News letters to Sir William Temple and others

Scope and Content

Collection of 204 news letters, addressed to Sir William Temple, William Blathwayte and others, from Joseph Williamson, Henry Muddiman and others.

  • Vol. I, Nos. 1-52 (1667-1670);
  • Vol. II, Nos. 53-105 (1670);
  • Vol. III, Nos. 106-149 (1670-1671);
  • Vol. IV, Nos. 150-204 (1671-1679).

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir William Temple (1628-1699), diplomat and author, entered politics soon after the Restoration. In 1665 he was sent on a mission to the German prince-bishopric of Münster in order to coordinate actions against the Dutch in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Despite the mission's failure to involve Münster, Temple was not blamed and was sent to the court of the viceroy of the Spanish Netherlands in Brussels. There in 1668 he negotiated the triple alliance of England, the United Provinces of the Netherlands and Sweden to curb the power of Louis XIV's France. The alliance's success led to his appointment as English ambassador to The Hague, but the post was short-lived. By 1670 English foreign policy had turned once again against the Dutch, and he was recalled to England.

Temple retired to his country residence at East Sheen in Surrey, to concentrate on his literary work and correspondence. At the conclusion of the Third Anglo-Dutch War in 1674, he was brought out of retirement and helped to negotiate the Treaty of Westminster. He returned to The Hague as ambassador, and in 1677 helped to arrange the marriage of Prince William of Orange, the then stadtholder of the United Provinces, and Mary, daughter of the future James II. In 1679 he returned to England and oversaw the reform of the Privy Council. However the new Council was soon discredited by factional infighting and Charles II's indifference. Temple was struck off the list of Councillors in 1688, and retired from politics for good.

Temple acquired the estate of Compton Hall, near Farnham in Surrey, and renamed it Moor Park. There he engaged in landscape gardening, as well as his literary work, the output of which increased so much that in 1689 he took on as a scribe Jonathan Swift, the future political satirist and Dean of St Patrick's. Thus began a literary partnership that, apart from a year's break in 1695-6, survived until Temple's death in 1699. Temple's literary works were mostly political, though pure literary, gardening and historical interests also played a part. Several collections of his private letters were published by Swift and others after his death, and Swift also issued the final part of Temple's memoirs in 1709.

Source: J.D. Davies, 'Temple, Sir William, baronet (1628-1699)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press --

Sir Joseph Williamson (1633-1701), diplomat, began his career as an unpaid under-secretary in the service of Secretary of State Edward Nicholas. He rose to become the principal secretary and protégé of Nicholas's successor, Sir Henry Bennett, later Lord Arlington. Through his influence Williamson became editor of the Gazette newspaper, and obtained the posts of Keeper of the King's Library at Whitehall and Keeper of the State Papers. Further promotion came in 1672 when he was made a clerk of the council in ordinary and was as a result knighted. In 1673 he was sent as one of the British plenipotentiaries to the Congress at Cologne, and on his return in June 1674, he was promoted to succeed Arlington as a Secretary of State for the Northern Department, paying £6,000 for the post. As Secretary of State he aggressively pursued the royal agenda and, as a consequence, in November 1678 he was committed to the Tower of London by the House of Commons, on the charge of passing commissions drawn up by Charles II's order in favour of recusant Catholics. Although immediately released by royal insistence, he soon lost his post as Secretary of State.

Williamson remained out of politics until the accession of William and Mary in 1688. In 1696 he was made a Privy Councilor and in 1697 he was sent out as a senior diplomat to The Hague. However he retired from his post only two years later and died in 1701. He had interests in history and genealogy, and was an active member of the Royal Society.

Source: Alan Marshall, 'Williamson, Sir Joseph (1633-1701)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Henry Muddiman (1629-1692), journalist, began to issue a twice-weekly series of news books after the fall of the Protectorate and the restoration of the Rump Parliament in 1659. Through astute political manoeuvring he managed to obtain a monopoly on printed news reporting in the dying days of the Commonwealth and at the Restoration the Privy Council confirmed this monopoly, with the provision of some editorial oversight. Although this monopoly was removed in 1663, Muddiman was already pursuing a sideline business of sending handwritten news reports to private correspondents. In 1665 he set up the first English newspaper, the Oxford Gazette, following the move of the royal court to Oxford during an outbreak of plague in London. Muddiman soon lost the editorship of the paper to the then Under-Secretary of State Joseph Williamson, who moved the paper down to London when the court returned in 1666. Later that year Muddiman was authorised to issue an opposition official newspaper, which appeared as the Current Intelligence. Although the Great Fire of London resulted in the collapse of all the news printing businesses except Williamson's Gazette, Muddiman continued with his private news letters business until 1689 when with the accession of William and Mary he retired, being associated too closely with the old Stuart regime.

Source: Ronald Hutton, 'Muddiman, Henry (bap. 1629, d. 1692)', rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

William Blathwayt (1649?-1717), Whig politician, was appointed as one of Sir William Temple's secretaries at The Hague in 1668. By 1672 he was engaged at Rome in some kind of public business and a few years later he seems to have been stationed at Stockholm and Copenhagen. By 1683 he had returned to England and purchased the post of Secretary-at-War. In October 1686 he became clerk of the Privy Council and maintained the position during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. His skill in languages made him a great favourite with William III and he was frequently sent abroad on diplomatic missions. From May 1696 to 1706 he was a commissioner of trade, and he remained Secretary-at-War until 1704. He was elected to Parliament as a Whig intermittently from 1685 to 1710. He retired from active life in 1710, and died at Dyrham Park in August 1717.

Source: Barbara C. Murison, 'Blathwayt, William (bap. 1650, d. 1717)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by the John Rylands Library from the London bookseller Bertram Dobell (1842-1914) in December 1910.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, with reference to:

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, articles on Sir William Temple, William Blathwayte, Sir Joseph Williamson and Henry Muddiman.
  • The Online 1911 Edition Encyclopedia article on Newspapers, found at

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 114).

Custodial History

Letter no. 34 has the following note: Sir, Mr. Williamson having committed to me ye care of his private correspondances I have thought fitt to acquaint you with it that in all itts concernm[en]ts you may please to adresse your comaundes solely to me att ye L[or]d Arlington's Office att Whitehall. Your humble serv[an]t Charles Perrott.