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Early Modern Sources (1500-1750)


The early modern period of British history is usually dated as starting in 1500 and ending either in 1750 or 1800, coinciding with the late Ming and earlier Qing dynasties of Chinese history.

This period witnessed the rule of the Tudors, the Stuarts, and the House of Hanover. Key events include the Reformation, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, the Civil Wars of the 1640s, the union between England and Scotland in 1707, and the emergence of the office of Prime Minister in the eighteenth century.




Click on the resources below to find out more and access the sources

Anglo-American Legal Tradition

The Anglo-American Legal Tradition provides a large quantity of information relating to the royal courts in England from 1176 to the reign of Queen Victoria. The records provide a glimpse at the political, legal and economic workings of the royal court. The website contains colour images of the original court rolls and links to the calendars of patent and close rolls.   

British History Online

British History Online is a significant resource for historians of all aspects of British History. The website contains a broad range of material which has been printed and presents it in an easily navigable and searchable format.  Sources range from the City of London Tithe Assessments to the Diaries of Thomas Burton. Sources are available for across the early modern period, with filters allowing the user to refine by century, subject or geographical location. As well as primary sources British History Online also provides subject guides, calendars of archival material and a small selection of secondary sources.

British Library Online Resources

The British Library has an extensive collection of early modern texts, some of which have been digitised and are available online. This resource is organised thematically. The ‘Sources from History’ section is particularly useful as it allows the user to browse historically important digitised texts in chronological order. This is a rich resource for those interested in the society and culture of early modern Britain.

British Printed Images to 1700

The British Printed Images database contains book illustrations and other printed images form early modern Britain. The database consists of several thousand images, each accompanied with a short description and information regarding the image’s production. The website also contains a substantial resource section which provides users with historical context and technical information as an aid to those who are new to the field of art history. While this database as obvious uses to art historians, it is also a useful resource for those interested in all areas of early modern history.

Broadside Ballads Online

Broadside Ballads Online is a collection of printed ballads from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. Broadside Ballads were cheaply printed on one side of paper. They were a cheap and extremely popular form of entertainment and were widely disseminated. The database is made up of images of the original broadside ballads including the accompanying illustrations. The ballads provide an excellent resource for those interested in social and cultural history, in particular popular culture.

Cause Papers in the Diocesan Courts of the Archbishopric of York, 1300-1858

The York cause papers are the papers of individual cases of the ecclesiastic court in York. The cause papers cover a wide variety of cases such as disputes over marriage contracts, tithes, and the validity of wills. The cause papers present a valuable insight into familial and community relations. The source is of particular interest to social, cultural, and legal historians. While some of the entries only provide basic information on cases, others contain colour images of the original cause papers. The website also provides historical background of the Diocesan Courts and guides to using the cause papers.

City and Region: Urban and Agricultural Rent in England, 1400-1914

This website offers the user the ability to browse by location, land use, or landowner to ascertain rents across England and their development over time. The project has also included a useful section on how to use the site, which provides helpful tools such as conversion information but also serves to offer examples of how the information in the site could be used and interpreted by historians. The project would be of particular interest to those interested in social and economic history.

Clergy of the Church of England Database

The Clergy of the Church of England Database allows the user to search the records of clerical careers between 1540 and 1835. The database contains records such as education and appointments for specific individuals. The database can also be browsed by location to examine the succession of clergymen holding a specific appointment. As well as providing biographical information for clergymen of this period, the database can also be used to research social, economic, and ecclesiastic history of the early modern period.

The Cornell University Witchcraft Collection

The Cornell University Witchcraft Collection contains over 100 texts available to be searched or browsed online. The texts themselves are black and white images of the original printed documents. All the texts are in English and date from the fifteenth century onwards. A rich source on early modern superstition and religious belief, the Witchcraft Collection is also a useful resource for those interested in social and religious history, as well as popular culture.

Digital Quaker Collection

The Digital Quaker Collection is a database of over 500 Quaker texts dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The collection includes a variety of material from foundation texts to a broader spectrum of Quaker beliefs. Each text contains both a transcription of the printed work and a black and white image of the original printed text itself.  This database is particularly useful to historians of religion but is also a valuable reference tool for those interested in seventeenth and eighteenth century culture more generally.

Early English Books Online

Early English Books Online (EEBO) contains digital facsimile page images of extant printed works from Britain and British North America from 1473 to 1700. The database is searchable by author, title or subject. The vast range of material available on the database makes EEBO an essential resource for all those interested in the social and cultural history of the early modern period.

Early Modern Hub

The Early Modern Hub is a fantastic resource for those interested in studying the early modern period. The website contains an extensive but not exhaustive list of online primary and secondary sources on the period. As well as its collection of early modern resources the Hub also contains links to relevant blogs, news and scholarship relating to the early modern studies.

