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Public Records




PUBLIC RECORDS. According to the definition of the Record Commissioners appointed at the commencement of this century to report upon the nature of the archives, the national muniments of England constitute four great classes. The first class consists of independent documents relating to various subjects, persons, and places, but making altogether one whole, such as, for instance, Domesday Book, or the Valor Ecclesiasticus of Henry VIII. The second class consists of the series of enrolments, including within one roll great varieties of distinct and separate entries classed according to their formal character, as, for instance, the close rolls and patent rolls, or classed according to their subject-matter, as are the Liberate and the Norman rolls. The third class embraces those records which contain entries of judicial proceedings and those where each subject has a distinct roll; whilst the last class comprises all separate documents, such as letters, inquisitions, privy seals, commissions, and other various descriptions of formal instruments. Sir Edward Coke has given in his signification of the term "record" a briefer and less involved definition; but according to his rendering many important documents would have to be excluded from the list of the national archives. Hence it was decreed, on the passing of the Public Itecords Act (1 and 2 Vict. c. 94), which created the master of the rolls the keeper of the archives, that the word "records" should be taken to mean "all rolls, records, writs, books, proceedings, decrees, bills, warrants, accounts, papers, and documents whatsoever, of a public nature belonging to Her Majesty."

The documents of the once styled Courts of Chancery, Queen’s Bench, Exchequer, and Common Pleas contain the very essence of England’s antiquarian wealth: they constitute most of its bulk, much of its legal importance, and nearly all its historical interest. "The custom of recording documents on rolls of parchment," writes Sir Thomas Hardy, the late deputy-keeper of the public records, "though of very ancient date, commenced nevertheless at a period subsequent to the Conquest; for no vestige can be traced of such a system during the Anglo-Saxon dynasty. ‘Apud Anglo-Saxones,’ says Hickes, ‘etiam mos erat leges regum latas in codicibus monasteriorum. tanquam in tabulas publicas referendi.’ It may be assumed that, had such a plan been then in operation, the same would have been adopted by the Conqueror to perpetuate the survey of the kingdom which he caused to be made, and for the preservation of which he evinced so much zeal and anxiety." As to the precise time when the use of rolls for the entry of matters of business first began there is still considerable doubt. That no rolls of a date antecedent to that of the 31st Henry I. are now in existence is certain. It may therefore be presumed that the practice of enrolling commenced shortly after the Conquest.

