Cataloging British and Irish government documents

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This article is about cataloging legal documents emanating from, or principally recording the activities of, the governments of England, England and Wales, Great Britain, Scotland, and Ireland in the early modern period. In addition to providing guidelines for different types of government documents, this article documents Folger catalogers' deliberate deviation from Resource Description and Access (RDA) in formulating authorized access points. These instructions reflect current policy; there are many records in Hamnet for government documents that follow different standards.

See also List of parliamentary sessions


England: 927-1536
England and Wales: 1536-1707
Kingdom of Ireland: 1542-1800
Interregnum: 1642-1660
Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales): 1707-1800; (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), 1801-1920
Scotland: -1707


  • Legal documents contain many concealed editions. Whenever possible, compare EEBO or other digitized copy against the copy in hand
  • Indicate the typeface used
  • Make as rich an array of topical subject headings as is practicable. Researchers who are looking for a particular law will find it, but we want to assist those researching a topic who might find legislation useful but didn't know to seek it out.
  • Delete LCSH form subject headings in favor of genre terms from AAT, LCGFT, RBMS, &c.
  • Do not use $v Pamphlets for any strings.
  • Use $e issuing body for documents issued by royal or Parliamentary authorities.
  • Do not make a work analytical added entry for texts of documents that are included.


Terms in AAT's Declaratory documents hierarchy aren't as well-defined as we'd like. In particular, declarations, decrees, edicts, and proclamations are all sibling terms with overlapping definitions, while laws (documents), also with overlapping definitions, is on the same level as "Declaratory documents." After much discussion over years and flip-flopping decisions (see the six-month rule), as of February 2019, we consider that

  • decrees and laws are the official legal documents, e.g., the laws themselves
  • edicts and proclamations are public-facing pronouncements of those laws, etc., and are functionally indistinguishable
  • royal proclamations--which have the force of law--are at once the official documents and their pronouncement


Executive orders and official announcements given by the sovereign, or under their approval.

Authorized access points

  • Use the authorized corporate name. For example:
1101 England and Wales. ǂb Sovereign (1558-1603 : Elizabeth I), ǂe issuing body.
1101 England and Wales. ǂb Privy Council, ǂe issuing body.
1101 Scotland. ǂb Sovereign (1424-1437 : James I), ǂe issuing body.
1101 England and Wales. ǂb Parliament,ǂe issuing body.
  • Uniform title "Proclamations" followed by the full, inverted date of the proclamation. For example:
240 10 Proclamations. 1553-07-19

Genre/form terms

655 7Proclamations. ǂ2 aat 
655 7Legal documents. ǂ2 aat

Declarations and orders

Crawford's discussion on proclamations, orders, declarations, and ordinances during the Civil War and interregnum is instructive. In general, formulate the uniform title according to usage on the document. Since declarations are the Parliament's version of royal proclamations, use both genre/form terms. Q: what genre/form to give to Orders? See Acts of Parliament for acts and ordinances.

Declaration of the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled; The Lords and Commons do declare,
1101 England and Wales. ǂb Parliament, ǂe issuing body.
24010Declarations. 1642-04-09
655 7Declarations. ǂ2 aat
655 7Legal documents. ǂ2 aat

drawn up by order; order from the House; it is this day ordered
1101 England and Wales. ǂb Parliament. ǂbHouse of Commons, ǂe issuing body.
24010Orders. 1641-05-05
667 7Decrees. ǂ2 aat
655 7Legal documents. ǂ2 aat


  • Add a 510 reference citation to
510 Crawford, J.L.L. Bibliography of royal proclamations of the Tudor and Stuart sovereigns and of others published under authority, 1485-1714
Note: The English short title catalogue and Wing refer to this bibliography as "Steele."
  • Crawford includes proclamations and acts ordered to be proclaimed by Parliament during the Commonwealth, from the Execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649 and the arrival of Charles II in London on 30 May 1660.
  • Add a general note giving the Crawford notation, which he describes thus: "Every proclamation has a large initial letter indented in the body of the text. It is found that if the last word of the first line of the proclamation, the word at the lower right-hand corner of the initial, and the last word of the last complete line of the proclamation [text] itself be observed, it rarely occurs that they are the same in two different issues ..."
  • Add the Crawford notation from the bibliography, reformulated into understandable prose. For example, the entry in Crawford has this: Arms 23 consideration and so
500 Black letter. Type headpiece. Crawford notation: last word of the first line of text is 'consideration'; first word of the last line to the right of initial is 'bishop'; the last word of the last full line of text is 'so'. Crawford Arms 23.
  • If the item is not in Crawford but is within its scope, give the notation in the same way.
500 Not in Crawford, J.L.L. Bibliography of royal proclamations of the Tudor and Stuart sovereigns and of others published under authority, 1485-1714. Crawford-style notation: last word of the first line of text is "are"; first word of the last line to the right of the initial is 'any'; last word of the last full line of text is 'per-'.
  • Any document formatted like proclamations (Caption title beginning with large initial) can be described with Crawford-style notation. It is a good idea to add it as a matter of course, given the growing number of previously-unrecorded editions of this type of material.

