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The American Revolution in King’s College London’s “Revolution!” exhibition

By Heather Anderson, Special Collections Assistant in the Foyle Special Collections Library at King’s College London and exhibition co-curator

The Revolution! exhibition runs until Saturday 20 May 2017 in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library at King’s College London.

To mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution, King’s College London’s Foyle Special Collections Library is holding an exhibition in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library on the theme of revolution. Further details are available here:

The exhibition draws on the unique and distinctive holdings of the Foyle Special Collections Library, including the historical library collection of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to explore events of 1917 which led to the rise of the Soviet Union, and to explore the concept of revolution more broadly.

The exhibition covers several significant political revolutions of modern times, including the American Revolution of the late 18th century. This post will focus on two items currently on display relating to the American Revolutionary War.

(1) Extract from The Boston evening-post, of September 2, 1765.  [Sl: sn, 1765] 

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection FOL. HF3025 GRE

The American Revolutionary War arose from tensions that had been building between colonists and the British authorities for more than a decade. Prior to the outbreak of the war in 1775, colonists had protested against taxes imposed by the British government, arguing that only their representative assemblies could tax them. One such act imposed was the Stamp Act, a tax on all printed documents in the American colonies introduced in 1765. Objectors to the tax resorted to mob violence in opposition, aiming to intimidate stamp collectors into resigning. The Extract from The Boston evening-post, of September 2, 1765, held in the Foyle Special Collections Library and currently on display as part of the Revolution! exhibition, contains extracts from proclamations and letters on the subject of riots occasioned by the imposition of the Stamp Act.

Bostonians reading Stamp Act, 1765. By New York Public Library. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Political violence and protest

In one proclamation the governor of colonial Massachusetts, Francis Bernard (1712-79) reports riotous scenes that occurred on 26 August 1765 in Boston. Bernard reports how mobs attacked and pillaged the properties of several political figures of the province in opposition to the Stamp Act. The most brutal attack described is that against the property of Thomas Hutchinson, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Bernard describes how a mob forcibly entered Hutchinson’s home and destroyed fittings and windows, demolished and stole furniture, clothes and money, and even uncovered part of the roof:

…the said people continuing thus riotously and tumultuously assembled the whole night and until day-light the next morning, committing divers outrages and enormities and threatening the custom-house, and the houses of divers persons, to the great terror of his majesty’s liege subjects.

Riots and resignations

Similar riots broke out in other colonial towns, resulting in mass resignations of the stamp distributors. This made the Act incredibly difficult to implement, and led to its repeal just one year after it had been sanctioned. The issues of taxation and representation raised by the Act put a strain on the relationship between Britain and the colonies, with relations further deteriorating over the next decade until the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775.

(2) Thomas Paine. Common sense. Philadelphia, printed; London: re-printed, for J Almon, opposite Burlington-House in Piccadilly, 1776   

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection E211 PAI

When the American Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, the majority of colonists who took up arms against British soldiers did not desire independence. Colonial leaders hoped eventually to resolve the issues that had led to growing tensions between Americans and the British authorities, such as taxation without representation and the presence of the British army in the colonies. However, over the course of 1775-76 the independence movement grew substantially. This was partly due to the immense popularity of Thomas Paine’s pro-independence pamphlet Common sense.

Widespread circulation

Common sense was the most widely circulated pamphlet published during the American Revolutionary War. Within three months of its publication in 1776 it was claimed that 120,000 copies had been sold and second editions of the work were published within weeks. In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Paine’s life, it is recorded that Benjamin Rush, an associate of Paine and one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, recalled in July 1776:

Its effects were sudden and extensive upon the American mind. It was read by public men, repeated in clubs, spouted in schools, and in one instance, delivered from the pulpit instead of a sermon by a clergyman in Connecticut.

The pamphlet made the case for independence for the American colonies, arguing in favour of a democratic republican government. Paine argued that ‘government by kings runs contrary to the natural equality of man’ and that Americans should regard England as a ‘tyrannical oppressor’.

