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Archives and Special Collections

Welcome to the Medieval and Early Modern Resources Guide

This resource guide provides an overview of some of the items and collections held by the University of Exeter that date to the medieval and early modern period (circa fifth to eighteenth century). The boxes below describe items or collections relating to different centuries and contain links to the catalogues, through which you can explore the collections further. 

The resources highlighted in this guide have been identified using our catalogues, but are not exhaustive. You can search our archives catalogue and library catalogue with key word searches to identify further items of interest. More information on searching the catalogues can be found on the Search our Catalogues LibGuide. If you come across any other sources within our collections that you think should be included in this guide, we would be very pleased to hear about them.

Archives and rare books held by Special Collections are available to everyone. More information about accessing the collections can be found in our Visiting Heritage Collections LibGuide. Please note that there may be some restrictions on accessing and copying (including photography) material in the archives and books held by Special Collections in line with current data protection and copyright legislation. Always make sure to check the access conditions on the archive catalogue and email Special Collections before your visit for more information about specific restrictions.

Searching the catalogues

Searching for archives:

Archive material can be found by searching the University of Exeter Special Collections archives catalogue

  • Narrow down your search by going into advanced search
  • Enter a keyword, name or title
  • If you already know an item’s reference number you can search by this
  • Optionally refine the results by date

Searching for books:

Rare book collections can be found by searching the University of Exeter Library classic catalogue

  • Narrow down the search by selecting the catalogue tab, then go into advanced search
  • Enter a keyword, subject, title or author
  • Use the dropdown arrow to select Special Collections
  • Optionally refine the results by date

Further guidance and tips on using the library catalogue can be found on the Searching our Catalogues LibGuide

5th-14th century

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'De Homine' by Albertus Magnus, late 13th century manuscript [EUL MS 200]

A microfilm collection of Anglo-Saxon and Early English manuscripts [EUL MS 261]

A microfilm collection of medieval and renaissance manuscripts [EUL MS 273]

Printed facsmilies of manuscripts dating from 7th to 14th century, including:

15th century resources

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Manuscripts from the collections of the Bridgettine community of Syon Abbey, including several illuminated manuscripts and fragments [EUL MS 262].

Click here to browse all the 15th century printed books in the collections

Items include:

Facsimiles include:

Crediton Parish Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue by following this link.

  • The Crediton Parish Library is the largest of the four parish libraries housed at the University of Exeter Library.  The library contains a great number of theological works, but there is also a good cross-section of other subjects, such as history, politics, science, geography and literature. The majority of books are published in England, though there is a selection of titles published on the continent, mainly amongst the older titles.

The Dodderidge Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for this collection by following this link.

  • The Dodderidge Library was founded by John Dodderidge of Barnstaple, Devon (1610-1666), who donated his book collection to the town of Barnstaple in 1664. The Dodderidge Library consists mainly of pre-1700 books, including a few incunabula. There are many books on theology, British, foreign and classical literatures and on geography, history and the sciences.

Ottery St Mary Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for items in this collection by following this link.

  • The Ottery St Mary parish library is the smallest of the four such libraries held at the University of Exeter Library. The books are mainly on theological topics dating from the 16th to the 19th century, but also include five 15th-century incunabula.

Rare Books Collection: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for items in this collection by following this link.

  • The Rare Books Collection is the main run of pre-1700 books which are owned by the Library and which have been collected over time. The collection covers a range of subject areas, from theology to architecture, from antiquities to history of science.

The Reserve Collection of post-1700 rare books:The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for items in this collection by following this link.

  • The books in the Reserve Collection include individual volumes transferred from the Library's main sequence of loan books, as well as gifts and purchases. The historical aspect of all academic subjects taught at the University are represented, from art history to literature, from the history of science to the history of law.

Syon Abbey: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. Follow this link to perform a local classmark search for 'Syon' and to browse the contents of the Syon Abbey library on the online catalogue.

