By Dr Angel Luke O’Donnell, Academic Liaison for the Georgian Papers Programme, and Teaching Fellow in North American History, King’s College London.
On 8 June 2017, King’s College London hosted its third GPP fellows coffee morning. The coffee mornings are opportunities for fellows on various schemes to share their research in the archives. The meetings help academics, archivists, and other fellows understand more about the material being digitised as part of the programme. In this session, we were joined by the Mount Vernon fellow and award-winning author Flora Fraser, the Sons of the American Revolution Visiting Professor Gabriel Paquette from Johns Hopkins University, and Roberta Giubilini from the Royal Archives.
The session was opened by incoming Academic Director, Prof Arthur Burns (King’s College London). Arthur first welcomed the fellows to GPP and then shared his recent experience with a teaching module at King’s in which undergraduate students transcribed documents from the Royal Archives. The students produced fantastic work and engaged thoughtfully with the programme. Arthur also discussed his plans for the future, especially his aims to continue to build a scholarly community around the programme.
Flora Fraser talked through some of the material that animates her work, including some fascinating links between the Georgian material and an associated collection at the Royal Archives called the Stuart and Cumberland papers. The Stuart papers are a series of volumes relating to the deposed James II, his son the ‘Old Pretender’, and his grandson Bonnie Prince Charlie. Meanwhile, the Cumberland papers are mainly comprised of papers relating to the 1745 Jacobite rebellion and named after George II’s younger son, William Duke of Cumberland, ‘Butcher of Culloden’. One of the aspirations for GPP is to find and explore these links between collections, both within Windsor and further afield, in order to understand better the significance of the material in the Royal Archives. The Stuart and Cumberland papers are helping Flora write the biography of Flora Macdonald, a Scottish heroine of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion who eventually emigrated from her native Skye to North Carolina. Flora told us the story of how Flora Macdonald helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape Scotland by himself in women’s clothing despite a £30,000 bounty on his head. This led on to a broader discussion of royal costume in general, especially other times that royalty adopted disguises and costumes.
Flora is also working on a biography of Horatio Nelson. She discussed her hopes to find material in the Royal Archives about Nelson’s rise to prominence as well as more information about his funeral. Flora has previously written a number of award-winning biographies, most recently the biography of the relationship between George and Martha Washington. These two newest projects each use biography as a genre to tell interesting stories, one to reveal the life of a woman relatively unknown to posterity and one to reassess one of the most famous Britons of all time.
Gabriel Paquette is a historian of the Iberian world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, focusing specifically on the decline, revival and fall of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Gabe is currently researching the relationship between Spain and Britain with an interest in the American War for Independence. A lot of the diplomatic historiography of the war so far has concentrated on the French and American alliance, overlooking the contributions of the Spanish. Crucially, Gabe argued that Spain’s navy was an important factor in menacing Britain’s Caribbean colonies, and thereby, the threat of the Spanish navy prevented Britain from concentrating its forces on the continental colonies. Gabe reported that the GPP material would be particularly useful for understanding this Anglo-Spanish relationship because George III practiced ‘personal diplomacy’. He pursued diplomatic aims outside of formal government structures through his own network of emissaries. At times, this personal diplomacy actually meant that George’s messages to the Spanish were at odds with official government policy. Gabe’s presentation revealed two interesting things for me. Firstly, the significance of the Spanish involvement in hampering Britain’s movements in the American War for Independence, and secondly, it showed that George III not only intervened personally in domestic politics, but also believed he had a role to play on the international stage as well.
Finally, Roberta Giubilini gave us an update about the progress in cataloguing the papers of William IV. Roberta has completed a description of items in the William IV collection. As Roberta argued in her presentation, William IV has not had many biographies written about him and these papers may be instrumental in encouraging new historical interest in his life and reign. The papers may be particularly interesting for understanding his time as the Duke of Clarence, a period only covered very briefly in the few biographies that do exist. Roberta’s presentation prompted a fascinating discussion about William’s time in the navy, his experience as a midshipman and his later interest in military discipline. During his reign, William had a personal interest in maintaining corporal punishment in the military despite objections raised about its effectiveness. Overall, Roberta’s presentation gave an exciting insight into how the GPP material could be used once it is fully catalogued.
A recurrent theme in the discussions was the navy: its strategy, leaders, and the management of the personnel. It was great to see links between seemingly separate projects. Discovering connections that I hadn’t previously considered always provides new models for approaching historical archives in creative ways.