Untold lives blog

186 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

11 October 2022

Can’t fly to Rio for Carnival? Explore the British Library’s Portuguese Language Collections!

This year the British Library joined CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) and Westminster College to offer new opportunities to train as a Library, Information and Archives Services Assistant (LIAS).  The course was launched by CILIP in 2021, the first institution in the world to offer this unique training qualification.  I am among the first four lucky people to be accepted as an apprentice.  The course will last eighteen months, and I will rotate within three departments.

Montage of photographs illustrating the British Library core purposes - custodianship, research, business, culture, learning, internationalThe British Library core purposes - custodianship, research, business, culture, learning, international Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

My first department is Collections and Curation where I am working with Printed Books, and Modern and Contemporary Manuscripts and Archive Collections.  This has allowed me to access some unique collections items that I am very excited to share with you.

Let me first introduce myself - my name is Sheila, but I am not English, Irish or Australian. I am a ‘Brazuca’.  What does that mean, you may ask?

I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a true carioca!  Cariocas are people born in the City of Rio de Janeiro nicknamed ‘The wonderful City’!  The British Library holds many items written in Portuguese, both printed and manuscript form, and these highlight the beauty of that rich language.

An illustration of nineteenth century Rio de Janeiro city and harbourAn illustration of  19th century Rio de Janeiro city and harbour from Edmondo Luiz, A Côrte de D. João no Rio de Janeiro - British Library X.700/456 Images Online

So, let’s start!  It is time for you ‘Brits’ to practise.  C'mon, I know you can do better than ‘Obrigado/Obrigada'.

The first item is: A Coleccao Dos Documentos, Estatutos e Mais Memorias da Academia Real da Historia Portuguesa, dated 1721

Finding it difficult?  Ok, I will help you.

It translates as 'The Collection of Documents, Statutes, and Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Portuguese History'.

On 8 December 1720, the king of Portugal, John V, decided to establish the academy to register the ecclesiastic history of Portugal and its colonies, as well as the history of all Portuguese conquests.  This date was chosen because it is the day dedicated to ‘N. Sa. Da Conceicao’ the Patron Saint of Portugal.

Cover of Collecçam dos Documentos  estatutos  y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de Villarmayor    Title page of Collecçam dos Documentos  estatutos  y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de Villarmayor

Fly page of Collecçam dos Documentos  estatutos  y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de VillarmayorCover, title and fly page of Collecçam dos Documentos, estatutos, y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de Villarmayor, British Library 131.g.1 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Next is 'The Memoir of D. Pedro I',  the first emperor of Brazil.  Surprised?  Me too when I found it.  This one was easy - it has an English title!

After the Portuguese Court returned to Portugal, Pedro decided to stay in Brazil.  He declared independence and became the first Brazilian Emperor.  Brazil, the largest country in South America and the fifth largest in the world, became independent in 1822.   So in 2022 we celebrate 200 years of independence.

This 'authentic memoir' was written by an English woman who was the governess to the Emperor’s daughter.  Being trusted with such a task makes her appear closer to him than his family were.   Perhaps it is best not to gossip, but bear in mind that during her time in the household she witnessed the day-to-day life of an Emperor, the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ of a Brazilian/Portuguese dynasty.

Cover of An authentic memoir of the life of Don Pedro    Title page of An authentic memoir of the life of Don Pedro

Folio 1 of An authentic memoir of the life of Don PedroCover, title page and f.1v of An authentic memoir of the life of Don Pedro [Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil (b. 1798, d. 1834)]', covering his early years until 1826: an unpublished work by Maria, Lady Callcott formerly Graham, based on her experiences in Brazil in 1824-1825, British Library Add MS 51996 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Would you like to get your hands on these fantastic items?  Come to the British Library, become a reader and explore our vast collections.

Sheila Rabello
LIAS Apprentice, British Library

 

06 October 2022

A 'pest of skolds' and other 'unruly women' (part II)

This is part two of 'A pest of skolds' - part one can be found here.  

In our previous blog on the nurses caring for sick and wounded sailors, we saw one of the more extreme courses of action available to nurses to force the navy into paying them what they were owed.

