Mary Hamilton Papers

  • Reference
      GB 133 HAM
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      The vast majority of items are written in English  with a very small number in French .
  • Physical Description
      1.8 linear metres. 3 series; 2520 items. Some of the material is very fragile and a number of items have been censored and have had text cut from the sheets. The covers and endpapers of HAM/3/6 are detached.
  • Location
      Collection available at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

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.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary Hamilton (1756-1816), courtier and diarist, was a member of an old aristocratic family. She was born on 5 February 1756, the only child of Charles Hamilton (1721-1771), a soldier who had fought as a volunteer for the Empress of Russia; he was the son of Lord Archibald Hamilton and grandson of the third Duke of Hamilton. Her mother was Mary Catherine né Dufresne (d. 1778), the daughter of Colonel Dufresne, aide-de-camp to Lord Archibald Hamilton. After her father’s death in 1771, Mary Hamilton and her mother initially settled in Northamptonshire and then later moved to London. One of Hamilton’s uncles was Sir William Hamilton who as well as being the British Ambassador to Naples from 1764 to 1800 was also an avid art collector. He was also the husband of Lady Emma Hamilton, née Lyon. Another uncle was Lord Cathcart, the English Ambassador at the Court of St Petersburg. The Duchess of Atholl, Lord and Lady Stormont, Lady Frances Harpur and the Countess of Warwick were all her near relations.

Hamilton began her 'public' life as an employee in the court of George III. From 1777 until 1782 she was employed as a sub-governess to the young princesses. She was a popular figure at court, not only with her colleagues but also with the Royal family including the princesses in her charge who nicknamed her ‘Hammy’. The young Prince of Wales fell in love with Hamilton and inundated her with letters; she refused his attentions and he later became involved with the actress Mary Robinson. Hamilton's position at Court was tiring and restrictive and although loyal to the Royal family Hamilton resented her lack of freedom. She found life at Court tiresome and stifling. She also resented Court politics and noted that it was quite an ‘instruction one gains by living in such a school’ as this. At an early stage in her career as a sub-governess, Hamilton offered her resignation to the Queen but was she persuaded by her not to leave. After receiving a letter from Hamilton asking to be ‘let go’ the Queen responded in a note stating that she attributed her request to her having low spirits. It took three years before the Queen would eventually release her.

After her ‘emancipation' from Court, Hamilton lived as an independent woman, setting up house in London at Clarges Street off Piccadilly with two sisters and friends of hers, the Miss Clarkes. Although they shared a house, they lived independently of each other. The house was opposite the 'bluestocking' Elizabeth Vesey, whom Hamilton visited almost every day. The majority of Hamilton’s diaries in this archive (HAM/2) cover the period after her leaving Court up to her marriage to John Dickenson in 1785 and they are full of detail on her day-to-day life and social engagements. She often attended Bas Bleu parties and wrote of the conversations and evenings spent with such public figures as Horace Walpole, Elizabeth Carter, Hannah More and Samuel Johnson. Hamilton dedicated much of her time in London in the company of her friends such as Mary Delany, Hannah More and Eva Maria Garrick, attending the theatre, lectures, concerts and exhibitions and furthering her own literary pursuits.

Hamilton enjoyed being part of this intellectual world and was an enthusiastic student of Latin and Greek amongst other subjects. Although advised against the study of such languages she refused to give them up. She was, nevertheless, hesitant when acknowledging the intellectual achievements of other women. Hamilton recognised that a high degree of education could be a stigma to some. She acknowledged the intellectual achievements of Charlotte Boyle, the daughter of her friend Mrs Charlotte Walsingham, but was doubtful of the implications for Boyle. In 1784 she wrote of Boyle that she had never met such an accomplished ‘young person’ who was educated not only in ancient and modern history and in numerous languages but had also mastered painting and music. Hamilton acknowledged that such an education would provide her with many rewards but she feared that it would also limit her socially: women would envy her and be afraid of her while men would not appreciate a woman as educated as themselves and shun her. Hamilton herself was not shunned by society for her learning and it is clear from the papers in this archive that Hamilton was a popular figure amongst a diverse group of friends.

After her marriage to John Dickenson in 1785, she and Dickenson settled in Taxal near Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, until 1793, later moving to Leighton House in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, until finally moving back to London in 1811. Throughout this time Hamilton remained in contact with her numerous friends in London, many of whose letters form part of the archive. Hamilton had one child, Louisa, born on 26 January 1787, who married Sir William Anson, 1st Baronet, on 26 January 1815. Hamilton died in her home at 32 Devonshire Place, London, on 25 May 1816.


The order in which the Mary Hamilton Papers were received has been retained as far as practicable. However, it is impossible to determine the original order with any certainty as the archive have been reorganised by previous owners. Much of the correspondence is arranged by author and has been grouped together into sub-subseries to reflect the relationship of the author with Mary Hamilton; for example, her relations, friends at Court and the Bas Bleu. Within each sub-subseries, items have been arranged chronologically to facilitate research, except where there is clear evidence of another, original order.

The archive has been arranged into three series: Correspondence, Diaries and Manuscript volumes. The Correspondence is organised into sub-series reflecting the relationship of the author to Hamilton and then further broken down into sub-subseries by author. The entire archive has been catalogued to item level.

A number of the items within this collection had been given references by a previous owner or cataloguer; these have been recorded as former references throughout.

The structure of the archive is as follows: 

  • HAM/1: Correspondence;
  • HAM/1/1: Correspondence from the Royal Family;
  • HAM/1/1/1/1: Miscellaneous Correspondence and Papers of the Princesses and Others;
  • HAM/1/1/2: Correspondence from Queen Charlotte;
  • HAM/1/1/3: Correspondence from Princess Elizabeth;
  • HAM/1/1/4: Correspondence from Princess Augusta Sophia;
  • HAM/1/1/5: Correspondence from the Princess Royal, Charlotte Augusta Matilda;
  • HAM/1/1/6: Miscellaneous Papers relating to the Royal Family;
  • HAM/1/2: Correspondence from John Dickenson;
  • HAM/1/3: Correspondence from the Dickenson Family;
  • HAM/1/3/1: Correspondence from Mrs Sarah Dickenson;
  • HAM/1/3/2: Correspondence from John Dickenson Senior, Sarah Dickenson and Countess Palombi;
  • HAM/1/4: Correspondence from the Hamilton Family;
  • HAM/1/4/1: Correspondence from the Reverend Frederick Hamilton to Mary Hamilton;
  • HAM/1/4/2: Correspondence from the Reverend Frederick Hamilton to John Dickenson;
  • HAM/1/4/3: Correspondence from Jane Holman;
  • HAM/1/4/4: Correspondence from Sir William Hamilton;
  • HAM/1/4/5: Correspondence from Lady Catherine Hamilton;
  • HAM/1/4/6: Correspondence from Henry Hamilton;
  • HAM/1/4/7: Earliest Letters from the Hamilton Family;
  • HAM/1/5: Correspondence from other Relatives;
  • HAM/1/5/1: Correspondence of the Reverend Archibald Hamilton Cathcart;
  • HAM/1/5/2: Correspondence from Mrs Wilhelmina and Miss Elizabeth and Miss Ann Murray;
  • HAM/1/5/3: Correspondence from Robert Fulke Greville and Charles Francis Greville;
  • HAM/1/5/4: Correspondence from Lord and Lady Warwick;
  • HAM/1/6: Correspondence from the Bas Bleu;
  • HAM/1/6/1: Correspondence from Frances Evelyn Boscawen;
  • HAM/1/6/2: Correspondence from Elizabeth Vesey;
  • HAM/1/6/3: Correspondence from Mary Delany;
  • HAM/1/6/4: Correspondence from Elizabeth Montagu;
  • HAM/1/6/5: Correspondence from Frances Burney;
  • HAM/1/6/6: Correspondence from Eva Maria Garrick;
  • HAM/1/6/7: Correspondence from Dorothea Gregory;
  • HAM/1/6/8: Unsigned Letters and Miscellanea from John Hope;
  • HAM/1/7: Correspondence from Friends at Court;
  • HAM/1/7/1: Correspondence from Jean-Baptiste-Louis-Georges Séroux d’Agincourt;
  • HAM/1/7/2: Correspondence from Louisa Cheveley;
  • HAM/1/7/3: Correspondence from Ariana Margaret Egerton;
  • HAM/1/7/4: Correspondence from John Farhill;
  • HAM/1/7/5: Correspondence from Sophia Fielding;
  • HAM/1/7/6: Correspondence from John Fisher;
  • HAM/1/7/7: Correspondence from Wilhelmina King;
  • HAM/1/7/8: Correspondence from Mrs Anne Leland;
  • HAM/1/7/9: Correspondence from Lady Juliana and Sophia Penn;
  • HAM/1/7/10: Correspondence from Margaret Planta;
  • HAM/1/7/11: Correspondence from the Duchess of Portland;
  • HAM/1/7/12: Correspondence from Catherine Walkinshaw;
  • HAM/1/7/13: Court Sundries;
  • HAM/1/8: Correspondence from Various Friends;
  • HAM/1/8/1: Correspondence from the Iremonger Family;
  • HAM/1/8/2: Correspondence from Dorothy Blosset;
  • HAM/1/8/3: Correspondence from Mrs M. Calling Smith and her Brother Mr Barrows;
  • HAM/1/8/4: Correspondence from Dr, Mrs and Miss Kerr;
  • HAM/1/8/5: Correspondence from Ann Rogers;
  • HAM/1/8/6: Correspondence from Maria Eliza Rundell and Maria Rundell;
  • HAM/1/8/7: Correspondence from Lady Webb;
  • HAM/1/8/8: Correspondence from Lady Wake and her Family;
  • HAM/1/8/9: Correspondence from Court Dewes;
  • HAM/1/9: Correspondence from Various Friends and Others;
  • HAM/1/10: Correspondence from the Clarke Sisters;
  • HAM/1/10/1: Correspondence from Caterina (later Jackson) and Anna Maria Clarke;
  • HAM/1/10/2: Correspondence from the Jackson Family;
  • HAM/1/11: Correspondence from Lady Dartrey (later Cremorne);
  • HAM/1/12: Correspondence from Lady Charlotte Finch and Harriet Finch;
  • HAM/1/13: Correspondence from Richard Glover and Family;
  • HAM/1/14: Correspondence from Martha Carolina Goldsworthy;
  • HAM/1/15: Correspondence from Charlotte Margaret Gunning;
  • HAM/1/15/1: Letters from Charlotte Margaret Gunning;
  • HAM/1/15/2: Letters from Mary Hamilton to Charlotte Margaret Gunning;
  • HAM/1/16: Correspondence from Lady Frances Harpur;
  • HAM/1/17: Correspondence from Sir Robert and Lady Herries;
  • HAM/1/18: Correspondence from Lady Mansfield;
  • HAM/1/19: Correspondence from William, 7th Lord Napier, and Lady Mary Anne Napier;
  • HAM/1/20: Correspondence from Francis, 8th Lord Napier;
  • HAM/1/21: Correspondence from Julia Henrietta Salis;
  • HAM/1/22: Correspondence from Mary Sharpe;
  • HAM/2: Manuscript Diaries;
  • HAM/3: Manuscript Volumes.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The archive was purchased by the University of Manchester Library in 2007, following a temporary export stop. Generous financial support was provided by the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Pilgrim Trust, the Friends of the National Libraries, the Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and the Friends of the John Rylands.

