Manuscripts and Special Collections

'Speculum Vitae' and 'The Lay Folks' Catechism' (WLC/LM/9)

WLC/LM/9, f. 248r

English, 1400-1425. 257 ff

The two texts in this volume are in different hands, and 'The Lay Folks' Catechism' forms the final quire. The volume retains an early, perhaps original binding. Dating is based on the most recent catalogue description: beginning of the 15th century (Reference: The Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts)

'Speculum Vitae' is a long English poem addressed to laity, giving guidance on matters of faith and morality, composed 1350-1375. It gives guidance on the elements of the Christian faith, and explains the Ten Commandments, the seven sacraments, and the seven deadly sins, with much discussion of vices and virtues. It is a verse translation of the 'Somme le roi' by Lorens of Orleans.

The Lay Folks' Catechism (ff. 248r-257r) was composed by John Gaytryge in 1357 at the command of Archbishop Thoresby of York, and provides a similar doctrinal instruction in the elements of the Christian faith to 'Speculum Vitae', but in a much shorter form. The dialect of the text suggests a Leicestershire origin.

Image shows f. 248 recto, the first folio of The Lay Folks' Catechism.

View catalogue records

View zoomable images of the following folios from WLC/LM/9, together with transcriptions and translations of selected parts of the text, on our Wives, Widows and Wimples online learning resource:


Further Reading

  • Historical Manuscript Commission , Report on the Manuscripts of Lord Middleton Preserved at Wollaton Hall , Nottinghamshire , compiled by W. H. Stevenson (London, 1911), pp. 237-9.
  • Thorlac Turville-Petre and Dorothy Johnston, Image & Text: Medieval Manuscripts at the University of Nottingham (Nottingham: Djanogly Art Gallery, University of Nottingham Arts Centre, 1996), p. 6.
  • Ralph Hanna, Speculum Vitae: A Reading Text (Oxford, 2009). The ms. is described pp. xliii-xliv.
  • Catalogue description by R. Hanna, in Ralph Hanna and Thorlac Turville-Petre (eds), The Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners and Readers (Boydell and Brewer, 2010)

Published editions:

  • Ralph Hanna (ed). Speculum Vitae: v. 1 & 2: A Reading Text (Early English Text Society Original Series) (Oxford: OUP, 2008). The text of this edition is not from WLC/LM/9, but from another manuscript.
  • Frederick Simmons and Henry Edward Nolloth (eds.) The lay folks' catechism : or the English and Latin versions of Archbishop Thoresby's Instruction for the people; together with a Wycliffite adaptation of the same, and the corresponding canons of the Council of Lambeth (Early English Text Society, 1901). The text is not from WLC/LM/9, but from another manuscript.

Secondary literature:

  • Venetia Nelson (now Somerset), 'The Middle English Speculum Vitae: A Critical Edition of Part of the Text from Thirty-five Manuscripts', 2 vols (University of Sydney PhD thesis, 1974), 1:90-96; Matthew Sullivan, ‘The Role of the Nassington Family in the Medieval English Church’ in Nottingham Medieval Studies, 37 (1993), 53-64
  • Anne Hudson, 'A New Look at the Lay Folks' Catechism', Viator 16 (1985), 243-58, at 246; Sue Powell, 'The Transmission and Circulation of The Lay Folks' Catechism', in Late-Medieval Religious Texts and their Transmission, ed. A. J. Minnis (Cambridge, 1994), 67-84.

Next page: WLC/LM/11


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