Post-medieval manuscripts and private archives

The early modern and modern materials take up the greatest part of the Western manuscripts, archives and letters collections. Important sections are: alchemistic manuscripts; alba amicorum; lecture notes by students; libri annotati; archives of individuals, families and non-governmental institutions.

Christiaan Huygens, Workbook, Leiden UB, ms. HUG 5, p. 61.

Christiaan Huygens, Workbook, Leiden UB, ms. HUG 5, p. 61.

The designation as post-medieval is based on the dating of the materials (after ca. 1550). But of course, there are many undated manuscripts and it is often difficult to date them even within a decade or a quarter of a century. And most former owners would have regarded the division between medieval and post-medieval manuscripts an artificial one; for them the subject matter is the most important criterion. A good example are the alchemistic manuscripts of the Vossius Collection: some twenty are composed before 1500, while the majority dates from the second half of the 16th century. The archives of Leiden University are subject to special archival legislation (for example the Law on Archives of 1995). Therefore, they are treated here on a separate webpage. The same applies to letters, accessible by a seperate digital finding aid.  

Alchemistic manuscripts

The 115 alchemistic manuscripts in the Vossius Collection originate from the library of the Swedish Queen Christina, war booty acquired during the Thirty Years War in the German states, especially Bohemia and Bavaria. For a long time they formed a hardly accessible and somewhat underestimated subcollection. This situation has changed thanks to the catalogue of P.C. Boeren (1975) and a growing interest in hermetic writings and the role of natural philosophy and esotericism for the development of science in 16th century texts.

Alba amicorum

The Leiden collections contain more than a hundred alba amicorum of Leiden students or professors. These ‘books of friends’ have their origins in 16th century university circles. Students often visited various universities in Europe. During their peregrinatio academica they asked students and professors with whom they associated to write a note of remembrance in an album. Leiden University has been of great importance for the spread of the album amicorum in the Netherlands.  

Lecture notes by students

The more than 850 volumes with lecture notes — written down by Leiden students during four centuries — constitute an important source in the study of academic education and research.

Libri annotati

About 3,000 printed books with handwritten notes, mostly of Leiden scholars in the 17th and 18th century are kept as a separate unit of the Western manuscripts collections. They bear shelfmarks beginning with the numbers 754-766. These so-called libriannotati are described in Leiden’s coordinating Catalogue, in most cases provided with (as yet unsearchable) information about the handwritten notes in that particular copy. For example: 766 E 21, a copy of the Opera omnia of Apuleius Madaurensis (Leiden 1723) contains notes of Jac. Tollius. An electronic inventory of libri annotati, with an index of annotators, is under construction.

Archives of individuals and families

A major part of the almost 50 separately stored collections is formed by (parts of) personal estates, bought or acquired as a gift, as a bequest or as a loan by Leiden University Library over a period of four centuries. These could be divided in two categories, dependent of the way they were formed: either as a personal archive or as the result of private collecting. The scientific notes and correspondence (consisting of received letters in original and sent letters in draft or copy) of the famous Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) form an ‘archive’. On the other hand, the letters and manuscripts of several persons acquired by the Amsterdam merchant Gerardus van Papenbroeck (1673-1743) can be called a ‘collection’ (in the proper sense). In most cases we find a mixture of the two kinds: the Lipsius Collection contains a part of the correspondence and notes of Justus Lipsius (1547-1606), but also medieval manuscripts he collected and used for his own research. 

The Bibliotheca Publica Latina Collection and the manuscripts collection of the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde (Society of Dutch Literature) — both in fact collections — contain a great number of archives and collections themselves, originating from, respectively, Leiden scholars and Dutch writers.  

Archives of non-governmental institutions


Information retrieval: databases

Digital Special Collections contains collection level descriptions, item descriptions as well as digital images of manuscripts:

  • Collection guides — All collections contain to some degree postmedieval manuscripts or archival materials. The collection level descriptions of the following archives include a digital finding aid:
    Archives Wallonnes (archives of Dutch Walloon Churches). — De Erven F. Bohn (publishing house). — Kinsky (private papers of a Bohemian nobleman). — Luzac (family papers). — Archives of the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde (Society of Dutch Literature). — Milo (research papers of a Leiden maritime historian). — A.W. Sijthoff’s uitgeversmaatschappij (publishing house). 
  • Item descriptions — The literature section of the short titles in the database contains references to all relevant printed catalogues (listed below). 
  • Digital images — The database contains a growing number of digital images. Some manuscripts are completely digitized in colour, like the album amicorum of Janus Dousa (BPL 1406), and two copies of Michiel Michielszons Burleske Notulen (LTK 439 and LTK 1137).  

Information retrieval: printed catalogues

The following printed catalogues (links to the Catalogue) describe post-medieval manuscripts and non-governmental archives (in most cases in greater detail than Digital Special Collections):

Information retrieval: internet selections

  • Den Haag, Letterkundig Museum  — letters and manuscripts in the National Literary Museum, The Hague 
  • Bibliotheekgids KB — guide of libraries and documentation services in the Netherlands and worldwide 
  • Archiefnet — archives in the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium); national archives all over the world   
  • — inventories and lists of archives in the Netherlands
  • Agrippa — inventory of the Archief en Museum voor het Vlaamse Cultuurleven (AMVC, Archive and Museum for Flemish Cultural Life) 
  • Archives Hub — collections and archives deposited in universities in the United Kingdom
  • CERL Portal — collections of manuscripts worldwide 
  • MALVINE — manuscripts and letters via integrated networks in Europe 
  • Repositories of Primary Sources — collection of links to special collections worldwide  

Last Modified: 26-03-2012