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Medieval and Earlier manuscripts: Overview

British and European manuscripts dating from around 300 BC to AD 1603 are held by the Department of Manuscripts. Founded on four outstanding private collections, namely those of Sir Robert Cotton, Sir Hans Sloane, Robert and Edward Harley and the Old Royal Library, and supplemented by further collections of distinction and a succession of acquisitions by purchase and gift, the British Library's holdings of antique, medieval and early modern manuscripts are extraordinarily rich and diverse in content. They form one of the most significant resources for the study of British and European history and culture before 1603.
Christ in Majesty; Canon in Honour of Henry VIII ; Snake Figure; Seal of Robert II of Scotland

Clockwise from top left: Christ in Majesty (detail), Additional MS. 28107, f. 136; Canon in Honour of Henry VIII (detail), Royal MS. 11 E XI, f. 2v; Snake Figure (detail), Papyrus 121; Seal of Robert II of Scotland, Seal XLVII.52.


  • Greek Papyri
  • Ostraca
  • Medieval Codices
  • Charters and Rolls
  • Seals
  • Music (Pre-1500)
  • Maps
  • Literary, Historical and Political Papers
  • Facsimiles

Special Projects



For further details on the above, please see Staff Research Profiles.

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