Special Collections

This page gives details of the special collections held by Trinity College Library and where they are catalogued. For the Undergraduate Collections, please see the College Library Collections page.

Jump to: Medieval Manuscripts | Early Printed Books | Modern Manuscripts | College Archives | Wren Digital Library

Medieval Manuscripts

Trinity possesses about 1250 western medieval manuscripts, many of which are available digitally on the James Catalogue online, including the great 12th century Eadwine Psalter from Christ Church Canterbury, the 13th century Anglo-Norman Trinity Apocalypse, the 13th century Romance of Alexander and the 14th century manuscript of Piers Plowman. Also contained in the collection of manuscripts are the Milton manuscript and the notebook of Isaac Newton. Non-Western MSS are catalogued elsewhere, including:

Early Printed Books

The Wren Library houses 750 incunabula, the Capell collection of Shakespeariana, many books from the library of Sir Isaac Newton including his annotated copy of the Principia Mathematica (see John Harrison, The Library of Isaac Newton, Cambridge University Press, 1978), the Rothschild collection of 18th century literature and over 70,000 books printed before 1820. Many of these are entered in the ESTC (English Short Title Catalog). The College Library’s online catalogue includes entries for all books, journals and audio-visual materials in the college’s modern working collections and all of our older printed material.

Modern Manuscripts

Trinity College possesses an ever-increasing collection of modern manuscripts ranging from single items such as the manuscript of Bertrand Russell’s The Implications of the H-bomb or of Winnie the Pooh to large personal archives, for example the papers of R.A. Butler or Ludwig Wittgenstein. Large collections generally have a catalogue in the form of a list of the papers with entries in a master index, while single items only have an entry in the index. Anyone wishing to book a reader place or who has any inquiries about these collections should email the Library or write to:

College Archivist and Manuscript Cataloguer Trinity College Library Cambridge CB2 1TQ

Trinity College Library is a founder member of Janus, a website that seeks to bring together catalogues of archives from many Cambridge University and College repositories. We are currently in the process of mounting catalogues on Janus, but there is still a considerable amount of retrospective cataloguing to do before all of our catalogues will be found thereon. Readers are therefore encouraged to check both the index of modern manuscript collections held in this library and the Janus website.


The college archive is comprised of the administrative papers created and received by the college and its predecessors in the transaction of their business and as such it forms the “memory” of the college. Much of the early material relates to Michaelhouse and The King’s Hall, two of the foundations dissolved by Henry VIII when he established Trinity. However, the earliest item in the archive has no connection with Trinity’s predecessors. It is a knife used as a token in a legal transaction. According to the parchment tag attached, it purports to have been used by Aubrey de Vere to convey a moiety of the tithes of the parish of Ugley to the monastery of Hatfield Broadoak in 1135.

The King’s Hall material includes the charter of Edward III founding and incorporating the college and related deeds conveying property in Cambridge to be used to site the college. Gifts and purchases of property are also recorded, although the college did not have to rely solely on the income from its estates for funds. Additionally accounts survive in an almost unbroken series from 1337 to 1545 which provide us with a unique insight into college life, from the food that the household ate, to the types of servants it employed, to the work and contents of the library. No such series of accounts survives for Michaelhouse. However, there is a similar record of its foundation by Hervey de Stanton and the extension of its property beyond the college grounds. Additionally a cartulary begun by John Otryngham, Master of the college in the fifteenth century, is extant and bears his name.

The records of Trinity College itself begin with the foundation charter of Henry VIII and its companion charter of dotation which endowed the college with substantial lands and remains the ultimate title of older college property. Although Henry died before statutes for his new college could be formulated, his successors provided it with successive series of statutes until the great Elizabethan statutes by which the college was governed for nearly 300 years were formulated. These are in the form of a book to which the Great Seal is attached by a cord. Good series of final accounts for the main fund-holding college officers survive from 1547 although accounts for some of the earlier years are missing. Those of the Senior Bursar are concerned with transactions relating to the college estates and stipendiary payments to senior and junior members of the college, the choir and servants’ wages, those of the Junior Bursar contain entries relating to the building and maintenance of college buildings, while the Steward’s accounts relate to the kitchens, the brewhouse and the bakehouse. More detailed, differently structured forms of account such as day-books and journals are also preserved although none form as complete a series as the main accounts. Records of the governing body are less complete. Books of conclusions made by the Master and Seniors survive from 1611, but these only record major decisions made by this body.

It is not until the nineteenth century, developing out of a series of memoranda books kept by the Senior Bursar, that anything approximating to minutes of meetings are kept. Trinity was given sizeable estates by Henry VIII which were augmented by Queen Mary and by later gifts and purchases. The records of these estates often predate the founding of the college especially in the case where Michaelhouse and King’s Hall were the previous owners. Thus the college holds considerable amounts of medieval documents relating to estates in places such as Barrington, Arrington, Orwell and Chesterton in Cambridgeshire. This material gives a detailed view of the medieval community with which it is concerned. The Chesterton Gressum Book is a fine example of this, documenting land holding within the rectory manor of Chesterton from 1256 to 1444 when it was in the hands of the Abbey of Vercelli in Piedmont. The estate records of the post-medieval period document the way in which the college farmed and maintained its estates. Leases are preserved as are memoranda books detailing what each tenant was charged. Surveys were made regularly and, from the eighteenth century, accompanied by maps. Where the college held the advowson of a parish there are also documents relating to the maintenance of the chancel, the presentation of vicars and matters concerning tithes.

There is no consolidated catalogue, but an index to the estate records exists and a finding-aid for the volumes in the archive is in progress. Prospective readers of archival material should first contact the archivist.