Find charters, rolls, and seals

Forest Charter with great seal

This guide provides information for readers who would like to find medieval and early modern European charters, or consult descriptions of them, in the Manuscripts Reading Room. There is also a brief introduction to the Seal and Cast collections.

Published date:

The arrangement of the charter, roll, and seal collections

The primary, continuing collection of charters at the British Library is the Additional series, as for manuscripts. The letters ‘Ch’ must be inserted between the collection name and the charter number when a charter is requested to avoid receiving the manuscript with the same number. Add Ch 29282 is distinct from Add MS 29282; Egerton Ch 485 is distinct from Egerton MS 485; and Harley Ch 43 A 1 is distinct from Harley MS 43. The printed index (Index of Manuscripts in the British Library, 10 vols, 1984–86) signals charters and rolls using the italic letters Ch; these are Additional charters.

There are also four charter collections which do not correspond to one of our named collections of manuscripts, but are named collections of charters in their own right: Topham Charters, Wolley Charters, Lord Frederick Campbell Charters, and Church Briefs. Each collection of charters and rolls forms one numbered sequence without regard to charter or roll format, except in the Harley collection, where the rolls form a separately numbered sequence. The word ‘Charter’ usually refers to both charters and rolls. For a list of the charter and roll collection see ‘How to find descriptions of charters and rolls’ and ‘Indexes to the charters and rolls’. Note that of those indexes, only the Index Locorum and entries for charters in the indexes to the published catalogues for accessions to 1950 are included in the Main Index.

Seals are numbered with a combination of Roman numerals and Arabic numbers, e.g. Seal XXXV 23 (except for Doubleday Casts which use the name followed by a letter and a number). The Main Index only contains seals which are included in the indexes to the Catalogue of Additions to 1950 accessions. They appear in the Main Index without a collection name. The word ‘Seal’ must be added before the roman numerals and numbers, before the item is referred to or requested. For a list of the catalogues of and indexes to the Seal and Cast collections see ‘The Seal and Doubleday Cast collections’.

Using charters, rolls, and seals

These items are ordered in the same way as bound manuscripts, that is, up to four at one time. In Explore Archives and Manuscripts, select ‘Request Other Items’ followed by ‘Western Manuscripts Collection’. Enter the manuscript reference (e.g. Cotton Ch XIII 25, Harley Ch 43 A 25) and select ‘Request for today’ or ‘Add to basket’ if for future use. There is normally a limit of 10 items per day (dependent upon the number of readers using the Reading Room on the day). We request that they be consulted at the designated seats for unbound manuscripts.

Weights can be provided to help maintain charters and rolls open. Charters and rolls are issued in trays, and readers are asked to return them to the Issue Desk in the trays. Seals should be kept in the trays at all times, and are normally issued from the Issue Desk one at a time. Readers are particularly asked to replace charters issued in numbered envelopes in the correct envelopes, and seals in the correct boxes.

Some readers may need to consult a long run of charters. Arrangements for this should be made through the Manuscripts Enquiries Staff. It will not always be possible to supply a longer sequence on the day of the request.

Finding descriptions of charters and rolls

The collections are listed here roughly in order of size of the collections. The main catalogues and indexes for charters and seals can be found near the entrance to the Reading Room, beside the main catalogue sequence.

Additional Charters and Rolls

  1. Additional Charters 1–59845: The Catalogues of Additional Charters are manuscript calendars, which are handwritten summaries of the contents of these charters and rolls in 38 volumes. These calendars can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/1–14. There are also brief descriptions of Additional Charters 1054–59845 in the Catalogue of Additions for accessions 1836–1914.

  2. Additional Charters 59846 onwards. Summary descriptions of these charters can be found in the Catalogue of Additions for accessions 1914 onwards.

  3. Additional Charters 72121–74194 (Shrewsbury or Talbot Deeds). In addition to the summary descriptions in the Catalogues of Additions, there are detailed typewritten descriptions in 9 volumes. A card index to personal names (10 boxes) and places (1 box) by Edith S. Scroggs can be consulted on request. A handwritten concordance from the Scroggs numbers to the Additional Charters numbers is also available.

Egerton Charters and Rolls

  1. Egerton Charters 1–1295. The Catalogue of Egerton Charters features handwritten summaries of these charters and rolls in 2 volumes. These calendars can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/15. There are also brief descriptions of Egerton Charters 103–1295 in the Catalogues of Additions for accessions 1854–1917.

