Sadler Partbooks

Oxford, Bodleian Library: Mus. e.1-5

Bodleian Library, mus.e.1, fol.35vJohn Sadler (c. 1532-1592) was a merchant-grocer living in St George's, Colegate, Norwich (not, as previously thought, a Northamptonshire schoolmaster and clergyman).  He was responsible for the copying of two sets of musical partbooks. One of these is preserved complete in the Bodleian library (Mus.e.1-5, known as the Sadler partbooks), while from the second, later set only the tenor (Bodleian Library, Oxford: Tenbury 1486, ‘Braikenridge’ partbook) and the altus (private collection, ‘Willmott partbook’) survive. Sadler’s partbooks are particularly distinct due to their illustrations: elaborate initials and pictures of owls, dogs, plants, bells and colourful Latin inscriptions decorate the notation.

Although Mus. e.1-5 were copied c.1565-85, they preserve much pre-Reformation Catholic music alongside more contemporary Latin motets by Tallis, Byrd and Morley.

Unfortunately the ink used in their copying was mixed to be too acidic. This has caused corrosion leaving the pages fragile and difficult to read. Through a process of digital restoration, the Tudor Partbooks project will restore the pages to their former glory and a more legible state in a ‘restored facsimile’ edition.


For detailed catalogue information and images (unrestored) see DIAMM 

Key publications include:

  • David G. Mateer, 'John Sadler and Oxford, Bodleian MSS Mus. e. 1-5', Music & Letters, 60 (1979), 281-95.
  • Judith Blezzard, 'Monsters and Messages: The Willmott and Braikenridge Manuscripts of Latin Tudor Church Music, 1591' The Antiquaries Journal 75 (1995), 311-38.
  • Matthias Range and Julia Craig-McFeely, 'Forty Years in the Wilderness: John Sadler of the Sadler Partbooks', Music & Letters, 101 (2020), 657-89 (