The unique surviving manuscript of Malory's Morte Darthur, copied by two professional scribes. The manuscript was re-discovered in 1934 in Winchester, and bought by the British Library in 1976. Commonly known name the 'Winchester manuscript ('Winchester' for short) is used in this Project. The text is imperfect, as the manuscript lacks the first and last quires and few leaves. The most striking feature of the manuscript is the extensive use of red ink.

  1. Item (1): fols 9r-484v

      Title (standard): Thomas Malory, Morte Darthur

      Incipit: (fol. 9r/1) kynge Arthur and his corte adn to helpe hym in hym warrys. (The text starts in the middle of a sentence as the first quire is missing.)

      Explicit: (fol. 484v/29-31) And if | I had done so at that tyme wt my harte wylle and thouȝt I | had passed aƚƚ the knyȝtɤ that euer were in the Sankgrealƚƚ (The text ends imperfectly as the final quire is missing.)

      Hand/Type: Scribes A and B

  2. Item (2): fols 11r-477r

      Title (supplied): Marginalia to the Morte Darthur

      Note: Marginalia written by the main scribes. Cooper, 'Opening up', 2000 suggests that it was the Winchester scribes who added them, whereas Kelliher, 1981 suggests that they seem to have been transferred rather mechanically from the exemplar. Field, 'Malory's Own Marginalia', 2001, on the other hand, suggests they were possibly authorial and inherited from Malory's original.

        Hand/Type: Scribes A and B

    • Item (3): fol. 357v

        Title (supplied): Drawing of a cross

        Note: The cross is in red. Probably by the main scribe.

    • Item (4): fols 9v-42v

        Title (supplied): Drawing of hands point to the text of the Morte Darthur and other material in the margins

        Note: Added by a contemporary or a laterscribe in

        • 9v (left margin);
        • 19v (left margin);
        • 20v (left margin), probably by a much later hand than the others; maybe much later left margin;
        • 23r (left margin). In the opposite side of the text, i.e., in the right margin, a marginalia 'Vertue & man- | hode ys hyed | wyth in the | bodye' is added. The marginalia is enclosed with a shield and there is a drawing of a face at the bottom. The pointing hand and this marginalia are probably by the same scribe;
        • 24r (left margin, it is in the same level as the marginalia in the right margin);
        • 25r (right margin);
        • 28v (left margin, there is a marginalia in the same page);
        • 29v (right margin, the same level as the marginalia in the left margin);
        • 31r (left margin, there is a marginalia in the same page);
        • 36r (left margin);
        • 37r (left margin);
        • 38v (left margin);
        • 41r (left margin);
        • 42v (left margin);
    • Item (5): fols 22v-215v

        Title (supplied): Correction, or nota bene

        Note: Added in margins by a contemporary or a later scribe probably by the end of 16th:

        • fol. 22v: a word 'strene' in the text is marked by a line above, and the word is repeated in the margin also with a line above.
        • fol. 36v: letters are visible in the inner corner. Ker says that the word looks like 'eight minims with a flourish over them', and the hand does not seem to be A's or B's (p. xvii).
        • fol. 61r: a hand added a wavy macron on the top of 'a' of 'strage' in the text, and wrote 'strange' in the right margin.
        • fol. 215v: 'same' in the text has a line above, and 'shame' is added in the margin.
Physical Description
Object Description:

Form: codex


    Catchwords: Do douȝtyly The catchwords occur at the end of each quire, except the two partly empty quires, 5 (fols 41–44) and 43 (fols 341–48), and the two quires, 3 and 31, which have lost their last leaves (fols 32 and 252). Although Scribe B wrote catchwords on fols 52v, 60v, and 68v, he at first did not repeat the words on fols 53r, 61r, and 69r. He then realised his misunderstanding, and presumably returned to these pages and inserted the missing words at the very beginning of these recto pages - Search Winchester Catchwords

The first and last quires and five other leaves. Two leaves (fols 192 and 400) have lost large corners. There are small holes, which make some letters illegible, and damage to the paper outside the written space.

