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

Reading Room  Paul Grundy

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 free Discovery and 1-2-1 Sessions 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

What's the language?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Bonjour à tous! International Francophonie Day highlights the global spread of French language and culture. It is the perfect day to celebrate our great collaboration with our French colleagues in The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the...

Let sleeping cranes lie

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The RSPB has reported that the crane is coming back to Britain, with a record number of new birds reported in recent years. We have similarly found many cranes hidden in the British Library’s medieval bestiaries, manuscripts full of fantastic...

Why we love the Harley Irish Gospels

Sunday, March 17, 2019

How better to celebrate St Patrick’s Day than to announce the digitisation of two important Irish manuscripts from the British Library's collections? Harley MS 1023 and Harley MS 1802 were both made in the 12th century in Armagh, St Patrick’s...

Celebrating the spiritual life

Saturday, March 9, 2019

International Women’s Day has inspired us to examine how medieval women used literature for shaping their daily lives. The hundreds of prayer books that are extant from late medieval female religious communities, for example, reveal how religious women used miraculous...

More blog posts

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

The Forest Charter of 1225

11 February 1225

Beowulf

c. 1000

Henry VIII’s Psalter

c. 1540–1541

Library experts

Dr Claire Breay

Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts

Dr Scot McKendrick

Head of Western Heritage Collections

Kathleen Doyle

Lead Curator, Illuminated Manuscripts

More staff members