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This item is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

Pictures from a Library 18: John Lydgate’s Troy Book
'All that glisters is not gold'
John Yudgate's Troy Book.
Rylands English Manuscript 1, Lydgate’s Troy Book. Reproduced by courtesy of the Director of the John Rylands Library, the University of Manchester

It is All Hallows’ Eve in the year of our Lord 2014 and on this exact day six hundred and two years ago Harry, then Prince of Wales, commissioned John Lydgate, the monk of Bury, to write a poem in Middle English on the subject of the Trojan War. Eight years later Lydgate presented his completed work to his illustrious patron who had by then ascended to the English throne as Henry V. Weighing in at some 30,000 lines of verse marshalled into 15,000 couplets, this epic poem of epic proportions has claims to being one of the most ambitious iterations of the story of the siege of Troy in any vernacular language.

Since ‘handwriting is to space what the voice is to time’ (Susan Stewart), a poem of such magnitude, fit for a king, deserves to be embodied and transmitted through a script emblazoned with colour and glowing with gold. Measuring 45 cm by 33 cm, and comprising over one hundred and seventy folios, mostly decorated with lavish illuminations, the version of the poem held in the John Rylands Library, English Manuscript 1, does not disappoint.

Exquisite tiny knights in shining armour brandish silver swords and urge their chargers into battle. Minuscule damsels, arrayed in the latest fifteenth-century fur-lined fashions in emerald, sapphire and vermilion, watch the action ...

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