Click here to skip to content

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination

Discover the British Library’s unique collection of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts. Collected by the kings and queens of England over 800 years these treasures are outstanding examples of the decorative and figurative painting of the era.

Exhibition generously supported by the Pigott Family
Additional support gratefully received from The Helen Hamlyn Trust and an anonymous donor
Research for the exhibition generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council
Media partner The Times

  • imageA wedding present for Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI

    A wedding present for Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI

    The Shrewsbury Book is one of the most remarkable manuscripts in the Old Royal library. It was a gift to Margaret of Anjou from John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. Margaret is shown with her husband Henry VI.

    The Shrewsbury Book
    Rouen, 1444–45
    British Library, Royal 15 E. vi, ff. 2v

  • imageThe author presenting his chronicle to Edward IV

    The author presenting his chronicle to Edward IV

    Lavishly illuminated in the Netherlands, this chronicle was commissioned by Edward IV, whose arms appear in the lower border. He is shown here with its author, Jean de Wavrin.

    Jean de Wavrin, Recueil des chroniques d’Engleterre, vol. 1
    Bruges, c. 1475
    Royal 15 E. iv, vol. 1, f. 14

  • imageKing Edgar and Christ in majesty

    King Edgar and Christ in majesty

    A charter written in book form, this commemorates the introduction in 964 of the Benedictine rule at New Minster, Winchester, by King Edgar. He offers the book to Christ, who is enthroned and held aloft by angels.

    The New Minster Charter
    Winchester, 966
    British Library, Cotton Vespasian A. viii, f. 2v

  • imageThe exploits of Alexander the Great

    The exploits of Alexander the Great

    Alexander was a fitting role model for young princes and kings. The inscription 'HR' (Henricus Rex) added at the beginning of the book shows that the volume was in the library of Henry VIII.

    Le Livre et la vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre
    Paris, c. 1420-1425
    British Library, Royal 20 B. xx, f. 49v

  • imageThe author and the arms of Henry VIII

    The author and the arms of Henry VIII

    This manuscript contains works by Lucian of Samosata and Pandolfo Collenuccio. We know that the book was made as a gift for Henry VIII because it includes his arms in the lower border.

    Pandolfo Collenuccio, Apologues, and Lucian of Samosata, Dialogues
    Rome and Florence, c. 1509–17
    British Library, Royal 12 C. viii, f. 4

  • imageGenealogy of William the Conqueror

    Genealogy of William the Conqueror

    Genealogical rolls made in the late 13th and 14th centuries tend to emphasise, as this one does, the joint Norman and Anglo-Saxon descent of the Plantagenets.

    Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings
    England (East Anglia?), c. 1300–07
    British Library, Royal 14 B. vi