The time, it may be hoped, is not far distant, when [the early Registers of the Archbishops of York] will be examined again, and with greater anxiety, not to ascertain the burial place of an individual, but as being themselves the burial place of much of the history, general and personal … of all classes of men, over the widely-extending Province of York.—James Raine, Wills and inventories illustrative of the history, manners, language, statistics, of the northern counties of England I
These are golden days for our access to York's medieval history. The past year has seen three projects on the history of the city come to fruition, showcasing its buildings, its books, and its bureaucracy. March 2016 saw the completion of the restoration and conservation of York Minster's magnificent Great East Window, as part of the five-year York Minster [End Page 251] Revealed project. In April, York Minster and the University of York released a new online resource promoting the Minster Library and its outstanding collections, titled 1414: John Neuton and the Re-Foundation of York Minster Library. Also in March 2016, the University of York launched the first iteration of York's Archbishops' Registers Revealed (YARR), another new digital resource that makes one of the most important surviving collections of English historical materials freely available online: the registers recording the formal acts of the Archbishops of York between 1225 and 1650. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Marc Fitch Fund, the YARR digitization project, including specialist conservation and imaging work, was undertaken at the university's Borthwick Institute for Archives, with technical development by the University of York's Digital Library.
Held at the Borthwick Institute, York's archbishops' registers constitute an archive of ecclesiastical records unequaled in Europe. Not only is it one of the largest surviving archives of the period, it is also the earliest of its kind, documenting the government of the Church, the management of parishes, and the Church's regulation of moral and spiritual conduct both within the Archdiocese of York and across the north of England. The York Registers thus offer unique insights into ecclesiastical, political, and cultural history over a period that witnessed the Anglo-Scottish Wars, the Black Death, the Wars of the Roses, the Reformation, and the English Civil War. But despite their obvious value, much of the archive has remained underused, owing in large part to its inaccessibility, a fact that has been lamented since at least the early to mid-nineteenth century, when Rev. Joseph Hunter (1831) and Canon James Raine (1835) emphasized the treasures to be uncovered within the early registers of the archbishops of York. And indeed, it was through the efforts of Raine himself that the contents of the York Registers were first revealed: under his editorship, the Surtees Society published their six-volume Testamenta Eboracensia between 1836 and 1902 (Surtees Society vols. 4, 30, 45, 53, 79, and 106), which has remained the primary venue through which the registers of York have been accessible ever since—that is, until now. In the publicity materials accompanying YARR's release, the University of York proudly hailed the resource as an "online treasure trove" and "a digital goldmine," and such descriptions are entirely accurate. If only Canon Raine had lived 158 years longer. [End Page 252]
The new YARR resource provides access to complete digital facsimiles of all the registers, composed of thirty-eight rolls and registers, including Sede vacante registers, and six institution act books, totaling more than 10,000 handwritten parchment folios. More than 21,000 high-quality digital images are available, supplemented by a growing searchable index of their contents, currently containing 3,096 entries. At present, much of Register 12, and parts of Registers 31 and 5A, are searchable, and the whole of Registers 31 and 32 will also be indexed by the end of 2016. The current interface offers users the ability to browse digital facsimiles of every page, with the option of deep zoom access into the detail of individual images...