Manuscripts and archives

The Special Collection manuscripts are kept in depositories and can be made available for viewing in the Special Collections Reading Room in Utrecht University Library Uithof. Manuscripts and archives relating to individuals are usually listed and catalogued in various ways.

Manuscripts - Archives - Request                


Catalogued manuscripts

All manuscripts have been allocated a shelfmark, e.g. 1 A 7 or 6 F 12, indicating where they are kept in the depository. Manuscripts are organised according to format. All manuscripts that were in the Utrecht University Library collection in 1909 also have a catalogue number. They are described in a catalogue in book form (mostly written in Latin): Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum Bibliothecae Universitatis Rheno-Trajectinae. Part 1 is written by P.A. Tiele (1887) and includes descriptions of the manuscripts Ms. 1 to Ms. 1582. Part 2 is written by A. Hulshof (1909) and includes descriptions of the manuscripts Ms. 1583 to Ms. 1907 as well as notes and improvements on part 1 and a cumulative index. Copies are kept in the reading room and the reference library of Special Collections.

More detailed descriptions are included for the manuscripts Mss. 836-837, 842–844, 886, 984–985, 987, 992–1000, 1053, 1058, 1064–1066, 1152, 1251, 1322 and 1347–1348. These manuscripts are kept in the Addenda folders in the reading room.

In the catalogue the manuscripts are numbered according to language and subject rather than format. For example, the manuscript with shelfmark 5 A 11 is Ms. 149; 3 H 3 is Ms. 150; 4 F 20 is Ms. 151. While, as a rule, the catalogue number is referred to in the literature, sometimes the shelfmark is also given in brackets. On occasion only the shelfmark, or even an outdated shelfmark, e.g. Eccl. 455, Hist. 176, Gen. 87 or Var. 338, is given.

Manuscripts acquired from 1909 onwards do not have a catalogue number, these only have a shelfmark, for example manuscript Ms. 5 J 26, the Hours of Kunera van Leefdael (Getijdenboek van Kunera van Leefdael), acquired in 1973. The later manuscripts (manuscripts Ms. 0 A 1 to Ms. 29 C 18) are described in the Supplement, which can be consulted in the reading room, with the exception of medieval manuscripts, lecture notes and letters, which are described in other publications.

Medieval manuscripts

The English-language catalogue by Koert van der Horst, Illuminated and decorated medieval manuscripts in the University Library, Utrecht. An illustrated catalogue (Maarssen/The Hague 1989; Cambridge 1990) includes up-to-date descriptions and many images of the medieval illuminated manuscripts described previously in the Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum and in the Supplement. It includes illustrations of all the miniatures and historiated initials as well as examples of decorated initials and margin decorations. In total, there are 732 reproductions, of which 23 are in colour. Two supplements on Van der Horst's catalogue are available as pdf: volume 1 (manuscripts acquired 1989-2011 and loose manuscript fragments) and volume 2 (loose manuscript fragments and bound maculature).

The medieval manuscripts in the Utrecht University Library collection are also listed on the Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections (MMDC) website. To view a list of the in total 707 medieval manuscripts dating until ca. 1550 in the Utrecht University Library collection, use the ‘Advanced search’ function and enter ‘Utrecht, UB’ under ‘Current location or shelfmark’, then click on ‘Search’. For individual manuscripts, there are several other ways of searching. A short description is included for all manuscripts and one or more digital images have been added for all Utrecht University Library manuscripts on the MMDC website. These images can also be viewed in ‘Images from medieval manuscripts’.

In 2009, work was started on entering manuscripts in the public catalogue (Aleph), starting with medieval manuscripts. Digitized manuscripts are also always included in the public catalogue.

On the website of Utrechtse Kronieken (Utrecht Chronicles) are a couple of manuscripts with chronicle texts have been digitized, transcribed and translated.

Manuscript fragments

In addition to manuscripts and largely complete manuscripts, our collection also includes hundreds of manuscript fragments, most of which are medieval. Most of the fragments are fly-leaves from manuscripts or early printed works. Formerly, the fragments were kept separately in boxes or files with a separate catalogue number (several Middle-Dutch fragments, for example), or in one of six charter boxes. In 2009, work was started to briefly describe and number the fragments in the boxes, files and charter boxes. Fragments with a reference number starting with numbers 1-6 come from charter boxes 1-6, e.g. Ms. fr. 4.26 refers to the 26th manuscript fragment in Charter box 4. Reference numbers starting with 7, 8 and 9 refer to the Thomaasse Collection, Hs. 1003 (3 K 1), or are still bound as fly-leaves in manuscripts or early printed works. The manuscript fragment catalogue is not yet available to the public.

Lecture notes

The Utrecht University Library collection includes over 2,000 lecture notes, either made by professors before or by students during a lecture. Most of the notes in the collection refer to lectures given at Utrecht University, but there are also lecture notes from Leiden, Groningen, Amsterdam, Louvain, Paris and elsewhere. These include notes from famous professors such as Theodore Beza (Geneva, 1580), Justus Lipsius (Leyden, ca. 1583-1584), Herman Boerhaave (Leyden, 1725-1730), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (Berlin, 1830-1831), Johan Rudolf Thorbecke (Leyden 1838-1841) and Jacobus H. van 't Hoff (Amsterdam, 1886-1887). The oldest lecture notes originate from 1568-1569. While a number of lecture notes are described in the Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum and the Supplement, the best descriptions of them are in Catalogus van de collectie collegedictaten van de Utrechtse Universiteitsbibliotheek [Catalogue of the collection of lecture notes in Utrecht University Library] (Utrecht 1994) by Koert van der Horst. Acquisitions made after 1994 are only referred to in the Supplement and the supplement of the Catalogus van de collectie collegedictaten (work in progress).


The Special Collection manuscripts include around 100,000 letters. While a few of these are described in the Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum and the Supplement, most are found in the archives. All letters in the collection dating until the 1990s are included in the computerised national letter catalogue, the CEN (Catalogus Epistularum Neerlandicarum). Access is only possible online (users who are not members of Utrecht University Library need an IBL account).


In the Special Collections a distinction is made between ‘collections’ and ‘archives’. Collections contain books and/or manuscripts and related material from specific people or bodies or regarding a specific defined subject, for example the J.H. Gunning collection, the Dutch Reformed Church collection and the Jeanne d’Arc collection. These collections are included in the Digital Repository.

More than fifty of these collections include or are entirely made up of handwritten material, such as correspondence, unfinished publications, notes, reports, lecture notes, lectures, poems and diaries, as well as diplomas, photos and other documents from individuals’ personal lives and academic careers. While the older archives often include documents with their own manuscript shelfmark, the most recent archives are archived in boxes according to subject and can be located using an inventory (e.g. Geyl archive, inv. II.1 regarding ‘correspondence with spouses’). While most of the archives are catalogued in folders in the reading room, for some this is still a work in progress. A number of archives are described in printed catalogues that can be found by the publications.


It is possible to view specific manuscripts and documents from archives in the Special Collections Reading Room. It is advisable to request the documents a few days in advance. Very valuable and fragile manuscripts are listed as restricted access and can only be viewed with the permission of the curator. Restricted access also applies to some archive documents.