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

The legends of King Arthur

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Have you ever wondered who King Arthur really was? The British Library's Discovering Literature: Medieval site features a fascinating essay on this very subject, written by Dr Hetta Elizabeth Howes of City, University of London. Howes traces and contextualises the...

The female pope

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Rihanna recently created headlines when she appeared at the 2018 Met Gala, wearing a white mitre, in the guise of a bishop or even a pope. People have long been fascinated with the idea and imagery of a female pope....

The spectacular Moutier-Grandval Bible

Sunday, May 6, 2018

As part of his plan to reform the Church, Charlemagne gathered scholars and advisors to his court from all over Europe. One of these was Alcuin of York, who prepared a corrected version of the Bible for the Emperor in...

A calendar page for May 2018

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Today is 1 May, which means summer is almost here. Well, it is according to the calendar we are exploring this year, which was made in southern England about 1000 years ago. Calendar page for May, from Cotton MS Julius...

More blog posts

Over 500 collection items from the British Library and institutions across Europe

The Forest Charter of 1225

Date: 11 February 1225

The Devonshire Manuscript

Date: 16th century

A southern English bestiary

Date: 13th century

Beowulf

Date: c. 1000

Chronicon Anglicanum

Date: 1200-99

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