  2. Egerton Charters 1296 onwards. Summary descriptions of these charters can be found in the Catalogues of Additions for accessions 1917 onwards.

  3. Egerton Charters 2301–8866 (Thoresby Park Charters & Rolls) are calendared in Egerton MSS 3660 A–F.

Harley Charters and Rolls

  1. Harley Charters are numbered 43 A 1–112 I 62. The Catalogues of Harley Charters are in 7 volumes. These calendars can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/16–18.

  2. Harley Rolls are numbered A 1–DD 5. Handwritten summary descriptions can be found in a volume combined with Sloane charter descriptions and another copy in a volume combined with other charter collection descriptions. These calendars can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/19.

Cotton Charters and Rolls

Cotton Charters and Rolls are numbered Cotton Ch I 1–Cotton Ch XXX 41. Handwritten summary descriptions can be found in a volume combined with Royal Charter descriptions, and another copy in a volume combined with other charter collection descriptions. These calendars can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/15.

Lansdowne Charters and Rolls

The Lansdowne Charters and Rolls are numbered 1–695. Handwritten summary descriptions can be found in a volume combined with descriptions of Topham charters. These calendars can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/19.

Stowe Charters

The Stowe Charters are numbered 1–646, and are described in the Catalogue of Stowe Manuscripts, 2 vols, 1895–96.

Wolley Charters

The Wolley Charters are numbered I 1–XX 144. There are two volumes of handwritten descriptions:

  1. one entitled Wolley Charters;

  2. another entitled Catalogue of Wolley Charters, Add. MS. 6699.

The descriptions in the former supersede the descriptions of the latter. These descriptions can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/19.

Lord Frederick Campbell Charters

The Lord Frederick Campbell Charters, sometimes abbreviated to Campbell Charters or LFC Charters, are numbered I 1–XXX 22. A volume of handwritten descriptions is available. These descriptions can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/19.

Royal Rolls

The Royal Rolls are numbered Royal MSS 14 B I–14 B LII. They are described in the published Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Royal and King’s Collections, 1921. These descriptions supersede the handwritten descriptions of which there are two copies, one combined with Cotton Charter descriptions, the other combined with various charter collections.

Sloane Charters and Rolls

The Sloane Charters and Rolls are numbered XXXI 1–XXXIV 1. There are two copies of handwritten descriptions, one combined with descriptions of other charter collections. Note that the latter of the two lists omits the last two charters. These descriptions can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/19.

Topham Charters

Topham Charters are numbered 1–56. There are handwritten descriptions in a volume which also includes Lansdowne Charter descriptions. These descriptions can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/19.

Church Briefs

The Church Briefs, sometimes abbreviated ChBr, are numbered A I 1–C VIII 3. There is a volume of handwritten descriptions but note that they are entered there by regnal year, e.g. ‘28 Geo. II’ (the 28th year of the reign of King George II, 1754–55). The references added in pencil, e.g. ‘Church Brief A I 1’, should be used instead. The regnal year may also appear on the item when it is delivered. These descriptions may also be consulted on microfilm M2032/15.

Indexes to the charters and rolls (indexes of persons and places)

Indexes of Places

  1. The Index to Charters and Rolls in the Department of Manuscripts, British Museum, 2 vols, 1900–12, also known as the Index Locorum, covers all of the collections listed above (although Additional and Egerton Charters are included for accessions to 1900 only, that is, to Add Ch 45797 and Eg Ch 621) but for British place names only.

  2. The Index of Manuscripts in the British Library, 10 vols, 1984–86, includes the Index Locorum described above, and also includes the indexing of places for Additional and Egerton Charters from the Catalogue of Additions to 1950 accessions. For later accessions to the Additional and Egerton Charter collections, the later Catalogues of Additions should be consulted.

  3. The indexes of British place names in the handwritten catalogues of the Egerton, Additional (to vol. VI), Lansdowne, Topham, and Wolley Charters described above have been superseded by the Index Locorum, but can still be useful for foreign place names.

  4. In the departmental archives is a handwritten slip index to foreign charters (which according to the introduction to volume 2 of the published Index Locorum, would have constituted the third volume). This is not yet available to readers.

Indexes of Persons

  1. The Index Nominum of charters in 69 volumes, which consists of photocopies of handwritten slips, is in two series which correspond to the two volumes of the Index Locorum, except that it includes both British and Foreign charters. It can also be consulted on microfilm M889/1–69.

