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Medieval manuscripts


The Additional Medieval French Manuscripts as far as Add. 7071 are covered in Brayer, Edith. Manuscrits français de Cambridge. In Bulletin d'information de l'Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes, vol. 10, 1961, p. 31-41. (Classmark: P898.c.11.3).

For manuscripts received by the Library since 1850, consult Ringrose, Jayne. Summary catalogue of the manuscripts in Cambridge University Library acquired before 1940. Woodbridge: 2009. (Classmark: A122.2.10).

On Western illuminated manuscripts see Paul Binski and Patrick Zutshi, with the collaboration of Stella Panayotova, Western illuminated manuscripts, a catalogue of the collection in Cambridge University Library (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Classmark: A122.2.48).

There is also an author index on slips in the Manuscripts Reading Room, as well as a slip index of incipits arranged under languages (see Eng.Tan-Gk Λ, 1871-3470 for French manuscripts), and covering the basic College Collections as well as those of the University Library.

In 2014 was organised the exhibition: ‘The moving word: French medieval manuscripts in Cambridge’, focusing on manuscripts held by the University Library and Cambridge colleges, surveying how knowledge travelled in manuscript form around Europe and the Mediterranean between 1150 and 1530.

Find out more about medieval manuscripts.


Modern and contemporary manuscripts


The Claudel archive

Claudel, P. L'oiseaur noir dans le soleil levant. Paris : Gallimard, 1929. CCA.45.23

The French playwright, poet and essayist Paul Claudel (1868-1955) received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 1939. He was also a friend of Audrey Parr, wife of Raymond Cecil Parr (1884-1965), a diplomat then acting as Third Secretary in the British Embassy in Rome. It was there that they met each other, as Claudel was on a diplomatic mission in 1915-1916. Most of the letters and several of the verses were edited and annotated by Michel Lioure and published in Lettres de Paul Claudel à Élisabeth Sainte-Marie Perrin et à Audrey Parr (Cahiers Paul Claudel; 13, 1990). (Classmark: P735.d.1.13).

The Claudel archive, donated to the University Library in 2001 by Parr’s granddaughter, Mrs L. M. Jack, also comprises 34 printed books, of which 27 contain manuscript dedications from Claudel. Most of these are texts by Claudel himself, published between 1911 and 1939. The collection includes a rare edition of twelve poems from Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal, published in 1917, which incorporates facsimile reproductions of the original manuscripts. Amongst the most spectacular items are Claudel's Cent phrases pour éventail, published in a limited edition of 200 copies in Tokyo in 1927, and an edition of Victor Segalen's Stèles, printed in Beijing in 1914 on one side of leaves folded double in Japanese fashion. The books stand together and have the classmark stem CCA.45

Cambridge University Library Special collections blog:

A Claudel archive

Paul Claudel and Audrey Parr, a friendship in books and letters

Find out more about special monograph collections at CCA-CCE


Travel diaries

"Though I never set down anything of my former travailes yet now, this voyage being begun on an extraordinary occasion and not knowing wither I may live to finish it, I resolve to write an accompt of it, that my friends may have the content of knowing my conduct."

  Thomas Williams' travel diary, 1680. (MS Dd.6.80)

  Several diaries and journals of European travel have portions relating to France, if only as a place being travelled through. The most relevant are:

MS Dd.6.80 Thomas Williams, travels through Spain and France (c. 1680).
MS Add. 4215 John Ratcliff, tour to Paris (c. 1740).
MS Add. 6302 Tour by an English officer in France and Savoy (1802).
MS Add. 8983 F. J. H. Jenkinson, journal of a French tour (1897-1898).
MS Add. 9321 John Borlase Warren, journal of a tour in France (1728 a).

Military history: Napoleonic war and First World War

  Two tired Poilus, 30 July 1916. In MS Add.9437, file 9: J.R. Monsell papers.

Two tired "Poilus", 30 July 1916. In MS Add.9437, file 9: J.R. Monsell papers.


MS Add. 6303 Travel journal of a tour of France by an English officer during the short-lived Peace of Amiens (1802).
MS Add. 7973 Correspondence of E.J. Dent, Professor of Music at Cambridge University, with graduates serving in France during the First World War.
MS Add.9656 Letters home from Colonel Bertram Romilly, serving in France with the Scots Guards (1915).
MS Add.9437 J.R. Monsell papers First World War letters, sketchbooks and notebooks, relating to his service in France (1914-1919).

Find out more about Military archives and the First World War collection in Rare Books.


Scientific manuscripts

Scientists were keen on exchanging letters with their peers abroad, including France. Several collections contain significant letters and from French scientists. Here are some highlights:

Charles Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Darwin had many French correspondents. Though not really a contemporary or correspondent, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) had a theory of the evolution of species that was very different to "natural selection". However the idea of speciation, though by unknown causes, was current in Darwin's time partly because of Lamarck's work.

Cambridge University Library holds the largest single collection of Darwin's manuscripts and his own library of books and journals.

