skip to content

The Rare Books Department holds a significant amount of French material amongst its various collections. The most important collections are the Montaigne Library, the Leigh Collection (Rousseau and French philosophy) and the L.C.G. Clarke collection (Restif de la Bretonne).

How to search for material relating to French studies

The electronic catalogue does not allow the reader to browse the whole of a special collection in a single search. It is possible, however, to replicate the shelf order of a collection within each size specification in Newton. To do so, one must search by classmark stem for the collection, using the first two elements of the classmark and including final punctuation. Please note that classmark searches are case-sensitive. For example, Montaigne.1. gives access to the earliest titles in the Montaigne collection; Leigh.d. to the start of the sequence of smaller volumes (17-21 cm) in Ralph Leigh's library on Rousseau and related material; CCA.45. to volumes in the Claudel collection.

Browsing can also be done through the physical class catalogues for the collection. The class catalogue contains classmarks next to basic bibliographical data: author, title, place and date of publication. It does not contain subject headings. Please enquire in the Rare Books Reading Room if you would like to look at the class catalogues.

15th-16th centuries

17th century

18th century

19th century

20th century

  • The First World War collections:

Thematic collections


15th-16th centuries

Incunables and 16th century books

Some of Cambridge University Library French incunables and 16th century books are extremely rare. Among them are:

  • Pierre Desrey. Vita Christi. Lyons: Guillaume Balsarin, 18 Mar. 1498. (Inc.4.D.2.10 ; Oates 3075).
  • Horae: ad usum Pictavensem. Paris: Philippe Pigouchet, for Simon Vostre, 8 Aug. 1498. (Inc.5.D.1.29; Oates 3075).
  • Alexander de Villa Dei. Doctrinale (Partes I-IV). Comm: Monachus Lombardus. Ed: Maturinus de Barda. Rouen: Martin Morin, for Jean Richard, [after 1490]. (Oates 3281).
  • Gulielmus Paraldus. Sermones moralissimi sup[er] evangelia dominicalia... I. de Channey, in civitate Avinionensi, 1519. (F151.e.4.4-).
  • Jean Pèlerin. De artificiali p[er]spectiva. Impressum Tulli ... : Opera Petri Jacobi ..., anno catholice [9 Calends July (i.e. 23 June) 1505]. (Syn.4.50.5).

The  library also holds microfiches of French incunabula and 16th century collections:

  • Incunabula: the printing revolution in Europe, 1455-1500: full-text incunabula on microfiche. Hellinga, Lotte (ed.). (Rare Books Room, B119.1-78), Holdings: Unit 1-unit 71.
  • French political pamphlets, 1547-1648. Woodbridge, Conn.: Research Publications, [1980]. (Microfilm.Ser.17).

Back to top.

The Montaigne Library

The Montaigne collection is the third largest collection of Montaigne's books after the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Bibliothèque municipale in Bordeaux. It contains books from the author's personal library, including annotated books, numerous first editions as well as books owned by famous people. Some books from the collection were displayed in an exhibition held at Cambridge University Library from 4 August to 23 December 2008: "My booke and my selfe", Michel de Montaigne, 1533-1592.

Find out more about the Montaigne library. Its books are fully digitised on the Cambridge Digital Library.

Back to top.

17th century


Cambridge University Library holds a collection of Mazarinades, political pamphlets published in France during the civil wars known as the Frondes (1648-1653), and criticising, amongst other things, the influence of the first minister Cardinal Mazarin over the young king Louis XIV and Mazarin's relationship with Louis's mother, Anne of Austria.

They are held in two main series: Ggg 19-37 (within a broader collection of 17th-19th century pamphlets: see Aaa-Kkk) and F 164.c.2-3.

Back to top.

18th century

18th century French history, especially the French Revolution, is particularly well represented in Cambridge University Library. The library also holds important facsimiles of primary sources for the French Revolution on microfilm:

  • The French Revolution research collection (Microfiche.Ser.8-26)
  • The Maclure Collection of French Revolutionary material (Rare Books Room, B150.560.7 and Microfilm.Ser.13).

