The Red Book of Hergest (Jesus College MS. 111) is a renowned collection of medieval Welsh literature. It has been called one of the ‘Four Ancient Books of Wales’.
Written on vellum around 1400, the Red Book is a vast anthology of Middle Welsh literature. It contains the magical tales of the Mabinogion, the legendary history of the Kings of Britain, the works of the Poets of the Princes, and the herbal remedies of the Physicians of Myddfai.
Three scribes collaborated to produce the book for their patron Hopcyn ap Tomas ab Einion, of Ynysforgan near Swansea. It later passed to the Vaughan family of Hergest Court on the English border, and it was here, in the 16th century, that it was first described as Llyfr Coch Hergest, the Red Book of Hergest (although the current vibrant red binding dates from 1851; there was also a White Book of Hergest, since lost).
In the 17th century, the Red Book belonged to the Reverend Thomas Wilkins, who had studied at Jesus College, and in 1701 his son presented it to Jesus, at a time when there were no public libraries nor universities in Wales to receive it.
The Red Book had pride of place in the gilt-fronted manuscript cupboards in the Fellows’ Library until 1886, when the College decided to deposit it in the Bodleian Library so that scholars could access it more easily. Since then, most of the texts in the Red Book have been edited and published (and in some cases translated into English). Today, researchers who need to see the original manuscript can apply to Bodleian Special Collections, while other interested readers can see it on Digital Bodleian.