William Petty, 1st Marquis of Lansdowne, 2nd Earl of Shelburne papers  1665-1885
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The William Petty, 1st Marquis of Lansdowne, 2nd Earl of Shelburne papers consist of the letters and official papers of Lord Shelburne, British politician, member of parliament, secretary of state for the Southern Department, and Prime Minister from 1782-1783. These document British foreign, colonial, and domestic affairs, covering the 18th century with special focus on the periods 1766-1768 and 1782-1783. The papers are made up of dispatches, memoranda, trade statistics, reports, essays, questionnaires, and copies of treaties. They cover the conduct of the French and Indian War; the colonies in North America and the West Indies; the 1783 American peace negotiations in Paris; relations with Europe, Africa, and India; the management of the royal household's lands and revenues (1745-1789); and records of the Home Office, Parliament, Customs Revenue, Board of Trade, Army, Navy, War, and Pay offices and Treasury (1760-1797).

Shelburne was an avid collector of books, pamphlets, manuscripts, reports, maps, and prints, and was known as one of the most well-informed politicians of his day. During his political career, Shelburne had access to, and was able to commission, high level reports on domestic and foreign affairs; his papers reveal the British perspective on foreign relations, civil and military, with Europe, America, India, and Africa. Shelburne and his personal librarian Samuel Paterson collected and organized much of the present collection when Shelburne retired from political office.

In addition to the official letters, the collection contains family papers, including letters from Shelburne to his wife Sophia, to his son John, and from his young son William Granville. The Lacatia-Shelburne series, acquired separately from the rest of the collection, is comprised of 207 official letters originally belonging to Shelburne.

The European and Mediterranean Politics series (42 volumes) documents British diplomatic relations and financial interests in Europe and northern Africa. The series contains political and diplomatic letters and copies of letters with officials from the major powers of Europe, including: Austria, France, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Spain, and Switzerland, as well as Mediterranean powers such as the Ottoman Empire, the Barbary States (Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli), and the Italian states. Also present are copies of treaties and reports on the military and trade capabilities of many of these nations. Though they cover British foreign relations from the beginning of the 18th century, these papers primarily document the 1760s, including the 1763 Peace of Paris, and Shelburne's activities as secretary of state for Southern Department (1766-1768).

The Colonial Affairs and the 1783 Treaty of Paris series (48 volumes) contains Shelburne's letters and reports concerning the British colonies in North America and the West Indies. Of particular interest is the material related to the negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Paris, which Shelburne supervised as Prime Minister (1782-1783). Included are letters and memoranda from the peace commissioners and secretaries at Paris, such as Richard Oswald, Henry Strachey, Thomas Townshend, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay, among others. Also present are drafts and copies of preliminary treaties and opinions on the ongoing negotiations. The Assiento papers contain official and private letters and documents of the South Sea Company, a British mercantile venture that, for 30 years after the Treaty of Utrecht, had exclusive rights to sell slaves to Spanish territories in America. The papers comprise confidential agent reports, bills for traded goods and slaves, ship inventories, factory reports, and diplomatic letters between Spain and England on slave trade policies.

Other notable material includes:

  • Diplomatic correspondence concerning the end of the Seven Years War (French and Indian War) in 1763
  • Copies of letters, intelligence reports, and documents received by Lord Fox and Shelburne from various European courts during the peace negotiations (1782-1783)
  • Orders, letters, memorials, and documents to and from the colonial governors of the American colonies, Canada, and the West Indies islands
  • Records of West Indian trade, and reports on Jamaica, Barbados, and Tobago (1766-1767)
  • Officially commissioned descriptions of the Islands of St. John, Cape Briton, Magdalen, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Dominica (1765-1767)
  • Reports on commerce with America including trade statistics
  • Letters and papers concerning relations and trade with the Choctaw, Creeks, Mohican, and Six Nation Indians (1703-1767)
  • Questionnaires, with answers, sent to colonial governors concerning the "Civil Establishment" and "Accounts of the Fees of Office" (1766-1767)
  • Accounts of American civil and military expenses (1765-1767)
  • Reports on the Mutiny Act, Indemnity Act, Stamp Act, and other parliamentary laws concerning the American colonies
  • Reports on Spanish and Portuguese settlements in South America and the rights of the Spanish in the South Seas
  • Minutes on African Affairs (1765-1767)
  • Reports and instructions related to Minorca, Gibraltar, and the coast of Africa
  • A letter from George Croghan to Shelburne on the discovery of mastodon bones in Big Lick, Ohio Territory (Volume 48, pages 131-134)

