Red Book of Hergest
The Red Book of Hergest is a large vellum manuscript written shortly after 1382, which ranks as one of the most important medieval manuscripts written in the Welsh language
Welsh language
Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some along the Welsh border in England, and in Y Wladfa...

. It preserves a collection of Welsh prose and poetry, notably the tales of the Mabinogion
The Mabinogion is the title given to a collection of eleven prose stories collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts. The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and early medieval historical traditions...

, Gogynfeirdd poetry. The manuscript derives its name from the colour of its leather binding and from its association with Hergest Court between the late 15th and early 17th century.


The manuscript was written between about 1382 and 1410. One of the several copyists responsible for the manuscript has been identified as Hywel Fychan fab Hywel Goch of Buellt. He is known to have worked for Hopcyn ap Tomas ab Einion (c. 1330 - after 1403) of Ynysforgan
Ynysforgan is a village near Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales. It lies just off Junction 45 of the M4 motorway, geographically between Morriston and Ynystawe. The origins of its name are not known for certain but ynys is Welsh for a river-meadow Ynysforgan is a village near Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales. It...

, Swansea
Swansea is a coastal city and county in Wales. Swansea is in the historic county boundaries of Glamorgan. Situated on the sandy South West Wales coast, the county area includes the Gower Peninsula and the Lliw uplands...

, and it is possible that the manuscript was compiled for Hopcyn.

According to scholar Daniel Huws, it is "by far the heaviest of the medieval books in Welsh, the largest in its dimensions [...] and the thickest".


The manuscript appears to have been retained by Hopcyn's family until the end of the 15th century, when Hopcyn's grandson Hopcyn ap Rhys was held complicit in the rebellion against King Edward IV and consequently saw much of his property forfeited. The Vaughans of Tretower
Tretower is a hamlet in the community of Llanfihangel Cwmdu with Bwlch and Cathedine in the southern part of the county of Powys in Wales. It lies on the A479 road within the Brecon Beacons National Park at the foot of the Black Mountains just off the Usk Valley...

 (Tretŵr), then in Breconshire, obtained it, probably in 1465 on receiving Hopcyn's forfeited possessions. Ownership is suggested by two odes (awdl
An awdl is a long poem written in Welsh in one of the twenty-four strict metres, using cynghanedd. Such poems are considered among the finest work that a poet can aim to produce, and prizes are given at eisteddfodau for the best awdl....

) dedicated to Sir Thomas Vaughan (d. 1483) and his sons, which were written into the manuscript by Welsh poet Lewys Glyn Cothi
Lewys Glyn Cothi
Lewys Glyn Cothi , also known as Llywelyn y Glyn, was a prominent Welsh poet who composed numerous poems in the Welsh language. He is one of the most important representatives of the Beirdd yr Uchelwyr or Cywyddwyr , the itinerant professional poets of the period between the 1284 Statute of...

 at Tretower. The Red Book soon passed into the possession of the Vaughans of Hergest Court, near Kington
Kington, Herefordshire
Kington is a market town and civil parish in Herefordshire, England. According to the 2001 census it had a population of 2,597.-Location:Kington is near the Wales-England border and, despite being on the western side of Offa's Dyke, has been English for over a thousand years. The town is in the...

 in the Welsh Marches
Welsh Marches
The Welsh Marches is a term which, in modern usage, denotes an imprecisely defined area along and around the border between England and Wales in the United Kingdom. The precise meaning of the term has varied at different periods...

. Sir John Price
John Price
John Price is a former English cricketer, who played in fifteen Tests for England from 1964 to 1972....

 of Brecon reports to have seen the manuscript in 1550, presumably at Hergest. In the late 1560s, William Salesbury
William Salesbury
William Salesbury also Salusbury was the leading Welsh scholar of the Renaissance and the principal translator of the 1567 Welsh New Testament.Salesbury was born in about 1520 in the parish of Llansannan, Conwy...

 found the manuscript in the possession of Sir Henry Sidney at Ludlow
Ludlow is a market town in Shropshire, England close to the Welsh border and in the Welsh Marches. It lies within a bend of the River Teme, on its eastern bank, forming an area of and centred on a small hill. Atop this hill is the site of Ludlow Castle and the market place...

, when Siancyn Gwyn of Llanidloes
Llanidloes is a town along the A470 road and B4518 road in Powys, within the historic county boundaries of Montgomeryshire , Mid Wales.It is the first town on the River Severn...

 held it on loan from him.

