The Harleian Society

History of the Society

On 28 May 1869, Sir George Armytage, Baronet, FSA, and J J Howard, LLB, FSA, called a meeting at 8 Danes' Inn, in the Council Room of the Surrey Archaeological Society. The purpose of the meeting was to inaugurate the Harleian Society which was to have as its chief objective 'the publication of the Heraldic Visitations of Counties, and any manuscripts relating to genealogy, family history, and Heraldry, selected by the Council.'

The Society was named after the Harleian Manuscripts, which include many copies of the Heralds' Visitations. This collection was built up by Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, and his son Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford. Having passed it to the nation in 1753, it is now in the British Library.

The founding of the Harleian Society met with immediate and substantial support. By 18 May 1870 there were one hundred and sixty-nine subscribers, with the Duke of Manchester as President. Of the original subscribers, one currently remains, namely the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. By the end of 1870 numbers had risen to two hundred and sixty-four, and included the first American subscriber, the Minnesota Historical Society.

Within the first year of its existence, Mr Evan Ortner had presented the Society with the engraving of the badge which has ever since been used on each publication. Five hundred copies had also been printed of the Society's first volume, The Visitation of London in the year 1568. The printers' bill for this publication was £87. In 1877 a separate section was established for the publication of parish registers, following the publication in 1875 of the registers of Westminster Abbey edited by Colonel Chester. This Register Section subsequently published eighty-nine volumes, the last being The Registers of St Margaret's Westminster Part III in 1977. With a few exceptions, the volumes have been devoted to the parishes of London. Of particular interest was the 1953 publication of The Register-Booke of the Fourth Classis in the Province of London 1646-59, a study of Presbyterianism during the Interregnum, edited by the Rev C E Surman.

In 1979 the Visitation and Register Sections were amalgamated as Harleian Society Publications, New Series. The last parish register to be published by the Society was The Register of the Temple Church, London, baptisms 1629-1853 and marriages 1628-1760, transcribed by George Squibb, Norfolk Herald Extraordinary.

The present policy of the Council is to concentrate on the Visitations and other manuscript material of genealogical and heraldic content rather than parish registers, which are thought to have limited appeal to subscribers. In addition, the work of transcribing parish registers has now largely been taken over by others.

Before the amalgamation of the Visitation and Register Sections in 1979, the Society had published one hundred and seventeen volumes in the Visitation Section. Fifty-three of these comprised Heralds' Visitations or collections of county pedigrees. Hunter's Pedigrees and Le Neve's Pedigrees of Knights accounted for six more. Five volumes covered grants of arms, fourteen marriage licences and seventeen comprised valuable indices: Musgrave's General Nomenclator and Obituary, Dr Charles Moor's Knights of Edward I, J B Whitmore's A Genealogical Guide, Lewis Loyd's The Origins of Some Anglo-Norman Families and Sir Anthony Wagner's A Catalogue of English Mediaeval Rolls of Arms. Since the amalgamation of the two sections in 1979 there have been 22 publications.


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