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Regnal years and statute numbers


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Regnal years and statute numbers

Browsing acts of parliament
In addition to the different methods of searching for legislation, the website allows you to browse lists of enacted measures. To see the lists, which are organised by parliamentary session, click here.

Summary information appears for each session, including the parliament to which it belonged, the exact dates of the session and the total number of acts passed. Reference is also made to the location of the text of public acts of each session in the most convenient printed compilation, The statutes at large (21 vols, Dublin, 1786–1804). This can be consulted in libraries or using the online subscriber service, Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO).

A few technicalities are discussed below.

Regnal year and chapter number and the citation of acts of parliament
The traditional citation of each act is given: for example, ‘7 George III c.1’, which means ‘the session of parliament held in the 7th year of the reign of George III, chapter 1’. (The exact method of citation may vary slightly in different works, and other abbreviations of ‘chapter’, including ‘cap.’, will be found.) If you have encountered this form of citation, the lists will enable you to find out more about the act. A citation such as ‘11 & 12 George III’ means ‘the session of parliament which began in the 11th and finished in the 12th regnal year of George III’. The regnal year begins on the anniversary of the monarch’s accession to the throne.

Each public act of a session is a ‘chapter’. These chapters are numbered consecutively for each session. Where there is only one act in a session there is no chapter number.

The statutes at large
Public acts were printed after each parliamentary session, and at intervals in larger compilations. The Database has consulted principally
The statutes at large (21 vols, Dublin, 1786–1804). It is the only compilation to include all  sessions from 1692 to 1800. Reference has also been made to The statutes at large [1692–1711] (Dublin, 1734) and The statutes at large (8 vols, Dublin 1765).

Only public acts of parliament were printed as a rule. Most private acts remained in manuscript, and were destroyed in 1922. The titles of the private acts are known from the journals of parliament, and most of the titles (but not the text) appear in The statutes at large (21 vols, 1786–1804). The private acts are also assigned chapter numbers in that edition, to which the Database appends ‘private’ to avoid confusion with public acts of the same number.

One act of 1697 however appears neither among the public nor the private acts in The statutes at large, which also omits the titles of all the private acts of the sessions 1796B, 1799 and 1800. These missing private act titles (obtained from the Journals, and amounting to 15 in all) have no original ‘chapter numbers’. In the Database they have been described as, for example, ‘37 George III no. 1 (private)’.

There are other omissions and discrepancies in The statutes at large. It does not print the sole act of 1713. It also contains several errors in the regnal year descriptions: e.g., the session of parliament which lasted from 8 Mar. 1711 to 7 Mar. 1712 is described as ‘11 Anne’, though it fell entirely within Queen Anne’s 10th regnal year. (The same error occurs in the 1765 edition, though the 1734 edition correctly describes it as ‘10 Anne’.) The citations used in edition of 1786–1804 have been followed however, while discrepancies have been noted.

Sessions of parliament
For convenience, the Database refers to the session of a legislative measures by a short date, namely the calendar year in which the session began. Most sessions, though they lasted only a matter of months or even weeks, began in one calendar year and ended in another. On three occasions, two sessions began in the same calendar year, and these are distinguished by appending ‘A’ and ‘B’, i.e., 1771A and 177B; 1790A and 1790B; and 1796A and 1796B. The exact session dates are given on the Browse Acts of Parliament by Session page.

There is a single instance of two sessions falling wholly within a single regnal year, i.e. 30 George III. The second of these sessions (1796B, which was, incidentally the first of a new parliament) appears in The statutes at large as 30 George III, sess. 2.  Logically, the first of these sessions (1796A) should have been cited as 30 George III, sess. 1, but it simply appears as 30 George III.

The session which began on 27 Aug. 1695 did not, strictly speaking, end until 3 Dec. 1697 (because there was no prorogation, which usually marks the end of a session, until the latter date). However contemporaries and, subsequently, modern scholars have generally treated it as two separate sessions, the first lasting from 27 Aug. to 14 Dec. 1695 and the second from 27 July to 3 Dec. 1697. All three editions of The statutes at large also treat it as two separate sessions, 7 William III and 9 William III.

In the lists on this website a few discrepancies appear between the number of acts of a session and the number receiving the royal assent. The reason is that bills are assigned in the Database to the session in which they began; some bills began in one session but did not receive the royal assent until the following session. Thus 15 bills began in 1695 and were enacted in 1697; 7 bills began in 1697 and were enacted in 1698; and 2 bills began in 1705 and were enacted in 1707.

Date of royal assent
Acts received the royal assent in batches on one or more days during the session. One of these days was always the last of the session. In all dates in the Database the New Year is taken to begin on 1 January, rather than 25 March (Lady Day) as was usual until the reform of the calendar which took effect in September 1752. Confusion arising from the date of the New Year, and from the complexities of regnal years and session dates, have sometimes led authors to assign acts of parliament to the wrong calendar year.