skip to content

Cambridge University Library has a varied collection of medieval manuscripts ranging from books which were in the original University Library before the invention of printing, to volumes which have been bought by the Library from time to time in London salerooms. Manuscripts which were in the Library before the middle of the nineteenth century bear two-letter classmarks and are among those catalogued in the old printed catalogue (see Catalogue of the Manuscripts preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge, (Cambridge, 1856-1867), 5 vols [MSS A]). This should be used with great caution; the corrigenda in volume 5 should always be consulted. Further information about these manuscripts can in many cases be obtained upon request at the Manuscripts Reading Room desk or via the e-mail address below; more up-to-date unpublished descriptions are now also partly available online via the relevant subject guide.

Manuscripts which came into the Library after the middle of the nineteenth century are numbered among the Additional Manuscripts. Those with a number up to MS Add. 7000 can be found in Jayne Ringrose, Summary Catalogue of the Additional Medieval Manuscripts in Cambridge University Library acquired before 1940 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2009) [MSS A122.2.10].  There is also a brief handlist of medieval manuscripts acquired since 1940 and numbered above MS Add. 7000.  Where available, more detailed descriptions of these later additions may be obtained upon request at the Manuscripts Reading Room desk.  These will shortly be made available online via Apollo.

A very brief listing of collections of fragments of medieval manuscripts within the Additionals sequence can be found here.

A catalogue of illuminated and decorated western manuscripts within both the two-letter and Additional manuscripts sequences can be found in 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) [MSS A122.2.48], which is now also available online.

There is also a catalogue of the English medieval legal manuscripts within both the two-letter and Additional manuscripts sequences: J.H. Baker and J.S. Ringrose, A catalogue of English legal manuscripts in Cambridge University Library (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1996) [MSS A122.2.20].

A detailed guide to the history of the manuscripts collections and the various finding aids is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room and online.

The Manuscripts Reading Room also contains a slip index of medieval authors, a basic subject index in two volumes, and an index of incipits of medieval texts, arranged alphabetically under languages. This last covers the manuscripts collections of College Libraries as well.

The most detailed, if somewhat labyrinthine, account of the history of the medieval manuscripts collections is that provided as part of the general, two-volume history of Cambridge University Library:

  • J.C.T. Oates, Cambridge University Library: A History. From the Beginnings to the Copyright Act of Queen Anne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).  [MSS A650.195]
  • David McKitterick, Cambridge University Library: A History. The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).  [MSS A650.196]

(An abbreviated version of this general history - reproducing in full Oates, Cambridge University Library: A Historical Sketch (1975) - is available under History of Cambridge University Library).

Dated and datable manuscripts are described in P. R. Robinson, Catalogue of Dated and Datable Manuscripts, c. 737-1600, Cambridge, 1988, 2 vols [MSS A122.2.45-46]

Further information on Medieval manuscripts in deposited College collections is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

A growing selection of the Library’s medieval manuscripts have been digitised and are available in the Cambridge Digital Library. These include such treasures as the late fourth or early fifth century manuscript of the New Testament known as the Codex Bezae, the Book of Deer, a tenth-century gospel book believed to the oldest manuscript produced in Scotland, and the unique copy of Matthew Paris’s illustrated Life of St Edward the Confessor.

Dr James Freeman

Medieval Manuscripts Specialist