In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Auchinleck Manuscript

  • Introduction
  • Primary Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • General Overviews of Literary Manuscripts
  • The Romances of Auchinleck
  • The Breton Lays of Auchinleck
  • The Scribes of Auchinleck
  • Auchinleck and Bookshop Theory
  • Booklets and Compilation
  • Decoration
  • England, Englishness, and Auchinleck
  • The Audience of Auchinleck
  • Chaucer and Auchinleck
  • Auchinleck and Political History
  • Dialect and Language in Auchinleck

Medieval Studies The Auchinleck Manuscript
Tmothy A. Shonk
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0229


The famous Auchinleck manuscript (Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates MS 19.2.1) is a remarkable book for its time. Besides the interest it holds for students of medieval literature in its numerous unique copies of poems and the earliest appearances of others, it bears enormous importance for the evidence it provides for the English language of the early 14th century, for its variety of poetic forms and topics, for its evidence for the methods of bookmaking in the period, and for its “Englishness,” proclaimed both in its language and its texts. Auchinleck, produced in 1330–1340, provides among its forty-four extant texts, in whole or in part, unique copies of twenty-three of its forty-four items, thirty-five in their earliest versions. The manuscript displays a variety of genres among its texts—religious instruction, debate, chronicle, lays, complaint, hagiography, even a list of Norman barons—but its leaves are devoted mainly to the romance. Some eighteen romances remain in the text. Of these, eight are unique copies, and all but Floris and Blauncheflur are in the earliest copies that have come down to us. The romances also present various tail-rhyme metrics among its texts, providing some of the first evidence of these forms later to be satirized in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Sir Thopas. The copyists of the texts represent a range of dialects in their work, from London to Middlesex and the Gloucestershire/Worchester border; two of the scribes—Scribes 1 and 3—have been used to illustrate M. L. Samuel’s London Type II dialect. Codicological scholars have unearthed a wealth of information about the practices of bookmaking in the early 14th century in their studies of Auchinleck, beginning with the view of a London bookshop and moving to more-recent theories indicating a looser form of collaboration among the scribes and artists. Auchinleck also presents a growing awareness of “Englishness.” Unusual for its time (compare it to the trilanguage Harley 2253 manuscript, for example), the Auchinleck is almost entirely in English. It celebrates English heroes in its romances and inserts English scenes and English revisionist history in other texts. Finally, Auchinleck may have some connection, however general, to the most English of medieval poets, Chaucer.

Primary Resources

Of course, the best source is the manuscript itself (Advocates MS 19.2.1). A facsimile edition, Pearsall and Cunningham 1977, though a bit dated at points, provides the best introduction to the importance of the manuscript and its physical properties. The digital reproduction in Burnley and Wiggins 2004 represents the wave of the future in manuscript studies in its color reproductions and apparatus. Though limited by the inability to pull up more than one leaf at a time for inspection, the digital edition presents an updated discussion of the manuscript by Alison Wiggins that is concise, accurate, and invaluable.

  • Advocates MS 19.2.1. National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.

    Auchinleck has suffered considerable damage. Most of the miniatures once preceding items have been excised, and several quires have been lost. Forty-four items survive, but the manuscript begins incomplete and ends with þe Simonie (original numbers cropped, King Richard, preceding it, numbered lvi); 334 leaves survive. Fragments survive in isolated leaves: Edinburgh University Library MS 218; St. Andrews University Library MS Pr. 2065 A. 15 and R.4; and London University Library MS 593.

  • Burnley, David, and Alison Wiggins, eds. The Auchinleck Manuscript. Last modified in March 2004.

    This digital reproduction of the Auchinleck provides full-color reproduction of the manuscript leaves. With a concise but detailed introduction by Wiggins, as well as a lexicon, a search apparatus, a glossary, and a bibliography, for subject areas and individual items, the digital edition offers an important beginning point for students and a definitive reference resource for scholars citing individual pages. This edition also provides a transcription for each item in Auchinleck.

  • Pearsall, Derek, and Ian Cunningham, eds. The Auchinleck Manuscript: National Library of Scotland Advocates’ MS. 19.2.1. London: Scolar Press, 1977.

    The black-and-white photographic edition of the manuscript offers a detailed and insightful introduction by Pearsall and Cunningham, two of the finest manuscript scholars. The introduction provides a wealth of information about the importance of the texts, the twelve fascicles, the scribes and their habits, the physical aspects of the manuscript, a full layout of the quires, and some important theories about the making of the manuscript.

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