The East Indian Affairs series (11 volumes) contains Shelburne's papers related to British financial and political interests in India. Included are official letters and documents (both originals and copies) transmitted to Shelburne to keep him up to date with activities and conflicts. Shelburne was heavily invested in the East India Company and was one of the company's most vocal advocates in Parliament.

The series includes:

  • A chronological account of significant events in the establishment and activities of the East India Company (1601-1761)
  • Finances and budgets of the East India Company along with copies of original government and business documents (1766-1767)
  • Policy proposals for India and the East India Company including notes for speeches in parliament (1760-1790)
  • A narrative history of the second war with Hyder Ali Khan (Second Anglo-Mysore War), with maps (1779-1782)
  • A narrative history of Indian kingdoms
  • Letters with the Secret Committee of the East India Company and other company officials

The British Government series is comprised of 5 subseries.

The Parliament, Customs Revenue, Trade, Imports, and Exports subseries (39 volumes) contains Shelburne's collection of official records, reports, accounts, and letters related to British customs, taxes, expenses, and trade revenue. These document British financial operations throughout most of the 18th century, and show Shelburne's efforts to reform domestic financial policies.

The subseries includes:

  • Reference tables describing the division of power in British government, including the King, House of Lords, and House of Commons
  • Abstract reports on the Stamp Tax (1734-1764)
  • Customs reports for revenue and departmental expenditures
  • Lists of customs officers and employees
  • Import and export records for trade with Europe, Africa, and America
  • Letters and documents concerning excise taxes, the post office, and the stamp duties
  • Financial reports on the royal household, lands, and revenues (1745-1789) and instructions on the management of the royal estate
  • City of London papers, including proceedings of councils and letters concerning raising troops, establishing meeting halls, quelling riots, crime, and other topics (1588-1783)
  • Reports on England's forests, corn and food, and currency (paper money and coins)

Note: Volume 100, entitled "A Table Reference Concerning the King, Lords, and Commoners," is not the same Volume 100 as noted in the Historic Manuscript Commission Report, which was entitled "East India Correspondence," and is not at the Clements.

The British Army, Navy, and Military Administration subseries (20 volumes) contains material related to the British military and information on foreign forces covering 1694 to 1783.

Included are:

  • Papers on War Office expenses for troops in Britain, Africa, Gibraltar, Scotland, and America (1765-1783)
  • Papers concerning the navies and armies of foreign powers, including Spain, France, and Holland
  • Naval department commissions, expenses, warrants, bills, and patents (1701-1779)
  • Copies Admiralty and Navy Board letters (1695-1779)
  • Shipping lists for equipping stations and ports (1770-1780 and 1783)
  • Copies of intelligence on French and Spanish navies(1777-1780)
  • Contracts for individuals employed by the navy
  • Chronological records of the major policy decisions, events, and projects of the British navy

The volumes in the Ireland subseries (4 volumes) were owned by the Lansdowne family as recently as 1982.

The Cabinet and Treasury Minutes subseries (5 volumes) document Shelburne's governmental activities from 1762-1783. The cabinet minutes cover Shelburne's tenure as secretary of state of the Southern Department from 1766 to 1768. Included are instructions, announcements, and letters concerning issues with military officials and ambassadors in Ireland, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal. The treasury minutes cover Shelburne's activities as Prime Minister from July 1782 to March 1783.

These concern financial matters of the British government, such as:

  • Purchasing land
  • Reviewing petitions and paying reparations to British Loyalists who lost property in the war with America
  • Issuing warrants to the military
  • Paying compensation for ships lost doing official business in the West Indies.

Also present are minutes of motions on various parliamentary subjects, such as the 1780 riots in London, speeches for and against settling peace with America, and speeches concerning French and Spanish treaties (1782-1782).

