This Research Guide provides information on where to find diplomatic sources before 1509. In medieval England no single official or institution had overall responsibility for foreign affairs which came within the prerogative of the sovereign; the concept of 'foreignness' did not emerge until the 13th to 14th centuries. There was no Foreign Office as such, but the chancery dealt with the administration of treaties and letters and the Exchequer with the financial aspects of diplomacy. Diplomatic missions were frequently undertaken by the great officers of state or great nobles; it was not until the late 15th century that the idea of permanent representation between states became widely accepted. There was little differentiation between foreign and domestic affairs as part of the business of government.
As a result, documents relating to English external policy can be found in a number of disparate record series, mainly accounts (for the expenses of envoys), diplomatic correspondence (scattered in a number of record series or enrolled in the records of Chancery), and treaties. These documents are usually written in Latin or French using medieval abbreviations. Some of the calendar series described below provide summaries of their contents in English. Very early documentation of the conduct of diplomacy consists of chronicles and various fragments from early Anglo-Norman times, most of which is not held by the National Archives. Diplomatic sources become much fuller with the start of the Chancery enrolments in 1199.
Many diplomatic documents are transcribed, in their original language, in Rymer's Foedera.
2. Chancery enrolments
Chancery enrolments of diplomatic documents can be found in the following series: C 54 Close Rolls, including letters of credence to foreign rulers; C 61 Gascon Rolls, which include treaties, truces and appointments of ambassadors in French lands under English rule; C 64 Norman Rolls, including diplomatic letters patent, writs and treaties between England and the dukes of Brittany and Burgundy; C 66 Patent Rolls, from 1201, including letters of safe conduct, protection, the appointments and powers of ambassadors, and negotiations and general correspondence; C 67 Patent Rolls, Supplementary, 1275-1749; C 70 Roman Rolls; C 71 Scotch Rolls, including letters of safe-conduct, treaties, and material on the Scottish succession and Edward I's diplomacy; C 76 Treaty rolls, which includes enrolments of treaties, letters and other diplomatic material, 1234-1675. Many of them concern the administration of French territory. Treaties could also be enrolled on the other rolls mentioned above.
3. Other Chancery documents
C 47 Chancery Miscellanea, includes a number of documents which are not described in Rymer's Foedera, and all foreign documents which are not letters, petitions or warrants. Bundles 27-32 are the main diplomatic documents; bundles 24-26 concern French possessions of the English kings. Much diplomatic correspondence was issued under the privy and secret seals rather than the great seal in aneffort to increase secrecy. Relevant warrants for diplomatic documents can be found in C 81 Chancery Warrants for the Great Seal, Henry III to Richard III and PSO 1, Warrants for the Privy Seal, Edward III to Henry VIII. Some miscellaneous diplomatic documents survive in the Duchy of Lancaster records: DL 34 Ancient Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, Henry I to Elizabeth I. Most of these date from the 13th and 14th centuries and are a miscellaneous collection of records which were inherited by or acquired by the dukes of Lancaster and includes the treaties of John, Duke of Lancaster, as King of Castile and Leon.
4. Exchequer documents
E 28 Council and Privy Seal records include material on the conduct of foreign affairs, Edward III to Elizabeth I (a Chancery series is in C 49); E 36 Books, Exchequer (Treasury of Receipt); especially E 36/186-192, diplomatic documents Edward II to Henry VIII, and the Registrum Munimentorum (Liber A and B, E 36/275) which contains transcripts temp Edward I of diplomatic documents from John to Edward I; E 30 Diplomatic Documents, Henry I to James I, which includes original treaties, agreements, abstracts of agreements and oaths, diplomatic instructions, and some material relating to foreign loans,  to 1624, as well as notarial instruments, powers to ambassadors to treat, royal letters, and letters of protection and safe conduct. E 30 also contains some of the earliest diplomatic documents to be found in The National Archives. E 39 Scottish Documents, Henry III to Elizabeth I, contains documents of similar type to those in E 30, many of which have been calendared (see below).
