King's manuscripts

Detail of miniature of a scene from Virgil’s Eclogues
Detail of a scene from Virgil’s Eclogues, from ‘The King’s Virgil’, Italy (Rome), between 1483 and 1485, King’s MS 24, f. 1r.

A distinguished collection of medieval and post-medieval manuscripts and topographical material.

About the collection

Some highlights from the collection include the 14th-century illuminated Biblia Pauperum, a number of luxurious books of hours such as King’s MS 7, an illustrated English genealogical chronicle from Adam and Eve to Edward VI, and Dr Samuel Johnson’s autograph draft of his play Irene.

Collected by George III and transferred to the British Museum in 1823 by George IV, the manuscripts were at first kept with the printed books but were transferred to the Department of Manuscripts in 1840. The manuscript maps, however, remained in the Department of Printed Books, and are now to be found in the Map Library as the King's Topographical Collection.

The collection is numbered King's MS 1 to King's MS 446.

What is available online?

Many of the King's manuscripts are described in the online catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts and a partial contents list can be browsed here.

Images of some King's manuscripts containing illumination can be found on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

A small number of the King's manuscripts have been digitised in full on Digitised Manuscripts.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The King’s collection of manuscripts can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Some items may require a letter of introduction.

Further information

Useful reference resources include:

How to guides

Access manuscripts and archives

Accessing manuscripts and archives and obtaining a Letter of introduction or recommendation

Find charters, rolls, and seals

How to access medieval and early modern European documentary collections

Find papyri

How to identify papyri and request them