The polymath Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), 1st Baronet, was the founder of The British Museum, and, in a round-about way The British Library and the Natural History Museum, as well. The British Museum Act 1753 merged with Sloane’s collections two existent libraries – the Cottonian Library and the Harleian Library – to form the British Museum. These are considered the three foundation collections of the British Library.
The First Foundational Collection
Born in Ireland to Protestant Scottish parents and trained in medicine in England and France, Sloane was the royal physician for three successive monarchs: Queen Anne, King George I, and King George II. In 1716, he became the first medical practitioner to receive a hereditary title.
In addition to being a medical doctor, he was also a scientist (or a naturalist as scientists were then called). In 1686-87, a stay in Jamaica as personal physician to Christopher Monck (1653-1688), 2nd Duke of Albemarle, allowed Dr. Sloane to study natural history. His A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers, and Jamaica, with the natural history … of the last of those islands (published in London in two volumes between 1707 and 1725) records his experiences and findings.
In 1727, he succeeded Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) as the President of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge (often shortened as The Royal Society). [Founded in 1660, this learned society is the oldest national science academy in the world and remains the leading promoter of scientific research in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.] He also supported Thomas Coram in the establishment of the Foundling Hospital (an orphanage for abandoned babies and older children) in London.
To accommodate his growing collections of books, artworks, antiquities (artifacts), and curiosities, he purchased the home next door to his residence in Bloomsbury, London and in 1712 acquired a manor house in Chelsea. In 1753, he bequeathed to King George II, on behalf of the United Kingdom, his collections of books, manuscripts, drawings, prints, cameos, medals, coins, and seals, as well as a cabinet of curiosities that included dried plants, insects, shells, fish, quadrupeds, metals and minerals, and precious stones.
When the executors of Sloane’s estate reviewed the catalogue of his collections, they found 80,000 items. His collection of printed books and manuscripts was comprised of approximately 50,000 volumes, of which 136 were books of prints, 2,666 were volumes of manuscripts, with the remainder being printed books.
The British Museum later transferred many of Sloane’s collections of flora, fauna, metals, minerals, and precious stones to the British Museum (Natural History) as its founding collections. Unfortunately, many of the specimens Sloane had acquired in the field, received in trade from other naturalists, or purchased were lost through mismanagement in the early 19th Century before Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892) became Superintendent of the Natural History Department in 1856 and imposed order. The British Museum (Natural History) was, for over 100 years, a department of the British Museum that merely happened to have been quartered in a separate building in South Kensington since the 1880s.
It legally became a separate entity under The British Museum Act 1963 and officially changed its name to the Natural History Museum in 1992 under the Museums and Galleries Act 1992. This established the precedent for The British Library to become a separate institution.
Sloane’s bequest had one provision: that his heirs be paid £20,000 for his collections, a large sum of money in that era, but less than the monetary value of the collections. On June 7, 1753, George II gave the Royal Ascent to the aforementioned British Museum Act 1753 (which was later repealed by The British Museum Act 1963).
The Second Foundational Collection
The second of the three foundation collections of The British Museum and The British Library is the Cottonian Library, also known as the Cotton Library. The bibliophile and antiquary Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (died 1631), 1st Baronet, of Conington, had amassed the largest private collection of manuscripts because he had the means and the wit to acquire and preserve manuscripts that were on the market after the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII (lived 1491-1547, reigned 1509-1547)
He also collected and bound state papers that might otherwise have been destroyed. Cotton obtained two copies of Magna Carta from 1215, one of which was engrossed. In this case, an engrossed copy means it has the royal seal. Cotton received the engrossed copy from the archives of Dover Castle. Another treasure of the collection is the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Lindisfarne Gospels is an example of an illuminated manuscript Evangelion (Book of the Gospels). The book is the product of a single monk, possibly Eadfrith of Lindisfarne (died 721 A.D.), who became Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698. The illustrations show a mixture of Irish, Anglo-Saxon, and Roman influences. In the 10th Century, a priest remembered as Aldred the Scribe and Aldred the Glassator added a word-for-word Northumbrian dialect Old English translation between the lines of Latin text. In addition to adding an Old English gloss, he added a colophon.
Figure 1 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is one of the copies of the Magna Carta acquired by Sir Robert Cotton.
Figure 2 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Some of the manuscript collections Cotton acquired had belonged to famous men, including John Leland (died 1552), the poet and antiquary; John Dee (died 1609), the mathematician, astronomer, occultist, and imperialist; and William Cecil (1520-1598), 1st Baron Burghley, who held several high posts under Queen Elizabeth I (lived 1533-1603, reigned 1558-1603). Cotton’s library also included printed books. In addition, he collected Roman inscriptions and Medieval-era coins.
Robert Brice Cotton was elected to the House of Commons five times as a M.P. for Newton on the Isle of Wight in 1601, knight of the shire for County Huntingdon in 1604, M.P. for Old Sarum in 1624, M.P. for Thetford in 1625, and M.P. for Castle Rising in 1628. In 1603, King James (1566-1625) VI of Scotland (1567-1625) / King James I of England & Ireland (1603-1625) knighted Robert Brice Cotton. In 1611, King James made Cotton a baronet.
Cotton studied at Westminster School and the University of Cambridge’s Jesus College. It was his tutor, William Camden (1551-1623), an antiquary and historian who eventually became headmaster of Westminster School in 1593, who awakened in Cottn a profound interest in history.
The holdings of Cotton’s library-cum-archive eventually included a larger collection of government documents than in the hands of any government official of the time. This made kings and some royal officials uneasy. Cotton allowed scholars and other interested parties to peruse these documents. Richard James (1592 – 1638) was the first librarian. The men who carried out research at Cotton’s library included John Selden (1584-1654) jurist and one of the most learned men in the land; James Ussher (1581-1656), (Anglican) Archbishop of Armagh (1625-1656); and his old tutor William Camden, Clarenceux king of arms and author of Britannia.
