‘A Tale of Two Collections’: The Stuart Papers and Cumberland Papers at the Royal Archives, Windsor Castle

The latest instalment of the extensive State Papers Online series sees two fascinating collections from the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle brought together to make the definitive Jacobite archive. In a new collaboration between the Royal Archives and Gale – with Daniel Szechi, Emeritus Professor at the University of Manchester, as academic advisor, and contributions from other leading academics in the field – this collection allows researchers to explore the Jacobites through their own words.

The Stuart Papers bring together the correspondence of the exiled James II and VII, the Old Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie and their followers. With far off places, daring sword fights and a prince in disguise, this archive uncovers the lives of rebels and royals of the 18th century. It spans Europe – from the Scottish Highlands to the Italian peninsula – and follows the Stuart Pretenders from 1688 until the death of the last legitimate Stuart claimant to the British throne in 1807. From the official declarations of the Pretenders, to the gossipy letters of Lady Fanny Oglethorpe in Paris, a wealth of material has been brought beyond the confines of the Round Tower at Windsor Castle and made accessible to researchers worldwide.

RA SP Main/161/6. James Francis Edward to the Jacobites, 23 April 1733.

The Cumberland Papers, meanwhile, represent the military papers and personal letters of William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, second son of George II, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, and veteran of the War of the Austrian Succession and the 1745 Jacobite Rising. His papers reach across the battlefields of northern Europe and Scotland, from the 1746 ‘Pacification of the Highlands’ after the Battle of Culloden that earnt him the nickname ‘Butcher’, to the fledgling British colonies in North America, and dealings with the French and indigenous people.

Read on to hear from Laura Hobbs, Royal Archivist, on how the Royal Archives came to be – and the importance of these two collections within them. Download the full essay to find out more.

RA CP/Main/45/62. Proposed Measures to be taken with the Six Nations in North America. 22 July 1754

‘A Tale of Two Collections’
Laura Hobbs, Archivist, Royal Archives

Situated within the iconic Round Tower at Windsor Castle, the Royal Archives holds an unparalleled collection of documents relating to the history of the British monarchy over the last 250 years, including the personal and official correspondence of sovereigns and their families, from George III onwards. Yet the Royal Archives itself is not as old as you might think, having only recently celebrated its first centenary: in order to explain the history of the archives we need to return to the beginning of the last century, 1901 to be exact.

Originally, historic records had been stored in tin trunks, cupboards and storerooms in various royal residences, with no appointed custodian to care for them. The vast legacy of official and private correspondence generated during the 63-year reign of Queen Victoria, however, highlighted the need for a permanent dedicated repository for the papers of the royal family and the Royal Household. Shortly after Victoria’s death, Edward VII appointed Reginald Brett, Viscount Esher, as the first Keeper of the Royal Archives, although a permanent home for the papers still needed to be established. In 1912, following a declaration from George V that ‘All the Royal Archives shall be kept in a strong room or rooms in the Round Tower’[i], work began to create a Muniment Room in the top half of Edward III’s medieval Great Hall in the Round Tower. In 1914, the first collections were transferred to the Muniment Room: the papers of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, the recently-discovered papers of George III and George IV, as well as archival material previously stored in the Royal Library.

The Royal Archives grew rapidly in the following decades: Queen Mary, who had a keen interest in the history of the royal family, wrote to various relatives encouraging them to deposit their papers in the Round Tower, while other collections have been presented to the Archives as gifts to the Sovereign and some papers have been acquired by purchase. The addition of the papers of George V, Edward VIII, George VI and other members of the royal family, as well as administrative records of the various Household departments during these reigns, meant the Royal Archives quickly outgrew the Muniment Room and spread to other rooms in the Round Tower.[ii]

Round Tower
The Round Tower, Windsor Castle. Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

Cumberland Papers
Little is known about where the papers of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, were stored after his death in 1765, although the logical assumption would be that they remained at his home at Cumberland Lodge, situated in Windsor Great Park. It is not entirely clear when these papers first came to the Royal Library, but it is likely to have been sometime around 1835-1840, on the assumption that they were transferred at the same time as the Stuart Papers.[iii] In 1914 the Cumberland Papers were one of the first collections to be transferred to the Royal Archives, where they have remained ever since.

Stuart Papers
The story of how the Stuart Papers became the oldest collection in the Royal Archives is complicated and intriguing. After the death of Charles Edward Stuart (grandson of James II and VII) in 1788, his papers and those of his father, James Francis Edward Stuart (the son of James II and VII), that were stored in the Palazzo del Re in Rome, were transferred in part to Charles’s daughter Charlotte, Duchess of Albany, and the other portion retained by her uncle, Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York. She had spent the last few years caring for her father in Florence and Rome, and died herself in 1789. Under the terms of the Duchess of Albany’s will, custodianship of the papers in her possession passed to her confessor, Abbé James Waters. He took the papers from his own library (where they had been placed following the death of her father) and moved them to his house in Rome, despite the fact that the Duchess may have asked him to destroy anything unimportant and send the rest to her uncle, Henry, Cardinal York.[iv]

RA SP/Main/42/42. Fanny Oglethorpe to the Duke of Mar. 17 Feb 1719.

Click here to view the full essay.

Please note: You will be able to use the hyperlinks beneath the sources to view them on the platform if your institution has access to State Papers Online: The Stuart and Cumberland Papers.

Blog post cover image citation: The Round Tower, Windsor Castle Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

Please note: You will be able to use the hyperlinks on the images to view them on the platform if your institution has access to State Papers Online: The Stuart and Cumberland Papers from Windsor Castle.

[i] Royal Archives (RA) GV/PRIV/AA83/4.
[ii] For more detailed information about the Royal Archives see: https://www.royal.uk/royal-archives. Julie Crocker, ‘The Royal Archives at Windsor Castle: Into the 21st Century’, Vorstelijk koninklijk keizerlijk: Archieven van vorstenhuizen in Europa, Jaarboek 16 (2016) 135-156
[iii] Oliver Everett, ‘The Royal Library at Windsor Castle as Developed by Prince Albert and B.B. Woodward’, The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 7th ser., 3 (2002) 58-88, pp. 58, 63.
[iv] Alistair and Henrietta Tayler, The Stuart Papers at Windsor. Being Selections from Hitherto Unprinted Royal Archives, With Introduction and Notes (London, 1939), p. 9.

About the Author

I joined Gale, a Cengage Company in 2016 as a Publishing Assistant and subsequently became an Associate Acquisitions Editor for digital archives. With a diverse background in international and transnational history, I'm particularly interested in social narratives and cultural trends of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In my spare time, I like stand-up comedy, Agatha Christie and Tetris.