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There survive numerous handwritten catalogues of the University Library's collections of western medieval manuscripts from the earliest times through to the 20th century.  Some have now been edited; others remain unpublished.  The earliest handwritten list dates to 1363, while the earliest printed list of part of the collection was produced around 1574.  They are of particular use for establishing for a certain manuscript its earlier provenance; by what date it had entered the University Library; and its movements within (and occasionally disappearance from and reappearance in) the University Library.  This subject guide provides a largely chronological summary of these various catalogues, their scope and contents and the individuals responsible for their compilation, up to 1600.  

For catalogues in manuscript, their shelfmarks are given, for ordering and consultation in the Manuscripts Reading Room; links are incorporated to online listings in the Janus archival catalogue.  In the few instances where they have been digitised, links are also provided separately to the Cambridge Digital Library.  

For printed works or editions, full bibliographical citations and page references are given, as well as shelfmarks to copies available to order or on the open reference shelves in the Manuscripts (MSS) or Rare Books (RB) Reading Rooms.  In many instances, relevant journal articles or earlier printed editions or sources are now available online; links to these are also given.

An earlier rendering of this guide, into which the broader history of the University Library is interwoven, remains available for download.

Three blog posts, which provide an overview of the context, contents and bibliographical uses of these early records, are available on the Special Collections blog via the following links:

1. The Early Catalogues of the University Library: A New Subject Guide.

2. Comings and Goings: The Movement of Manuscripts at the University Library before 1600.

3. The Fluctuating Fortunes of the University Library during the 15th and 16th centuries.


The Catalogues

The catalogues up to 1557 have been fully described and edited, with identifications where possible of the texts listed, and bibliographical references and modern shelfmarks where the books are known or thought to survive.  See:

  • Peter D. Clarke, The University and College Libraries of Cambridge, with an introduction by Roger Lovatt (London: British Library in association with the British Academy, 2002), Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, 10.  [MSS: A120.110.10]

The principal documents that were edited by Clarke are as follows:

  • Register of books given by various benefactors, c. 1424-c.1440.  [CUA, MS Collect. Admin. 4, ff. 17r-45r]
    • Clarke, pp. 7-31 (UC2).
    • Listing is by subject.  The register records, among others, books given in the early 15th century in anticipation of the completion of the 'New Library'.
    • Now fully digitised and available on the Digital Library.
  • Register of books, 1473.  [CUA, MS Collect. Admin. 4, ff. 1r-4v]
    • Clarke, pp. 32-62 (UC3).  UC2 and UC3 previously edited by Henry Bradshaw, 'Two lists of books in the University Library', Cambridge Antiquarian Society Communications, 2 (1864), 239-78; reprinted in Henry Bradshaw, Collected Papers (Cambridge, 1889), no. 2, pp. 16-54 (available online on the Internet Archive).
    • Probably the indentura of the chaplain-librarian, Mr John Otteley, made on his appointment.  Compiled by Ralph Songer and Richard Cokeram, University Proctors.
    • Describes the books lectern by lectern, eight on the north side, nine on the south, of the library that had been built on the south side by 1470 and known as the 'Common' or 'Great Library' (libraria communis or libraria magna).  
    • Now fully digitised and available on the Digital Library.
  • References to books in the University accounts, 1458-1541.  [CUA, Grace Book A (Alpha), Grace Book B (Beta) Grace Book Γ (Gamma)]
    • Collected and edited by Clarke, pp. 63-68 (UC4).
    • Grace Book A previously edited: Grace Book A, containing the Proctors' Accounts and other records, 1454-88, ed. by S.M. Leathes (Cambridge, 1889) (available online on the Internet Archive).
    • Grace Book B previously edited: Grace Book B, containing the Proctors' Accounts and other records, 1488-(1544), ed. by Mary Bateson (Cambridge, 1903-05) (available online on the Internet Archive).
    • Grace Book Γ previously edited: Grace Book Γ: containing the records of the University of Cambridge for the years 1501-1542, ed. by W.G. Searle (Cambridge, 1908) (available online on the Internet Archive).
  • Bidding prayer mentioning donors and gifts, c. 1510.  [CUA, Misc. Collect. 4, ff. 24r-29r]
    • Clarke, pp. 63-68 (UC5).
    • One of several miscellaneous documents relating to the University, gathered together by Matthew Stokys, Registrary 1558-91.
  • Select list of works noted by Leland, c. 1535.
    • Clarke, pp. 70-72 (UC6).
    • Selective list of books found in the 'Common Library' and the 'New Library', including one that must have been recorded in a library list since it had been removed before his arrival.  Only 3 of the 11 books noted by Leland survived to be noted in 1557.
    • The original list may be found in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Top. gen. c. 3, pp. 12, 14.  It was printed in the Collectanea, vol. 4, pp. 15-17 (available online on the Internet Archive).
  • Inventory of books drawn up for the Marian Commissioners, 1556-57.  [CUA, CUR 31.1(3)]
    • Clarke, pp. 72-102 (UC7).  Previously edited by J.C.T. Oates and H.L. Pink, 'Three sixteenth-century catalogues of the University Library', Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 1 (1949-53), 310-340 (pp. 315-27) (available online on Jstor)
    • A second copy was made, now in the archives of Peterhouse and probably brought there by Andrew Perne (?1519-1589), Vice-Chancellor under the Commission.  This version was noted by J.C.T. Oates, 'The University Library catalogue of 1556, an addendum', Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 4 (1964-68), 77-79 (available online on Jstor).
    • Both copies of the inventory are in the hand of John Gwyn, fellow of St. John's and Proctor 1555/56.
    • Of the 163 books in the Marian list, about 130 survive and over 90 of these are manuscripts (see Oates and Pink, p. 311), all but one still held at the University Library.

