List of online resources for early modern English paleography

These resources will help you learn to decipher, read, and interpret manuscript materials written in early handwriting. Heather Wolfe's Alphabet Book is also a good starting point. Also handy is the alphabet cribsheet template, for copying out letter forms in an unfamiliar hand. Check out Practical Paleography for information about upcoming or continuing virtual sessions on Zoom. Last updated in summer 2020.

English paleography tutorials / images and transcriptions

University of Cambridge, English handwriting, 1500-1700: an online course

  • 28 transcription exercises, sortable by difficulty level and date. Students can make their own transcriptions and compare them to the model transcription, as well as take interactive tests. Outdated but still functional.

The National Archives, Palaeography: reading old handwriting 1500-1800, a practical online tutorial

  • Interactive transcription exercises for 10 documents arranged in order of difficulty, in addition to a further practice section which contains many additional non-interactive transcription exercises. Requires Adobe Flash Player and in need of a refresh.

Scottish Archive Network, Online tuition in the palaeography of Scottish documents, 1500-1750

  • Provides a series of tutorials with examples and transcriptions, as well as a weekly poser. The first tutorial is a one hour basic tutorial. Scottish secretary hand and English secretary hand are virtually identical.

David Postles, Medieval and early modern paleography online seminar series (this is an archived version)

  • Includes 9 examples of legal and manorial documents with full transcriptions and explanations.

Folger Shakespeare Library, Early Modern Manuscripts Online beta and a series of "Practical Paleography" flash cards and games on Quizlet

  • Includes diplomatic, semi-diplomatic, and normalized transcriptions, metadata, and images for over 100 letters from the Folger collection, searchable and downloadable.

Beinecke Library, Yale University, Quarantine Reading: Learn to Read Secretary Hand

  • Created by Kathryn James in August 2020.

Bess of Hardwick’s Letters: The Complete Correspondence c.1550-1608

  • Select a letter, and then select the "transcribe" option to transcribe a word, words, line, or multiple lines from a letter and compare your transcription to the project's transcription. The introduction to the overall tutorial is here.

Brigham Young University, Script Tutorial

  • Focuses on legal documents, image quality is low.

Digital images of manuscripts


Anglo-American Legal Tradition: Documents from Medieval and Early Modern England from the National Archives in London

  • Includes over nine million images of documents from King’s Bench, Court of Common Pleas, Exchequer, Chancery, Court of Requests, Duchy of Lancaster, and the courts of the Palatinate of Chester.

Beinecke Library, English Paleography Collection and Osborn Collection

British Library digitised manuscripts

Cause Papers in the Diocesan Courts of the Archbishopric of York, 1300-1858

  • A searchable catalogue of more than 14,000 cause papers relating to cases heard between 1300 and 1858 in the Church Courts of the diocese of York. The original records are held in the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, and are the most extensive records of their type in the United Kingdom.

University of Cambridge, Cambridge Digital Library: Scriptorium: Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Online

Court Depositions of South West England, 1500-1700

  • A digital edition of 80 fully transcribed depositions relating to 20 cases heard in the church courts and Quarter Sessions between 1556 and 1694 across Devon, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. The original records are held in the Devon Heritage Centre, Hampshire Record Office, Somerset Heritage Centre and Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection

Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project

  • Thousands of images from Dulwich College, providing access to the most important archive on professional theatre in early modern England as well as extensive supporting material.

University of Pennsylvania, Penn in Hand and OPenn

Wellcome Library, Recipe Manuscripts Online

  • Images of approximately 92 English manuscript receipt books from 1550 to 1740. Refine the search by limiting to "Online," "English," and "1550 to 1740" (or other date range).

Shakespeare Documented

  • A database of all known manuscript and print references to Shakespeare, his works, and additional references to his family, in his lifetime and shortly thereafter. Includes hundreds of images of manuscripts, with transcriptions.

1641 Depositions

  • Fully searchable digital edition of the 1641 Depositions at Trinity College Dublin Library, comprising transcripts and images of all 8,000 depositions, examinations and associated materials in which Protestant men and women of all classes told of their experiences following the outbreak of the rebellion by the Catholic Irish in October, 1641. Must register to see the images.

London Lives, 1690 to 1800, including Minutes of the Court of Governors, Bridewell Hospital, 1559-1803

  • A fully searchable edition of 240,000 manuscripts from eight archives and fifteen datasets, giving access to 3.35 million names. Start at "Browse Documents."

