The collection of documents published as Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, ed. J S Brewer, J Gairdner, and R H Brodie, (22 volumes, London 1862-1932), contains information on every facet of early modern government, including social and economic affairs, law and order, religious policy (including the dissolution of the monasteries), crown possessions and intelligence gathering as well as some references to foreign policy. Types of document include private and official letters (mainly in-coming), reports and instructions, treaty papers, memoranda, Council minutes and draft parliamentary bills. The early state papers are those of Henry VIIIs chief ministers (not necessarily secretaries of state), including Wolsey and Cromwell. Later ministers tended to take papers into retirement or allowed them to stay on in public custody. As a result state papers can be found in private collections held outside The National Archives, most notably the Lansdowne, Harleian and Cottonian collections of the British Library and those at Hatfield House.
2. The main series
The main series of state papers of Henry VIII are: SP 1 Letters and Papers Henry VIII, General Series, 1509-1547, which are bound volumes of miscellaneous public and private letters in date order; SP 2 Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, Folios, 1516-1539, similar papers but in a larger format (and less well described); SP 4 Signatures by Stamp, Henry VIII, 1545-1547, which are documents issued under the king's stamped signature, and SP 6 Theological Tracts Henry VIII. Other relevant state paper series include: SP 3, Lisle papers, 1533-1540, the papers of Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle, as deputy of Calais under Henry VIII; SP 5 , Miscellanea relating to the Dissolution of the Monasteries and to the General Surveyors, Henry VIII, 1517-1560 and SP 7 Wriothesley papers, 1536-1540, mainly letters to Thomas Wriothesley when clerk of the signet and secretary to Cromwell.
Most of the state papers for the reign of Henry VIII are in English, although there can be letters and accounts in Latin. They are written in a mixture of secretary and italic hands that can be difficult to read without practice. Dating may sometimes present problems, as some documents are identified only by day and month but not by year and personal names may be illegible. SP 1 to SP 7 can be searched using State Papers Online and British History Online, available on the public computers at The National Archives.
The calendars of Letters and Papers contain short summaries of documents (not all of them in SP series), which, since they were produced before the modern reference system, provide an obsolete reference to the document in the left hand margin. Many of the documents mentioned in these works are not held by the National Archives at all; a separate file provides a key to all the marginal references which may to be published works or original manuscripts kept elsewhere. The calendars refer to documents from a very large number of record series in The National Archives besides the state papers; full details of these are given in another series of keys. However, the calendars of Letters and Papers do not include all material from the Henrician period that may be in the National Archives; readers should look for further details using the National Archives guides and series lists. Modern keys going directly to the current reference cover the first few volumes of the Letters and Papers; older keys are currently in use for the other volumes. The summaries contained in Letters and Papers, although not the keys are available to search using British History Online.
4. Converting the references
As a general principle, all references in the left hand column of the Calendar with the prefix 'RO' are in The National Archives; other references are to state papers held elsewhere and to published works which can be identified using the separate folder which provides a key to annotations. The following examples show how the two keys work:
4.1 Newer key typeWhen using a Calendar entry from volume 1 of the Letters and Papers, (1513) note the entry number and the references on the left hand side. If these include the letters 'RO' it indicates that The National Archives holds the document. The references following can be identified using the Key to Marginal References; for example 'Ellis' refers to a published work, whose full title is given in the key. Volume 1 has fuller references than other volumes.
To find the modern reference of the document turn to the separate key for volume 1 of the Letters and Papers. The key provides the modern document reference to individual entries and the folio or membrane number needed for identification.
4.2 Older key typeThe older keys require a slightly different procedure:
For example, if consulting the Calendar entry for Letters and Papers, XI, 766, note the entry number and consult the separate key for volume XI, looking for the appropriate entry number. This describes the type of document (e.g. SP Henry VIII 108, followed by the folio or page numbers). To find the modern reference for 'SP Henry VIII', turn to the pasted in sheets at the front of the key. These show the first part of the prefix, e.g. SP 1. Putting the two together, the full reference of the document is SP 1/108, pp 178-181.
There are also separate sections on the calendars, equivalent to the Calendars of Patent Rolls for other reigns, relating to grants (these are usually indicated by a 'g' or grant in the index entries). The documents referred to in these sections can be found in C 66 for enrolled grants (shown by the reference Pat. in the entry) and in C 82 for those denoted by the letters SB (signed bill) and PS (privy seal) in the entries. In both these cases look at the separate series lists for the full reference.