Mapping the Georgian World: video now available!

We are delighted to announce that you can now watch a video-recording of the richly-illustrated event on ‘Mapping the Georgian World – Maps and Power in the reign of George III’ which was delivered to an enthusiastic audience at the 2017 Arts and Humanities Festival at King’s College London on 9 October 2017. The main speakers are Peter Barber and Max Edelson. We are very grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Institute at King’s College London for making this available, James Howard in King’s AV and to Professor Edelson for his help in synchonizing his presentation with the recording. To watch the recording, click here.

George I and George II and the Royal Archives: the missing monarchs?

By Dr Andrew Thompson, Queens’ College, Cambridge


John Michael Rysbrack (1693-1770): King George II (1683-1760) signed & dated 1738, and Queen Caroline (1683-1737) signed and dated 1739. Terracotta or fired clay | RCIN 1412 and RCIN 1411. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

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.

David Morier (1705?-70): George II c.1745, oil on canvas RCIN 404413. Hangs in Grand Vestibule, Windsor Castle. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

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)

Material from the Georgian period in our library collections

Katie Sambrook, Head of Special Collections, King’s College London

The rich holdings of the Foyle Special Collections Library at King’s College London include some 10,000 printed and manuscript items from the Georgian period. Their subject scope is broad, with particularly strong coverage of political history, exploration and travel, science and medicine.


Political history


The transfer to King’s in 2007 of the historical library collection of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) greatly enriched our holdings of material documenting the political history, both domestic and foreign, of the Georgian period. For much of its long history, the Foreign Office Library (formally founded in1782) fulfilled functions over and above those normally assigned to a library. The librarian not only acquired, documented and managed collections of books and papers; he had custody of all treaties with foreign powers, maintained correspondence files and undertook research on all aspects of international affairs at the request of ministers. The collection was thus very much a working tool of government, its contents handled and often annotated by government officials and used to inform and influence British foreign policy. Large bound volumes of declarations of war (1796-1813), treaties of peace (1814-41) and royal marriage treaties (1736-1893) were assembled by the Foreign Office for reference purposes; some of their contents are in printed form, others in manuscript.  Other notable manuscript material includes a register of the correspondence sent and received by the Foreign Office during foreign secretary Castlereagh’s attendance at the Congress of Vienna from September 1814 to June 1815.


The library collection of the Colonial Office (formally founded in 1854) and its predecessor departments fulfilled a similar function for colonial affairs.  Eight large volumes of printed and manuscript material with the title Colonial estimates document official budgetary allocations to the expanding British Empire from 1782 to 1890.  A slim manuscript volume, entitled An essay on the commercial and political importance of ye island of Tabago [sic], dated 1810 and illustrated with charming watercolour maps and landscape views, represents a compelling but unavailing attempt by Tobago’s governor, Sir William Young, to persuade the London government to make this small island Britain’s principal naval and commercial base in the Caribbean. A folio manuscript volume of 1796, entitled Sketches of the political and commercial history of the Cape of Good Hope includes an introductory essay by Henry Dundas, then secretary of state for war, setting out his stance on how Britain should govern its newest overseas possession. The volume contains a circulation slip, initialled by members of the Cabinet to show that they had read it. Dundas advocates governing the Cape with a light touch, leaving existing Dutch government structures broadly intact and introducing any changes gradually. He states:

I lay it down as a fundamental principle that Great Britain must never attempt to hold possession of the Cape on the principles of a strict colonial connexion.

Watercolour view of Man o’ War Bay, Tobago, from ‘An essay on the commercial and political importance of ye island of Tabago’, by William Young (1749-1815). Image: King’s College London.
Coloured frontispiece of Table Bay, with Cape Town and Table Mountain in the background and title page, from The importance of the Cape of Good Hope as a colony to Great Britain, by Richard Barnard Fisher, 1816. Image: King’s College London

 At this date Britain, preoccupied with its war with France, saw the Cape primarily as a strategic coastal staging post on the route to its Indian possessions. With the post-Waterloo peace would come a shift in thinking; Britain’s rule of the Cape would become more civil than military in character, as the Cape’s potential as a settler colony was realised, a development documented in such works as Richard Fisher’s The importance of the Cape of Good Hope as a colony to Great Britain (1816).


