Palmerston’s Papers Rival Walpole’s, Boswell’s in Historical Significance

© 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.”

The 2nd Viscount Palmerston hired both Capability Brown and Robert Adam to beautify and modernize his Hampshire seat, Broadlands.

The 2nd Viscount Palmerston hired both Capability Brown and Robert Adam to beautify and modernize his Hampshire home, Broadlands.

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.


40 thoughts on “Palmerston’s Papers Rival Walpole’s, Boswell’s in Historical Significance

  1. Great post, Cheryl! I love nothing better than letters and journals for getting an accurate picture of day to day life during the Georgian and Regency era. Lord Palmerston’s account of the death of his wife was particularly moving.

      • Is this the same Mountbattan family that are ancestors to the Mounbattan-Windsors?

      • Yes, it is the same Mountbattan family. In fact, Queen Eliz. honeymooned at Broadacres. Mountbattan’s wife was a descendent of the wife of the 3r Viscount Palmerston, who was Prime Minister. (It’s speculated she may have been fathered by Palmerston while Lady Palmerston was still married to Lord Cowper.)

  2. I would have loved to have met Viscount Palmerston. He sounds an interesting man and a good judge of character. I would have loved to have read his journals.

  3. My heart broke at the entry regarding the loss of his wife and child. It is a look at a man who was describing a heartbreaking loss describing the woman she was, not whining about himself. He must have been quite a guy.

  4. Such interesting historical treasures on this site. Thanks for your research and your report. I enjoyed the results of your sharing your working vacation with your readers!

  5. Cheryl, this is wonderful. So veery interesting. I love the letters and writings of someone from the past. It brings it to future. Fantastic find and preserved as well. Thank you for an interesting post.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  6. I also love history and reading about living people. I hadn’t ever heard of the Viscount but he sounds interesting.

  7. That was so interesting! I came here because of the giveaway you’re offering, but now I’m bookmarking your blog because I want to go back and read lots more. The Georgian-Regency eras are such a fascinating time in history.

    • What a wonderful compliment, Judy. I love sharing my blogs. I have gotten when I’m only posting one a month because they take a long time to research and write, and it’s no fun if others don’t read them. Welcome aboard. And thanks for your interest in Lady by Chance!

  8. Wow! I would love to read Viscount Palmerston’s letters and journals. Thank you for such an interesting post!

  9. Knowing the true history of the period is reflected in your books just makes them all the more real. Thank you for your research that goes into your writing.

  10. How beautiful to read and what an amazing look into the past. I would love to see the work in its entirety. Thank you for thus great insight.

  11. I am glad he kept good records as it is interesting to read about the actual life of someone from that era. What a wonderful legacy.

  12. This was such an interesting post. To have such detailed journals left behind of the past is such a fantastic find for generations today. Accurate history of any culture is so important. Information like that must be a treasure trove for someone like you. It must have been so hard for Lord Palmerston to lose the love of his life. It was a bit like the romances you and the other Jewel authors write. I envy the places you get to visit. Maybe someday! 🙂

  13. I love that you share this wonderful information with us. It helps us in understanding the time period that you are writing a more about the people and places as they were then,

  14. I love your post and your blog, Cheryl! What a fascinating place to read and learn of historical time period. You did an amazing job with this blog, Cheryl. Bravo!

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