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Archives and Information in the Early Modern World$

Kate Peters, Alexandra Walsham, and Liesbeth Corens

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266250

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266250.001.0001

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date: 25 May 2020

‘Friction in the Archives’: Access and the Politics of Record-Keeping in Revolutionary England

‘Friction in the Archives’: Access and the Politics of Record-Keeping in Revolutionary England

(p.151) 7 ‘Friction in the Archives’: Access and the Politics of Record-Keeping in Revolutionary England
Archives and Information in the Early Modern World

Kate Peters

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter traces the legal and political frameworks that underpinned rights of access to archives in the decades preceding the outbreak of civil war in 1642, showing that there were two different cultures of access: one determined by the rights of subjects to consult legal court records; the other shaped by the culture of secrecy associated with the records of crown estates and royal prerogative. Over the course of the civil war, a new language of access emerged. The assertion of parliamentary sovereignty and the dislocating experiences of civil war mobilisation led to a radical, perhaps unprecedented, articulation of the rights of the people to control and access the information that defined their material rights and status. Ultimately this chapter argues that this new, if short lived, articulation of public right of access to records is important not only for the history of record-keeping, but also reveals much about the political and material interests that were at stake in the English revolution.

Keywords:   archives, record-keeping, public access, secrecy, legal records, prerogative, sovereignty, Parliament, English revolution

IN 1641, A SCATHING pamphlet attack was launched on one of the most hated of royal institutions, the Star Chamber. The pamphlet, entitled The Star-Chamber Epitomized, presented its attack in the form of a dialogue between two characters, each with a strong interest in the business of information: one, a journalist by the name of Inquisition, a ‘news-smeller’, and the other, an archivist appropriately dubbed Christopher Cobweb, the keeper of the Star Chamber records. As his name implied, Cobweb was an archetypal archivist, revelling in the minutiae of his work, and boasting that he had ‘layd all the Records … in due order to little purpose’.1 The dialogue between the two characters depicted a murky picture of extortion in the Star Chamber record office, as Cobweb described how he made his ‘livelyhood’ from the ‘large Bundles of law’ in his custody. He bragged that he and his clerks charged twelve pence a sheet for copying, making copies ‘very conscionably, some fifteen lines in a sheet’, but with only four or five words per line.2 Further evidence of ‘intollerable exaction’ included exorbitant fees for the ‘writing’ as well as the right to copy, and a further five shillings charge for the ‘extraordinary care and labour’ with the records.3 In Cobweb’s account, the clerks deliberately deprived clients of the correct documentation so they would be in contempt of court, which ‘with their subtile devises for Fees and such like would have been twice the value of the offence’. Clerks for the defence and the plaintiff would conspire together, meeting up later at the tavern, to ‘divide the spoyle and laugh at the silly ignorance of the poore Clyant’.4

(p.152) Pamphlet denunciations of the Star Chamber were relatively commonplace in 1641: viewed as an instrument of arbitrary rule, it was abolished by the Long Parliament in July of that year. The court of Star Chamber was notorious for its laborious legal processes: its reliance on extensive documentation and consequent propensity for extortion, mocked by The Star-Chamber Epitomized, had already been noted by Sir Edward Coke and the Commission for Fees in the 1590s; John Lilburne had also complained about the deviousness of the Star Chamber records clerks in his pamphlet The Christian Mans Trial.5 Yet the confessions drawn out of Christopher Cobweb also underlined the political importance of public access to records, arguing that the deliberate concealment by state officials of legal records led to the financial harm of the king’s subjects. This chapter investigates how concerns about public rights of access to information developed in the first half of the 17th century; and, as significant land, property, and titles were transferred during the course of the English civil war, so arguments about the custody and accessibility of records became increasingly politicised.

Within the recent burgeoning interest in the history of archives, relatively little work has been done to address the question of who had access to records, and on what grounds. This is a particularly significant omission in the context of mid-17th-century England, where the royal, parliamentary, local, and individual rights and interests that were bound up in legal records were hotly contested in the course of the civil wars and revolution. A substantial body of historical scholarship has emphasised the dissemination of printed information in the escalating conflict in England in the 1640s, and important work by Noah Millstone and David Coast has highlighted the importance of the circulation of manuscript papers to political mobilisation.6 Yet these works discuss the dissemination of published or redacted (p.153) information, deliberately compiled as part of a process of political persuasion or polemic: we know far less about how (and which) men and women were able to access directly the legal evidence held in records in archival collections. In a society in which constitutional thought and political rhetoric drew on legal precedent, and in which the law formed an increasingly important instrument in the conduct of government, commerce, and order, access to legal records and consideration of the evidence they held was crucial and routine.7 Information drawn from archival records was increasingly important in mounting a sustained critique of arbitrary rule or parliamentary sovereignty. Until it was closed by the king in 1629, Sir Robert Cotton’s private collection of manuscripts was a key research library for investigating parliamentary precedent, legal privilege, royal prerogative, and the ‘ancient constitution’, which served in drawing up the Petition of Right in 1628.8 The lawyer and antiquarian scholar, William Prynne, cited sources from Robert Cotton’s library in 1643 when trying to prove that parliament held jurisdiction over the Great Seal of England.9 Prynne made further polemical use of evidence found in sequestered papers and records in 1645, claiming that the ‘undeniable Evidences’ from ‘Originall Letters, Records, [and] Warrants’ were definitive proof of the ‘Romish’ plotting of Archishop William Laud, so authoritative that ‘none can justly question, or suspect their Reality or Verity’.10 The political value of legal evidence also extended beyond constitutional politics. Local communities contested or protected their rights of custom with recourse to legal records, while increasingly litigious individuals and corporate bodies routinely pursued their interests with reference to the contracts and legal precedents that defined them.11 Thus national, local, corporate, and individual rights and interests were contained in the increasing array of legal contracts and other records. This chapter will argue that access to them, and to the information they held, was of fundamental importance to the political interventions of the English civil wars.

(p.154) Defining Access

The modern concept of ‘access’ to archives combines two elements: first, the ways in which the intellectual organisation of archival documents enables users to interpret and navigate their way through archival collections; and second, the legal and political frameworks which define who has the right to view, copy, or use collections of records.12 Recent historiography of early modern record-keeping has, understandably, focused on the former. In the face of ever more extensive written material, early modern scholars, clerks, and secretaries developed sophisticated intellectual techniques to capture and retrieve the wealth of information they held. Growing enthusiasm for the power of empirical knowledge, and a belief that information and learning were the key to improvement, led to an effusion of techniques for managing information, what Peter Burke described as the ‘elaboration of knowledge’.13 Although Ann Blair and Burke discuss the management of scholarly information broadly defined, encompassing printed and manuscript books, notes and commonplace books, more specifically archival studies, including many in this volume, have highlighted the rapid expansion of bureaucratic record-keeping activities by states as an important feature of statecraft.14 Building on Michel Foucault’s concept of the archive as ‘the law of what can be said’, historians view early modern government archives as repositories which controlled the ‘political knowledge’ that was crucial to sustaining political power.15 Different models of government and power were reflected in different modes of archival organisation; the rapidly increasing bulk of administrative records required a wide range of registers, catalogues, and storage solutions, whose ultimate purpose was to inform and strengthen governance in increasingly sophisticated ways.16 In (p.155) this analysis, access to government archives was implicitly restricted to royal or conciliar government and its officers, tightly controlled, and subject to norms of deference and patronage.17 A number of early catalogues or guides to records were elaborate, flattering productions, intended as gifts to patrons as much as working finding aids, and as Arnold Hunt shows in this volume, the term ‘secretary’ was closely associated with the word ‘secret’.18 At the same time, work by social historians has highlighted the ever-sophisticated information gathering undertaken by early modern statesmen keen to monitor, survey, and control their territories and their subjects: ‘seeing like a state’ necessitated the collection, compilation, and interpretation of information about its peoples and resources.19

Thus the majority of scholarly discussion about the users of archives has centred on the intellectual and political impulses that drove the exploitation of information, and on the organisation of finding aids. The other element of access, namely the legal and political frameworks that defined who could actually see and make use of materials in archives, is relatively less well discussed.20 Often, consideration of the users of archives has been framed by discussions of literacy, and the growing authority of ‘writing’, which necessarily excluded the illiterate majority and the poor from a wide range of information.21 Yet there is a risk in this approach of making too broad an elision between manuscript cultures and record-keeping cultures. While scribal publication and the circulation of manuscript information and political news was clearly an important, if socially exclusive, element in political communication and manoeuvre, records by their very nature were not intended to be widely communicated or publicised; indeed, their long-term preservation and authenticity depended on strictly controlled custody and access. Yet the legal, social, and financial information embedded in early modern records was of profound consequence to a wide range of localities and communities, constituting a large proportion of the population. In order therefore to understand the legal, political, and social conditions that formally governed (p.156) access to records, we need to consider briefly the nature of record-keeping and archives in early modern England.