  2. The Index of Manuscripts in the British Library does not include the Index Nominum, but does provide references to names of persons in charters to the very limited extent that these are included in the indexes of the published catalogues for accessions to 1950. For later accessions the later Catalogues of Additions should be consulted.

Indexes of Persons and Places

  1. The handwritten catalogue of the Additional Charters and Rolls including up to volume vi, an index of persons and places for Additional Charters to 17356.

  2. The handwritten catalogue of the Egerton Charters and Rolls includes an index of persons and places, but only up to Egerton Charter 485.

  3. The handwritten catalogue of the Lansdowne Charters and Rolls includes an index of persons and places.

  4. The handwritten catalogue of Topham Charters includes an index of persons and places.

  5. The second of the two handwritten catalogues of Wolley Charters, described above, includes an index of persons and places.

  6. E. Owen, Catalogue of the Manuscripts relating to Wales in the British Museum, vol. III, 1908, is a catalogue with index to Welsh Charters to Add Ch 53709.

Anglo-Saxon Charters

Anglo-Saxon charters and wills have been fully catalogued and indexed in P. H. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters, an Annotated List and Bibliography (1968). (There is also a slip index to Anglo-Saxon charters in the departmental archives. It is superseded by Sawyer and not available to readers.) An electronic, searchable version of Sawyer is available online.

Welsh Charters

E. Owen, Catalogue of Manuscripts relating to Wales in the British Museum, vol. III, 1908, is a catalogue with index of charters relating to Wales.

Index Rerum

In the departmental archives there is a handwritten slip index rerum (‘index of things’) to charters. This is not yet available to readers.

Ayscough Catalogue

An early attempt by Samuel Ayscough to catalogue and index the charter collection, completed in 1792, survives in manuscript and is now Add MSS 43500–43502.

The Seal and Doubleday Cast collections

The department’s detached seals are numbered beginning at Seal XXIV 2, and are continuing. Seals which are attached to the charters described in ‘How to find descriptions of charters and rolls’ have no separate numbering but are included in some of the catalogues and indexes described below.

  1. Brief descriptions of Seals XXXV 196 onwards are included in the Catalogue of Additions.

  2. Index entries for Seals XXXV 196–CXCV 5, taken from the Catalogues of Additions for accessions to 1950, are included in the Index of Manuscripts in the British Library, 10 vols (1984–86).

  3. Index entries for Seals CXCVI 1 onwards are in the Catalogues of Additions for accessions 1951 onwards.

  4. The Catalogue of Seals in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum, by W. de Birch, 6 vols (1887–99), is arranged by categories of seals:

    • Volume I (1887). England and Wales. Royal, Official, Ecclesiastical (including Orders and Guilds). Not indexed.
    • Volume II (1892). England and Wales. Local, Prince of Wales, Equestrian, Ladies, Heraldic A–F. Not indexed.
    • Volume III (1894). England and Wales. Heraldic G–Z, British Companies, Colonies and Dependencies. Not indexed.
    • Volume IV (1895). Scotland and Ireland. Indexed.
    • Volume V (1898). Byzantine Empire, France. Indexed.
    • Volume VI (1899). Other countries. Indexed.

    Although the first three volumes have no indexes, there is a handwritten Index of Seals (see below).

    Each volume includes seals, including those attached to Additional and Egerton Charters, acquired up to the date of publication, and the charter collections described in ‘How to find descriptions of charters and rolls’, except for Stowe, but including ‘Doubleday Casts’ (D.C.).

    Please note that the catalogue entry in bold numbers to the left of the entry for each seal should not be used when referring to or requesting seals. The collection name should be written Seal, followed by the Roman numerals and numbers between square brackets after the entry for the seal. If the seal is attached to a charter, the full charter reference will be given between the square brackets.

  5. The following handwritten personal and place name Index of Seals is available:

    1. First series in 2 vols, A–K and L–Z, for Seals, including those attached to Additional and Egerton Charters, acquired up to 1879, and the charter collections described in ‘How to find descriptions of charters or rolls’, with the exception of Stowe.

    2. Second series in 2 vols, A–J and K–Z, for Seals, including those attached to Additional and Egerton Charters, acquired from 1879–90, and Stowe Charters.

    3. Third series in 2 vols, A–G and Z, for Seals, including those attached to Additional and Egerton Charters, acquired from 1890–1910.