Due to the close proximity of Cotton House to Parliament, it was convenient for legislators to do research there (making it effectively a reference library for the House of Commons). As King James I and his son King Charles I (lived 1600-1649, reigned 1625-1649) found themselves increasingly at odds with Parliament (and judges) – in the lead up to the revolution called the English Civil War – they and Royalists found Cotton allowing parliamentary enemies of the monarchy access to documents that they could cite to build arguments against royal decisions tantamount to treason.
Early in the century, Cotton had been an advisor to King James I, but in January of 1628, Cotton offended King Charles I and the Royalists when he wrote a pamphlet entitled The Danger Wherein the Kingdom Now Standeth and the Remedy. Mr. James caused Cotton serious trouble when he lent the lawyer Oliver St. John (died 1673) a pamphlet on the bridling of parliaments, written, in 1612, by the English explorer, cartographer, engineer, and shipwright Sir Robert Dudley (1574-1649). St. John circulated the tract amongst parliamentary leaders. Consequently, in 1629, the Privy Council ordered the arrest of both Cotton and James. They were arrested on November 3, 1629. The authorities closed the library and confiscated the books.
Sir Robert Cotton was released on November 15, 1629. James was released with others on May 29, 1630, to celebrate the birth of a new heir, the future Charles II. However, the library remained closed until two years after Sir Robert Cotton’s death in 1631. He was buried at his estate, Conington, in Huntingdonshire. Richard James continued to work for his son, Sir Thomas Cotton (1594-1662), 2nd Baronet, until James died.
Sir Thomas Cotton was allowed to re-open the library in 1633. He also allowed researchers free access to the books and manuscripts. In 1650, during the Civil War, he moved the bulk of the collection to a villa in Stratton, Bedfordshire that belonged to Dorothy, wife of his eldest son and heir, John. Sir John Cotton (1662-1702), 3rd Baronet, was something of a scholar. His friend, Dr. Thomas Smith, drew up the first catalogue of the Cottonian Library, published in 1696.
In 1700, Parliament passed a law that stated, “Sir John Cotton, in pursuance of the desire and intention of his father and grandfather, is content and willing that his mansion house and library should continue in his family and name, and that it be kept and preserved by the name of the Cottonian Library for public use and advantage.”
In April of 1706, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was supposed to renovate the library for public use, but reported that Cotton House had become dilapidated. The former site of Cotton House has since been incorporated into the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament).
Figure 3 Caption: Many people are under the mis-impression the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster (seen here in the background) is called Big Ben. In reality, the largest bell inside the clock tower is Big Ben. Until 2012, the clock tower was unimaginatively named the Clock Tower, but in 2012 it was renamed the Elizabeth Tower to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II (the 60th anniversary of Elizabeth II being crowned). The Palace of Westminster was the primary residence of English monarchs until a fire ravaged it in 1512. Afterwards, it became home to the Parliament of England and the Royal Courts of Justice. A worse fire in 1834 destroyed most of the buildings in the Old Palace.
Figure 4 Architect Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) designed the New Palace of Westminster in the Gothic Revival. It incorporated the remaining structures from the Old Palace. His inspiration was a distinctly English variant called the Perpendicular Gothic style. The Palace of Westminster is home to the bicameral Parliament of the United Kingdom. The House of Commons and the House of Lords are known collectively as the Houses of Parliament. The Palace of Westminster is located on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster (not the City of London) in central Greater London. People often refer to the British Government as “Westminster” the way people often refer to the U.S. Government as “Washington,” conflating the government and capital city.
In June of 1706, William Hanbury, the brother-in-law of Sir John Cotton, 4th Baronet, received the appointment in June of 1706 as keeper, but soon afterwards the royal librarians – Library-Keeper to His Majesty, Dr. Richard Bentley (1662-1742), and the Deputy-Librarian, David Casley – gained full control.
In 1707, Parliament passed a law to authorize the Crown to purchase Cotton House, the library, and garden for £4,500. It vested control of the Cottonian Library in Queen Anne and her successors in perpetuity and called for the construction of a dedicated library building. However, the Crown never did build a Cottonian Library building. The Old Royal Library moved to be housed with the Cottonian Library. In 1712, Parliament moved the Cottonian Library and Old Royal Library to Essex House on the Strand (a major thoroughfare in Westminster).
In 1730, the Crown purchased Ashburnham House to house both libraries because the Strand was cramped with buildings and the risk of the manuscripts being lost in a fire was too great. Ironically, up to one-quarter of the manuscripts were subsequently destroyed or damaged in a fire in Ashburnham House on October 23, 1731. According to a House of Commons committee report, of the 958 volumes in Ashburnham House, 114 were destroyed and ninety-eight were “considerably damaged.” Dr. Bentley and Mr. Casley and the other occupants of Ashburnham House, were slow to remove manuscripts because they initially believed they could extinguish the fire with the water on hand.
Unfortunately, the yellow sealing wax on Cotton’s engrossed copy of Magna Carta melted, two holes burned in the parchment, and the parchment shriveled in the heat of the 1731 fire. One important manuscript that was badly damaged was the Cotton Genesis, a 4th or 5th Century Greek illuminated manuscript of the Book of Genesis.
A committee that included the two librarians were able to repair about one-third of the ninety-eight damaged manuscripts they considered “defective.” Parliament moved the Cottonian Library to the new Dormitory of Westminster Scholars with the permission of the Dean and Chapter.
Figure 5 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is the copy of the Magna Carta (and its seal) that a fire damaged in 1731.
Figure 6 Credit: The British Library Caption: These are results of multi-spectral imaging photos of The British Library’s damaged copy of the Magna Carta.
