Catalogue description Special Collections: Papal Bulls

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Details of SC 7
Reference: SC 7
Title: Special Collections: Papal Bulls

An artificial collection created in the mid-1880s of papal documents, brought together from a variety of archival sources among the public records.

The records cover the whole range of dealings between the papacy and the royal government and ecclesiastical authorities. A significant proportion of the series consists of letters addressed to the King of England. There are also numerous letters addressed generally or to named ecclesiastics and others, most of which relate to matters touching royal government, from papal taxation and papal provisions to benefices and ecclesiastical dignities within the king's lands.

The records include:

  • Great or solemn privileges, bearing subscriptions, the rota and benevalete: these are described in the list as 'great bulls'. They were issued increasingly rarely after the twelfth century.
  • Letters of grace, to which the bulla was attached by silk strings: the string is noted if any survived at the time of listing; otherwise the name of the pope is printed in capital letters as it appears in the document. Such documents were issued in response to petitions, usually to grant or confirm rights (including earlier solemn privileges), to confer benefices or to decide causes.
  • Letters of justice or mandates, to which the bulla was attached by hemp strings. Again, these were issued in response to petitions, but they were used most commonly to convey administrative orders or to appoint judges delegate in ecclesiastical causes which had been referred to the Curia. They were sometimes sent folded and sealed in such a way that they could be opened only by cutting the parchment or the string: these bullae clausae are described in the list as 'letters close'.
  • Generally-addressed letters, some issued motu proprio, usually declaring or confirming an action or event; these open with the words 'ad perpetuam (or futuram) rei memoriam'. They first appeared at the very end of the fourteenth century but became common in the second half of the fifteenth.

The documents relating to Cardinal Wolsey date from the years 1524-1530, and deal with various aspects of Wolsey's power, including his diplomatic activities on behalf of King Henry VIII. The majority, however, relate to his exercise of power as legate a latere in conducting visitations of religious houses in England, and his campaign to suppress some of the smallest of these.

Many documents are transcripts or exemplifications, often made many years after the original date of issue.

Date: 1131-1533

The former Exchequer and Chancery records are arranged alphabetically by name of the Pope, though listed in strict chronological order of the issue or creation of the documents. Original letters are assigned to the known or presumed date of issue, but exemplifications and other transcripts are usually listed according to the date at which they were compiled, where this is known.

Abbreviations used in the list are as follows:

  • Bain Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, ed J Bain (4 vols, 1881-1888)
  • Cal. Papal Letters Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, ed W H Bliss, C Johnson and J A Twemlow (11 vols, 1983-1921)
  • E.H.R. English Historical Review
  • JaffĂ© Regesta Pontificum Romanorum ab Condita Ecclesia ad annum post Christum Natum MCXCVIII, ed P JaffĂ© (Berlin, 1851) - references by serial number
  • Monasticon Monasticon Anglicanum, William Dugdale, rev J Caley, H Ellis and B Bandinal (6 vols in 8, 1846)
  • Potthast Regesta Pontificum Romanorum, ad annum 1304, ed A Potthast (Berlin, 1874) - references by serial number
  • Prynne An Exact Demonstration of Our King's Supreme Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, W Prynne (vol 3, 1670)
  • R. Foedera, Conventiones, Letterae et Cujuscunque Generis Acta Publica inter Reges Angliae et alios ..., ed Thomas Rymer (20 vols, 1727-1735); Rymer's Foedera: Syllabus in English with Index, 1066-1654, ed T D Hardy (3 vols, 1869-1885)
  • Shirley Royal and other Historical Letters Illustrative of the Reign of Henry III, ed W W Shirley (2 vols, Rolls Series, 1862, 1866)

Related material:

additional finding aid ZBOX 1/75/2

Separated material:

A number of papal letters are in the British Library under the references Cotton MSS Cleopatra E.i-iii and Vitellius B.ii-ix.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Chancery, 1066-1875

Exchequer, Treasury of the Receipt, 1109-1833

Physical description: 64 bundle(s)
Physical condition: Many of the documents have lost their bullae
Custodial history: Many documents were among the records of the Treasury of the Receipt of the Exchequer prior to transfer to the Public Record Office, the earliest items held in the Exchequer by 1323. The bulk of the documents remained in the Chapter House utilised by Thomas Rymer in the compilation of his Foedera in the 1720s and 1730s. In 1843 the bulls were transferred to the Rolls House and thence to the Public Record Office. A collection of papal documents was held among the records of the Chancery, housed in the Tower of London from the fourteenth century until 1856 when transferred to the PRO. Further papal letters among the records of the Chancery, from 1441 to 1507, continuing the Tower series, were housed in the Rolls Chapel before transfer to the PRO.
Unpublished finding aids:

See also Special Collections: Papal Bulls (formerly introductory note to SC 7)

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