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Guide to British Government Documents

This guide is intended for students of British history, although some of the resources continue to the present day. Also see this guide for other British history primary sources:

For more detailed information, see these guides for Parliamentary history:

For very detailed information on English legal history see this guide from Duke University.

Rolls of Parliament

Rotuli Parliamentorum; Ut et Petitiones, et Placita in Parliamento. Earliest official records of the meetings of the Parliament; reigns of Edward I through Henry VII (1278-1503). 

  • Translated and easy to read! Parliament Rolls of Medieval England. Reproduces the rolls in their entirety, as well as a substantial amount of material never previously published, together with a full translation of all the texts from the three languages used by the medieval clerks (Latin, Anglo-Norman and Middle English). Includes an introduction to every parliament known to have been held by an English king (or in his name) between 1275 and 1504, whether or not the roll for that parliament survives. Appendices of supplementary material are also provided.
  • Also available in the databases Eighteenth Century Collections Online and Making of the Modern World; supplemented by Rotuli Parliamentorum Anglie Hactenus Inediti MCCLXXIX-MCCCLXXIII (DA 20 .R912 v. 51), which contains Parliament Rolls for 1279-1373 (omitted from the first source). Please note that the original editions are in Latin, Medieval English and Norman French.
  • Chancery Rolls - Medieval source material.

Parliamentary Debates

Parliamentary debates (often referred to as Hansard) are records of what is said in Parliament, roughly equivalent to the U.S.'s Congressional Record. Only since 1909 has Hansard been a verbatim report and official publication; before then, publications were based on secondary sources such as newspaper accounts. See for more information.


Journals are the official records of what is done in Parliament, roughly equivalent to the U.S.'s Daily Digest of the Congressional Record. The provisional records that are the basis for the Journals are Votes and Proceedings of the Lords. See for more information.

Acts of Parliament

An Act of Parliament is a law. There are two basic types of acts: public and private. Public acts affect the whole country. Private acts (also known as local and personal acts) affect the powers of individual groups such as companies or local authorities and were not officially printed until 1798. See for more information.

See for a very detailed guide to English legal history.

Legal Cases

See for a very detailed guide to English legal history.

State Papers

State papers are records of English policy, foreign and domestic. The library owns many state papers online, on microfilm, and in print. See for research guides to the state papers from the British National Archives.

The database State Papers Online, 1509-1714, offers access to these state papers:

  • Part I: The Tudors, 1509-1603: State Papers Domestic
  • Part II: The Tudors, 1509-1603: State Papers Foreign, Scotland, Borders, Ireland and Registers of the Privy Council
  • Part III: The Stuarts and Commonwealth, James I- Anne I, 1603-1714: State Papers Domestic
  • Part IV The Stuarts and Commonwealth, James I - Anne I, 1603-1714, State Papers Foreign, Ireland and Registers of the Privy Council

Please note that in the database the original papers (manuscripts) are handwritten and can be very difficult to read. The corresponding calendars, however, provide abstracts or summaries of the documents. The calendars are fully searchable, but the original manuscripts are not.

Included in State Papers Online is Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII. To get to them, go to "Browse," "Browse Calendar," and scroll down to "Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the reign of Henry VIII" click on the + key, and a list of all volumes will appear.

To see key documents, click on "Research Tools" and then "Key Documents." For example, the document "The King's Divorce, 31 May 1527. The Hearing of Henry VII's Petition for Divorce from Catherine of Aragon" is available in this section. (Both the original, very difficult to read manuscript, and the easy to read calendar.)

To see a list of microform materials owned by the library see:

Another database with state papers is called Colonial State Papers. The papers in this database relate to English activities in the colonies of America, Canada, and the West Indies between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.

Internet Sources

British History Online is a digital resource containing some of the core printed primary sources for the medieval and modern history of Britain. Most of the material is free, but some is not. See for materials that are NOT free. (Some are available in the database State Papers Online, described above.)

Catalog for the National Archives - Discovery holds more than 32 million descriptions of records held by The National Archives and more than 2,500 archives across the country. Over 9 million records are available for download. Searching is free but there may be a fee to download records.

Also see the Avalon Project from Yale Law School. It includes digital documents relevant to law, history, government, etc from ancient times to the present.

London Lives, 1690-1800 ~ Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis includes manuscripts from various archives around London.

Cabinet Papers, 1915-1983, records from the senior ministers of the British government.

Georgian Papers Online: This catalogue currently contains descriptions and digitised images of material dating from the reigns of George III to William IV, including personal letters, diaries, account books and records of the Royal Household. Please note that this project is due for completion in 2020.


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