Feature Archive: The John Rylands Library, Manchester

Each month, a researcher shares their experiences of using a particular archive. The overall aim of this section is to create a database of the different archives available to those working on French and Francophone studies that will be of help particularly to students just starting out in research.

Alex Hurlow is a third year PhD student at the University of Manchester. His thesis is entitled ‘Norman Identities in Capetian France, 1204-c.1337: The Chronique de Normandie and the Etablissements de Rouen’ and focuses on the renegotiation of Norman identities after the ‘Loss of Normandy’. Here he talks about the resources available for historians of France at the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

The John Rylands Library was founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John in 1900. The striking neo-gothic building that resulted is matched by its impressive collections. It is the third largest academic library in the UK and houses over 250,000 printed volumes as well as over a million manuscripts and archival items. However, to my shame, it took me until the third year of my undergraduate degree to make the trip to Deansgate (a short twenty-minute walk from the University of Manchester campus). Thankfully, now as a PhD student researching thirteenth-century Normandy, many enjoyable trips have been made.

The library has a wide range of printed resources relating to French studies. There are substantial collections of newspapers and periodicals from the French Revolution, for example an original folio edition of Moniteur (1789-1815), together with an almost complete set of the Bulletin de la Convention Nationale (1792-5). The Mazarinades collection contains pamphlets written in protest at Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602–61) and his policies during La Fronde, the series of civil wars occurring in the minority of Louis XIV. The collection of Robert Shackleton, Professor of French Literature at Oxford University, covers eighteenth and nineteenth-century French studies, especially literature, philosophy and civilization, with some 3,000 works published before 1850.

For those seeking manuscripts, there are numerous medieval and Renaissance texts in both Latin and French. These include the ninth-century Homiliary from the Abbey of Luxeuil (Latin MS 12); the thirteenth-century Psalter of Joan of Navarre (Latin MS 22); the exquisitely written and decorated Duchesse de Berry Bible, associated with the Celestine house of Villeneuve-lès-Soissons (Latin MS 17) and a beautifully illuminated manuscript of the Lancelot del LacQueste and Mort Artu sections of the Arthurian romances, from the early fourteenth century (French MS 1). My own research into Norman identities led me to the Chronique de Normandie (French MS 56), a late thirteenth century historical narrative which traces the ancestry of the Norman dukes from their Trojan origins up to the reign of King John. The Beaumont Charters have also proved valuable in contextualising thirteenth-century Norman society. These charters comprise grants, confirmations of grants, vidimuses, licences and legal agreements concerning lands belonging to abbeys at Ardenne, Aunay-sur-Odon, Barbery, Caen, Fècamp, Fontenay-le-Tesson, Gouffern, Troarn and Vignats. An A-Z List of the Special Collections at the Rylands can be found here (https://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/search-resources/special-collections/guide-to-special-collections/a-to-z/.)

The library is located in Deansgate near the centre of Manchester. It is a twenty-minute walk from Piccadilly train station, or you can take the free Metroshuttle bus to John Dalton Street then turn left onto Deansgate and the library will be in front of you. The Metroshuttle bus also runs from Oxford Road and Victoria stations. When arriving the staff behind information desk will be able to point you in the right direction. There are lockers in the basement for personal belongings and plastic bags for notepads, pencils, laptops and cameras. The reading rooms themselves are located on the fourth floor of the building and are open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm (and until 7pm of Thursdays). The library has a café selling tea, coffee and cakes but if you want something more substantial there are pubs, restaurants and supermarkets all close by.

Prior to arriving emailing or calling ahead is essential to ensure the materials you want a retrieved for you. Registration as a Special Collections reader can be completed on arrival with proof of address and a photographic ID. The staff are knowledgeable and always happy to help make your visit as productive and enjoyable as possible.

Thank you very much for this, Alex!


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