How to look for State papers domestic 1547-1649

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1. Introduction

The state papers domestic are the accumulated papers of the secretaries of state relating to home affairs. They contain information on every facet 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 can also include private and official letters, musters, reports, commissions and instructions, council orders and correspondence, memoranda and draft parliamentary bills.

The state papers were frequently treated as private property by some secretaries of state who incorporated ‘state papers’ into their own private collections. As a result state papers can be found in numerous other archives, most notably the Lansdowne, Harleian and Cottonian collections of the British Library and those at Hatfield House.

2. Principal records series

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

Edward VI, SP 10 (covering 1547-1553), SP 15 (1547-1625)

Mary, SP 11 (1553-1558), SP 15 (1547-1625)

Elizabeth I, SP 12 (1557-1660) SP 13, (1547-1624), SP 15 (1547-1625)

James I, SP 14 (1603-1640), SP 15 (1547-1625)

Charles I, SP 16 (1625-1665), SP 17 (1625-1651)

Calendars of documents in SP 10-SP 13 and SP 15, can be searched using State Papers Online and British History Online, available on the public computers at The National Archives.

Related material can be found amongst the State Papers Scotland (SP 50-SP 53), the Border Papers for the north of England to 1603 (SP 59) and the State Papers Ireland (see State Papers Ireland, 1509-1782). Other related material can be found in PRO 30/5, Carew papers; SP 45, state papers domestic, various, SP 46, state papers domestic supplementary, and SP 38-SP 39 and SP 40, the latter being referred to in the calendars mentioned above.

3. Finding individual papers

References to individual papers can be most easily found by using the printed calendars or summaries of documents which can, using the key at the beginning of each volume, be matched up with a current National Archives reference.

For the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I there is a new calendar which includes the current document reference, namely the Calendar of State Papers Domestic, Edward VI, 1547-1553, and Mary, 1553-1558, ed CS Knighton, (London, 1992 and March 1998): use this rather than the older calendar of Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth I and James I, ed R Lemon, and MAE Green, 12 volumes, (London, 1856-1872) for these reigns. This older series of calendars should be used for the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.

Both omit references to foreign, Irish and Scottish papers, which have their own finding aids. Each volume is fully indexed and can be used to trace individual items as in the following example from the reign of Elizabeth:

For the document reference, look at the key pasted into the front of each calendar. 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 entries without an item number, but with a note in square brackets at the end of the description, check the key, as they are one of several other series. For the state paper domestic series by reign, the piece number is the volume number given at the top of each page converted to Arabic.

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. The calendars refer to a number of other state paper series (including some interregnum papers in SP 21 and SP 23). In using the calendars a similar approach to that described above should be used.

The later papers of the reign of Charles I become less full with the breakdown of traditional government and reflect the change in authority, becoming the archives of the Parliamentary government. When Charles I left London, he transferred the machinery of royalist government with him; as a result there are losses in ‘royalist’ papers and those that survive may be found in private collections elsewhere.

Some sections of the calendars group together particular types of documents in a tabular form, for example army and naval papers, grants and dockets. Their ordering references should be apparent from the key at the front of the volume, although in some cases it may be necessary to consult the separate series lists to find the correct reference.

Most of the state paper covering this period are in English, although there can be documents in Latin or other European languages. They are written in secretary and italic hands; the former may be difficult to read. Dating of the document may be problematic as some mention date and month but not the year and names may be illegible.

4. 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 (CUP Archive, 1976)

Guide reference: Domestic Information Research Guide 16