  • The Syon Abbey Library comprises more than 1,000 printed books dating from the early sixteenth century to the late twentieth century, including hagiographic, devotional, polemical, and historical works. As well as containing numerous individual titles of interest, the collection as a whole is a rich source of study for ecclesiastical history and religious women's reading habits. Numerous books in the collection bear manuscript annotations by the nuns.

16th century resources

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Manuscripts from the collections of the Bridgettine community of Syon Abbey [EUL MS 262 and EUL MS 262/add1-3]

Syon Abbey archive [EUL MS 389], comprising papers relating to the Bridgettine community's period in exile in the Low Countries, France and Portugal. These include correspondence with ecclesiastical authorities [EUL MS 389/ECC/1/1] and the 1557 Deed of Restoration signed by Cardinal Pole [EUL MS 389/CHAR/1/1]

Mariette family papers, comprising French historical papers relating to the Mariette family and connected families (such as the de Villeblin family), including wills, inventories, and other legal documents, copies of deeds, and private accounts,16th-19th century [EUL MS 36]

Deed relating to the will of John Green of Luton, 1555 [EUL MS 47b]

Click here to browse all the 17th century printed books in the collections

Items include:

Crediton Parish Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue by following this link.

  • The Crediton Parish Library is the largest of the four parish libraries housed at the University of Exeter Library.  The library contains a great number of theological works, but there is also a good cross-section of other subjects, such as history, politics, science, geography and literature. The majority of books are published in England, though there is a selection of titles published on the continent, mainly amongst the older titles.

Syon Abbey: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. Follow this link to perform a local classmark search for 'Syon' and to browse the contents of the Syon Abbey library on the online catalogue.

  • The Syon Abbey Library comprises more than 1,000 printed books dating from the early sixteenth century to the late twentieth century, including hagiographic, devotional, polemical, and historical works. As well as containing numerous individual titles of interest, the collection as a whole is a rich source of study for ecclesiastical history and religious women's reading habits. Numerous books in the collection bear manuscript annotations by the nuns.

Sabine Baring Gould Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. Follow this link to perform a local classmark search for 'Baring Gould' and to browse the contents of this  library on the online catalogue

  • The Baring-Gould Library holds around 3,000 books, written in a variety of languages and on many different subjects, including literature, history, folklore, mythology, religion, music, architecture, art, and natural history. The earliest book dates to 1534 and the most recent to 1975, but the majority of books were printed in the 19th and early 20th century.

Rare Books Collection: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for items in this collection by following this link.

  • The Rare Books Collection is the main run of pre-1700 books which are owned by the Library and which have been collected over time. The collection covers a range of subject areas, from theology to architecture, from antiquities to history of science.

Ottery St Mary Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for items in this collection by following this link.

  • The Ottery St Mary parish library is the smallest of the four such libraries held at the University of Exeter Library. The books are mainly on theological topics dating from the 16th to the 19th century, but also include five 15th-century incunabula.

The Dodderidge Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for this collection by following this link.

  • The Dodderidge Library was founded by John Dodderidge of Barnstaple, Devon (1610-1666), who donated his book collection to the town of Barnstaple in 1664. The Dodderidge Library consists mainly of pre-1700 books, including a few incunabula. There are many books on theology, British, foreign and classical literatures and on geography, history and the sciences.

17th century resources

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Manuscripts from the collections of the Bridgettine nuns of Syon Abbey [EUL MS 262/add1 and EUL MS 262/add2] including amongst others: a revised edition of the Rule of St Augustine and the Constitutions of St Bridget, containing the signatures of sisters and brothers of Syon Abbey, c 1607 [EUL MS 262/add1/2]

Syon Abbey archive [EUL MS 389], comprising papers relating to the Bridgettine community's period in exile in the Low Countries, France and Portugal. These include correspondence with ecclesiastical authorities [EUL MS 389/ECC/1/1-4] and signed vows of sisters [EUL MS 389/COM/2/1/1-3].

