The Record Commissions were a series of six Royal Commissions of Great Britain and (from 1801) the United Kingdom which sat between 1800 and 1837 to inquire into the custody and public accessibility of the state archives. The Commissioners' work paved the way for the establishment of the Public Record Office in 1838. The Commissioners were also responsible for publishing various historical records, including the Statutes of the Realm (i.e. of England and Great Britain) to 1714 and the Acts of Parliament of Scotland to 1707, as well as a number of important medieval records.
Although the six Commissions were technically distinct from one another, there was a considerable degree of continuity between them, and it is common practice to regard them as a single entity and to refer to them in singular form as the Record Commission.
The first Commission was established on 19 July 1800, on the recommendation of a Select Committee appointed earlier in the year, on the initiative and under the chairmanship of Charles Abbot, MP for Helston, "to inquire into the State of the Public Records of this kingdom". The public records were at this time housed in a variety of repositories, including the Tower of London, the chapter house of Westminster Abbey, the Pell Office adjacent to Westminster Hall, Somerset House, and elsewhere, often in a disorganised state and in highly unsuitable physical conditions. The idea of a single central repository was mooted as early as 1800, and became the subject of an abortive parliamentary bill in 1833, but it was to be some years before this was achieved: in the meantime, the Commissioners arranged for various moves of individual classes of records into new accommodation. These moves were well-intentioned and sometimes led to improvements in storage and arrangement, but more often resulted in the loss and further disorganisation of records.
The Commission (in particular the sixth Commission, which sat from 1831 to 1837) gained a reputation for inactivity, corruption, jobbery, and for including among its members too many persons in high office with other demands on their time. Some of these criticisms came from external observers, such as Sir Harris Nicolas; others were made by the Commission's own salaried employees, notably Henry Cole, and to a lesser extent Thomas Duffus Hardy. A Parliamentary committee, appointed to inquire into its work, reported in 1836 that the national archives remained scattered in a number of unsuitable locations, and in the custody of "a multitude of imperfectly responsible keepers". Out of these controversies emerged the Public Record Office Act 1838, which established the Public Record Office in that same year.
The Commissioners' second objective was to make the records more accessible through the compilation of finding aids (indexes and calendars), and where possible the publication of these, as well as the publication of full texts of selected records of particular importance. The sixth Commission employed four sub-Commissioners (Joseph Hunter, Francis Palgrave, Joseph Stevenson, and for a time John Caley), as well as other ad hoc editors and a number of clerks, specifically on the task of editing records for publication. Most of the Commission's publications used a "record type" typeface, designed to present the text in a near-facsimile of the manuscript originals. The publications programme was generally considered a success, and many of the Commission's editions remain in current scholarly use. In other cases, however, the absence of a permanent arrangement to the records rapidly rendered the compilation of finding aids redundant.
The Commissions' publications included:
- Astle, Thomas; Ayscough, Samuel; Caley, John, eds. (1802). Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae auctoritate P. Nicholai IV, circa A.D. 1291.
- Astle, Thomas; Ayscough, Samuel; Caley, John, eds. (1802). Calendarium Rotulorum Patentium in Turri Londiniensi. See Patent Rolls.
- Caley, John, ed. (1803). Calendarium Rotulorum Chartarum et Inquisitionum ad quod damnum. See Charter Roll.
- Robertson, W., ed. (1804). The Parliamentary Records of Scotland in the General Register House, Edinburgh.
- Playford, H.; Caley, John, eds. (1805–1810). Rotulorum Originalium in Curia Scaccarii Abbreviato. (2 vols)
- Caley, John; Bayley, J., eds. (1806–28). Calendarium Inquisitionum post mortem sive Escaetarum. (4 vols). See Inquisition post mortem.
- Vanderzee, G., ed. (1807). Nonarum Inquisitiones in Curia Scaccarii, temp. Regis Edwardi III.
- Caley, John; Illingworth, William, eds. (1807). Testa de Nevill sive liber feodorum in Curia Scaccarii, temp Hen. III et Edw. I. See Book of Fees.
