10 November 2017 sees an important milestone in the evolution of the Georgian Papers Programme with the public launch of The King’s Friends network.
The King’s Friends is a free-to-join international community of those whose work stands to benefit from the digitization of the Georgian papers in the Royal Archives, and who in turn can help make the project a success. We hope that a very wide range of researchers working on eighteenth-century or early nineteenth-century themes will join the King’s Friends network, and find it of use and interest in research not only on themes closely related to the history of the British monarchy and its jurisdictions, but to a whole range of topics from the histories of science, agriculture and medicine to the histories of gender and interpersonal relations, and the histories of art, collections, consumption, food and fashion, to mention just a few! For more information and information on how to join, follow the link below.
George III is the Hanoverian monarch perhaps most frequently associated with the Royal Archives. The king’s own voluminous correspondence forms an important part of the collection and, in the early nineteenth century, his son, as Prince Regent, was instrumental in helping to secure the two collections that constitute the ‘Stuart Papers’ for the Royal Archives.
When it comes to the early Hanoverian monarchs, however, there are limits to what can be discovered from the material in the Royal Archives. This relative paucity of material for the first two Georgian monarchs can be attributed to two factors. One reason relates to the relatively slow process by which the Hanoverians became acculturated into their new British possessions. When George I came to England in 1714 he brought with him a considerable Hanoverian entourage of servants and advisors. These ‘outsiders’ were the cause of much local resentment, not least because George I was a relatively private man and his two Turkish man-servants were stout guardians of their master’s privacy. The fact that George set up a separate German Chancery in London to handle his Hanoverian affairs also meant that much of his political correspondence was handled via another route. When the Personal Union (of the thrones of Britain and Hanover) came to an end with Queen Victoria’s accession in 1837 and her uncle acceded to the Hanoverian throne, the records of the German Chancery were returned to Hanover. Moreover, much of the material relating to the royal family’s life in Hanover, which both George I and II visited frequently, remained in the family archives there, eventually finding its way into the Hanoverian State Archives.
Beyond dispersal of material, eighteenth-century elite custom also played a role. Although it was common for correspondents to keep letters, it was not unusual for letters to be returned to families on the death of the original correspondent. In addition, contemporary accounts suggest that George II destroyed many of his father’s private letters after his own accession, and it is possible that something similar happened after his own death in 1760. One of the reasons that George II may have been keen to destroy his father’s papers was that he was anxious to suppress his father’s will, which had raised questions about the ongoing desirability of the Personal Union of Britain and Hanover. Some of the material relating to George I’s discussions about the possibility of varying the succession laws in Britain and Hanover to allow for an ending of the Personal Union is included in the second batch of digitized documents unveiled by the Georgian Papers Programme, released today.
Beyond concerns about the political viability of sharing a ruler between two rather different territories, interest in the possibilities of altering the succession reflected the notoriously poor relations between fathers (and to a lesser degree mothers) and eldest sons within the Hanoverian royal family. Splitting the inheritance offered the possibility of favouring one child over another or providing for younger children who lacked other prospects. It was commonly thought that George II and his wife favoured their younger son, William, Duke of Cumberland, over Frederick, Prince of Wales. Familial rivalries, therefore, had a discernible impact on patterns of surviving material. This intergenerational tension also had personal and psychological origins. The banishment of George II’s mother, Sophie Dorothea of Celle, following her divorce from his father in 1694, did little to endear George II to his father. Similarly, the fact that George II did not see his own eldest son, Frederick (b. 1707), between 1714 and 1729 hardly helped their relationship.
There were also, however, more serious structural reasons for dysfunctional relationships. George II’s accession in 1727 was unusual in that it did not see much alteration in the composition of the ministry. The default assumption for eighteenth-century politicians was that a new reign would bring in new ministers. Consequently, those who had fallen out with the current administration naturally gravitated towards the heir to the throne as a better bet for the future. Much of the detailed story of the deterioration of the relationship between George and his son can be found in the manuscript memoirs of John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey (one version of which is contained in today’s release). Hervey enjoyed privileged access to the royal court. He served as Queen Caroline’s Vice-Chamberlain and the memoirs give a strong sense of his loyalty towards the queen and Robert Walpole, who had been chief minister since 1721 and had managed to survive the transition to a new monarch in 1727, and his frustrations with the king. Hervey’s memoirs have been available in print for a number of years, and consequently Hervey’s voice has been important in shaping how we think about George II’s court.
However, despite the scantiness of material on Georges I and II, some of the documents from the Royal Archive, published here for the first time, do serve to add to our understanding of these monarchs and can provide us with new details that both contrast with and complement Hervey’s narrative.
