These records formed part of a collection of Venetian state papers made by Rawdon Lubbock Brown, an English scholar resident in Venice for fifty years from 1833. Since 1862 he had been employed as an editor by the Public Record Office.
There is an appreciable amount of copied or extracted material, some copied at the time of its production, some later (but before Brown's time), and the rest during his lifetime, often at the instigation of Italian friends who shared his interest in Venetian history. There is a significant amount of original material, in manuscript and print, which Brown started buying in the 1830s. The most important part of this, the Tiepolo-Contarini collection, in 80 lots,was purchased by him in 1837 for his compatriot Edward Cheney, who gave it to Brown in 1840.
The importance of the collection lies in the light it throws on Venetian and European history, particularly in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, from ambassadorial despatches, reports, diaries, itineraries and from manuscript gazettes, avvisi, or newsletters reporting on Venice and all the capitals where the Republic was represented diplomatically. The superiority of the schematic reports (relazioni) made by Venetian ambassadors on their return from diplomatic service in any one country abroad or Italian state, and read by them in the Senate, was universally acknowledged at an early date, which accounts for the existence of copies of so many of them. The manuscript gazettes (riporti) were sold in Venice for a 'gazeta' (a coin) long before 1600; the earliest in this collection dates from 1634.
This series contains diplomatic records which relate to the administrative history of Venice and its dependencies. These include ambassadors' reports and despatches; manuscript newsletters from European capitals; material on the career of Venetian ambassador Francesco Contarini (d 1624); documents in cypher; letters and instruments to and from the Senate (Pregadi); papers of the doges (some of which are brilliantly illuminated) and of the Grand Council and Council of Ten; records of the Inquisitors of State; and documents concerning Brown's own interest in Cervantes, Shakespeare, heretics and gypsies.
There are also reports from local governors and captains, naval material, items relating to Englishmen in Venice and records of the State Inquisitors and Officio della Sanita. The policing of the city and the detail of community regulation of lighting and burial in Venice in the eighteenth century are documented, and there are lists of officials, such as ambassadors and procurators (proctors) of St Marks.
The vast majority of these records are in Italian: a limited number of documents, usually formal, legal or papal or reproduced antiques are in Latin, a few in French or English, and very few in other European languages.