The collection of manuscripts of the Moscow Kremlin Museums numbers a bit more than 1600 exhibits and includes documentary materials from the late XVth to the early XXth century.
The fund itself is rather young. It was formed mainly in 1920s. Before that time the main collection of the Armoury Chamber included only such manuscript rarities that bore a significant state value together with imperial treasures. The documents of this kind are “The approved charter of the 1613 Zemsky Council (elective district council) on the election of Tsar Michael Fyodorovich Romanov to the Royal Throne” and “The charter on the establishment of the Patriarch’s Throne in Russia in 1589”.
A small group of the pre-revolutionary collection exhibits is represented by memorial items that have belonged to individuals. These are some manuscripts of Alexander I: “Notes on Moscow memorabilities” by N.M. Karamzin (1817) and two manuscript books, so called “Sheet on guards and posts”(1820 and 1823) and “The charter conferred on Boyar B.M. Khitrovo”, the fragment of which was saved and brought to the Armoury Chamber from K.A. Naryshkin in 1881.
The rest of the manuscript collection was formed in the 1920s due to the collecting activities of the Armoury Chamber employees.
There are three exhibits in the collection that are connected with the imperial family and belong to the last years of reigning of Nicholas II. These are addresses to Emperor Nicholas II and the heir to the throne Crown Prince commemorating the 300th Anniversary of the Romanov House, the beginning of World War I, and the 1916 Easter Day. They came from the imperial property in the early 1920s.
Ten charters of 1673-1718, conferred on individuals for their great services for the Fatherland, are of a special interest. Solemn and generously ornamented, these charters have hanging red-wax seals, partly enclosed into silver sheaths. The documents assigned partimonial and immunity rights to their owners. The charters belonged to L.S. Shishkov, G. Kondratiev and his sons, A. Tansky, S.L. Vasilchikov, I.L. and G.S. Rimsky-Korsakovs. The charters must have been confiscated by Gokhran (Russian State Treasury) in the 1920s together with collections of artworks. The Armoury Chamber employees managed to take them from Gokhran in 1926.
The largest part of the collection of manuscripts (more than 1500 exhibits) is comprised of letters and manuscripts from the Solovetsky monastery. The documents came to the Armoury Chamber in 1923 after the devastation of the monastery by fire and its conversion into the Solovki prison camp.
For several centuries, the Solovetsky Monastery possessed the right of governance and judgement on the vast territory of Russia, as well as the right to collect custom duties and some other immunity rights. They were granted to the monastery by the Russian rulers and reflected in the special charters. The Vestry collection includes hundreds of such granted charters, some economic documents and several manuscript books, sent to the monastery by the Russian rulers and Church hierarchs during the late XVth – XIXth centuries.
The scientific value of the manuscripts collection of the Moscow Kremlin Museums cannot be overestimated.