The Cotton or Cottonian library is a collection of manuscripts once owned by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton MP , an antiquarian and bibliophile. It later became the basis of what is now the British Library, which still holds the collection. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, many priceless and ancient manuscripts that had belonged to the monastic libraries began to be disseminated among various owners, many of whom were unaware of the cultural value of the manuscripts. Cotton's skill lay in finding, purchasing and preserving these ancient documents. The leading scholars of the era, including Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, and James Ussher, came to use Sir Robert's library. Richard James acted as his librarian. The library is of especial importance for sometimes having preserved the only copy of a work, such as happened with Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
At the time of the dissolution of monasteries, official state records and important papers were poorly kept, and often retained privately, neglected or destroyed by public officers. Sir Robert collected and bound over a hundred volumes of official papers. By 1622, his house and library stood immediately north of the Houses of Parliament and was a valuable resource and meeting-place not only for antiquarians and scholars but also for politicians and jurists of various persuasions, including Sir Edward Coke, John Pym, John Selden, Sir John Eliot, Thomas Wentworth.
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