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Early modern history (British & W European c. 1500-c. 1800): Manuscripts & archives

Printed Ephemera: 1700-1815

The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera is a treasure trove for those interested in British history from 1700-1815.

However, material can be difficult to find. Check out the guide.

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Finding aids & catalogues

Bodleian Library:

  • Quarto catalogues [SpColl RR R.Ref.722]
  • Online Catalogue of Western Manuscripts
  • A summary catalogue of western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford which have not hitherto been catalogued in the Quarto series. 7 vols. (Oxford, 1895-1953)  [SpColl RR X.Cat.1]

British Library

Cambridge University Library: Janus: manuscript online catalogue

Catalogues of manuscripts of other libraries (e.g. Bibliothèque Nationale, Folger, etc.) [Weston Library: R.Cat.]

National inventory of documentary sources in the UK & Ireland (NIDS) [microfiches]. (Chadwyck-Healey, 1984). [Search SOLO.] NIDS is a major national reference work that reproduces on microfiche the finding aids to thousands of archive and manuscript collections in more than 120 libraries and record offices, museums and private collections throughout the UK and Ireland. Using NIDS, researchers in their own libraries can pinpoint the collections containing documents of interest to them thereby saving time and money and making visits to repositories much more rewarding. Furthermore, NIDS can also help users uncover neglected resources in collections which are often overlooked.

National Archives Discovery: includes searching National Register of Archives, Access to Archives, etc. NRA records contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records that relate to British history.

ARCHON. Directory includes contact details for record repositories in the United Kingdom and also for institutions elsewhere in the world which have substantial collections of manuscripts noted under the indexes to the National Register of Archives.

Archives Hub

List & Index Society (Series) [Check SOLO]. Some 240+ titles catalogued separately in SOLO. Aims to provide photographic copies of unprinted lists and indexes kept in the Public Record Office, London, and of other unprinted guides and aids to the use of public archives in the British Isles. Publications include lists, texts, editions and tabulations of historical manuscripts. Also continues publication of some of the key series of government documents, notably the Calendar of Patent Rolls. It is currently publishing transcripts of the medieval customs accounts and calendars of such little known but key series as HO 47, Judges’ Reports on Criminals 1783 to 1830. Recent publications include medieval royal witness lists and itineraries, and gazetteers of early Tudor taxation and medieval markets and fairs. Index of publications available online.

ArchiveGrid. ArchiveGrid is an important destination for searching through historical documents, personal papers, and family histories held in archives around the world. Thousands of libraries, museums, and archives have contributed nearly a million collection descriptions to ArchiveGrid. Researchers searching ArchiveGrid can learn about the many items in each of these collections, contact archives to arrange a visit to examine materials, and order copies.

Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts: Guide to Reports [URR K3.550]. Includes Index of Places and Index of Persons. In its earlier days its work consisted in surveying and publishing reports on collections mainly in private hands - those of individuals, families, estates, corporations and other bodies. These reports, published as parliamentary papers, were supplemented from 1885 by a series of octavo calendars, such as those of the Cecil papers at Hatfield House or the records of the House of Lords. These reports and calendars, together with their published indexes, are, despite their fairly obvious limitations and deficiencies, still in regular and frequent use by historians, and particularly by political historians of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Archives in Oxford

Bodleian Library's Early modern papers website

State papers 1560-1700

The Bodleian Library is a major centre for the study of 17th century history as it holds several major collections of state papers, mainly acquired before 1750. Together they form a remarkably rich source for the study of the Civil War, Interregnum and Restoration periods in British and Irish history. The papers of John Thurloe (d. 1668), Secretary of State to both Oliver and Richard Cromwell, are to be found among the Rawlinson manuscripts, where there are also to be found late 17th century Navy Board and Admiralty papers of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703). The Tanner manuscripts include the papers of William Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons 1640-55, 1659-60, and also those of William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury 1678-90. The Carte papers contain the archive of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland three times between 1644 and 1685, as well as papers of William FitzWilliam, Governor of Ireland 1571-5, 1588-94. The Clarendon manuscripts comprise the papers of Edward Hyde (1609-74), 1st Earl of Clarendon, Chancellor to Charles II. These collections have been supplemented by the papers of Sir John Bankes (1589-1644), attorney-general to Charles I.

Political papers 1700-1820

The Library's 18th and early 19th century historical papers, while not as extensive as those for the 17th century, are of great interest in a number of fields. The papers of the North family include those of Francis North, 1st Earl of Guilford (1704-90), containing much on the politics of the Court and the borough. The collection also includes about 60 volumes of official and financial papers of his son Frederick, Lord North (1732-92), the Prime Minister. The Harcourt family papers include the correspondence of Simon, 1st Earl Harcourt (1714-77), courtier and politician, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1772-7; and George Simon Harcourt, 2nd Earl Harcourt (1736-1809), including many letters from the royal family, and political and cultural figures.

The papers of the Tucker family of Dorset represent a different strand of 18th-century politics. The papers include much on local politics, the Portland stone business, and other mercantile interests of the family.

Estate papers 1500-1800

Many of the families mentioned above owned extensive estates, with records of ownership stretching back into the Middle Ages. The North, Harcourt and Dashwood family papers have particularly complete collections of estate records.

War and peace, 1640-1815

Britain's relationship with other European states is represented in extensive holdings of diplomatic papers. There is much among the state papers of the 17th century mentioned above. Later accessions include numerous small groups of papers relating to the diplomacy that ended the War of the Spanish Succession, adding to a large collection of papers of John Robinson (1650-1723), and plenipotentiary for the peace negotiations at Utrecht to be found among the Rawlinson manuscripts. The papers of the Earls of Clarendon of the 2nd creation (Clarendon dep.) include those of Thomas Villiers (1709-86), 1st Earl of Clarendon, envoy to Saxony-Poland, Austria and Prussia, 1738-46. Another larger diplomatic collection is that of William Henry van Nassau van Zuylestein, 4th Earl of Rochford (1717–81), envoy to Turin 1749-55. The papers of James Bland Burges (1752-1824) include his correspondence with envoys all over Europe and in the United States as under-secretary at the Foreign Office during the revolutionary upheavals in France, 1789-95.

The state paper collections contain a great deal about military operations during the Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland 1638-53. The Carte manuscripts include detailed accounts of the war that followed the Irish Rebellion of 1641 in the correspondence of James Butler, later 1st Duke of Ormond, who at that time was commander of the royal army in Ireland.

Britain's military contribution to the Napoleonic Wars is encompassed by some notable collections relating to the Peninsular War. The Napier family papers include correspondence of Sir William Napier (1785-1870) relating to his controversial History of the War in the Peninsula (1828-40), including letters and memoranda from army officers, and information supplied by among others the Duke of Wellington. The North family collection includes papers of General (Charles) William Doyle (1770-1842) who acted as a liaison officer to various Spanish Juntas 1808-11.