The manuscript collections of the British Library form part of the national repository of manuscripts, private papers and archives. They contain material of outstanding research importance for all periods, countries and disciplines.
Christine de Pisan, Collected Works, circa 1410-1411. Group of seated figures, two holding books, engaging in discussion. Harley MS 4431, f.101. Copyright © The British Library Board
Collections by Curatorial Area
The Department of Manuscripts is divided into the following areas:
The manuscripts held by the British Library comprise of a series of named collections that have been acquired over the history of the British Museum and the Library, from the Foundation Collections (Cotton, Harley and Sloane) to the series of Additional Manuscripts. The latter comprise the largest collection of manuscripts.
Manuscripts are rarely arranged thematically, as most recent acquisitions are simply added to the continuing 'Additional' series, and 'closed' collections, assembled by collectors before being acquired by the British Library, naturally encompass a wide variety of material.
Open Access Collections
Charters & Rolls
Facsimiles (inc. digital)
Records for many Western Manuscripts including: Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts, Modern Historical Collections (1603 to the Present) and Literary and Theatrical Archives and Manuscripts can be found on Search our Catalogue Archives and Manuscripts. The following catalogues or parts of collections are not yet included in the online catalogue (although selected Burney, Harley, and Yates Thompson manuscripts are included in the digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts):
- Additional Manuscripts: Add MS 5018-10018
- Burney Manuscripts
- Church Briefs
- Cotton Charters and Rolls
- Harley Manuscripts, Charters and Rolls: Harley Manuscripts [Harley MS] are currently being added
- Lansdowne Charters and Rolls
- Lord Frederick Campbell Charters
- Sloane Charters and Rolls
- Topham Charters
- Yates Thompson Manuscripts
For detailed and special catalogues, and other finding aids not forming part of the online catalogue, see M.A.E. Nickson, Guide to the catalogues and indexes of the Department of Manuscripts (3rd ed. London, 1998).
Manuscripts Collections Reader Guides
These guides are designed to be printed and read.
Manuscripts and Maps Reference Team
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7513 / 7702
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7745
E-mail: Ask the Reference Team