Garter Day in the Archives

by Rachel Banke, Ph.D. candidate in American History at the University of Notre Dame. She was an Omohundro Institute Georgian Papers Fellow and spent last June researching at the Royal Archives


Have you ever eaten a cake decorated like Henry VIII?  Well, I have. To be sure, a rotund and comical Henry VIII cake does not grace the Royal Archives every day, but I was graciously treated to a slice when the archives staff hosted me as their guest for Garter Day. How exactly does one celebrate Garter Day besides drinking tea and eating cake?  Standing on the battlements of the Round Tower—in the rain, of course—we watched the members of the Most Noble Order of the Garter descend to St George’s Chapel after their formal knighting in the royal residence.

Getting to experience Garter Day at Windsor was especially interesting to me because I study one of the Order’s former members. My research centers on the 3rd Earl of Bute, who was tutor, advisor, friend, and prime minister to George III. My project, “Bute’s Empire: Reform, Reaction, and the Roots of Imperial Crisis,” uses the figure of the Earl of Bute to unpack dynamics of imperial governance and popular political culture on the eve of the American Revolution.

I was especially thrilled to find the Royal Archives holds an immense collection (over 2,000 documents) of George III’s notes and essays spanning from his childhood to near the end of his life. This material provides fantastic insights into key parts of his political philosophy, including topics such as English history, political economy, the system of British government, and the levying of taxes. The chicken scratch of George’s drafts and notes were some of the most interesting pieces because they show how George refined and developed his thought in a collection mostly devoid of dates. The problems of dating most of the material did raise questions for me about how I can use these otherwise rich sources to speak to George III’s thinking during a particular point in his life. However, I was particularly excited to find the Earl of Bute’s comments and corrections on some of these papers.

I also spent a significant portion of my time on family correspondence. Many of these materials fleshed out the full person of George III in funny, surprising, and touching ways. In particular, an affectionate letter from Prince Frederick to his son, the young Prince George, stands out. The letter outlined the humble, principled, and brave way a King needed to approach his duties to his country and people, sentiments which George III took to heart as he ascended the throne intent on removing corrupt influences and producing a reformation of government.

I would like to express my greatest gratitude toward the staff of the Royal Archives and the Omohundro Institute for making this research possible. I would also like to give my thanks to the staffs of the Royal Library, who patiently hosted me during renovations to the Round Tower, and the Royal Print Room, who were exceedingly helpful when I visited to see items in the satirical print and Cumberland maps collections. I eagerly await the launch of the digitization project, which promises to breathe new life into not only our understanding of high political history of the era, but also important aspects of eighteenth-century cultural and intellectual history as well.

 

KURF Students Visit Royal Archives at Windsor: Treasures of the Round Tower

Dr Anna Maerker, Senior Lecturer in the History of Medicine, King’s College London and a member of the GPP Academic Steering Committee


At the Round Tower of Windsor Castle: Harrison Cutler, Ayesha Hussain, Lloyd Ross (left to right).
At the Round Tower of Windsor Castle: Harrison Cutler, Ayesha Hussain, Lloyd Ross (left to right).

This summer, three undergraduate students from the History Department visited the Royal Archives at Windsor, joined by members of staff Dr Angel-Luke O’Donnell and Dr Anna Maerker. Ayesha Hussain, Harrison Cutler and Lloyd Ross received summer fellowships through the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship scheme (KURF) which gives undergraduate students the opportunity to learn alongside leading academics by pursuing guided research. The students worked on a range of projects related to Georgian history:
– “Marginalised Indians: Native Americans in British Archives, 1763 to 1795” (Harrison Cutler, supervisor: Dr Angel-Luke O’Donnell),
– “Beyond the Madness of King George: Reassessing Medicine and Healing at the Hanoverian Court” (Ayesha Hussain, supervisor: Dr Anna Maerker),
– “The concept of ‘internal police’ in late eighteenth-century discourse” (Lloyd Ross, supervisor: Dr Max Edling).

The students’ visit to the Royal Archives was made possible through King’s partnership with the Royal Household on the Georgian Papers Programme, a major project to digitise and interpret the archives of the Georgian papers held at Windsor Castle. The five year programme, officially launched by Her Majesty the Queen on 1st April 2015, will digitise some 350,000 pages of original archives. With academic leadership provided by King’s College London and international partners, the Programme also supports research and interpretation of this material.

