Latest post

Cataloguing George with John and Lewis!

By Rachael Krier, Metadata Creator at the Royal Archives

Over the course of the last few months I have been cataloguing George III’s official correspondence (known more widely as the Calendar). There are 38 large maroon boxes of George III Calendar in total covering the whole of his reign but this release (Summer 2018) focusses only on the first 4 of those boxes which date from the period slightly before George III became king until June 1772. Each of these boxes contains 300 – 400 documents and it can take up to or over a month to complete each one. As one of the project cataloguers at the Royal Archives, I read each document and write a précis of its contents in line with internationally agreed criteria known within the archive profession as the International Standard on Archival Description (General) or ISAD(G) for short. These criteria are: document reference number, title, extent (number of documents), date, and level (usually ‘item’ or ‘file’ indicating the position of the record within the collection hierarchy or ‘family tree’). There are actually very few required fields within ISAD(G) and while the whole standard goes far beyond these few fields, it is not designed to be prescriptive. We have therefore also developed our own in-house cataloguing standard to ensure consistency among the cataloguers at the Royal Archives.

Sir John Fortescue’s Correspondence & Sir Lewis Namier’s Additions and Corrections

In cataloguing, I am drawing heavily on Sir John Fortescue’s editions of the Correspondence of King George III 1760-1783 due to time constraints as it is far faster to read a transcript rather than many different handwriting styles often of variable legibility! Fortescue served as Royal Librarian at Windsor Castle between 1905 and 1926 but is perhaps best remembered for his multi-volume A History of the British Army. It was during this time that the Georgian Papers were discovered and a description of their arrival at Windsor can be found in his autobiography Author and Curator.

The published editions of George III’s Calendar appear to have only been developed quite late in Fortescue’s tenure. An unaccessioned day book and visitor book in the Royal Archives records the removal of the boxes of Calendar to the Royal Library on 29 June 1925: ‘Mr Fortescue says that he is making a selection of them for Lord Lascelles to print for the Roxburgh Club’. While only the Correspondence up to 1783 was published, correspondence files in the Royal Archives reveal that transcripts for the rest of the Calendar 1783-1810 were prepared albeit not published. Given that the first volumes of Correspondence were published 1927-1928, this is a very quick turnaround time and the works we term ‘Fortescue’ are very unlikely to have been undertaken by Fortescue himself – or certainly not alone. The identity of the copyist(s), however, remains undetermined as no acknowledgement is made by Fortescue of any assistance he received.

The credibility of the Correspondence has been somewhat tarnished by the errors the editions contain. Many of these mistakes are picked up by Sir Lewis Namier of Manchester University in his snappily-titled work Additions and Corrections to Sir John Fortescue’s Edition of the Correspondence of George the Third (volume 1) published in 1937. In his introduction, Namier takes Fortescue to task over inaccurate dates or inadequate dating, and lack of referencing to other archives or published editions and acidly concludes, ‘[i]n general I should like to put forward the proposition that letters or documents which are worth printing at all deserve adequate editing.’ (p5). A worthy sentiment certainly but editing can also be ‘a stupendous piece of work’ as Namier himself wrote on 26 October 1936 to Miss Mary Mackenzie (of the Royal Archives with whom he corresponded to ascertain many of the corrections in Additions and Corrections) (ref PS/RA/CSP/GEN/NAMIER). Even in preparing this work, Namier is forced to admit, ‘I really do not know what I would have done if I could have foreseen how much work was implied in the Corrigenda et Addenda to Fortescue – possibly I would not have undertaken it at all, which is true about almost every piece of literary work one does.’ Despite this, as late as 1 May 1952 Namier was still planning ‘with the help of Eric Robson and Ian Christie…to publish Additions and Corrections at least to the last three volumes of Fortescue.’ (no.116). In writing to Miss Mackenzie, Namier appears very personable and charming – quite the opposite of the acerbic impression conveyed in either the introduction of the Additions or in this portrait by Bassano and Vandyk studios!

Use of Fortescue and Namier in cataloguing

In spite of these mistakes and omissions, I am using Fortescue’s editions of Correspondence on the assumption that while these transcripts are not good enough to be the definitive version, they are good enough to provide a flavour of the documents’ contents which is the aim of cataloguing.

Undoubtedly the greatest difficulty facing a modern day researcher using the Correspondence is the numbering. That is to say transcript no. 220 does not equal document 220 in the George III Calendar, i.e. GEO/MAIN/220 and, unlike Aspinall, the Correspondence frustratingly does not include any document reference numbers. During cataloguing it has been possible to reconcile the numbers in Correspondence to the documents in the physical boxes so the catalogue entry now records that document GEO/MAIN/333 has been published as no. 220 in the Correspondence.

