How to look for records of... Political history in the 16th and 17th centuries

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

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.

Online records

State Papers Online (1509-1782)

Search State Papers Online (institutional subscription required) for 16th and 17th century State Papers Domestic, Foreign, Scotland, Ireland and Registers of the Privy Council. The Calendars are fully searchable, and many entries are linked to a digital image of the relevant State Paper.

Colonial State Papers (1574-1757)

Search the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial: North America and the West Indies 1574-1739 online at Colonial State Papers (institutional subscription required), together with digital images of records of the Privy Council and Board of Trade between 1574-1757 relating to America and the West Indies.

Records available only at The National Archives in Kew

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 (£).

Records of the Exchequer (1086-1994)

Browse Discovery, our catalogue, in record series E for records of the Exchequer, the main financial department of the medieval and early modern English state. They include records of the Court of Augmentation, founded in 1536 to deal with the transfer of land to the Crown when the monasteries were dissolved.

Records of the Court of Star Chamber (1461-1649)

Browse our catalogue in record series STAC for records of the Court of Star Chamber, which was concerned with the enforcement of law and order.

King’s Bench Baga de Secretis (1477-1813)

Browse our catalogue for treason trials and other special court cases in the Baga de Secretis records in series KB 8 or search the same series by name (using the boxes below). Please note that not all the catalogue descriptions of records in KB 8 include a person’s name.

Privy Council registers (17th century)

Browse our catalogue, in record series PC 2 for registers of the Privy Council, comprising the minutes of its proceedings, its orders, certain proclamations and the reports of committees.

Records in other archives and organisations


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

The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.

Other resources


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 old 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.