Global Encounters and the Archives: Britain’s Empire in the Age of Horace Walpole

Lewis Walpole Library Archives

Henry Seymour Conway Papers (1743-1784, bulk 1760s)

This collection is central to the reconstruction of political thought, military strategy and imperial conceptualization in mid-eighteenth century Britain, providing unique insight into the political debates leading up to the American Revolution from a British politician, diplomat and military officer who was sympathetic to the American cause.

Extent: 13 volumes 

Summary: Henry Seymour Conway (1721-1795) was at the center of British politics in the run-up to the American Revolution as a self-described British patriot and a famous advocate for the American cause.  His testimony paints a less familiar portrait of the American Revolution and British-American political conflict.  This collection of Henry Seymour Conway Papers consists of three sections: 9 volumes of diplomatic correspondence; 4 volumes of military correspondence; and 61 letters to his brother, Francis Seymour Conway (1718-1794).  These letters contain exciting firsthand accounts of contentious debates in British Parliament in the years of conflict with the American colonies.  However, Seymour Conway’s interests extended outside of the rising conflict in America.  He wrote extensively about military campaigns in the Seven Years’ War, his own feud with George Grenville, diplomatic relations with Russia, Poland, Prussia, Spain, Germany and Canada and the problems facing the status of Ireland in the Empire. 


Charles Hanbury Williams Papers (1708-1759)

This massive and underused collection is an invaluable resource for scholars interested in diplomatic history and politics during a crucial period in Britain’s imperial formation.  Boasting over 6,000 texts, it is the largest Hanbury Williams archive in the world.  The collection also contains material relating to the language of polite society, the Grand Tour and both political and literary circles of the mid-eighteenth century.

Extent: 99 volumes

Summary: Sir Charles Hanbury Williams (1708-1759) was a vitally important cultural and political figure in mid-18th century Britain and Europe.  This collection of his papers, with over 90 volumes and 6,000 texts, provides insight into Britain’s diplomatic relations at a key moment in Britain’s formation as an Empire.  Hanbury Williams was a diplomat and a successful satirical poet who published several best-sellers in the eighteenth century.  While the majority of the collection centers on the lifetime of Hanbury Williams, there are documents as early as 1584 and as late as 1808, so the collection spans over two centuries.  The collection comprises personal and diplomatic correspondence in English and French as well as papers on a variety of topics, including the parliamentary debates in the 1740s and 1750s, personal correspondence with his children, correspondence with Sir Sidney Godolphin and the Duke of Marlborough, social and cultural life in Vienna in the 1740s, diplomatic travels to Poland, library catalogues and unpublished poetry.


 Thomas Walpole Papers (1770-1790)

This new and unmined acquisition of approximately 400 letters in the Thomas Walpole Papers provides a unique and unmined insight into the Age of Revolutions, in which Thomas Walpole (1727-1803)was both participant and observer.

Extent: approximately 400 letters

Summary: The Thomas Walpole Papers provide insight into the American and French Revolutions through correspondence of participants and diplomatic officials.  Thomas Walpole (1727-1803), MP and banker, was the nephew of Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and cousin of Horace Walpole.  Thomas Walpole was involved in ventures across the Empire, from America to India, and his correspondence features prominent historical figures including Benjamin Franklin, Lord North, Lord Shelburne and Jacques Necker.  Much of the material in this extensive collection dates from the 1770s and 1780s and concerns Walpole’s diplomatic efforts with America during the Revolution and France in the early 1780s.  Walpole, then, was a witness to and actor in the politics surrounding both the American and French Revolutions.  In addition, he also corresponded frequently with William Pitt the Elder as well as the Duke of Newcastle.  Outside of the realm of politics and diplomacy, this collection also contains private correspondence relating to Walpole’s own financial exploits and failures.  These papers provide insight into the political world of Britain and her position in the international political sphere during the revolutionary period of the late-eighteenth century.