In large part, the concept of access to archives is modern rather than pre-modern. Principles of public access to archives were enshrined in 19th-century European legislation, which established archives as national state institutions, dedicated to the exploration of national or patrimonial heritage, and open to all citizens.22 In the 20th century archival theorists consolidated the role of archives as institutions of cultural heritage by distinguishing archival records from current administrative records, the former defined by their historical, informational value and the latter by their ongoing administrative and evidential value; later still, freedom of information legislation established a firm connection between public access to records and political accountability.23 But the phenomenon of public archives as state institutions, housing heterogeneous collections of historic documents open to public scrutiny, was far less evident in the 17th century. With the exception of private libraries, which acquired (through inscrutable and possibly dubious means) large and eclectic collections of manuscripts such as those of antiquarians like Robert Cotton or Robert Harley, most early modern archives accumulated around, and remained in the custody of, the jurisdictional authority or household estate that generated them. Early modern ‘archivists’ were thus jurists, clerks, or administrators with legal training, and records were by and large retained and consulted for their long-term legal or administrative value: it was the jurisdictional status of the records, and of those seeking to consult them, that determined access.24

The association of archives and records with the exercise of juridical and magisterial power is clear both historically and etymologically. Archival institutions in the ancient world contained records of the regulatory activities of government, such as the laws of the land, receipt of revenues from royal lands or trade, and census-related activities to do with taxation or military service.25 Etymologically, the word ‘archive’ derives from the Greek ‘arkheion’, the residence of the superior magistrate (the archon), and denoted the authority both to keep the records physically secure and to exercise their legal competence: the guardianship of the magistrate entailed both the custody of the documents, and his (p.157) ability to interpret and enact them. In Jacques Derrida’s analysis, the significance of the arkheion as the residential or domestic space of the magistrate underlined the inextricable links between the magisterial, patriarchial, and economic power vested in archives, a useful insight for early modern record-keeping, when men of state could unproblematically store political papers in the muniment rooms, strongrooms, or libraries of their landed estates, and where the inherited title and legal power associated with landed estates remained essential to the exercise of political power.26 Early modern record-keeping, in this analysis, was not the straightforward product of a Weberian bureaucratic state, but rather reflected and upheld the mulitiplicities of power and jurisdictions that made up early modern governance.

Access to early modern archives was profoundly shaped by the intricate relationship between the custody and the legal competence of records. While, by the 17th century, the term ‘archive’ often denoted the physical storage place of ancient records, the records themselves were understood as legal instruments that defined and actively maintained legal relationships.27 From the 14th century onwards, the word ‘record’ denoted the formal documentation of legal evidence and judgements made in a court of law.28 The power vested in records intensified in the medieval period: initially serving as evidence, or an aide-memoire, of an oral contract having been performed, records later constituted legal proof themselves, whereby the written record, duly authenticated, effected a contract. A number of types of record suggest its performance of an action: ‘acts’, ‘deeds’, or ‘wills’ are all examples of an action effected by a record that might have enduring, continuous, or future consequences.29 Over the course of the Middle Ages, some courts were deemed ‘courts of record’: those empowered to order physical punishments or fines were required to record their judgements in Latin and enrolled on parchment, in order to create an incontrovertible record of proceedings that could be used in a process of appeal, and transferred for use in other courts.30

The specific legal competence of records to enact and maintain power relations depended explicitly on their secure custody, and, as Randolph Head has demonstrated, arguments about the authority of archival custody were expounded (p.158) with renewed emphasis in the 17th century. Early expositions on archival practice from the 17th century reflected two different arguments about the legal powers vested in records. One strand of proto-professional literature related to diplomatics, the art of demonstrating the authenticity and legal validity of ancient documents through painstaking, philological analysis of individual documents, a methodology propounded by the Jesuit scholar Jean Mabillon and others in the late 17th century.31 Out of this, Head suggests, stemmed familiar Enlightenment ideas about the relationship between documentary authenticity and historical truth, which has so profoundly affected our own historiographical traditions. But a second, less well-known, strand of early 17th-century archival theory articulated the concept of the ius archivi. This derived from Roman law thinking about legal proof, in which the safe-keeping of certificated documents in a secure public archive, the tabularium, ensured ‘public faith’ in their validity as legal proof. In the context of the complex, shifting politics of late 16th- and 17th-century German states, the concept of the ius archivi was developed as a means of guaranteeing the legal validity of records held in particular princely or urban archives. In this analysis, the sovereign power of a prince or magistrate was enhanced by an archival institution that could uphold ‘public faith’ in its documents; by extension, the capacity of an archive to uphold public faith, through mechanisms of custody and authentication, accorded significant political power to the archival institution and its officers. Strictly controlled custody of records in an official archive was thus tightly linked both to proof of political sovereignty, and to the exercise of political competence; the role of archival officers was to maintain the legal viability of their holdings by controlling custody and access. It was this crucial institutional context, I will argue, that shaped arguments about access to archives in the course of the English civil war and revolution.

Public Access to Legal Records

In an important essay on the history of the English public records, the historian Richard Wernham identified two different categories of public records in the 16th and 17th centuries. The first, concerning arcana imperii, consisted of records relating directly to matters of the crown and its estates; the second comprised the legal and financial records that concerned the interests of the crown and the rights, tenures, titles of the subject.32 The records of the crown and its estates were considered the private muniments of the king and not accessible to his subjects: access to these (as we will see) was highly privileged and public consultation necessarily (p.159)

‘Friction in the Archives’: Access and the Politics of Record-Keeping in Revolutionary England

7.1 T. Powell, Direction for search of records remaining in the Chancerie (London, P. Man, 1622).

Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library, Syn. 6. 62. 8.

illicit.33 The publicly accessible records were those of the royal courts: Chancery, Exchequer, and the courts of common law, as well as the more recent courts of the Privy Council, whose growing corpus of records were held in four repositories in Westminster known as the royal treasuries; further records, including those of parliament and the Chancery, were held in the Tower.34 Early modern concepts of access thus developed around the dual notion that the crown’s subjects should be able to access the records of law that defined their tenure, property, and rights, but that matters relating to the deliberations of the king and counsel were properly to be concealed.

