Royal manuscripts

Drawing of a map of Britain by Matthew Paris
Manuscript map of Britain by Matthew Paris. St Albans, 1250-1259. Royal MS 14 C VII, f 5v.

These manuscripts were collected by English sovereigns from Edward IV onwards and transferred to the British Museum by George II in 1757.

About the collection

The manuscripts collection, together with a large collection of about 9,000 printed books donated by George II, is often referred to as the ‘Old Royal library’ to distinguish it from a later royal gift to the Museum of books and manuscripts from George IV (known as the King’s collection), and the current royal library at Windsor Palace.

The collection contains nearly 2000 manuscripts including around 1200 illuminated or decorated volumes. The royal donation was housed in the newly founded British Museum and now is held at the British Library.

Highlights from the collection include the Codex Alexandrinus, the Queen Mary Psalter, the Smithfield Decretals, the Talbot Shrewsbury book of poems and romances, the collected works of Charles Duc de Orléans, Henry VIII’s Psalter, and an autograph copy of the Basilikon Doron by James I of England. 

What is available online?

full list of the Royal manuscripts can be browsed and are described in the online catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

Some images of manuscripts containing illumination can be found on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

A number of Royal manuscripts have been digitised in full on Digitised Manuscripts.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Most Royal manuscripts can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Items in Hebrew and in Oriental languages can be consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

Some items may require a letter of introduction.

Further information

Useful reference resources include:

How to guides

About Explore Archives and Manuscripts

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

Access manuscripts and archives

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

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How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Guide to the copyright of unpublished documents

How to order images

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

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 200 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass. Carry out research in our Reading Rooms and access our online collections.

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?

Find and request Lord Chamberlain's Plays

How to locate items in our largest single manuscript collection

Find charters, rolls, and seals

How to access medieval and early modern European documentary collections

Find papyri

How to identify papyri and request them

How to get a Reader Pass if you are under 18

How to apply for an under 18 Reader Pass

Search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

How to search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

Find Arabic manuscripts

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

Find Persian manuscripts

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