Further catalogues were compiled during the 16th century, as follows:

  • Catalogue of 1573.  [CUA, CUR 31.1(4)]
    • Edited by Oates and Pink, TCBS, 1 (1949-53), 310-40 (pp. 327-32) (available online on Jstor).
    • Written by an anonymous hand - and either a hurried copy of the 1573 Catalogue in Grace Book Δ (Delta) or perhaps a draft of it.  
    • Grace Book Δ previously edited: Grace Book Δ: containing the records of the University of Cambridge for the years 1542-1589, ed. by John Venn (Cambridge, 1910) (available online on the Internet Archive).
    • Some minor differences between the two catalogues in terms of ordering are noted by Oates and Pink, pp. 312-13.
  • Catalogue of 1574.  [CUA, CUR 31.1(5)]
    • Edited by Oates and Pink, TCBS, 1 (1949-53), 310-40 (pp. 332-38) (available online on Jstor).
    • Confusingly, this catalogue is referred to by Oates and Pink variously as having been made "early in 1574" and dated to "1573/74".
    • Falls into two parts: 1574-1 - stalls on the eastern side of the library room; and 1574-2 - stalls on the western side of the library room.
  • Two lists of books given by Matthew Parker (1504-1575), Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1574.
    • The first list of books, including 25 manuscripts, is printed at the end of some copies of Matthew Parker, De antiquitate Britannicæ ecclesiæ & priuilegiis ecclesiæ Cantuariensis, cum Archiepiscopis eiusdem 70​ (Excusum Londini: in ædibus Iohannis Daij, An. Dom. 1572-74) [for example, see: RB, Sel.3.217].
    • A transcription of this first list, complete with identifications of the titles and of the surviving manuscripts and their present-day shelfmarks, is available to download.
    • The second list, also dated 1574, of 20 manuscripts given by Parker to the University Library, is recorded in MS Dd.2.5, f. vi verso (see C.E. Wright, 'The Dispersal of the Monastic Libraries and the Beginnings of Anglo-Saxon Studies.  Matthew Parker and His Circle: A Preliminary Study', Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 1 (1949-53), 208-237 (pp. 224-25) (available online on Jstor).
  • List of 'veteres libri in Cantebrigiensi Bibliotheca', 1574.
    • A list of books, including over 50 manuscripts, and possibly several more, is printed in John Caius, Historiae Cantebrigiensis Academiae ab vrbe condita (Londini: In aedibus Iohannis Daij, An. Dom. 1574), pp. 85-87 [for example, see: RB, Cam.d.574.1(2) / Sel.4.26(3) / Sel.5.159(2) / SSS.22.15] (copy at the Huntington Library available online on EEBO).
    • Compiler apparently worked at least partly from the Catalogue of 1574.
    • Most of the manuscripts listed by Caius were identified by M.R. James, with occasional notes given as to their provenance (see: The works of John Caius, M.D: second founder of Gonville and Caius college and master of the college, 1559-1573. With a memoir of his life by John Venn, ed. by E.S. Roberts (Cambridge: University Press, 1912), pp. 115-16 after the reproduction of Caius, Historiae Cantebrigiensis Academiae [order in Reading Room: 715.c.91.3] (available online on the Internet Archive).