Genre terms

655 7 Proclamations. ǂ2 aat
If the proclamation was issued by or with the advice of the Privy Council, add also
655 7 Orders in council. ǂ2 rbgenr


Acts and ordinances

  • Acts are the result of bills that have successfully passed through Parliament and received royal assent. There are two types of acts: Public General Acts and Private Acts (comprising acts pertaining to specific persons or localities). Private acts pertaining to individuals were rarely printed.
  • Enacted laws are entered under the name of the political jurisdiction, not of Parliament nor of the sovereign giving royal assent. Use the name valid for the jurisdiction at the time the document was issued, for our purposes England and Wales. or Great Britain.
  • Acts of Parliament during the Interregnum did not receive royal assent, and are therefore not considered Public General Acts. Interregnum parliaments styled them ordinances until 1649, after which they styled them acts. Follow usage in formulating uniform titles. (See Discussion)

Uniform titles and added name entries

  • Use the appropriate collective uniform title Public General Acts. followed by a short citation, formulated by a combination of the modern calendar year(s) of the session of Parliament enacting it, and the reigning monarch's regnal year.
  • Use the year of enactment according to the modern calendar rather than the contemporary legal calendar, which began on March 25. Between January 1 and March 24, the year on the resource will always correspond to the following calendar year. Example: Source says "ninth day of January 1715"; it is the modern year 1716.
  • Use List of acts of the English Parliament for the authorized forms. (Modern and historic forms vary; these forms are based on the ESTC cataloging rules.) Some sessions of Parliament require the session number ("stat.") as part of the citation. Be sure to include the phrase as given.
  • Make an added access point for parliament.
 710 1  England and Wales. ǂb Parliament,  ǂe issuing body.
  • During the Commonwealth (1649-1653), legislation was issued by the Commons alone.
 710 1 England and Wales. ǂb Parliament. ǂb House of Commons, ǂe issuing body.
  • Make an added access point for the sovereign. (Not applicable to the ordinances and acts of the Interregnum before the designation of Cromwell as Lord Protector in 1653.)
 710 1  England and Wales. ǂb Sovereign (1689-1694 : William and Mary), ǂe issuing body.
 7101 England and Wales. ǂb Lord Protector (1653-1658 : O. Cromwell), ǂe issuing body.


  • For collections of acts and other enacted laws corresponding to a particular session of Parliament,
 240 10 Public General Acts. 1670. 22 Car.II
  • For collections of acts of the English and British Parliament and other enacted laws that are complete within a chronological period not corresponding to a session of Parliament, use the collective uniform title with the inclusive years.
240 10 Public General Acts. 1685-1707
  • For selected collections of acts, &c., add the form term "Selections" at the end.
 240 10 Public General Acts. 1742. ǂk Selections

Individual acts

  • For acts with title pages beginning Anno regni, prefer the more specific title as the title proper, usually appearing as a caption preceding the text of the act.
  • Make an added title access point for the short title or conventional title as found in the lists of acts of Parliament. Note: the ordinances and acts during the Interregnum do not have short or conventional titles.
  • Use the chapter number as given in the 22nd edition, v. 1 (1907) of Great Britain. Statue Law Committee. Chronological Table and Index of the Statutes. There are more recent reference sources, but this is the most recent one freely available via HathiTrust.
  • Dates connected with official or conventional short titles bear the year of the beginning of that session of Parliament. For example, 1 Gul. & Mar.stat.1.c.16, known as the The Simony Act, 1688 was enacted 11 May 1689.