In 1753, when Parliament established The British Museum, it merged the Cottonian Library with the collections of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), 1st Baronet and the Earls of Oxford and moved them to Montagu House (also spelled Montague House) on Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury. The British Museum Library staff again attempted to repair books and manuscripts damaged in the 1731 fire in 1824 and 1841. In that second attempt, Sir Frederick Madden (1801-1873), Keeper of Manuscripts, was able to repair 100 vellum volumes and ninety-seven paper volumes. These included the Cotton Genesis the chronicle of Roger of Wendover, and the Life of King Alfred the Great.
The British Library continues to hold Cotton’s manuscript collection. Today, the manuscripts in the Cottonian Library have become the Cotton Manuscript collection in The British Library. It is comprised of over 1,400 manuscripts and over 1,500 charters, rolls and seals. They range in date from approximately the 4th Century to the 17th Century. Most, but not all, of them originated in Western Europe.
Many of the manuscripts are written in Latin or in English (including Old English, Middle English, and Scots English). Other European languages represented in the collection include Cornish Gaelic, Danish, Dutch, French (including Anglo-Norman French), German, Greek, Irish Gaelic, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Welsh Gaelic. Non-European languages represented in the Cotton Collection include Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Inuit, Persian, and Turkish.
The British Library stated, “The vast majority of the Cotton collection, including all of the manuscript-maps, is made available in the Manuscripts Reading Room of the British Library. A very small number of items is held by Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections.” Due to John Cotton, 1st Baronet, having founded his collection before the other two, The British Library regards him as its first patron. Unfortunately, his collection of printed books has been dispersed over time. Many of the coins in Cotton’s collection remain at The British Museum, while his Roman inscriptions are at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The Third Foundational Collection
The third foundation collection of The British Museum and The British Library is the Harleian Library. Robert Harley (1661-1724), 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, began this collection in October of 1704 when he acquired 600 manuscripts from the collection of the antiquary Sir Simonds d’Ewes (1602-1650), 1st Baronet.
Harley and his father had been active participants in the so-called Glorious Revolution. A M.P. for Radnor, Wales in the Parliament of England (1690-1707) and the Parliament of Great Britain (1707-1711) who served as Speaker of the House of Commons (1701-1705) and held multiple high positions under Queen Anne – Northern Secretary (1704-1708), Chancellor of the Exchequer (1710-1711), Lord High Treasurer (1711-1714) – he was effectively her premier. He helped bring about the unification of the Kingdom of Scotland with the Kingdom of England (and Principality of Wales) with the Act of Union (1707) and ended British involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession with the Treaty of Utrecht (1713).
In 1708, the scholar Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726) became librarian for the Harleys with the title keeper. Wanley was one of the original members of the Society of Antiquaries in 1707 (re-founded in 1717). The British Library states, “His diary (British Library Lansdowne MSS. 771-772) and letters are an important resource for describing the acquisition of individual manuscripts, and for understanding the growth of the collection as a whole.”
Robert Harley’s son, Edward Harley (1689-1741), Lord Harley took an active role in building the collection from 1711 onward. That decade saw the Harleys acquire several groups of English manuscripts. Starting around 1717, the Harleys began using agents in Continental Europe to make en bloc purchases of manuscripts from French, German, and Italian sources.
A consummate intriguer and astute manipulator of public opinion, Robert Harley managed to oust Sidney Godolphin (1645-1712), 1st Earl of Godolphin from power in 1710, two years after they had influenced Queen Anne to dismiss him. In 1711, she made him an earl and appointed him Lord High Treasurer. Yet, in 1714, Henry St. John (1678-1751), 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, convinced Queen Anne to dismiss Harley while she was on her deathbed. Under King George I, Harley spent two years imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, is the eponym of London’s Harley Street and Oxford Street. Like his father (and grandfather) before him, Edward Harley represented Radnor in the House of Commons. He did so from 1711 to 1714. Then he represented Cambridgeshire from 1722 until his father died in 1724, at which time he inherited his father’s titles and entered the House of Lords. Lord Oxford was a bibliophile and patron of the arts who counted the writer Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) amongst his friends. He was also a great landowner and real estate developer.
In terms of building the Harleian Library collection, the family benefited in the 1720s from auctions held in London of both British and foreign collections. In 1713, he married Lady Henrietta Holles (1684-1755), daughter of John Holles (1662-1711), 1st Duke of Newscastle-upon-Tyne (second creation) and his wife, Margaret Cavendish (1668-1716), Duchess of Newscastle-upon-Tyne.
Lord and Lady Oxford had two children. Henry Cavendish Harley, Lord Harley, died in infancy. Their daughter, Margaret Cavendish Harley (1715-1785), Lady Margaret Harley, inherited much of her parents’ wealth, but her father’s titles passed to a cousin. In 1734, she married William Bentinck (1709-1762), 2nd Duke of Portland. At that time, she became Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland. She possessed wealth that rivaled that of kings. With her husband, she had six children.
In 1753, Henrietta, Countess of Oxford and Countess Mortimer and her daughter Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, sold the Harleian Library to the Crown for £10,000, a fortune in that era, but not the full monetary value of the collection and half as much as the Crown paid for the larger collections of Dr. Sloane. Today, The British Library’s Harleian Collection includes over 7,000 manuscript volumes, over 14,000 original legal documents, and 500 rolls.
The British Library stated, “Although most are in European languages, including a sizeable number in Greek, the library also includes items in Hebrew and in various Oriental languages.”
Descriptions and digital images of more than 2000 manuscripts in the Harleian collection are being added progressively to the British Library’s online Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, courtesy of a generous grant by the Getty Foundation.
When the British Museum formed in 1753, the trustees moved Sloane’s books from his Chelsea manor house to Montagu House (also spelled Montague House) on Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury, the first home of the British Museum, along with his other collections. The trustees acquired this chateau, the former London residence of the Dukes of Montagu, in 1759.
