Current research in the Georgian papers: a symposium to take stock, Windsor, 4 September 2017

By Arthur Burns, Academic Director of the Georgian Papers Programme, King’s College London


Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

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.

An attentive audience at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017, including on the front row from l. to r. Andrew O’Shaughnessy, Bruce Ragsdale, Anya Zilberstein, Arthur Burns and Karin Wulf. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

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.

 

 

Daniel Reed speaking at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

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.

Jim Ambuske at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

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.

Anya Zilberstein speaking at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

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.

Suzanne Schwarz speaking at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

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.

Felicity Myrone speaking at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017.Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

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.

Flora Fraser speaking at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

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.

Rachel Banke and Andrew Morse at the GPP Fellows Symposium, Windsor , 4 Sept 2017. Photo © Castulo Hernandez Robles

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.

Arthur Burns

All photographs from the symposium are © Castulo Hernandez Robles,  photographer

The “Hit-and-Miss” of Research at the Royal Archives

By Tom Murray, King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow, King’s College London


I undertook my King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship (KURF) in the summer after my final year at KCL. Indeed, my first trip to the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle for KURF took place just days after receiving my degree results, including my dissertation grade. As such, it was at Waterloo Station, awaiting the 8:58 to Windsor & Eton Riverside, that I confessed to Dr Angel O’Donnell – with whom I was working for KURF and who had also supervised my dissertation – that I hadn’t actually visited any archives whilst researching my dissertation. Thus my first archival experience was in fact to be at the Royal Archives, as part of the Georgian Papers Programme (GPP), over the course of six days in July 2017.

Round Tower at Windsor Castle

This had evidently been taken into account upon my arrival in Windsor. Before I was allowed document access, I was given a brief induction by archivist Oliver Walton, which was both helpful and humorous – “Sometimes you just have to plough through a large pile of documents… sometimes there are better things to do than plough through a large pile of documents”. It is thanks to Oliver that I’ll forever – and no doubt invaluably – remember what a fonds is. I was also required to sign a series of Royal Archive regulations; ensuring that I did not intend to damage the documents. Initially, the Archives’ usually stringent security measures seemed somewhat excessive – a security pass was required to enter the Castle complex itself, which had to be shown twice to then gain access to the Archive, around which it was necessary to be escorted by a member of staff. However, it soon became clear that this was one of the prices to be paid for access to documents from the Royal Collection, and inside a working royal residence at that. The process of requesting documents itself was smooth and efficient, while the intimate reading room lent itself to a proper sense of consequence, given the owner – ‘The Queen’! – and contents of the documents in the Archive.

Dr O’Donnell had requested an eclectic selection of documents for me to read through and summarise, all of which had relevance to various strands of his own research. The first collection was ‘Secret Service accounts, 1779-1782’ (GEO/MAIN/17355-17367), detailing the quarterly expenses of the secret service during the latter half of the American Revolutionary War. Somewhat dauntingly, I was informed that I was the first person ever to examine these documents for research purposes. Dr O’Donnell had mentioned certain things to look out for; some of which, like British covert support for Corsican separatists like Pasquale Paoli (1725–1807) – ironically also emulated by American Patriots – were plainly listed as being in receipt of generous pensions. Other names needed little introduction: a ‘Dr Johnson’ (of dictionary fame) was likewise in receipt of a pension for his pro-government writings, while George III’s long-suffering and often reluctant Prime Minister, Lord North, was due an enormous sum from the Secret Service. Perhaps most excitingly for Dr O’Donnell, whose current research is on the ‘politics of paper’ in early America, was an indication that the New York-based newspaper printer James Rivington had received compensation for his Loyalist activities during the American Revolution. This opportunity to be the first to examine the Secret Service accounts was surely a highlight of my time at the Royal Archives, and will hopefully contribute to Dr O’Donnell’s future work.