Layout description:
  1. Layout:
    • Columns: 1
    • Written Lines: 28-33
    • Locus: fols 9-340
    • Dimensions: ca. 185 mm x ca. 135 mm; ruled lines
    • Overview: Ruling appears to be on rectors only, and mostly in pencil but in some places with a hard point.
Hand/Type description:
    Number of hands/types: 2
    Summary: The two scribes of Winchester have been named Scribe A and Scribe B.

    The fact that Scribe A started and Scribe B finished 35r and 45r may suggest that Scribe A was a leading figure, and setting an example of how to copy to Scribe B. One of the most striking features of Winchester is the extensive use of red ink (see below, Decoration Description). Most of the personal names, some place names, and a few common nouns are written in red. Marginalia are also written in red. While Scribe B used a secretary hand script all the time, Scribe A used a secretary hand when writing in black and 'a formal anglicana script, approaching textura', when writing in red (Ker, Introduction, p. xvi).

    A. J. Collins suggested that both hands show 'affinities with the Chancery hand' of the period. Oakeshott in his 'The Text of Malory' quoted Collins's opinion; this view is then quoted by Vinaver and Ker (Vinaver, Introduction to Works, p. cii, n. 4; Ker, Introduction, p. xvi). Collins has also identified a phrase 'know all men by these presents' (meaning 'this legal document') written without ink on fol. 71r. This looks 'as if the book emanated from a source where legal documents were familiar' (Oakeshott, 'The Text of Malory').

    Methods of Correction: Both scribes corrected the text in various ways: they crossed out the text, physically erased the letters by removing the surface of the pages, used expunctions, or combination of these; they also inserted missed letter or word interlinearly and in the margins, overwrote on their own errors. Some of the corrections seem to have been practiced in several stages. See sample images of scribal corrections - Sample Corrections


      Hand/Type: Scribe A
      • Scope: Major
      • Script: Anglicana and Secretary
      • Description: According to Ker, 'its stiff upright character, the angular heads to ascenders, and the form of the long r are reminiscent of anglicana as written by lawyers' (p. xv). His script in red ink is 'a formal anglicana, approaching textura' (p. xvi). For the detailed analysis of Scribe A's hand, see Ker, 'Introduction', pp. xv-xvi.
      • Language: The language suggests that the scribe was from Warwick, and working in London (Linguistic Atlas, p. 244).

      Hand/Type: Scribe B
      • Scope: Major
      • Script: Secretary
      • Description: Scribe B writes in a consistent and 'plain form of the secretary hand (Ker, 'Introduction', p. iv.), and his letter-forms in red ink does not vary much from those in black.
      • Language: The language suggests that the scribe was from Warwick, and working in London (Linguistic Atlas, p. 246).
    Decoration Description:

      Red ink is used throughout for most of personal and place names and some keywords, and also marginalia (see also Names and Keywords. Some Incipits and Explicits, and also Initials are in red. For Coloured Initials and Incipits and Explicits, see Textual Divisions.

      Scribes also emphasized the text for decoration purposes by using taller letters in the first line of a page, or emphasised the descenders of the last line af a page - Search decorative features, lombardic capitals...


      Connection to Caxton's Workshop

      Hellinga investigated smudges and traces of dark ink on the manuscript caused by printing ink (See for example, the smudged in fols 186v, 187v and 314v). The colour of oil-based ink used for printing and water-based ink used for copying in quill are very different, as she has observed. She then identified the offsets of several type faces by Caxton. Pages fresh from his press were laid on the manuscript and the wet ink accidentally transferred reversed images of Caxton's type faces:

      A repair to fol. 243 using a piece of an indulgence that Caxton printed in parchment in 1489 is now removed kept separately with the manuscript. This indulgence was granted by Pope Innocent VIII in 1489 to contributors to the expenses of a crusade and printed with Caxton’s type 7. There exists only one other copy of it, in Trinity College, Dublin (STC, 14077 c. 115). See Ker, 'Introduction', p. ix.

      Addition of text

      A later hand copied some words in the text in the margins: fol. 259v: 'Thus'; fol. 300v: 'There my'.

