© Cheryl Bolen
The second Viscount Palmerston (1739-1802), whose son served as Prime Minister in the 1850s and 1860s, exemplified the late Georgian aristocracy. He served for many years in the House of Commons and was at the center of society. He traveled extensively abroad, always with an eye to adopting Continental architecture and artifacts into his own beloved Broadlands, his country home in Hampshire.
What makes him stand apart from other effulgent aristocrats of his day, though, is the rich legacy of letters (1,400), travel journals and appointment books (100 books) he left behind — some million words in all, a sixth of which is presented in Connell’s work.
It was through a most circuitous path that these papers saw publication. Since the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston had no legitimate issue, Broadlands fell to the second son of Palmerston’s wife, the widow of Lord Cowper, whom Palmerston did not marry until she was fifty. That son, William Cowper (said to have been sired by Palmerston), left no issue, so Broadlands passed to the second son of his niece, Evelyn Ashley. The estate eventually passed to Ashley’s granddaughter, who became the Countess Mountbatten.
The Countess Mountbatten found the papers at Broadlands in the mid 1900’s while renovating the mansion and asked Brian Connell to edit them. His labors resulted in Portrait of a Golden Age: Intimate Papers of the Second Viscount Palmerston, Courtier under George III, published in 1958.
Critic Virginia Kirkus said their discovery “rates with the Boswell papers and the Walpole letters, and that recaptures a personality and period as vividly as does Cecil’s Melbourne.”
From Palmerston’s engagement diaries, it is possible to know with whom he had dinner every night of his adult life. His range of friendships included an astonishing roster of the great names of his era from Voltaire to Lady Hamilton to Prinny. His works are rich with records of prices he paid for items as well as serving as a glossary of medicinals of the era. Palmerston himself prefaced his diaries, “As these books may be considered as the anals of a man’s life, and may be of use even after his decease, they ought by all means to be preserved.”
Few of the entries are intensely personal, but the following one chronicles the death of his first wife, who died in childbed two years after their marriage:
Lady Palmerston was taken ill with a feverish complaint. Two days afterwards she was brought to bed of a dead child. She was tolerably well for some days, but a fever came on suddenly which made a most rapid progress and on the fatal 1st of June terminated the existence of a being by far the most perfect I have ever known; of one who possessing worth, talents, temper and understanding superior to most persons of either sex, never during my whole connection with her spoke a word or did an act I could wished to alter.
These diaries shed so much light on the practices of the day. For example, weddings were no big deal. Families often did not attend. The well-placed Lord Palmerston wrote the following to his mother prior to his first marriage:
I should have wrote to you a little sooner but could not have given you any certain notice of the time of my being married, but have the pleasure to tell you that before you read this, you will in all probability have a most amiable daughter-in-law, as I believe I shall be married tomorrow.
We should all give thanks to Countess Mountbatten and to Brian Connell for giving us such a work.
Her Broadlands—which the 2nd Lord Palmerston so lovingly restyled in the Palladian manner favored by the Georgians—has been closed for several years for restoration. It now belongs to her grandson, Lord Brabourne and will reopen to the public during the summer of 2015. Many of the family archives have reportedly been sold to the University of Portsmouth. What a privilege it would be to see both Broadlands and the archives!—Cheryl Bolen’s second book in the House of Haverstock series, A Duchess by Mistake, releases on April 7 and can now be preordered.