In the 19th century there was an abundance of historical events that brought about the definitive rupture with the Old Regime; Spanish institutions were to experience major changes. The reform of the Central Administration that took place during this century constitutes both the consequence and testimony of this. The archives, fundamental items within the central administrative apparatus, as they are the memories of the institutions, bore the effects of these reforms in their structure and composition.
These major administrative changes coincided in time with the reactivation of an 18th century idea of Santiago Agustín Riol and Father Burriel, of setting up an archive in the style and in continuance of the Simancas Archive, as a grand national archive. This proposal was presented to Queen Isabella II by her ministers and underwent a series of ups and down until, in the middle of the 19th century, a major tax reform brought about the need to have an archive that could contain an enormous volume of diplomas of great value to the History of Spain.
This tax reform, with its confiscation laws, led to ecclesiastical assets and property passing into the hands of the State, together with all the documentation that they stored, which was of incalculable historical value. By Royal Order on 18 August 1850, all the documentation in the archives of monastic orders passed to the custody of the Royal Academy of History. This would be the first documentary deposit from these ecclesiastical sources, which later would come to constitute the founding nucleus of the archive being managed today. The Academy quickly came to understand the enormous problems resulting from controlling and organising such valuable documentation; as a result, the members of the academy asked the Ministry of Public Works to create an archive which would store such important source documents. Finally, the National Historical Archive was created by Royal Decree on 28 march 1866. In the arguments contained in the Royal Decree, the Minister of Public Works and Chairman of the Royal Academy of History, Antonio Aguilar y Correa, Marquis of Vega Armijo, requested that the Archive be accorded "the consideration that it deserves, being declared as public, and conserved in this Court so that it can be of greater use to the Academy and to those interested in historical research".
Once created, the Archive was to remain in the premises of the Academy until the end of the 19th century. For three decades, the directors of the Archive increased and organised its documentary resources as best they could given the scarce resources at their disposal.
At the end of the 19th century, the Archive was moved from the Academy to the National Museums and Libraries building - the National Library - where it was located in the north wing until it moved to its current building.
In fact, 1896 was a historical landmark, as it saw not only the move of the Archive to the National Library, but also the appointment of Vicente Vignau y Ballester as its director. This marked the moment at which the archive ceased to be an accumulation of mediaeval resources and became an organised repository of documents originating from more modern institutions.
The Archive reached full maturity during the period it spent in the National Library building from 1896 to 1952. As there was space available, it was able to receive documentation from national institutions that had been waiting to be collected and organised and, therefore, it could be said that the years spent in this building constitute the period of greatest growth in the documentary resources of the National Historical Archive.
In 1952, the new Archive building was opened on land belonging to the then National Education Ministry, at Calle Serrano 115. The Archive has continued to receive and organise its documentary resources on this site in its role as the final archive within the national archives system.