King Arthur's legend comes to life in a £2m historic manuscript

A 14th century account of the tale of King Arthur described as the 'Holy Grail' of manuscripts is to go on sale at Sotheby's next month, with an estimated price of £2m.

The Rochefoucauld Grail comprises 3 huge volumes telling the stories of Arthur, Merlin and the Knight of the Round Table, and is said to be one of the finest medieval texts of its type. Bound in vellum, it contains 107 delicate gothic illuminations painted with rare minerals on a background of pure beaten gold.

An illumination showing an injured Lancelot carried to
                 safety by Queen Guinevere

Within its pages Arthur's legend is spectacularly brought to life. His story was popular throughout medieval Europe, translated into many languages, and the volumes are described by antiquarian book experts as one of the earliest attempts to compile all the stories surrounding his court.

The manuscript is thought to have originated in Flanders during the early 14th century and was produced for Guy VII, Baron de Rochefoucauld, the head of one of France's leading aristocratic families.

It remained in the family for close to 500 years, surviving protected and intact whilst similar texts were broken up and sold page by page. Its fourth volume survives in two sections, split between Oxford's Bodleian and the John Rylands university library in Manchester.

Lancelot's attempt at suicide is stopped by another knight

It was bought by Sir Thomas Phillips, a famed collector of medieval manuscripts, during the 19th century, and has since changed hands only twice. It is now being sold by the Dutch collector J R Ritman to raise money for his library on the history of mysticism and the occult, the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica.

Experts have been amazed by the condition of the Grail which seems to have been rarely (if ever) read, and they expect a huge amount of interest to surround the sale on December 7. The Holy Grail itself may remain a mystery, but for astute investors this manuscript may be the closest thing you can get to owning a real piece of King Arthur's magical legacy.


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