    • A transcription of the relevant entries from this list, plus James's identifications, with corrections, is available to download.
  • Lists of books made in preparation for a catalogue, 1583.  [CUA, CUR 31.1(6)
    • A series of draft lists, compiled shelf by shelf by six or more people, under the supervision of Matthew Stokys, Registrary 1558-91.  Stokys's editorial hand is visible in the form of various annotations to these notes.  (For further details, see entry for Catalogue of 1583 immediately below).
  • Catalogue of 1583. [CUA, CUR 31.1(10)]
    • A clean copy of the draft and now fragmentary lists at CUA, CUR 31.1(6), written out by John Frickley, notary public.
    • Edited by Elisabeth Leedham-Green and David McKitterick, 'A catalogue of Cambridge University Library in 1583', in Books and Collectors, 1200-1700: Essays presented to Andrew Watson, ed. by James P. Carley and Colin G.C. Tite (London: British Library, 1997), pp. 153-235 [RB: B205.WAT.1]
  • First comprehensive printed catalogue of manuscripts at Cambridge University Library, published by Thomas James (1572/73-1629), Bodleian Librarian, in 1600.
    • A list of 259 manuscripts is printed in: Thomas James, Ecloga Oxonio-Cantabrigiensis, tributa in libros duos; quorum prior continet catalogum confusum librorum manuscriptorum in illustrissimis bibliothecis, duarum florentissimarum Academiarum, Oxoniae et Cantabrigiae... (Londini: Impensis Geor. Bishop et Jo. Norton, 1600), pp. 53-69 [RB: Peterborough D.6.25 / Syn.7.60.107 / Syn.7.60.109 /Syn.7.60.222] (copy at the Huntington Library available online on EEBO).
    • The numbers given in the Ecloga are usually those written within the front covers of the manuscripts, and often inked onto the fore-edge (reflecting the practice of shelving the books with the spines to the back).
    • A table collating James's numbers with the manuscripts' present-day shelfmarks is included in A catalogue of adversaria and printed books containing MS. notes, preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge: at the University Press, 1864), pp. 161-164.
    • Many of the manuscripts listed by James appear to have come from Andrew Perne (nos 1-5, 108-222, 223, 226, 231). 
    • Manuscripts given by Matthew Parker are listed separately (nos 223-259), including one from Theodore Beza (no. 224), one from Leonard Pilkington (no. 24), and three in all likelihood from Perne (nos 223, 226-30 and 231) that James erroneously attributed to Parker.  See: J.C.T. Oates, Cambridge University Library: A History.  From the beginnings to the Copyright Act of Queen Anne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 136.

Dr James Freeman

Medieval Manuscripts Specialist