Lodging and caring for the sick and wounded could be exceedingly costly, and nurses and care workers could be pushed into poverty due to a lack of payment for their services. In a letter to Evelyn dated 9 June 1673, for example, a Mr Hannon wrote of the ‘miserable condicon’ of the people. He informed Evelyn that the quarterers had engaged their credit as far as it would go, and shopkeepers were now refusing to trust them. Consequently, they had been forced to sell and pawn their own goods to provide for the sick, with many ‘now reduced to that poverty that they have not where withal to maintiane their owne family’.

Some nurses made their superiors aware of their condition through formal petitions, as in the example below:

Handwritten petition with signatures
Petition to John Evelyn, Add MS 78322, f 71

The nurses of Deal petitioned Evelyn on the basis that the crown had allowed seven shillings per week for the maintenance of every sick and wounded person, but the ‘prickmaster’ would pay them no more than five shillings. They also wrote that they had not been paid for twelve months, and were now ‘in danger to be utterly undone and ruined, not being able to subsist, unlesse speedily assisted’.

Fifteen individuals, mostly women, set their names to the petition asking Evelyn to ensure that the prickmaster paid their money in full, and allowed them to discharge their debts to their creditors.

Where petitioning failed, however, there was one further approach attempted by the nurses to recover the losses incurred whilst nursing sick and wounded seamen. This final letter records what Evelyn refers to as a ‘universal conspiracy’ amongst the nurses. He writes that his deputies had already been forced to break open doors in order to procure quarters for the sick and wounded, as the nurses had asserted that they would not receive any more until their arrears had been discharged.

Handwritten letter by John EvelynLetter from John Evelyn regarding financial pressures on the nurses, Add MS 78322, f 2.

Evelyn writes that the financial pressure placed on the quarterers ‘makes them not onely in a kind of despaire, but so inrag’d, that I neither dare to go down amongst them, nor for almost these five weekes, stay in my owne house’. At last, he requests that the sum of £1000 is paid immediately, to ‘pacifie the poore-people’, who might otherwise ‘grow to a very greate disorder’.

Together, these letters reveal the struggle that these individuals faced to be paid for their services as well as the means at their disposal to fight back. Where some opted for the more formal approach of petitioning the authorities, others channelled their frustration into action, refusing to take in the hundreds of sick and wounded arriving on their shores without payment in full of their outstanding wages. Others, as we saw in Reymes’ letter in part one, took the fight directly to the commissioner’s door, where they loudly proclaimed their struggles until the authorities were forced to respond.

These were ordinary people, many of whom lived their lives close to the poverty line. Nevertheless they remained indispensable to the success of the navy, and by uniting as one, they were able to make their voices heard.

Rachel Clamp

PhD Placement Student Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading

Matthew Neufeld and Blaine Wickham, ‘The State, the People and the Care of the Sick and Injured Sailors in Late Stuart England’, Social History of Medicine Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 45-63.

University of Leicester Library Special Collections blog, John Evelyn and the war with the Dutch

03 October 2022

A 'pest of skolds' and other 'unruly women': caring for sick and wounded sailors in the Anglo-Dutch wars (part I)

The Anglo-Dutch wars were a series of conflicts fought between England and the Dutch Republic beginning in the mid-seventeenth century and lasting until the late eighteenth century. Contemporary writer and diarist John Evelyn was appointed Commissioner for Sick and Wounded Seamen in the autumn of 1664. Alongside his colleagues in the Commission, Evelyn was responsible for sourcing quarters where sick and wounded sailors could receive medical and therapeutic attention.

Oil painting of a sea battleR Nooms, A Battle of the First Dutch War, 1652-54. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Before the great purpose-built naval hospitals at Chelsea and Greenwich were commissioned, sick and wounded sailors were cared for in a combination of private homes and alehouses throughout coastal towns such as Deal, Portsmouth and Plymouth. Landlords, landladies and alehouse keepers, also known as ‘quarterers’, would provide care and lodging on credit to the navy.

