This small but outstanding collection of illuminated manuscripts was assembled by Henry Yates Thompson.
About the collection
Highlights include a 12th-century manuscript containing Bede’s Life of Cuthbert from Durham Cathedral, the intricately illuminated Dunois Hours, and a copy of Dante Alighieri’s Divina commedia made for Alfonso V, King of Aragon, Naples and Sicily.
Henry Yates Thompson (1838-1928) curated a small collection of high-quality illuminated manuscripts. Thompson’s goal was to possess one hundred of the finest manuscripts that he could acquire and once these were established, he refined the collection by discarding lesser items to make way for new acquisitions. Much of the collection was dispersed before his death in 1928, and the remaining items were bequeathed to the British Museum by his widow.
The collection comprises 52 manuscripts. Six were acquired by the British Museum before 1941: four of which were purchased by the British Museum from Thompson before his death in 1928 (Yates Thompson MSS 11, 26, 28, and 52); one was given by Henry Yates Thompson (the St Omer Psalter, Yates Thompson MS 14) in 1918; and the other was given by Mrs Yates Thompson in memory of her husband in 1929 (Yates Thompson MS 9). These items had been assigned manuscript numbers in the Additional sequence as they were acquired but were subsequently given the Yates Thompson numbers following Mrs Yates Thompson’s bequest of the remaining 46 manuscripts to the British Museum in 1941.
The collection is ordered by manuscript numbers Yates Thompson MS 1 - Yates Thompson 59.
What is available online?
A list of some of the Yates Thompson manuscripts can be browsed and some are described on the Explore Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue. A complete contests list is available in the catalogues A descriptive Catalogue of... Manuscripts from the Collection of Henry Yates Thompson (1898-1912).
All manuscripts are described and illustrated on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.
Some of the Yates Thompson manuscripts are available in full on Digitised Manuscripts.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
The Yates Thompson collection of manuscripts can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room.
Some items may require a letter of introduction.
Further informationFor further reference works on this collection, see:
- M. R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of Fifty Manuscripts from the Collection of Henry Yates Thompson (Cambridge, 1898)
- A Descriptive Catalogue of the Second Series of Fifty Manuscripts (Nos. 51 to 100) in the Collection of Henry Yates Thompson (Cambridge, 1902)
- A Descriptive Catalogue of Twenty Illuminated Manuscripts, Nos. LXXV to XVIV (Replacing Twenty Discarded from the Original Hundred) in the Collection of Henry Yates Thompson (3rd series, Cambridge, 1907)
- A Descriptive Catalogue of Fourteen Illuminated Manuscripts (Nos.XCV to CVII and 79A) Completing the Hundred in the Library of Henry Yates Thompson (Cambridge, 1912)
- Illustrations from one hundred manuscripts in the library of Henry Yates Thompson (London, 1916)
- Francis Wormald, 'The Yates Thompson Manuscripts', British Museum Quarterly 16 (1951), pp.4-5