The papers of Mary Hamilton constitute a major resource for studies of the elite intellectual and social spheres of late eighteenth-century England. In particular, they provide a window into the Court of George III and the Bas Bleu circle - a group which included prominent figures such as Elizabeth Montagu, Mary Delany, Elizabeth Vesey, Hannah More, Horace Walpole and Elizabeth Carter. The archive is divided into three series comprising 2498 items of correspondence, 16 diaries and 6 manuscript volumes.
The majority of the correspondence (HAM/1) in the archive consists of letters received by Hamilton from a wide variety of friends and family including Queen Charlotte and the Princess Royal, as well as from other members of the Royal family. There is also extensive correspondence from Court figures such as the Duchess of Portland, Lady Charlotte Finch and Charlotte Gunning; from Hamilton's relatives such as Sir William Hamilton, Lord Cathcart, Lady Mansfield and Lady Frances Harpur; from her friends Francis 8th Lord Napier and Lady Dartrey; and from prominent members of the Bas Bleu circle such as Elizabeth Montagu, Frances Burney, Frances Evelyn Boscawen, Elizabeth Vesey and Mary Delany. The correspondence is full of details on a wide range of subjects: the gossip of the day, the Royal family (including the illness and recovery of George III), Court life, family news, marriage, illnesses and their remedies such as sea-bathing and taking the waters, fashion, literature, women's education, politics, servants, war, art and music.
The majority of the diaries (HAM/2) in the archive cover the period from Hamilton's leaving court in 1782 until her marriage to John Dickenson in 1785. They not only record Hamilton's daily life but detail her friends, family and acquaintances, many of whom were prominent figures of the day. She writes of the dinners, meetings, engagements and conversations with members of the Bas Bleu. The diaries are full of references to the politics and society of the day, the fashions, literature, philosophy and social events of the period.
The manuscript volumes (HAM/3) comprise anthologies of letters, poetry, sermons and prose written in Hamilton's own hand and in other hands.
Although Hamilton herself was not a prominent figure in the eighteenth-century world, she was nevertheless at the forefront of the social and intellectual elite of society at that time. The archive provides an abundant scope for research in a variety of subject areas and it offers valuable insights into the life of a peripheral member of the bas bleu and of a socially 'elite' woman of the late eighteenth century. It therefore constitute a valuable resource for studies of the intellectual and social elites of late eighteenth-century England.