Thousands of historic records dating back to the 13th century will be available online for free during the coronavirus outbreak.


The Institute of Historical Research (IHR) announced that it will make all the content on its British History Online (BHO) website free to access until 31 July.

BHO is a digital collection of over 1,280 primary and secondary sources for the history of Britain and Ireland, with a special focus on the period 1300 to 1800.

Around 80% of this content is always available for free, but the IHR has now lifted the subscription to the remaining 200 volumes.

On its website, the IHR said: “We’re very aware of the current challenges faced by students and researchers with the closure of universities, libraries and archives.

“We hope that by releasing these additional volumes BHO can provide access to a wider selection of valuable research materials.”

The extra 200 volumes are predominantly made up of two important series: the Calendar of Close Rolls, covering the reigns of Henry III to Henry VII (1244 to 1509), and the Calendar of State Papers Domestic, covering the reigns of Edward VI to Anne (1547 to 1704).

Close Rolls record ‘Letters close’ which were issued by the Chancery in the name of the Crown.

They conveyed orders and instructions to persons of importance, including local sheriffs and even foreign rulers.

They dealt with topics ranging from major constitutional decisions to the daily economy of the royal household.

They also include details of legal cases and requests for bail, and provide an early source of our ancestors’ names and an insight into medieval criminal justice.

The State Papers Domestic are the accumulated papers of the secretaries of state relating to domestic affairs.

They include private and official letters, musters, reports, commissions and instructions, council orders and correspondence, proclamations, memoranda and draft parliamentary bills.

Both Calendars are detailed summaries of the original records, made in the Victorian era.

They are not searchable, but researchers can browse through them.

The other series now made freely available are:

• Calendar of State Papers, Ireland (1586-1606)

• Calendar of State Papers, Scotland (1547-1588)

• Parliament Rolls of Medieval England

• Calendar of Home Office Papers (1760-1775)

• Calendar of Border Papers (1560-1603)

• Calendar of the Committee for the Advance of Money (1642-55)

• Calendar of the Committee for Compounding (1643-60)

• Calendar of Patent Rolls (1216 to 1307)


Rosemary Collins is the staff writer of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine