How to look for State Papers Domestic 1547-1649: Tudor and Stuart government papers

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1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide for advice on how to search for specific items or for specific subjects within the State Papers Domestic, 1547-1649. The State Papers Domestic are the accumulated papers of the secretaries of state relating to the business and affairs of government at home, as opposed to matters abroad. They contain information on every aspect of early modern government, including:

  • social and economic affairs
  • law and order
  • religious policy
  • Crown possessions
  • intelligence gathering
  • some references to foreign policy

2. About the records

State Papers Domestic are made up of a wide range of document types, including private and official letters, musters, reports, commissions and instructions, council orders and correspondence, proclamations, memoranda and draft parliamentary bills.

The main series of state papers for this period (by reign) are:

Tudor dynasty

Stuart dynasty

Most of these documents are written in English, although some are in Latin or other European languages. They are written in secretary and italic hands which may be difficult to read. You can find help on reading the documents in our palaeography tutorials.

Dating the documents may be problematic as some mention dates and months but not the year. Names may be illegible or omitted from the text of letters, but may have been included on the reverse by clerks when they were filed.

State papers were frequently treated as private property by secretaries of state, many of whom maintained them in their own private collections on leaving office. You may, therefore, find state papers held elsewhere, most notably the Lansdowne, Harleian and Cottonian collections of The British Library and the Cecil Papers held at Hatfield House.

3. How to search for records

To locate a specific subject, place or individual within the State Papers Domestic you will need to use the published calendars. The calendars provide detailed summaries of the records and are often sufficiently detailed to make consultation of the original documents unnecessary. Some sections of the calendars group together particular types of documents in a tabular form; for example army and naval papers, grants and dockets. The summaries are printed in chronological order, hence the term ‘calendar’, but this convenient organisation does not necessarily reflect the order in which the original documents are filed. The calendars are available online and in printed form.

The calendars help you to establish document references. Once you have these references, you can request the documents themselves using our online catalogue. You can also use the catalogue to search for documents but by date only.

3.1 Using online calendars

The easiest way to search the calendars is to carry out a keyword search at State Papers Online (institutional subscription required or free to use onsite at The National Archives at Kew). Using this resource, you can search the calendars and view online versions of most of the documents that they reference – the state papers themselves.

The calendars are also available online at British History Online (£).

3.2 Using printed calendars

The printed versions of the calendars are available at The National Archives and in many major reference libraries.  The printed versions contain detailed indexes with additional identifying information to help with your search – in that respect they offer an advantage over the online calendars.

See sections 4 and 5 for more guidance on the printed calendars and how to use them.

3.3 Using our catalogue to find records held elsewhere

As well as searching at the The British Library for the aforementioned Lansdowne, Harleian and Cottonian collections, and at Hatfield House for the Cecil Papers, you can try searching our catalogue for records held in other archives, including private collections. Our catalogue lists not only our own records but the records of over 2,500 archives across the UK.

4. The printed calendars

The original printed calendars have been published over the course of many decades and are not all completely uniform in their formatting, though the broad principles are the same. Available at The National Archives and in many major reference libraries, we recommend using the following versions:

4.1 For papers from the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I

If you are searching for records from the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, use the twelve volumes of the:

4.2 For papers from the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I

Consult the new versions of the calendars for the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I – these versions provide the full National Archives document reference:

4.3 For papers from the reign of Charles I

For records from the reign of Charles I, covering the years to 1649, use the 23 volumes of the:

The later papers of the reign of Charles I become less comprehensive with the breakdown of traditional government and reflect the change in authority, becoming the archives of the Parliamentary government as the English Civil Wars developed. When Charles I left London, he transferred his government with him. As a result the ‘royalist’ papers are not complete, and those that survive may be in private collections elsewhere (see section 3.3).

All these calendars omit references to foreign, Irish and Scottish papers, which have their own calendars.

5. How to use the printed calendars

As the summaries of the records in the calendars are usually quite detailed you may find that you can get all the information you need from the calendar itself, making consultation of the original documents unnecessary. Nevertheless, the originals do contain some additional material and can be revealing in other ways too. In some instances the original documents may not actually be available to view and in those cases you will have to view the online versions – though the information from the printed calendars will be useful to find those online versions.

To get from the calendars to the papers you will need to know how to convert references – this section of the guide provides instructions on how to do this (as the calendars for Edward VI and Mary already provide the current National Archives document references no conversion is necessary when using these calendars).

