A rich, global resource encompassing ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary manuscript and archive material. The collections include historical, literary, political, scientific and religious papers as well as maps, charters, seals, rolls and papyrii.

Collection guides

  • Leonardo da Vinci's diagrams, from the ‘Codex Arundel’

    Arundel manuscripts

    Medieval and early modern manuscripts collected by Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel
  • Detail of a  diagram of the eye

    Sloane manuscripts

    Manuscripts and artefacts gathered by the physician Sir Hans Sloane
  • The Garden of Pleasure, in Roman de la Rose

    Harley manuscripts

    More than 7,000 manuscripts, 14,000 charters and 500 rolls purchased by Robert Harley
  • Opening of Beowulf

    Cotton manuscripts

    Some of the greatest treasures from British literature and history
  • Detail of miniature of a scene from Virgil’s Eclogues

    King's manuscripts

    A distinguished collection of medieval and post-medieval manuscripts and topographical material.
  • The Shaftesbury Psalter

    Lansdowne manuscripts

    A collection of modern political papers and material relating to topography and heraldry
Reading Room  Paul Grundy

Manuscripts Reading Room

The Manuscripts Reading Room is the enquiry point for the Library's western language manuscript collections (i.e. written by hand, not printed). The collection includes literary, historical manuscripts and private papers.

  • Find information on the shelves
  • Access online databases and electronic journals
  • Order collection items to the Reading Room via our catalogues

You’ll need a Reader Pass

Mon: 10.00 – 17.00
Tue – Sat: 09.30 – 17.00
Sun & English Public Holidays: closed

Opening hours for all Reading Rooms

For enquiries, please contact the Reference Service

Blog posts

The language of love (and poetry and history)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Old Occitan or Langue d’oc, the language of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the troubadours, was claimed by Dante to be the perfect language for verse. It is still spoken in southern France and in pockets of Italy and northern Spain....

Stay cool

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This week in Britain, we have been enjoying some hot weather. For inspiration on how to beat the heat, why not turn to the fantastical stories northern Europeans used to tell each other about how people and creatures in warm...

Old Occitan at the British Library

Friday, June 16, 2017

Old Occitan or langue d’Oc was a language widely spoken and written in southern France and parts of Italy up to the French Revolution. The name is based on the word for "yes": ‘òc’ as opposed to the ‘oïl’ (modern...

Written in the stars

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Have you ever read a pop-up book or a book with moving parts? Today, such books are usually associated with children, but a rather fiendishly complicated example has just been digitised by the British Library. This is a set of...

More blog posts


illuminated manuscript


The British Library houses one of the world's greatest collections of illuminated manuscripts, and Janet Backhouse has drawn on this rich resource to make a selection of outstanding examples that span over 800 years of medieval book production.


A History of the Book in 100 Books (hardback)

From inscriptions on tombs to the first writings on papyrus; from scrolls to the first bound codex books in Roman times.


Codex Sinaiticus book cover

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world.