Humfrey Wanley

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Wanley holding a cruciform Anglo-Saxon manuscript (Society of Antiquaries)

Humfrey Wanley (21 March 1672 – 6 July 1726) was an English librarian, palaeographer and scholar of Old English, employed by manuscript collectors such as Robert and Edward Harley. He was the first keeper of the Harlein Library,[1] now the Harleian Collection.[2]


Humfrey Wanley, by Thomas Hill, 1722

He was the son of Nathaniel Wanley, born on 21 March 1672 at the Vicarage House adjoining Jesus Hall, Coventry. Starting out as a draper in his home town, he soon tired of this and moved to Oxford University to study in 1695 thanks to his patron William Lloyd, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. There he worked as an assistant at the Bodleian Library until 1700, when he moved to London, where he gained temporary jobs as secretary to the SPCK and assistant to Hans Sloane (Sloane was secretary to the Royal Society, and Wanley was elected a Fellow of it in 1706), before landing a settled job with the Harleys which he held to the end of his life.

Wanley, together with John Bagford and John Talman, was one of three 'founder members' of the reconstituted Society of Antiquaries, which first met at the Bear Tavern on the Strand on 5 December 1707.[3]

Wanley married twice. He died of dropsy on 6 July 1726 and was buried at St Marylebone Church.


Wanley's contributed to the scholarship of Old English literature. His 1705 catalog of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, Antiquae literaturae septentrionalis liber alter. Seu Humphredi Wanleii ... cum totius thesauri linguarum septentrionalium sex indicibus, was of paramount importance in the field. According to Neil Ripley Ker, Wanley was a "great paleographer....His catalogue of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts is a book which scholars will continue to use, or neglect at their peril."[4]


  1. Murphy, Michael (1982). "Humfrey Wanley on How to Run a Scholarly Library". The Library Quarterly. 52 (2): 145–55. doi:10.1086/601202.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "History of the Harley Library". Harley Manuscripts. British Library. Retrieved 8 August 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Sweet, R. (2004) Antiquaries: the discovery of the past in eighteenth-century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; p. 84
  4. Ker, Neil Ripley (1957). Catalogue of manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon. Oxford: Clarendon. p. xiii.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>. The quote is also given by Michael Murphy, "Humfrey Wanley on How to Run a Scholarly Library."

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