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Modern Historical Manuscripts (1603 to the present)

These holdings include manuscripts of all kinds except literary, dating after 1603. They originate with the foundation collections and have been greatly increased and enhanced by acquisitions of all periods up to the present day. They are exceptionally rich in records and private papers of individuals who have played significant roles in public and national life.

List of rebels from Kilmersdon

List of rebels from Kilmersdon, Milverton and Newtown, co. Som., sent for trial at the Assizes at Dorchester, 1685. Add. 30077, f. 22. Copyright © The British Library Board

Scope of collections

The collections include:

  • Letters and documents of British sovereigns, their families and the royal household.
  • Early parliamentary diaries.
  • Archives of leading statesmen and Prime Ministers; including the Earl of Danby, the Duke of Newcastle, W. E. Gladstone and Lord Balfour.
  • Archives and smaller groups of papers of numerous politicians, diplomats, colonial governors and other civil and military office-holders.
  • Archives spanning several generations of families with significant roles (male and female) in public and social life, often named for the great house in which they were preserved; including the Holland House (Fox) Papers, Portland (Cavendish and Harley) Papers, Dropmore (Grenville) Papers, Blenheim (Marlborough and Sunderland) Papers, Althorp (Spencer) Papers, Trumbull Papers, Evelyn Papers, Bowood (Lansdowne) Papers, Melbourne (Coke and Lamb) Papers.
  • Papers of reformers, journalists, newspapermen, and public campaigners: including Francis Place, William Lovett, John Burns, Lord Northcliffe, Henry Wickham Steed, Sir Basil Blackett, J. L. Garvin, Richard Ryder (animal welfare), and Gerald Austin Gardiner (abolition of the death penalty).
  • Archives and smaller groups of papers of scientists, mathematicians, medical researchers and reformers: including Sir William Petty, John Pell, Sir Hans Sloane, Charles Babbage, John Tyndall, Alfred Russel Wallace, Florence Nightingale, Sir Alexander Fleming and Marie Stopes.
  • Explorers' records: including those of Sir Joseph Banks, James Cook and Robert Falcon Scott.
  • Manuscript maps and topographical drawings: including the Kaye and Burrell collections of the drawings of Samuel Hieronymous Grimm.
  • Collections of antiquarians, valuable for the study of local history, heraldry and genealogy: including Davys's Suffolk Collections.

N.B. The India Office collections (Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections), particularly the Private Papers section, have a number of close links with this section of the Manuscripts collections

Highlights/special projects

W. D. Hamilton Project, centred on the archive and collections, electronic, manuscript and printed, of the leading evolutionary biologist who was also among the first generation of scientists to make sustained use of computer technology for his research and records.


The principal finding-aids are the British Library Manuscripts Online Catalogue and the published series of catalogues, principally the quinquennial series of Catalogues of Additions to the Manuscripts.

The finding-aids produced by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, including the online indexes of the National Register of Archives and the published Guides to Sources for British History series, covering the papers of cabinet ministers, diplomats, politicians and colonial governors 1782-1900, scientists 1600-1940, antiquarians, and Principal Family and Estate Collections, are valuable for placing major holdings of British Library manuscripts in these categories in the context of related material elsewhere. Cameron Hazlehurst, et. al., A Guide to the Papers of British Cabinet Ministers 1900-1964 (1996) and C. L. Cook, et al., Sources in British Political History 1900-1951 (1975-1985) and The Longman Guide to Sources in Contemporary British History (1994) provide the same guidance for the 20th century.

Other special finding-aids include:

  • Anne Summers, How to Find Sources: British Library Collections on the History and Culture of Science, Technology and Medicine (1996).
  • R. Sims, An Index to the Pedigrees and Arms Contained in the Heralds' Visitations and Genealogical Manuscripts in the British Museum (1849).
  • Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts and Plans and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum, 3 vols.(1844-1962)

Related Microform and Electronic Sources

  • Salisbury Papers at Hatfield House
  • Longleat MSS (Coventry, Thynne and Portland Papers)
  • Verney MSS at Claydon
  • Stuart Papers at Windsor
  • Hartlib Papers: text and images database on CD-ROM.

Special interest catalogues

  • Catalogue of the Herald's the British Museum, 2nd edition (London, 1825).
  • R. Sims, An Index to the Pedigrees and Arms contained in the Herald's Visitations and other genealogical manuscripts in the British Museum (London, 1849).
  • Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts and Plans and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum, 3 vols. (London, 1844-1962).


Written and all detailed enquiries about the collections should be addressed to the Head of Manuscripts. All other enquiries should be addressed to Manuscript Enquiries.

Manuscripts and Maps Reference Team
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7513 / 7702
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7745

E-mail: Ask the Manuscripts & Maps Reference Team