How to look for Home affairs in the early modern period: state papers domestic 1547-1649

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1. Why use this guide?

This guide tells you:

  • what the state papers domestic 1547-1649 are, and what information they contain
  • how to find state papers at The National Archives and elsewhere
  • which finding aids and websites can help you search the state papers

For state papers domestic for other dates, refer to these guides instead:

For state papers regarding foreign and Irish affairs see the guides:

2. What are the state papers domestic 1547-1649?

The state papers domestic are the accumulated papers of the secretaries of state relating to home affairs.

They contain information on every aspect of early modern government, including social and economic affairs, law and order, religious policy, crown possessions and intelligence gathering as well as some references to foreign policy.

They may also include private and official letters, musters, reports, commissions and instructions, council orders and correspondence, proclamations, memoranda and draft parliamentary bills.

The main series of state papers for this period (by reign) are:

Most state papers from this period are in English, although some are in Latin or other European languages.

They are written in secretary and italic hands which may be difficult to read. You can find help to read the documents on our palaeography tutorials.

Dating the documents may be problematic as some mention dates and months but not the year. Names may be illegible or omitted from the text of letters, but may have been included on the reverse by clerks when they were filed.

3. How can I search the records?

State papers for this period are only searchable by date on Discovery, our catalogue. The main finding aids instead are published calendar which can be used to trace a particular individual, place or subject.

The easiest way to search the calendars is to carry out a keyword search on State Papers Online (institutional subscription required or free to view onsite at The National Archives at Kew). This not only searches the calendars but also display digital scans of most (but not all) of the documents described in the calendar.

The calendars are also available online at British History Online (£).

If you do not have access to these online sources, you can consult the printed version of the calendar of state papers available at The National Archives and in many major reference libraries.

The printed versions have the added benefit of detailed indexes which can provide additional identifying information to help with your search.

More guidance is given below on how to use the printed calendar for records arranged by monarch’s reign.

Some records of state papers exist in other archives; see below.

4. Reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I and James I

Consult the new versions of the calendar for the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I which includes the current National Archives document reference:

Use the older versions of the Calendar of state papers, domestic series, of Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth I and James I, ed R Lemon, and MAE Green, 12 volumes, (London, 1856-1872) if you are searching for records within the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.  This is not straightforward to use. See more guidance in section 6.

All the calendars mentioned omit references to foreign, Irish and Scottish papers, which have their own finding aids.

5. Reign of Charles I

The state papers for the reign of Charles I are described in the Calendar of State Papers Charles I, ed J Bruce, WD Hamilton, SC Lomas, 23 volumes (London, 1858-1897), which covers the years to 1649. For more guidance on how to convert a reference from the calendars of state papers, see below.

The calendars refer to a number of other state paper record series (including some interregnum papers in SP 21 and SP 23). Follow the guidance in section 6 on how to use and convert a reference from the calendars of state papers.

The later papers of the reign of Charles I become less comprehensive with the breakdown of traditional government and reflect the change in authority, becoming the archives of the Parliamentary government as the English Civil Wars developed. When Charles I left London, he transferred his government with him. As a result the ‘royalist’ papers are not complete, and those that survive may be in private collections elsewhere. See section below.

6. How to use the printed calendars

Each volume is fully indexed and can be used to trace individual items, as in the following example from the reign of Elizabeth in section 6.2.

Find the document reference in the key given in section 6.1 below (and pasted into the front of each calendar in the reading rooms).

Any entry in the calendars with an item number should be found in the main series of state papers for that reign (find the series number in roman numerals at the top of the key). For more guidance see the table below on how to convert a reference from the calendars of state papers.

For entries without an item number, but with a note in square brackets at the end of the description, check the key, as they are parts of other series.

For the state papers domestic series, the piece number is the volume number given at the top of each page converted to Arabic numerals.

Some sections of the calendars group together particular types of documents in a tabular form; for example army and naval papers, grants and dockets.  

Modern document references should be apparent from the key at the front of each volume (and given below in section 6.1), although in some cases it may be necessary to consult the catalogue to find the correct document reference.