Students and staff were introduced to the archives, digitisation, and conservation lab by project manager Dr Oliver Walton and archivist Rachael Krier. They greatly enjoyed their encounters with this unique collection of historical documents which provided insights into the everyday life of King George III and his household, from the gathering of political intelligence to concerns about the health of the family. The visit also highlighted the challenges of cataloguing and digitising historical archives.

It was good to finally have a chance to practically implement some of the elements I’ve been taught during my degree, as primary sources are always alluded to through photocopies or webpages, and so to read through a variety of actual eighteenth-century pieces was a welcome addition. It was also good to go behind the scenes of Windsor Castle when accessing the collection!” (Lloyd Ross)

Going to the Royal Archives was a fascinating opportunity to visit one of the more unique collections in the UK. Rachael Krier and Oliver Walton showed off the work that goes into cataloguing and digitising the collections in the archive. The morning began with an enlightening introduction about the organisation of the material. Both Oliver and Rachael provided insights into the origins of the collections (from the cellar of the Duke of Wellington) and the relatively good condition of all the materials. The introduction also included a visit to the conservation room and a chance to discuss the cleaning and conservation practices of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century documents. I was particularly interested in the treatment of the leather bindings and mounting practices. These small considerations have a dramatic effect on the lifespan of important documents. Overall, the visit provided insights into the work of archives and helps a researcher better understand and design their own project in the archive.” (Dr Angel-Luke O’Donnell)

Researching in the Round Tower: report by Georgian Papers Fellow, Rick Atkinson

Rick Atkinson, freelance military historian, was an Omohundro Institute Georgian Papers Fellow who spent last April researching at the Royal Archives. He is researching the first volume of a projected trilogy about the American Revolution and used his time in the archives to look at the role of King George III in military decisions, specifically those relating to espionage and expeditionary warfare, starting in early 1775 and carrying through the Battle of Princeton in 1777.

 

Atkinson at Henry VIII Gate, Windsor Castle, April 2016
Atkinson at Henry VIII Gate, Windsor Castle, April 2016

 

I’ve worked in some exotic locations—Mogadishu, Mali, Baghdad, Kazakhstan, Riyadh—but none more evocative than the top of the Round Tower in Windsor Castle, where I spent the month of April 2016, as a Georgian Papers fellow. The researcher’s path to this archive is steep: through the Henry VIII Gate and the Norman Gatehouse, up 102 stone steps in the Round Tower and then another 21 wooden steps to the reading room. It’s as close to time travel as I’ve ever experienced.

As an author and a military historian from Washington, D.C., I’m working on a trilogy about the American Revolution. My previous books have been about four 20th century wars, each of them expeditionary, and I’m intrigued by the challenges of waging war at great distance in the 18th century. In the official and private papers of George III, complemented by the vast trove of Treasury, Colonial Office, Admiralty, War Office, and Audit Office documents in the National Archive at Kew, the depth and breadth of those challenges comes clear. So does the extent to which the King is closely involved in all aspects of logistics, politics, strategy, diplomacy, naval affairs, and intelligence collection during the Revolution. His appetite for information is enormous. What he knows is impressive; what he doesn’t know will help cost Britain her American colonies.

The American stereotype of a tyrannical nincompoop quickly dissolves with a little exposure to the Georgian papers. I also spent time examining the correspondence and documents of Queen Charlotte and two eventual heirs to the throne, George IV and William IV. In these papers we see the worries and preoccupations of a husband and father, and of a monarch wrestling with the fretful issue of how to prepare a prince to become a king in a changing world. I also took several days to examine the military maps of George III in the Print Room and to examine some of the King’s personal holdings in the Royal Library.

I couldn’t be more grateful to those responsible for opening up the Georgian Papers and giving us a deeper look at this extraordinary period in our common heritage, particularly King’s College London and the Omohundro Institute. Oliver Urquhart Irvine, the Librarian and Assistant Keeper of the Queen’s Archive, and his colleagues at Windsor Castle, were extraordinarily generous, accommodating, and good-humored. Not least, I was in Windsor for the Queen’s 90th birthday celebration. I told Oliver that the irony was not lost on me that I had interrupted my research on the Revolution to stand on a street curb with thousands of others to sing “Happy birthday, your Majesty.”

This post and others also appear on our sibling GPP site at the Omohundro Institute.