The Appeals of the House of Lords subseries (8 volumes), documents the "appellant's cases" brought before the House of Lords between 1769 and 1788. These printed volumes contain the case declarations, pleas, breaches, verdicts, final judgments, and reasons. Many entries are manuscript comments about the case.

The Personal Correspondence series (167 items) is comprised of two subseries: The Shelburne family letters, the Lansdowne-Bowles letters.

The Shelburne family letters subseries contains seven volumes of material related to Shelburne and his family, including Lady Sophia Carteret, William Granville Petty, John Petty Earl of Wycombe, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, and Lady Louisa Fitzpatrick. Also present are letters from Shelburne to his friend and colleague Thomas Coutts.

These are:

  • Volume 1 contains 47 letters from Shelburne to his first wife Lady Sophia Carteret from 1766 to 1770. In these, Shelburne noted his daily activities, detailing greetings he shared with passers-by, visitors, dining companions, and meetings with government officials and dignitaries. He updated her on news of their friends and acquaintances in London, and frequently expressed his love for her.
  • Volumes 2 and 3 consist of 48 letters to Shelburne from his young son William Granville Petty (1774-1778). Also present are letters from a servant named Thomas Servis who reported on William's health. Volume 3 contains more letters from William, several with mentions of the American Revolution, as well as a short memoir written by William's tutor after the boy's death in 1778, an elegy by his brother Viscount Fitzmaurice, and copies of 4 of William's scholastic essays.
  • Volume 4 contains 37 letters from Shelburne to his son John Petty, Earl Wycombe, from 1768 and 1780-1789. Shelburne primarily wrote of personal and family news, providing many details on John's brother Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice and the health of his step mother Lady Louisa. He also discussed John's social obligations, and occasionally, political events. Also present is a letter in which Shelburne asked the unknown recipient to be the godfather of his newborn son (1768).
  • Volume 5 consists of 23 letters from Shelburne to his friend and colleague Thomas Coutts (1735-1822), a wealthy and prominent London banker who owned the House of Coutts & Company. These letters span 1793 to 1802 and include discussions of personal business, news of acquaintances, and domestic and international politics of the day, such as the French Revolution, William Pitt and other political leaders, and the political state of Ireland.
  • Volume 6 is comprised of three letters and three engraved portraits of Shelburne. The portraits are dated 1780, 1798, and undated, and the letters include a brief note from Shelburne to a Mr. Lawrence (May 10, 1782), a letter from Shelburne to the Earl of Egremont concerning the war in North America and its implications in Europe (July 9, 1762), and a letter from Shelburne to James Currie (September 5, 1800).

The Lansdowne-Bowles letters subseries (69 items) contain letters from Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne, and his wife Louisa to Magdalene and William Bowles. The letters span 1806-1835 and 53 items are undated; most are addressed from London. Henry Lansdowne's letters (24 items) are all to Reverend William Bowles, his friend and a frequent recipient of his patronage. Louisa contributed 45 letters, all to Magdalene Bowles; she discussed administrative aspects of a school that they jointly managed. She often remarked on the hiring of new teachers, and assessed their qualifications and personal merits. Louisa also discussed visits to the Lansdowne estate, Bowood, and made queries about the characters of potential visitors.

The Lacaita-Shelburne letters series (706 items) is a collection of letters compiled by Sir James Lacaita and his son Charles Carmichael Lacaita spanning 1692 to 1885. James Lacaita was Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne's private secretary from 1857 to 1863, during which time he organized Shelburne's unbound letters. Many items in this series (270 items) are addressed to Shelburne or were originally among his papers. These represent documents from his career, including political matters and discussions of peace negotiations with America (1760-1801). The 19th century material is addressed chiefly to James Lacaita, Lady Holland, Nassau William, Sr., and Anthony Panizzi, mostly from British and Italian politicians and Dante scholars. In all, the series contains letters from 274 contributors, primarily British and Italian lords, politicians, and military figures. See the Name Index for a list of contributors.

In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created a detailed Volume Index and a Name Index and Geographical Index. For additional information see the Clements Library card catalog.

Show all series level scope and content notes