Phillipps Charters

Scope and Content

The Phillipps Charters comprise an assortment of over five hundred charters and other records which once formed part of the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, antiquary and bibliophile, at Middle Hill, Broadway in Worcestershire.

There are numerous medieval charters and other records relating to religious houses and bishoprics throughout France and Belgium, and deeds relating to secular estates, particularly in Tournai, Senlis, Beauvais, Lisieux, and Bordeaux. The former include papal bulls of Hadrian IV (1157), Clement III (1191), Gregory IX (1236), Alexander IV (1255), Nicholas V (1451), Paul IV (1556) and Gregory XIII (1572), and briefs of Popes Paul V (1616) and Innocent X (1650). Other notable medieval documents are: the settlement for the unrealized marriage of Isabella (1332-79), daughter of Edward III, and Louis, Count of Flanders (PHC/23, 1347); compotus rolls from West Harling and other manors in Norfolk (PHC/9-22, 1277-1576); accounts of royal silver mines near Calstock, Cornwall (PHC/1, 1317); royal wardrobe accounts (PHC/2, 1313-14); and a contemporary transcript of the acceptance by Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders, of the truce of Vive-Saint-Baron between Philippe IV of France and Edward I, in 1297 (PHC/146).

In addition, the collection incorporates many medieval charters, such as grants, quitclaims, agreements, bonds and letters of attorney, for numerous English counties, particularly Derbyshire (especially Ashbourne, Castleton, Swadlincote and Taddington), Durham (Stainton and Streatlam), Huntingdonshire (Stilton), Kent (Charing and Willesborough), Staffordshire (Enville and Whittington), and Yorkshire (Beswick, Lockington and Middleton near Rothwell).

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Thomas Phillipps, antiquary and bibliophile, was born at 32 Cannon Street, Manchester on 2 July 1792. He succeeded to the family estates at Broadway, Worcestershire on the death of his father in 1818. Phillipps' interest in books developed at school at Rugby, and later at University College, Oxford. After university, he dedicated himself to the collection of rare books and manuscripts. His particular interest was historical manuscripts, especially those written on vellum. In the early 1820s he visited Belgium, Holland, France, Germany and Switzerland on collecting expeditions. In 1824 he was chief buyer at the sale of the Meerman collection at The Hague, and he also purchased a collection of theological manuscripts from Professor Van Ess of Darmstadt, which were important for the study of medieval German dialects. Phillipps obtained various vellum manuscripts from Belgian monasteries and outbid the Dutch government to purchase the Muschenbroek collection of charters and cartularies in 1827.

Phillipps acquired a number of other important collections including the Drury collection, the Lang collection of French romances, the Battlesden library, the Craven Ord and the collection of the Earl of Guilford, rich in Italian manuscripts. He also obtained the Mexican collection of Lord Kingsborough, papers relating to the French Revolution, the Heber collection of early English poetry and French romances and the historical collection of Battle Abbey. In addition, Phillipps had fine collections of Irish, Welsh and Greek manuscripts, together with an impressive series of incunabula.

Phillipps was an enthusiastic antiquary, who studied the manuscripts in his collection. In 1819 he privately printed Collections for Wiltshire, followed by Account of the family of Sir Thomas Molyneux in 1820. He tried to make some of his manuscripts more widely available by establishing a private printing press in a tower on his Middle Hill estate to produce published editions. He later moved his press to Thirlestane House, Cheltenham, in 1862.

Phillipps belonged to most of the leading learned societies of his day, although he declined election to the Roxburghe Club on the grounds that it did not publish works of sufficient importance. Phillipps died on 6 February 1872 and was buried at Broadway. His collection was broken up following his death, much of it sold by private treaty or by auctions at Sotheby's (1891-1908). The governments of Germany, Holland and Belgium purchased a number of documents relating to their respective countries.


The system of arrangement devised by Robert Fawtier when first cataloguing the collection has been adherred to. Fawtier broadly respected the distinction between the separate accessions of material.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The Phillipps Charters were acquired by the John Rylands Library in piecemeal fashion between 1908 and 1920, from the London bookseller Bernard Quaritch Ltd, and the Manchester bookseller P.M. Barnard. In most cases Quaritch and Barnard purchased the material on behalf of the Library at the several Phillipps sales held during this period, notably the Sotheby's sales of 6 June 1910, 24 April 1911, 19 May 1913 and 24 June 1919. Details of the separate provenance of each accession are recorded below.

Other Finding Aids

The hand-list of the Phillipps Charters was orginally published in Robert Fawtier, Hand-list of charters, deeds and similar documents in the possession of the John Rylands Library, I: documents of which the provenance has been ascertained (Manchester, 1925).

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Related Material

Sir Thomas Phillipps's personal papers are located at Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, refs: MSS Phillipps-Robinson; MSS Auct T 5 33; Eng hist c 243; Eng misc b 407; Top Berks b 42; Top Hants c 7; Top gen c 35, 48; Rylands c 37, e 5; Phillipps-Munby e 4, 10.


A.N.L. Munby, The catalogues of manuscripts & printed books of Sir Thomas Phillipps: their composition and distribution, Phillipps studies no. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951).

A.N.L. Munby, The family affairs of Sir T. Phillipps, Phillipps studies no. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952).

A.N.L. Munby, The formation of the Phillipps library up to the year 1840, Phillipps studies no. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954).

A.N.L. Munby, The formation of the Phillipps Library from 1841 to 1872: with an account of the Phillipps Art Collections by A.E. Popham, Phillipps studies no. 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956).

A.N.L. Munby, The dispersal of the Phillipps library, Phillipps studies no. 5 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960).

A.N.L. Munby, Portrait of an obsession: the life of Sir Thomas Phillipps, the world's greatest book collector, adapted by Nicolas Barker from the five volumes of Phillipps studies (London: Constable, 1967).