The collection

Jean Wauquelin, Les Chroniques de Hainaut, Vol. IThe Manuscripts Department contains approximately 35,000 manuscripts, including 4,500 medieval codices, which makes the Royal Library’s collection one of the ten largest in the world. A large part of the original collection consists of the former Library of the Dukes of Burgundy.

In addition, the Manuscripts Department also holds two special collections:

  • The Goethals Collection: manuscripts and printed works connected to genealogy, heraldry and the history of the former Low Countries;
  • The Merghelynk Collection: genealogy and heraldry of the province of West Flanders.

Both collections differ completely in character and have their own catalogues.

Since the Middle Ages, this collection has been regarded as one of the most prestigious libraries in the Western world. Discover the history of this collection.


How to search for a manuscript

There are several ways of looking for a manuscript:

  • Chansonnier, Pays-Bas méridionaux, XVIe siècleUsing the online catalogue. Please note: not all documents are listed in the online catalogue.
  • Using the printed or handwritten catalogues in the Reading Room:
    • The systematic catalogue of J. Van den Gheyn
    • The repositories of Latin, Greek, Dutch, French and Eastern codices
    • The register of the manuscripts from monasteries and abbeys
    • The catalogues of special collections (the Goethals, Merghelynck and Houwaert Collections)
    • The catalogues of illuminated manuscripts
  • Using the systematic and alphabetical card catalogue in the reading room:
    • Notes with descriptions of manuscripts and bibliography

View the digitized manuscripts online.

The Reading Room has computers for searching in the online catalogue. The Department is currently working on producing electronic descriptions of the ancient collections.


Documentation and reference material

As well as the catalogues, the Reading Room also features various working instruments and a well-stocked collection of secondary sources:

  • A large number of reference works on manuscripts (around 6,000 volumes) stored in open stacks, arranged by theme and by type.
  • An iconographic and textual database with colour slides, photographs (monochrome), microfiches, microfilms and CD-ROMs (approximately 10,000 documents).



Several academic researchers work at the Department to do the cataloguing and to produce independent publications on manuscripts in the collection. Past major projects include a series of six repositories of dated manuscripts preserved in Belgium.

The Department is also home to the International Centre of Codicology, which edits the “Bulletin codicologique” in the journal Scriptorium. The bulletin incorporates the current bibliography of studies on medieval manuscripts.

View all current research projects at the Royal Library.



Tel.: +32 (0)2 519 57 78

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