Having been for the most part neglected by historians, fresh attention was paid to the partnership between the navy and private care workers by Matthew Neufeld and Blaine Wickham in their 2014 article for Social History of Medicine. The Evelyn Papers at The British Library contain a wealth of information about the work of these individuals and their fight to be properly compensated for their efforts.

Relationships between the nurses and naval commissioners were frequently strained, as the following letter written to Evelyn in April 1665 from his colleague and fellow commissioner Bullen Reymes reveals.

‘The truth is’, Reymes wrote,

‘I have till of late boyed up our Nurses Spirits, by fayre words, and now and then a littell mony upon my account…but [especially] by promising that I would not goe hence, till I had made all even’. ‘These honest artes’, he informed Evelyn, ‘hath hitherto kept my skin whole, for Billingsgat hath not such another Pest of Skolds, as I have to doe with all’.

Reymes then provided an account of his latest encounter with the nurses of Deal:

‘It seems the other day, they had got a whisper amongst them, as if the Commissioner (meaning me) [was] going to London the next day’.

News of Reymes’ imminent departure seemed to spread quickly amongst the nurses who were concerned that the Commissioner would once again leave the town without paying them for their services. Consequently, they congregated at Reymes’ door and challenged him as he attempted to leave his home the next morning:

‘[A]s I came down the stairs to goe abrod’, he wrote, ‘my entry was barricaded with 20 or thirty of the sharpest tunged women, charging me with an outcry, or rather a jangling (for in an outcry, there may be harmony) of there several wants and nessessetys, and all at once, and that they must have their mony…before I went, and that I should not shrinke to steale away to London as I did last, and not paye them, that they were sure the Good King (god blis him) allowed us money to paye them, & we keepe it, and fed them now & then with a littell, so that their money did them no good, and a thousand other…Complaynts’.

It was not only the twenty or thirty women barricading the door who voiced their concerns, but also:

‘another Squadron of them that stood with out dorres, in the Streete took up as an echo, & redubbled  it back againe, I all this while in the midest of them Crying and Praying them to have patience a littell longer’

These ‘unruly women’, as they are later referred to, would not be satisfied, however, without a solemn promise that Reymes would see to it that they were paid in full. But this was only one of the ways in which the quarterers sought to make their voices heard. In Part II of this blog, we'll explore some more documents that reveal more of their fascinating stories.

Rachel Clamp

PhD Placement Student, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading

Matthew Neufeld and Blaine Wickham, ‘The State, the People and the Care of the Sick and Injured Sailors in Late Stuart England’, Social History of Medicine Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 45-63.

LSE staff blog, John Evelyn and the war with the Dutch

08 September 2022

Granville Archive available

The Untold Lives blog has included several posts on the Granville Archive over the last couple of years.  The archive was acquired by the British Library in 2019, along with a supplementary collection of family papers previously hidden from public view, thanks to support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and other funders.

Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive

Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Like so much else, the project to repackage and catalogue the archive was held up by consecutive lock-downs.  Now, at last, the work is complete: catalogue descriptions for both the main and supplementary collections are available on the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts online catalogue (Add MS 89317 and Add MS 89382).  Readers can now directly request access any of the material in the BL reading rooms.

'Per Balloon Post': congratulatory postcard sent by balloon post to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville

'Per Balloon Post': congratulatory postcard sent by balloon post to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville, inscribed with a charitable appeal to the Countess from the finder, a Rev H Woodhouse, 30 April 1872
(Add MS 89382/4/23, f. 40) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The archive is large.  The main collection consists of 883 volumes and files of correspondence and papers, and the supplementary collection a further 96 (as well as a satin purse in which some of the letters were stored).  The collections span several generations over three centuries.  Of particular importance are the papers of Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl (1773–1846), diplomat and politician, and his son Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl (1815-1891), diplomat, foreign secretary and close friend of Gladstone. 

'This is my 10th attempt to print': the 2nd Earl Granville’s struggle with a typewriter. Letter from Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville.