  • As a matter of course, the ESTC includes this statement on the contemporary printing of individual acts: Also issued as part of a through-paged set with a table for the entire set added, even when we can't find evidence of published compilations, as for legislation under William and Mary. We will nevertheless retain that note (appending "(ESTC)" as the source to the note ... when we remember to do so).
  • Wing (2nd ed.) (and EEBO) has only a sampling of acts. Since visual comparison cannot be a routine part of cataloging these acts, inclusion of and attention to the formula of first line last word -- word at lower right-corner of the initial -- last word last full line is essential. The formula is derived from Crawford (the ESTC calls it Steele), adding it as "Steele notation" even if not in in scope of Steele/Crawford.

Genre terms

 655 7 Legislative acts. ǂ2 aat 
If containing texts of oaths, also add
 655 7 Oaths. ǂ2 aat 


110 1 England and Wales, ǂe enacting jurisdiction.
240 10 Public General Acts. 1689. 1 Gul. & Mar.stat.1.c.6  
245 13 An act for removing and preventing all questions and disputes concerning the assembling and sitting of this present Parliament.  
246 1 ǂi Title page reads: ǂa Anno regni Gulielmi et Mariae Regis et Reginae Angliae, Franciae & Hiberniae, primo.  On the twenty third day of February, anno  Dom. 1688. In the first year of Their Majesties reign, this act passed the royal assent 
246 13 Coronation Oath Act 1688
500 Leaf A2r: last word of the first line of text: ’all’; first word of line below initial: ’Enacted’; last word of last full line of first page of text: ’Commons’.
110 1 England and Wales, ǂe enacting jurisdiction.
240 10 Ordinances. 1642-02-18
245 13 An ordinance of both Houses of Parliament, for the safeguard of the Parliament, Tower, and City of London, under the command of Serjeant Major Generall Skippon.
110 1 England and Wales, ǂe enacting jurisdiction.
240 10 Acts. 1651-02-04 
245 13 An act to make void all titles of honor, dignities or precedencies given by the late King, since the fourth of January, one thousand six hundred forty and one. 
260 London : ǂb Printed by John Field, printer to the Parliament of England, ǂc 1651 [i.e. 1652]  
500 Page 1544 dated and signed: Wednesday the 4th of February, 1651 [i.e. 1652].

Parliamentary bills

  • Bills are texts of laws prepared for consideration by Parliament.
  • Bills printed for Parliamentary proceedings usually use the "Act" terminology, but unless the document is published with its date of passage and a statement (except during the Interregnum and Commonwealth), that it has received royal assent, treat it as a bill.
  • Authorized access point for bills are the person or body that issued the document in its current state.
    • If it has been considered by Parliament and the date is known, use the collective title 24010Proceedings. (and as much of the date as is known in ISO inverted form).
    • If it was never brought before Parliament, use the collective title 24010Miscellaneous documents. (and as much of the date as is known in ISO inverted form).
  • Make a note on the disposition of the bill, if known. Add a short title of enacted legislature as related expression, if appropriate.

Genre terms

655 7Bills (legislative records) ǂ2 aat
655 7House of Commons bills. ǂ2 aat


Year books

Year books are the law reports of medieval England. Written in Law French (language code roa), they were reprinted through the end of the 17th century.

Added entries

655 7Judicial records. ǂ2 aat
655 7Legal documents. ǂ2 aat
7101 England. ǂb Curia Regis.

7101 for the sovereign

Example records

Miscellaneous documents

Use "Miscellaneous documents" with inverted 8-digit year for official documents for which no other uniform title is appropriate. Example

110 10 England and Wales. ǂb Sovereign (1625-1649 : Charles I),  ǂe issuing body.
240 10 Miscellaneous documents. 1642-06-16
245 10 His Majesties declaration to all his loving subjects, occasioned by a false and scandalous imputation laid upon His Majesty of an intention of raising or leavying war against his Parliament, and of having raised force to that end ... 


  • Title main entry, unless a formal, named body is presenting the petition. Relationship designator: petitioner. ("Petitioner" is being proposed for addition to the RDA list.)
  • Added access point for body or person to whom the petition is addressed. Relationship designator: addressee
  • Form/genre
    • 655 7Petitions. ǂ2 aat
    • 655 7Legal documents. ǂ2 aat
    • 655 7Broadsides (notices) ǂ2 aat
  • If what is being described contains the text of a petition but is not itself a petition, include 'Petitions' in the form/genre headings.

Other government documents

For Scottish laws and other kinds of documents (e.g., bills, parliamentary papers, speeches, treaties), consult the senior cataloger responsible for pre-1831 printed books.

External links