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. 

Professor Vincent Carretta on his research visit to Windsor

Professor Vincent Carretta, University of Maryland, was an Omohundro Institute Georgian Papers Fellow who spent last November researching at the Royal Archives. 

I was delighted to have been chosen the Inaugural Senior Fellows from Omohundro Institute to participate in the George III Papers Project, which is co-sponsored by the Institute and King’s College, University of London. For the past thirty years or so I’d fantasized about what the Royal Archives, Royal Library, and Print Room at Windsor Castle contain that might be relevant to any of my research projects.

I’ve spent the last two decades editing the works of, as well as writing about, English-speaking authors of African descent before 1800. Many of them claimed, or were said to have had, some connection to the Georgian Court, whether in person or by correspondence. The Omohundro fellowship gave me the chance to dig in the holdings at Windsor Castle to try to discover evidence of those connections. My earlier work on those authors enabled me to appreciate the significance of any relevant material that was hitherto undiscovered.

Ideally, the relationship between a researcher and an archive is symbiotic: each benefits from the encounter with the other. I luckily had that experience at Windsor Castle. One example of such good fortune was the copy in the Royal Library of Quobna Ottobah Cugoano’s abolitionist book, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, published in London in 1787. I knew from a holograph letter by Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, alias John Stuart, in the Gloucestershire Record Office that Cugoano had given a copy of his book to the Prince of Wales, the future Prince Regent, and later George IV. And there it was!

The Royal Library now has my transcriptions of all of Cugoano’s known surviving manuscript letters, one of which is addressed to King George III. I also explained why I thought that Cugoano probably presented a copy of his book to the Prince in person in 1787: as the servant of Richard Cosway, who had been appointed the Prince’s Primarious Pictor (Principal Painter) in 1785, Cugoano had frequent access to the Prince. And I was able to add some information to the Print Room by identifying Cugoano as the black servant in Cosway’s rare etching in its collection of Mr and Mrs Cosway at their Pall Mall House after painting of 1784

Mr and Mrs Cosway at their Pall Mall House, by Richard Cosway (bapt.1742 d.1821), RCIN 653010.
Mr and Mrs Cosway at their Pall Mall House, by Richard Cosway (bapt.1742 d.1821), RCIN 653010. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

I’m very grateful to the Omohundro Institute for having given me the opportunity to spend time in the holdings at Windsor Castle, which I think was mutually beneficial.

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

James Ambuske on researching George III’s papers in the Royal Archives

James Ambuske, University of Virginia, was the inaugural Omohundro Institute Georgian Papers Fellows and spent last September researching at the Royal Archives. 

In 1768, the Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush toured the House of Lords during a visit to London. He persuaded his guide to allow him to sit upon George III’s throne, an experience that deeply moved him. I lay no claim to Rush’s brilliance, but I did share in his sense of awe each morning as I climbed the stone steps leading into the Round Tower at Windsor Castle, sat down at a simple wooden desk, and read through the papers of America’s last king.

My dissertation explores how Scottish emigration to the colonies in the era of the American Revolution shaped perceptions of the British Empire’s purpose amidst a transatlantic constitutional crisis. Much of my research centers on how American proprietors, Scottish landlords, promoters of emigration, and the King’s ministers contested the broader imperial implications of this phenomenon. George III’s position, although often hinted at in the correspondence of government officials, consistently eluded me. Serving as the Omohundro Institute’s inaugural Georgian Papers Project Graduate Fellow, in conjunction with the Royal Archives and King’s College of London, gave me the opportunity to rummage gently through George III’s personal letters and private thoughts about British America.

I found some of the answers that I sought and discovered material in the archive, the Royal Library, and the Print Room that raised new questions about the American War for Independence. Within the King’s calendared correspondence, for example, there exist copies of nearly 100 unpublished enclosures detailing the ministry’s mobilization and intelligence gathering efforts in the summer of 1775. The letters illuminate the government’s struggle to send Major General Thomas Gage sufficient cash and provisions, and augment British forces with Hanoverian troops, in order to crush the rebellion swiftly. Their presence in the collection point to George III’s intense interest in this process and the role he played in prosecuting the war.

The most rewarding finds were the materials that humanized the regal portraits of Georgian women and men. The tender affection that Queen Charlotte and George III felt for one another pervades their correspondence, as does her great intellect and the self-doubt that they both expressed as parents. Should you have need for a “gout cordial,” require “soap for the hounds,” or have guests expecting “giblet soup” and “ginger bread nutts” for dinner, then you will find these recipes and more among the Georgian Papers. We’ll be skipping the Christmas ham this year in favor of “Green Pea Soup without Meat or Water.”

But the chance to collaborate with the Royal Archivists made my tenure in Windsor especially meaningful. We discussed the future direction of Georgian studies and strategized about capturing digital metadata during many conversations in the reading room or over a pint of ale. This sense of partnership encouraged me to create a simple calendar of the above-mentioned enclosures for the archivists that I hope will benefit the project as well as future scholars.

I am grateful to the Omohundro Institute for the opportunity to study in Windsor Castle.

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