Mustering up some family history sources

Our sister organisation – the Derbyshire Record Society – is just about to publish part one of The Derbyshire Musters of 1638–9. This part contains the introduction and indexes. We explore a little about this book in our blog, but it will be an important contribution to the history of the county and of great use to family historians. ‘The Muster book’, as it has become known, lists all men aged between 16 and 60 in each town and village.

Between the early sixteenth century and the mid seventeenth the Privy Council instructed local officials in each county to hold regular musters of able-bodied men who could be called upon to defend the kingdom in time of war. Men from every town and village had to assemble, usually in the early autumn, at a specified meeting place and show that they possessed suitable arms and armour. Gentry families had to provide horsemen. The musters were ordered by the lord lieutenant, summoned by the deputy lieutenants, and organised locally by the high constable of each hundred.

In 1638 the young 3rd earl of Devonshire had just become lord lieutenant of Derbyshire. He was evidently keen to impress the Council, as the earl ordered the constables to compile lists of all men aged between 16 and 60 in each town and village. He had the results copied into a volume to be sent up to London. The book, containing some 17,300 names, survives among the records of the State Paper Office in The National Archives. It provides a uniquely full record of the inhabitants of every community in Derbyshire on the eve of the Civil War. What we don’t know, of course, is what these men thought of being brought together, their names and place of residence being identified and listed.

The new publication should be fantastic source for family history in Derbyshire, as well as the demography of the county. It also sheds new light on local administration in the early seventeenth century.

In this two-part edition, the text of the 1638 muster book is printed in full alongside a shorter roll of 1639 and some ancillary documents (as part 2 – available in the autumn of 2021). In all about 18,400 individuals are named. Newly published Part 1 consists of a full index by person and place and is prefaced by a detailed introduction.  The record society has divided the book into two parts so that users can have the index and the lists of names in front of them at the same time. It also spreads the cost of a work that runs to over 400 pages.

To order new title you can complete the online order form here.

The Derbyshire Musters of 1638–9 (in two parts) is edited by Victor A. Rosewarne. Part 1 is £20 post free to members or £30 plus £3 postage to non-members.