In the weekend New York Times, Australian historian Julia Baird muses on how the British royal family continues to maintain a pre-1688 style notion of royal prerogative in how they use control of the royal archives to manipulate historical writing about the royal family and its role in British and commonwealth history.
Their records are exempt from freedom of information laws and the rules covering Britain’s National Archives that have traditionally allowed for the release of most government documents after 30 years.
Even for highly qualified scholars, it is difficult to gain entry to the Royal Archives, which cover two and a half centuries and hold roughly two million documents. An unspecified number of boxes and files are off limits for no stated reason, and there is no public catalog. And the process by which the keepers decide who may enter is mysterious and opaque. Researchers are left with the uncomfortable feeling that there may be material withheld, and that their quest for historical accuracy and completeness could be thwarted.