Other Finding Aids


Separated Material

Approximately 180 autograph letters and notes from Elizabeth Carter and Hannah More to Mary Hamilton, c.1780-1815, were separated from the Mary Hamilton Papers and sold at Sotheby's in London on 15 December 2005 (lot 51) to Harvard University (now Houghton Library MS Eng 1778). 78 autograph letters and notes from the Prince of Wales (later George IV) to Mary Hamilton, together with her draft replies, were sold at the same Sotheby's auction (lot 52) to an unknown buyer.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The archive was created and maintained by Mary Hamilton (later Mary Dickenson). After her death in 1816 the archive remained in the possession of Hamilton's family and then her descendants, the Anson family. The archive was sold by the Anson family at Sotheby's in July 2006 to an overseas buyer, but was subject to a temporary export stop by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

  • The University of Manchester Library holds the Thrale-Piozzi Manuscripts (ref. GB 133 TPM) which contains the correspondence of Hamilton's contemporary, Hester Lynch Thrale-Piozzi née Salusbury (1741-1821). Included amongst the papers are correspondence with Samuel Johnson, Elizabeth Montagu, Frances Burney, Dr Charles Burney and James Boswell.
  • Lancashire Archives, Preston, holds the papers of the Dickenson Family of Birch Hall (ref. DDX 274). Included amongst the papers is a commentary on current affairs written by Mary Hamilton, dated 2 October 1742 to October 1760, and diary extracts from Mary Hamilton, dated 6 June 1784 to 24 June 1796 (ref. DDX 264/1). Also included is a letter book of Mary Hamilton's husband, John Dickenson (ref. DDX 274/3); the diaries of John Dickenson (ref. DDX 274/13-17); an account book of John Dickenson, 9 July 1785 to 12 July 1788 (ref. DDX 274/5); and a journal of a tour of Paris by John Dickenson and Sir William Anson, 15 April 1817 to 18 May 1817 (ref. DDX 274/11).


Elizabeth Anson and Florence Anson (eds), Mary Hamilton, Afterwards Mrs John Dickenson at Court and at Home: From Letters and Diaries, 1756 to 1816 (London: John Murray, 1925).

F. Mckno Bladon (ed.), The Diaries of Colonel the Hon. Robert Fulke Greville: Equerry to His Majesty King George III (London: John Lane, 1930).

Harriet Blodgett, Centuries of Female Days: Englishwomen's Private Diaries (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1989).

W. S. Lewis and others (eds), Horace Walpole's Correspondence with Hannah More, Lady Browne, Lady George Lennox, Lady Mary Coke, Anne Pitt, Lady Hervey, Lady Suffold, Mary Hamilton (Mrs John Dickenson) (London: Oxford University Press, 1961).

Anne Stott, Hannah More: The First Victorian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Geographical Names