Court of Chancery.—Owing to the vast quantity of documents of this court, only the salient points of the principal series of rolls can be dealt with. Among the most important enrolments belonging to this court is the extensive series of documents known as the close rolls or Rotuli Litterarum Clausarum. Upon their well-preserved parchment membranes the historian scans entries relating—to the privileges of peers and commoners in times gone by; to measures employed for the raising of armies and the equipment of fleets; to orders for the observance of treaties, and for the fortification of castles; and to laws innumerable touching the power of the bench, the authority of the church, the extent of the civil jurisdiction, and the prerogatives of the crown. By the help of these rolls the lawyer and antiquary can learn how the coinage of the realm was regulated, how aids and imposts, tollages and subsidies, were raised, how riots and tumults were suppressed, how state prisoners were pardoned, how the writs ran for the summoning of parliaments, what deeds were enrolled between party and party, what facts were deemed worthy of record upon the birth, marriage, and death of royal and noble families; in short, there is little that concerns the naval and military, the civil and ecclesiastical, the legal and diplomatic affairs of the kingdom, which is not to be found upon the yards and yards of parchment which constitute the collection of the close rolls. The origin of the name "close" is due to the fact that the documents composing the series, being of a private nature, were despatched closed or sealed up, and were addressed to one or two persons only. The close rolls begin with the reign of John and continue without interruption to the present time. Since the days of Henry VIII. the entries on these rolls are mostly confined to the enrolments of deeds of bargain and sale, wills of papists, recognizances, specifications of new inventions, and other instruments enrolled for safe custody by warrant from the lord chancellor or master of the rolls. Next in importance, and scarcely second in historical interest, is the series of muniments, dating also from King John to the present day, called the patent rolls. Not a subject connected with the history and government of the country but receives illustration from this magnificent collection. Is a castle besieged by the king, a papal interdict removed by royal supplication, a safe-conduct granted to an unpopular prelate, credence allowed to some court witness, grace shown to a rebellious subject, church lands bestowed on begging clerg , negotiations entered into with foreign princes, powers of ambassadors regulated, lands, offices, and wardships granted to public bodies or private persons, titles of nobility created, charters confirmed, proclamations drawn up, licences to hold, sell, and marry, commands to do fealty and homage,—all, whether relating to political, social, ecclesiastical, or commercial life, are to be found recorded on the membranes of the "litterae patentes." With the exception of a few gaps in the reigns of John and Henry III. the letters-patent extend without break or flaw from the year 1200 to our own day. Unlike the close rolls, they are unsealed and exposed to view, hence their name. The third great class of records belonging to the Court of Chancery consists of the "parliament rolls" ; these, however, are far from being a perfect collection, as many of the documents containing the proceedings of various parliaments are hopelessly lost. The series begins with the 6th Edward I. and extends, though with frequent breaks, to Henry VIII. As the journals of the House of Lords do not commence till the reign of Henry VIII., it is only from the parliament rolls that proof can be obtained of a peer having sat in parliament previous to that period; such proof is always requisite in claims to an ancient barony by writ. When complete these rolls contain entries of the various transactions which took place from the opening to the close of each parliament. Unfortunately many of the lost rolls belong to those parliaments which are of the greatest importance for the history of the constitution. The enrolments, of Acts of Parliament, however, are of considerable help in the investigation of English parliamentary history and constitute a most important supplement to the parliament rolls. They begin with Richard III. and continue to 1849, when enrolments ceased and Acts printed on vellum were substituted. Space forbids us to enter into details respecting the other important collections belonging to the Chancery records. We only allude briefly to the charter rolls, which consist of grants of privileges to religious houses and bodies corporate, and which extend froin John to Henry VIII., in which reign grants from the crown were entered on the patent rolls; the coronation rolls, which contain the commissions and proceedings of the commissioners appointed to hear and determine claims of service to be performed at coronations, as well as the oaths taken by the king or queen when crowned—this collection, with the exception of the coronation rolls of Charles I. and George III., which are wanting, is perfect from James I. to Victoria; the fine rolls, consisting of accounts of fines paid to the king for licences to alienate lands, for freedom from knight service, for pardons, wardships, and the like, which also begin with John and go down to Charles I.; the French and Norman rolls, which relate to transactions in France whilst the English held part of that country; the oblata rolls, consisting of accounts of the offerings and free gifts to the sovereign from his subjects; and the valuable inquisitions post-mortem, frequently but erroneously referred to as escheat rolls, taken on the death of every tenant of the crown. Then in addition to these there are the hundred rolls, the decree rolls, the royal letters, the cartae antiquae, the privy seals and signet bills, the subsidy rolls, the Irish, Scotch, and Welsh rolls, the Almain rolls, and numerous other classes of document which it is impossible to catalogue or describe within the limits of a general review of the English archives. Suffice it to say that every class of records is carefully arranged for public inspection and that full and clear indices render research a matter of little difficulty.