      Additions in blind scratches

      There is a shape of a flower drawn without ink in the upper corner of fol. 278r; and another picture of a face, also in the upper corner of fol. 456r.

      Small cross marks in the margins written without ink (see, for example, fols 371v and 372r) may also show that the manuscript was used somehow.


      Random alphabets are scribbled in the margins of fols 90r, fol. 189r and 254v.

      A scribble by a later hand, 'Wyȝer Casell' (fol. 166v).

      Some scribbles related to 'Richard Followell'. For a possible identity of Richard Followell, see Kelliher.

      • fol. 348r: The armorial watermark is traced in ink.
      • fol. 348r: 'Richard Followell' in several spelings and handwritings. One of it says: 'Richarde ffollowell is my', another says: 'Richard ffellwell is my name and w'
      • fol. 348r: A smudge in a shape of large letter R.
      • Letters 'M' (or upside down 'W') and 'R' (fol. 347r) and 'Richard' (fol. 344r) may be by the same hand too.

      Other scribbles: fol. 303r; circles are drawn in fol. 473r; pen trial (?) in fol. 481r; pen trial and letter 'M' (or upside down 'W') in fol. 482r; pen trial in fol. 484r

      At the top of fol. 9r, it says 'No 13' in pen. Also in pencil by Alchin (in 1839 or 1840), 'Beginning at part of chap. 8th. | See Pr. Arthur P.B.2 for:5'. At the bottom of fol. 484v, also by Alchin in pencil, 'ending nearly at the close of chapter 172. | See Pr. Arthur. P.B.2, for:5' (See Ker, pp. xx-xxi).

    Binding Description:

      This is one of the manuscripts in the Fellow's Library that were rebound by Rober Powell of Froxifield. It is in 'white alum tawed goatskin and pigskin' (Ker, pp. xix). It is now kept in a red box. It was rebound in 1948, and Powell's detailed note about the condition of the book when he received it is on the Rear Pastedown.

      * See how the book looks like now with the current binding.

      Back cover of 'the former binding of red sheepskin over millboards' is now kept separately (Ker, pp. xix). The pastedown has collation and a short description of the manuscript Probably around 1800. In the back of the cover, there are a copy of Caxton's indulgence in Trinity College Dublin from E. G. Duff's Early English Printing, and a letter from Victor Scholderer at the British Museum to Oakeshott, dated on 9 August 1934, identifying the Indulgence (See History, Provenance).

      * See the former binding.


Malory finished writing his Morte Darthur in 'the ix yere of the reygne of kyng edward of the forth', some time between 4 March 1469 and 3 March 1470. So, the manuscript could not have been made before then. The origin of the manuscript is unknown, but Lotte Hellinga's discovery of Caxton's printing ink on the pages of the manuscript suggests that the manuscript was in Caxton's workshop some time between 1480 and 1483 (See Hellinga, 'The Malory Manuscript and Caxton'). Therefore, the latest possible date for the copying of the manuscript was before 1483.


The manuscript was probably kept in Caxton's workshop till at least 1489, as the printed indulgence of which a fragment was used to repair a tear in fol. 243.

On fol. 348r, a hand of the later sixteenth century traced in ink the armorial watermark, and wrote a name Richard Followell in several styles of handwriting and several different spellings. For a possible provenance of the manuscript, see particularly Kelliher.

The manuscript is not listed in the lists of Winchester College manuscripts (1630) or in Bernard's Catalogi Manuscriptorum Angliae et Hiberniae (1697). This however does not necessarily mean that the manuscript was not there then (Ker, p. xx).

It was in Winchester College in 1839 or 1840, when W. T. Alchin described it as MS 13, 'The History of Prince Arthur, Imperfect' on p. 446 of his manuscript catalogue of the Fellows' library. Alchin thought that this manuscript was a handwritten copy of Caxton's Morte Darthur, hence the manuscript had been forgotten. It was W. F. Oakeshott, a young librarian in the Fellows' Library who re-discovered the manuscript unexpectedly. See Ookeshott, 'Finding of the Manuscript'.


The British Library purchased the manuscript in March 1976. Now the manuscript is Additional MS 59678.