'This is my 10th attempt to print': the 2nd Earl Granville’s struggle with a typewriter. Letter from Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville, 6 March 1876
(Add MS 89382/4/11, f. 142-143) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Women members of the family are well represented, including Lady Susanna Leveson-Gower (1742-1805), wife of Granville Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford; Lady Henrietta (Harriet) Leveson-Gower (1785-1862), wife of the first Earl Granville; and Castalia Leveson-Gower (1847-1938), wife of the 2nd Earl Granville.  Henrietta Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough (1761-1821) and her sister Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) feature prominently in the supplementary collection.

'My dearest Granville'. Letter from Lady Stafford to her 17-year-old son, Granville Leveson-Gower, 22 February 1791

'My dearest Granville'. Letter from Lady Stafford to her 17-year-old son, Granville Leveson-Gower, later 1st Earl Granville, 22 February 1791 (Add MS 89382/1, f. 150) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anyone interested in 18th-19th century diplomacy and foreign affairs, national politics, aristocratic society and intimate family life, the development of higher education, and national museums is likely to find material of interest in the Granville Archive and supplementary papers.

Self-portrait with dog on the shore below the cliffs at Hastings, by Lady Bessborough.

Self-portrait with dog on the shore below the cliffs at Hastings, by Lady Bessborough.  Enclosed in a letter to Granville Leveson-Gower, later 1st Earl Granville, while he was away in St Petersburg, Russia, 19 October 1804
(Add MS 89382/2/22, f. 70) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

To find out more about some parts of the archive, see the previous Untold Lives blogposts, and enjoy a detailed account of innovative conservation treatment for locks of hair in the collection by BL conservator Veronica Zoppi (listed below).

Tabitha Driver
Cataloguer, Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Lord Granville Leveson Gower: Private Correspondence, ed. Castalia Granville (London, 1916)
Hary’o: the Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish, 1796-1809, ed. George Leveson Gower and Iris Palmer (London, 1940)
Edmond Fitzmaurice, The Life of Granville George Leveson Gower K.G. 1815-1891. 3rd ed. (London, 1905)
Janet Gleeson,  An aristocratic affair: The life of Georgiana's sister, Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough (London, 2006).
The political correspondence of Mr Gladstone and Lord Granville, 1868–1876, ed. A. Ramm, 2 vols. (London, 1952).

Cache of hidden letters in the Granville Archive
Ciphers and sympathetic ink: secret love letters in the Granville papers
A rebus puzzle
Conservation of the Granville Archive papers

 

05 September 2022

Introducing Prime Ministers’ Papers from Robert Walpole to H. H. Asquith

The Modern Archives collections holds many of the personal papers of the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom.  These are rich and extensive papers, which offer an incredible insight into the British political establishment over two centuries.  Our new collection guide introduces our holdings relating to British Prime Ministers.  The collections listed are valuable resources that can offer first-hand accounts of the some of the most prominent political personalities and infamous events of modern British history.  The papers include dialogues with Royals, correspondence from politicians, petitions, personal diaries and drafts of legislation.

We have selected a few items from this huge collection that highlight some of the fascinating stories hidden within these papers.

The folio below is from the copybook of letters of the John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, Prime Minister from 1762 to 1763.  In this volume of transcripts of the Earl of Bute’s letters are a number of letters to the Prince of Wales, the future King George III.  The Earl of Bute offers his personal advice to the Prince, the transcript below offers insights into the tone of these letters.

Earl of Bute’s advice to the future George IIIEarl of Bute’s advice to the future George III, Add MS 36797, f.66v. 

The papers of Lord North, Prime Minister from 1770 to 1782, offer insights into the British State’s response to the American Revolutionary War.  Among the papers are various letters from Loyalists including a petition of prisoners requesting assistance.  The folio below is a letter from Richard Clarke on behalf of his son Isaac who was one of the merchants chosen by the English East India Company to deal with tea consignments in Boston.  He refers to the violence that erupted during the event known as the Boston Tea Party, which brought suffering to his son and ended his employment.  From here, he appeals to Lord North for compensation for his son’s loss of income.

Letter to Lord North from Richard Clarke recalling his son’s experience of the Boston Tea PartyLetter to Lord North from Richard Clarke recalling his son’s experience of the Boston Tea Party, he was ‘greatly exposed to the violence of the rioters, even before those teas were destroyed’. Add MS 61864, f.25. 