Most interest in, and access to, these public records, was over contestations of title rather than for historical scholarship.35 The early decades of the 17th century were marked by a rapid increase in litigation, largely in pursuit of commercial and property rights, and a number of guides to using records appeared in print for the first time.36 In 1617, the Office of Generall Remembrance of Matters of (p.160) Record was created by letters patent of the king ‘for the ease of his subjects’, and an account of its establishment was published, promising that the Office would help them identify ‘such charges and incombrances entred upon record’ on lands or estates, and avoid the ‘intricate, chargable, tedious and uncertain’ searches that dogged commercial transactions, sales of land, and the administration of probate; the publication also included instructions for the registration of records, and a list of common forms of certification for different types of record.37 The attorney Thomas Powell’s Direction for the Search of Records Remaining in the Chancerie (1622) (Figure 7.1) was also motivated by the growing number and complexity of legal suits, which ‘for want of their proper records’ led to great expense and protraction.38 Powell’s work relied on the substantive and authoritative cataloguing undertaken by Arthur Agard (1540–1615). Agard, who trained in common law, served as Deputy Chamberlain of the Exchequer for more than forty years, and as such became the keeper of the records of the four treasuries; he was also an active member of the Elizabethan Society of Antiquaries.39 Agard produced a number of inventories of the holdings in his charge during his time in office, including the Abbreviatio Placetorium (a catalogue of the plea rolls) and most notably an impressive manuscript catalogue of the Exchequer holdings, the Compendium of records, completed after decades of work in about 1610.40 The Compendium was prepared for publication after Agard’s death by Thomas Powell, and published as the Repertorie of Records in 1631 (Figures 7.2 and 7.3).41

The appearance of these printed guides in the early decade of the 17th century indicates a growing audience for the public records. The Repertorie of Records explained that the crown’s records were kept for the tripartite purposes of ‘the Glory of God, the service of our Soveraigne Prince, and the good of the Subject’.42 The Repertorie was published to ‘give better Direction to the records’; a separate calendar of the records in the Tower was appended to the main text in order to ‘give satisfaction to the Searcher, for Tenure or Tytle of anything’.43 Not all (p.161)

‘Friction in the Archives’: Access and the Politics of Record-Keeping in Revolutionary England

7.2 Presentation copy of Arthur Agard’s Compendium Recordorum Regiorum in Archivis Domini Regis Jacobi (1610).

Copyright, British Library Board, Lansdowne MS 137 f. 4v.

‘Friction in the Archives’: Access and the Politics of Record-Keeping in Revolutionary England

7.3 A. Agard and T. Powell, The repertorie of records (London, B. Fisher, 1631).

Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library, Peterborough g.4.25.

(p.162) records described by Agard were open to public scrutiny, such as the leather ‘bag of Cordover, sealed with a seale of Privy Councellers’, which was ‘not to be opened, but by the Prince, and those of the privie Councell, wherein are secret matters’.44 But by implication (there was no technical clarification of what could and could not be seen) much else was to be viewed, an impression aided by the fact that the text was written in the second person: the reader was directed to a guide to assize records, ‘which you may find readily by the number Roll, and the King’s time, indorsed with this note’; or to Agard’s own digest of the Domesday Book ‘which if you peruse it will ready the searcher much, both for the reading, and for the … better understanding thereof’.45 Domesday was a much-used document. The Repertorie specifically warned readers against ‘laying bare hands or moisture, upon the writing’ so as to avoid blotting. Note-taking from Domesday was apparently common, and the Repertorie offered guidance: ‘in copying … notes out of the … Booke of Domesdei, you must write … as near as you can to the Letter thereof, observing both the great Letters, and the poynts therein’.46

Agard emphasised the tight security under which the records were kept ‘for their better preservation’; records were ‘kept under three severall Keyes, kept by three sundry Officers, distinct the one key from the other. And upon each doore three lockes.’47 The records were ‘neyther to bee given or lent away to any, least they returne not againe’.48 Access to the records was also not free. Page four of the Repertorie clarified the fees: one shilling to look at the calendar; four pence ‘for sight of the record’; eight pence per sheet for a copy and another twelve pence for the copying service. In addition, the record office of the Tower also charged a ten shilling entrance fee.49 These fees in themselves reveal different elements involved in providing public access to the records. Consultation of the calendar, representing the skilled labour of the record clerks, was valued highest. Charging for the inspection of the actual record perhaps represents an articulation of its inherent legal value, or the cost of its storage and retrieval, whereas the copying service probably covered the costs of the clerk or scribe—a similar distinction between the ‘writing’ and the right to copy was evident in the Star Chamber record office, and, as we will see, was later enshrined in law in the 1640s.50 The fees for consulting records in the Tower were slightly less extortionate than those attributed to the Star Chamber in 1641, but would clearly restrict users to professional attorneys and the prosperous middling sort keenest to pursue litigation.

(p.163) Privileged Access: The Office of State Papers

A very different attitude to access is evident in the records of the State Paper Office, which kept the crown’s ‘papers and records for matters of state’ and which in Wernham’s analysis were arcana imperii rather than public records. The State Paper Office was set up in the early 16th century, as a repository for the records of the Privy Council and the newly founded office of the Secretary of State. It seems to have been formalised as the State Paper Office during the reign of Elizabeth I, and by 1578 had a formal keeper, appointed by Letters Patent, often identified as the humanist scholar Thomas Wilson, who also served as a privy councillor, Secretary of State, and Master of the Court of Requests.51 The duties outlined in the keeper’s oath of office reveal much about how access to state papers was controlled. The main duties were to ‘keep and conserve’ the records and papers of the king, to protect the papers from harm, and to endeavour that none was ‘purloined embezzled or defaced’. The risk of embezzlement was in contrast to the main threats of ‘fire, water, rats and misplacement’ identified by Arthur Agard for the records of the Exchequer, and suggests that the records of the State Paper Office may have been more prone to casual removal than those of the Tower in part because they were not bound by the same legal imperative to retain their evidential integrity through tightly controlled custody: these were referred to as papers, not records.52 (The state papers were not formally recognised as public records until the late 1850s.53) Public access to the state papers was not permitted: the keeper was required ‘carefully and faithfully [to] keep secret and conceal from the knowledge of others either by writing or relation all such things therein contained’; such secrecy was maintained ‘for reason of state or otherwise for his majesties service’. Those who were explicitly allowed access, or to request information from the records, were members of the Privy Council, and others ‘that his Majesty shall be content to have them communicated unto’.54

Providing controlled access to the papers of state was therefore at the heart of the duties of the Keeper of the State Paper Office. As Noah Millstone’s important recent discussion has shown, the circulation of information and the sophisticated management of ‘publicity’ as a ‘technology of power’ was increasingly important to the conduct of politics in the years preceding the outbreak of civil war; its counterpoint, the ability to maintain secrecy, was an equally important means of (p.164) preventing political interference.55 The papers of the fourth Keeper of the State Paper Office, another Thomas Wilson, in post from 1605 until his death in 1629, and reputedly the nephew of the first keeper, reinforces the complexity of the politics of access in his daily work as he attempted to negotiate a difficult path between secrecy and information.

Thomas Wilson is widely reputed to have played a formative role in the sorting and description of the Jacobean State Paper Office, and it is clear that, like Arthur Agard, he produced a number of inventories and calendars of the Office during his tenure.56 Yet his reputation as a reliable and even indispensable pair of hands was to some extent self-fashioned in the many pleading letters he sent to his patrons asking for money and favour. F. J. Fisher’s short biography of Wilson makes it clear that, as the second son of gentle birth, Wilson’s career was shaped by social, financial, and professional insecurity, and this is an important lens through which to consider the politics of access to the state papers. Wilson trained in civil law, and spent much of his career under the patronage of William and Robert Cecil. He served briefly as a diplomat, although never rose above the rank of consul (in Spain), and his most coveted role, a mastership of the Court of Requests, eluded him.57 The work for which Wilson is now best known, The State of England Anno Dom. 1600, probably written as a gift for a patron and not printed until long after his death, offered a deferential but well-informed analysis of the economic, social, and political structures of the times that demonstrates his extensive experience as a secretary and his familiarity with legal and financial papers. It was, he wrote, based on ‘divers books’ collected by ‘Secretaries and Counsellors of Estate’ which showed the revenues of nobility and gentry, and which he claimed he had been privileged to see by virtue of his uncle’s position. In his estimation of the numbers of copyholders and cottages, Wilson explained that ‘there is no books or records kept of them’, other than those in ‘private Stuards [sic] hands’ which were impossible to obtain; Wilson’s estimate was arrived at ‘by reason of an office which for 7 yeares together I exercised, wherein I had occasion to take the names of all the inhabitants of 5 shyres’.58

