List of online resources for early modern English paleography

These resources were compiled by Dr. Heather Wolfe, Folger Curator of Manuscripts.

English paleography tutorials

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.

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.

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.

David Postles, Medieval and early modern paleography online seminar series

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

Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, Letters of William Herle Project

  • Includes 13 interactive transcription exercises.

Digital images of manuscripts


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

  • Includes thousands of 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, with links to the relevant records in the National Archives catalogue.

Beinecke Library, English Paleography and Osborn Collection

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

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

  • Images and detailed descriptions of twenty miscellanies and commonplace books.

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection

  • New images added frequently. Best searched or browsed by call number. Early modern mss call numbers include X.c., X.d., V.a., V.b., and Z.

Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project

  • Hundreds 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, Manuscripts to 1800

  • Images of a handful of early modern English manuscripts, which can be reached by narrowing the search to English, facsimile, and 16th and 17th century.

Wellcome Library, Recipe Manuscripts Online

  • Images of 75 manuscript receipt books which, when viewed alongside the ca. 80 receipt books included in the microfilm series, [ Receipt Books from the Folger Shakespeare Library, ca. 1572-1800], allows for intensive research on this female-dominated manuscript genre.

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 assembled mainly by William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and his son Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury, 1520-1668, from the archives at Hatfield House.

Literary Manuscripts: 17th and 18th century poetry from the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds

  • Digital microfilm images and original color images of 190 manuscripts, with essays and biographies. Searchable by author, title, first line, verse form, manuscript genre, and shelfmark.

Perdita Manuscripts: Women Writers, 1500-1700

  • Digital microfilm images of over 230 manuscripts compiled by early modern British women, along with detailed indexing, biographical and bibliographical information, and contextual essays.

State Papers Online

  • 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.

The Virginia Company Archives

  • Digital microfilm images, some transcriptions, and contextual material relating to the Ferrar Papers (1590-1790), from Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Useful catalogs and databases

A2A – Access to Archives: the English strand of the UK archives network

  • Includes items from 390 record offices and other repositories, including the National Archives, searchable by keyword, date, repository, and region. To search only the National Archives, use this link


  • Provides links to finding aids and collection descriptions for North American and British manuscripts and archives of all periods.

Archives Hub

  • Searches descriptions of archives across over 250 institutions in the UK.

Bodleian Library manuscript finding aids and catalogs

  • Consult the digitized copies of the Quarto catalogues and the Summary catalogues of Western manuscripts, as well as the relevant links under “Western Manuscripts Collections.”

British Library Manuscripts Catalogue

  • The British Library recently migrated their (incomplete) catalog to this new database.

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.”

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, shelfmark, gender, repository, and shelfmark. 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).

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

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.

Using and interpreting literary and historical manuscripts

The National Archives: Research Guides, A-Z

  • Indispensable for understanding the purposes of different kinds of official documents and figuring out where to find them.

The National Archives. Latin 1086–1733: a practical online tutorial for beginners

  • See the advanced tutorial as well.

Gabriel Heaton, Literary Manuscript Analysis

  • Detailed terminology for describing letter forms and methodology for comparing hands; some links no longer active.

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.

Olney, RJ. Using Manuscript Sources for British History

  • Required reading before delving into historical sources.

Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust. British History Online

  • 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.

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.