Financial records, for example, provide valuable insights into both priorities and personality. While the early Hanoverians did not maintain their own theatrical and operatic establishments on the scale of some of their continental counterparts, their patronage of institutions within London was nevertheless important. For the proprietors, association with the royal family was a useful marketing tool and royal attendance at a performance was frequently advertised in advance as a means of drumming up custom. Meanwhile, the royal family could use appearances at cultural events as part of a wider public relations strategy. Attitudes towards money were another area where there were generational differences – George II was careful to harbour his resources while Prince Frederick, by contrast, thought that lavish spending was one of the marks of royal power. This pattern was to repeat itself with George III and his eldest son.
In addition to papers about the kings themselves, the Royal Archives also hold material relating to their wider families: George II’s children Frederick and William Augustus and his wife, Queen Caroline. Caroline’s role as advisor, confidante and patron has received considerable attention recently, both in print and in an exhibition at Kensington Palace. She had a broad set of intellectual interests, which Hervey tended to contrast approvingly with her husband’s less sensitive approach to culture. More importantly, though, the papers of the wider royal circle emphasize the extent to which being royal was a ‘family business’ to which all contributed. It is only through studying the dynasty as a whole, over time and space, that we can understand what was really going on. Although there are clearly gaps in the surviving material, the archives digitized here offer new and exciting opportunities for exploring the history of the early Hanoverian monarchy.
Dr Andrew C. Thompson is Director of Studies in History at Queens’ College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of the first biography of George II to make extensive use of British and German material, George II: King and Elector,published in the Yale English Monarchs series (New Haven and London, 2011). He has published widely on early Hanoverian politics and religion, including Britain, Hanover and the Protestant Interest 1688-1756 (Boydell & Brewer, 2006). He is currently editing a companion to Dissent in the long eighteenth century.
Some further reading:
Andrew C. Thompson, George II: King and Elector (2011)
Joanna Marschner, Queen Caroline: Cultural Politics at the Early Eighteenth Century Court (2014)
Hannah Smith, Georgian Monarchy: Politics and Culture 1714-1760 (2006)
By Arthur Burns, Academic Director of the Georgian Papers Programme, King’s College London
As we launch the second tranche of digitized documents for the Georgian Papers project, this is a good moment to reflect on the progress of academic research related to the project. On 4 September 2017 the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle hosted a one-day symposium for the Georgian Papers Programme, organised by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. It provided an opportunity for those associated with the programme — whether as members of the core project team at King’s, the Royal Archives and the Omohundro, representatives of participating institutions such as the Library at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Library of Congress, or as fellows of the project — to hear extended reports from a significant proportion of the now more than thirty scholars whose research into the Georgian papers has been supported by fellowships from the Omohundro, King’s, Mount Vernon and the Sons of the American Revolution.
To all of those present it felt as if a significant and exciting milestone had been reached. The event not only demonstrated the extent and the range of the research already undertaken, but also made clear that this research has indeed begun to realize the Programme’s ambition of unlocking the potential of this unique archive to support new interpretations of important themes in eighteenth-century history across the globe. It also embodied a further ambition: to forge a community of scholars meeting on the common ground of a single archive to discuss the intersections and insights of their research in ways that highlight aspects of their projects which might not otherwise appear significant.
There is not enough space here to describe each of the papers presented in what was a very successful symposium. However, we anticipate that many of the fellows will soon themselves discuss their findings either in their own blogs here or in other venues. But this is a good opportunity to reflect on what the symposium reveals about the research taking place in association with the project, and to note some emerging themes.
The symposium made apparent what those already familiar with the archives suspected, but which, in the absence of full indexes and catalogues (which the project will produce), has hitherto been hidden from those who have not physically visited the Round Tower: the sheer range of research projects for which the archives contain significant materials. We explored the full chronological scope of the archive collection, which is still in the public mind largely associated with George III. Daniel Reed‘s (Oxford Brookes University) presentation of his research into royal chaplains concentrated on the period between 1714 and 1760, whereas Jane Levi‘s (King’s College London) discussion of the provisioning of royal banquets focused on the coronation festivities of George IV.
