This collection complements Early English Books Online: STC II database and, when used in conjunction with it, provides the research scholar with the most comprehensive resources available on British history in the mid-seventeenth century.
The year 1640 in England marked the beginning of a period of tumult and change. The practical and the philosophical bases of the British monarchy were both being challenged by determined and powerful enemies. Those who defended the king shared an absolute conviction in his Divine Right to rule. The differences between these factions led to a bitter civil war and a series of experimental governments that kept England in turmoil until 1660.
This database, which includes digitized images of the original Thomason Tracts microfilm collection, brings together for scholars of English history, politics, and religion nearly everything that was published in England and on the Continent during this critical period.
Students and researchers today owe a debt to London publisher and bookseller George Thomason for this material. Thomason knew he was living through historical times and set about methodically collecting copies of virtually everything that was being published—from single broadsides to substantial dissertations.
Thomason Tracts includes more than 22,000 individual items representing about 80 percent of what was published during these two decades. Inevitably, the collection contains a great deal of political material and features:
-- Speeches made in Parliament
--Tracts on the religious issues that reinforced political divisions
-- Gossip from or about the court
--Sermons and political diatribes
--News reports that provide detailed accounts of battles, negotiations, and political machinations
Thomason took precise care to record the date of each paper on the same day it came out, and his neat notations still appear clearly on the title pages of many documents. In addition, he often made marginal notes disputing or ridiculing the opinions of writers he thought in error.
Especially valuable are 97 previously unpublished manuscripts, most written in Thomason's own hand, which were considered too dangerous to be circulated in their own time. In fact, Thomason was required to move the growing collection several times to keep it safe, hiding these important records in the homes of friends or concealing them under false tops in library tables.
The collection Thomason left remained intact for a century, largely through luck. In 1761, King George III bought it from Thomason's descendants and presented it to the new British Museum. Thomason tracts have been used by scholars of mid-17th-century England for generations and represent an almost inexhaustible supply of material for studying military, constitutional, political, literary, and social life in England during this volatile period in world history.
Accessing Early English Books Online
The database is available on the Web through a custom interface.