The Power of Petitioning in Seventeenth-Century England: Resources

  • Transcriptions of more than 2,500 petitions from c.1570 to 1800, as well as a series of guides and other resources.


British Literary Manuscripts Online, Medieval and Renaissance, c. 1660-1900

  • Digital microfilm images of literary manuscripts from the British Library, Folger, Huntington, and elsewhere.

The Cecil Papers

  • Ca. 30,000 newly-digitized documents dated 1520-1668 assembled mainly by William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and his son Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury, from the archives at Hatfield House.

Adam Matthew databases, including Early Modern England: Society, Culture and Everyday Life, 1500-1700; The Virginia Company Archives; Literary Manuscripts: 17th and 18th century poetry from the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds; and Medieval Family Life,

  • Digitized images and microfilm images of thousands of manuscripts, with supporting contextual material and advanced searches. Medieval Family Life includes

images and searchable transcriptions of the only five major family letter collections to survive from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries: the Paston, Cely, Plumpton, Stonor, and Armburgh papers.

State Papers Online, 1509-1714

  • Digital microfilm and original color images of state papers from the National Archives and the British Library, as well as calendars and transcriptions of the Cecil Papers at Hatfield House. The manuscripts are fully searchable through their calendar entries and index points, and are supplemented with essays.

  • Hundreds of thousands of manuscript images from parish registers and other early modern sources.

Useful catalogs and databases

1641 Depositions from Trinity College Dublin (MSS 809-841) are witness testimonies mainly by Protestants, but also by some Catholics, from all social backgrounds, concerning their experiences of the 1641 Irish rebellion. Create a free account to view the depositions.

Annotated Books Online is a virtual research environment for scholars and students interested in historical reading practices. Create a free account to contribute transcriptions and/or translations of annotations.

ArchiveGrid includes over 5 million records describing archival materials, bringing together information about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more. With over 1,000 different archival institutions represented, ArchiveGrid helps researchers looking for primary source materials held in archives, libraries, museums and historical societies.

Archives Hub searches descriptions of archives and online resources across over 360 repositories in the UK.

Bess of Hardwick's Letters, which number almost 250 items of correspondence, bring to life her extraordinary story and allow us to eavesdrop on her world. Her letters allow us to reposition Bess as a complex woman of her times, immersed in the literacy and textual practices of everyday life, as her correspondence extends from servants, friends and family, to queens and officers of state.

Bodleian Library archives and manuscripts finding aids

British Library Manuscripts Catalogue

  • Also consult the various guides for locating medieval and early modern British manuscripts here.

British History Online is a searchable digital library of over 1,270 volumes of key printed primary and secondary sources for the history of Britain and Ireland, primarily between 1300 and 1800. Searches by place, subject, source, people, or full-text, across a wide array of primary and secondary texts for medieval and modern English history, with frequent additions of new source material, including the Victoria county histories.

The Casebooks Project: In the decades around 1600, the astrologers Simon Forman and Richard Napier produced one of the largest surviving sets of medical records in history. The Casebooks Project, a team of scholars at the University of Cambridge, has transformed this paper archive into a digital archive.

Connected Histories: British History Sources, 1500-1900 brings together a range of resources with a single federated search, as well as the ability to save, connect, and share resources.

COPIA/CERES (Cambridge English Renaissance Electronic Service) provides access to manuscripts related to Spenser and resources for early modern English handwriting.

Court Depositions of South West England, 1500-1700 is a digital edition of 80 fully transcribed depositions relating to 20 cases heard in the church courts and Quarter Sessions between 1556 and 1694 across Devon, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. These depositions or witness statements relate to a range of crimes and offences tried in these two types of courts, from defamation to theft and are rich in detail of social, economic, political and religious life in early modern England. This digital edition has been prepared as part of the Leverhulme-funded project Women's Work in Rural England, 1500-1700 undertaken at the University of Exeter between 2013 and 2018.

DEx: Database of Dramatic Extracts is an online, searchable database of dramatic extracts found in seventeenth-century manuscripts. DEx is published by Iter: Gateway to the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Discovery (catalogue of the National Archives and other UK archives holds more than 32 million descriptions of records held by The National Archives and more than 2,500 archives across the country.

EMMO: Early Modern Manuscripts Online: transcriptions, images, and metadata of manuscripts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Early Stuart Libels: early 17th century English political poetry from the accession of King James I to the outbreak of the English Civil War.

