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

Mapping medieval Scotland: between politics and imagination

Friday, September 20, 2019

It is unfortunate, but not necessarily surprising, that the earliest surviving topographical map of Scotland should be one designed for invasion. Some of the most accurate maps of pre-modern Europe were made in the context of trade or war, profit...

Gardeners' Question Time

Friday, September 13, 2019

Today's episode of BBC Radio 4' popular Gardeners' Question Time (repeated on Sunday at 14:00) was recorded here at the British Library. If you listen carefully, as well as hearing Bob Flowerdew, Anne Swithinbank and James Wong discussing the size...

Wine-making, medieval-style

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Pluck. Crush. Cork. Medieval calendars remind us that September is the month for making wine. If planting and pruning vines fall to the month of March, September is the time for cashing in on all the effort. The depiction of...

5 million page-views and counting

Saturday, August 31, 2019

We once declared privately that we would never again begin a blogpost with the words, 'We are delighted to announce'. But today we have to break that rule: we are extremely delighted to announce that our Medieval Manuscripts Blog recently...

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