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The Royal Library at Cambridge was in origin the private collection of John Moore (1646-1714), Bishop of Ely and one of the greatest book-collectors of his day. His death coincided with the accession of George I, who was persuaded in 1715 to buy Moore's library and present it to Cambridge University to acknowledge their loyalty to the Hanoverian king; it has ever since been called the Royal Library, in honour of the donor. This image above shows the letter written by the University in gratitude to the King for the gift, 'to be for ever styled the Royal Library'.

Moore's library, which included books on almost all subjects, with many manuscripts and printed books of the highest importance, was estimated as containing 28,965 volumes of printed books and 1,790 of manuscripts; the receipt of it in 1715 all but trebled the size of the University Library. The Library did not attempt to keep all the books together as a collection: some were sold as duplicates in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and many others, including all the manuscripts and incunabula and most Bibles and works of theology, were separated out at different times and placed in other classes - such as IncSynRel & Adv - alongside books with different provenances. Nevertheless, the majority of Moore's books still stand together, in their 18th-century classification, and they make up the present day Royal Library classes, together with a small number of rather miscellaneous books which have subsequently been placed with them. The majority of the books with classmarks in the table below are Royal Library books in their 18th-century classification. (The original classes A. and B. have all been reclassified.) 

C.1-12  H.1-16  M.1-18  Q.1-14  U.1-14  Z.1-16
E.1-16 I/J.1-14  N.1-14 R.1-14  W.1-16   
F.1-16 K.1-18 O.1-14 S.1-14 X.1-16  Aa*
G.1-16  L.1-22 P.1-14 T.1-15  Y.1-16  Bb*

All books, in whatever class, acquired by George I's benefaction can be recognised by their elaborate bookplate, with the legend MUNIFICENTIA REGIA 1715. (This includes some books bought with money raised by the sale of Royal Library duplicates.) The bookplate, engraved by John Pine in the 1730s, comes in 3 styles and 4 sizes. Reproductions of the bookplates, along with more information on their design and history, are given in Brian North Lee, British royal bookplates (Aldershot, 1992), pp. 71-74 (B883.3) and also here.

The importance to the University Library of John Moore and King George I, as collector and donor, may not be immediately obvious to the users of our rare books and manuscripts: most catalogue records for them, whether online or manual, give no indication of the books' provenance. But it was the acquisition of the Royal Library which for the first time made the University Library into a major research library, and no subsequent acquisition can rival it in importance.

For manuscripts from the Royal Library collection, please contact the Manuscripts Department.

References and further reading:

  • Bernard, Edward. 'Librorum manuscriptorum admodum reverendi in Christo patris D.D. Joannis Mori episcopi Norvicensis catalogus', Catalogi librorum manuscriptorum Angliae et Hiberniae in unum collecti (Vol. 2, pp. 361-84). Oxoniae: E Teatro Sheldoniano, 1697. A120.1 (for futher copies, see online catalogue) 
  • McKitterick, David. Cambridge University Library: a history: the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Chs. 3-5, pp. 47-224). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. 9851.c.277.27; B926.3 (for further copies, see online catalogue)
  • Ringrose, Jayne. 'The Royal Library: John Moore and his books' In P. Fox (Ed.), Cambridge University Library: the great collections (pp. 78-89). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 9851.b.277.15; B926.4 (for further copies, see online catalogue)

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In 2015, the Library celebrated the 300th anniversary of the donation of the Royal Library with an exhibition, His royal favour: the books that built the library.