Duke Humfrey's Library

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Engraving of Arts End, Duke Humfrey's Library

Duke Humfrey's Library is the oldest reading room in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford. Until 2015, it functioned primarily as a reading room for maps, music, and pre-1641 rare books; following the opening of the new Weston Library, it is now an additional reading room for all users of the Bodleian, as the Weston Library operates reading room for special collections. It consists of the original medieval section (1487), the Arts End (1612), and the Selden End (1637). It houses collections of maps, music, Western manuscripts, and theology and arts materials. It is the main reading room for researchers of codicology, bibliography, and local history. It is also the location of the University Archives and the Conservative Party Archive.

The library is on the first floor and forms an H-shape with the later parts as the uprights. Arts End is above the Proscholium and is attached at two corners to the Old Schools Quadrangle. The medieval section is above the Divinity School and Selden End (named after John Selden a benefactor of the library) is above the Convocation House. A drawing of the medieval section with Divinity School below in isolation is used as the emblem of the Bodleian Library.


Duke Humfrey's Library is named after Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester, a younger son of Henry IV of England. He was a connoisseur of literature and commissioned translations of classical works from Greek into Latin. When he died in 1447, he donated his collection of 281 books to the University of Oxford. At the time, this was considered an incredibly generous donation since the university only had 20 books. All classes back then were taught via oral lectures. Books were hand written at the time and were only for the extremely wealthy. Oxford built Duke Humfrey's Library as a second story to the Divinity School in order to house his collection in 1450–80. Today, only three of Humfrey's original books remain in the library.

In 1550 the King's Commissioners despoiled it of books and in 1556 the furniture was removed by the university. It was refitted and restored from 1598 by Sir Thomas Bodley and in 1610-12 added the east wing (now Arts End). The west wing (now Selden End) followed 20 years later. The books in the oldest part are accommodated in oak bookcases which are at right angles to the walls on either side with integral readers' desks. The ceiling consists of panels painted with the arms of the university.[1]


  1. ^ Alden's Oxford Guide, Oxford: Alden & Co., 1958; p. 18