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

Two new charters from Ramsey Abbey

Monday, September 17, 2018

In 2017, we were delighted to receive the gift of two 12th-century charters from Ramsey Abbey, generously donated to the British Library by Abbey College, Ramsey. These two charters have been conserved and photographed, and they can now be viewed...

Wynflaed and the price of fashion

Friday, September 14, 2018

Some of the most interesting texts in the British Library’s collections have deceptively unassuming appearances. For example, this fragile piece of parchment is the closest equivalent of the Vogue wardrobe for early medieval England. Written in Old English, it is...

Rehousing two 12th century charters

Monday, September 10, 2018

My name is Wanda Robins, and I am studying book conservation at Camberwell College of Arts, in London. A key component of the Camberwell program is to provide students with ample practical work experience in historical institutions to consolidate the...

A letter of a Scottish rebel

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

In early January 1489, Alexander Gordon, master of Huntly, wrote from Edinburgh to the king of England, Henry VII (1485–1509), soliciting his support against the government of his own king, James IV of Scotland (1488–1513). Alexander's letter is preserved in...

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

Dr Kathleen Doyle

Lead Curator, Illuminated Manuscripts

More staff members