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

Anglo-Saxon charters online

Thursday, July 12, 2018

In anticipation of the British Library's major Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, which opens on 19 October, we are delighted to have added the vast majority of our Anglo-Saxon single-sheet charters to our Digitised Manuscripts site. A full list of the 203...

Three lions

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Football is an ancient sport. It is not clear when or where it was first played, but we do know that football was banned twice in England during the 14th century. On 13 April 1314, King Edward II forbade 'hustling...

A calendar page for July 2018

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Growing up in Pennsylvania, one of the sights and sounds I associated most strongly with summer was the sound of lawnmowers. Mowing was already a common sight a thousand summers ago, judging from the line drawings in this 11th-century calendar...

Live like an eleventh-century prince

Monday, June 25, 2018

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to have been a prince one thousand years ago? Would you have eaten off of silver plates? How many swords would you have had? Which horse would be your favourite,...

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