Portrait of Elizabeth I on illuminated indenture (Catalogue reference: E 36/277)

This is a brief guide to help you find records relating to 16th and 17th century political history. The most important records relevant to this subject held at The National Archives are the State Papers. Original 16th and 17th century records can be difficult to search, but more and more are being made available online.

  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Archives

      Visit the British Library website to find out about its holdings of records and documents relating to the political history of the 16th and 17th centuries. Many of these are also available on State Papers Online (institutional subscription required).

    • Records held elsewhere

      Search for key political figures in our catalogue and click on the 'record creators' tab. This will tell you where records created by the individual are held.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

    • Websites

      Explore a range of 16th and 17th century sources in British History Online. These include keyword searchable calendars of almost all 17th century State Papers. A subscription is payable to view some calendars, but others - such as the calendars to the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII and the Calendars of the State Papers Colonial - are free.

Did you know?

Although English started to be used in informal documents in the late 15th century, Latin was used in most formal records until 1733 (except during the Interregnum). The handwriting can be difficult to decipher. See reading and using documents for help.

The State papers domestic are the accumulated papers of the secretaries of state relating to domestic affairs from about 1547 to 1782, at which date the business of the two secretaries was divided between the home and foreign departments. State Papers Domestic are divided by reign.

The State papers foreign are the papers accumulated in the offices of the secretaries of state as a result of their responsibilities in the conduct of British diplomacy abroad. They are divided by country.

The Exchequer was responsible for the accounting and audit of Crown (and therefore government) revenue. The records include those of the departments set up to deal with additional Crown revenues following the Reformation.

The Court of Star Chamber was effectively the King's Council sitting as a tribunal to enforce law and order in both civil and criminal matters. James I and Charles I used the court to suppress opposition to royal policies, and it became increasingly unpopular in Parliament. Star Chamber was abolished in 1641.