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)

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.

Sharing Research: GPP Fellows Ann Little & David Hancock

By Dr Angel Luke O’Donnell, Academic Liaison for the Georgian Papers Programme, and Teaching Fellow in North American History, King’s College London.


On 17 July 2017, Windsor Castle hosted the fourth GPP coffee morning. This was the first coffee morning that Windsor has hosted and it was a great chance to share the work on the programme with new colleagues in the Royal Archives and the Royal Library. Two fellows from the William & Mary College and of Early American History and Culture scheme, Ann Little (Colorado State University) and David Hancock (University of Michigan) joined us for the session. We also heard talks by Prof Arthur Burns, King’s College London, and Roberta Giubilini and Rachel Krier, both from the Royal Archives.

The session began with a welcome from Oliver Walton and a short round of introductions. Thereafter, Arthur Burns, Academic Director, shared his experience of writing research grants in the UK environment. Arthur explained that over the course of his career the development of research outputs other than books, and especially digital products such as database, is becoming an increasing priority for funding bodies. As such, the development of GPP digital outputs will have important implications for academic colleagues over the coming years.

High-waisted dancing dress from 1809. Source: The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen edited by Penelope Hughes-Hallett.

Ann Little gave us a fascinating overview of how clothing has shaped women’s torsos from the Elizabethan period to the early nineteenth century. The ideal female figure changed from a flat triangular shape, in which women’s breasts were flattened and the waist cinched in, to an Empire waist in the nineteenth century that accentuated the bosom. Ann’s research focuses on the political significance of fashion at the turn of the nineteenth century, and in particular the politics of the new exposure of European and Euro-American women’s breasts in the high-waisted fashionable gowns of the time. Europeans and colonial North Americans were accustomed to seeing women’s breasts depicted in the print culture of the eighteenth century (and presumably in person in North America), but those women were overwhelmingly Native American, African, or enslaved African-Americans, not free, white women. Ann is asking: why did the Empire waist appear when it appeared, and why did it disappear, and what does this say about the aftermath of the age of revolution and the possibility for women’s citizenship?

By the time that we met for the coffee morning, Ann had only been in the archives for a week. However, during that time, she had been working through the papers associated with George III’s daughters. Unfortunately, the six young women hardly commented at all about the dramatic shift in women’s fashion from triangular stays to the Empire waistline. Therefore, after Ann’s presentation we had an interesting discussion about where to find additional sources about this striking change in the shape of women’s torso. One suggestion was to use the portraiture of the Royal Collections, most of which has detailed provenance records, so Ann would be able to trace the development over time. Ann also looked at material in the Royal Library for prints and drawings of new dresses. Ann’s presentation prompted a fascinating discussion of how to overcome a perennial problem in research when historical correspondents are not forthcoming in the way that a researcher expected.

David Hancock presented next. Like Ann, David had not yet had the opportunity to explore the archives, and in fact, the coffee morning was the first day that David had been in Windsor. David’s project is a biography of the Earl of Shelburne, and so he gave us an overview of Shelburne’s life by talking us through various collections in Bowood House and the British Library. As in the June coffee morning, it was great to hear about how the Windsor material fitted into the broader environment of historical documents. Shelburne had a storied career. He served as aide-de-camp to George III before becoming an MP and rising to Prime Minister, overseeing the initial stages of the peace talks to end the American War for Independence. It was particularly interesting to hear about Shelburne’s intellectual and social coteries. Shelburne had a huge library of books and often allowed leading intellectuals of the day to use his collections. He also kept up correspondence with members of the Scottish Enlightenment such as David Hume, Adam Smith, and Dugald Stewart. David’s work in the Royal Archives was only in the preliminary stages, but David was confident that because the Windsor material had been less inaccessible before GPP, then his time as a fellow would allow him to explore relatively novel documentary sources, potentially providing new insights into the life of Shelburne.

After David, we heard from Rachel Krier who presented a fascinating history of the Windsor collections themselves. She discussed the role of the former Royal Librarian and Archivist John Fortescue. Between 1927 and 1928, Fortescue published six volumes of the correspondence of King George III covering the period 1760 to 1783. Rachel has been cataloguing the King’s correspondence for GPP, and in her assessment, Fortescue has been treated harshly by posterity. Critics often blamed Fortescue for the poor quality of his edited collection. In part, the academic Lewis Namier helped form the negative perception of Fortescue by publishing Additions and Corrections to Sir John Fortescue’s Edition of the Correspondence of King George the Third, a rather dyspeptic book of errata that identified many of the mistakes in Fortescue’s work. Rachel is still working through the collection, but suggests that people should be kinder to the efforts of Fortescue.

After Rachel, we heard from Roberta Giubilini. Roberta, who is currently cataloguing the papers of William IV, told us about the king’s steward James William Daniel. She argued Daniel’s papers should be included in William’s collection because they reveal William’s keen interest in agriculture and new technologies. Daniel’s collection would expand our understanding of William beyond his role in the navy to encompass new passions. Roberta is currently working on a longer piece describing Daniel’s papers and setting out her argument in more detail, but it was great to see more cataloguing work.

In the main, we heard from works-in-progress during the session. One of the best advantages of discussing a work at an early stage is that you can see the more experimental elements at work, which in turn can help with gaining a clearer insight into the design of a project.