Manuscripts of St John's College, Oxford

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 473 MS
  • Dates of Creation
      9th century -
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English Latin Italian Hebrew Greek Modern 1453- Geez French Old 842-1400 English Middle 1100-1500 Spanish Persian Arabic Turkish Russian Gujarati
  • Physical Description
      ca. 413 items of various formats including single books multi-volume sets and collections of letters

Scope and Content

The manuscript sequence at St John's includes a wide variety of material which has accummulated from numerous donations during the centuries following the College's foundation. Currently the sequence runs to 413 items, but these can consist of collections of material as well as single volumes. Key among the collections are some 200 western medieval manuscripts dating from the 9th century onwards; 26 'oriental' manuscripts, chiefly in Arabic dating from the 14th-18th centuries; and 9 Greek manuscripts produced in Venice during the 16th century. These categories of material have been thoroughly described in a series of published catalogues. The remaining 200 or so post-medieval western manuscripts date from the 16th century to the present day, and incorporate diaries, albums, papers and collections of correspondence. Those that lend themselves to archival treatment will be described here.

Update 01/03/2023
As part of the ongoing digitization project at St John's College Library, we are currently investigating the possibility of adding further records to ArchivesHub for some of the manuscripts in our collections. To learn more about the project and to find available resources, please visit our Digital Library .

Administrative / Biographical History

St John's College, Oxford, is one of the constituent colleges of Oxford University. It was founded in 1555 by Sir Thomas White (1495?-1567), Merchant Taylor, Lord Mayor of London and benefactor, originally to provide a Roman Catholic education as part of the Counter-Reformation during Queen Mary I's reign. Early alumni included recusants such as Edmund Campion and Thomas Tresham, and, in the 17th century, High Church Anglicans such as William Laud. Later alumni included figures as diverse as the alchemist Robert Fludd and the agriculturalist Jethro Tull. More recently the College has been involved in the education of a number of celebrated literary figures (A.E. Housman, Robert Graves, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, John Wain).

Provision for the College Library was made in the founder's original statutes and donations of manuscript books formed the greater part of the Library's stock during the early years after foundation. Since these original donations the Library has continued to receive gifts of material, including manuscripts and papers, on an ad hoc basis from a variety of sources and donors, often alumni or those connected with them.

Access Information

For information about how to access St John's Special Collections and how to request images and/or publication permissions, please visit

Other Finding Aids

To learn more about the St John's College digitization project and to find online resources including digital facsimiles and catalogue entries, please visit the Digital Library .

Ralph Hanna, 'A descriptive catalogue of the western medieval manuscripts of St John's College, Oxford', Oxford University Press, 2002.

Emily Savage-Smith, 'A descriptive catalogue of the oriental manuscripts at St John's College, Oxford', Oxford University Press, 2005.

Mark L. Sosower, 'A descriptive catalogue of Greek manuscripts at St John's College, Oxford', St John's College Research Centre, 2007.

Archivist's Note

Prepared by the Librarian 14/03/14. Revised on 01/03/2023.


The College still receives donations on an ad hoc basis, and may make occasional purchases of relevant material.