Unlocking History

The Registers of the Archbishops of York contain 400 years of valuable religious, political and social history. Now, thanks to funding, they are available for all to access

The Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York houses the Registers of the Archbishops of York, one of the most important series of historical materials to survive in England today.

The Registers are a valuable, and in many cases unexploited, source for ecclesiastical, political, social, local and family history – covering periods of war, famine, political strife and religious reformation in the Archdiocese of York and the wider Northern Province. They are a vital source for understanding the historical role of the Church in the political, social, confessional and cultural life of the UK in the period 1225-1650. They provide rare testimony on questions of continuity and change between the medieval and the early modern periods.

For the first time ever, thanks to major grant funding from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation and the Marc Fitch Fund, a team of archivists, conservators, imagers and digital humanities experts have been able to digitise and make freely available the Registers of the Archbishops of York, 1225-1650. Supported by the York Digital Library, which was funded thanks to a generous donation by the Holbeck Charitable Trust, the Archbishops’ Registers Revealed platform provides free online access to over 20,000 images of the Registers. The project has digitised over 10,000 parchment folios relating to the management of the church, clergy discipline, relationships with the monarchy, personal piety and more, and indexing work is underway to further open up the period 1576-1650, enabling both specialist and non-specialist users to delve deeper into the content.

The Archbishops’ Registers project is a fantastic example of how the Digital Library can unlock the past for future generations.”

Heidi Fraser-Krauss, Director of Information Services and University Librarian

Gary Brannan, York graduate and Access Archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, explains, “These are a fantastic resource for social, political and religious history, and span the period of the aftermath of Magna Carta to the fires of civil war.” The reaction to Archbishops’ Registers Revealed has been significant. From 2006 – 2016, before digitisation, 112 people were able to visit campus to access the original Registers. Since March 2016, 3,600 people in 64 countries and from 1300 cities have been able to access the Registers online.

Chris Webb, Keeper of Archives, Borthwick Institute for Archives, adds, “The Archbishops’ Registers Revealed platform allows the Registers to be used and understood in a way that has not been possible before, and will help to open new avenues in medieval and early modern research. The project is of immediate benefit to the academic community, to local and family historians, and to a wide variety of other, hitherto unreached research communities who have been unable to access the resource for reasons of lack of technical skill, awareness of the content of the records, or their distance from York.”