Historical texts

Explore the documents that mark crucial events in the world's political and social history.

From Magna Carta in 1215 to the ultimatum letter which signalled the beginning of World War Two, the British Library’s collection contains a wealth of documents, letters and charters, that mark some of the most iconic and important events in the world’s political, legal and social history. Included are the handwritten musings of Henry VIII; letters from the reformer Florence Nightingale; the pre-battle plans of Horatio Nelson before his crushing victory at Trafalgar; and the final words of the explorer Captain Scott. The selection below offers a taste of the breadth and wealth of the British Library’s historic collection.

Genealogical chronicle of the English Kings

Ancestry of King John

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Bede's ecclesiastical history

The Venerable Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People)f.5v

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Lady Jane Grey's Prayer book

Page from Lady Jane's Prayer book, f.74v

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Elizabeth I's Tilbury speech

Elizabeth I’s Tilbury Speech,f.87

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Admiral Nelson's Trafalgar memorandum

Admiral Nelson's Trafalgar Memorandum,f1

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Florence Nightingale's letter to Sidney Herbert

Florence Nightingale's letter to Sir Sidney Herbert, Secretary of State for War,f.164

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James Gillray's satirical prints

Carlo Khan's Triumphal Entry into Leadenhall Street James Sayers (1783)

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Christabel Pankhurst in Daily Graphic

The Daily Graphic showing Christabel Pankhurst on her way to court

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The Communist Party manifesto

The Communist Party Manifesto, front cover

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World War ll ultimatum letter

Draft of Britain's World War Two Ultimatum Letter to Germany f.161

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