The printed holdings of the FCO Historical Collection amply reflect the main foreign and colonial policy questions of the Georgian period, with a particular emphasis on the latter. There is extensive coverage of colonial America and the American Revolution, particularly through pamphlet literature. Pamphlets include a 1776 London printing of Thomas Paine’s Common sense in which the publisher, John Almon, has left potentially seditious passages unprinted, the gaps in the text being subsequently filled in by hand, and a copy of Francis Maseres’ Considerations on the expediency of admitting representatives from the American colonies into the British House of commons (1770), annotated extensively by the leading campaigner for the abolition of slavery, Granville Sharp.



The operation of the Atlantic slave trade, its abolition in 1807 and the eventual emancipation of all slaves in Britain’s Caribbean colonies from 1833 were the focus of fierce debate in the pamphlet literature of the day, and the FCO Historical Collection contains hundreds of such publications, written by politicians, clergymen, plantation owners and others and reflecting every shade of opinion. Many of these pamphlets were printed in the Caribbean and are of considerable rarity. The Jamaican Maroon Wars of the 1730s and 1790s, the Haitian Revolution of the 1790s and the establishment by the Sierra Leone Company in 1792 of a settlement in West Africa for escaped slaves – all these developments are amply documented in books, pamphlets and parliamentary papers of the time, and again many of these items are of extreme rarity.


Leonard Parkinson, a Captain of the Maroons, taken from the Life, from The proceedings of the governor and Assembly of Jamaica, in regard to the Maroon Negroes, 1796. Image: King’s College London.

Complementing the multitude of pamphlets that poured off the presses of the Georgian Britain and elsewhere are more substantial works of political and economic theory, including some of incalculable influence on public discourse and events, such as David Hume’s Political discourses (1752), Adam Smith’s  Inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations  (1776) Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).


Exploration and travel


The richness of our holdings in the literature of exploration and travel from the Georgian period is due in part to the strength of the FCO Historical Collection in this field, but also to another important collection, the former library of William Marsden (1754-1836), who gave his library to King’s shortly before his death.


An East India Company official, who later became first secretary to the Admiralty, Marsden was an orientalist, numismatist, linguist and bibliophile, an active member of the Royal Society who enjoyed friendships with Joseph Banks, Alexander Dalrymple and others. His own published output includes an important Grammar of the Malayan language (1812) but perhaps his most significant achievement was the amassing of his collection of books and manuscripts, documented in Bibliotheca Marsdeniana philologica et orientalis:  a catalogue of books and manuscripts collected with a view to the general comparison of languages, and to the study of Oriental literature (1827). As the title of this catalogue suggests, Asia is a major strength of the collection, which contains such works as Mountstuart Elphinstone’s Account of the kingdom of Caubul (1815), describing the British diplomatic mission to Afghanistan of 1808, George Fitzclarence’s Journal of a route across India, through Egypt, to England (1819) and a copy of Sir George Staunton’s Authentic account of an embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China (1797), presented to Marsden by its author.

Title page in Tamil characters, from the New Testament, translated into Tamil by Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and Johann Ernst Gründler, 1715. Image: King’s College London.
“A Dooraunee Gentleman’, a 19th century Afghan riding a horse, from An account of the kingdom of Caubul,  by Mountstuart Elphinstone, 1815. Image: King’s College London.

Marsden’s collecting interests were by no means confined to Asia, however, and the contents of his collection range from a 1765 grammar of the Andean language of Mapuche, printed in Lima, to a manuscript notebook containing an Icelandic vocabulary compiled or Joseph Banks in 1772 by Uno von Troil, Swedish theologian and later archbishop of Uppsala.


The discovery and exploration of Australia, the establishment of British colonial settlements in New South Wales and its subsequent development as both a penal colony and a destination for free emigration are themes documented in depth in our collections, primarily through the extensive holdings of the FCO Historical Collection.  Works by Dampier, De Brosses and Cook, among others, document the first European voyages to Australia, and there is extensive coverage of the arrival in New South Wales of the First Fleet and its results, through such works as governor Arthur Phillip’s account of the voyage of the First Fleet (1789) and surgeon-general John White’s Journal of a voyage to New South Wales (1790). There are extensive holdings of official or semi-official publications relating to the administration of New South Wales as a penal colony and the practicalities of convict transportation, as well as numerous pamphlets discussing the benefits and drawbacks of free emigration. The exploration and settlement of the Australian hinterland is also well documented, through such rarities as manuscript copies of surveyor John Oxley’s accounts of his 1817 and 1818 expeditions to trace the source of the Macquarie River and a copy of Gregory Blaxland’s Journal of a tour of discovery across the Blue Mountains in New South Wales (1823), believed to survive in only a handful of copies.