I next changed location from the Archive reading room to the beautiful Royal Library, where I was presented with a book from the mid-nineteenth century made up of the selected correspondence of John Jay – Founding Father and first Chief Justice of the United States – from 1776–94 (Royal Library, 1047551). As an Americanist myself, this was a real treat for me, and while Dr O’Donnell had singled out the correspondence regarding Jay’s 1795 Treaty between the U.S. and Britain for my examination, I indulged my historical interest by looking over every document in the collection. Especially given my archival inexperience, this was exceptionally exciting: reading over the handwritten letters of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Lafayette, among others, is certainly not the worst way I’ve spent a Friday afternoon. A number of the letters related to the Jay Treaty, including a fascinating letter from Washington outlining his frustrations with British interference on the American frontier, and correspondence between Jay and British Foreign Secretary Lord Grenville, which indicated a genuine warmth between the two negotiators, and demonstrated the workings of the relationship between the nascent United States and Georgian Britain. As with the Secret Service accounts, this should hopefully contribute to the GPP efforts to aid understanding of the ‘Global Georgians’, as well as a forthcoming ‘The Two Georges’ exhibition about the relationship between Washington and George III.

I lastly examined the papers of Nathaniel Kent (GEO/ADD/15/356-429), an agriculturalist involved in the organisation and improvement of George III’s gardens at Windsor between 1791–1810. Again, Dr O’Donnell had highlighted some things to look out for, which he hoped would be relevant to his research: the use of mills and papermaking, building repairs, animal/wheat breeds, and the use of machinery. Unfortunately, it was the Kent Papers that proved one of Oliver’s aforementioned ‘Facts of Life for Archival Research’ – “Sometimes a file has nothing relevant in it at all, despite all outward appearances. This is normal.” Indeed, try as I might, the Kent Papers contained very little of what Dr O’Donnell and I had anticipated, largely outlining the accounts and expenses of the royal farms at Windsor with little detail. Beyond an insight into an intriguing episode in which certain workmen seem to have been accused of stealing beans from the royal farm, the Kent Papers bore little fruit, either in terms of research or historical interest. Still, such seemingly unproductive work is useful in reducing Dr O’Donnell’s workload, as well as clarifying the exact contents of the Kent Papers for the GPP.

Visiting the Royal Archives was a highlight of my KURF experience and an introduction into archival research that was both fascinating and unique. The ‘hit-and-miss’ nature of archival research was immediately clear to me, as was the potential for exciting discoveries, especially within unexamined documents such as the Secret Service accounts. It was also a pleasure to work within and contribute to the Georgian Papers Programme and its effort to examine and digitise the Archive’s 350,000 pages of documents. I hope to return to the Royal Archives soon for my own research.

Understanding the American Revolution using George III’s archives

Professor Andrew O’Shaughnessy was the first Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) Visiting Professor in 2016. The generous support from the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) enables visiting professors to bring new perspectives to the study of texts uncovered by the Georgian Papers Programme (GPP). Here Professor O’Shaughnessy reflects on the highlights of his research during his professorship.


The objective of my research project was twofold. Firstly, it aimed to explain the significance of the archives of George III and the Georgian Programme for our understanding of the American Revolution. Secondly, it examined the personal role of George III in the formulation of strategy in the Revolutionary War.

Why are George III’s archives significant for understanding the American Revolution?

The papers of George III are fundamental to interpreting the British side of the American Revolution. The King was a critical figure because he enjoyed considerable power under the constitutional system of the 18th century. The monarch was still actively involved in politics, selecting both the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet. The King also had much influence over the independent country gentry who made up the majority of members of the House of Commons. This was augmented by the patronage of individuals known as placemen and direct control of some constituencies.

The correspondence of George III was edited and published in 1927-28 as a series of six volumes covering the period of the American Revolution by Sir John Fortescue, who was the royal librarian at Windsor Castle. His later papers were edited and published in five volumes by A Aspinall between 1963 and 1971. The majority of historians therefore did not use the original archive because of the availability of the published letters and the difficulty of obtaining permission to obtain access to the papers at Windsor Castle.

