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 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

Medieval cures for lung disease, gout and vertigo

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Even after the Normans conquered England, Old English (the oldest form of the vernacular) continued to be spoken throughout the country. It continued to be used in books produced in monasteries there for at least a century after William the...

Renaissance science works in Treasures of the British Library

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

To replace the Leonardo da Vinci items that are usually in our Treasures gallery, but are now in the stand-alone "A Mind in Motion" exhibition, our Manuscripts and Incunabula curators have selected some less well-known but very interesting items dealing...

Insular Manuscripts: Networks of Knowledge

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

For the last three years, the ‘Insular Manuscripts: Networks of Knowledge’ project has been investigating the large number of manuscripts written in insular scripts between the mid-7th and the mid-9th centuries. The project aims to examine knowledge exchange in early...

Noah's Ark and the Anglo-Saxons

Saturday, June 29, 2019

When our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition ended recently, you might have been forgiven for thinking that little more remains to be discovered about this crucial period of early medieval history. It's highly unusual for unknown Anglo-Saxon manuscripts to come to light...

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

Jean Froissart, Chronicles

4th quarter of the 15th century

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