Grenville Library

Thomas Grenville's Armorial tooled in gold on an 18th century binding for “Churchyardes Choise.” [1579]
Thomas Grenville's Armorial tooled in gold on an 18th century binding for “Churchyardes Choise.” [1579] British Library shelfmark G.6213

Grenville’s Library offers researchers access to a considerable canon of historical printed books from the British Isles, continental Europe, and the wider world.

About the collection

Thomas Grenville (1755–1846), politician, book collector and Trustee of the British Museum, formed a library containing circa 16,000 titles in 20,240 volumes over his life which he bequeathed to the museum.

Grenville’s collection draws together many of the monuments and grand editions of the first 400 years of Western print. It complements the King’s Library in incunabula and post-incunabula and extends an impressive catalogue of very rare books.

High spots include:

  • Gutenberg 42-line Bible, copy printed on vellum
  • Unique fragment of Tyndale’s 1525 Cologne New Testament
  • Classics, both Greek and Latin with particular strengths in the Homers, the Aesops, and the Ariostos
  • Early voyages and travels, such as George Best’s A True Discourse of the Late Voyages of Discoverie (1578) – an account of Martin Frobisher’s expeditions in search of the Northwest Passage
  • Early vernacular literatures, especially old Italian and Spanish poetry and romances
  • English literature (including all four early folio editions of Shakespeare’s plays)
  • Caribbean, Canadian, former British Colonial and United States publications
  • Bills, petitions, broadsides and tracts relating to British and Irish affairs 1680–1760
  • Several bound volumes of printed ephemera
  • Fine bindings (nearly 300 can be viewed on the British Library's Database of Bookbindings – select Grenville, Thomas (1755–1846) from the drop-down list under 'Ownership Mark').

What is available online?

Catalogues and finding aids

Volumes from Grenville's Library are listed on the British Library's main online catalogue Explore the British Library.

The Collection has not been fully digitised. 

You can use Library networked PCs to access electronic facsimiles on subscription-based databases, such as Early English Books Online or Eighteenth Century Collections Online. In some cases the copy used for the facsimile is the Grenville copy (you can check by looking at the shelfmark of the item, the Grenville Collection is shelfmarked G.1 – G.20279).

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Registered Readers can request items from the Grenville Library to the Rare Books & Music Reading Room using Explore the British Library .

A small number of Grenville items are restricted from general access. Please contact rare-books@bl.uk for more information.

Printed catalogue

A printed catalogue Bibliotheca Grenvilliana (see below) is held on open shelves in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room at shelfmark RAC 000

What is available in other organisations?

Grenville not only collected books, he made them available to scholars for research. Some books were gifted to others so it is possible to find Grenvilliana outside of the collection he bequeathed to the British Museum. 

Further books with a Grenville provenance have been acquired for the British Library since 1846. 

Further information

The fundamental reference source for using the Grenville Library is:

  • J.T. Payne and H. Foss, Bibliotheca Grenvilliana (2 parts, 1842–48); ephemera is described separately in part 3 by W.B. Rye (1872). There is a general index of parts 1–3.

Other useful reference sources

  • B. Taylor, ‘Thomas Grenville (1755–1846) and his Books’, in G. Mandelbrote and B. Taylor (eds), Libraries within the Library (2009), 321–40. 

  • K. Limper-Herz, ‘A Monument of the Love of Letters: The Right Honourable Thomas Grenville and His Library’ (London PhD thesis, 2012).

  • J. V. Beckett, The rise and fall of the Grenvilles: dukes of Buckingham and Chandos, 1710 to 1921 (1994).

  • W. Y. Fletcher, English book collectors (1902).

  • Elizabeth J. Saville, Rt. Hon. Thomas Grenville. [Proof Sheets of an article intended for publication in “The Nineteenth Century,” with corrections by the author.] (1908). Copy held at shelfmark G.20274.

  • Denis V. Reidy, Panizzi, 'Grenville and the Grenville Library' in Electronic British Library Journal (1997).