Red Book of Hergest

New-WI-LogoThe Red Book of Hergest (Welsh: Llyfr Coch Hergest) is one of the most important medieval Welsh manuscripts. It includes both prose and poetry and was written around 1382-1410. It is now kept at the Bodleian Library on behalf of Jesus College, Oxford (MS 111), a gift of the Rev Thomas Wilkins in 1701.

One of the several copyists responsible for the ms has been identified as Hywel Fychan fab Hywel Goch of Buellt. He is known to have worked for Hopcyn ap Tomas ab Einion (ca.1330 – after 1403) of Ynysforgan, Swansea, and it is possible that the manuscript was compiled for him. The manuscript’s name derives from the fact that it is bound in red leather and from its association with Hergest Court (Plas Hergest) in Herefordshire in the Welsh Marches, from about 1465 until the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The first part of the manuscript contains prose, including the Mabinogion, for which this is one of the manuscript sources (the other principal source being the White book of Rhydderch), other tales, historical texts (including a Welsh translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae), and various other texts including a series of Triads. 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’.

JRR Tolkien borrowed the title for the Red Book of Westmarch, the imagined legendary source of Tolkien’s tales.