Ashmole Manuscripts

Scope and Content

Among Ashmole's papers are:

  • Papers of Dr Simon Forman (1552-1611)
  • Medical and astrological papers of Dr Richard Napier (1559-1634), Theodoricus Gravius and John Dee (1527-1608)
  • Collections - chiefly astrological - of John Booker (1603-1667) and William Lilly (1602-1681)

Ashmole's collection is also strong in heraldry and local history, and to a lesser extent, in Middle English and seventeenth-century poetry. There is also much material by Ashmole himself, including many original documents collected in preparation for his Institutions, Laws and Ceremonies of the Order of the Garter (1672), a work which is still regarded as a fine piece of research.

The full list of reference numbers is as follows: GB 161 MSS. Ashmole 1-8, 18-20, 31, 33-61, 64, 121, 162, 174-6, 178-225, 227-44, 290, 312-13, 321, 328-34, 337, 339-50, 352-60, 362-71, 374, 376-8, 380-440, 487-8, 536-7, 546-9, 576, 580, 698, 745-60, 762-866, 970-2, 1007, 1021, 1089, 1095, 1097-159, 1161-2, 1164, 1216, 1276-91, 1294-6, 1298, 1352, 1374-493, 1496, 1498-501, 1503-28, 1531, 1534, 1536-42, 1567, 1583, 1630, 1662, 1729-32, 1742-4, 1750, 1752, 1758, 1763, 1776, 1782-3, 1787-96, 1800-32, 1834; Ash. Rolls 1-9, 11-12, 14-16, 18-23, 25-8, 30-3, 35-6, 38-47, 49-50, 52-4.

Administrative / Biographical History

Elias Ashmole was born (1617) and educated at Lichfield. He began his career as a solicitor, but in 1644 entered the service of the Crown as a commissioner of excise. It was his marriage with Lady Mainwaring in 1647 which enabled him to indulge his tastes in alchemy and astronomy. These and other interests led him to form a wide circle of friends, some of whom bequeathed to him valuable manuscript collections (see Scope and Content). Ashmole had entered the Office of Arms as Windsor Herald after the Restoration, but about 1672 he retired on a pension, which he enjoyed until his death in 1692. The foundation of his Museum at Oxford was made possible by his acquisition by bequest from his friend John Tradescant of a large collection of 'curiosities'. They arrived when the building was ready in 1683. Further details are given in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Access Information

Entry to read in the Library is permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card (for admissions procedures see

Acquisition Information

Ashmole's bequest of manuscripts was housed in the Ashmolean Museum until their transference to the Bodleian in 1860.


The 'missing' numbers in the list of shelfmarks are mainly printed books, with a few manuscripts later called MSS. Ash. Rolls.

Collection level description created by Emily Tarrant, Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts.

Other Finding Aids

Full descriptions are in William Henry Black, A descriptive, analytical, and critical catalogue of the manuscripts bequeathed unto the University of Oxford by Elias Ashmole, Esq., MD, FRS, Windsor Herald, also of some additional MSS. contributed by Kinglsey, Lhuyd, Borlase, and others (Oxford, 1845), and W.D. Macray, Index to the catalogue of the manuscripts of Elias Ashmole, formerly preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, and now deposited in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Oxford, 1866).

Brief one-line descriptions, with shelfmarks and short titles, are in Falconer Madan, et al., A summary catalogue of western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford which have not hitherto been catalogued in the Quarto series (7 vols. in 8 [vol. II in 2 parts], Oxford, 1895-1953; reprinted, with corrections in vols. I and VII, Munich, 1980), vol. II, nos. 6616-8465, vol. V, nos. 25166-25205.

Corporate Names