- Luders, A.; Tomlins, T.E.; Taunton, W.E.; Raithby, J., eds. (1810–28). The Statutes of the Realm, from original records and authentic manuscripts. (11 vols). See The Statutes of the Realm.
- Caley, John; Hunter, J., eds. (1810–34). Valor Ecclesiasticus temp. Hen. VIII auctoritate regia institutus. (6 vols)
- Illingworth, William, ed. (1811). Placitorum in Domo Capitulari Westmonasteriensi asservatorum abbreviatio, temporibus regum Ric. I, Johann., Hen. III, Edw. I, Edw. II.
- Thomson, Thomas, ed. (1811–16). Inquistitionum ad Capellam Domini Regis retornatarum quae in publicis archivis Scotiae adhuc servantur, abbreviatio. (3 vols)
- Illingworth, William, ed. (1812–18). Rotuli Hundredorum temp. Hen. III et Edw. I in turr' Lond' et in curia receptae scaccarii West' asservati. (2 vols). See Hundred Rolls.
- Macpherson, David; Caley, John; Illingworth, William, eds. (1814–19). Rotuli Scotiae in Turri Londinensi et in Domo Capitulari Westmonasteriensi asservati. (2 vols)
- Thomson, Thomas; Innes, Cosmo, eds. (1814–44). The Acts of Parliament of Scotland. (11 vols)
- Ellis, Henry, ed. (1816). Libri Censualis, vocati Domesday-Book, additamenta ex codic. antiquiss.: Exon' Domesday, Inquisition Eliensis, Liber Winton', Boldon Book. (An edition of four 11th and 12th-century regional surveys associated with Domesday Book. See Publication of Domesday Book.)
- Ellis, Henry, ed. (1816). Libri Censualis, vocati Domesday-Book, Indices: accesit dissertatio generalis de ratione hujusce libri. (A set of indexes to the edition of Domesday Book edited by Abraham Farley and published by the government in 1783. See Publication of Domesday Book.)
- Illingworth, William, ed. (1818). Placita de Quo Warranto, temporibus Edw. I, II et III in Curia Receptae Scaccarii Westm. Asservata.
- Harper, R.J.; Caley, John; Minchin, W., eds. (1823–34). Ducatus Lancastriae. (Records of inquisitions post mortem, and pleadings and depositions, within the Duchy of Lancaster, in 3 vols)
- Bayley, John, ed. (1827–32). Calendars of the Proceedings in Chancery in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth; to which are prefixed examples of earlier proceedings in that court, namely, from the reign of Richard the Second to that of Queen Elizabeth inclusive. (3 vols)
- Palgrave, Francis, ed. (1827–34). The Parliamentary Writs and Writs of Military Summons, together with the records and muniments relating to the suit and service due and performed to the King's High Court of Parliament and the Councils of the Realm, or affording evidence of attendance at Parliaments and Councils. (2 vols: includes in Vol. 2 a text of Nomina Villarum)
- Hunter, Joseph, ed. (1833). Magnum Rotulum Scaccarii, vel Magnum Rotulum Pipae, anno tricesimo-primo regni Henrici primi, ut videtur, quem plurimi hactenus laudarunt pro rotulo quinti anni Stephani Regis.
- Hunter, Joseph, ed. (1833). Rotulus Cancellarii, vel Antigraphum Magni Rotuli Pipae, de tertio anno regni Regis Johannis.
- Hardy, Thomas Duffus, ed. (1833). Rotuli Litteraum Clausarum in Turri Londinensi Asservati. (An edition of the Close Rolls for the years 1204–1224. A second volume, covering the years 1224–27 and also edited by Hardy, was published by the Public Record Office in 1844.)
- Hunter, Joseph, ed. (1834). Rotuli Selecti ad res Anglicas et Hibernicas Spectantes: ex Archivis in Domo Capitulari Westmonasteriensi Deprompti.
