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Collection Level Description: James Manuscripts

Reference: MSS. James 1-43, 43*, 43**, 44
Title: James Manuscripts
Dates of Creation: 15th-17th cent.
Extent: 46 shelfmarks

Language of Material: Latin, English, French, Middle English, Old English, Italian, Greek, and Russian

Administrative/Biographical History

Richard James, born in 1592 in the Isle of Wight, was the nephew of Thomas James, Bodley's first librarian. He matriculated as a commoner at Exeter College, but migrated to Corpus as a scholar, and thence took his BA degree in 1611. In 1615 he was elected to a fellowship. For some years James travelled extensively in Wales and Scotland and on the continent, going to Russia as chaplain to Sir Dudley Digges. At some time before 1623, when he was already engaged upon his life of Becket, he returned to Oxford. In 1624 he was working with Selden on the Arundel marbles, and about 1628 became librarian to Sir Robert Cotton. In this capacity he earned the scorn of Sir Simonds D'Ewes, who described him as 'a short, red-bearded, high-coloured fellow' and states that 'James, being a needy sharking companion, and very expensive, ... let out or lent most precious manuscripts for money to any that would be his customers'. One such bargain cost him dear, for he and Cotton and others were imprisoned for circulating a political tract. He must, however, have increased his patron's collection in equally dubious ways, for he more than once refers to manuscripts as at 'Magd. Coll.' which are now in the Cottonian library. James died 28 December 1638. Further details are given in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of notes and extracts by James, mainly historical.

Administrative Information

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The manuscripts were acquired by the Library in 1678.

Access Conditions

Entry to read in the Library is permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card (for admissions procedures see

Further Information

Finding Aids

Falconer Madan, et al., A summary catalogue of western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford which have not hitherto been catalogued in the Quarto series (7 vols. in 8 [vol. II in 2 parts], Oxford, 1895-1953; reprinted with corrections in vols. I and VII, Munich, 1980), vol II nos. 3838-3880.

Access Points


James | Richard | 1592-1638 | Scholar

Contact Information
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09 June 2011