At present, only around 20% of the Georgian Papers have been catalogued and digitised. Outside of the Correspondence, our principal finding aid for the collection is the writer-addressee index cards. Royal Archives staff have kept the index cards up-to-date following the arrival of any new acquisitions and we are therefore fairly confident that the index is a fair reflection of the correspondents within the papers. The writer-addressee index appears to have been compiled from box lists, i.e. a rough list of contents found within each box but these generally give no indication of the topics or individuals mentioned within a document. Until the Georgian Papers are fully catalogued the Correspondence is the best means of identifying subjects in the Calendar pre-1783 – however much Fortescue leaves to be desired as an editor and despite their apparent deficiencies, these transcripts have yet to be revised or superseded. We should not allow Namier’s criticisms of Fortescue’s edition cloud our view of his work. As Librarian, Fortescue championed the Georgian papers and his contribution to their preservation and accessibility cannot be so narrowly defined.

Jane Austen and the Prince Regent: The Very First Purchase of an Austen Novel

During his time in the Royal Archives, Omohundro Institute Georgian Papers Programme fellow Nicholas Foretek found exciting new evidence that the first documented purchase of any novel by Jane Austen was made by none other than the Prince Regent (later George IV).  Moreover, the purchase—of Sense and Sensibility—was made two days before the book was advertised… Read More »

The post Jane Austen and the Prince Regent: The Very First Purchase of an Austen Novel appeared first on Georgian Papers Programme.

Coffee with the Georgian Papers Programme

by Jaclyn Shankel, Early Modern MA student, King’s College London

Introduction by Angel-Luke O’Donnell, Liberal Arts Early Career Development Fellow in History, King’s College London


As part of the GPP, we regularly host coffee mornings for incoming fellows and other researchers intending to work in the Windsor archives. Coffee mornings are informal events that bring together colleagues from King’s College London, the Royal Archives, King’s Friends, and the numerous fellowship schemes. Over tea, coffee, and biscuits, incoming fellows present short ten-minute overviews of their GPP projects as a prompt to a broader conversation. Our intention is to hear more about the ongoing research associated with the programme; stay up-to-date with the progress on cataloguing and digitisation; share scholarship from different fields and disciplines; and suggest potentially interesting material, either in the Royal Archives themselves or else to be found further afield in other archives, published collections, and digital repositories.

As a member of the team, the coffee mornings are fantastic opportunities to learn more about the new knowledge emerging out of the GPP. I hear about pioneering new methods and techniques. I meet with colleagues from across the world, who bring diverse perspectives on the Georgian period, yet all still united in the purpose of understanding more about the material in the Royal Archive.

Ultimately though, we hope the coffee mornings will help researchers make the most of their time at Windsor. Jaclyn Shankel, an MA student here at King’s College London enrolled on the Early Modern MA programme, has generously shared her experience of attending a GPP coffee morning on 7 June 2018.

When I was first asked to present at a GPP Coffee Morning, my initial reaction was one of both pleasure and anxiety. As an MA student, it appeared quite daunting to present unformed research to a roomful of experts on the Georgian period. However, the experience had several surprises in store for me.

The first surprise came before the coffee morning ever arrived. My dissertation will look at ideas of providence in England, as understood through the lens of three earthquakes in the 1750s. While I was not sure what connections would exist between my research and the Georgian papers, I was quickly astonished by the breadth and depth of materials in the collection. There were few direct references to the earthquakes themselves; instead, I found essays, letters, account books, and more indicating beliefs in providence, benevolence, natural philosophy, and ideas of statecraft. Such material expanded the context of my subject and created a new lens through which to approach it.

The coffee morning itself proved my nerves groundless – it was a friendly, collegial environment with fascinating discussion, in which the participants sought to understand and aid new research being conducted. The morning consisted of two presentations, GPP Fellow Dr. Carolyn Day and myself, followed by presentations on a number of projects on the cataloguing and digitization of the papers. The cumulative effect of these presentations created an environment of curiosity.

The presentation itself further provided new insights and approaches to eighteenth century providence, through the feedback and questions I received from our group. I left the room with pages of notes and book suggestions I am continuing to read. Such questions I was left to consider and pursue ranged from the relationship clergy have with the monarchy, to the ways in which people try to control the risk inherent in natural disaster (and providence). I was challenged to consider the implications of providence across the Atlantic in the American colonies, and in other, more personal, forms of disaster. While these topics may or may not make an appearance in my final project, the exercise in thought was worth the effort. Ultimately, it highlighted the advantage of conversing with fellow academics throughout the research process.

I would like to thank Samantha Callaghan for introducing me to the GPP, and Dr. Angel-Luke O’Donnell for inviting me to present at the coffee morning. I also extend a thank you to all present for your encouragement and advice. Such an event was a perfect setting for expanding research and building community.

[Editor’s note: The coffee mornings are open to all researchers interested in the Georgian Papers – to be notified of the next coffee morning or other GPP events please join the King’s Friends Network.]