The text and seditious libel

The text’s accessible prose style and impassioned arguments garnered enthusiasm for the cause of independence, and even those opposed to Paine’s arguments were inspired by his devotion to the cause. The edition of Common sense held in the Foyle Special Collections Library, and currently on display as part of the Revolution! exhibition, is a first English edition of the pamphlet, reprinted from the original American edition in 1776. This copy has hiatuses (omitted words and phrases) throughout the text. It is believed that the printer omitted the most controversial parts of the text, which included personal attacks on George III, to avoid accusations of seditious libel. The hiatuses in this copy have been filled in with pen and ink, possibly by clerks employed by the printer to do so. This technique would have given readers access to the text’s seditious ideas, whilst protecting the printer from prosecution.

Plain truth

This edition is published with James Chalmers’ critical essay Plain truth, which was written in opposition to Paine’s arguments. There is a half-title page at the beginning of the work introducing both Common sense and Plain truth, but each work has a separate title page, albeit with the same imprint statement.

The advertisement in this edition states how Common sense has been ‘held up as proof positive that the Americans desire to become independent’ and that the publisher is ‘happy in this opportunity of publishing Plain truth; which we take to be as good a proof that the Americans do not desire to become independent’.

The Revolution! exhibition runs until Saturday 20 May 2017 in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library at King’s College London. It is open to the public Monday – Friday 09.30-17.00 and Saturday 10.00-18.00.


Mark Philp, ‘Paine, Thomas (1737–1809)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 [, accessed 28 March 2017]

PhD Scholarship 2017-2018: Health and Healing at the Hanoverian Court

The Professor Sir Richard Trainor PhD Scholarships 2017-18

Project Title: Beyond the Madness of King George: Health and Healing at the Hanoverian Court

King’s College London is now inviting applications for one of the Professor Sir Richard Trainor PhD Scholarships in the Department of History at King’s College London in collaboration with the Royal Library and Royal Archives, Historic Royal Palaces, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Science Museum.

The scholarship will commence from October 2017 onwards and is open to new incoming PhD students only.

Full details available here.

Project Description

While historians and medical experts have long debated the nature of George III’s illness, other important aspects of medicine at the Hanoverian court have not yet received close scholarly attention. King’s College has recently entered into a partnership with the Royal Household, the Georgian Papers Programme (GPP), to digitise and research the archives of the Hanoverian court. The GPP offers an exciting opportunity for new avenues of research.

For instance, analysis of digitised materials may enable the PhD candidate to reconstruct the roles of practitioners and patients beyond the medical elite, to understand food, cleanliness and other practices of maintaining the court as a healthy environment, and to trace the circulation of medical knowledge by following the trajectories of books, medical tools and materials, and correspondence across the court, the metropolis and internationally. The candidate will be expected to develop their own research focus, broadly addressing one or several of these aspects of health and healing at court.

Collaborating with high-profile cultural partners, the project will enhance public and scholarly understanding of the Royal Library and Royal Archives and Historic Royal Palaces, and feed into research activities and online materials at the Science Museum and the Royal College of Surgeons. The Department of History was ranked 5th of all UK History departments in the 2014 REF with 86% of our research activity assessed as ‘world leading or internationally excellent’. It is a research-led department with a strong reputation for contribution to scholarship, teaching and practice. The Department is located on the Strand Campus of King’s College London where the studentship will be based.


The scholarship will provide an annual payment of £15,000 which can be used to cover tuition fees and/or living costs.

Length of Award: 3 years (PhD) 


Lead Supervisor: Dr Anna Maerker

Second Supervisor: Dr Rowan Boyson

Partner Organisation Supervisors: Oliver Walton, Polly Putnam, Dawn Kemp and Tim Boon

To Apply

For full details on how to apply, please visit the King’s website for The Professor Sir Richard Trainor PhD Scholarships.


George III’s Visit to Kenwood House in 1794

By Peter Barber, member of the Georgian Papers Programme Steering Committee.

Kenwood House is one of the most popular tourist sites in London. This is largely because of its beautiful grounds, the outstanding collection of paintings bequeathed by the first Earl of Iveagh in 1927 and because of the Robert Adam rooms in the house itself commissioned by Lord Chief Justice William Murray, first Earl of Mansfield (1705-93) between 1764 and 1779. The extensions made by his nephew and successor, the diplomat David Murray, 6th Viscount Stormont and 2nd Earl of Mansfield (1717-96) have until recently been less well known. The diary of Queen Charlotte shows, however, that at the time they were of interest to the King himself, and presumably to others like him who had architectural inclinations and expertise.

