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Final three weeks for the Four Books

In three weeks time on 15 March 2014, the 4 Books: Welsh icons united exhibition at the National Library of Wales will close. Shortly afterwards, the iconic Red Book of Hergest will return to England, and to the stacks of the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

During the last six months, the Red Book has shared an exhibition case with other national treasures – the Black Book of Carmarthen, the Book of Taliesin, and the Book of Aneirin – in the National Library, for the very first time. Before this event, the Red Book has only once returned to Wales since its exile to Oxford in 1701, and it is not expected that it will cross the border again for many years.

Dr Maredudd a Huw, Manuscripts Librarian at the National Library stated that: ‘It will be sad to see this treasured item leaving Wales once more, but we are most grateful to Jesus College, Oxford and to the Bodleian Library, for readily agreeing to the loan of their manuscript. By having it here for six months, we have been able to present a “quartet” of the nation’s earliest literary treasures. It is the culmination of a dream to show visitors the best of our literature, gathered together for the very first time.’

The Red Book of Hergest contains treasured texts such as the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, the Dream of Rhonabwy, a medicinal tract by the Physicians of Myddfai, and poems belonging to the saga of Llywarch the Old. The volume was compiled by a team of 3 scribes for Hopcyn ap Tomas ab Einion of Ynysforgan, near Swansea between 1382 and 1410. One of those scribes has been identified as Hywel Fychan ap Hywel Goch of Builth.

Dr Aled Gruffydd Jones, Chief Executive and Librarian of the National Library stated that: ‘It has been a delight to see four of the nation’s greatest treasure together in one place for the very first time. It has also been a delight to see so many visitors – from Wales and beyond, including many children – taking the opportunity to see this unique show. It has been a chance to celebrate the preservation of our native literature over the centuries, and the role of the Library today in preserving our manuscripts for the future.’

The 4 Books will be followed, from 29 March until 14 June 2014, with To tell a story: Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales, an exhibition showcasing one of the National Library’s greatest treasures, the Hengwrt manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Visitors will be able to view a manuscript believed by many to be the earliest extant version of this literary masterpiece, and to find an answer to the question of why it is here in Wales?

Further information

Elin-Hâf, NLW Press Office 01970 632471 or

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