Online Primary Sources: British Manuscripts

The term “manuscripts” here refers to handwritten, unpublished documents, many of them being collections of family histories, letters, and the like. These form valuable material for researchers but were at times hard to find or access. To remedy this situation, the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts was created by royal warrant in 1869 to both locate and describe these repositories. Until its dissolution in 2003, the Commission issued over two hundred “reports“, detailed inventories of the great baronial houses in the UK. Each volume provides a great deal of important information: discussing the content of the manuscript collection, offering a history of the contents, as well as issuing calendars of all the documents and printing selected writings full text. It took the handwritten documents and converted them into printable works, a remarkable achievement. Many of these volumes can be accessed by their titles here; other report series are here, too. There is a limited guide to the series, essentially to parts of the first nine reports: Guide to sources of English history from 1603 to 1660 in Reports of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (1952). A complete chronological listing of all the volumes published is available online.

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