The British Museum’s Department of Printed Books
Founded in 1753, The British Museum’s Department of Printed Books received donations from royalty, nobility, gentry, and affluent commoners. In 1757, George II Augustus (lived 1683-1760, reigned 1727-1760), King of Great Britain, King of Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, donated the Old Royal Library to The British Museum.
The collection of 2,000 Royal Manuscripts – comprised of manuscripts commissioned by English monarchs, manuscripts seized from monastic libraries with Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, and manuscripts foreign powers presented to British monarchs – continue to constitute a distinct collection within The British Library.
The most important document within this collection is the Codex Alexandrinus. It is a Bible written in Greek in the 5th Century when the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire was at or near its height and is one of the oldest copies of the Bible. Mr. Casley, the Deputy Librarian at Ashburnham House, had saved the Codex Alexandrinus when a fire destroyed or damaged one-quarter of the manuscripts in Ashburnham House on October 23, 1731, as mentioned above. Cyril Lucaris (1572-1638) Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and former Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, had given the Codex Alexandrinus to King Charles I – through Sir Thomas Roe, the English Ambassador to the Sublime Porte (the court of the Sultans of the Ottoman Turkish Empire) – in 1627. He did this in gratitude for King James I’s support in Cyril’s conflicts with the Ottoman Porte, the Roman Catholic Church, and his own Greek Orthodox subordinates.
Dr. Thomas Birch (1705-1766), one of the original trustees of The British Museum, donated his collection of manuscripts through a bequest. Another trustee, Sir William Musgrave, the owner of Hayton Castle, donated items during his lifetime and by bequest donated his collection of manuscripts on portrait-printing in England, English administrative and political history, and a large collection of printed books on British biography. When we count the books Musgrave donated in his lifetime with those he donated by bequest, he gave The British Museum Library received approximately 2,000 books from him.
The actor David Garrick donated his collection of plays. Through a bequest, Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode (1730-1799), a wealthy bibliophile and art collector, donated to The British Museum the Cracherode Collections of 4,500 volumes of fine printed books, coins, medals, gems, seven portfolios of drawings by great masters, 100 portfolios of prints, and a cabinet of mineral specimens. A true Londoner, Cracherode seems never to have visited Great Wymondley, his estate in Hertfordshire that he inherited from his father.
In 1807, The British Museum purchased the manuscript collection of Lieutenant-General Sir William Petty (1737-1805), 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, County Somerset (British Peerage); 2nd Earl of Shelburne, in County Wexford (Irish Peerage); 1st Earl of Wycombe in Chepping Wycombe (British Peerage); 2nd Viscount FitzMaurice (Irish Peerage); 2nd Baron Dunkeron (Irish Peerage); and 2nd Lord Wycombe, Baron of Chepping Wycombe in County Bucks (British Peerage). An aristocrat, soldier, and statesman known for much of his life as The Earl of Shelburne, he held a variety of posts and served as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury from July 4, 1782 to September 2, 1783.
In the course of amassing his collection, Lord Shelburne had acquired sixty-four volumes of manuscripts from the collection of Sir Julius Caesar (1558-1636). In 1770, he acquired 121 volumes of manuscripts, the journal, and notebook of William Cecil (1520-1598), 1st Baron Burghley, in 1772.
Lord Shelburne also acquired 107 volumes of manuscripts that had had belonged to, and in some cases written by, White Kennett (1660 -1728), Bishop of Peterborough. The Lansdowne Manuscripts collection is one of the Closed Collections. Further, The British Library separately holds the Bowood Papers of the Marquesses of Lansdowne.
When Parliament appropriated money to acquire the manuscript collection of the Marquess of Lansdowne, it was the first time Parliament had spent money to acquire something for The British Museum Library. His executors received the sum of £4,925 – a fortune in those days.
In 1813, The British Museum purchased the legal manuscripts of Francis Hargrave (died 1821), a prominent lawyer. Hargrave was a learned man, but his pursuit of knowledge of the law came at the expense of practicing law, and he was badly in need of money when Parliament appropriated funds to acquire his library. He died at the age of eighty.
This was the second time Parliament appropriated money to acquire texts for The British Museum Library. The Hargarve Manuscripts collection is one of the Closed Collections.
With funds bequeathed by Major Arthur Edwards, the Trustees of The British Museum were able to acquire for the Library a substantial portion of the printed book collection of Karl Freiherr von Moll (1760-1838) in Munich. They also acquired parts of his coin collection and herbarium.
Baron Von Moll was an Austrian statesman and naturalist who had moved to Bavaria in his retirement. Out of the 14,000 books he sold The British Museum, about 8,000 had been on the physical sciences and allied subjects. The British Museum Trustees spent £4,770 on the acquisition and attendant costs.
In 1818, The British Museum purchased the manuscript collection of Dr. Charles Burney (1757-1817). He was an Anglican priest and classical scholar who made a fortune as a schoolmaster. He was quite a popular teacher, despite a reputation for enthusiastic use of a flogging block to discipline his students.
Although his collection was famous for books by ancient Greeks and Romans, especially Greek dramatists, it also included 700 volumes of 17th and 18th Century English newspapers and 400 volumes of material on the English stage. His collection included almost 13,500 printed volumes.
This was the third time Parliament appropriated money to acquire texts for The British Museum Library. The Burney Manuscripts collection is one of the Closed Collections.
In 1818, the Trustees of the British Library also acquired for the Library the collection of over 4,300 printed books by French, Italian, and classical authors that had been owned by the French literary historian Pierre-Louis Ginguené (1748-1815). Due to a depression in the market in Continental Europe, they were able to acquire this collection for £1,000.
Combined, these purchased had increased the size of The British Museum Library holdings by 35,000 volumes. In each of four successive years – 1812 to 1815 – Parliament appropriated the sum of £1,000 to purchase books on British history.
In 1823, George IV (lived 1762-1830, reigned 1820-1830), King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover, transferred to The British Library the King’s Library of his father, George III (lived 1738-1820, reigned 1760-1820), King of Great Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover. This consisted of more than 65,000 volumes of books and bound periodicals (including over 800 incunabula), about 19,000 pamphlets, manuscripts, and bound volumes of maps.