The L.C.G. Clarke collection : Restif de la Bretonne

CCC.23 Restif de La Bretonne, Nicolas Edme (1734-1806)

A collection of eighteenth century French novels by Restif de la Bretonne and other writers, bequeathed by Louis Colville Gray Clarke (d. 13 December 1960), Fellow of Trinity Hall and Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum (1937-1946).

Find out more about the L.C.G. Clarke collection of Restif de la Bretonne (CCC.23).

Back to top.

The Leigh collection: Rousseau and other French philosophers

Oeuvres de Jean-Jacques Rousseau, citoyen de Genève. Édition ornée de superbes figures... 	de Cochin [et al.]. Tome II. Paris: Chez Defer de Maisonneuve; de l'imprimerie de Didot le jeune, 1793[-1800]. (Leigh.a.1.20)

Illustration from: Leigh.a.1.20

Ralph Alexander Leigh (1915-1987) was Professor of French at Cambridge University and editor of the Correspondance complète de Rousseau (1965-1998). His collection of 8,000 items was recently added to by Dr Robert Wokler's collection of 250 works relating to Rousseau and Diderot.

Find out more about the Leigh collection.

Back to top.

19th century

Caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-1871)

Cambridge University Library holds six large volumes of illustrated plates entitled Collection de caricatures et de charges pour servir à l’histoire de la guerre et de la révolution de 1870-1871 (KF.3.9-14), as well as other sets of contemporary periodicals and satirical magazines donated by the London bookseller Frederick Justen (Dulau & Co) in 1906. This is a set of highly interesting primary material, visual sources dealing with the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune. The caricatures, most of them coloured, make fun of politicians and public figures of the time, soldiers and civil populations during the war and the siege of Paris by the Germans. The collection features in an online exhibition and story. It is fully available on the Digital Library and is the subject of a short film.

Find out more about this 1870-1871 caricatures collection in the European collections blog

Back to top.

The Martin Stone collection of 19th-20th century illustrated French poetry

Martin Stone was an English guitarist as well as rare books dealer and collector who passed away in 2016. His collection, acquired in 2019, encompasses about 230 French illustrated poetry books ranging from 1841 to 1970 and beyond, outstanding first editions, with signatures and dedications by and to prominent figures of the Parisian art world (Cocteau, Apollinaire, Marie Laurencin etc.). It includes minor and major French and Belgian poets, ranging from Symbolist and Decadent writing to the 20th century Modernist avant-gardes. Some editions were illustrated by famous engravers like Odilon Redon or Félicien Rops. Many of the books refer to LGBTQ+ issues (Renée Vivien, Jean Lorrain, Claude Cahun’s partner).

Find out more about the Martin Stone poetry collection in these European collections blogposts: 1, 2, 3.

Back to top.

20th century​

The War of 1914-1919 collection

Books, pamphlets and ephemera in French relating to the First World War are available on microfilm. You might want to consult the card catalogue in Rare Books as well as iDiscover. The card catalogue also includes material held elsewhere in the Library.

Find out more about the War of 1914-1919 collection in Rare Books and the Military archives relating to French studies.

Back to top.

The Temperley collection: First World War and interwar books in French

Harold William Vazeille Temperley (1879-1939) donated a collection of French First World War and interwar books, especially on Czechoslovak and Polish history.

Find out more about the Temperley collection.

Back to top.

The Jones collection: Anatole France

Henry Festing Jones (1851-1928), biographer of the 19th century novelist Samuel Butler, donated 94 books in French and English dating from between 1770-1905, including a significant collection of editions of the French writer Anatole France (1844-1924).

Find out more about the Jones collection.

Back to top.

The Claudel collection: "Margotine et son cacique"

The French writer Paul Claudel (1868-1955) received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 1939. In addition to Claudel's correspondance with Audrey Parr, Cambridge University Library Claudel archive includes 34 printed books, of which 27 contain manuscript dedications from Claudel.

