Using British History Online

British History Online (BHO) is a digital library particularly concerned with texts relating to the British history, which includes the countries that are currently part of the United Kingdom, as well as Ireland from the Norman invasion in 1169 up to the creation of the Free State in 1922. We also include materials from Britain’s colonial history and materials relating to British diplomacy abroad. Our collection focuses primarily on the period between 1300 and 1800, but we have texts relating to everything from Roman and Anglo-Saxon Britain to the twentieth century.

Our collection is always growing. Learn how you can support the development of British History Online.

Searching and Browsing

You can interact with BHO content in two ways: by searching or by browsing.


Keyword search: A keyword search finds the occurrences of a word across our hundreds of volumes. Our new interface allows you to narrow your results to focus on a specific subject, place, period, and/or source type.

Shirburn Castle, Oxfordshire

E.g., a keyword search for “Essex” produces a full list of thousands of results. Narrow down those results by applying facets such as Primary sources and 14th century, which produces a much smaller list of several hundred results. Sort the results based on relevance, title or date of publication.

Title search: You may also search by publication or series title. The results of a title search will only display at a publication level, rather than sections of books.

E.g.,a title search for “Essex” in this field will return a short list of results that have "Essex" in the series or volume titles or abstracts.

Combined search: You may also want to combine the keyword search and the title search. A combined search will search for occurrences of a keyword across the volumes that match the title search query.

E.g., a keyword search for “Henry VIII” combined with a title search for “Essex” will return occurrences of "Henry VIII" in publications with "Essex" in their title.

The search terms and filters that you have applied will appear at the top of the search box. Clicking on the search term or filters removes them.

Search Tips

Boolean searching further narrows search results:

  • Search for an exact phrase by enclosing it within quotation marks.
    • "City of London"
  • Broaden your search by using the Boolean operator OR, which allows you to search for one term or another.
    • "york" OR "lancaster"
  • Exclude search results containing an unwanted term with the Boolean operator NOT.
    • "oxford" NOT "street"
  • Use the asterisk (*) for wildcard searching when you know the beginning of a term you want but not the end.
    • west*
    • A keyword search for west* will return results of words beginning with west including "westminster", "westmoorland", "westm'r", "westm'land", etc. 
  • Parentheses allow you to combine multiple Boolean operators.
    • priory AND (house OR building)

See a full guide to Boolean searching. 

Other search tips:

BHO preserves historical spelling and typographical errors from the original printed texts so words, especially names, may appear under variant spellings. One way to account for variant spellings is to use fuzzy searching. Fuzzy searching matches the string of letters in a search term approximately rather than exactly. The search syntax is the search term, followed by a tilde, followed by a number between 0 and 1 (the default is 0.5). The closer the value is to 1, the more exact the results will be. This search is based on the Levenshtein Distance or Edit Distance algorithm:

  • John~
  • John~0.7
  • The first search (which is a default of 0.5) will return less exact results than the second search. 

Proximity searching is based on the distance between two words in the text. It uses the same tilde syntax as fuzzy searching, but the integer after the tilde represents the word distance:

  • "John smith"~1
  • This first option will search for the word John and the word Smith right next to it (either preceding or following it).
  • "John smith"~3
  • The second option will search for the word John and the word Smith within three words distance from it. It would return results might include "John and Thomas Smith" or "George Smith and Sir John Hammond" or "John Black, smith".

Search for a place in our nineteenth-century Ordnance Survey maps by using the first part of a post code, e.g. NR17; narrow your results by including the first digit of the second part, e.g. NR17 2.


You may also browse our catalogue. Most of our volumes are part of series; those that are single publications will be listed as such. Sort by title or by number of volumes. You may browse the series or publications associated with a specific place, subject, period, or source type.

Citing BHO

If you reproduce any content that you find on the website, please provide a citation and be sure to indicate that it was accessed via BHO. To help you do so, we have created a citations feature, which generates an automatic citation of any text page in the format of your choice.

Please see our citation guidelines for more information.

If you have written an article or book for publication that cites BHO, we'd love to know about it!

We ask that you do not reproduce more than a few lines of content without permission. If you would like to use a larger section of text, please contact us directly. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to grant permission to reproduce text.