Folger Library catalog and finding aids

  • In Hamnet, to limit search to manuscripts, search “material type” = “manuscript” under advanced search, or set date and material type limits under “set limits.” See Instructional video playlist on YouTube for guidance on setting filters, searching for digitized materials in the catalog, and more

Folger Manuscript Transcriptions Collection contains images from the Folger manuscript collection along with searchable, vetted semi-diplomatic transcriptions.

GEMMS: Gateway to Early Modern Manuscript Sermons is a group-sourced online bibliographic database of early modern (1530-1715) manuscript sermons from the UK, Ireland and North America.

Henslowe-Alleyn Digitization Project "has two aims and objectives: first, to protect and conserve these increasingly fragile manuscripts, and, second, to make their contents much more widely available in a free electronic archive and website, not only to specialist scholars but to all those interested in early modern English drama and theatre history, as well as social, economic, regional, architectural, and legal history, and paleography and manuscript studies" (from the website).

Lost Plays Database is a wiki-style forum for scholars to share information about lost plays in England, 1570-1642.

Manus Online: MANUS is a database containing catalogue descriptions and digital images of manuscripts, private papers and archives held by Italian public, private and ecclesiastical libraries. The census, launched in 1988, aims to list and catalogue manuscripts written in Latin alphabet from the Middle Ages to date, including private papers and literary archives.

Manuscript Cookbooks Survey includes a database of pre-1865 English-language manuscript cookbooks held in U. S. public institutions as well as a database of kitchen artifacts used at the time these manuscripts were written.

Manuscript Pamphleteering in Early Stuart England: Before the outbreak of Civil War in 1642, England developed a large, influential and often radical pamphlet literature. This project aims to survey the vast hidden archive of early Stuart England's manuscript pamphlets. Images and transcriptions of many early modern pamphlets are available, in addition to bibliographical descriptions.

Material Cultures of Early Modern Women's Writing Digital Archive: provides online editions of women's writing that circulated in a variety of forms in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This project draws from manuscript sources as well as print editions, and provides both images and transcriptions of these often multiform texts.

Scriptorium: Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Online: A digital archive of manuscript miscellanies and commonplace books from c. 1450-1720.

Shakespeare Documented is the largest and most authoritative collection of primary-source materials documenting the life of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), bringing together all known manuscript and print references to Shakespeare, his works, and additional references to his family, in his lifetime and shortly thereafter.

T.E.A.M.S.: Transcribing Early American Manuscript Sermons is a collaborative scholarly effort to make the voluminous archival record of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century ecclesiastical worship more accessible to academic researchers, pastors, and the general public. This digital archive houses sermons transcribed from the papers of Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Unitarian ministers who preached up and down the Atlantic coast of North America; it includes the manuscript sermons of white, Native American, and African American preachers.

Union First Line Index of Poetry

  • Online database of the first lines of manuscript verse from a range of repositories (in addition to verse from books printed in England from 1475-1700), searchable by first line, last line (in some cases), author, title, gender, repository, and shelfmark (that is, call number). It is also possible to create a list of all of the poetry in a single volume by searching by call number and then sorting the results by folio or page number.

University of Nottingham Library, Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections

  • Manuscript catalog and index to ca. 4500 poems in the Portland (Welbeck) Literary Manuscripts collection. First lines, along with much else, can be searched from the Search the main catalogue > Catalogue Records option (fill in the FirstLine/LastLine field to search a first line).

Peter Beal, Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450-1700

  • A greatly enlarged and updated version of the printed Index of English Literary Manuscripts, currently only partially launched. It is arranged by writer and includes valuable introductions and descriptions of all known manuscripts associated with each writer.

James Woolley, First-Line Indexes of English Verse, 1650-1800: A Checklist

Using and interpreting literary and historical manuscripts

The National Archives: Research Guides for Medieval and Early Modern History

  • 44 guides that explain the purposes of different kinds of official documents and where to find them.

The National Archives. Introduction to reading medieval Latin documents.

  • Beginner and more advanced tutorials to the form of Latin used in legal documents up to 1733.

University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections, Introduction to Skills Resources

  • Content-rich site for understanding deeds and other archival material, as well as dates, weights, and measures. See especially the section "Deeds in Depth."

Olney, RJ. Using Manuscript Sources for British History

  • Very useful for understanding the administrative history and provenance of early modern English primary sources.

Oxford English Dictionary

  • Subscription only. Assists in deciphering and defining obsolete words.

Ian’s English Calendar

  • Quick reference guide for calculating dates in early modern England.