The materials were handwritten or published between 1454 to the 1820s. Some of the books have an earlier royal provenance, including items owned by William III (better known as William of Orange) & Mary II, Queen Caroline (the wife of George II, she was known as Caroline of Ansbach), and George III’s father Frederick Louis (1707-1751), Prince of Wales. It is interesting these books escaped the earlier donation of the Old Royal Library.
George III’s library expanded considerably with the 1763 acquisition of the second library of Joseph Smith (1682-1770), British consul at Venice. Early examples of printed books in the King’s Library included a copy of the Johannes Gutenberg’s edition of the Bible and William Caxton’s first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Figure 7 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is a page from William Caxton’s edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Figure 8 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is Caxton’s illustrated print edition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.
Initially, George III had kept his library at the Old Palace at Kew, which had been built by his father, Prince Frederick Louis, but eventually the library transferred to the Queen’s House (previously known as Buckingham House) on t site of what is now Buckingham Palace. Scholars were able to consult the library, as did John Adams (1735-1826), when he was the first American ambassador (called the United States Minister to the United Kingdom) before he was the first Vice President (1789-1797) or the Second President of the United States (1797-1801). George III’s interest in books was such that he had a bindery on site, which was in operation from at least 1780 until some point after his death.
Originally, The British Museum’s Library kept the King’s Manuscripts with the printed books but in 1840 transferred them to the Department of Manuscripts. [The King’s Manuscripts collection is one of the Closed Collections.] The manuscript maps, however, remained in the Department of Printed Books, and are now to be found in The British Library’s Map Library as the King’s Topographical Collection.
Francis Henry Egerton (1756-1829), 8th Earl of Bridgewater, bequeathed his collection of sixty-seven manuscripts and the sum of £12,000 to establish the Egerton Fund to purchase additional manuscripts.
In 1831, The British Museum purchased from the Royal Society (Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge) a collection of manuscripts that had belonged to Thomas Howard (1586-1646), 21st Earl of Arundel and Baron Maltravers (1604-1646), 2nd Earl of Surrey (1604-1646), 1st Earl of Norfolk (1644-1646), Earl-Marshal (1622-1646), 15th Baron Mowbray (1604-1646), and Baron Segrave (1604-1646). He had also collected paintings, sculptures, prints, and jewelry on a large scale.
In 1666, Henry Howard (1628-1684), 6th Duke of Norfolk (1677-1684), 1st Earl of Norwich (1672-1684), 17th Baron Mowbray (1628-1684), 1st Baron of Castle Rising (1669-1684), and Earl-Marshal (1672-1684), had divided the collection of manuscripts amassed by his grandfather between the Royal Society and the College of Arms. He also gave the Arundel Marbles to the University of Oxford, which granted him a doctorate. The Arundel Manuscripts collection is one of the Closed Collections.
Thomas Grenville (1755-1846), a politician and bibliophile, bequeathed his library of approximately 16,000 books in 20,240 volumes to The British Museum. The books were printed between the 15th and 19th Centuries.
The Ascent of Anthony Panizzi
The British Museum’s Department of Printed Books became one of the largest libraries in the world because it was a legal deposit library. Under the Copyright Act (1842), the British Library’s Department of Printed Books was entitled to one copy of practically everything printed in the United Kingdom of Great Britain, including books, newspapers, maps, and printed music. Thus, it was the de facto national library (much like the Library of Congress is to the U.S.A.) before it evolved into an actual national library.
Further, publishers around the world voluntarily donated books. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1874-1924), who ruled the Soviet Union as its first dictator under the nom de guerre Lenin, believed that at the dawn of the 20th Century, the British Museum Library had a more comprehensive collection of Russian books than in the libraries in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Figure 9 Credit: The British Library This is a picture of a letter Lenin wrote (under the pseudonym Jacob Richter) to request permission to use The British Museum Reading Room.
The collection more than doubled under the leadership of Sir Antonio Genosio Maria (“Anthony”) Panizzi (1797-1879) from 235,000 volumes to 540,000 volumes while he was Keeper of Printed Books. An Italian expatriate who had become a British subject in 1832, he had the fortune to befriend the scientist, lawyer, journalist, essayist, and Whig politician Henry Peter Brougham (1778-1868), 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux.
When Brougham became Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain in 1834, he secured Panizzi two positions, as Professor of Italian at the then-new University of London and as Assistant Librarian in the British Museum’s Department of Printed Books. Panizzi held this position from 1831 to 1837.
From 1837 to 1856, Panizzi served as the Keeper of Printed Books. In 1841, with his assistants, he devised the Ninety-One Cataloguing Rules, which became the basis for all future cataloguing schemes, including the modern International Standard Bibliographic Description (I.S.D.B.). He ensured enforcement of the Copyright Act. Finally, he served as Principal Librarian from 1856 to 1866. Queen Victoria (lived 1819-1901, reigned 1837-1901) knighted Panizzi in 1869. He is now accounted the first Chief Librarian.
The architect Sydney Smirke (1798-1877) designed the impressive British Museum Reading Room at the behest of Panizzi, based on a sketch by Panizzi, while he was Keeper of the Books. It filled the Great Court of the British Museum and consisted of a round, domed reading room surrounded by book stacks.
The British Museum Reading Room opened in May of 1857. For a short period of time after it opened, anyone could read there, but within a short period of time, one could only gain admittance by applying in writing to the British Museum Library and being issued a pass called a Reading Ticket.
The British Library stated this gave The British Museum Reading Room “an aura of selectivity and exclusiveness.” Famous and infamous writers who used such reader passes included Karl Marx (1818-1883), Charles Dickens (1812-1870), George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Bram Stoker (1847-1912), and Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). One can see the old British Museum Reading Room in the Anglo-American horror film Night of the Demon (1957), which is based on the short story “Casting of the Runes” by the medievalist M.R. James (1862-1936).
