Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Thomas Shadwell Letter Book, 1773-1778

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, January 2011

Summary Information
Title: Thomas Shadwell letter book
Creator: Marsh, John, 1747-1823
Inclusive dates: 1773-1778
Extent: 1 volume
The Thomas Shadwell letter book contains Shadwell's letters to John Marsh, which include court gossip from Madrid, references to the American Revolutionary War, and discussion of political matters.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1940. M-408.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Thomas Shadwell Letter Book, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Thomas Shadwell was born in 1750 in England, the son of Richard Shadwell (d. 1786), who served as chief clerk in the Secretary of State's office, and his wife, Mary (d. 1777). After a period of traveling in Turkey, Shadwell served as private secretary to Thomas Robinson, 2nd baron Grantham (1738-1786), while Grantham was ambassador to Spain, beginning his employment in 1771 and returning to England in the spring of 1778. In 1773, Shadwell began corresponding with John Marsh (1747-1823), the British consul at Malaga. Shadwell continued the correspondence until his return to England. He later traveled to the West Indies, where he died in 1786.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Thomas Shadwell letter book consists of 90 correspondence items bound into a single volume. Shadwell wrote the letters to his friend, John Marsh, consul at Málaga, Spain, who collected them, bound them together, and wrote an introduction to them with a short note on Shadwell's background, dated March 25, 1791.

The letters span October 4, 1773-March 6, 1778, the period during which Shadwell worked as the private secretary to Baron Grantham, who was the British ambassador to Spain. Written from Madrid and from various localities nearby, including Arajuez, San Ildefonso, and San Lorenzo de El Escorial, they primarily relate to issues and happenings about British foreign policy, including the American Revolutionary War, the Spanish-Portuguese War of 1776-1777, the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774, Spanish-British relations, and Madrid's court gossip and social news.

Shadwell had particular interest in the Russo-Turkish War, and had lived in Turkey for some period of time prior to his arrival in Spain. He admired what he considered the "Purity of Morals & Simplicity of Manners amongst the Turks," and praised them for their lack of "wine and gaming." During his time in Turkey, he had met the eccentric scholar, Edward Wortley Montagu, whom he described as "an ingenious and a learned Man, but whose Moral Character I am afraid, is not without Stains of the deepest Dye" (April 5, 1774). In a number of letters, he commented on the progress of the war, and noted its conclusion in a letter of August 23, 1774.

Shadwell also commented frequently on Spain, its leaders, and its conflicts abroad. On April 11, 1775, he wrote about the birth of the future Queen consort of Portugal, Carlota, daughter of King Charles IV of Spain. He also made frequent references to General Alejandro O'Reilly, who had served as Governor of Louisiana in 1769, noting his activities, which included an expedition to attack Algiers, and relationships with other important Spanish figures. In several letters, he also tracked the events of the Spanish-Portuguese War of 1776-1777 as it progressed in South America, and on June 28, 1776, noted that "The Conduct of the Prime Minister at Lisbon has long been truely [sic] unaccountable." Shadwell also referred repeatedly to conflicts between the Spanish and the "Moors"; he predicted that the fort at Ceuta in Northern Africa would not be captured (October 31, 1774) and described Spanish distrust at Moorish efforts toward peace (April 11, 1775).

Shadwell closely followed the disintegrating relations between the British and the colonists in North America, first with a comment on the Quebec Act of 1774 and its protection of Catholicism in Canada, and later with contempt for the American patriots and their cause. On January 13, 1775, describing a proposal by the farmers of Virginia, he wrote, "The most laughable Resolution is that of the Virginians, not to plant Tobacco for our Use, for it will grow very well in England, and the planting of it there is prohibited solely in favor of them." On April 29, 1777, he expressed his hope that the Americans would "become thoroughly sensible of the nonexistence of their supposed Grievances" and predicted that the war would end within the year.

The volume closes with Shadwell's ongoing discussion of the failures at Saratoga, and he hopes that the British government will not be "intimidate[d]" by the capture of 4000 prisoners (January 13, 1778). He also mentioned that he planned to return to England to see his father (March 13, 1778).

Subject Terms

    • Ceuta (Spain)
    • Grantham, Thomas Robinson, Baron, 1738-1786.
    • Great Britain--Foreign relations--Spain.
    • Marsh, Elizabeth, 1735-1785.
    • Montagu, Edward Wortley, 1713-1776.
    • O'Reilly, Alejandro, 1725-1794.
    • Spain--Description and travel.
    • Spain--Foreign relations--Great Britain.
    • Spain--History--18th century.
    • Spain--History, Military.
    • Turkey--Description and travel.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
    • Shadwell, Thomas, 1750-1786.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letter books.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Thomas Shadwell letter book,  1773-1778 [series]