Keppel Papers (1704-1786)

The Keppel Papers include the largest collection of materials on the British occupation of Cuba as well as private correspondence and estate papers of George Keppel (1724-1772).

Extent: 9 volumes

Summary: The nine volumes of the Keppel Papers form the largest collection of materials on the British occupation of Cuba outside the National Archives in London.  They offer unique insight into Britain’s brief—and often violent—control of Cuba in the middle of the eighteenth century.  Historians of Cuba frequently see this as a vital moment in shaping the future directions of Cuba and so this collection is invaluable not only to British colonial history, but to the history of Cuba herself.  This collection also provides material on the British Empire outside of Cuba and on Keppel’s private life.  George Keppel, 3rd Earl of Albemarle (1724-1772), wore many hats during his service to the Crown in the mid-eighteenth century.  He served as MP for Chichester, Governor of Jersey, commander-in-chief of the invasion of Havana during the Seven Years’ War and governor of Cuba in the mid-1760s.  The volumes in this collection are rich with correspondence from various period’s in Keppel’s life.  Some of the papers deal explicitly with political economy, largely during Keppel’s short and controversial governorship in Havana, during which time he deported the city’s bishop, imposed illegal taxes on merchants trading in the island, placed an embargo on the exportation of flour and greatly restricted the general importation of slaves into Havana.  Aside from the papers from this short stint in his political career, much of the correspondence in the rest of the collection addresses Keppel’s family estates in Ireland and Holland, each of which were plagued by lawsuits, though these letters also contain wills, marriage agreements, rent negotiations and other accounts.  This collection balances not only political and private correspondence, but also local and imperial views of Britain’s political economy through the lens of a man who, like many others, held positions and lands both in England and throughout her Empire.


Horace Walpole Papers (1725-1797)

Account books, travel journals, commonplace books, music manuscripts, poetry and art supplement the well-known online collection of Horace Walpole’s correspondence

Extent: 43 volumes 

Summary: The Horace Walpole Papers form the most well-known collection at the Lewis Walpole Library.  Containing over 3,000 letters to and from Walpole and 3,000 transcripts of correspondence from other public and private repositories, this collection offers a window into the life of the seminal cultural figure, Horace Walpole (1717-1797).  While the immense amount of correspondence is available electronically through the digital collections of the Lewis Walpole Library, a rich body of supplemental materials, including account books, travel journals, commonplace books, manuscript copies and translations of printed texts, music manuscripts, poetry and examples of fine prints and graphic satire are available to scholars and students who visit the Lewis Walpole Library.  The Library also holds a broad array of items that Walpole himself collected, including several bound manuscripts on a variety of topics and an extensive run of pamphlets (refer to below for manuscripts and pamphlets) and many theatrical playbills.


Edward Weston Papers (1722-1770)

These papers contain confidential, unpublished intelligence about British involvement in European and American affairs during mid-eighteenth century, including the conflicts of the Jacobite Rebellions and the Seven Years’ War.

Extent: 25 volumes 

Summary: The Edward Weston Papers contain twenty-five volumes of vital and confidential information regarding the Jacobite Rebellions, the Seven Years’ War and British affairs in Europe, North America and the West Indies in the mid-eighteenth century.  These offer insights into the thoughts of Edward Weston (1702/03-1770) and his contemporaries on key political moments that were not otherwise disclosed and certainly not printed.  In addition to these more candid political papers, this collection also contains drafts of formal letters and treatises, personal correspondence and several volumes of Jacobite materials.  Larger than the Weston collection at the British Library, this archive sheds new light on the diplomatic history of the reign of George II and the early years of George III.


Grenville Papers (1742-1762)

The Grenville Papers contain correspondence of a central imperial official during the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution.