Court of Queen’s Bench.—As this court takes cognizance of both civil and criminal causes, the former on the crown side and the latter on the plea side of the court, the records are arranged in the two sections, crown side and plea side. Of these records the most important are the judgment or plea rolls. From the time of Richard I. to the year 1702 they were united with the crown rolls, but at that date they were separated. The plea rolls contain the general proceedings in causes, but the modern rolls are very defective owing to the neglect of attorneys in bringing the records in. The crown rolls are composed of indictments, informations, and other similar proceedings to which parties have pleaded. Another division of the judgment rolls contains the controlment rolls, which comprise minutes of all the principal proceedings in crown causes, with numerical references to the judgment rolls, where the proceedings are entered at length. Apart from the plea rolls the remaining records of this court are of little general interest. Among their number we may notice the attorney’s oath roll, containing the oaths required to be subscribed by attorneys on their admission, the "baga de secretis," containing proceedings on attainders (of great interest to the historian), the contents of which have been admirably reported upon by Sir Francis Palgrave, the enrolment of bails, proceedings in outlawry, the jail delivery rolls, and a mass of indictments, recognizances, and other similar documents. The prayer book known as the sealed copy of the "Book of Common Prayer" pursuant to statute 14 Charles II. is also among the records of the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Court of Common Pleas.—This court contains a far richer collection than the Court of Queen’s Bench, and from the nature of its jurisdiction the documents possess great interest for the genealogist and topographer. Foremost among them is the valuable collection of "feet of fines or final concords," which date from Henry II. to the year 1834, when fines and recoveries were abolished and "more simple modes of assurance substituted." "The utility of these records," says the Report of the House of Commons’ committee on the state of the public records, "to all persons desirous of tracing property and pedigree is unquestionable." Fines contain the proceedings which have been adopted to convey estates and to free them from their entail to issue and from the dower of wives. Thus we are able to learn the name of the freeholder levying the fine, and if he was married the name of his wife and often of his children, the position and value of his estate, and not unfrequently something about his ancestors. Yet perhaps the chief value of this class of records is that they prove marriages and their issue at a time when parochial registers were not in existence. Few documents show so unbroken a succession from so early a date as these "pedes finium." The king’s Silver Office books are the chief indexes to the fines, but they suffered greatly from the fire at the king’s Silver Office in the Temple in March 1838. The recovery rolls (since 1834 continued under the name of "disentailing assurances" on the close rolls) also constitute another important supplement to the study of the pedes finium. Next to the collection of fines may be classed the judgment rolls of this court, or, as they are more commonly designated, the "de banco" rolls. They formerly consisted of two parts, the "communia placita" or personal plea rolls, and the "placita terrae," or pleas of lands and deeds enrolled; but after the reign of Elizabeth the latter became distinct rolls, containing the king’s silver and fines, assizes, deeds enrolled, and all real actions. The judgment rolls pass through three stages—first, they are plea rolls; then, when the parties join issue, issue rolls; and lastly, when judgments are entered upon them, judgment rolls. The recording of the judgments has, however, been very much neglected, for many of the judgments, instead of being entered on the plea or issue rolls, have been entered on separate pieces of parchment, and thus have given rise to certain distinct bundles called "riders," in which such entries are contained.

Court of Exchequer.—This collection contains next to that of the Court of Chancery the most interesting and valuable series of documents among the English public records. The most important and most prominent series is that of the great rolls of the Exchequer, otherwise called the pipe rolls. [Footnote 312-1] As with the close and patent rolls, so with the rolls of the pipe, it is difficult to state what is and what is not entered upon their membranes. Everything which in former times went to swell the revenues of the crown—rents of various kinds, fines, amercements, profits of lands and tenements, and the like—is to be found enrolled upon them. The accounts of the ancient revenue of the crown, digested under the heads of the several counties and annually written out in order to the charging and discharging of the sheriffs and other accountants, are also to be seen upon their membranes. If a great man was outlawed, his goods seized, his daughter married or made a ward, the account thereof can be read in the pipe rolls. To the pedigree-hunter these records are particularly useful, since they contain the names of most men of property; while to the county historian they are invaluable. Few of the English national archives boast a more uninterrupted succession than the great rolls of the Exchequer. Beginning in the second year of Henry II., they continue to the present time with but two gaps—the rolls of the first year of Henry III. and of the seventh year of Henry IV. Of the latter of these missing rolls the antigraph or roll made by the chancellor’s scribe is still in existence and supplies the place of the lost roll. At the beginning of this series there is a roll which was long looked upon as that of the first year of Henry II., or by some antiquaries as belonging to the fifth year of Stephen; but recent criticism seems to establish the fact that it is a roll of the 31st year of Henry I.,—the earliest national document, save Domesday, of any extent that now exists. Another important class of documents belonging to the Court of Exchequer and stored with a variety of information upon secular and religious matters is the memoranda rolls, which extend from Henry III. to the middle of the present century. These rolls contain enrolments of all the weighty business done in the offices of the queen’s and lord treasurer’s remembrancer. Upon their membranes the inquirer will read how writs ran for the recovery of debts due to the crown, how commissions were appointed to seize estates attainted or forfeited to the crown, bow goods were seized in the various ports of England for the non-payment of customs, how the accounts of sheriffs and escheators were settled with the Exchequer, how cities and boroughs made claim to special privileges, and how the numerous proceedings in equity on English informations and bills were conducted. The "brevia regia" endorsed on the memoranda rolls are the most ancient writs of that description in the kingdom; in the earlier periods they assume the shape of letters and contain various wishes of the sovereigns. To the antiquary and historian the collection of archives called "originalia rolls," which extend from Henry III. to William IV., is of great service. They not only throw considerable light upon the manners and customs in vogue in the 13th and 14th centuries, but also record the descent of lands, questions relating to crown revenues and feudal tenures, the appointment of various commissions for different purposes of investigation, and other similar entries. The importance of the originalia rolls is also increased from the fact that they contain numerous extracts from early rolls now no longer in existence.





