The manuscripts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance are rich resources for understanding the historical and literary culture of the British Isles. The British Library’s collections include key sources for politics, law, and society before 1600, alongside outstanding works of literature such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Collection guides

Readers at desks in the Manuscript Reading Room

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 about the British Library’s collection of western manuscripts and those held elsewhere
  • Access online databases and electronic journals and books relating to archives and manuscripts
  • Order collection items to the Reading Room via our Explore Archives & Manuscripts Catalogue

Some of our manuscripts may require a Letter of Introduction, or may have other Access Conditions.

We offer a range of free Reader sessions and 1-2-1 consultations to help you make the best use of the Library's collections.

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 Manuscripts Reference Team.

Blog posts

Rhygyfarch: poetry and protest in medieval Wales

Monday, March 1, 2021

To mark St David’s Day this year, we are looking at the life and work of a medieval Welsh poet, clerk, and biographer, and one of the most renowned scholars of his time. His name was Rhygyfarch (b. 1057, d....

Bede, The Dig and Sutton Hoo

Friday, January 29, 2021

This weekend has seen the release on Netflix of The Dig, a fictionalised account of the excavation at Sutton Hoo of an Anglo-Saxon ship-burial. Starring Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown, a self-taught archaeologist, and Carey Mulligan as a very youthful...

Over 4,500 manuscripts now online

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Long-term readers of our blog may know that we periodically publish lists of our digitised manuscripts, the last of which was published in July 2020. With the arrival of the New Year and the beginning of a new lockdown in...

BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020, Rewind, Reflections, Box-sets and Seasons Greetings

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs. This action packed, detailed 'rewind' and festive bumper edition blog post about last week's largest ever BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020, contains some hidden seasonal gifts🎁(if you read very carefully) to bring...

More blog posts

Over 500 collection items from the British Library and institutions across Europe

The Forest Charter of 1225

11 February 1225

Bestiary, with extracts from Gerald of Wales

Late 12th-century–early 13th century

Beowulf

c. 1000

Jean Froissart, Chronicles

4th quarter of the 15th century

Henry VIII’s Psalter

c. 1540–1541

Medieval Britain experts

Dr Claire Breay

Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts

Kathleen Doyle

Lead Curator, Illuminated Manuscripts

Dr Scot McKendrick

Head of Western Heritage Collections

More staff members