This is a brief guide to help you find records of medieval political history. The National Archives holds important collections relating to the political life of this period.
Many of the most important medieval records have been published, or have detailed lists and indexes. However, they are not all catalogued and indexed, and some may therefore be difficult to search.
What do I need to know before I start?
Most of the records relating to medieval political history held at The National Archives are in the records of the Exchequer (E) and Chancery (C). Chancery was the source of the king’s formal instructions, and originated orders to the king’s officers and courts to transact business on behalf of his subjects. From 1199 Chancery enrolments were introduced – a system of creating registers of important official documents.
In medieval England no single official or institution had overall responsibility for foreign affairs. Chancery dealt with the administration of treaties and letters and the Exchequer with the financial aspects of diplomacy. As a result documents relating to the external policy of the England can be found in a number of disparate record series. These documents are usually written in Latin or French using medieval abbreviations.
Many diplomatic documents are transcribed, in their original language, in Rymer’s Foedera.
What records can I see online?
The Domesday Book
Search a digitised copy of the Domesday Book using our online exhibition.
Henry III Fine Rolls (1216-1262)
Search the fine rolls of Henry III which give details of money owed for concessions or favours.
Ancient petitions, Henry III to George III
Search Discovery, our catalogue (£) for digitised copies of ancient petitions pursuing grievances which could not be resolved at common law, or requests for a grant of favour. Use the advanced search option and restrict your search to record series SC 8. For more advice on using Discovery see the help pages.
Parliament Rolls (1275-1504)
Search the medieval Parliament Rolls (subscription required), which contain the official records of the English parliament from 1275 to 1504. Some digital images of the records are included on the site.
What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
Records of the Exchequer (1086-1994)
Browse E in our catalogue for records of the Exchequer, the main financial department of the medieval and early modern English state. The series includes financial, council and diplomatic material.
Special collections (11th to 20th centuries)
Browse our catalogue in SC for records of various departments selected for their historical importance. The series includes Ancient Correspondence, Henry II to Henry VI (SC 1); and Papal Bulls, c1131 to 1533, concerning relations between the papacy, royal government and the ecclesiastical authorities (SC 7).
Records of Chancery (1085-2004)
Browse our catalogue in C for records of Chancery. From the reign of Henry III onwards, Chancery provided the secretariat and record-keeping functions for the king’s council (and subsequently for Parliament). The series includes Treaty Rolls, 1234 to 1675 (C 76).
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
Records held locally
Many other libraries and archives hold medieval records. The National Archives’ catalogue has details of collections held across the UK. Search our catalogue using keywords; you may need to refine your results using the filters.
What other resources will help me find information?
Explore a range of sources from the 11th century onwards on British History Online. These include ecclesiastical and religious, parliamentary and local history sources. Much of the material can be viewed free of charge.
Consult Treaty Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, ed P Chaplais, J Ferguson and others (PRO, 1955-1972) for a transcription of the Latin text of records in C 76 for 1234-1325 and 1337-1339, with English notes.
Consult Privy Council of England, Proceedings and Ordinances, 10 Ric II-39 Hen VI (vols 1-6), ed Sir Harris Nicolas (Record Commission, 1834-1837).