The present Library, begun after the foundation of the Abbey as a collegiate church in 1560, has been housed in part of the former monastic dormitory since 1591. In 1623 Dean John Williams furnished the library with book presses (at his own expense) and with some 2,000 volumes. Thereafter the collections grew by gift, bequest and purchase throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Dean Zachary Pearce gave a bequest of all his books in 1774. The Library now holds around 14,000 pre-1801 printed books, about 60 manuscripts (mostly medieval) and a collection of printed and manuscript music. There is also the Oldaker collection of fine bookbindings.
Illuminated manuscripts include the Litlyngton Missal, the Liber Regalis, a 13th century Bestiary and the prayer book of Lady Margaret Beaufort. Also a large Antiphoner probably made for Sir Reynold Bray's private chapel (MS.43). Among the manuscripts is a 15th century collection of French poems (MS.21) and a 17th century verse miscellany (MS.41). In addition there is an extensive collection of printed books and articles on the history of Westminster Abbey, St Margaret’s Church, coronations and related topics.
For a more detailed account of the Library and its holdings see:
A Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, edited B.C. Bloomfield, 2nd edition (London: Library Association Publishing: 1997).
The following publications deal with particular aspects of the Library’s collections:
J. Armitage Robinson and Montague Rhodes James, The Manuscripts of Westminster Abbey (Cambridge University Press: 1909) [describes MSS.1-34 only.]
N.R. Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British Libraries, vol.I (Oxford, 1969) [describes Library MSS. 34 (selection)-35, 37-40]
[MSS. 36 (fragments), 40-65 and fragments 101-105 have mostly not been described in any publication]
N.R. Ker, Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: a list of surviving books, 2nd edition (London: Royal Historical Society: 1964) [Supplement, ed. Andrew G. Watson, 1987]
Liber Regalis, printed for the Roxburghe Club, 1870 [Latin text] [MS.38]
Missale ad usum Ecclesie Westmonasteriensis [the Litlyngton Missal, MS.37] edited by J.Wickham Legg, Henry Bradshaw Society 3 vols. 1891
(There are copies of theses on the Litlyngton Missal by Dr Douglas East and Dr Jayne Wackett which can be consulted in the Library)
A facsimile of MS. 22 (Bestiary) is available for consultation in the Library.
J.Armitage Robinson :The History of Westminster Abbey by John Flete [1420-65], 1909 [MS.29].
An English translation of Flete is available for consultation in the Library.
William Barclay Squire: Musik Katalog der Bibliothek der Westminster Abtei... , Leipzig 1903
Howard M.Nixon : British Bookbindings presented by Kenneth H. Oldaker to the Chapter Library of Westminster Abbey (London: Maggs Bros : 1982)
C.D.Cook : Incunabula in the Westminster Abbey and Westminster School Libraries , Bibliographical Society, 2013.
Mary Hobbs: Early 17th cent.verse miscellany manuscripts, 1992 [MS.41 commonplace book with various poems]
The Gardyners Passetaunce [c.1512] edited by F.B.Williams, with notes on the two unique editions in Westminster Abbey Library...by H.M.Nixon, Roxburghe Club, 1985 [Library CE.3]
The Gardyners Passetaunce, the Flowers of England and Thomas Gardyner, monk of Westminster by M.Payne and J.Boffey in The Library 7th series vol.18 no.2 June 2017
Book of XX Songs 1530 by H.M.Nixon in British Museum Quarterly vol. XVI, Apr.1951
Judith Weiss Two fragments from a newly discovered manuscript of Wace's Brut [MS.104] in Medium Aevum lxviii, 1999
Peter Holman A new source of Jacobean lute music [Ms.105] in The Lute xxxix, 2000 (includes transcription)
Re-discovering John Donne's Catalogus Librorum [MS.63] by M Payne & D.Smith in Review of English Studies
FOR SALE : Copies of the Oldaker catalogue, hardback 159pp, with three colour plates and black and white illustrations of all bindings. Prices including postage: UK = 7 pounds; Europe =11 GB pounds; US & Canada = 16 GB pounds; Australia & New Zealand = 17 GB pounds.
UK cheques can be made payable to "The Dean and Chapter of Westminster" and sent to Westminster Abbey Library, The Cloisters, London SW1P 3PA.
Visa/Mastercard credit card payments cannot be made by e-mail. To give your details phone Accounts on +44 (0)20 7654 4874 or fax (0)20 7654 4869 and tell them payment is for the catalogue and they will notify the Library of your postal address.
Westminster Abbey Library: Early Printed and Manuscript Music.
Westminster Abbey Library: Early Manuscripts collection (Library Mss.2-45).
These microfilms are distributed by World Microfilms Publications,4/4 Central House, 1 Ballards Lane, London N3 1LQ: e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.worldmicrofilms.co.uk Contact them direct for prices for the collections and for individual reels within the collections.