Among the documents of the ancient Exchequer there is much to interest the purely ecclesiastical historian in the collection of ministers’ accounts of the issues and profits of monastic lands in the hands of the crown; in the pensions granted to abbots and others upon the dissolution of the monasteries, now enrolled among the records of the Augmentation Office; in the accounts of monasteries contained in the chartularies, the account books of first-fruits and tenths; in the taxation rolls which regulated the taxes as well to the kings as to the popes until the survey of Henry VIII. ; in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of Henry VIII., which contains surveys of archbishoprics, bishoprics, abbeys, monasteries, and the like throughout the kingdom; in the visitations of religious houses; and in the Wolsey books. To the antiquary pure and simple the collection in the Exchequer which records the history of knights’ service is perhaps the most interesting. The number of knights’ fees throughout the kingdom was 60,215, of which the clergy had 28,015; but, as in process of time it became a doubtful question whether lands were held by knight’s service or by some other tenure, inquisitions were held and each baron had to return to the king an account of what he held. Such accounts comprise the early history of landed property, with the names of the owners and the extent of the estates. For information on this subject the three great authorities are the Black and Red Books of the Exchequer, the scutage rolls, and the subsidy rolls; the Liber Niger Scaccarii, or Liber Niger Parvus as it is sometimes called, compiled by Gervase of Tilbury, nephew to Henry II., in the twenty-second year of that king’s reign, is the most ancient of these. It contains a list of knights’ fees of the time of Henry II., and in many of the returns there appear family names and particulars of the parents, children, wives, and occupiers of the land as well as of tenants in capite. In this book there are also various treaties of the same king, four bulls of Pope Alexander III., and the constitution of the royal household during the reign of Henry II. The Red Book is somewhat similar to the Liber Niger, and contains among other entries the oaths of the different officers of the Court of Exchequer; the Dialogus de Scaccario (formerly ascribed to Gervase of Tilbury, but clearly proved by Madox to have been written by Richard FitzNigel, at one time treasurer of the Exchequer, who held the see of London from 1189 to 1198); numerous short memoranda, .&c., for the instruction and use of the officials; and collections of knights’ fees and serjeanties of the reigns of Henry II., Richard I., John, and Henry III. Many of its entries are also in the Black Book. The scutage rolls, which begin in the reign of Edward I., contain the pecuniary satisfaction paid by each knight in lieu of the personal attendance upon his sovereign that was required of him. This satisfaction was called "scutagium" or "servitium scuti" (service of the shield), and in Norman-French "escuage," from écu, a shield. The assessment was, however, so arbitrary that it was decreed by Magna Charta that no scutage should be imposed without consent of parliament. The subsidy rolls record the fifteenths and tenths, &c., granted by parliament to the crown. In addition to the above are the marshals’ rolls, which contain an account of the military service due from great tenants to the king on the eve of a war, the "testa de Nevil," and the solitary roll called the constable’s roll. Among the more important documents belonging to the ancient Exchequer collection, concerning which space forbids us to particularize, are the records of the Augmentation Court, full of valuable matter to the church historian, the court rolls of manors possessed by the crown, the voluminous series of bills and answers, the collection of special commissions, the golden bull of Clement VII. conferring the title of "Defender of the Faith" upon Henry VIII., hearth-money accounts, the Jews’ rolls, the vast collection of crown leases, the recusant rolls, and the very curious wardrobe accounts.

Obsolete Courts.—In addition to the various records which have been alluded to belonging to the Courts of Chancery, Queen’s Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer, there is a large class of documents which appertain to obsolete courts, and many of which are of great historical value. The most important of this class are the archives belonging to the Star Chamber, the Court of Chivalry, the Court of Requests, the Court of Wards and Liveries, and the Marshals Court. The muniments of the duchy of Lancaster and also those of the abolished courts of the palatinate of Durham are now among the archives of the Record Office. An account of Domesday Book has already been given (see DOMESDAY BOOK). The amalgamation of the State Paper Office in 1854 with the Record Office has been the means of rendering the series of the English national archives an almost complete collection. With the exception of certain manuscripts in the British Museum and in a few public libraries, most of the public muniments of the realm are now placed in one repository and under the supervision of the master of the rolls.

Upon the subject of the public records Sir Francis Palgrave, under whose auspices as deputy keeper the public muniments were brought together under one roof, writes as follows:—

"Whether we consider them in relation to antiquity, to continuity, to variety, to extent, or to amplitude of facts and details they have no equals in the civilized world. For the archives of France, the most perfect and complete in Continental Europe, do not ascend higher than the reign of St Louis, and compared with ours are stinted and jejune ; whereas in England, taking up our title (so to speak) from Domesday, the documents placed under the custody of the master of the rolls contain the whole of the materials for the history of this country in every branch and under every aspect, civil, religious, political, social, moral, or material from the Norman Conquest to the present day."

History.—In consequence of the neglect and indifference from which the national archives suffered before being housed in their present quarters, it is as much a matter for wonder as for congratulation that any of them are still in existence. In the earlier periods the records of the courts were preserved in the palace of the king; but, when the law courts became stationary and were held within the precincts of the royal palace, instead of following the sovereign from place to place, all legal documents remained in the custody of their respective courts. On the business of the country increasing, the records began to assume such vast proportions that further accommodation had to be obtained. Gradually three warehouses for the custody of public documents came into existence. The records of the King’s Bench and Common Pleas were removed to the palace at Westminster, to the old chapter-house, and to the cloister of the abbey of Westminster, and thus laid the foundation of the well-known "chapter-house repository." Towards the end of the reign of Richard I., the Court of Chancery becoming separated from that of the Exchequer, the wardrobe in the Tower of London was used as the chief place of deposit for all Chancery documents, and thus the Record Office in the Tower sprang up. It had been the custom of the earlier masters of the rolls to keep the records of their courts in their private houses; but after the reign of Edward IV. these documents were lodged in what is now styled the "chapel of the rolls," but which was then known as the "domus conversorum Judaeorum," or the house for converted Jews and infidels which bad been annexed to the office of the master of the rolls in ihe reign of Edward III.; an office was subsequently attached to the chapel, and thus arose the record depository known as the "rolls chapel office." For many years these three places of deposit—the chapter-house, the Tower, and the rolls chapel office—constituted the chief repositories for public records ; but, as the accommodation that these buildings offered was limited, rooms in private houses, vacant vaults, and even stables had to be taken by the ministers of the day for the storing of the ever-increasing archives. Little care was, however, paid to the preservation of the parchments. They were put into houses and forgotten ; their various removals were most carelessly superintended ; and they were often left a prey to the pilferings of the curious. Now and again a sovereign or a secretary of state turned his attention to the disgraceful condition in which the muniments of the kingdom were preserved and a sweeping reform was announced ; but more important matters always appear to have shelved the subject. In 1567 Queen Elizabeth was informed of the confused and perilous state of the records of her parliament and her chancery, and orders were given for rooms to be prepared in the Tower for the reception of these parchments, Her Majesty declaring that "it was not meet that the records of her chancery, which were accounted as a principal measure of the treasure belonging to herself and to her crown and realm, should remain in private houses and places for doubt of such danger and spoil as theretofore had happened to the like records in the time of Richard II. and Henry VI." This order was, however, never executed. On the accession of Charles II., William Prynne, then keeper of the records in the Tower, implored the king "to preserve these ancient records not only from fire sword, but water, moths, canker, dust, cobwebs, for your own and your kingdom’s honour and service, they being such sacred reliques, suxh peerless jewels that your noble ancestors have estimated no places so fit to preserve them in as consecrated chapels or royal treasuries and wardrobes where lay up their sacred crowns, jewels, robes; and that upon very good grounds, they being the principal evidences by which they held, supported, defended their crowns, kingdoms, revenues, prerogatives, and their subjects, their respective lands, lives, liberties, properties, franchises, rights, laws." This earnest appeal was not urged before it was required. On his appointment to office Prynne made an inspection of the records under his custody. He found them "buried together in one confused chaos, dust, and filth in the dark corners of Caesar’s chapel in the White Tower." He employed soldiers and women to remove and cleanse them, "who soon growing weary of this noisome work left them as foul, dusty, and nasty as they found them." He then begged the aid of the clerks of his department, but these officials, "being unwilling to touch the records for fear of fouling their fingers, spoiling their clothes, endangering their eyesight and healths by their cankerous dust and evil scent," declined the task. To the energetic Prynne the labour of methodizing the papers in his charge seemed hopeless ; he saw them in confused heaps hidden here and scattered there and destitute of anything approaching to an index. He lamented that it would require "Briareus his hundred hands, Argus his hundred eyes, and Nestor’s centuries of years to marshal them into distinct files and make exact alphabetical tables of the several things, names, places, comprised in them." Still nothing was done to remedy the evils complained of . Addresses were presented to parliament upon the subject; reports were drawn up and committees frequently sat; but it was not until the beginning of this century that a complete and satisfactory investigation of the public records was entered into. In the summer of 1800 a very able report upon the state of the archives was drawn up; and a commission was appointed "to methodize, regulate, and digest the records." But the commission directed its attention exclusively to the printing of antiquarian matter, and nothing was attempted for the better preservation of the archives. Dissatisfaction arose, and a select committee of the House of Commons was appointed to inquire into the working of the Record Commission. The result of its sittings was the passing of a special Act of Parliament, which placed the public records in the custody and under the superintendence of the master of the rolls for the time being, and directed the treasury forthwith to provide a suitable building. In 1851 the foundations of the present Record Repository were laid, and seven years afterwards the public records were removed from their different places of deposit and housed in their new quarters, where they are now most carefully preserved.

