From the BHO editorial team


British History Online (BHO) is a digital collection of key printed primary and secondary sources for the history of Britain and Ireland, with a special focus on the period 1300 to 1800.

As we enter a new lockdown period (January 2021), we’ve decided to make all transcribed content on BHO freely available to individual users. This move repeats a similar freeing up of 200 volumes of BHO Premium Content in 2020. This material will remain available until 30 April 2021 in the first instance.

We hope this freeing up helps with research and teaching at this time. This blog post (first published for the 2020 offer and now updated) describes what’s included in this latest move.



British History Online (BHO) is a digital collection of key printed primary and secondary sources for the history of Britain and Ireland, and the British world, with a special focus on the period 1300 to 1800. The BHO collection includes 1285 volumes of primary content and secondary sources.

Most of this content (over 1000 volumes or c.80% of the total) is always available free to use by anyone, anywhere with access to the BHO site. In addition, we offer several subscription packages—for individual users and institutions—that provide access to a further 200 volumes of primary research content.



1. Free access to all BHO content


As we enter a new lockdown period, from Monday 11 January 2021 we’re making the transcribed texts of these additional 200 volumes available in full to individual users who visit the BHO site.

We’re very aware of the current challenges faced by students and researchers with the access restrictions placed affecting some  universities, libraries and archives. We hope that by releasing these additional volumes BHO can provide access to a wider selection of valuable research materials. This extended access runs to 30 April 2021 and will cover the period when many students are engaged in planning their dissertation research.


The BHO homepage offers access to all primary and secondary content



2. What’s included in the new content?


The extra 200 volumes now available are predominantly made up of two important series:

Close Rolls record ‘Letters close’ which were issued by the Chancery in the name of the Crown. These letters were ‘usually of an executive nature conveying orders and instructions, and, therefore of a private and personal nature’ (The National Archives, 2020). Because of their nature, letters were ‘issued folded and “closed” by the application of the great seal’ (TNA).

The Close Rolls are records of these letters, initiated by Chancery to create a master version of the letters sent. BHO’s collection covers closed letters issued between 1244 and 1509 in a total of 61 volumes.

The State Papers Domestic are the accumulated papers of the secretaries of state relating to national home (domestic) affairs. They contain information on every facet of early modern government. State Papers took many formats: ‘including private and official letters, musters, reports, commissions and instructions, council orders and correspondence, proclamations, memoranda and draft parliamentary bills’ (TNA, 2020).

BHO’s collection covers State Papers Domestic for the period 1547 to 1704 in a total of 92 volumes.

In both cases, British History Online offers the Calendar of the original records, not the original records. These Calendars were created in the late Victorian period. They provide researchers with a full summary of the contents of the original document. For nearly all purposes these summaries are wholly sufficient for research.


The remainder of the now free BHO content comprises the following eight series:



A final series is the Calendar of Patent Rolls, covering the reigns of Henry III, Edward I and Edward II, and the early reign of Edward III (1216 to 1343), which appear in 20 volumes. The Patent Rolls are closely linked to the Close Rolls, being the records of Letters patent (or ‘open’). Volumes for Edward III’s reign are new to BHO and were added in December 2020.

Letters patent were unsealed letters expressing the sovereign’s will on a variety of matters of public interest. BHO’s 20 volumes are the first output in a new project to digitise and publish the Calendar of Patent Rolls up to and including the reign of Henry VII (1509); this project is ongoing.

For more on the Patent (and Close) Rolls, and their usefulness for medieval historians, see this earlier IHR blog post from Dr Adam Chapman of the IHR.


The petition of sixteen inhabitants of the township of Bollington in the parish of Prestbury. From the English Petitions series in BHO. Image courtesy of Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, QJF 67/3/17.



3. Using all of British History Online for research


If you’re looking to undertake remote research, there’s much on BHO in addition to the newly released Premium Content. Notable collections—of private and secondary sources—that remain permanently free include:


3.1. Within our Primary sources collection …

  • House of Commons Journals, 1527-1699, in 13 volumes
  • House of Lords journals, 1509-1793, in 42 volumes
  • 41 volumes of primary works edited and published by the London Record Society – a particularly rich collection (including diaries and correspondence) on London history from the 15th to the 19th century
  • Petitions from English Quarter Sessions and House of Lords: transcripts of 2526 petitions covering the period 1577-1799: a series in association with The Power of Petitioning research project at Birkbeck and University College London. Read more about the completed project here (November 2020).
  • Privy Council Acts, 1552-1631, in 46 volumes


3.2. Within our Secondary sources collection …

  • 175 volumes of the Victoria County History, covering selected English counties from Bedfordshire to Yorkshire – an essential record for local and regional historians
  • 60 volumes of the Survey of London which, at parish level, provides detailed architectural and topographical studies of the capital’s built environment.
  • 32 volumes of the Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae: the standard authority for identifying the higher clergy of the Church of England from 1066 to 1857
  • Listings of 30,000 History PhD and other theses awarded by UK and Irish universities between 1901 and 2014. Two sets of records cover History Theses, 1901-1970 and Theses, 1971-2014. A recent guide to using Theses for research is available here; from November 2020, 10,000 Theses (1971-2014) link to the British Library’s EThOS catalogue of digitised theses.


3.3. Within our Datasets collection …

  • The Cromwell Association Directory of Parliamentarian Army Officers: a born-digital dictionary of over 4,000 officers who served in the armies of Parliament during the first English civil war (1642-6)
  • The returns of the Hearth Tax assessment, covering the City of London (1662), Westminster (1664) and the City of London and Middlesex (1666), in 3 volumes


3.4. Within our Maps collection …

  • Single volume maps of London created between 1561 and 1676
  • Over 100 volumes of the Victorian Ordnance Survey series, including the complete 1:10,560 series and selected areas of the 1:2,500 maps


Detail of Leake’s Survey of the City After the Great Fire of 1666. One of the scalable maps available on BHO.


3.5. Within our Guides and Calendars collection …



4. Subject guides to British History Online


We’ve currently a small but growing set of subject guides to using BHO for the following, written for us by external users of the resource:

We’d love to add some more subject guides to BHO, especially as more people come to the resource for first time. If you’re a historian working in an appropriate field of medieval or early modern British history—and would like to write us something on the following, or something else—please do get in touch:

  • Key documentary sources, such as State Papers Domestic, Foreign, Close Rolls, and others
  • Scottish History
  • Irish History
  • Colonial History and the British Atlantic
  • History of the built environment
  • Legal History
  • Britain’s territories and influence overseas
  • Government or other aspects of life during specific periods or reigns




5. Institution subscriptions to British History Online


BHO institutional subscriptions will remain in place during this period. These accounts provide members of institutions with additional options above and beyond the texts of the 200 volumes: for example, tens of thousands of page scans of digitized Calendars, enabling libraries to remove lengthy runs of volumes from library shelves.

All income generated from institutional and personal subscriptions to BHO content is used to sustain the project, support its continuation, extend its range of coverage, and ensure that as much research material as possible remains freely available to all users.

Please do promote the availability of British History Online for research as widely as possible in the coming weeks



6. Other IHR online research resources, from January 2021


In addition to British History Online (and its free Premium Content), the IHR offers a wide range of other free digital resources. These include primary and secondary research materials, Open Access publications, IHR Library collections, 100s of online events and training courses.