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Manuscripts of John Selden


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Manuscripts collected by Selden, including some mathematical, astronomical and astrological manuscripts. The majority of the manuscripts are in a variety of languages, mainly Latin, but also including English, Greek, Italian, French, Russian, German, Slavonic, Spanish, Portuguese, and Irish. The collection also includes many oriental manuscripts. MS. Arch. Seld. B. 62B, dating to the 18th century, was not part of Selden's original collection.


  • Creation: 8th-18th century


40.48 Linear metres (368 boxes)

Language of Materials

  • Latin
  • English
  • Greek, Modern (1453-)
  • Greek, Ancient (to 1453)
  • Italian
  • French
  • Russian
  • German
  • Church Slavic; Old Slavonic; Church Slavonic; Old Bulgarian; Old Church Slavonic
  • Arabic
  • English, Old (ca.450-1100)
  • Spanish; Castilian
  • Portuguese
  • Hebrew
  • Irish

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MSS. Arch. Selden. A. 1].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Arch. Selden A. 1-4, 6-29, 31-48, 50-71, 72 (1)-(6), 73 (1)-(2), 74-74*, 75-76; Arch. Selden B. 3-58, 62b; Selden Superius 1-14, 14a, 15-122; Selden Supra 1-36, 36*, 37-102, 105, 107; Marsh 241; Michael 600; Part of AA. 1. Med. Selden (plus 3212a, 3228-3231, 3266, 3438 Oriental items)

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 13303, 13304


Manuscripts of John Selden

Biographical / Historical

John Selden was born on 16 December 1584, in Sussex, and matriculated at Oxford from Hart Hall on 24 October 1600, but left the University without a degree, and practised law in the Temple, acquiring a vast store of legal, oriental, and other learning. In 1621 he entered Parliament, taking up a position antagonistic to the royal claims. However, from 1640 to 1653 he represented his University in Parliament, and did it good service, especially during the Parliamentary Visitation. Among the many publications of 'the Learned Selden' was one in 1629 on the Marmora Arundelliana which eventually came into the possession of the University. He died in London on November 30 1654. Further details are given in the Dictionary of National Biography.


The MSS. are divided into four series, Arch. Selden A. (1-76), Selden Superius (1-122), Arch. Selden B. (1-58), and Selden Supra (1-102), and originally numbered 355; but the two Archives were rearranged early in the 18th century, and the whole collection now numbers 368. Many of the volumes bear Selden's motto, Παρί παντóς τήν Ϛλενθερίαν, with or without 'J. Seldenus', e. g. both are in MS. Selden Supra. 80.

The second numbers (in brackets) are the old Selden marks (Arch. Selden A. 1-73, Selden Superius 1 - 122, Arch. Selden B. 1-58, and Selden Supra 1-102: they are not, in many cases, the modern numbers. The third numbers indicate the order in which, each volume entered the Library.

Custodial History

The great library of MSS. and printed books amassed by Selden is not mentioned in his will dated June 11, 1653, and would by it have passed to his four executors as residuary legatees; but in a codicil annexed to the will and of the same date, he clearly intended to bequeath his non-medical Oriental MSS., his Greek MSS., MS. Arch. Selden B. 16 (Latin), and all such (printed) Talmudical and Rabbinical books as were not already in the Library, proximately or ultimately to the Bodleian; and his Greek marbles, with AA.1. Med. Seld (a Chinese map), to the University. But by some extraordinary accident of drafting or transcription the name of the Bodleian and of the University is (in the only accessible copy of the codicil, in Selden's Opera, 1726, i, p. lv) entirely omitted! As a consequence, the part intended for the Bodleian passed to the executors, who are throughout the subsequent negotiations invariably treated as having absolute control over the disposal of it.

In the latter part of 1655 and again in 1656 Barlow was in London 'about Mr. Selden's library', and on Oct. 31, 1656, Congregation addressed a letter to the executors beseeching them to present it to the Bodleian, where the new West End was ready to receive it. At last the executors gave way, and as soon as the University had (on June 18, 1659) accepted their proposals (printed in the Life of Anthony à Wood, 1772, pp. 132-4) the volumes, exceeding 8,000 in number, arrived. So much, however, had to be expended on the conveyance, binding, and chaining, and on the new Selden Archives, that on Dec. 16 in that year Convocation authorized a special tax to meet the difficulty, ranging from ros. from Heads of Houses to is. from undergraduates.

In Macray's Annals of the Bodleian, 2nd ed. (1890), pp. 110-20, will be found a full account of the supposed conduct of Selden and his executors in this matter, the truth about which is not easily discoverable. It is unfortunate that Selden's Latin MSS. were not allowed to follow his Oriental and Greek collections, for we learn that the great fire in the Temple (on Jan. 26, 1679/80 ?) destroyed, of his books, 'eight chests full of the registers of abbeys and other manuscripts relating to the history of England, tho' most of his law-books are still safe in Lincoln's Inn' (quoted in Macray's Annals, p. 121 n).

The Selden marbles presented by his executors were moved, together with the Arundel marbles, to the University Galleries in 1888.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was acquired by the Library in 1659, except for MS. Arch. Selden B. 62B, which was purchased by the Library in 1725 and therefore no part of the original collection.

Number 3331 was recorded as "Printed Book" (Old Selden mark = B.1) in the Summary Catalogue at the time of cataloguing and is therefore not identifiable.

Related Materials

See also Selden Manuscripts (MSS. Selden supra 108-151).

Manuscripts of John Selden
Collection Level Description by Emily Tarrant; EAD version 2020 by Alice Whichelow
EAD version 2020
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom