Lansdowne manuscripts

The Shaftesbury Psalter
Miniature of God holding an orb with the Holy Spirit as a dove above sending forth the archangel Gabriel (left); Miniature of Holy Women at the Tomb (right), from the ‘Shaftesbury Psalter’, England (West Country), c. 1130-1140, Lansdowne MS 383, ff. 12v-13r.

The Lansdowne collection is best known for its modern political papers, but also features a number of illuminated medieval manuscripts, and topographical and heraldic material.

About the collection

The collection features the papers of important historical and literary figures such as William Cecil, Lord Burghley (the ‘Burghley Papers’, Lansdowne MSS 1-122) and Geoffrey Chaucer. Perhaps the most celebrated medieval manuscript in the collection is the Shaftesbury Psalter, a 12th-century English book made for a female reader. Other highlights include an illuminated copy of John Hardyng’s Chronicle of Britain to Henry VI, numerous medieval legal treatises, and important topographical and heraldic material.

This collection belonged to William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne (1737-1805) and was purchased for the British Museum with a parliamentary grant in 1807.

The manuscripts collection is numbered Lansdowne MS 1 to Lansdowne MS 1245. The Lansdowne charters and rolls are numbered 1-695.

What is available online?

list of the Lansdowne manuscripts can be browsed and many are described in the online catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

Some images of manuscripts containing illumination can be found on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

A number of the Lansdowne manuscripts have been digitised in full on Digitised Manuscripts.

The Lansdowne charters and seals are not described online. Hand-written descriptions can be found in a volume in the Manuscripts Reading Room. These can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/19.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The Lansdowne collection can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Some items may require a letter of introduction.

Further information

Useful reference resources include:

A Catalogue of the Lansdowne Manuscripts in the British Museum, (London, 1819)

How to guides

Access manuscripts and archives

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