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 Outdated but still functional.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David Postles, Medieval and early modern paleography online seminar series (this is an archived version)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

Discovery (catalogue of the National Archives and other UK archives

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


  • 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.

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

  • 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.

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.

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, 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).

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 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.