Relevant exchequer accounts include: E101, with the accounts for expenses of ambassadors and nuncii (couriers undertaking routine business), mainly, 1251-1616. It also includes the praestita, or accounts of vouchers or imprests issued for the king's service abroad, as well as payments to envoys from abroad; E 159, King's Remembrancer Memoranda Rolls; E 164 King's Remembrancer Miscellaneous Books, Series I, of particular interest for the campaigns of Edward III; E 175 Exchequer and Parliamentary and Council proceedings, Edward I to James I; E 315 which includes the accounts of Calais, 1409-1412 and of Ponthieu and Montreuil; E 361 Enrolled Wardrobe and Household Accounts, 1257 to 1548; E 364 which includes accounts of nuncii and foreign merchants; E 368, Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer Memoranda Rolls, 1217-1835; E 372 Pipe Rolls, which mention the particule compoti of the ambassadors; E 373 Exchequer of Normandy Pipe Rolls, 1180 to 1203; E 405, Receipt and Issue Rolls, 21 Edward I to 1834; E 403 enrolments and registers of issues, Henry III to 1834 and E 404, writs and warrants for issues, Henry II to 1837. The last two series, of the issue side of the Exchequer, include monies paid or impressed to ambassadors.
5. Special collections
This largely artificial group of records from a number sources includes: SC 1 Ancient Correspondence, Henry II to Henry VI, mainly 13th and 14th century in origin and including 'domestic' as well as 'foreign' material; SC 7 Papal Bulls, -1533 which includes documents concerning relations between the papacy, royal government and the ecclesiastical authorities; SC 8 Ancient Petitions, Henry III to James I, which includes petitions from Gascony and other French provinces.
6. Facsimiles, transcriptions and calendars of diplomatic documents
Transcripts of documents held overseas forming part of the records of The National Archives can be found in PRO 31/2, Milan, 1425-1768; PRO 31/8 Germany, Portugal and France, c. 1162-1572; PRO 31/9 Rome, 1066-1815; PRO 31/11 Spain, 1485-1555; PRO 31/14 and PRO 30/25 Venice 1202-1797 and 1224-1877 respectively. Some of these documents relating to Milan and Venice have been calendared for the Medieval period in the following publications: Calendar of State Papers Milan, 1385-1618 and Calendar of State Papers Veneitian, 1202-1509.
7. Published information
Published information about some of the documents described above can be found in: P Chaplais, English Medieval Diplomatic Practice, 2 volumes (London, HMSO, 1975 and 1982) and English Royal Documents, King John-Henry VI, 1199-1461 (Oxford 1971). Relevant calendars include: The Calendar of Close Rolls (56 volumes, covering 1227-1509); The Calendar of Patent Rolls (72 volumes, covering 1216-1578); The Calendar of Treaty Rolls (2 volumes, covering 1234-1325 and 1337-1339); Calendar of Chancery Warrants preserved in the Public Record Office, 1244-1326; J Bain, Calendar of Documents in the Public Record Office relating to Scotland, 1108-1509; W H Bliss, et al; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland (11 volumes, 1893-1921).
Many medieval and early modern diplomatic documents and treaties are transcribed (in their original languages) in Thomas Rymer, Foedera, Conventiones, Literae et Cujuscunque Generis Acta Publica inter Reges Angliae et alios ... (20 volumes, 1727-1735); T D Hardy, ed. Rymer's Foedera: Syllabus in Englishwith Index, 1066-1654 (3 volumes, 1869-1885); J Gairdner, ed., Letters and Papers, Richard III and Henry VII (2 volumes, 1861-1863).
8. Further reading
P Chaplais, 'English diplomatic documents to the end of Edward III's reign', in D A Bullough and R L Storey, The Study of Medieval Records (Oxford, 1971)
Henry S Lucas, 'The Machinery of Diplomatic Intercourse', in J F Willard and W A Morris, eds. The English Government at Work, 1327-1336 (vol. 1, Cambridge, Mass. 1940)
G P Cuttino, English Diplomatic Administration, 1259-1339 (Oxford, 1971)
J Ferguson, English Diplomacy, 1422-1461 (Oxford, 1972)
D E Queller, The Office of Ambassador in the Middle Ages, (Princeton, 1967)
T F Tout, Chapters in the Administrative History of Medieval England (Manchester 1920-1933).