The papers of George Canning, prime minster in 1827, include files relating to the campaign to abolish slavery within the British Empire. The British trade in slaves had been illegal since 1807; however, ownership of slaves in British colonies was still legal until 1833. Some of Canning’s papers explore slavery within the British Empire, like the folio below concerning the case of a man who was contesting his enslavement in British Guiana.

Papers considering the case of a man who was contesting his enslavement in British GuianaPapers considering the case of Barra[h/k], a man who was contesting his enslavement in British Guiana. Canning Papers, Add MS 89143/1/8/2. No foliation. 

The extensive Gladstone Papers cover his four premierships and offer a unique insight into an expansive range of policy interests and political issues over the 19th century.  This letter is one of many from women’s suffrage campaigners. Millicent Fawcett writes to Gladstone’s office to thank Gladstone for his sympathy towards her sick husband.

Letter to Gladstone from Millicent Fawcett  1885Gladstone Papers, Letter to Gladstone from Millicent Fawcett, 1885, Add MS 44156, f.191v. 

These fascinating examples from the collection are just a few folios from a vast set of collections that offer unique perspectives on the history of governance, policy, power and politics in Britain from the 17th to the 20th century.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives

Further Reading:
Prime Ministers’ Papers and Correspondence

 

25 August 2022

Papers of Penelope Chetwode

A recently catalogued collection of India Office Private Papers is now available to researchers in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room.  This is the papers of Penelope Valentine Hester Chetwode, travel writer, tour guide, and historian of Indian temple architecture.

Penelope Chetwode and her father General Sir Philip Chetwode seated with the Rajah of Bilaspur in their garden in ShimlaPenelope Chetwode and her father General Sir Philip Chetwode seated with the Rajah of Bilaspur in their garden in Shimla from The Bystander 5 August 1931 British Newspaper Archive

Penelope Chetwode was born on 14 February 1910 at Aldershot to Sir Philip Chetwode and Hester Alice Camilla Stapleton Cotton (Lady Chetwode).  In 1928, she travelled to India for the first time when her father was appointed Chief of the General Staff in India.  In 1933, she married the poet John Betjeman in London, and they had two children Paul and Candida.  In 1963, Penelope returned to India for the first time in 30 years, falling in love with the country again, and developing a fascination with the architecture of north Indian temples.  She would subsequently visit India regularly on research trips, and to lead groups of tourists around different parts of the country.  It was while leading a tour from Shimla to Kulu that she died on 11 April 1986.

Notebooks from a trip to India in 1973 Notebooks from a trip to India in 1973 - Mss Eur F741/2/20 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The collection consists mostly of Penelope Chetwode’s India papers.  On her visits to India she kept notebooks with her observations and sketches of the places she visited and the people she met.  Many of these notebooks have survived and can be found in the collection.  There are files relating to the holiday companies she worked with when leading tour groups to India, particularly West Himalayan Holidays which organised package tours to north India.  These give a fascinating flavour of the early years of package holidays and mass tourism.

A variety of tourist leafletsTourist leaflets - Mss Eur F741/16/6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Penelope developed an enthusiasm for the traditional architecture she encountered in north India, particularly that of temples.  She visited many of these structures, later writing articles and giving lectures on them.  The collection contains copies of her articles, along with correspondence with other writers and academics around the world who shared her interest in this area.  In 1972 she wrote a book about her visit to the Kulu Valley in north India, and the collection has her handwritten drafts of the book, as well as correspondence with her publishers, and letters of congratulations from appreciative readers.  Shortly after the book was published, Penelope made a film titled ‘A Passion for India’ for the BBC, which was first screened on 30 January 1974.  The collection contains papers on the making of the film, including correspondence and a copy of the script.