John Dodderidge's 'History of Wales, Cornwall and Chester' manuscript copy, 1603 [EUL MS 6]

'Dialogue between a Councillor of State and a Justice of the Peace' by Walter Raleigh, manuscript copy c 1615 [EUL MS 98]

John Keymor's treatise on trade, manuscript copy c 1620 [EUL MS 97]

Seventeenth century commonplace book, manuscript, c 1624, including papers relating to Parliament, the House of Commons and treaties with Spain [EUL MS 32]

Commonplace book of Devon cleric Joseph Ayres, manuscript, 1650 [EUL MS 40]

Third printed volume of a 'Rule for Perfection' by Revd. Francis Bennet of Essex, 17th century [EUL MS 70]

Mariette family papers, comprising French historical papers relating to the Mariette family and connected families (such as the de Villeblin family), including wills, inventories, and other legal documents, copies of deeds, and private accounts,16th-19th century [EUL MS 36]

Browse our archive catalogue for further historical resources.

Click here to browse all the 17th century printed books in the collections

Items include:

Crediton Parish Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue by following this link.

  • The Crediton Parish Library is the largest of the four parish libraries housed at the University of Exeter Library.  The library contains a great number of theological works, but there is also a good cross-section of other subjects, such as history, politics, science, geography and literature. The majority of books are published in England, though there is a selection of titles published on the continent, mainly amongst the older titles.

The Dodderidge Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for this collection by following this link.

  • The Dodderidge Library was founded by John Dodderidge of Barnstaple, Devon (1610-1666), who donated his book collection to the town of Barnstaple in 1664. The Dodderidge Library consists mainly of pre-1700 books, including a few incunabula. There are many books on theology, British, foreign and classical literatures and on geography, history and the sciences.

Ottery St Mary Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for items in this collection by following this link.

  • The Ottery St Mary parish library is the smallest of the four such libraries held at the University of Exeter Library. The books are mainly on theological topics dating from the 16th to the 19th century, but also include five 15th-century incunabula.

Rare Books Collection: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for items in this collection by following this link.

  • The Rare Books Collection is the main run of pre-1700 books which are owned by the Library and which have been collected over time. The collection covers a range of subject areas, from theology to architecture, from antiquities to history of science.

Totnes Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. Follow this link to perform a local classmark search for 'Totnes' and to browse the contents of this parish library on the online catalogue.

  • The Totnes Library dates back to the early years of the seventeenth century. The collection is strongest in its representation of seventeenth-century titles on divinity.

Sabine Baring Gould Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. Follow this link to perform a local classmark search for 'Baring Gould' and to browse the contents of this  library on the online catalogue

  • The Baring-Gould Library holds around 3,000 books, written in a variety of languages and on many different subjects, including literature, history, folklore, mythology, religion, music, architecture, art, and natural history. The earliest book dates to 1534 and the most recent to 1975, but the majority of books were printed in the 19th and early 20th century.

Syon Abbey: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. Follow this link to perform a local classmark search for 'Syon' and to browse the contents of the Syon Abbey library on the online catalogue.

  • The Syon Abbey Library comprises more than 1,000 printed books dating from the early sixteenth century to the late twentieth century, including hagiographic, devotional, polemical, and historical works. As well as containing numerous individual titles of interest, the collection as a whole is a rich source of study for ecclesiastical history and religious women's reading habits. Numerous books in the collection bear manuscript annotations by the nuns.

18th century resources

Click the next tabs in this box to find out more about 18th century resources

Syon Abbey archive [EUL MS 389], comprising papers relating to the Bridgettine community's period in exile in the Low Countries, France and Portugal. These include correspondence with ecclesiastical authorities [EUL MS 389/ECC/1], vows of sisters [EUL MS 389/COM/2/1/4], a letter from Sister Kitty Witham (1756) [EUL MS PERS/WITHAM], and an account book (1768) [EUL MS 389/FIN/1/1/1]

Gale and Morant Family Papers (Content warning: Papers within this collection contain offensive terms or terms that have changed meaning over time) [EUL MS 44EUL MS 44 add. 1EUL MS 130.] relating to the management of family-owned sugar plantations in Jamaica at the height of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and comprising include correspondence, accounts and other papers (1731-1939).