Using Images

If you have a question about using an image you find on BHO, please contact us and tell us how the image will be used. If it will be published in a book, let us know who the publisher is, whether it is an academic publication, and what the initial printing will be.

Subject guides

These subject guides are designed to guide you through some of the materials that we have on BHO. Each subject guide has been created by a scholar who specialises in that particular area. Please contact us if you are a British history scholar interested in writing a guide for administrative and legal history; colonial history; economic history; historical geography; intellectual and cultural history; or another area that you think is a strength in BHO's collection.

External resources

If you can’t find what you are looking for on BHO, there are many other resources in the UK and online that might be able to help.


The National Archives: The National Archives is the official archive and publisher for the UK government, and for England and Wales. Its collection of over 11 million historical government and public records is one of the largest in the world. The calendars on BHO usually refer to documents that are held at the National Archives. You can search its online catalogue or visit in person.

British Library: The BL is the national library of the UK and the largest library in the world. It is a legal deposit library so it contains copies of all books produced in the UK and Ireland. You can search the online catalogue, although you will need a reader pass to use the Library.

British Newspaper Archive: In partnership with the British Library, the British Newspaper Archive is scanning millions of pages of historical newspapers and making them available online for the first time ever.

National Art Library: The National Art Library is a major public reference library of fine and decorative arts of many countries and periods. It is open to the public as a reference library. Before you can use the Library you must register as a Reader.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: The national record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century. The Dictionary offers concise, up-to-date biographies written by named, specialist authors. Although a subscription-based resource, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is available via nearly all UK public libraries free and remotely; a library card number serves as a permanent log-in.


London Metropolitan Archives: At the LMA, you can find documents from the last 1000 years of London’s history. You can search its online catalogue or visit in person.

Map of Early Modern London: The Map of Early Modern London is comprised of four distinct, interoperable projects: a digital map and gazetteer based on the 1560s Agas woodcut map of London; an encyclopedia of London people, places, topics, and terms; a library& of marked-up texts rich in London toponyms; and a versioned edition of John Stow’s Survey of London.

The Gazette: The oldest surviving newspaper in the UK. Its archives can be searched online.

Old Bailey Online: A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.

Records of London’s Livery Companies Online: Provides records of Apprentices and Freemen in the City of London Livery Companies between 1400 and 1900.

Mayors and Sheriffs of London: The MASL database currently includes the mayors, sheriffs, and wardens of the City of London 1190–1558: their names, terms of office, and company (in the early years, craft/trade guild) membership or occupation.


Selden Society: The Selden Society is the only learned society and publisher devoted entirely to English legal history.

Old Bailey Online: A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.


The History of Parliament: The History of Parliament is a research project creating a comprehensive account of parliamentary politics in England, then Britain, from their origins in the thirteenth century. Unparalleled in the comprehensiveness of its treatment, the History is generally regarded as one of the most ambitious, authoritative and well-researched projects in British history.


VCH Explore: Online site provides free access to reliable local history materials, produced by academics and volunteers. Photographs, paintings, drawings, maps, text, transcribed documents and audio files are organised thematically and by their geographical location.

British Association for Local History: The national charity which promotes local history and serves local historians

Centre for English Local History: Based at the University of Leicester, Centre for English Local History is the only UK-based specifically postgraduate reseach centre devoted to the study of local history in England and Wales.

Vision of Britain: Based at the University of Portsmouth, A Vision of Britain through Time brings together historical surveys of Britain to create a record of how the country and its localities have changed.

County records societies: County records societies are great resources for local history. Some even have older volumes available online.

Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Services: Explore Worcestershire's past with our archive collections and archaeology services for family historians, community projects, developers and more.

Local history library: If you have an history library in your area, you may find they are a good source for information about your local history.


Centre for Urban History: Based at the University of Leicester, the Centre for Urban History is a specialist research centre of international academic excellence which attracts MA and PhD students from around the world. The Centre maintains active links with academics and research institutions across the globe.

Independent Researchers

Independent researchers: If you are trying to track down something very specific—especially if you are after a particular document and not able to visit the archives that hold it in person—you may consider hiring a private researcher. The National Archives provides a list researchers available for hire.