Find out more about the Claudel archive.

Back to top.

The Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection (1944-1946)

The Liberation Collection is a comprehensive collection of books and pamphlets in French on the subjects of the Second World War, the Occupation and the Liberation published during a period of just over two years, from August 1944 to the end of 1946.

Find out more about the Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection.

Back to top.

The Diane Française "Musée de Poche" artists' books collection (2004-2018)

Cambridge University Library holds about 40 artists’ books published in Nice by La Diane française between 2004 and 2018. They were received as a donation by their publisher, Jean-Paul Aureglia.

Find out more about the "Musée de Poche" artists' books collection.

Back to top.

Thematic collections

The Acton Library: Church history and local history

Lord Acton was Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge from 1895 until 1902. The Acton library contains works about the political and ecclesiastical history of Europe since the Reformation, ranging from the 15th to 19th centuries and including 5,000 items in French. Books on local history and the history of the Church are of particular interest for French studies.

Search tip: type "Acton" as a keyword and select French as a language in Newton.

Find out more about the Acton Library.

Back to top.

The Hutt collection and the French typographer Pierre-Simon Fournier

(George) Allen Hutt (1901-1973) was a journalist interested in the work of the French typographer Pierre-Simon Fournier (1712-1768). Books about Fournier and typography in France can be found in the Hutt collection.

In his 1957 book L'inventaire de la Fonderie le Bé, Stanley Morison promised a chapter on "Jean-Pierre Fournier l'Ainé and Simon-Pierre Fournier le Jeune", but this was never included in the final work. Items relating to Pierre-Simon Fournier in the Morison manuscripts can be found in Janus.

MS Add.9812/A/44 Notes and photographs (1957-1965)
MS Add.9812/A/44/2 Typescript (1964-1965)
MS Add.9812/D/1 Memoranda on the Le Bé and Fournier families (1935-1958)
MS Add.9812/D/292 Letter (photocopy) of Morison to an unidentified correspondent, probably Warde, enclosing part of a type-specimen of Fournier (1925-1927)
MS Add.9812/E2/1 Notebook (1930-1959)

Find out more about the Hutt collection.

Back to top.

The Hunter collection: the history of psychiatry

The Ida Macalpine and Richard Hunter collection holds a significant number of French texts reflecting the growing interest in psychiatry and mental illness among the French scientific community and general public during the 19th century. You can find works by and about Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1873) and Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) as well as books about law relating to the mentally ill and accounts of lunatic asylums and hospitals in 18th and 19th century France.

Find out more about the Hunter collection.

Back to top.

The Royal Commonwealth Society collections

The Royal Commonwealth Society collections include material relating to French studies and the former French colonies in particular. Items include newspaper articles, illustrated books and maps.

Find out more about the Royal Commonwealth Society collections.

The Waddleton collection: illustrated books

Privas, Xavier. Prince des dunes. Paris : Librairie Delegrave, 1934.

Privas, Xavier. Prince des dunes. Paris : Librairie Delegrave, 1934.

Norman Waddleton (1916–2008) collected books with colour illustrations of any kind from all over the world. His particular interests included children's literature and works with a remarkable binding. All French language books in the collection are catalogued on Newton.

Search tip: type "Waddleton" as a keyword and select French as a language.

Find out more about the Waddleton collection on the UL web site.

The following website also contains a database of the whole Waddleton collection, including some digitised material:

Back to top.

The Yorke collection: theology and classics

The Yorke collection mainly originates from the Ely Episcopal Library. It was assembled by the Right Rev. the Hon. James Yorke, Bishop of Ely (1781-1808). The subject coverage of the collection is wide: theology, classics, travel, history, literature and political pamphlets. Approximately one quarter of the books were published on the continent. Most of these are French works, including copies of a weekly journal Nouvelles extraordinaires (1792-1796).

Find out more about the Yorke collection.20th century​