By the early 17th century, the Red Book had passed to the Mansels of Margam, hence back in Glamorgan. It was possibly brought into the marriage between Henry's granddaughter Catherine Sidney and Sir Lewis Mansel, who is reported to have owned it in 1634. The manuscript is later found in the collection of Thomas Wilkins
Thomas Wilkins
Thomas Wilkins was a Welsh cleric and antiquarian, who collected Welsh manuscripts.-Life:His father and his grandfather were both called Thomas Wilkins; all three in turn were rectors of St Mary's Church in Glamorgan. Wilkins was educated at Jesus College, Oxford, matriculating in 1641 and...

 (d. 1699), a Welsh clergyman and antiquarian, who may have borrowed it from the Mansels without ever returning it. In 1697, Wilkins was visited by Edward Lhuyd
Edward Lhuyd
Edward Lhuyd was a Welsh naturalist, botanist, linguist, geographer and antiquary. He is also known by the Latinized form of his name, Eduardus Luidius....

, who spent some time copying a manuscript which might well have been the Red Book. In 1701, two years after Wilkin's death, his son Thomas Wilkins the Younger donated the manuscript to Jesus College, Oxford
Jesus College, Oxford
Jesus College is one of the colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It is in the centre of the city, on a site between Turl Street, Ship Street, Cornmarket Street and Market Street...

. Internal evidence, a note by the latter Wilkins, suggests that Edward Lhuyd then held the manuscript on loan, but that the college was able to retrieve it only 13 years later, after Lhuyd's death. It is now kept at the Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library , the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library...

 on behalf of Jesus College, Oxford, and catalogued as MS 111.


The first part of the manuscript contains prose, including the Mabinogion
The Mabinogion is the title given to a collection of eleven prose stories collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts. The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and early medieval historical traditions...

, for which this is one of the manuscript sources (the other principal source being the White book of Rhydderch
White Book of Rhydderch
The White Book of Rhydderch is one of the most notable and celebrated manuscripts in Welsh. Written in the middle of the fourteenth century it is the earliest collection of Welsh prose texts, though it also contains some examples of early Welsh poetry...

), other tales, historical texts (including a Welsh
Welsh language
Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some along the Welsh border in England, and in Y Wladfa...

 translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

's Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae
The Historia Regum Britanniae is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written c. 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons in a chronological narrative spanning a time of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans founding the British nation...

), and various other texts including a series of Triads
Welsh Triads
The Welsh Triads are a group of related texts in medieval manuscripts which preserve fragments of Welsh folklore, mythology and traditional history in groups of three. The triad is a rhetorical form whereby objects are grouped together in threes, with a heading indicating the point of likeness...

. The rest of the manuscript contains poetry, especially from the period of court poetry known as Poetry of the Princes (Welsh:Gogynfeirdd or Beirdd y Tywysogion).

The manuscript also contains a collection of herbal remedies associated with Rhiwallon Feddyg, founder of a medical dynasty that lasted over 500 years - 'The Physicians of Myddfai' from the village of Myddfai
Myddfai is a small village and community in Carmarthenshire, Wales. It is situated south of Llandovery in the Brecon Beacons, and has a population of 415.-Lady of the Lake Legend:...

 just outside Llandovery
Llandovery is a market town in Carmarthenshire, Wales, lying on the River Tywi and the A40 road.The town is served by Llandovery railway station, where there is a park and ride to Llanelli and Shrewsbury via the Heart of Wales Line...



J. R. R. Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College,...

 borrowed the title for the Red Book of Westmarch
Red Book of Westmarch
The Red Book of Westmarch is a fictional manuscript written by hobbits, a conceit of author J. R. R...

, the imagined legendary source of Tolkien’s tales.


  • 'Red book of Hergest'. In Meic Stephens (Ed.) (1998), The new companion to the literature of Wales. Cardiff : University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1383-3.
  • Parry, Thomas (1955), A history of Welsh literature. Translated by H. Idris Bell. Oxford : Clarendon Press.
  • Thomas, Richard Biography of Thomas Wilkins, Welsh Biography Online (National Library of Wales
    National Library of Wales
    The National Library of Wales , Aberystwyth, is the national legal deposit library of Wales; one of the Welsh Government sponsored bodies.Welsh is its main medium of communication...


External links

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