Throughout his career, Wilson emphasised the great pains he took in his service to the king, highlighting the importance and value of providing, and controlling, access. He requested a new set of stairs to enable ‘access to the Office of the Papers and Records at all times’, and several times requested a meal allowance for his ‘continuall attendance att Whitehalle’, suggesting a steady flow of visitors and (p.165) clerks to the office on important business.59 Presenting the catalogue of the papers of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, which had taken eight years to complete, he requested a larger room so that they could be consulted more easily.60 Behind these assertions of indispensable service was Wilson’s dependence on patrons. When he requested a grant from Thomas Howard, Lord Treasurer, Wilson stressed that he took great ‘paynes in searching, and abstracting records for his Majesties service’ and promised that in return for the grant he would be bound forever ‘to your Lords honour … while I have breath to spend’.61 Wilson’s chief bargaining chip with his patrons was the value of the information he controlled. As part of a petition to the king for the mastership of the Court of Requests, Wilson recommended the king should ‘take more knowledge’ from the records in the State Paper Office, of which ‘there is not soe much use made as the treasure therein hidden deserves’. In his current role, Wilson complained, he was ‘buried amongst dead papers’ and unable to serve the king effectively; as Master of Requests, he reasoned, he would be able ‘to present unto you often times such matter out of your papers, as shold not bee unworthie of your royall consideration’.62 Occasionally such pleas bordered on threats. In another direct address to the king in 1623, which stressed Wilson’s modest income ‘which is not the tenth part of that which needs be expended’, Wilson commented that while the king was reluctant to reward him for his help with ‘divers suits’, ‘others’, more obliging to Wilson, might find ‘the way to get them out of his mouth’.63

Wilson’s dependence on patronage could also, on occasion, compromise control of the papers. When one of his key patrons, Robert Carr, the Earl of Somerset, fell into disgrace and was tried for the murder of Thomas Overbury in 1615, Wilson was clearly compromised. As Lord Chamberlain, Somerset had been his paymaster, and in January 1616 Wilson wrote desperately to the king explaining that Somerset had tried to control access to the papers, having instructed Wilson: ‘I should let noe man see anything in the office … unless I first had a warrant eyther from your majesty, or himself, which commandment I have stricktly observed.’ This was now unsustainable, given Somerset’s disgrace; and Wilson was finding himself under pressure from a number of others seeking access; he was also concerned Somerset’s papers would be destroyed before they reached the Office. Wilson suggested to the king that in future Wilson alone should determine access to the Office, leaving it ‘to my discretion and faithfulness’.64 The king’s response clarified different levels of classification that reinforced the political complexity of access, but retained more royal control than Wilson had recommended: ‘In all matters required by ambassadors he is to receive a warrant (p.166) from the Lord Chamberlain, in all things where secrecy is necessary he must have the King’s warrant verbally … but as to what is wanted by Secretaries of State, Privy Councillors, &c., he [Wilson] may use his own discretion.’65 Further political pressure appears to have been applied by the Duke of Buckingham, who became an increasingly present figure in Wilson’s life. By 1618, the State Paper Office was placed under the ‘superintendant care’ of Buckingham, and in October of that year, Buckingham proposed a new office closer to his own quarters—in the tower at Whitehall ‘adjoining which the Duke possesseth part’—on the grounds that the current premises were ‘so weak that it were an easy matter for any to break in and embezzle them’.66

A different threat to the integrity of the State Paper Office came externally, from the antiquarian and MP, Sir Robert Cotton, significant exponent of parliamentary sovereignty, whose substantial collection of manuscripts, so important in constructing evidence of parliamentary rights, was already, famously, available to the public. Thomas Wilson considered Cotton a ‘great embezzler’ and was consistently hostile. When Arthur Agard died in 1615, Wilson warned that Cotton was trying to impose his own candidate on Agard’s post at the Exchequer: ‘this would be very dangerous to the State, knowing what a man he is, as also how prejudicial it will be to their office to him have command there’. Wilson warned that Cotton ‘means to seize … into his hands’ some of the sensitive papers in Agard’s office, and worried Cotton had pressured Agard to bequeath them to him in his will.67 Wilson’s concerns underline the fluidity and complexity of access in a culture shaped by patronage and sinecures; but also are a striking reminder of how difficult it was in practice to enforce secrecy. As his enterprising attitude to his patrons suggests, Wilson took a pragmatic approach to access in the name of royal service; as the keeper of papers, not records, he was able to take a more flexible and ‘politique’ attitude than his colleagues in the courts of Westminster (although the ease with which Robert Cotton and others amassed their collections suggest that the Exchequer was also by no means unassailable).

The information guarded in the State Paper Office related largely to diplomatic precedent and the private rights of the crown. In this context Wilson’s training as a civil rather than a common lawyer, as well as his experience as a diplomat, may be significant, as it provided expertise in the legal doctrines of continental powers and different approaches to judicial evidence.68 A striking number of early record-keepers had served as diplomats abroad, and the confluence of skills required for both roles—an ability to authenticate, and interpret, politically sensitive official documents of state, as well as a sound knowledge of the political and legal systems to which they applied—underlines the close connections between intelligence and record-keeping discussed by Filippo de Vivo in this volume. (p.167) Etymologically, both diplomacy and diplomatics derive from the word ‘diploma’, an official document or charter: both functions depend upon the authentication, interpretation, and negotiation of legally binding documents.69 There are many instances of Wilson exercising expertise in foreign law and royal prerogative as he sought to render his papers accessible to his royal master. In August 1614 Wilson was asked to identify ‘such Records as concerne his Majesty’s power, right and sovereign Jurisdictions of the Seas, and Fishing’;70 in 1615 Wilson found in the papers of the deceased Arthur Agard ‘a book of the exemptions of the Kings of England from the power of the pope, and their proceedings from time to time for recovering their right’, which, concerned that his rival Robert Cotton was plotting to obtain it, he proposed to transfer to his own office.71 In 1617, he was asked to research ‘certaine Treaties of Marriage between forraigne Princes and Kinges of this realme’ for the king, copies of which were to be sent to Sir John Digby, ambassador to Spain.72 And in token of his gratitude to Buckingham, Wilson produced a book: ‘four or five quires of paper of all that belongs to the office of Lord Admiral, and how all abuses about business of the navy should be remedied’.73

Although the political timeliness of these requests is obvious, a compendium of the work carried out by the Office, compiled in 1629, emphasises the significance of the prerogative powers recorded in the State Papers. Thomas Wilson died in 1629, and the compendium was produced by Wilson’s colleague, son-in-law, and successor, Randolph Ambrose, probably as a valuation of the work completed during Wilson’s time in office: rather pointedly the compendium compared the daily fee of the clerks of the State Paper Office (20 pence per day) with that of the Master of Requests (£100 per annum, plus meals). This extensive volume presented an impressive digest of the information services carried out by the Office. These included extensive accounts of the ‘office and power’ of the High Treasurer and ‘surintendants des finances’ in France, which described their legal powers to levy fines and money via letters patent of the crown, and to oversee ‘all other charges ordinary and extraordinary’. It also noted the Treasurer’s power to investigate instances in which ‘the Kinges profit hath bin concealed, or smothered up’ by ‘officers of Justice’.74 The same account listed mechanisms for raising revenue used by the King of Spain and the Duke of Tuscany.75 Much of the information Wilson and his colleagues searched for—on royal marriages and foreign alliances—was clearly of immediate political relevance, while the compilation of (p.168) observations about continental revenue practice reinforces the importance of the diplomatic experience of keepers like Wilson. Yet it is also striking that much of the information retrieved supplied instances of royal prerogative, relating especially to revenue, presented as an efficient weapon against the efforts of judges and the like to deflect the king’s own revenues. This was of timely value to Charles I in 1629 as he eschewed parliamentary mechanisms for raising revenue and looked to his own prerogative powers. In stark contrast to the publicly accessible legal records of the royal courts, which were used to develop the crucial narrative of parliamentary sovereignty, the records in the State Paper Office thus offered a narrative that emphasised the legitimacy of royal prerogative and the private interests of the crown; in the hands of a financially needy keeper they were a valuable tool of social and political advancement.