However, the archive is important for historians since it contains a significant volume of information that has not been published. Furthermore, it is always necessary to consult original documents since they may reveal much more with alterations and deletions. It is also possible to identify documents in which George III meticulously listed military information, including details of the French fleet. There were additionally several categories of unpublished papers, important for our knowledge of the American Revolution.

Highlights from the archives

(a) Letters not included in the papers published by Sir John Fortescue:

Fortescue omitted some letters that are in the archive but not in the published volumes. Andrew Beaumont at Hertford College, Oxford, has been examining the correspondence of George III to Lord North for a biography of Lord North. He has certainly found that some of these letters were not included in the printed correspondence. My own investigation was for the correspondence of the actual war years in which the military intelligence and reports of spies were for some reason not included in the published papers by Fortescue. These included the letters of Aristarchus, who reported directly to George III. It may indeed have been the pen name of more than one individual while his reports were clearly based on many sources, especially in Britain and France. There is a book of reports from Brest in France about the activities of the French navy in the late 1770s – ‘George III Secret Intelligence 1779-1782’, which is handwritten and contained in Box 4121-4448. The naval intelligence ultimately failed the British in the months prior to Yorktown. This period is covered in the reports.

There is additionally a memoir by William Knox – former agent to the colony of Georgia and deputy secretary of state for America under Lord George Germain – entitled ‘Anecdotes and Characters of the late Administration 1782’. It is a wonderful source on the personalities of Lord North’s government and the debacle at the Battle of Saratoga.

(b) The letters of Admiral Sir Samuel Hood:

Admiral Sir Samuel Hood was second in command at arguably the most important naval battle of the 18th century, which is known as the Battle of the Chesapeake Capes off Virginia. It was lost by the British and proved decisive in the fate of Lord Cornwallis in Yorktown. Hood wrote regularly to one of the King’s courtiers and officeholders, General J Budé. These documents are unique and have not been examined by the various biographers of Hood. They are not part of those of his papers published by the Naval Records Society. They include important accounts of naval affairs and of the Battle of the Chesapeake Capes.

(c) The correspondence of William, Duke of Clarence:

Prince William was the third son of George III, who assigned him to the navy at the age of 13 in 1778. He was witness to several major naval engagements, and later served under Admiral Sir Samuel Hood. His correspondence includes accounts of British-occupied New York, naval battles and the war in the Caribbean.

(d) George III private papers (undated):

There are miscellaneous volumes of letters that were not included in the papers published by Fortescue. These included personal matters relating to his family, but also include his drafts requesting German mercenaries to the various princes in Brunswick, the Landsgrave of Hesse and Hesse Cassel. There is also correspondence with the admirals, often relating to Prince William.

(e) Maps, engravings and plans:

The maps are not formally part of the digital project of the Georgian Programme, however it was possible to consult them while working at Windsor Castle. They are not for the most part known to historians even though copies have long been available on microfilm at the Library of Congress. They include plans of battles, including one for the Battle of Bunker Hill and the siege of Charleston and are only just in the process of being indexed. They represent possibly the richest trove of unpolished materials for military historians.

What was George III’s role in the strategy of the American Revolution?

My second objective was to attempt to evaluate the role of George III in the strategy of the Revolutionary War. It was apparent to me that some of his language was repeated by Lord George Germain, the Minister most responsible for the war in America. He certainly had a role in the continuance of the war by refusing to countenance the appointment of a ministry committed to peace with America. Indeed, he became a driving force of the war in 1778 in the absence of leadership by Lord North. He threatened even to abdicate rather than permit a government that would not continue the war. He personally wrote to and negotiated the contracts for mercenaries with the princes of various states in Germany.

The research project hoped to find additional correspondence with those members of the government most responsible for the war. The outcome was indecisive. There were no letters that had not been published to Germain and the Earl of Sandwich. However, it is very likely that they were regularly meeting in person with the King, but unfortunately we do not have a source that lists his meetings. It was significant, though, that he copied, in his own hand, many of the military documents that he consulted, including lists of the ships in the respective fleets and the logistics of the British army in Boston in 1775.