Lord Danbys Lute Book was purchased by the Sibley Library, Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, from the Berlin dealer Liepmannsohn, in September 1930. The manuscript, a small oblong quarto (c20 x 15cm) of 72 leaves bound in 18th-century marbled boards, quarter magenta calf, now bears the call-mark Vault M 2.1 D 172. Apart from two flyleaves and a pastedown at the beginning, and a single flyleaf and pastedown at the end, it consists of paper printed with five 6-line staves per page. On the first flyleaf is written the ownership note: My Lord Danby his book. The manuscript has been paginated by the library in a somewhat unusual manner: the flyleaves are unnumbered, and the pagination begins on the verso of the first leaf of music paper, where the music actually begins; the recto of this leaf contains printed staves only.
The manuscript had formed part of lot 449 at the auction of the library of Hornby Castle in Yorkshire, the seat of the Dukes of Leeds, in June 1930, together with another lute manuscript, now in The Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Lord Danby can be identified without doubt as William Henry Osborne, Earl of Danby (see below). He is known to have been a keen lutenist, and to have bought music for his instrument as well as having regular lessons while living with his brother on the Continent between 1706 and his death in 1711. There is every reason to suppose that the book was compiled during these years and there is nothing in the manuscript which suggests that this is not the case. Various factors further narrow the likely time of compilation to the last two years of the period.
Four musical copyists contributed to the book: two (A & D) are competent professional musicians, and provided the bulk (all but five pieces); B, again a competent scribe (the same as that of a lute MS in Vienna from the same period) added one piece (11); C, probably Lord Danby himself, most inadequately wrote in three fragments and one gigue (47) which lacks any rhythm signs. Although the last to appear in the sequence of the manuscript, it is clear that D copied in his music before A, who has made corrections and alterations to several pieces written by D. A curious feature of the make-up of the book is that extra music paper, the same as that used throughout, has been glued on to the bottom of some pages to avoid page-turns in long pieces (all in Ds hand). In two cases (the two Handel overtures, 12 & 92), a single sheet has been fixed across the bottom of a whole opening so as to give an extra 15 staves; in 12 this extra paper actually crosses between two gatherings, showing that the book was bound before the music was copied in, and that D had access to stocks of this printed paper. 9, entitled in the MS Gigue de Mylord Danby, is in hand A, so this scribe must have been an acquaintance, perhaps the lute teacher , of Lord Danby. It is possible that Lord Danby first acquired the book containing the pieces in hand D only, and that it was subsequently added to by himself (C), his lute teacher (A) and a friend or another teacher (B).