Parliamentary Jurisdiction and Public Access

Records, and access to them, played an increasingly important role in the growing conflict between king and parliament. In the years preceding the start of Charles I’s Personal Rule in 1629, MPs sought to consult the public legal records to help clarify specifics of historical precedent in matters relating to crown finance. During parliamentary deliberations over impositions in 1610, for example, clerks were sent to the Tower to search the calendars of the records, following which the parliamentary Committee for Impositions ordered up records both from the Exchequer and the Tower.76 MPs were concerned that the records they consulted were reliable and properly authenticated, suggesting strongly that they were well aware of the importance of their evidential quality as records as they navigated the fraught legal territory of royal authority. Thus as part of the very tense deliberations over the Impositions in the Parliament of 1614, the Commons proposed to examine records ‘of 5 and 9 Richard II’ for which they required copies from the Tower to be delivered, authenticated ‘with the Officers Hand’.77 As part of the same debate, in a tense exchange with the Attorney General, Francis Bacon, MPs asked Bacon ‘what Records he had seen’ to inform his advice, to which he carefully replied that he had received some, ‘shortly after last Parliament, from Mr Jones, which he took to have been given him; whereupon he hath made private notes’. Private note-taking was not the same as an authenticated copy of a record and MPs sought clarification again that they had been shown all relevant records. Bacon offered to transcribe and re-deliver his notes to the Commons, but reiterated the superiority of the law over the mere ‘words’ of his notes.78

(p.169) In addition to ensuring the legal validity of records they consulted in framing the narrative of their relationship with the king, MPs also voiced concern over the safe-keeping of their own records, and thus asserted the archival authority of parliament. In the course of constitutionally charged debates over impositions in 1614, the Committee for Privileges moved that ‘a fit place for keeping the Records of this House may be found’; and also noted that their collections of records were incomplete, sending to the State Paper Office for the ‘many books and papers belonging to this House’ that were reportedly in Thomas Wilson’s custody.79 The growing importance of parliamentary records was reinforced by Sir Edward Coke in 1621, who argued that parliament was itself a court of record, thus placing it at the apex of the common law, and above the more recent (prerogative) courts created by the Privy Council.80 Parliamentary record-keeping became even more politically charged following the calling of the Short Parliament in 1640, when MPs confirmed that the duty of the Clerk of Parliament was the safe-keeping of ‘the records of this House’, and set up a committee ‘to peruse the Journals and Records, and to see what state the Records of this House are in’, which would meet weekly for the course of the parliament; the Long Parliament did the same when it convened in November 1640, and the Committee for Safe-Keeping of the Records continued to meet and report throughout the Long Parliament.81

The concerns of the Long Parliament to control its own records were manifold. Most obviously, and echoing arguments about the ius archivi, this related to the assertion and protection of parliamentary sovereignty. In December 1641 the MP Sir Arthur Hesilrigge was enraged by the actions of assistant clerk, John Rushworth, who had lent out the Commons Journal, and MPs subsequently declared it a ‘fundamental order of the House’ that the clerk must not allow ‘any Journal or Record to be taken from the Table, or out of his Custody’.82 Rushworth’s career is often associated with journalism and debates about control of the press, yet the actions of the Commons suggest also an intentional desire to protect their Journal as a legal record of parliamentary actions, suggestive of its growing sense of political autonomy and of the authority of its records.

The concern to confirm the legal authenticity and validity of parliamentary records is evident in the crisis of legitimacy surrounding the parliamentary purge and regicide of December 1648–January 1649. In December 1650, the Clerk of the Commons, Henry Scobell, unusually, presented the record of the king’s trial, for which he sought formal approval by parliament, and ordered it to be enrolled and engrossed in the Parliament Rolls ‘for the Transmitting of the Memory thereof to Posterity’; copies were also to be sent by mittimus (a legal writ ordering records to be transferred between courts) to the Courts of the Upper Bench, Common (p.170) Pleas, Exchequer, and the Custos Rotulorum in the counties.83 The presumed illegitimacy of non-parliamentary actions also affected the way in which they were recorded. In the political crisis of 1659–60, MPs recalled Henry Scobell to the Bar of the House of Commons, to answer for a Journal entry he had made nearly seven years previously, on 20 April 1653, which stated ‘This Day his Excellency the Lord General [Cromwell] dissolved this Parliament.’ In the view of those present, Scobell’s entry was illegal, despite the fact that he owned it as his own handwriting, as the dissolution had been done ‘without Consent of Parliament’ and Scobell had written the entry ‘without Direction of any Person whatsoever’. The Commons ordered that the offending entry be expunged forthwith: the Journal Book was a record solely of parliamentary action, not of actions deriving from an alternative authority.84

But in addition to securing their own legitimacy and posterity, MPs undertook the care and custody of records ‘for the service of the Parliament’, and increasingly in the name of the public good. In December 1643, the Commons took custody of the papers and books of John Pym that were deemed ‘of publick concernment’, and on 2 November 1647 the Committee for Safe-Keeping of the Records was ordered to collect all the ‘papers, writeings, letters or Commissions … that concerns the Publick’ currently in the hands of parliamentary clerks or committees, and bring them altogether in one place, in order to preserve and catalogue them; ‘and put them in such a way as may be made use of by the Parliament, as occasion may require’, held ‘amongst the Records’.85 Significantly, parliament did not refer to ‘records’, but to papers and writings: these were not materials that upheld the legally binding decisions of parliament, but were needed as evidence and important information that should inform parliamentary actions. The nature of the war effort and the increasing need to mobilise material support necessitated a more aggressive, ambitious approach to obtaining, and gaining custody of a much wider range of information. This enabled a strikingly novel articulation of public rights of access to records and, arguably, for a brief period a state-driven policy of record collection and custody under the auspices of parliament and the Commonwealth. In legitimating its opposition to the king, and in pursuing its military campaign against him, parliament was obliged to consult or obtain records beyond those of legal statute. In April 1640 the Committee for Privileges was accorded by the House of Commons the ‘Power to send for Records and Witnesses, and to hear Counsel’.86 Investigations into the abuses of royal prerogative of necessity required evidence from jurisdictions beyond common law or the royal courts of public record. Thus in July 1641, a parliamentary committee appointed to consider the legality of patents granted to Merchant Adventurers demanded that Sir Robert Harley submit all ‘Grants, Patents, Petitions, or other (p.171) Books or Writings whatsoever … in his custody’.87 The authorisation to send for external records became standard for parliamentary committees. In effect they were granting themselves the right to access records that previously would have been understood to be private, or secret records, the arcana imperii.

As the process of sequestration got underway in 1643, parliament’s self-appointed right to send for records escalated into the right to take them into custody. In October 1643 the House of Commons sequestered the office of the clerk and keeper of the records in the Tower of London, placing it in the hands of the MP, jurist, and antiquarian, John Selden (albeit allowing the continuity of administration via its two clerks, William Ryley and William Collet).88 By late 1643 it was becoming clear that parliamentary sequestration of enemy property had led to the accumulation from private estates of ‘divers manuscripts or written Books, Proceedings of Courts, Evidences of Lands, Rentals, Accompt Books, and other kinds of Writings and written Papers and Parchments’.89 (The fact that these were not referred to—at this point—as records further suggests that the legally literate MPs were well aware of the legal distinctions between records and writings.) The ensuing parliamentary ordinance of November 1643, laboriously titled ‘An Ordinance for the Preservation and Keeping Together for Publique Use, such Books, Evidences, Records and Writings Sequestered or Taken by Distress or Otherwise, as Are Fit to Be Preserved’, noted that the dispersal of these, ‘by sale or otherwise’ would be ‘disadvantageous and prejudicial to the publique (both to the present and to posterity)’. By this ordinance, sequestered records were to be delivered to named members of a parliamentary committee (the members included John Selden as well as notable jurists and antiquarians Sir Simonds D’Ewes and Walter Yonge), by whom they would be inventoried and kept in safe custody for public use.90