A Poto roo or kangaroo-rat, a type of Australian marsupial, from Journal of a voyage to New South Wales, by John White, 1790. Image: King’s College London

The naval officer and hydrographer Matthew Flinders is best known today for his circumnavigation of Australia and we hold a copy of his Voyage to Terra Australis (1814), but perhaps of equal interest is a large manuscript volume compiled by Flinders in 1807-8 during his imprisonment on the island of Mauritius; the volume mainly comprises accounts of Madagascar by other writers, transcribed,  translated and commented on by Flinders. The exploration of mainland Africa is amply documented in our collections, which include such important publications as Mungo Park’s Travels in the interior districts of Africa  (1799) and Thomas Bowditch’s 1819 account of the 1816 Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee.




We have extensive holdings of scientific publications from the Georgian period, with particular strengths in astronomy, engineering and natural history. Highlights include magnificently illustrated botanical works, such as William Curtis’s monumental Flora Londinensis (1777-98) and William Woodville’s  Medical botany (1790-93), beautifully illustrated with hand-coloured plates by James Sowerby, and masterpieces of 18th century technical writing, such as A narrative of the building and a description of the construction of the Edystone [sic] lighthouse (1793), by James Smeaton.  Works by Erasmus Darwin, Humphry Davy and Joseph Priestley, among others, are all well represented in our collections, and our copies of some of Nevil Maskelyne’s works on chronometers are from the collection of the King George III Museum.

Honeysuckle, from Flora Londinensis, by William Curtis (1777-98). Image: King’s College London




Medicine is another strength of our Georgian period collections. King’s has a rich medical tradition,  incorporating not only the foundation of King’s College Hospital in 1840 but the merger in the 1990s with two far older teaching hospitals, St Thomas’s (originally a medieval foundation) and Guy’s, founded in 1721.  All these institutions assembled large collections of 18th and 19th century medical books, and there is surprisingly little duplication of holdings between their respective historical collections.


Many of the Georgian period medical books in our collection originally belonged to the Physical Society of Guy’s Hospital. Founded in 1771 and active until 1852, the Physical Society, membership of which was open to apothecaries, physicians and surgeons , held weekly meetings, hosted lectures and ran a lending library. It played an important role in fostering debate on medical and scientific matters, and many of its leading members, such as Astley Cooper, whose works are well represented in the collection, were also instrumental in establishing the formidable reputation of Guy’s Hospital as a centre for medical education in the early 19th century.  Somewhat surprising to 21st century eyes is the presence in the Physical Society’s collection of a copy of the second edition of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English opium-eater (1823), bound with a copy of Samuel Merriman’s Synopsis of the various kinds of difficult parturition (1814).


The historical library collection of St Thomas’s Hospital is a similarly rich resource for the study of medicine in the Georgian period. The works of those associated with St Thomas’s are, as one would expect strongly represented, and include copies of William Cheselden’s magnificently illustrated Osteographia (1733), works on the plague written and formerly owned by the physician Richard Mead and a copy of Gilbert Blane’s Observations on the diseases incident to seamen (1785), inscribed by the author, a St Thomas’s physician who made pioneering discoveries on the link between scurvy and diet.

Frontispiece to Osteographia, by William Cheselden (1733). Image: King’s College London.

Many of our early 19th century medical books have now been digitised for the UK Medical Heritage Library.


Find out more


This summary of our Georgian holdings can only provide a snapshot of the richness of our collections, which span the humanities, social sciences and sciences.  From copies of the Tamil New Testament of 1715 (the first translation of the Bible into a language of India) and the Oriental miscellany of 1789 (the first printed rendition of Indian music in Western notation)  to copies of Samuel Johnson’s  Dictionary of the English language (1755) and volumes of 18th century English hymnals and chapbooks, our collections provide a rich and wide-ranging resource for anyone interested in the life and achievements of the Georgian period.


To find out more, please consult the library catalogue and the Foyle Special Collections Library’s web pages or contact Foyle Special Collections Library staff, who will be happy to provide further information.