Special collections: Early modern papers

State papers 1560–1700

The Bodleian Library is a major centre for the study of 17th-century history. It holds several major collections of state papers, mainly acquired before 1750. The papers are within the collections formed by antiquaries and historians who later bequeathed their books and manuscripts to the library. Together they form a remarkably rich source for the study of the Civil War, Interregnum and Restoration periods in British and Irish history.

The Rawlinson manuscripts include the papers of John Thurloe (d. 1668), Secretary of State to both Oliver and Richard Cromwell. The Tanner manuscripts include the papers of William Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons 1640–55, 1659–60, and those of William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury 1678–90. The Carte papers contain the archive of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland three times between 1644 and 1685, as well as papers of William FitzWilliam, Governor of Ireland 1571–5, 1588–94. The Clarendon manuscripts comprise the papers of Edward Hyde (1609–74), 1st Earl of Clarendon, Chancellor to Charles II. These collections have been supplemented by the papers of Sir John Bankes (1589–1644), attorney-general to Charles I, and the collections of John Nalson (d. 1686), clergyman and author, comprising further papers of William Lenthall.

Political papers 1700–1820

The Bodleian Library's 18th- and early 19th-century historical papers, while not as extensive as those for the 17th century, are of great interest in a number of fields.

The papers of the North family include those of Francis North, 1st Earl of Guilford (1704–90), courtier and patron of the 'pocket borough' of Banbury, and contain much on the politics of the Court and the borough. The collection also includes about 60 volumes of official and financial papers of his son Frederick, Lord North (1732–92), the Prime Minister. The papers are supplemented by the extensive correspondence and diaries of Lord North's grandson, Frederick Sylvester North Douglas (1791–1819), MP for Banbury.

The Harcourt family papers include the correspondence of Simon, 1st Earl Harcourt (1714–77), courtier and politician, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1772–7; and George Simon Harcourt, 2nd Earl Harcourt (1736–1809). They include many letters from the royal family, and political and cultural figures. Additional Harcourt correspondence can be found in a separate group of papers.

The papers of the Tucker family of Dorset represent a different strand of 18th-century politics. Edward Tucker of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis (d.1737) was an MP. His two sons were John Tucker (1701–79), MP, and Richard Tucker (1704–77). Edward Tucker and his son Richard consecutively held the office of surveyor of His Majesty's quarries in Portland, 1714–77. John Tucker was MP for Weymouth, and also cashier to the treasurer of the navy, 1744–9. The papers include much on local politics, the Portland stone business, and other mercantile interests of the family.

Estate papers 1500–1800

Many of the families mentioned above owned extensive estates, with records of ownership stretching back into the Middle Ages. The North (and additional papers), Harcourt and Dashwood family papers have particularly complete collections of estate records. Other notable collections include those of the Bertie family of Rycote and Wytham Abbey, and the Talbots of Malahide in Ireland.

War and peace, 1640–1815

Britain's relationship with other European states is represented in extensive holdings of diplomatic papers.

There is much among the state papers of the 17th century mentioned above. Later accessions include numerous small groups of papers relating to the diplomacy that ended the War of the Spanish Succession, adding to a large collection of papers of John Robinson (1650–1723), Bishop of Bristol (and later London), and plenipotentiary for the peace negotiations at Utrecht to be found among the Rawlinson manuscripts.

Another larger diplomatic collection is that of William Henry van Nassau van Zuylestein, 4th Earl of Rochford (1717–81), envoy to Turin 1749-55. The papers of James Bland Burges (1752–1824) include his correspondence with envoys all over Europe and in the United States as under-secretary at the Foreign Office during the revolutionary upheavals in France, 1789-95.

The state paper collections (see above) contain a great deal about military operations during the Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland 1638-53. The Carte manuscripts include detailed accounts of the war that followed the Irish Rebellion of 1641 in the correspondence of James Butler, later 1st Duke of Ormond, who at that time was commander of the royal army in Ireland. The Carte manuscripts also include the papers of Edward Montagu (1625–72) 1st Earl of Sandwich, Parliamentarian general in the Civil War, and an admiral from 1656 to 1672. He was the patron of Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), whose papers as a naval administrator are among the Rawlinson manuscripts.

Britain's military contribution to the Napoleonic Wars that ended the era is encompassed by some notable collections relating to the Peninsular War. The Napier family papers include correspondence of Sir William Napier (1785–1870) relating to his controversial History of the War in the Peninsula (1828-40), including letters and memoranda from army officers, and information supplied by among others the Duke of Wellington. The North family collection includes papers of General (Charles) William Doyle (1770-1842) who acted as a liaison officer to various Spanish Juntas 1808–11. There are also papers of General John Francis Cradock, later Caradoc (1762–1839), 1st Baron Howden, commander of the army in Portugal 1808–9 and afterwards Governor of Gibraltar and the Cape of Good Hope.


A number of collections illustrate Britain's imperial and colonial history in the period 1600–1800. The Rawlinson manuscripts include some accounts of notable 17th-century voyages, including the illustrated journal of the Cornishman Peter Mundy (c. 1597–c.1667) who sailed to India and the South China Sea in the 1630s. The Rawlinson and Clarendon manuscripts also contain much on the government of the American colonies in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

Three major collections relate to the administration of India in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The papers of George Macartney, Earl Macartney (1737–1806) governor and president of Fort St. George, Madras, include his correspondence with British and native rulers in the various Indian states, 1781–5. The mercantile interest is represented by the papers of John Palmer (1767-1836), partner in Palmer & Co., a firm which dominated the business world of Calcutta between 1810 and 1830. The collection includes 61 letter-books, 1808-34. The papers of the Russell family of Swallowfield include correspondence of Sir Henry Russell, 1st bart. (1751-1836), judge in the supreme court of judicature in Bengal 1798-1812, and his sons Henry Russell, 2nd bart., Resident at Hyderabad 1811-20, and Charles Russell, assistant Resident.

Literary collections

The subject guide to literary papers includes references to antiquarian and topographical collections of the early modern era.

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