Key legislation passed in November 1646 to oversee the sale of the Bishops Lands made the process of taking records into the custody of parliament systematic.91 Again invoking the rhetoric of public good and commonwealth, the legislation specifically empowered the Clerk of the House of Commons, Henry Elsynge, to be the register and keeper of all records of Bishops Lands; the records would be kept at Goldsmiths Hall.92 The rights of public access were written into the legislation, which concluded with a list of instructions for the register, including a requirement to put all the records into order, ‘to be kept by him as Records, (p.172) and make Catalogues of them, and fit them in such a manner as the Subject may readily see, and have Copies (if he do desire it) of whatsoever shall be brought into the Register Office’.93 As keeper, Henry Elsynge was permitted to charge three pence per sheet for copies made, and instructed to write fifteen lines per copy, a much less exacting sum than that demanded by the Court of Star Chamber.94 This legislation became a template for legislation on the sale of Dean and Chapter, and then crown lands, in 1649, all of which were placed into the custody of the Clerk of the House of Commons (by now Henry Scobell).95 There are strong parallels here with the work of the Court of Augmentations, established at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, and empowered to take custody of monastic records, with its own clerk and keeper of the records. Recently described as a ‘Tudor Revolution in Archives’, the innovations of the Court of Augmentations are understood to have established archival practices that subsequently, in an arc of archival progress, informed the professional work of Arthur Agard and Thomas Wilson as they catalogued their own archival collections in the decades to come.96 But the legal right of public access to records, and the specifically parliamentary custody of a wide range of private estate and ecclesiastical records, were new, specific to the politics of the civil war and republic. Filippo de Vivo’s analysis of archival practice in 16th-century Venice demonstrates a clear distinction between government archives of a republic, and those of a prince. Princely record-keeping was devolved frequently to private secretaries with a strong bond of patronage to their master (as Arnold Hunt has shown, and we saw with Thomas Wilson), while republican government, subject to rotations of elected members, required greater transparency in organisation and access. Viewed through the lens of public access, it is possible to discern a narrative of political accountability within parliamentary record-keeping, identified also in the work of Jason Peacey and David Zaret and others in their analysis of parliamentary printing in the 1640s.

Indeed, as we have seen, parliament had already begun to articulate the principle of keeping records for the ‘publique good’. Custody, control of, and access to the records was expressed as a matter of public concern, as had been made clear in The Star-Chamber Epitomized. In May 1642, when the king’s intention to move to York became known, the Lords and the Commons rapidly ordered ‘all keepers of records in Westminster’ not to remove their records to York.97 The constitutional reasons for this were articulated more clearly in January 1643, after the king proposed to move all of his Westminster courts, and their (p.173) records, with him to Oxford. This, parliament noted, was ‘much to Prejudice of the Commonwealth’: ‘if the Records necessary to be used in such Courts should be removed … to Oxford, in a Time when Two Armies are residing near there…, it would endanger the Miscarriage of them’, and that in its turn ‘might ruin many of His Majesty’s Subjects, whose Estates depend thereupon’.98 Parliament duly ordered ‘that no Person shall remove, or cause to be Removed, any Records or Writings of any of the said Courts or Receipts, to Oxford’.99 In so doing, parliament was challenging the legal authority of the king to take custody of records that were not only his, but his subjects’, and whose legal integrity and authenticity were to be preserved for the protection and public good of his subjects. In this context, the transactional essence of a record, stressed by archival theorists, becomes politically significant: a record has at least two interested parties. Many records existed in at least two places, enrolled in the court of record, but with a further copy or copies in the hands of the interested parties. The transaction represented by the record, therefore, meant that many records—of title, interest, or office—represented a complex array of private or devolved interests as well as those of the state, and should emphatically not, in parliament’s analysis, be subject to the exclusive control of the crown and its agents. In this sense we might qualify the Foucauldian vision of the archive as an expression and projection of state or royal power alone, and allow for a more complex articulation of the relationship between public and private interests. The presence, in the Westminster records, of an almost unknowable array of private legal and commercial interests, echoes Michael Braddick’s analysis of state formation as ‘agency given to the state by activists’: Charles I experienced the negative force of that agency when he tried to control their records.100

Eventually, parliamentary sovereignty was extended even to the State Paper Office, which had received many bundles of papers seized from royalists in the course of the 1640s.101 In February 1650, John Bradshaw, regicide and president of the republican Council of State, sent a warrant ‘by authority of Parliament’, requiring one George Willingham, a London merchant and member of London’s Sequestration Committee, to give up the ‘letters and other papers of public concernment’ in his hands, and send them to John Milton at the Paper Office at Whitehall, ‘both for the safekeeping of them and also that they might be ready for public use on all occasions’.102 Others, beyond parliament, went further still in arguing for rights of access to records. John Lilburne, writing in 1646, described at painful length the costs and other bars to access to records in the Tower, when (p.174) he had sought to consult the original charters of London from one of the record clerks, William Collet. Lilburne claimed to have paid ‘out of my penury … three or four pound’ for the copies, ‘by virtue and authority of which’ Lilburne was able to confirm the ‘rights of all the free men of London’ had been contravened in the recent municipal elections. Further investigations, Lilburne stressed, were long and costly. In order to interpret the records he was obliged to seek the advice of a man ‘versed in antiquity’ who referred him to an ‘ancient book in print … containing many of the Liberties and Franchises of London’. Finding the book ‘most excellent’, Lilburne arranged to have both it and his copies of the records translated from Latin and French into English, and undertook to get the whole thing printed.103 Lilburne’s desire for the simplification and explication of the law was part of a broader movement for law reform in this period, but his concomitant argument for broader access to public records, beyond the custody and jurisdiction of parliament, is also worthy of note.104 In 1649, Lilburne’s Foundations of Freedom proposed the setting up in every county or shire ‘a County Record for the perfect Registering of all Conveyances, Bills and Bonds’, for the prevention of fraud, theft, and deceipt.105 In 1651, the radical preacher Hugh Peter, in a work entitled Good Work for a Good Magistrate, further proposed that public registers should be kept in every parish, in which all land and houses would be registered, as well as all sales and transfers of land. This, Peter specified, would serve as the only authentic record (although copies of the entries should be transferred to the local county town, in case of fire), ‘so none might bee mistaken in premorgages [sic], or anie other waie’, and everyone would be sure of ‘what hee hath, or can claim as his own’. Registration should not be free: all contracts for money or land should be sealed with a small ‘seal of state’, for a charge of 3d or 6d to the state, because ‘such papers will bee of great use for men’s securitie that deal; and an insensible incom to the State’.106 Yet wills and testaments, presumably protecting the interests of the poorest families of a community, would be entered into the register for free, proved without charge by two justices. For Hugh Peter devolved record-keeping would protect the interests of ordinary people and remunerate the state, the epitome of good magistracy. Once the registers were set up, he concluded, it would be ‘verie advisable to burn all the old Records yea, even those in the Tower, the Monuments of tyrannie’.107

(p.175) Conclusion

In invoking the principle that access to records was ‘for public use’, the Council of State articulated a remarkably precocious attitude towards the accessibility of public records. In many ways it anticipated the actions of the Assemblée Nationale in revolutionary France, which established the first national archival institution, the Archives Nationales, in order to house the records of title seized from the defeated aristocracy, and which enshrined in law the principle of public access.108 But this is an analogy beyond the scope of this chapter, and arguably beyond the capacity of the English Revolution—although the alacrity with which royalty and nobility sought to regain their records at the restoration underlines that the legal and political significance of record-keeping was understood by all sides; the moment of public access was very rapidly reversed. It is clear, then, that access to records in early modern England was deeply political, highly nuanced, and determined ultimately by the legal status of the records, of the institutions that generated and retained them, and of those whose interests lay in the holdings. The assertion of parliamentary sovereignty and the dislocating experiences of civil war mobilisation led to a radical, perhaps unprecedented, articulation of the rights of people to control the information that defined their material rights and status. Legally minded MPs were clearly cognisant of the distinctions between records, papers, and other documents, and their legislative innovations in record-keeping reflect a steady programme to assume custody and control of an ever broader array of records of rights, estates, and property; those less impressed by the legitimacy of parliamentary rule argued for more localised control over record-keeping. It is through the lens of access, therefore, that the complexity of the politics of record-keeping becomes apparent. The powers embodied in the archives ultimately were more devolved, relative, and ambiguous than Foucault—and Charles I—imagined.

