The archive of the Villiers family, Earls of Clarendon of the 2nd creation

Item date: 17th to 20th centuries
Grant Value: £20,000
Item cost: £562,000
Item date acquired: 2019
Item institution: Bodleian Library
Town/City: Oxford
County: Oxfordshire

In Summer 2019 the Bodleian Libraries completed the acquisition of the archive of the Villiers family, Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, with the purchase of a substantial part of the archive that had remained at the Clarendons’ home in Hampshire.  The archive forms a key source for British and international history in the 18th -20th centuries, and is closely related to manuscripts and archives in the Bodleian, particularly the extensive political collections.

The private papers of George William Frederick Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon (1800-1870) are at the heart of the archive. He was a leading statesman of the early Victorian era, as ambassador to Spain, 1833-9, Lord Privy Seal, 1840, President of the Board of Trade 1846-7, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1847-52, Foreign Secretary 1853-8, 1865-6 and 1868-70, and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from 1864-5. His postings coincided with key moments of the era such as the Irish Famine and the Crimean War. His official papers were deposited in the Bodleian in 1949, and transferred to the Bodleian's ownership by Acceptance in Lieu and purchased in 2012 with FNL’s support. The present archive includes the 4th Earl's papers that were never deposited in the Bodleian, and remained with the Villiers family. A large part of this archive comprises the 4th Earl's private papers, together with some series of official papers that were long ago separated from the remainder. This part of the archive includes royal letters to the 4th Earl, with more than 835 from Queen Victoria, and a further 325 or so from Prince Albert. Many of these letters were written to Clarendon when he was Foreign Secretary in 1853-8, and so they reflect the interest of the Queen and Prince Consort in foreign policy matters. There are also letters from Queen Sophia of the Netherlands, discussing not only their friendship and personal affairs, but also her views on politics and international affairs. Leopold, King of the Belgians, and Queen Victoria's daughters, Princess Alice, Victoria, Crown Princess of Prussia, and Princess Helena, are also represented in the archive.

Unusually, the archive includes a number of Clarendon's own letters, such as his letters to the Duchess of Manchester, replete with political and court gossip in the 1850s and 1860s; and letters to Katharine, Countess of Clarendon, his wife and political confidante. The private papers include his journal-letters written during his early travels to Madrid and St Petersburg in the 1820s and early 1830s. This Russian posting (as attaché at St Petersburg, 1820-3) is not covered by the official papers, so these documents shed light on Clarendon's early career as well as providing a great insight into the early stages of Anglo-Russian rivalry in the post-Napoleonic era. Clarendon’s first encounters with Ireland are chronicled in several hundred letters to his mother, 1827-9, written during an early administrative posting.

The papers of Thomas Villiers, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1709-1786), are mainly concerned with diplomacy. Villiers was ambassador to Saxony-Poland, 1738-46, on the front line of the Austro-Prussian conflict which emerged in the 1740s. He was also placed as Minister in Vienna, 1742-3, and Berlin 1746, and his papers therefore provide a major insight into the Hanoverian dimension of Georgian politics, and the relationship of Great Britain to the two most important central European states, Austria and Prussia.

The Foster Barham papers are part of the archive, brought in via the 4th Earl’s wife, Katharine, widow of John Foster Barham. The family’s wealth came from their two sugar estates in Jamaica, the Island Estate and Mesopotamia, and the substantial archive – 49 boxes – combines West Indian estate papers, English estate papers, and personal and political correspondence and papers. Among these papers are important records of slavery in Jamaica, including inventories of named slaves, a poignant testimony to this tragic dimension of British history.

George Herbert Hyde Villiers, 6th Earl of Clarendon (1877-1955) also had a public role. His first significant official post was as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions, 1925-6; he was the first chairman of the board of Governors of the BBC, 1927-30; and from 1930-7 he was Governor-General of South Africa. On returning to Britain, he was appointed Lord Chamberlain of the household of King George VI.  His governorship in South Africa is particularly well represented in the archive.

These papers complement the extensive political and family collections held by the Bodleian Libraries, which is a recognised centre for the study of the papers of 19th- and 20th-century politics and diplomacy.  The Clarendons have a long connection with Oxford University. The 1st Earl of Clarendon was Edward Hyde, whose name is associated with his great History of the Rebellion and the Clarendon Press (now the Clarendon Building), built on the profits from that work, and whose papers from a key part of the 17th-century state papers in the Bodleian. The Villiers Earls from the 2nd Earl (second creation) onwards were all direct descendants of Edward Hyde.

The papers join not only the official papers of the 4th Earl that were acquired with FNL’s help in 2012, but also extensive Clarendon family papers acquired from other sources, including correspondence of the 4th Earl of Clarendon with his wife, Lady Katharine, and his sister, Lady Theresa Lewis, 1838-65; and Lady Clarendon’s correspondence and diaries from 1829-72.

Diplomatic correspondence in cipher from Vienna to the 1st earl of Clarendon, 1745.
Diplomatic correspondence in cipher from Vienna to the 1st earl of Clarendon, 1745.
Autograph letter from Queen Victoria to the 4th earl on the Eastern Question, 1853.
Autograph letter from Queen Victoria to the 4th earl on the Eastern Question, 1853.
Inventory of female slaves, 1808, from the Barham papers.
Inventory of female slaves, 1808, from the Barham papers. Images courtesy of the Bodleian Libraries.