How many euros does that come to?

Although I work at a teaching institution, I received a small research grant this year to buy some copies from the French war archives (SHD, SHAT, whatever you’re called now, you’ll always be the Archives de Guerre to me). Over the past twenty years I’ve purchased about eighteen microfilm reels from the AG, in addition to notes I took while I was there a dozen years ago (more, I’m afraid). It looks like this grant will allow me to double the size of my French collection. The AG doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of scanned images (at least in bulk), but it doesn’t look like they’ve changed their prices for the past decade or more. Now I remember why I love our library’s microfilm-to-PDF scanner.

But on to the point of the post. As I made up my order, I realized my grant would cover only a small portion of the volumes that I absolutely-had-to-have. This in turn piqued my curiosity as to how many more volumes I’d need to get if I wanted the entire series of the Secretary of State for War’s correspondence during the War of the Spanish Succession. This consists of official army correspondence from 1701 to 1714, regarding all four theaters of war. To the catalog! Based off the sequentially numbered volumes in the three-volume inventory, there are at least 1,010 volumes in the A1 correspondence series that cover that time frame. Note that this doesn’t include other sections of the War archives, nor any other collection, archive or library. Only AG series A1. If you estimate a reasonable average of 250 documents per volume, that’s over 250,000 pieces in that archive section alone. Unfortunately the vast majority of all these documents have never been published, beyond a small selection found in Vault and Pelet’s Mémoires militaires – and Vault and Pelet totally ignored the Spanish theater. Now I remember why there hasn’t been a full-length treatment of the Spanish Succession war in English or French for more than a century. (Kudos to J.W. Wijn’s three-volume Dutch Het Staatsche Leger published in the 1950s, which remains the most balanced account available; and the Austrian General Staff deserves credit as well for its Feldzüge des Prinz Eugen from the late 19th century.)

So I guess I have a few more volumes of archives to go after all. And a few lifetimes as well. Donations accepted!

It would be more difficult to figure out an equivalent number of volumes in the British (English) archives, since they’re split between the National Archives’ Public Record Office and the British Library in several different sections, in addition to a variety of other archives (only a few of which I visited last year), English, Scottish and presumably Irish as well. These are much more accessible (for a foreigner) than French archival sources. Almost all of Marlborough’s outgoing correspondence has been published since 1845, while several dozen volumes of Marlborough’s Blenheim papers (300+ volumes overall) are available on microfilm in a number of U.S. libraries. Many of the PRO’s State Papers Foreign holdings are also available through Gale Cengage. Thanks to such resources, and additional research grants, I’ve managed to acquire copies of about 115 volumes from the PRO and BL. Now I remember why I’ve been focusing on the English perspective for the past several years.

The main Dutch archives (Algemeen Rijskarchief, now Nationaal Archief) include hundreds of volumes of letters with the States-General and the Council of State (Raad van Staat), correspondence ordinary and secret, incoming and outgoing, in addition to resolutions and various family papers. Fortunately, practically all of the official correspondence of the key Dutch official, Raadpensionaris Anthonie Heinsius has been published by Guus Veenendaal, Jr., in nineteen volumes. All of these briefwisseling are online and searchable, although admittedly only fourteen of the volumes directly relate to the Spanish Succession. These numbered letters total 18,000 documents from 1702 through mid-1713. The Dutch regional and local archives also have some great sources, e.g. the Vegelin van Claerbergen family papers in Friesland. Unfortunately the expense of making copies from the Dutch archives (and the fact that some of the collections have been declared uncopyable), combined with the inaccessibility of even the finding aids (until recently), has only exacerbated the widespread ignorance of the Dutch perspective. Now I remember why my Dutch is so rusty.

I can’t say much about any of the other archives relating to the Spanish Succession: in Belgium, Spain, Austria, Italy, Hungary, various German states… But in addition to the above-mentioned masses of paper and PDFs, we could add the hundreds of books and pamphlets that were published on the subject at the time and soon thereafter. Fortunately most of these are now available online, and most of the rest can be bought somewhat-cheaply from various libraries. My current bibliography count for English-language works relating to the Duke of Marlborough and the war published between 1702 and 1713 is about 700, although Horn’s survey of the Marlborough literature might diverge slightly. Morgan’s three-volume bibliography of English publications during Anne’s reign gives a better indication of the overall output: 400-600 publications per year, although not all of these directly relate to the war. The Dutch national library has started doing its part as well: the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, has recently scanned in hundreds of pamflets as well (the Knuttel collection). Now I remember why my 2 terabyte external hard drive is full.

Let’s not forget the 9,000 or so English newspaper issues published during the war. I am pretty certain about this estimate because I downloaded 8,000 of them and there were still several papers where I had only a handful of the press run, such as the Flying Post and the Post Boy. There were probably a similar number of French, Dutch, Spanish and German newspapers too, a few of which are available online (Mercure galant, Europische Mercurius, Mercure historique et politique, Gazette d’Amsterdam…). Each of these newspapers probably averaged 6-10 separate news accounts in an issue, as we’ve discussed in an earlier four-part series. Now I remember why I’m so annoyed that I mis-recorded the dates of all those newspapers with the first listed day instead of the last day.

Add it up, and that’s a lot of info to look through and keep track of – maybe it’s a good thing that there isn’t a lot of recent secondary literature on the war? Now I remember why most scholars focus on one country.

And the scariest thing of all? When you’re reading somebody’s history of the war, you’ll likely only see a selection of those documents that they found useful, not all the other documents that they still had to read through just in order to categorize it as “not important (now).” Now I remember why I obsess over note-taking.

Tip of the iceberg, that’s the historian’s way.

P.S. For those curious, the SHD seems to have somewhat recovered from their hack attack which brought down their website for several weeks. The (current) update is at

[Edit: corrected typo on Algemeen Rijksarchief – doesn’t really matter since they don’t call it that now anyway…]


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3 responses to “How many euros does that come to?”

  1. Björn Thegeby says :

    Conclusion: Field research is still the way to go, until microfilms and PDFs are routinely indexed. As I see my future involving leisurely trips through Spain, looking through archives, having tapas and wine on the local plaza, I can’t say, I’m too concerned:-)

  2. edwin groot says :

    One of the remnants of the old Dutch Republic are the Provincial Archives, the Zeeuws Archief is quite digitised already. I think most other Provincial archives are working on it as well. Unfortunatly for the Stadholder Archives you have to travel to The Hague.

  3. jostwald says :

    Some more concrete stats. I just scanned in two volumes of my AG A1 microfilm, each with about 375 documents, each volume totaling about 1300 frames. So, assuming those two volumes are “average”, that means, in order to go through all the volumes on the War of the Spanish Succession, you’d need to read 1.3 million pages. Methinks I need to rethink how much I can get photographed in the archives.

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