After The British Library moved out of The British Museum in 1998, the latter’s Central Library remained in the Reading Room, but in 2007 the Central Library moved into the Paul Hamlyn Library, a reference library The British Museum had established in 2000, and effectively merged with it to clear the Reading Room to become exhibit space.
Between 1827 and 1997, The British Museum Library and The British Library stored the King’s Library of George III that George IV had donated to The British Museum in 1823 in a dedicated gallery. This is now The British Museum’s Enlightenment Gallery.
The gallery and the books within it were damaged on September 23, 1940 when a small bomb fell on the gallery. A total of 124 volumes were completely destroyed, a further 304 were damaged beyond repair, and many another book required restoration.
As a result, the collection moved to the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford for the remainder of the war. In the decades that followed, the trustees and librarians have attempted to replace the lost works, but even today there are a few gaps in the King’s Library.
In 1883, Bertram Ashburnham (1840-1913), 5th Earl of Ashburnham (British Peerage), 5th Viscount St. Asaph in the Principality of Wales (British Peerage), and 7th Baron Ashburnham of Ashburnham Sussex (English Peerage), sold to Parliament the Stowe Manuscripts for £45,000. Sir Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville (1776-1839), K.G., R.S., 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos (British Peerage), 2nd Marquess of Buckingham, County Buckingham (British Peerage), 1st Marquess of Chandos (British Peerage), 1st Earl Temple of Stowe, County Buckingham (British Peerage), 3rd Earl Nugent (Irish Peerage), 5th Viscount of Cobham (British Peerage), and 5th Baron Cobham, of Cobham, County Kent (British Perage), had amassed this collection at Stowe House, near Buckingham.
In 1849, Bertram Ashburnham (1797-1878), 4th Earl of Ashburnham, had purchased this collection. Today, the Stowe Manuscripts are in the Closed Collections of The British Library.
In 1893, The British Museum received The Sforza Hours through a bequest of Scottish collector John Malcolm (so it passed to The British Library when the two organizations separated in 1973). The British Library stated it “is one of the most beautifully decorated Renaissance books of hours in the Library’s collection.”
In 1490, Bona of Savoy (1449-1503), Duchess of Milan, widow of Galeazzo Sforza (1444-1476), Duke of Milan, commissioned the Milanese court portrait-painter Giovan Pietro Birago to make The Sforza Hours. He is considered a master Italian miniaturist. Three pages were stolen from his workshop, the last of which was not recovered and re-united with the book until the 21st Century. Birago blamed the theft on Friar Johanne Jacopo, who had visited him several times. In 1504, The Sforza Hours was inherited by the widow of Bona’s nephew. Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy, was a Hapsburg princess by birth and the widow of Philibert II (1480-1504), Duke of Savoy. The Flemish illuminator Gerard Horenbout completed it, between 1517 and 1520, at the behest of Margaret of Austria, while she was Regent of the Netherlands for her nephew Holy Roman Emperor Karl V/King Carlos I of Castile and Aragon, King Carlos I of Naples and Sicily, (popularly known in English as Charles V), who had inherited the Netherlands as Duke of Burgundy. She probably had The Sforza Hours completed for Charles V. Horenbout produced sixteen paintings to compensate for the stolen pages and complete the book.
The British Museum purchased the first of the three missing pages to re-unite it with The Sforza Hours in 1941. The British Library purchased the second page from New York collector Bernard Breslauer in 1984. Twenty years later, in 2004, he sold the third page to The British Library for £191,000. Dr. Scot McKendrick, Curator of History and Classics, told the B.B.C., “The acquisition of the October leaf ends a 500-year odyssey and we are delighted that all parts of the Hours are now reunited at the British Library.”
In 1911, King George V lent the Royal Music Library – comprised of 4,500 examples of printed music, 1,000 manuscripts, and a few books on music – to The British Museum Library. In November of 1957, Queen Elizabeth II made it an outright gift to mark the bicentenary of George II’s gift of the Old Royal Library in 1757. This was the third library a British monarch donated to The British Museum Library.
The National Libraries Committee, chaired by Frederick Sydney Dainton – who later became, and is now remembered as, Lord Dainton – issued a report in 1969 that led to the establishment of The British Library. In 1971, this report was followed by a White Paper that called for the establishment of a national library in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to be called The British Library.
In 1972, Parliament passed The British Library Act, which created The British Library. This law authorized the merger, effective on July 1, 1973, of The British Museum’s library departments, including the National Reference Library of Science and Invention (formerly the Patent Office Library); with the National Central Library; and the National Lending Library for Science and Technology.
The Patent Office library opened in 1855. Its origins lay in the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1851 which required “true copies of all specifications to be open to the inspection of the public at the office of the commissioners.” For the remainder of the 19th Century, the Patent Office library was housed in cramped accommodations. In 1902, a purpose-built library building opened in Southampton Buildings off Chancery Lane.
The Scottish architect Sir John Taylor (1832-1912) who designed a number of public buildings in Victorian London, designed the Patent Office Library as a galleria. As with The British Museum Library, despite new premises, the Patent Office Library soon suffered severe shortage of space.
The Second Great World War and subsequent onset of the Cold War highlighted the need for a comprehensive scientific and technological network in the United Kingdom, specifically for a national library of science and technology. In the late 1940s and ‘50s there was considerable debate among scientists whether the collections of the libraries of The British Museum or the Patent Office should serve as the nucleus of a national library of science and technology. The debate was resolved in 1959 when a Working Party on the issue recommended that the proposed national library should be based on the collections of both libraries and put under the control of the Museum Trustees. The National Reference Library of Science and Invention, founded in 1962, was administered by The British Museum Library.
