New Exhibition on Georgian Papers Programme on display at King’s College London

Engraving of Prince Albert opening the George III Museum, King’s College London. 1843

A new exhibition based on research undertaken on Georgian papers at the Royal Archives by King’s academic staff and students is now open to the public. The exhibition stems from work initially conducted as part of the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship scheme, in which students worked with King’s academics on a research project. The theme of the exhibition is medicine and exploration in the long eighteenth century and includes facsimiles of Royal papers relating to the last hours of George IV, extracts from a “book of cures” by Lady Augusta Murray, wife of Prince Augustus Frederick, alongside King’s College London Archives’ recent digitised notebook on the 1769 observation of the transit of Venus by the Royal household.

A PDF version of the exhibition content can be downloaded here. This version has been amended due to copyright restrictions so if you would like to have the full exhibition experience you will have to visit the display cabinets at King’s Building entrance hall on the Strand Campus. The exhibition will be running from 29 November 2016 until 3 February 2017.

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)