Investigation of changing ideas about access to records, and the politics of record-keeping more broadly, also allows us to refine ideas about the politics of information, and of political participation, in the English civil war. Recent accounts of the politics of information have tended to focus on the circulation and control of news and information, either in print or manuscript, or the promulgation of more clandestine rumour and gossip shaped by privileged, secret information. Much of this work has fruitfully addressed questions of public opinion, debate, and persuasion as a mechanism for understanding the development of ‘public politics’ and the changing nature of political participation.109 Yet, in a deeply hierarchical and non-democratic society, we should be careful not to overstate or oversimplify the significance of public or even popular opinion. The very powerful model of the public sphere, propounded by Jürgen Habermas and initially very influential among early modern scholars in their discussion of (p.176) public opinion, may be worth reconsidering in this context. For Habermas, the public sphere represented the intersection of the interests of private citizens with those of the state, and involved the expression of civic and mercantile interests in the business of government. Public opinion, for Habermas, was encapsulated in the discussion of news and politics by an enfranchised, mercantile elite who sought to influence and direct government actions. Yet although initially fruitful for early modern scholarship of public opinion, historians have become increasingly wary of its utility for the complexity and fluidity of early modern political cultures: Habermas’s argument derived from his understanding of the period after 1688, when the franchise had expanded, parliamentary elections were frequent and regular, and the fiscal-military state was mature.110 The politics of record-keeping enables us to broaden our understanding of the ‘public sphere’ beyond the expression of opinion. Arguably, the broadest and most complex array of private interests was represented, not in the discussion of news or opinion, but in the records of title, property, and wealth, which, as we have seen, were at issue in the civil war and revolution. The putative seizing by the king of the public records in 1643 constituted for his parliamentarian opponents a clear attack on the private material interests of his subjects. Crucially, the records represented the intersection of private and public interests in ways not dissimilar to Habermas’s public sphere: these were records of private interests upheld, protected, and controlled by the laws of the state. Discussions about access to and custody of these records, and action taken to seize and control them, thus formed an important strand of public politics that simultaneously invoked private and public interests. Viewed through the lens of public access, the politics of record-keeping thus allows us to broaden our understanding of the nature of the public politics and information, to move away from opinion and persuasion, and steers us back to the politics of land, title, and commerce that was at stake for participants in the English Revolution.


I am grateful to my fellow editors, the external reader, and to Ann Hughes, for their comments and suggestions on this chapter.


(1) Anon., The Star-Chamber Epitomized ([London?], 1641), p. 1.

(5) T. G. Barnes, ‘Due Process and Slow Process in the Late Elizabethan–Early Stuart Star Chamber, American Journal of Legal History, 6 (1962), 221–49; idem, ‘The Archives and Archival Problems of the Elizabethan and Early Stuart Star Chamber’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 2 (1963), 345–60; D. Chan Smith, Sir Edward Coke and the Reformation of the Laws: Religion, Politics and Jurisprudence, 1578–1616 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 37, 49; John Lilburne, The Christian Mans Trial (London, 1641), p. 5. An early account of its processes was laid out by an under clerk in 1621, William Hudson, The Court of Star Chamber (1621), printed in F. Hargrave (ed.), Collectanea Juridica II (1792), pp. 1–240. See also W. Prest, ‘Judicial Corruption in Early Modern England’, Past & Present, 133 (1991), 67–95.

(6) For the importance of printed news and information, see J. Peacey, Print and Public Politics in the English Revolution (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013); J. Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003), and idem, The Invention of the Newspaper: English Newsbooks, 1641–49 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996); D. Zaret, The Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2000); P. Lake and S. Pincus (eds), The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2007); B. Dooley and S. Baron (eds), The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe (London, Routledge, 2001); A. Hughes, Gangraena and the Struggle for the English Revolution (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004). For a nuanced discussion of the importance of manuscript publications see especially N. Millstone, Manuscript Circulation and the Invention of Politics in Early Stuart England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2016), and D. Coast, News and Rumour in Jacobean England. Information, Court Politics and Diplomacy, 1618–25 (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2016).

(7) J. G. A. Pocock, The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law. A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century, 2nd edn (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987); C. W. Brooks, Law, Politics and Society in Early Modern England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008).

(8) K. Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton 1586–1631: History and Politics in Early Modern England (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979); see also A. Cromartie, The Constitutionalist Revolution: An Essay on the History of England 1450–1642 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006).

(9) W. Prynne, The Opening of the Great Seal of England (London, M. Sparke, 1643), pp. 1, 16.

(10) W. Prynne, Hidden Workes of Darknes Brought to Publick Light (London, M. Sparke, 1645), ‘Epistle Dedicatory’ (n.p.).

(11) A. Wood, The Memory of the People: Custom and Popular Senses of the Past in Early Modern England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013); A. Fox, ‘Custom, Memory and the Authority of Writing’, in P. Griffiths, A. Fox, and S. Hindle (eds), The Experience of Authority in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1996), pp. 89–116; Brooks, Law, Politics and Society; idem., Pettyfoggers and Vipers of the Commonwealth: The Lower Branch of the Legal Profession in Early Modern England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986).

(12) P. Walne, Dictionary of Archival Terminology, 2nd edn (Berlin, De Gruyter, 1988), p. 2.

(13) A. Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (London, Yale University Press, 2010); P. Burke, A Social History of Knowledge from Gutenberg to Diderot (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000).

(14) M. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England 1066–1307, 3rd edn (Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013); E. Higgs, The Information State in England. The Central Collection of Information on Citizens since 1500 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); R. Head, ‘Knowing Like a State: the Transformation of Political Knowledge in Swiss Archives, 1450–1770’, Journal of Modern History, 75 (2003), 745–82; F. de Vivo, Information and Communication in Venice: Rethinking Early Modern Politics (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007); idem., ‘Ordering the Archive in Early Modern Venice (1400–1650)’, Archival Science, 10 (2010), 231–48; J. Soll, The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s Secret State Intelligence System (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, 2009). See also the collections of essays in three special issues: F. de Vivo, A. Guidi, and A. Silvestri (eds), ‘Archival Transformations in Early Modern European History’, European History Quarterly, 46 (2016), 421–34; R. Head (ed.), ‘Archival Knowledge Cultures in Europe, 1400–1900’, Archival Science, 10 (2010); A. Blair and J. Milligan, ‘Towards a Cultural History of Archives’, Archival Science, 7 (2007), 289–96.

(15) R. Head, ‘Configuring European Archives: Spaces, Materials and Practices in the Differentiation of Repositories from the Late Middle Ages to 1700’, European History Quarterly, 46 (2016), 499.

(16) De Vivo, ‘Ordering the Archive’; R. Head, ‘Mirroring Governance: Archives, Inventories and Political Knowledge in Early Modern Switzerland and Europe’, Archival Science, 7 (2007), 317–29; idem., ‘Knowing Like a State’.

(17) P. Griffiths, ‘Secrecy and Authority in Late Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century London’, The Historical Journal, 40 (1997), 925–51; see also the chapter by Arndt Brendecke in this volume.

(18) J. Scott-Warren, ‘Was Elizabeth I Richard II?’ The Authority of Lambarde’s “Conversation”’, Review of English Studies, 64 (2013), 208–30.

(19) J. C. Scott, Seeing Like a State (New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1998); Higgs, Information State; P. Slack, ‘Government and Information in Seventeenth-Century England’, Past & Present, 184 (2004), 33–68; idem., The Invention of Improvement: Information and Material Progress in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015); P. Griffiths, ‘Local Arithmetic: Information Cultures in Early Modern England’, in S. Hindle, A. Shepard, and J. Walter (eds), Remaking English Society: Social Relations and Social Change in Early Modern England (Woodbridge, Boydell, 2013), pp. 113–34. Paul Slack’s essay in Past & Present (2004) offers a particularly nuanced exploration of the use of information, as private, civic individuals made use of available data for their own projects of improvement: this was not crudely an information state in Slack’s analysis but an information society.