Find out more about Darwin Papers at the UL and the Darwin correspondence project.

Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives


picture of an eclipse

"Éclipse.Jamais spectacle n'a plus attiré mon attention que le jour de hier. Je ne pourrai peut-être pas raconter entièrement tout ce que j'ai vu, parce que tout cela dépasse de beaucoup mon imagination."


Charles Gaudi, Bilbao, 19 July 1860. In RGO 6: Papers of George Airy.


The British had the Board of Longitude (disbanded in 1828), in France there remains the Bureau des Longitudes. Paris and Greenwich observatories have had an historic rivalry over the meridian lines - today France and Britain both build astronomical facilities on the mountain-tops of Hawaii (the Mauna Kea International Observatory). The on-line catalogues can be explored for material relating to France including observatories and people.

Items related to French studies are scattered among the RGO archives but a search in Janus with "France" and "French" as keywords will enable you to identify them very easily. You may also note that there are particular concentrations in:

RGO 6 Papers of George Airy
RGO 7 Papers of William Christie
RGO 16 Papers of the Nautical Almanac Office
RGO 35/3-96 Copy correspondence of Nevil Maskelyne

RGO and the Bureau des longitudes

RGO 16/307 Papers of the Nautical Almanac Office

Papers on France Papers regarding France, principally the Bureau des longitudes, Paris, including material in French (1944-1973).
RGO 35/22 Letter in French from Jean Delambre to Nevil Maskelyne, 20 February 1806.
RGO 7/180 Papers of William Christie

Correspondence regarding errors of the Moon given to the Bureau des longitudes, Paris (1907-1911). Correspondence regarding observations of the Moon's error and occultations of stars sent to the French Army Geodetic Service (1908).
RGO 7/224 Papers of William Christie

Papers on societies and institutions Correspondence with J.H. Poincare (1911), Société Belge, Alliance française, Bureau des longitudes (1904-1905).
RGO 8/104 Papers of Frank Dyson

Astronomical telegrams Astronomical telegrams and letters relating to them, including correspondence with Bureau des Longitudes (1914-1918).
RGO 8/127 Papers of Frank Dyson

Papers on the Royal Society Papers on council business (1907-1935), including the Bureau des Longitudes.
RGO 8/93 Papers of Frank Dyson

Correspondence on observatories Correspondence with the Bureau des Longitudes concerning a conference on fundamental stars (1896).

The discovery of Neptune

RGO 6/96a Papers on Neptune and the minor planets

Cambridge University Library has a large collection of papers relating to the discovery of the planet we now call Neptune in 1846. This became something of a cause célèbre between astronomers in France and Britain, and eventually between the French and the British, because of claims to priority in the mathematical analysis that, uniquely amongst planetary discoveries, lead to the finding in the heavens of Neptune.

For an overview of all collections relating to the Neptune discovery, see the UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies web page on the Discovery of Neptune and some narratives relating to the discovery and the recovery of the papers at MS RGO 6/96a.

Find out more about the Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives.

"Science is ever international": correspondence between English and French scientists

Portrait of Ernest Rutherford

Portrait of Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford, Baron Rutherford of Nelson (1871-1937), corresponded with Marie Curie (31 letters written between 1906 and 1933) and French men of science - similarly with the British physicists of the 19th century. Among his other French correspondents are Maurice and Louis de Broglie, André-Louis Debierne, Louis Dunoyer de Segonzac, Charles Fabry, Charles édouard Guillaume, Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie, Paul Langevin, Charles Moureu, Jean Perrin. He also corresponded with the Bureau international des poids et des mesures.

Find out more about Ernest Rutherford's papers.

Lord Kelvin

An avid writer, William Thomson, first Baron Kelvin of Largs (1824-1907) corresponded with Jules Duboscq-Soleil (1851), François-Pierre Le Roux (1867-1869), Maurice Lévy (1898), Joseph Liouville (1867), Henri Moissan (1897), Charles Gros-Renaud (1869), Adhémar-Jean-Claude Barré de Saint-Venant (1864-1867) and with Société du Cable transatlantique français (1869).

Find out more about Lord Kelvin's papers.

Sir George Gabriel Stokes

Sir George Gabriel Stokes (1819-1903) corresponded with a series of French scientists - amongst them are Alexandre Edmont (1879-88) and Antoine Henri Becquerel (1896-1905), Achille (1871-88) and Antoine César Brachet (1867), Anatole de Caligny (1881-1883), Jules Duboscq (1862-1963), Jean-Baptiste Dumas (1880), Pierre Duhem (1908), Hippolyte Fizeau (1878), Napoléon III (1856), Henri Joseph Anastase Perrotin (1884), Jean-Baptiste Soleil (1852). He also corresponded with institutions such as Académie des sciences (1880-1899), Association française pour l'avancement des sciences (1872-1890), Société française de photographie (1875-1876), Société centrale protestante d'évangélisation (1893) and Société de navigation aérienne (1890).

Find out more about Stokes' papers.