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 Modern Greek Geez Old French Middle English Old English 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.

You can explore the archives of St John's College described on the Archives Hub

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.

Conditions Governing Access

To view please contact St John's College Library ( to arrange an appointment.

Other Finding Aids

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.


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