Early Modern Letters Online

Early Modern Letters Online is a finding aid for correspondence written in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. The database has a wide variety of search fields as well as the ability to browse through the correspondence entries. While the database does not contain copies or transcriptions of the letters themselves it does provide summaries and useful statistics for the correspondence of different individuals. The variety of topics covered in the correspondence make this a useful resource for all genres of history, however, particularly for those interested in social history.

Eighteenth Century Collections Online

Eighteenth Century Collections Online contains searchable electronic text editions of English books printed in the eighteenth century. The database can be searched or browsed. The books cover a wide variety of genres and topics and therefore this source would be a valuable resource to those studying all areas of the eighteenth century.

England's Immigrants 1350-1550

The England’s Immigrants database allows the user to search the Alien Subsidies and a variety of other sources relating to England’s immigrant population between the years 1350 and 1550. The database is useful for demographic, social, economic, political, or cultural history.

Folger Digital Image Collection

The Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Collection contains images of a wide variety of material related to the drama and the theatre from the sixteenth century onwards. The images include costumes, accounts, and theatre memorabilia making it a valuable resource for those interested in the popular culture of the early modern period.

Internet Archive: Text Archive

The Internet Archive’s Text Archive is a digital library with over nine million digitised volumes. This includes digitised version of edited versions of primary sources. Books can be read online or downloaded in a variety of formats. Due to the volume of their collection this source is most useful when looking for a specific volume rather than explorative research.

Internet Modern History Sourcebook

The Internet Modern History Sourcebook is a collection of primary sources dating from the end of the reformation to the modern day. The sources are organised chronologically through loose themes such as ‘Everyday Life’ or ‘Absolutism’. This acts as an approximate time plan for the social, economic, and cultural development of Europe across the period. The sources available in each section are extensive and are collected from a wide variety of genres. Due to the breadth of material, the Modern History Sourcebook is an excellent source for historians interested in the legal, political, military, social, and cultural history of early modern Europe.

John Foxe’s The Acts of Monuments Online

John Foxe’s The Acts of Monuments Online provides users with access to four editions of John Foxe’s work that were published within his lifetime (1516-1587). John Foxe was an English historian and religious writer whose work was extremely popular throughout the early modern period. The editions are presented as searchable transcriptions and the website includes an extensive selection of critical apparatus to aid the readers understanding of the text and its development. This source is particularly useful to those interested in sixteenth-century religion and culture.

Locating London’s Past

Locating London’s Past combines a number of datasets such as that of London Lives, the Centre for Metropolitan History, and the Museum of London Archaeology. Each data set is searched separately and presented with its individual historical background. The variety of information available in one place makes this a rich resource for those interested in urban and social history.

London Lives 1690-1800: Crime Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis

London Lives 1690-1800 provides a wealth of information about life in London in the eighteenth century. The website combines parish archives, criminal records, coroners records, and guild records to create a searchable database. The documents appear as transcriptions with accompanying images of the original facsimile. The website also contains contextual information to introduce the sources and provide historical background. This website is a rich resource for those interested in urban and social history.

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery has a large collection of portraits in a variety of mediums. The catalogue can be browsed and searched by artist or sitter. The catalogue also places each portrait in its historical context with events that took place the same year. While the collection is of particular use to art historians, it can also serve as a helpful reference work for all students of early modern history.

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey: London Central Criminal Court 1674-1913

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey provide a valuable source for modern legal proceedings. The Proceedings do not provide a full transcript of court cases but an account of the criminal cases produced shortly after the fact for publication for a popular audience. The website also provides the reader with substantial guidance on the history and development of the proceedings as well as tips on using them as a historical source.

Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707

The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland is a searchable database of the proceedings of the Scottish Parliaments from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century. Alongside the proceedings themselves, the website also contains extensive contextual information on the history of the Scottish Parliament. There is also a guide for new users of the database, which suggests areas of research and guidance on getting the most from the database itself. The database is particularly useful for those interested in the political history, however, it also provides insights in the social, economic, and legal history of Scotland.

Sir Hans Sloane’s Correspondence Online

Hans Sloane was an early modern physician, scientist and collector. As well as information on Sloane’s life, this website contains a database of his correspondence. This correspondence provides historians with a valuable source on practical medical care, family life, and scientific networks in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

The Lewis Walpole Library

The Lewis Walpole Library is research center for eighteenth-century studies., and the library's digital collections make selected texts and images freely available over the internet. These digital resources include a significant collection of English caricatures and political satirical prints, and all 48 columes of W.S. Lewis’s scholarly edition of the correspondence of Horace Walpole (1717-1797), youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole, England's first Prime Minister.