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MS Eng 1678

Great Britain. Exchequer. Great Britain Exchequer payment memoranda, 1665-1666 (MS Eng 1678): Guide.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 USA

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: b
Call No.: MS Eng 1678
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Great Britain. Exchequer.
Title: Great Britain Exchequer payment memoranda,
Date(s): 1665-1666.
Quantity: 1 collection (1 linear foot (3 boxes)
Language of materials: Collection materials are in Latin and Italian.
Abstract: Payment memoranda generated by the British Exchequer under the statesman Sir George Downing.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

97M-41. Gift of Michael Lederer; received 1997 December 30.
98M-30. Gift of Michael Lederer; received 1998 December 31.
99M-33. Gift of Michael Lederer; received 1999 December 31.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Michael W. Austin

Conditions Governing Access:

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

Preferred Citation for Publication:

Great Britain Exchequer Payment Memoranda, 1665-1666 (MS Eng 1678). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Biographical / Historical

George Downing, nephew of John Winthrop, first governor of the colony of Massachusetts Bay, was born in Dublin. His family emigrated to Salem, Massachusetts in 1638, and Downing was among the first graduating class of Harvard College in 1642. After graduation he served for a year as a tutor at Harvard. In 1645 he signed on as a ship's chaplain in the Caribbean; from there he made his way to England, where in 1646 he became a chaplain in Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. In 1649 he was appointed scoutmaster-general (i.e., chief of military intelligence) of the English army in Scotland, took part in the defeat of Charles II, and was active in the Protectorate administration. His wealth and political position were consolidated by marriage to Lady Frances Howard in 1654 and appointment as teller of the receipt in the Exchequer in1656. He was elected to all three Protectoral Parliaments (1654, 1656, 1659) and undertook various diplomatic missions to further Cromwell's policies and to aid Protestants abroad. It was during this time that he became acquainted with the Dutch policy of levying high taxes to pay for military protection of the Netherlands' overseas trade; he would later promote this practice for British commerce.
After Cromwell's death, Downing approached Charles II through intermediaries and requested pardon for his activities against the king. To demonstrate the genuineness of his loyalty, he forwarded military intelligence regarding the anti-royalist army to Charles; the king accepted his overture, and he was subsequently knighted. In 1660 he was returned to Parliament. He performed further service to the king by delivering three of Charles I's regicides, who had escaped to the Netherlands, back to England for execution. For this he was granted a baronetcy in 1662. He thereafter received a number of offices, including commissionership of customs in 1671, and continued to act as an agent on diplomatic missions to the Netherlands.
Downing sponsored a number of reforms to generate revenue under Charles II and is most noted for his contribution to statebuilding and the fiscal development of Great Britain at the dawn of empire. Samuel Pepys worked under Downing in the Exchequer for a number of years and mentions him in his diary. London's Downing Street is named after him.


Arranged as originally accessioned. NB: Most receipts were sewn together with thread in groups of 2 to 3, occasionally as many as 17; those that have not come undone over time have been kept together.

Scope and Contents

Consists of 211 manuscript payment memoranda produced by 2 different clerks of the British Exchequer and signed by Downing, probably prior to formal entry in ledger books or other accounting media. Each document records the recipient's name and usually an occupation or title and associated geographic area, along with amount paid. NB: Place names have been given with modern spellings in this finding aid.

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