Mariette family papers, comprising French historical papers relating to the Mariette family and connected families (such as the de Villeblin family), including wills, inventories, and other legal documents, copies of deeds, and private accounts,16th-19th century [EUL MS 36]

Eighteenth century French political satires and love poem [EUL MS 125]

Copy of Arabic manuscript by al-'Awtabi in six parts (c 1703) [EUL MS 119/4/6]

Nuovo Ritratti della corte di Francia (1704), a manuscript account of the French Court entitled [EUL MS 30b]

Gentleman's almanack of Richard Bent (1718) The volume bears the title: 'Ephemeris Generosus. Or the Gentlemans Almanack. Containing an Astronomical View of the Heavens for the year of our Lord God, 1718, being the second after Bissextile, or Leap Yeare.' The calculations are made for the 'meridian of London'. [EUL MS 24]

Lady Jersey's personal papers (18th-19th century), including invitations to events, political satires, and short communications. [EUL MS 10

Browse our archive catalogue for further historical resources.

Click here to browse all the 18th century printed books in the collections

Items include:

  • The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1729) by Isaac Newton [Reserve 510.1 NEW]
  • Encyclopedie (full set of 39 volumes, 1778-81) by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert [Reserve 848.5/ENC]
  • The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) by Henry Fielding [Baring-Gould Library 1632.1]
  • Il Decamerone (1757) by Giovanni Boccaccio [Lloyd 858.1/BOC]
  • A Dictionary of the English Langauge (1760) by Samuel Johnson [Reserve 423/JOH]
  • The Castle of Otranto: a Gothic Story (1769) by Horace Walpole [Reserve 828.6/WAL]
  • Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World (1769) by Fanny Burney [Baring-Gould Library 1585]
  • Arabian Nights Entertainments: consisting of one thousand and one stories... / translated into French from the Arabian MSS by M. Galland...and now done into English from the last Paris edition (1783) by T. Longman [Reserve 892.784/ARA Vol.1-4]
  • The Fairy Queen (finely illustrated two-volume set, 1788) by Edmund Spenser [Lloyd 828.3/SPE]
  • Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1792) by Robert Burns [Reserve 828.6/BURNS]
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe [Reserve 828.6/RAD THO]
  • A collection of over 1200 seventeenth and eighteenth-century pamphlets [classmark: Crediton Library Pamphlets], including works relating to history, politics, religious controversy and literature.

Crediton Parish Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue by following this link.

  • The Crediton Parish Library is the largest of the four parish libraries housed at the University of Exeter Library.  The library contains a great number of theological works, but there is also a good cross-section of other subjects, such as history, politics, science, geography and literature. The majority of books are published in England, though there is a selection of titles published on the continent, mainly amongst the older titles.

The Dodderidge Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for this collection by following this link.

  • The Dodderidge Library was founded by John Dodderidge of Barnstaple, Devon (1610-1666), who donated his book collection to the town of Barnstaple in 1664. The Dodderidge Library consists mainly of pre-1700 books, including a few incunabula. There are many books on theology, British, foreign and classical literatures and on geography, history and the sciences.

Ottery St Mary Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for items in this collection by following this link.

  • The Ottery St Mary parish library is the smallest of the four such libraries held at the University of Exeter Library. The books are mainly on theological topics dating from the 16th to the 19th century, but also include five 15th-century incunabula.

Rare Books Collection: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for items in this collection by following this link.

  • The Rare Books Collection is the main run of pre-1700 books which are owned by the Library and which have been collected over time. The collection covers a range of subject areas, from theology to architecture, from antiquities to history of science.