From Central Library for Students to British Library Document Supply Centre
Founded in 1916 as the Central Library for Students with grants from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, the original purpose of the National Central Library was to lend books to adult students who had no other sources for borrowing. Eleven years later, the Kenyon Committee on Public Libraries envisaged it developing as the central clearing-house of a British inter-library network under the aegis of The British Museum.
However, the Royal Commission on National Museums and Galleries subsequently recommended that the Central Library for Students should have independent status. In 1931, under a new Royal Charter it became the National Central Library (N.C.L.), which was to be the official clearing-house for inter-library lending. It was to provide a bibliographic service as well as continuing its original role in servicing adult classes. In 1966, the N.C.L. moved to a new building in Store Street near The British Museum Library. In 1973, the N.C.L. amalgamated with the National Lending Library for Science and Technology (N.L.L.S.T.), which was the center (or “centre” as it is spelt in the U.K.) for interlibrary lending, and was located, since 1961, at Boston Spa in Yorkshire. The amalgamated library was known as The British Library, Lending Division (B.L.L.D.).
The function of the Lending Division was to support the library systems of the U.K. by providing a loan and photocopy service to other libraries throughout Great Britain. The N.L.L.S.T. had a staff of 120 and a stock specialized in science and technology. It contained 25,000 monographs and subscriptions to 1,200 serials. Around 600 tons of the N.C.L. stock, which specialized in humanities and social sciences, was transferred to Yorkshire during The British Library’s first year of formation. The semi-rural site at Boston Spa occupies approximately sixty acres of an ex-munitions factory and is well served by road links for easy distribution.
In the 1970s, the range of services expanded and made available to customers in foreign countries. The use of technology became an integral part of the Lending Division’s function. The British Library stated, “The use of Automated Requesting grew by about 40% in this time and the Lending Division often acted in collaboration with academic and scientific partners in early days of exploring the future of fax transmission and satellite communications.”
In 1985, the name changed from The British Library Lending Division to the British Library Document Supply Centre. This reflected the changing emphasis of document supply in which a greater proportion of requests were for copies of articles rather than loans.
The stock has grown over the years and now contains over 260,000 journal titles, over 3,000,000 books, almost 500,000 conference proceedings, and almost 5,000,000 reports, mostly of a scientific nature. Current business from document supply totals about 4,000,000 requests per year from 20,000 customers worldwide. In 2001, the 100,000,000th request was received. Services are now provided not just to the traditional customer base of U.K. and international librarians and information professionals, but also to commercial and business users and individual researchers.
In 1973, the map departments of The British Museum merged as the Map Library and transferred to The British Library. The next year, The British Library absorbed the British National Bibliography and the Office for Scientific and Technical Information. The British Library went on to absorb the India Office Library and Records in 1982 and the British Institute of Recorded Sound in 1983.
Figure 10 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is “A Plan of London and its Environs” from A Topographical Dictionary of England, published in 1834. Historical maps like this help historians reconstruct real events and enable novelists, playwrights, and screenwriters to ground historical fiction in reality.
Figure 11 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is a map of Paris from Appleton’s European Guide Book Illustrated, published in 1872.
Figure 12 Credit: The British Library Caption: This map, entitled “Plan of the City of New York, 1766-77,” is from New York City during the American Revolution, published in 1861.
Figure 13 Credit: The British Library Caption: This map, entitled “Map of Chicago,” is from Chicago and its Suburbs, published in 1874.
Figure 14 Credit: The British Library Caption: This map, entitled “Target Berlin,” was published in 1943. A sentence in blue ink that runs diagonally across the scale at the bottom reads, “This scale is correctly use only when the center is placed at Berlin.” It was published by (or at the behest of) the U.S. War Department’s Army Orientation Course.
Figure 15 Credit: Clare Kendall, The British Library Caption: This is a picture of (a young woman holding) a Soviet Moon globe in front of a picture of Earthrise, the famous photograph American astronaut William Anders took from lunar orbit during N.A.S.A.’s Apollo 8 mission.
 It was produced at the famous monastery on Lindisfarne (also known as Holy Island) of the coast of Northumberland.
 According to The British Library, “Sir Robert even loaned manuscripts to his friends, some of which were never returned. One manuscript alienated from his library in the 1620s is the Utrecht Psalter, one of the masterpieces of western European art (now in Utrecht University Library). In 1602-03, Sir Robert Cotton also gave approximately a dozen volumes to Sir Thomas Bodley (d. 1613), the first major donation of manuscripts to the Bodleian Library at Oxford.”
 Similarly, Sir John Cotton, 3rd Baronet, did not occupy the Conington manor house and let it fall into ruin, and his grandson, Sir John Cotton (1702–1731), 4th Baronet, tore down part of it and turned the remainder into a farm house. The family died out with Sir John Cotton, 6th Baronet, in 1752.
 Ashburnham House, the former residence of the priors of Westminster Abbey, served in the 17th and 18th Centuries as a town home of the Ashburnham family. The family name derives from the River Ashbourne, which flows past their old country seat in Sussex County, Ashburnham Place. John Ashburnham (1603-1671), a wealthy attendant of King Charles I, diplomat in the service of King Charles II, and M.P., had leased the house from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. The Roundheads imprisoned and persecuted him for his steadfast loyalty to Charles I and the Stuarts. At the Restoration, Charles II made him Groom of the Bedchamber and later a guardian of the king’s eldest illegitimate son, James Scott (1649-1685), 1st Duke of Monmouth, 1st Duke of Buccleuch. Duke of Monmouth. Charles II also purchased his residence at Chiswick for the Duke of Monmouth. His descendants were enobled after his namesake grandson, John Ashburnham, had welcomed William III and Mary II when they seized her father James II’s throne. After John Ashburnham took the lease on Ashburnham House, it stayed in the family for generations until 1730. He was succeeded by his son, William Ashburnham; grandson, John Ashburnham (1656-1710), 1st Baron Ashburnham, of Ashburnham in the County of Sussex; great-grandson, William Ashburnham (1679-1710), 2nd Baron Ashburnham; and great-grandson John Ashburnham (1687-1737), 3rd Baron Ashburnham. In 1730, John Ashburnham, 3rd Baron Ashburnham, was created 1st Earl of Ashburnham in the Peerage of the United Kingdom and Viscount St. Asaph in the Principality of Wales. That same year, John, 1st Earl Ashburnham sold the lease on Ashburnham House to the Crown. [The family died out in 1953.] In 1739, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster purchased the lease back for £500. Since 1882, it has belonged to Westminster School.