(22) M. Duchein, ‘The History of European Archives and the Development of the European Archival Profession’, American Archivist, 55 (1992), 14–25; T. Cook, ‘What is Past is Prologue: a History of Archival Ideas since 1898, and the Future Paradigm Shift’, Archivaria, 43 (1997), 16–73; F. Blouin and W. Rosenberg, Processing the Past: Contesting Authority in History and the Archives (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011); E. Ketelaar, ‘Muniments and Monuments: the Dawn of Archives as Cultural Patrimony’, Archival Science, 7 (2007), 343–57.

(23) Cook, ‘What is Past is Prologue’; J. Ridener, From Polders to Postmodernism: A Concise History of Archival Theory (Duluth, MN, Litwin Books, 2009).

(24) T. Cook and J. Schwarz, ‘Archives, Records and Power: the Making of Modern Memory’, Archival Science, 2 (2002), 18.

(25) E. Posner, Archives and the Ancient World (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 3–4.

(26) J. Derrida, Archive Fever. A Freudian Impression, trans. E. Prenowitz (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 2–3; A. Walsham, ‘Introduction’, in L. Corens, K. Peters, and A. Walsham (eds), The Social History of the Archive: Record-Keeping in Early Modern Europe, Past & Present Supplement 11 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 14.

(27) Definition taken from the Oxford English Dictionary; see also Cook, ‘What is Past is Prologue’; Ridener, From Polders to Postmodernism.

(29) H. MacNeil, ‘From the Memory of the Act to the Act Itself. The Evolution of Written Records as Proof of Jural Acts in England, 11th to 17th Century’, Archival Science, 6 (2006), 313–28; idem., Trusting Records: Legal, Historical, and Diplomatic Perspectives (Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic, 2000), pp. 1–31.

(30) S. E. Thorne, ‘Courts of Record and Sir Edward Coke’, The University of Toronto Law Journal, 2 (1937), 48.

(31) R. Head, ‘Documents, Archives and Proof around 1700’, The Historical Journal, 56 (2013), 909–30.

(32) R. B. Wernham, ‘The Public Records in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’, in L. Fox (ed.), English Historical Scholarship in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1956), p. 11. Wernham drew from the work of Arthur Agard, clerk of the Exchequer Court, of whom more below.

(34) E. Hallam Smith, ‘Nine Centuries of Keeping the Public Records’, in G. H. Martin and P. Spufford (eds), The Records of the Nation (Woodbridge, Boydell, 1990), pp. 23–42.

(36) Brooks, Law, Politics and Society; J. H. Baker, ‘The Books of the Common Law’, in L. Hellinga and J. B. Trapp (eds), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 3: 1400–1557 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 411–32; J. H. Baker, ‘English Law Books and Legal Publishing’, Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 4: 1557–1695 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 474–503.

(37) The Office of Generall Remembrance of Matters of Record (London, 1617).

(38) T. Powell, Direction for Search of Records (London, 1622), sig. A3. See also T. Powell, The Attourneys Academy (London, 1623) and The Attornies Almanacke (London, 1627). For Powell, see A. Hadfield, ‘Powell, Thomas (d. c.1635)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

(39) G. H. Martin, ‘Agard, Arthur (1535/6–1615)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

(40) Extant copies of the Compendium are held in the British Library [BL], Add Ms 25256 and Lansdowne Ms 137; for copies of the Abbreviatio Placetorium see BL, Add MS 25259 and 25160.

(41) E. Hallam, ‘Nine Centuries of Keeping the Public Records’, p. 23; F. Palgrave (ed.), The Antient Kalendars and Inventories of the Treasury of His Majesty’s Exchequer, 3 vols (London, Eyre and Spottiswood, 1836), vol. 2, pp. 311–35.

(42) Arthur Agard, The Repertorie of Records (London, 1631), p. 135.

(51) S. Doran and J. Woolfson, ‘Wilson, Thomas (1523/4–1581)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004); E. Edwards, ‘History of the State Paper Office’, Libraries and Founders of Libraries [electronic resource] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 180–1.

(52) ‘The Compendium of the Records in the Treasury, Compiled and Digested by Arthur Agarde, Esq. 1610’, in Palgrave (ed.), Antient Kalendars, p. 313.

(53) J. Cantwell, ‘The 1838 Public Record Office Act and Its Aftermath: A New Perspective’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 7 (1984), 277–86.

(54) The National Archives (hereinafter TNA), SP45/20/27.

(56) Many of Wilson’s papers are preserved in the records of the State Paper Office, TNA SP45/20, and are calendared in The Thirtieth Annual Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records, House of Commons Sessional Papers, XXVI, 73 (1868); for another inventory by Wilson, see BL, Add MS 48008, ff. 3–6.

(57) The State of England Anno Dom. 1600 by Thomas Wilson, ed. F. J. Fisher, Camden Miscellany xvi (1936), pp. v–vii.

(59) SP45/20/45.

(60) SP45/20/34r.

(61) SP45/20/43.

(62) SP14/88 fol. 83.

(63) SP45/20/104.

(64) SP45/20/47.

(69) Definition taken from the OED; L. Duranti, ‘Diplomatics: New Uses for an Old Science’, Archivaria, 28 (1989), 10–12 and passim.

(70) SP45/20/40.

(72) SP45/20/52.

(73) SP 45/20/103.

(74) SP9/195, fols. 12, 13v.

(75) SP9/195, fols. 29v–30v; 48.

(76) Journals of the House of Commons (London, HMSO, 1802), (hereinafter CJ), vol. 1, pp. 435, 440, 486.

(77) CJ, vol. 1, p. 486. For an authenticated copy bearing the signature of the Clerk of the Records of the Tower, William Ryley, see BL, Add MS 48169, f. 559.

(80) S. E. Thorne, ‘Courts of Record and Sir Edward Coke’, The University of Toronto Law Journal, 2 (1937), 48.

(89) ‘An Ordinance for the Preservation and Keeping Together for Publique Use, such Books, Evidences, Records and Writings Sequestered or Taken by Distress or Otherwise, as Are Fit to Be Preserved’, in C. H. Firth and R. S. Rait (eds), Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642–1660, 3 vols (London, HMSO, 1911) [hereinafter A&O], vol. 1, p. 343.

(91) ‘An Ordinance for the Settling of the Lands of all the Bishops […] for the Service of the Commonwealth’, 17 November 1646, A&O, vol. 1, pp. 887–93.

(93) A&O, vol. 1, p. 904. My emphasis.

(95) ‘An Act for Abolishing of Deans’, 30 April 1649, A&O, vol. 2, pp. 81–90; ‘An Act for Sale of the Honors, Manors, Lands Heretofore Belonging to the Late King, Queen and Prince’, 16 July 1649, A&O, vol. 2, p. 168.

(96) V. Harding, ‘Monastic Records and the Dissolution: A Tudor Revolution in the Archives?’, European History Quarterly, 46 (2016), 480–97; N. Popper, ‘From Abbey to Archive: Managing Texts and Records in Early Modern England’, Archival Science, 10 (2010), 249–66.

(97) Journal of the House of Lords (London, HMSO, 1767–1830), vol. 5, pp. 85–6.

(98) A&O, vol. 1, p. 66. My emphasis.

(100) M. Braddick, State Formation in Early Modern England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 427.

(101) SP45/20/227–229v.

(102) SP45/20/230. My emphasis. For George Willingham, see Calendar of the Proceedings of the Committee for Compounding, 1643–1660 (London, HMSO, 1889), vol. 1, p. 212.

(103) J. Lilburne, London’s Liberty in Chains Discovered (London, 1646), pp. 21–3.

(104) D. Veall, The Popular Movement for Law Reform 1640–1660 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1970).

(105) J. Lilburne, Foundations of Freedom: or an Agreement of the People (n.p., 1648), p. 15.

(106) H. Peter, Good Work for a Good Magistrate (London, 1651), pp. 28–9.

(110) J. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. T. Burger with the assistance of F. Lawrence (Cambridge, Polity, 1992).