The Great Parchment Book

The ‘Great Parchment Book’ (LMA reference : CLA/049/EM/02/018) is from the archive of The Honourable the Irish Society from the City of London Corporation’s own archives, which documents the City of London’s role in the Protestant colonisation and administration of Ulster. The book is a major survey, compiled in 1639 by a Commission instituted under the Great Seal by Charles I, of all those estates in Londonderry managed by the City of London through the Irish Society and the London livery companies.  Charles had claimed the estates (constituting the entire county) as forfeit after a politically-motivated case in Star Chamber ruled that the Londoners had not fulfilled their obligations of ‘plantation’. The Commissioners therefore consolidated all contracts and particulars of rental lands in the counties of Londonderry and Coleraine in this one volume, the ‘Great Parchment Book’, subsequently returned to the Irish Society by Charles II.

In 1786, a fire at the Guildhall in London destroyed most of the early records of The Irish Society, so that very few seventeenth-century documents remain. Among those which survived is the ‘Great Parchment Book’.  However, the fire caused such dramatic ‘shriveling’ and fire damage that it has been completely unavailable to researchers since this date (see T W Moody, The Londonderry Plantation, 1609-41: the City of London and the Plantation in Ulster, Belfast 1939, p.399). It was presumably kept because of its evident historical significance.  Given the relative paucity of archival records for early modern Ireland, the manuscript would reveal key data about landholding and population in Ulster at this time, as well as the county’s relationship with London.  The upcoming commemoration in 2013 of the building of the walls of Derry in 1613 means that the significance of the Great Parchment Book for national and international research is likely to be widely promoted.

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