The history of the custody of the state papers which run from Henry VIII. to the present time is but a repetition of the neglect and ill-treatment which the public records had to endure. When they first began to be preserved they were locked up in chests, then confined in the larder of the privy seal, then lodged in the tower over the gateway of Whitehall Palace, then transferred to the upper floor of the lord chamberlain’s lodgings, then despatched to an old house in Scotland Yard ; and it was not till 1833 that the State Paper Office in St James’s Park was specially erected for their accommodation. Twenty years later it was deemed advisable by the Government of the day to amalgamate the state papers with the public records; the State Paper Office was therefore pulled down and its contents transferred to the repository in Fetter Lane. On making a careful examination of the state of the documents, it was found that many of them had "greatly suffered from vermin and wet," and that the list of those which had been stolen or had strayed from the collection was no small one. Theft and destruction for private ends appear to have been the two chief agents of mischief. During the reign of Henry VIII. many of the despatches were appropriated by Lord St Albans and Lord Cherbury, to whom they were entrusted. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth most of the private business papers of Her Majesty, especially her letters on matters of secret importance, came into the hands of the earl of Leicester and finally into the possession of his secretary and his descendants; and, "though they were ultimately recovered, a great part had perished by time and the distraction of the wars, &c.; being left in England during the Rebellion, many had been abused to the meanest purposes." Upon the outbreak of the Civil War the king’s payers from he time he was in the north till the surrender of Oxford were designedly burned ; whilst "a fair cabinet of the king’s, full of papers of a very secret nature, which had been left by the king upon his retirement to the Scots amongst which were thought to be all the queen’s letters to the king and things of a very mysterious nature," was also destroyed. In the turbulent days of the Commonwealth Bradshaw, in his capacity as president of the council, managed to obtain possession "of divers books, treaties, papers, and records of state," some of which, in spite of all the efforts of Charles II., were not regained. At the Restoration "all the papers of state during the time of the usurpation remained in Thurloe’s hands, and Sir Samuel Morland advised a great minister to have them seized, being then privately in four great deal desks ; but for reasons left to be judged, that minister delayed to order it, and Thurloe had time to burn them that would have hanged a great many, and he certainly did burn them except some principal ones culled out by himself." During the reign of Charles II. various papers were sent out of the country to The Hague and Sweden for the convenience of ambassadors, many of which were never returned. Indeed so carelessly did ministers watch their own documents that a treaty concluded with Holland in 1654 was bought at an auction, and the original treaty with Portugal in the same year was found on a stall in the street. Within almost a comparatively recent date there were instances of documents sent out of the State Paper Office which were never returned,—a fact which may account for many of the purely official papers to be found in the manuscript collections of private individuals.

In spite, however, of past thefts and negligence, the state papers, like the public records, are a most wealthy and valuable collection. Their contents were considered so important that at one time it was a matter of the greatest difficulty for any outsider to obtain access to them. The keeper of the state papers was bound by oath "to let no man see anything in the office of His Majesty’s papers without a warrant from the king." He was also "tied by a strict oath and by His Majesty’s commands to deliver nothing out of the office unless to the lords and others of the council." During the whole history of the State Paper Office the keeper never had power to grant on his own authority leave to consult the papers; such permission could only be obtained from the secretary of state, to whose office the documents belonged. Among the persons fortunate enough to have this favour accorded them, we find that in 1670 Evelyn was lent several documents which related to Holland ; that in 1679 Dr Gilbert Burnet was permitted by warrant "from time to time to have the sight and use of such papers and books as he shall think may give him information and help in finishing his history of the Reformation of the Church of England"; and that in the same year Prince Rupert made a personal request to the king on behalf of Roger L’Estrange, who was writing a history of the Civil War in England. In later times permission was more freely given, though the "library of MSS." was still most vigilantly guarded and applications were more often refused than granted. As an instance of the strictness with which the state papers were preserved, we find that as late as 1775 Lord North, though he was then prime minister, had to beg the king’s permission to have free access to all correspondence in the Paper Office; and that in 1780 it was necessary for the Ordnance Office to have permission to search the Paper Office for any documents that regarded their department. These restrictions have now been entirely removed, thanks to the late Lord Romilly; when he was master of the rolls, the public records were thrown open to the public free of all the charges that were formerly demanded for investigation, whilst the same liberal course has been pursued with regard to the state papers down to the year 1760. After that date special permission has to be obtained. Calendars and indexes of the public records are annually published in the appendices to the reports of the deputy-keeper of the public records. Large volumes—entitled Calendars of State Papers—consisting of condensations of the documents in the Public Record Office and elsewhere from the days of Henry VIII. to the 18th century are now in course of publication.

See Sir T. D. Hardy, Introduction to the Close and Patent Rolls; Fine Rolls, ed. C. Roberts; Feet of Fines, ed. Joseph Hunter; Thomas Madox, History and Antiquities of the Exchequer; Great Roll of the Pipe, ed. Joseph Hunter; the Record Report of 1800; Noel Sainsbury, "The State Paper Office," in the deputy-keeper’s Thirtieth Report (Appendix); A. C. Ewald, Our Public Records. (A. C. E.)


Footnotes

312-1 In 1883 was founded the Pipe Roll Society, which has for its object the printing of the entire series of pipe rolls frorn the reign of Henry II.



The above article was written by: A. C. Ewald, F.S.A., Public Record Office, London.



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