Booklets on horses Booklets on horses - Mss Eur F741/11/6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Penelope Chetwode had a passion for horses and riding, and the collection contains material relating to this.  In 1961 she undertook a riding tour across Andalusia and wrote about about her adventures.  The collection has notebooks and correspondence written while on the tour, and a rough draft of the book.  There are also copies of articles, newspaper cuttings, printed materials and photographs on the subjects of horses and horse riding, along with part of a never completed memoir about her life with horses titled ‘Memoirs of an Undistinguished Horsewoman’.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers of Penelope Valentine Hester Chetwode, Lady Betjeman (1910-1986), are searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts, collection reference Mss Eur F741.
Penelope Chetwode, Two Middle-aged Ladies in Andalusia (London: John Murray, 1963).
Penelope Chetwode, Kulu: the end of the habitable world (London: J. Murray, 1972).
Imogen Lycett Green, Grandmother's footsteps: a journey in search of Penelope Betjeman (London: Macmillan, 1994).

 

23 August 2022

Robert Hubert and the Great Fire of London

Shortly after midnight on Sunday 2nd September 1666, a fire broke out at a bakery in Pudding Lane. In the days that followed, the fire proceeded to destroy around 80 percent of the old City of London. 

Etching and aquatint with hand-colouring showing the destruction of buildings by the Fire of London in 1666THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON IN THE YEAR 1666, W Birch, 1792, Maps K.Top.21.65.b, via BL Flickr CommonsPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Robert Hubert (c. 1640-1666), the son of a Rouen watchmaker, later confessed to starting the fire. He was indicted at the Middlesex sessions on 16 September 1666 and imprisoned at the White Lion prison in Southwark. Just over a month later, he would be executed for a crime that he did not commit.

Alongside his alleged accomplice, Stephen Peidloe, Hubert claimed to have created a crude fire grenade by placing gunpowder, brimstone and other flammable material onto the end of a pole and pushing it through the open window of the bakery on Pudding Lane. The only supporting evidence for Hubert's confession lay in his ability to go to the site of the bakery and to describe its appearance. His claim that he pushed a fireball through a window was entirely falsified, as even the owner of the bakery maintained that it had no windows. Later, the testimony of the captain of the ship on which Hubert sailed from Sweden would further prove his innocence, by confirming that Hubert had not arrived in England until two days after the fire started.

Evelyn's annotation on Hubert's letter: 'I thinke this was the Father of the villain [that] was hanged for setting fire on London 1666'. Evelyn's annotation on Hubert's letter, Add MS 78316, f 8v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Yet in the Evelyn papers held at the British Library, we see that contemporary writer, diarist and horticulturalist John Evelyn possibly still held Hubert responsible for the conflagration. Evelyn made copious annotations of his letters in later life, and on the reverse of a letter written to him by one Estienne Hubert, written in 1650, Evelyn noted

'I thinke this was the Father of the villain [that] was hanged for setting fire on London 1666'. 

Evelyn was not  alone in his belief that Hubert had deliberately and maliciously started the fire. As a foreigner, Hubert became an easy target for those seeking to explain away the many misfortunes that befell the city in the mid-17th century. Despite the fact that both he and his family were known to be Protestant, Hubert can be seen depicted on the frontispiece to Pyrotechnica Loyalana, Ignatian Fire-Works (1667), an anonymous work suggested that the Fire had been deliberately started by Catholic arsonists, acting on the instructions of the Pope.

Frontispiece to 'Pyrotechnica Loyalana, Ignatian Fire-Works - Hubert exchanges a hand grenade with a Jesuit priestFrontispiece to 'Pyrotechnica Loyalana, Ignatian Fire-Works' (1667), British Museum 1868,0808.13197, © The Trustees of the British Museum. [Licensed under Creative Commons 4.0]

In the etching above, Hubert exchanges a hand grenade with a Jesuit priest labelled 'Pa.H'. It has been suggested that this may refer to Harcourt, a notable Jesuit priest who would later be arrested and committed to Newgate Prison on the charge of complicity in the fictitious Titus Oates plot to kill the king. A gallows is depicted behind the pair, indicative of Hubert's fate.