- Nicolas, Sir Harris, ed. (1834–37). Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council of England (1386–1542). (7 vols)
- Palgrave, Francis, ed. (1835). Rotuli Curiae Regis: Rolls and Records of the Court held before the King's Justiciars or Justices. (2 vols)
- Hardy, Thomas Duffus, ed. (1835). Rotuli Litterarum Patentium in Turri Londonensi Asservati: Vol. I, part I. (An edition of the Patent Rolls from 1201 to 1216.)
- Hardy, Thomas Duffus, ed. (1835). Rotuli Normanniae in Turri Londinensi Asservati, Johanne et Henrico Quinto Angliae Regibus: Vol. II: De annis 1200–1205, necnon de anno 1417.
- Hardy, Thomas Duffus, ed. (1835). Rotuli de Oblatis et Finibus in Turri Londinensi Asservati, tempore Regis Johannis. (An edition of the Fine rolls to 1216.)
- Cole, Henry, ed. (1835). Catalogue of Records remaining in the Office of the King's Remembrancer of the Exchequer.
- Roberts, Charles, ed. (1835–36). Excerpta e Rotulis Finium in Turri Londinensi Asservatis, Henrico Tertio Rege, A.D. 1216–1272. (2 vols) (A selective edition of excerpts from the Fine rolls of the reign of Henry III.)
- Hunter, Joseph, ed. (1835). Fines sive Pedes Finium sive Finales Concordiae in Curia Domini Regis, ab Anno Septimo Regni Regis Ricardi I ad Annum Decimum Sextum Regis Johannis, A.D. 1195–A.D. 1214. (An edition of feet of fines for the counties of Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and Cornwall to 1214. A second volume, covering the counties of Cumberland, Derbyshire, Devon and Dorset was published by the Public Record Office in 1844.)
- Palgrave, Francis, ed. (1836). The Ancient Kalendars and Inventories of the Treasury of His Majesty's Exchequer, together with other documents illustrating the history of that repository. (3 vols)
- Hardy, Thomas Duffus, ed. (1838). Rotuli Chartarum in Turri Londinensi Asservati: Vol. I, part I: Ab anno MCXCIX ad annum MCCXVI. (An edition of the Charter Rolls from 1199 to 1216.)
- Black, W.H., ed. (1837). Docquets of Letters Patent and other instruments passed under the Great Seal of King Charles I in the years 1642, 1643, 1644, 1645 and 1646.
- Ellis, Henry, ed. (1838). Registrum vulgariter nuncupatum "The Record of Caernarvon": a codice Msto Harleiano 696 descriptum. (An edition of manorial extents in Caernarvon and Anglesey, mainly of 1352–53, with other related records)
- Walne 1973, pp. 9–12.
- Walne 1973, pp. 13–14.
- Cantwell 1984, p. 278.
- Cantwell 1984, p. 277–8.
- Cooper, Ann (2008) . "Cole, Sir Henry (1808–1882)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/5852. (subscription required)
- Cantwell 1984, p. 277.
- Cantwell 1984.
- Walne 1973, p. 15.
- Walne 1973, pp. 14–17.
- Cantwell, John (1984). "The 1838 Public Record Office Act and its aftermath: a new perspective". Journal of the Society of Archivists. 7 (5): 277–86. doi:10.1080/00379818409514241.
- Cappon, Lester J. (1972). "Antecedents of the Rolls Series: Issues in Historical Editing". Journal of the Society of Archivists. 4 (5): 358–69. doi:10.1080/00379817209513979.
- Gouldesbrough, Peter (1973). "The Record Commissions and Scotland". In Ranger, Felicity (ed.). Prisca Munimenta: studies in archival & administrative history presented to Dr A.E.J. Hollaender. London: University of London Press. pp. 19–26. ISBN 978-0-340-17398-5.
- Walne, Peter (1973). "The Record Commissions 1800–37". In Ranger, Felicity (ed.). Prisca Munimenta: studies in archival & administrative history presented to Dr A.E.J. Hollaender. London: University of London Press. pp. 9–18. ISBN 978-0-340-17398-5.
- "Texts and Calendars published by the Record Commissioners" (PDF). Royal Historical Society. Retrieved 19 August 2016.