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

In defence of medieval beards

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

This month many people are celebrating Movember, yet few imagine that one of the most detailed works on beards comes from the medieval period. The Church Fathers had thought about facial hair in moral and theological terms, while medieval theologians...

The cloak of St Martin of Tours

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Today is the feast of St Martin of Tours (c. 317–397). According to medieval accounts about his life, Martin was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity after an encounter with a half-naked beggar at the gate of the city...

What you won't see in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Saturday, November 10, 2018

There are riches aplenty in the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. On display are several famous early English manuscripts, including Beowulf, Domesday Book and Codex Amiatinus. But there isn't any mention of certain stories that you might expect, such as...

Through many hands: the Vespasian Psalter

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The British Library's current major exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, is a treasure-trove of marvellous manuscripts and astonishing artefacts. One of those many treasures is an 8th-century manuscript known as the Vespasian Psalter (Cotton MS Vespasian A I). Here we piece together...

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

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

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