As these two examples also suggest, the range of themes discussed was also exceptionally wide. Those parts of the archive which have previously been published focus in particular on the political and military history traceable in royal correspondence, or the life of the court and the royal family. These topics were duly represented in the presentations with Rachel Banke‘s (University of Notre Dame) reconsideration of Lord Bute and George III’s respective contributions to imperial reform in the 1760s, Jim Ambuske‘s (University of Virginia) reflections on George’s reaction to the loss of America, and Andrew O’Shaughnessy‘s (Monticello and University of Virginia) discussion of the evidence the archive provides on the conduct of the war in America. These presentations demonstrated that — even on subjects of long-standing academic interest where we might think we know the sources — revisiting the archive can still bring fresh insights, not least as our sense of what might be ‘relevant’ material expands, and the selective nature of earlier editions becomes more apparent.
It was striking, nevertheless, how many presentations used the archive to illuminate quite different topics and approaches to history: thus as well as food history, we heard from Bruce Ragsdale (Mount Vernon GPP fellow) on estate management as evidenced in George III’s agricultural activities, Felicity Myrone (British Library) on George as collector of topographical prints and drawings, Miranda Reading (King’s College London) on a key early nineteenth-century pressure group, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, Cynthia Kierner (George Mason University) on disaster relief in Georgian England, Flora Fraser (Mount Vernon GPP fellow) on the lives of Flora MacDonald and Horatio Nelson, and Anya Zilberstein (Concordia University) on animals in the Royal Archives.
The range was equally impressive in geographical terms, underlining that the Georgian Papers are not just an archive for British and North American history, but for all regions touched by the global Georgian: thus Suzanne Schwarz (University of Worcester) took us to Sierra Leone for reflections on the African Institution and its royal patrons and Vincent Carretta (University of Maryland) explored his search for evidence of Africans present in Britain in the eighteenth century. It was also striking how many of the papers adopted at least a transatlantic and, in several cases, a more far-reaching geographical frame, even when their focus was firmly on Britain. This reminded all present that we can no longer think of Britain in isolation during this period, and indicates that the nature of the Georgian royal archives, reflecting the global responsibilities and interests of the monarchs, of itself enforces a recognition of this.
The colloquium also prompted some general reflections. First, several papers made clear how important an understanding of the nature of the archive — of its origins, arrangement (and re-arrangement), selective publication and weeding — will be in allowing new insights into key issues (a theme explored further in Karin Wulf’s blog being published alongside this one). Thus it was clear from Felicity Myrone’s work just how significant decisions about arrangement and cataloguing of archives in the nineteenth century may have been in cementing views about the significance of George III as an eighteenth-century collector which may now need to be revised. This underlines the importance of the approach to the digitization and interpretation of the archival papers that this Programme has adopted, in which archivists, conservationists and academics work alongside each other rather than in sequence, sharing insights the significance of which only becomes fully apparent when discussed with those with a quite different expertise.
Secondly, it was clear that in exploiting the archives as evidence of the development of approaches to kingship and policy-making they are best understood when read alongside other key royal collections of books, art and material culture, with the interconnections offering the possibility of unlocking key questions of chronology and causation.
Thirdly, it became apparent that silences in the archive are often of equal significance as direct evidence. Over the course of the day there was at least as much interesting discussion of what researchers had not found as of what they had discovered. Several papers highlighted the absence — at least in those parts of the archive where we might most readily anticipate encountering it — of evidence relating to activities which from other sources we know were of significance to the royal family, one notable case being philanthropy. How should we explain this? Is it that these things were in fact less significant than we have hitherto believed? Is it that the evidence was disposed of by others who regarded it as too sensitive, personal or insignificant to merit or allow preservation? If so what does that say about our own understanding of these themes? Or is it that the evidence indeed survives, but in a different and unexpected part of the archive, to emerge as the cataloguing and digitization process continues? If the last, this may have important implications for our understanding of how contemporaries understood these themes themselves.
Two final reflections: the first regards the importance of serendipity in the archive. All archival scholars experience this, of course, but the fact that the Georgian papers still await definitive cataloguing and have been exploited for only a limited range of projects in the past increases its significance for researchers. Several of the papers reflected serendipitous discoveries and the resultant change of direction and approach to a theme prompted by encounters with unexpected documents in the archive. It will be part of the challenge of the digitization project to preserve this opportunity for chance encounters for remote users.
Finally, I want to return to the importance of building a research community around the papers, one united not by a shared approach or a geographical proximity, but by having worked in a particular archive. The symposium demonstrated the opportunities this presents for interdisciplinary exchange, revelations of significance not apparent from a focused project perspective and for fresh inspiration to pursue new insights that such a community affords. We hope to perpetuate that opportunity as our community of fellows grows, but will also seek to expand the community around the project over the next few months in a new initiative – The King’s Friends – which we are launching alongside the second release of papers. In the meantime, it remains only to thank Karin Wulf and her team at the Omohundro for organizing such a rewarding event.