King’s manuscripts

Detail of miniature of a scene from Virgil’s Eclogues
Detail of a scene from Virgil’s Eclogues, from ‘The King’s Virgil’, Italy (Rome), between 1483 and 1485, King’s MS 24, f. 1r.

A distinguished collection of medieval and post-medieval manuscripts and topographical material.

About the collection

Some highlights from the collection include the 14th-century illuminated Biblia Pauperum, a number of luxurious books of hours such as King’s MS 7, an illustrated English genealogical chronicle from Adam and Eve to Edward VI, and Dr Samuel Johnson’s autograph draft of his play Irene.

Collected by George III and transferred to the British Museum in 1823 by George IV, the manuscripts were at first kept with the printed books but were transferred to the Department of Manuscripts in 1840. The manuscript maps, however, remained in the Department of Printed Books, and are now to be found in the Map Library as the King's Topographical Collection.

The collection is numbered King's MS 1 to King's MS 446.

What is available online?

Many of the King's manuscripts are described in the online catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts and a partial contents list can be browsed here.

Images of some King's manuscripts containing illumination can be found on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

A small number of the King's manuscripts have been digitised in full on Digitised Manuscripts.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The King's collection of manuscripts can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Some items may require a letter of introduction.

Further information

How to guides

Access manuscripts and archives

Accessing manuscripts and archives and obtaining a Letter of introduction or recommendation

How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Guide to the copyright of unpublished documents

About Explore Archives and Manuscripts

With Explore Archives and Manuscripts you can search for information about our rich and unique archive and manuscript collections.

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 170 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass.

Guide to Explore Archives and Manuscripts

A guide to help you use the catalogue, covering: login, search, how to manage your results, how to browse the collections and how to request items

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services

Guide to researching provenance of books now in the British Library

Where do the British Library’s old printed books ‘come from'? Who owned or read them in centuries past? Why does it matter?

Using the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

How to use the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

Find charters, rolls, and seals

How to access medieval and early modern European documentary collections

Find and request Lord Chamberlain's Plays

How to locate items in our largest single manuscript collection

Find papyri

How to identify papyri and request them

How to handle archives

Watch our guide and help us keep our archive material in good condition

How to handle folded items

Find out how you should hand items like large maps and book inserts.

How to get a Reader Pass if you are under 18

How to apply for an under 18 Reader Pass

How to use the Georeferencer

Add points to old maps with our addictive tool.

How to handle prints, drawings and photographs

Watch our video to see how you should handle these vulnerable items.

Find Persian manuscripts

Details of Persian manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find Arabic manuscripts

Details of Arabic manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

How to search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

Find Hebrew manuscripts

Guide to finding Hebrew manuscripts in our online catalogues