The College's Special Collections comprise its manuscripts, early printed books, and archives. The collections are in the Muniment Room, at the end of South Court nearest Garden Court.

All members of College are welcome to consult material housed in the Muniment Room, which is open by appointment, 9.00am - 12.55pm and 2.00pm - 5.15pm, Monday to Friday. It closes for a short period at Christmas and Easter, and for two weeks during the Long Vacation.

External readers are requested to arrange visits in advance, in writing, by telephone, or by e-mail to the Archivist. They should have identification, preferably (where appropriate) a letter of introduction from a senior member of their university. Please see the Special Collections Access Policy below.


The College possesses 121 manuscripts, ranging in date from the late 10th to the 19th century.

Further information

The oldest of the manuscripts is an Anglo-Saxon Ordinale

Anglo-Saxon Ordinale

, which is bound with a 13th century French bestiary, containing illustrations of animals real and imagined, including a particularly fine whale.

Whale from the bestiary

Other interesting items in the collection include Anne Holand’s Book of Hours

Exeter Psalter

, a book of receipts belonging to Lady Fairfax, the wife of the Parliamentarian commander, and an Exeter Psalter of the 1330s, in which the figures were literally defaced by Protestant iconoclasts. There are several books from monastic libraries, most notably Bury, Croyland, Durham, Kingswood and Warden, and the Franciscan houses at Bristol, Worcester and York, and a significant group of liturgical manuscripts from the archdiocese of York.

Catalogues and calendars

M.R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Cambridge, 1895).

A catalogue of MSS 107-121 is being prepared for publication.

Links to manuscript information

Cambridge Digital Library: A home for the discovery of digitised material and research outputs from the University of Cambridge and beyond.

This includes digitised copies of the following Sidney manuscripts:

Warburg Institute Iconographic Database: Digitised images from the Institute's Photographic Collection and Library.

This database includes 758 images from Sidney Sussex manuscripts:

Early printed books

There are some 8000 early printed and other rare books, most of which are now listed on the iDiscover catalogue.

Further information

The core of the collection is the library of the first Master, James Montagu (d. 1618). Other important donations were given by Lady Anne Harington and her daughter Lucy, Countess of Bedford, relatives of the foundress, Francis Combe and Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield.

There is a fine range of Hebrew books, bequeathed by Paul Micklethwaite in 1639.

Example from Micklethwaite

The theological and liturgical sections include several rarities, including the only complete copy of the York Pica of 1509, the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, and the last edition of the Sarum Manuale, published in Douai in 1610.

Early scientific works are well represented, including two copies of the first edition of Newton’s Principia, and many engagingly illustrated works such as Johann Bayer's celebrated celestial atlas, Uranometria (1603), which introduced the Bayer stellar designation that is still used today.

Great Bear from Bayer atlas

Among the atlases and travel books is an account of Anson’s voyage round the world by Richard Walter, a Fellow of Sidney who sailed on the expedition. There are books from the libraries of Henry VIII, Cranmer, John Dee, John Donne, and Sir Thomas Tresham.

The Muniment Room houses special sections devoted to the Franciscans, Cromwell, and the history of the College and the University.

Catalogues and calendars

A.H. Cook, Early Printed Books to the Year 1500 in the Library of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Cambridge, 1922).

Links to printed book information

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue is the international database of 15th-century European printing created by the British Library with contributions from institutions worldwide. Sidney incunabula are included in this database.

ESTC lists over 480,000 items published between 1473 and 1800 published in the British Isles and North America or on the Continent for English readers.


The Archives consist of College and estate papers, and the personal papers of various Masters and Fellows, most notably Samuel Ward (1572-1643), one of the translators of the King James Bible.

Further information

For Abbot’s Langley there is an important series of court rolls from the 13th to the 19th century. Sidney Sussex College once owned much of Cleethorpes, and among the estate papers is an important series of records documenting its development, together with a stick of seaside rock from the town. Other objects in the collections include Cromwell’s death mask, a flintlock pistol captured at the Battle of Worcester, and the calcified skull of a young child from Minoan Crete. Some categories of the Archives are not available for public consultation.

Catalogues and calendars

M. Todd, 'The Samuel Ward Papers at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge', Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 8 (1985), pp. 582-92.

Links to archival information

Cambridge Digital Library: A home for the discovery of digitised material and research outputs from the University of Cambridge and beyond.

This includes digitised copies of the following Sidney archives:


  • Janus provides access to catalogues of a growing proportion of the archives held throughout Cambridge. The work is in progress, with new catalogues being added regularly.


  • Discovery holds more than 32 million descriptions of records held by The National Archives and more than 2,500 archives across the country. Over 9 million records are available for download.

Archives Hub

  • A national gateway to descriptions of archives in UK universities and colleges.

The Cromwell Museum

  • The Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon holds the best collection of Cromwelliana on public display in the UK. There are nearly 700 items, including portraits, clothing, miniatures, arms and armour, historical documents written by or about Cromwell, and one of his death masks.

Special collections access policy

The special collections (historic library and archives) of Sidney Sussex College are maintained to preserve the documentary heritage of the College.

Further information

The special collections are housed in the Muniment Room, and are open to anyone, regardless of race, religion, gender or disability, who can demonstrate a reasonable need to consult material that they contain.

Enquiries about the collection can also be made by telephone, fax and email, and the Archivist may also be able to satisfy requests for photographic or microfilm reproduction of suitable materials. The College is particularly concerned to ensure access for users with disabilities. There is wheelchair access to the Muniment Room, and steps within the College are provided with ramps and/or handrails.

The College is keen to promote awareness of the contents of the collection:

  • by providing access to online bibliographic records and finding aids
  • by exhibition both within the college, and nationally and internationally
  • by working with record offices and archives in areas to which the material relates by publication of scholarly works

The Muniment Room is open to visiting readers, 9.00-12.55pm and 2.00-5.15pm, Monday to Friday. It is closed for a short period at Christmas and Easter, and also for two weeks during the Long Vacation.

No material may be removed from the Muniment Room, except for the purposes of exhibition, and then only under the supervision of the Archivist. The Keeper of Muniments must be satisfied that the material will be exhibited under secure and environmentally suitable conditions, and that the material is insured whilst in transit and on exhibition.

As the Muniment Room can only accommodate one person at a time for the purpose of study, it is necessary to make an appointment. Readers are requested to arrange their visits in advance, either in writing, by telephone, or by email to the Archivist. They must be able to produce means of identification, and (where this is appropriate) a letter of introduction from a senior member of their university. Not more than one manuscript or three printed books will normally be issued at any one time.

All material must be handled with great care, and must not be marked in any way. Only pencil may be used. No tracings or rubbings may be made without specific permission. No books, papers or other objects (except book weights) may be laid on the material. Bound volumes must be consulted on the book rests.