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

The Lady of Las Huelgas

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

On 31 December 1313, infanta doña Blanca of Portugal (b. 1259, d. 1321), the first-born daughter of Alfonso III, King of Portugal (r. 1238–1248), and granddaughter of Alfonso X the Wise, King of Castile (r. 1252–1284), made charitable donations to...

The expenses of Queen Eleanor of Castile

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

A Psalter, a silver belt, brooches and clasps, Parisian jewels, brown bread from Cologne, nuts and pears: these are all items that Queen Eleanor of Castile (r. 1272–1290) bought between September 1289 and December 1290. Eleanor was the queen consort...

A Pardoner’s Tale

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Purgatory weighed heavily on the minds of many medieval Christians. Each sin they committed in life meant they would spend longer in Purgatory before ascending to Heaven. For the famous poet Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321), Purgatory could involve great suffering,...

Hildegard-go!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Earlier this year we announced our major Medieval and Renaissance Women project (you can read more about it in this blogpost.) Thanks to generous funding from Joanna and Graham Barker, the British Library is digitising many of its manuscripts, rolls...

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

Dr Scot McKendrick

Head of Western Heritage Collections

More staff members