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

Mehmed the Conqueror, scourge of the world

Monday, May 20, 2019

The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 brought Turkish politics closer to western Europe. The Italian merchant cities already had commercial ties with the Ottomans across the Mediterranean, but after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, western...

How many alphabets?

Friday, May 10, 2019

The exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark, exploring 5,000 years of writing across the globe, is on at the British Library until 27 August. But how many different ways of writing were there? The manuscripts digitised for The Polonsky Foundation England...

Writing the story of writing: a new exhibition

Thursday, April 25, 2019

On 26 April a new landmark exhibition opens at the British Library. Its theme is broad but it is also personal and intimate: Writing: Making Your Mark traces the incredible story of how we write. Writing on a page: a...

BL Labs 2018 Commercial Award Winner: 'The Library Collection'

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

This guest blog post is by the team led by fashion designer, Nabil Nayal - winner of the BL Labs Commercial Award for 2018 - for his Spring/Summer 2019 collection, presented at the 2018 London Fashion Week. Nabil Nayal's SS19...

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