Although Hubert's confession was fraught with contradictions and the authorities largely accepted that the fire was an accident, Hubert had confessed to the crime and was therefore hanged at Tyburn on 27 October 1666. Hubert's motives for confessing remain as mysterious today as they were to the authorities present at his trial, although there is some evidence to suggest that the young man was suffering from mental illness. Several witnesses remarked on Hubert's state of mind during his trial, and it was Lord Chancellor Clarendon's opinion that he was a 'poor distracted wretch, weary of his life, and chose to part with it this way'.

Rachel Clamp
PhD Placement Student, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading
Stephen Porter, ‘Farriner, Thomas (1615/16?-1670), baker’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 
Tinniswood, Adrian, By Permission of Heaven (London, 2011)

 

17 August 2022

Read all about it - Brendan Bracken's letters to Max Aitken

Politicians and journalists have a strange love/hate relationship.  A newspaper can bring down a politician (think The Guardian and MPs Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton); equally a politician can spell trouble for a newspaper (see Tom Watson’s campaign against phone hacking).  However, they also depend on each other: politicians need to be in the public eye; newspapers need stories, ideally with sources close to the heart of government.  That relationship is important today but imagine how much more important it was in the 1930s and 1940s when, without the internet, no television to speak of, and really just one channel on the radio, the only truly mass media was newspapers, which sold in their millions every day across hundreds of local and national titles.  So the correspondence of a government minister and the owner of the country’s best selling newspaper could be expected to be rich with stories, gossip, and tips.  The letters of Brendan Bracken to Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, spanning more than 30 years and acquired by the  British Library in April 2022, do not disappoint.

Photographic portrait of Brendan BrackenBrendan Bracken by Elliott & Fry, bromide print, 13 January 1950. NPG x86452 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

The two met around 1923, possibly through their mutual friend, Winston Churchill, and soon struck up a firm friendship.  They had much in common.  Bracken had a background in financial journalism.  He became an MP in 1929, was appointed Churchill’s Parliamentary Private Secretary in 1940 (Bracken was to be one of Churchill’s closest allies throughout the latter’s long political career), and Minister of Information the following year.  Beaverbrook was an MP from 1910 to 1916 before being created a baron, and had himself served as Minister of Information in 1918.  He had been involved in British newspapers since 1911, and was the owner of the Daily Express, which by 1937 was the country’s best selling newspaper and post-war became the world’s largest selling newspaper.  When Churchill appointed Beaverbrook Minister of Aircraft Production in 1940, (the first of three War Cabinet posts he was to hold), Bracken and Beaverbrook found their interests and politics merging at the very centre of power, with all the access to information and gossip that would bring.

Photographic portrait of William Maxwell Aitken 1st Baron BeaverbrookWilliam Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1930 NPG x2803 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Bracken’s letters are full of behind the scenes rumour, news, and comment relating to politics and the press.  The letters touch on every major event and crisis of those turbulent times: the rise of Nazi Germany, appeasement, the Czechoslovak crisis, World War II, Churchill’s leadership, the reforming post-war Labour government, the economy, factions in both the Conservative and Labour parties, decolonisation and the end of empire, and the Suez crisis.  There is comment on all the major political figures of the period: Chamberlain, Churchill, Attlee, Dalton, Bevin, Bevan, Morrison, Butler, Macmillan, and Eden.  The letters also discuss major figures in diplomacy and international affairs, business and industry, the newspaper trade, Anglo-American relations, and post-war South Africa under its National Party government.

Bracken’s letters have a relaxed, informal, conversational style about them and should not just be seen as a source of political and press tittle tattle.  They can also be read as a record of a genuine friendship.   Real warmth comes through, and they contain the discussions of health, hospitality, birthday gifts, and visits to see each other that one would expect from letters between any two old friends.  These two old friends just so happened to be two of the most powerful people in the country!

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager

Further reading:
Add MS 89495 Letters from Brendan Bracken to Max Aitken, Baron Beaverbrook, 1925-1958
Richard Cockett, ed., My Dear Max: the Letters of Brendan Bracken to Lord Beaverbrook, 1925-1958 (London: The Historians’ Press, 1990)
Charles Edward Lysaght, Brendan Bracken (London: Allen Lane, 1979)
Charles Williams, Max Beaverbrook: Not Quite a Gentleman (London: Biteback, 2019)

 

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