Extent: 5 volumes of 322 letters

Summary: The five volumes of the Grenville Papers contain 322 letters of George Grenville (1712-1770), Britain’s leading minister in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War and the author of the Stamp Act.  Dated from 1742-1787, they span the War of Austrian Succession, the Seven Years’ War and the entirety of British political and martial conflict with America and the aftermath of the American Revolution.  While some of this collection has been published in edited volumes, these contain only excerpts and so much of the material remains unstudied.  These letters do more than simply offer a robust view of the life of an absolutely central political figure of the mid-eighteenth century, but they help to reconstruct a global view of British political economy and diplomacy during a series of European and colonial conflicts that helped to forge Britain’s global identity.


Bound Manuscript Collection

This collection includes over 300 volumes of a diverse set of material relating to political, religious, literary and domestic life in the eighteenth-century British world.

Extent: over 300 volumes

Summary: This extensive and diverse collection of bound manuscripts both supplements the other manuscript collections highlighted in this exhibition, but also stands as a largely untapped and robust resource for any scholar studying eighteenth-century Britain and her Empire.  It includes several diaries and commonplace books of prominent political and religious figures, travel journals, account books, autograph books, engravings and religious writings.  In addition, the bound manuscripts collection contains more ephemeral items such as recipe books, newspaper clippings, broadsides, songbooks, tickets and much more that offer a glimpse into daily and domestic life.  This vast collection is an incredibly rich trove of material that mirrors eighteenth-century society in full, offering insight into anything from high philosophical and political debates to concerns and daily life of the family.  Whether consulted in tandem with other collections or on its own, this collection promises to be invaluable for any scholar of the eighteenth-century British world. 


Graphic Satire Collection

The Lewis Walpole Library boasts one of the most important collections of eighteenth-century British graphic satire anywhere.  It is the largest such collection outside of the United Kingdom.

Extent: over 10,000 caricatures and satirical prints

Summary: Collection founders W.S. Lewis and Annie Burr Lewis began collecting satire to “improve” the Yale edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence.  The collection is organized chronologically reflecting their interest in the political and social content of the visual collections.  Many once belonged to Horace Walpole and often include annotations in his own hand.  The collection includes important examples of work by every artist in the canon of British graphic satire, including William Hogarth, James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, Richard Newton and George Cruikshank, among many others.  Featured prominently in this exhibit, George Townshend (1724-1807), a colonial official and contemporary of Horace Walpole, recognized the potential of graphic satire to influence public opinion and ridicule his political opponents.  As an aristocrat, he produced caricature as an amateur, often creating drawings for private circulation and publishing prints for an elite audience.  A great deal of material relating to Townshend can be found throughout Yale University’s libraries, including the Townshend Papers at Beinecke Rare Book Library and at Sterling Library’s Manuscript and Archives and an attack on Townshend called Baratariana at the Lewis Walpole Library.  Beyond papers relating directly to Townshend, the Lewis Walpole Library boasts a substantial literary satire collection in both print and manuscript during the mid-eighteenth century.


Pamphlet Collection (1640-1760)

Horace Walpole collected hundreds of pamphlets on historical and political debates during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  These cover an impressively wide variety of topics and contain several rare tracts.

Extent: 120 volumes

Summary: This is an indispensable collection for any scholar interested in the political culture of England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries or curious about the collection of Walpole himself.  Over the course of his life, Horace Walpole collected a broad range of printed pamphlets that form an extensive collection of 120 volumes now at the Lewis Walpole Library today.  Robert Nugent’s Considerations upon the Reduction of the Land-Tax, Robert, Lord Clive’s speech to Parliament and the anonymous pamphlet, A Short View of the Dispute between the Merchants of London, Bristol, and Liverpool, and the Advocates of a New Joint-Stock Company: Concerning the Regulation of African Trade are three items highlighted in this exhibit, but they—and the volumes in which each is bound—form only a small sample of the tracts and pamphlets available for consultation.  This collection includes political and historical tracts in prose and verse dating from 1640 to 1760, many of which are rare and annotated.