Kenwood House had originally been built as a home for the King’s Printer, John Bill, shortly after 1616. Its healthy, elevated position and views over woods toward London undoubtedly explain the choice. The house was a substantial but by no means palatial suburban villa. In the early eighteenth century it passed through the hands of interrelated Scottish aristocrats, including George III’s later mentor, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute who acquired it in 1746 and sold it to Murray in 1754, a year before Bute became George’s tutor and Groom of the Stole. Only an orangery stretching along the terrace to the west of the main house had been added to the house in the intervening years. Bute had been fond of the house and had doubtless talked to his impressionable pupil about it.

The house that Bute occupied was still just a villa. William Murray, who was created earl of Mansfield in 1776, had ambitions to turn it into a proper, aristocratic country seat, maintained through the rents from surrounding lands. These eventually extended from Kentish Town to Highgate Village, Crouch End and East Finchley (the link to the Mansfields is perpetuated through street names). The money also paid for the extensive parkland stretching south from the house to what is now Parliament Hill Fields on Hampstead Heath.

Despite employing Adam, however, Mansfield only added the – admittedly magnificent – library wing, which balanced the orangery, to the east of the house itself. The rest of the house had been re-faced, raised by a storey and its garden façade had been decorated with stucco, while a grand processional route was created from the front hall/dining room to the library. The rest of the house was left as it was, with the private rooms – which constituted the bulk of the space – retaining their original, domestic proportions.

The second earl had grander ambitions and, long before his uncle’s death, but with his full approval, he had determined to embellish Kenwood ‘upon a handsome plan’. He clearly intended to transform the house from a villa into a proper country seat, an English counterpart to his Scottish ancestral home, Scone Palace. Hampstead Lane was diverted so that it no longer passed Kenwood’s front door. The landscape designer, Humphrey Repton, was consulted about modifying the grounds in the latest, more picturesque taste. For the house itself, the new earl employed two architects who are now little-known, Robert Nasmith and, after his death in 1793, George Saunders (1762-1839). Saunders, however, was a well-read architectural innovator who enjoyed a good reputation in his time.

Between 1793 and 1796, Saunders transformed the house, adding large dining room and music room/drawing room wings, a vast set of service buildings and handsome stables. Under the influence of his wife, Louisa, née Cathcart, in 1794-5 he also added, a fashionable and well-placed dairy, tea-room and scullery, supposedly resembling a Swiss chalet, on a nearby hillock that could be seen from the house, while her favourite artist, Julius Caesar Ibbotson, decorated the music/drawing room with allegorical paintings.

For Friday 28 March 1794, Queen Charlotte recorded in her diary [RA GEO/ADD/43/3e] that ‘This Morning the King went to see in His Airing the improvements of Lord Mansfield (sic) villa at Caenwood. Lady Mansfield & Her Daughter were there’. That the King should go towards Kenwood for his ‘Airing’ is not surprising: the healthy air of Hampstead and Highgate had long attracted city dwellers of all sorts. The daughter of Lord Mansfield in Kenwood was probably Lady Caroline, then a five-year old infant.

But what particularly attracted the King to the improvements at Kenwood? It is unlikely to have been the dairy, of which by March 1794 very little would have been visible. However he might well have been interested in the features that that the artist and diarist Joseph Farington had noted in the previous November as being ‘in respect of architectural effect, strange’. This would have included the decision to leave the yellow brickwork of the two new wings to the main house exposed despite plaster concealing the bricks elsewhere.

Perhaps, however, it was the new kitchen that particularly appealed to the King. George III had since the 1780s become particularly interested in gothic architecture (and was indeed designing a gothic palace in Richmond). The new kitchen at Kenwood – which is still to be seen – was loosely modelled by Saunders on the medieval kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey.

This was well known in antiquarian circles and had, indeed, been the subject of an early watercolour by Turner. However, Saunders had enhanced it by increasing the amount of daylight streaming down from the cupola and windows – a feature that would surely have been of particular interest to the man whom Professor David Watkin has recently described as our ‘Architect King’.