 King Charles I knighted Simonds d’Ewes in 1626 and made him a baronet in 1643. A Puritan, Sir Simonds d’Ewes, M.P., took the side of the Parliamentarians in the revolution called the English Civil War. He represented Sudbury in the Long Parliament from 1640 until Pride’s Purge in 1648, after which he retired from politics.
 Margaret’s parents were Henry Cavendish (1630-1691), 2nd Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (first creation), and his wife, Frances Pierrepont (1630-1695), Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
 On his death in 1862, their son William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Bentinck (1738-1809), who had used her husband’s subsidiary title Marquess of Titchfield as a courtesy title, became the 3rd Duke of Portland and she became the Dowager Duchess of Portland. He would serve as Chancellor of the University of Oxford and as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1783 and as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1807 to 1809.
 The Codex Alexandrinus contains most of the Septuagint – the Old Testament (meaning the Hebrew Bible and the Deuterocanonical books) – and most of the New Testament. In the Polyglot Bible edited by Brian Walton (1600-1661), Bishop of Chester, it is text A.
 Only two books were excluded from the donation, a copy of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible printed by order of Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros (1436-1517) and an editio princeps of Homer printed by Demetrius Chalcocondyles (1423-1511). These he bequeathed to two Anglican churchmen who were his closest friends: Shute Barrington (1734–1826), Bishop of Durham, and Cyril Jackson (1746–1819), Dean of Christ Church in Oxford.
 As Secretary of State, he had said, “If we let America go, the sun of Great Britain is set,” so we can imagine his discomfort at being Premier when the Treaty of Paris that ended the America War of Independence was negotiated. In 1784, George III created him Marquess of Lansdowne and Earl of Wycombe.
 A prominent advisor of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir William Cecil served her as Secretary of State twice and as Lord High Treasurer once. His descendants have held a variety of high-ranking posts, including the premiership.
 F.H. Egerton was the second son of the Right Reverend John Egerton (1727-1787), Bishop of Durham, and the latter’s wife, Lady Anna Sophia Grey. She was the daughter and co-heir of Henry Grey (1671-1740), 1st Duke of Kent. An Anglican priest, for forty-eight years, F.H. Egerton was ostensibly the vicar of a village in Shropshire, but he neglected his parish while he wrote books (mostly in English, but also in French) on the history of his family. He also wrote an edition of Hippolytus by Euripedes. Dwelling in Paris, he paid for his clerical functions to be carried out by proxy. In 1823, his elder brother, General John William Egerton (1753-1823), 7th Earl of Bridgewater died, and he inherited the title and estate. On F.H. Egerton’s death, the titles became extinct. He was known as a great eccentric whose house in Paris was full of cats and dogs he had dressed like ladies and gentlemen.
 Ulyanov had used another pseudonym, Jacob Richter, when he read at The British Museum Reading Room.
 In the scene, the hero, Dr. Holden (played by American movie star Dana Andrews) sits at the end of a long table in a large room filled with other researchers. A librarian approaches him and has to apologize because the obscure book on witchcraft Holden seeks to consult because his late colleague read it shortly before meeting a violent death is now missing. The film’s villain, the head of a Satanic cult, Julian Karswell (played by Irish actor Niall MacGiness), appears, claiming to own a copy of the book which Holden finds odd, because he believed The British Museum’s copy was the only one in the world, and invites Holden out to his estate to read it. A medieval scholar, Montague Rhodes James was Director of the University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum (1893-1908), Provost of King’s College (1905-1918) at the University of Cambridge and Provost of Eton College (1918-1936). Much as J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) is better known for his epic fantasy novels – The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion – than for his scholarly works, James is better known for his ghost stories than for his scholarly works.
 A Book of Hours is an illuminated manuscript volume, designed for private devotional use by a layman. It is an abbreviated breviary that typically includes the Divine Office (prayers to be said eight times of the day in Western monasteries), a calendar of feast days, an excerpt from each of the four Gospels, psalms, a Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Litany of Saints, and the Office of the Dead.
 Sir Frederick Sydney Dainton (1914-1997), Baron Dainton, F.R.S. was a famous chemist and academic administrator. He served as Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Leeds from 1950 to 1965, during which time he became a Fellow of the Royal Society; Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford from 1970 to 1973; Vice Chancellor of the University of Nottingham from 1965 to 1970; and Chancellor at The University of Sheffield from 1978 to 1997. Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in 1971. He became, in 1973, Chairman of the University Grants Committee, in which post he pushed back declining government grants for universities. From 1979 to 1985, he served as Chairman of the British Library Board and as Chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board. Queen Elizabeth II granted him a life peerage as Baron Dainton of Hallam Moors in 1986 and he entered the House of Lords. The Dainton Papers are at The University of Sheffield.
 Knighted in 1897, Sir John Taylor served as Consulting Architect at Her Majesty’s Office of Works in London (later known as the Ministry of Works, Department of the Environment and now known as the Property Services Agency) from 1898 to 1908. Born at Warkworth, Northumberland, he began his career in the service of the Duke of Northumberland. He had served as Assistant Surveyor at H.M. Office of Works from 1859 to 1866. His portfolio had included royal palaces, public buildings, and royal parks. From 1866 to 1898, he served as Surveyor.
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