The Reserve Collection of post-1700 rare books:The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. You can browse the catalogue for items in this collection by following this link.

  • The books in the Reserve Collection include individual volumes transferred from the Library's main sequence of loan books, as well as gifts and purchases. The historical aspect of all academic subjects taught at the University are represented, from art history to literature, from the history of science to the history of law.

Totnes Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. Follow this link to perform a local classmark search for 'Totnes' and to browse the contents of this parish library on the online catalogue.

  • The Totnes Library dates back to the early years of the seventeenth century. The collection is strongest in its representation of seventeenth-century titles on divinity.

Sabine Baring Gould Library: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. Follow this link to perform a local classmark search for 'Baring Gould' and to browse the contents of this  library on the online catalogue

  • The Baring-Gould Library holds around 3,000 books, written in a variety of languages and on many different subjects, including literature, history, folklore, mythology, religion, music, architecture, art, and natural history. The earliest book dates to 1534 and the most recent to 1975, but the majority of books were printed in the 19th and early 20th century.

Syon Abbey: The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue. Follow this link to perform a local classmark search for 'Syon' and to browse the contents of the Syon Abbey library on the online catalogue.

  • The Syon Abbey Library comprises more than 1,000 printed books dating from the early sixteenth century to the late twentieth century, including hagiographic, devotional, polemical, and historical works. As well as containing numerous individual titles of interest, the collection as a whole is a rich source of study for ecclesiastical history and religious women's reading habits. Numerous books in the collection bear manuscript annotations by the nuns.

Historic Map collections

This index gives brief details of the map collections held by the University of Exeter Special Collections and contains links to the catalogues, through which you can explore the collections further. 

Click the next tabs in this box to find out more about the map collections

The Cartography Collection consists of a selection of the maps and atlases deposited by the Geography Department Map Library into Special Collections in 2005. The selection was made on the basis of age, value and interest, and includes first edition of the Ordnance Survey 1" to the mile maps of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset made in 1809-1811, four of Ogilby's linear road maps of the Westcountry of c 1675, and a collection of "escape maps" printed on silk and given to military personnel (mostly airmen) who were shot down or captured during the Second World War to help them escape back to the United Kingdom. There is also a large collection of the 1" and 25" OS maps of the British Isles, mostly from the earlier part of the 20th century.

  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Cartography Coll'.

Kenneth Maxwell Constable, MA, was born in 1888 and died in 1937. In 1925 he came to Exeter to be the first Warden of Reed Hall; shortly after this he was appointed Warden of Mardon Hall. He also took up the post of Lecturer in Mathematics at the then University College of the South West. Among many interests listed in his obituary was the collecting of old maps: the 94 maps of the Constable Collection are the results of his efforts in this field. Most of the Constable maps (77 out of 94) cover the British Isles (general, regional, county). These include eighteen maps of Devon, twenty-nine maps of Wales and its counties, and, perhaps surprisingly, five maps of England's smallest county Rutland. The earliest map in the Constable Collection is an edition of Ptolemy's Hibernia et Albion, published between 1510 and 1530.

  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Constable Maps'.

The strengths of the Edmund Collection lie in local history. The main emphasis is upon Exeter and East Devon, although there is some material from West Devon (such as Plymouth) and Dorset and Cornwall. There are a few more general books in the collection, covering British history. The majority of the items (which includes books, pamphlets, periodicals and maps) covers various aspects of the west country, notably the history of towns and villages and their residents. Social history is well-represented with material on religion, transport (particularly railways), education and local myths and legends.

  • The collection is catalogued and entries for maps within the collection appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Edmund Maps'.

R.W.Townsend was a member of an old Exeter family who had been publishers and booksellers in the city for many years. He had an interest in the development of Exeter and formed a small collection of old maps to illustrate this. All of the Townsend maps cover the British Isles (general, regional, county). The strength of the Townsend Collection is the nine maps of Exeter tracing the development of the city from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Townsend Maps'.

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