6.1 Converting a reference from the calendars of state papers

References to individual papers can be located using the printed calendar or document summaries, and matched with a current National Archives document reference using the key at the beginning of each volume or the tables below.

Please note that the newer versions of the calendars for Edward VI and Mary already provide the current National Archives document references.

6.2 Converting references from the calendars for Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I

To establish the modern document reference, the calendars for Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I require a reference conversion, which is usually straightforward.  For calendar entries which are preceded with an item number, the document should be found in the main series for that reign:

Reign Main record series
Edward VI SP 10
Mary I SP 11
Elizabeth I SP 12
James I SP 14
Charles I SP 16

The volume number which appears in roman numerals at the top of every calendar page is the same as the piece (file) number in our catalogue.  For example, an entry in the calendar for Elizabeth I which has item number 36 and is in the section headed Volume XC will be found in SP 12/110, where it should be the 36th item in the volume.

Elizabeth I Volume XC Item 36
= = =
SP 12/ 110 36th item in the volume

Please note that the state papers often have multiple numbering systems which have been added over the years.  An item number may cover several pages and is likely to be handwritten rather than stamped.

In a few cases the calendar entry will not relate to a document in one of these main series. Instead of being preceded by an item number these entries will end with a reference in italics and square brackets, for example [Warrant Book, II, p.189].

In these instances, refer to the following key to establish the current document reference. Where no piece number is specified (replaced by ‘x’ below), browse or search the series listing on our catalogue by date to find the appropriate file.

Old document reference Current National Archives document reference
Adm. Warrant Books SP 12/258
Affairs Etrang, transcripts of PRO 31/3/x
Border Papers SP 59/x
Cases, Eliz. SP 13/x
Cases A-H Charles I SP 17/x
Coll Procs Car I SP 45/10
Coll Sign Man Car I Vol. SP 39/x
Colonial Papers CO 1/x
Conway’s Foreign Letter Book SP 14/214
Conway’s Letter Book SP 38/x
Co[uncil] Reg[isters] PC 2/x
Docquet(s) SP 38/x
Domestic Addenda SP 15/x
Domestic Addenda, Case H / Case Addenda SP 13/H
Dom. Interregnum / Interregnum SP 18/x
Domestic Correspondence SP 46/x
Dom. Jac I SP 14/x
Dom. Miscell. SP 9/12
Dom. (Trade) SP 12/x
Flanders Corresp. SP 77/x
France [Entry Book] SP 104/162
French Correspondence SP 78/x
German Correspondence SP 82/x
Grants of Arms SP 9/1
Grant Book SP 14/141
Holland SP 84/x
Interregnum E SP 21/x
Interregnum G SP 23/x
Ireland, Irish Corresp. SP 63/x
Levant Company SP 105/x
Newspaper Collections SP 9/245
Nicholas’s Letter Book SP 14/215
Spanish Corresp. SP 94/x
SP Dom. Car I SP 16/x
Transcripts from Rome PRO 31/9/x
Trinity House Certificates SP 16/16-17
Warrant Books SP 40/x

Related material may be in:

  • State Papers Scotland, in SP 50– 53
  • Border Papers for the north of England to 1603, in SP 59
  • State Papers Ireland (see our guide State Papers Ireland, 1509-1782)
  • Carew papers, in PRO 30/5 and SP 45
  • State Papers Domestic Various, in SP 46
  • State Papers Domestic Supplementary, in SP 38-39 and SP 40 (referred to in the calendars mentioned above)

For Parliamentary Council of Sate and parliamentary committees see our guide on State papers domestic 1642-1660.

8. Records in other archives

The state papers were frequently treated as private property by secretaries of state, many of whom incorporated them into their private collections on leaving office. Therefore, you may find state papers held elsewhere most notably the Lansdowne, Harleian and Cottonian collections of The British Library and those at Hatfield House.

Try searching our catalogue for any relevant entries in other archives or private collections.

9. Further reading

GE Aylmer, The King’s Servants: the Civil Service of Charles I, 1625-1642 (Columbia University Press, 1961)

GR Elton, The Sources of History: England 1200-1640 (Cambridge University Press, 1976)

Guide reference: Domestic Information Research Guide 16