Lot 9
  • 9

John Wycliffe

500,000 - 800,000 USD
1,692,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Wycliffite New Testament in the later version, in Middle English [England, 1st half of the 15th century]
  • paper, ink, leather
Vellum (ca. 8 x 5 7/10 in.; 205 x 145 mm), i+154+I leaves, wanting first leaf of Table, ending imperfectly in Hebrews 13:13, bound in 19 quires of eight except i12-1 (wanting i) and iii8-1 (one leaf cancelled by the scribe, without loss of text), catchwords, 2 columns, 35-36 lines (155x50-5-50mm), PUZZLE INITIALS EXTENDING INTO PARTIAL BORDERS AT THE BEGINNING OF EACH BOOK, FLOURISHED AT THE BEGINNING OF EACH PROLOGUE, some marginal corrections in a contemporary hand, a few later inscriptions (e.g. ff.20r, 42r, 96v, 126r), vellum a little dirty, extending flourishing slightly cropped at extremities, last leaves with minor water damage in upper margin not affecting the text, last leaf rubbed and darkened, bound in modern white pigskin.


Possession of a Wycliffite Bible in the 15th century could lead to accusations of heresy, and imprisonment, so they very rarely have early marks of ownership. A semi-legible early 16th(?)-century inscription begins with the name "Tomas Awke(?)" (below Matthew 10), another reads "Elyzabeth Cornwayll" (below Hebrews 2) — Alexander Peckover (1830-1919), Lord Peckover of Wisbech, Quaker, banker, philanthropist, and collector of medieval manuscripts; his collection sold in our London rooms as "From the Celebrated Collection of the late Lord Peckover of Wisbech [sold by order of his granddaughter-in-law, Mrs. A.P.D. Penrose]," 3 December 1951, lot 18, sold for £270 to "Cherry Garrard," doubtless: — Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1886–1959), Antarctic explorer and book-collector, but apparently not in his posthumous sale in our London rooms, 5 June 1961, and not identifiable in the Schoenberg database. — acquisition: Apparently acquired from Bernard Quaritch 


Formatting the Word of God 7.1; M. Dove, The First English Bible, 2007, pp. 281–306, esp.p. 285

Catalogue Note

The text is of the "Later Version" of the Wycliffite text, associated with John Purvey and his collaborators: the so-called Early Version, made in the orbit of Wycliffe himself, was too literal a translation of the Latin to be easy to understand, prompting Purvey to undertake a revision in more accessible language. The present copy starts with a Table of the Lessons, Gospels and Epistles throughout the year, followed by the Gospels and other New Testament books, all preceded by prologues: Matthew (f.12r), Mark (f.38r), Luke (f.53r), John (f.78v), Romans (f.98r), 1 Corinthians (f.108v), 2 Corinthians (f.118v), Galatians (f.125r), Ephesians (f.128v), Philippians (f.132v), Colossians (f.135r), 1 Thessalonians (f.137r), 2 Thessalonians (f.139v), 1 Timothy (f.140v), 2 Timothy (f.143v), Titus (f.145v), Philemon (f.146v), Hebrews (f.147r), ending at 13:13.

For an accessible account of the Wycliffite Bible and its importance, see C. de Hamel, The Book: A History of the Bible, 2001, chapter 7 ("Even now, Wycliffite bibles enjoy an extraordinary status. Over hundreds of years they have acquired a charisma and aura of sanctity, bordering on relic-veneration, which is unique among Bible manuscripts of the Middle Ages.")

The most recent comprehensive list of manuscripts and fragments (updating C. Lindberg, "The Manuscripts and Versions of the Wycliffite Bible: A Preliminary Survey," Studia Neophilologica, XLII 1970, pp.333-47) is M. Dove, The First English Bible, 2007, pp. 281–306, the present manuscript on p. 285. Of the manuscripts recorded there as being in privately owned, many have since passed into institutional collections (e.g. two Scheide MSS, now owned by Princeton; three Takamiya MSS, now owned by Yale; two British & Foreign Bible Society MSS, now owned by Cambridge University); a few are in old English collections and would require report licences if they were ever to leave the country. Copies of Wycliffite texts rarely appear at auction: most recently a New Testament was at Christie’s 30 April 2008, lot 166, and a fragment of a single leaf of an Old Testament was sold in our London rooms, 8 July 2014, lot 2, for £47,500.