (matriculated 1656), painted 1694, artist unknown. Formerly in the Fellows’ Library, now in the Hall. Photographed in 2012 by the Public Catalogue Foundation (© Jesus College, Oxford, reference PI/BE.5)

At that time, Third Quad was a collection of outbuildings, including the College stables. A fire in the Ship Street premises of the Oxford Electric Light Company in 1904 instigated the development of a new range of buildings. The Meyricke Library moved into a single room inside the gate tower in 1907, alongside the College’s purpose-built chemical laboratories on three storeys of what is now numbered Staircase XVII.

The Sir Leoline Jenkins’ Laboratories were named after a seventeenth-century Principal. Professor Derek Long (Chemistry, 1943) describes them as “a basement containing a workshop and stores, and a further three floors with a library, two lecture rooms and a number of laboratories”. During World War II, confidential work took place here on ‘Tube Alloys’ – code for the British nuclear weapons project, and specifically for the separation of uranium isotopes. The laboratories were closed in the autumn of 1947, having been the last college laboratories in operation after the University centralised provision in the Science Area next to the University Parks.

Meyricke Lower Library memorial plaque

Memorial plaque in the Lower Library. Sir Walter St David Jenkins (matriculated 1893) gave £300 towards the new Library. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

The ground floor room which had been used for teaching physics became the fourth and current incarnation of the Meyricke Library. The new Library opened in Michaelmas 1949 as a memorial to those who died in the Second World War. (The Celtic Collection, established around the turn of the century under Principal Rhŷs, was moved to an adjoining room at the same time, the weight of books in the central aisle of the Fellows’ Library having been considered a risk.)

The Lower Meyricke Library from the 1966 College Record (© Jesus College, Oxford)

It is in the nature of libraries to expand, and the Meyricke Library was extended upstairs in 1964–1965. The buildings of Third Quad received Grade II listing in 1972, but this did not prevent further expansion of the upper section in 1984–1985. In the words of that year’s Record, “it now rises skywards on three floor levels”. (The Celtic Collection moved upstairs at the same time, linked to the Meyricke by a catwalk behind the office of the Jesus Professor of Celtic.) The ground-floor lecture theatre was annexed in 1990 and refurbished as the Periodicals Room.

In 1992, Jesus became an early member of OLIS, the computerised catalogue of the University’s libraries. Computerisation later made possible self-service borrowing. The Librarian’s office moved out of the little ground-floor room known as the Cave up to the first-floor room relinquished by the Celtic Professor after 1996, a year after the College Archives had moved to the second floor. The Meyricke Library continues to develop: a temporary Graduate Study Room has been established in Staircase XIII, and this summer has seen the installation of electronic tags on all 36,000 books to improve security and self-service.

A thorough history must await investigation of the College records. Until then, reminiscences and corrections from Old Members are most welcome, to

Owen McKnight (Librarian)

Sources and further reading:

  • J.N.L. Baker, ‘The College in the Long Vacation’, Jesus College Magazine 1949, pages 14–15
  • J.N.L. Baker, ‘Jesus College’, pages 264–279 in H.E. Salter & M.D. Lobel (editors), A History of the County of Oxford, Volume 3: The University of Oxford (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Historical Research, 1954)
  • J.N.L. Baker, ‘Edmund Meyricke and his benefaction’, Jesus College Record 1966, pages 19–28
  • J.N.L. Baker, Jesus College, Oxford 1571–1971 (Oxford: Jesus College, 1971), page 58
  • Derek Long, ‘Sir Leoline Jenkins Laboratories 1907–47’, Jesus College Record 1995/96 pages 46–57
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