5.1 Converting standard references from the calendars for Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I

Step 1: Locate a calendar entry

Each volume contains an index, allowing you to locate a subject or name in the calendar.

Once you have located an entry of interest you will need to convert the entry into a National Archives document reference. The reference contains a minimum of two parts: the series reference and the piece number.

Step 2: Establish the first part of The National Archives reference: the record series reference

Use the following table to establish the record series reference for most calendar entries:

Reign Record series reference
Edward VI SP 10
Mary I SP 11
Elizabeth I SP 12
James I SP 14
Charles I SP 16 (the calendars refer to a number of other state paper record series, including some interregnum papers in SP 21 and SP 23)

Step 3: Establish the second part of The National Archives reference: the piece number

At the top of every page in the calendar is a volume number expressed in Roman numerals. The volume number is equivalent to a National Archives piece number. Convert the Roman numeral to a standard cardinal number. For example, the piece number for an entry on a calendar page headed ‘Vol. CX’ will be 110.

Step 4: Note the item number from the calendar

You will see that each entry in a calendar has an item number. Take a note of this number as it will allow you to locate the respective item in the state papers themselves.

Step 5: Locate the full reference either at State Papers Online or in our catalogue

Let’s say you have found a calendar entry from the reign of Elizabeth I, under the Volume CX section of the calendar. This gives you document reference SP 12/110. With this reference you can either look up an online copy of the original document at State Papers Online (institutional subscription required or free to use onsite at The National Archives at Kew), or request the original document itself using our catalogue.

Step 6: Locate the item number in the papers

This can sometimes be tricky as the papers often contain multiple numbering systems, in use at different times over the years. An item number is likely to be handwritten rather than stamped, and it may cover several pages.

5.2 Converting references without an item number from the calendars for Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I

In a few cases calendar entries are not preceded by an item number but instead end with a reference in italics and square brackets, for example [Warrant Book, II, p.189]. In these instances, refer to the following table key to establish The National Archives document reference (these keys also appear at the beginning of each volume). Where no piece number is specified (replaced by ‘x’ below), browse or search the series listing in our catalogue by date to find the appropriate file.

Old document reference National Archives document reference
Adm. Warrant Books SP 12/258
Affairs Etrang, transcripts of PRO 31/3/x
Border Papers SP 59/x
Cases, Eliz. SP 13/x
Cases A-H Charles I SP 17/x
Coll Procs Car I SP 45/10
Coll Sign Man Car I Vol. SP 39/x
Colonial Papers CO 1/x
Conway’s Foreign Letter Book SP 14/214
Conway’s Letter Book SP 38/x
Co[uncil] Reg[isters] PC 2/x
Docquet(s) SP 38/x
Domestic Addenda SP 15/x
Domestic Addenda, Case H / Case Addenda SP 13/H
Dom. Interregnum / Interregnum SP 18/x
Domestic Correspondence SP 46/x
Dom. Jac I SP 14/x
Dom. Miscell. SP 9/12
Dom. (Trade) SP 12/x
Flanders Corresp. SP 77/x
France [Entry Book] SP 104/162
French Correspondence SP 78/x
German Correspondence SP 82/x
Grants of Arms SP 9/1
Grant Book SP 14/141
Holland SP 84/x
Interregnum E SP 21/x
Interregnum G SP 23/x
Ireland, Irish Corresp. SP 63/x
Levant Company SP 105/x
Newspaper Collections SP 9/245
Nicholas’s Letter Book SP 14/215
Spanish Corresp. SP 94/x
SP Dom. Car I SP 16/x
Transcripts from Rome PRO 31/9/x
Trinity House Certificates SP 16/16-17
Warrant Books SP 40/x

Related material may be in:

  • State Papers Scotland, in SP 50– 53
  • Border Papers for the north of England to 1603, in SP 59
  • State Papers Ireland (see our guide State Papers Ireland, 1509-1782)
  • Carew papers, in PRO 30/5 and SP 45
  • State Papers Domestic Various, in SP 46
  • State Papers Domestic Supplementary, in SP 38-39 and SP 40 (referred to in the calendars mentioned above)

For Parliamentary Council of Sate and parliamentary committees see our guide on State papers domestic 1642-1660.

7. Further reading

G E Aylmer, The King’s Servants: the Civil Service of Charles I, 1625-1642 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974)

GR Elton, The Sources of History: England 1200-1640 (Hodder & Stoughton, 1969)

Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources, ed. by Laura Sangha and Jonathan Willis (Routledge, 2016)