Bibliotheca Carolina – Europeana Regia

The Carolingian manuscripts owned by the Bibliothèque nationale de France form one of the richest collections in the world. The nearly 1100 manuscripts from the 8th and 9th centuries and 400 from the 10th century were made in many different centres throughout the realm.

The history of the collection is tied to that of the Royal Library. The manuscripts belonging to the Carolingian rulers were never passed on to their descendents, and were thus not part of the first royal library founded by Charles V, which was housed in the Louvre. The story changes starting in the 16th century: at that time, ancient manuscripts began to draw the attention of scholars, who collected them for their own use or for deposit in the king’s library.

During the French Wars of Religion, a number of religious institutions were destroyed and their collections sold. Many of their treasures entered the king’s library either directly or as donations from private collections.

Further acquisitions of Carolingian manuscripts were made in the following centuries, notably that of the collection of Jean-Baptiste Colbert in 1732, which was particularly rich in books from this period. It was the French Revolution, however, that provided the BnF with the greatest number of manuscripts, confiscated from religious institutions. During the First Empire, manuscripts continued to be seized in the border provinces and abroad. Towards the mid 19th century, this remarkable collection of ancient manuscripts provided a cornerstone for the new Museum of the Monarchy, founded by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte in 1852. Charlemagne’s Evangeliary (BnF NAL 1203), which had been presented to Napoleon I in 1811 at the birth of his son, was exhibited next to the Psalter and First Bible of Charles the Bald.

The Revolution also brought an influx of prestigious ancient manuscripts to several municipal libraries, such as that at Reims, which received collections from the cathedral library and other religious institutions in the vicinity, and Valenciennes, where a large number of manuscripts from the royal abbey Saint-Amand-en-Pevèle are located.

Several other European libraries house collections of manuscripts from major Carolingian religious and intellectual centres, such as the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, which holds the collections from Freising and Regensburg in Bavaria. Similarly, the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel houses a very important and homogeneous collection of manuscripts from Wissembourg Abbey in Alsace.

The manuscripts selected for digitisation within the Europeana Regia project will bring together coherent groups of manuscripts of similar origin in a virtual setting, regardless of where they are housed today