Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Question from Ashley - English versions of foreign primary sources

Does anyone know of any collected books of primary sources (or even websites)? I know that there are some for Henry VIII and Elizabeth I's state papers and letters and that the Lisle Letters were published. Are there any English versions for the various ambassadors (Spanish, Venetian, French etc)? I'm currently stuck in the U.S., but would still like to view primary sources. Any suggestions are always appreciated. Thanks!


kb said...

Have you looked at the Calendar of State Papers Spanish? And Calendar of State Papers Venetian? Not precisely primary sources but generally accepted as primary material. they include ambassadorial correspondence translated into English and organized by date. Try a big university library. Or the Internet Archive has PDF versions of the Spanish State Papers for Elizabeth's reign. (Sometimes called Calendar of State Papers from Simancas).

Anonymous said...

Ashley, if you have access to a large university library (and when I say "large," I mean something on the level of your state's flagship university), you should be able to find literally a truckload of primary source material. I am not sure precisely what sort of research you are conducting, but you should be able to find ALL of the various "Calendars," many of which extend back into the early medieval period and forward to the present. These include the various Calendars of State Papers (separated into Domestic and Foreign, and sometimes into specific nations, i.e, Spain, Venice, etc.), Calendars of Close Rolls, Patent Rolls, Fine Rolls, and the Exchequer, plus the Acts of the Privy Council. [For those who may not know, a "Calendar" is really just a heavily abridged printed version of documents that were originally handwritten, a sort of overview with only the most important documents printed in full.]

You should also be able to find the Debates of Parliament in printed form as published by Hansard's, extending to hundreds of volumes, but these begin only in the late Tudor period.

Then there are the many various volumes published by the Historical Manuscripts Commission. These are similar to the state "Calendars," but pertain to the papers and documents of private individuals such as the Duke of This or the Earl of That.

Then there are the documents published by the various antiquarian societies, including the Camden Society, the Parker Society, the Catholic Record Society, and many others. These collections sometimes have index volumes because the volumes themselves tend to jump back and forth in time and to different unconnected topics. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of volumes published by these various societies and they provide a very rich body of primary source material.

Most of the various Chronicles (Greyfriars, Grafton's, Fabyan's, Holinshed's, etc) can be found in modern printed form.

John Strype famously published several volumes of primary source material back in the late 18th century, but the age of these books sometimes means that they are housed in the Special Collections area of the library. But you can still view them there.

And there are many high-quality online resources, as well. For example, I often use the free online version of John Foxe's "Actes and Monuments" as it is maintained by University of Sheffield ( I also frequently use Early English Books Online (, which is literally what the name implies: tens of thousands of books, all published before 1800, photographed page by page and made accessible online. But unfortunately, EEBO is by subscription only and is unaffordable for individual users. But again, a large university library will usually have a subscription, so you should be able to access it via the library's computers.

Lara has a number of good resources on this site; I have some on mine and am adding more as I have time. Others have similar sites with good primary sources posted.

So there is a LOT of stuff readily available. Perhaps if Lara will forward my email address to you, you can get in touch with me, tell me where you are located and what your precise research topic is, and I can offer some more specific assistance. I am always more than happy to help.

Lara said...

I don't think I have the original submission email any more, so Ashely, you'll have to email me again for me to pass on PhDH's address. I'm at