  6. A handwritten Catalogue of Detached Seals in the Department of Manuscripts (1848), with an index to persons and places, is available. It contains descriptions of:

    1. Seals which are numbered Cotton Charters XVI 4–XIX 13

    2. Seals which are numbered Sloane Charters XXXII 50–XXXIV 1

    3. Seals XXIV 2–XXXV 373

  7. Seals XLVII 1–XLVII 2453 are casts of mainly Scottish seals, and are sometimes referred to as Laing Casts. There is a volume containing handwritten descriptions of them, with an index to persons and places, which reads on the spine H. Laing, Catalogues of Casts of Seals, and on the title page Register of detached seals XLVII.1–2453.

  8. Doubleday Casts, sometimes abbreviated D.C., form a separately numbered sequence from D.C. A 1–D.C. H 197. They are included in Birch’s Catalogue of Seals cited above. There are also two volumes of handwritten descriptions of them, one entitled John Doubleday, Collection of Casts of Seals, with an index, and the other British Museum Catalogue of Doubleday Casts, without an index. The former supersedes the latter, the cast numbers in which should not be used. Both include references to Cotton and Harley Charters from which some of the casts were taken.

  9. Seal matrices or dies are kept in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities of the British Museum, and are listed in A. B. Tonnochy, Catalogue of British Seal Dies in the British Museum (1952).

  10. Catalogues of Public Record Office seals:

    1. Guide to Seals in the Public Record Office, 2nd edn (1968).

    2. R.H. Ellis, Catalogue of Seals in the Public Record Office, Personal Seals, vol. I (1978); Personal Seals, vol. II (1981); Monastic Seals, vol. I (1986).

Facsimiles of charters and seals

  1. MS Facs. 7/1–4 = E. A. Bond, ed., Facsimiles of Ancient Charters in the British Museum, 4 vols (1873–78). Contains facsimiles and transcripts of all Charters written in England before the Norman Conquest acquired up to 1878, and an index to persons and places in volume 4.

  2. MS Facs. 8 = G.F. Warner and H. Ellis, eds, Facsimiles of Royal and other Charters in the British Museum, William I–Richard I (1903). Contains facsimiles and transcripts of selected charters written 1066–1199, with an index to persons and places.

  3. W. B. Sanders, ed. & tr., Facsimiles of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, 3 vols (1878–84).

  4. A. Bruckner and R. Marichal, eds, Chartae Latinae Antiquiores: Facsimile edition of Latin Charters Prior to the 9th Century (1954–; vol. III = British Museum, 1963).

  5. MS Facs. 1094/1 = S. Keynes, ed., Anglo-Saxon Charters, Supplementary Vol. I, Facsimiles of Anglo-Saxon Charters (1991).

  6. S. Keynes, Anglo-Saxon Charters, Supplementary Vol. II, A Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Charters, Archives and Single Sheets (forthcoming).

  7. C. Harrison, ed., Photographs of English and Foreign Seals, n.d. Photographic plates without text. Does not include the British Library seal identification numbers.

  8. Great Seals of England. Photographic plates with descriptions of Great Seals Edward I–William IV (1837). Does not include the British Library seal identification numbers.

  9. P. D. A. Harvey and A. McGuiness, A Guide to British Medieval Seals (1995). Based on the BL and PRO collections, including 110 photographs.

Collection guides

Arundel manuscripts

Medieval and early modern manuscripts collected by Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel

Cotton manuscripts

Some of the greatest treasures from British literature and history

King's manuscripts

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

Harley manuscripts

More than 7,000 manuscripts, 14,000 charters and 500 rolls purchased by Robert Harley

Sloane manuscripts

Manuscripts and artefacts gathered by the physician Sir Hans Sloane

Lansdowne manuscripts

A collection of modern political papers and material relating to topography and heraldry

Royal manuscripts

Manuscripts collected by English sovereigns from Edward IV onwards

Stowe manuscripts

Manuscripts collected by the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos at Stowe House

Yates Thompson manuscripts

Illuminated manuscripts collected by Henry Yates Thompson

Manuscript maps

The manuscript map collections of the British Library are among the finest of their kind

Classical Latin manuscripts

We have substantial collection of manuscripts of classical and late antique Latin authors

Greek manuscripts

We have one of the largest and most important resources outside Greece for the study of Hellenic culture

South Asia manuscripts

More than 80,000 manuscripts in both Asian and European languages

The Burney manuscripts

One of the most significant collections of classical material in the British Library

Papers of classical scholars

A number of important sets of papers belonging to classical scholars can be found within our collections