Literary Manuscripts in the Portland (Welbeck) Collection, 16th-19th centuries

Scope and Content

Although the Collection is primarily known as a resource for English and Latin satirical verse of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, its runs of general historical documents (including political and diplomatic correspondence, genealogical records, personal papers, household recipes and volumes of accounts) give it an interest and significance which extends far beyond the core literary content.Among the earliest papers are the commonplace books of Denzel Holles and his grandson, John Holles, 2nd Earl of Clare. Early Cavendish material includes genealogical records, but the Cavendish interest is mainly represented by William, the 1st Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne, with both literary and personal materials surviving. Political subject material from the late seventeenth century includes records concerning Dutch and foreign affairs, both closely associated with the papers of the 1st Earl of Portland (GB159 Pw A), although the volumes of the correspondence between William Blathwayt and Sir Robert Southwell were in fact purchased by the 6th Duke.Later members of the Cavendish-Bentinck family are also featured, whose political papers are located in other series within the entire Portland Collection. There is copy correspondence of the 3rd Duke of Portland, and notebooks in his hand (see also Pw F); several items of Lord William Bentinck including a Peninsular campaign journal and a copy of the consititution for Sicily (see also GB Pw J) and correspondence concerning Lord George Bentinck's horse racing interests (see also GB Pw L).The Collection's literary strengths are particularly associated with the Cavendish and Harley periods of the family's history. The majority of the items are manuscript verse on loose sheets, but the Collection also includes verse anthologies, both in the form of scribal copies of various authors and gatherings of the manuscripts of particular poets. There are over 1,000 texts (mainly early 18th-century) in Latin and a further small quantity in French, Italian, Greek and in one case, Hungarian. Examples of prose works and drama are also present.The manuscript verse includes examples of various genres, such as sonnets, ballads and epitaphs. Many of the works represent political satire; these contain numerous allusions to contemporary personalities and events. Where possible autograph texts have been identified, but the Collection is also clearly a resource which demonstrates the practice of scribal copying, and the exchange of manuscript texts.Among the authors represented, either in autograph or copy form, are Aphra Behn (1640-1689), Thomas Brown (1663-1704), Daniel Defoe (1661-1731), John Donne (1573-1631), John Dryden (1631-1700), John Gay (1685-1732), Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), Katherine Philips (1727-94), Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Matthew Prior (1664-1721), James Shirley (1596-1666), Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680).The majority of the texts are, however, anonymous. As the Collection is used, further attributions have been made and this is expected to continue. Some of the works did not, however, circulate as literary productions in the conventional sense. There are, for instance, over 600 examples of Latin compositions from Westminster School, and others from Christ Church Oxford, both surviving here as a result of the Harley association. The majority of these were exercises, in imitation of specific classical texts, and their interest lies as much in this educational context as in their literary merit.The final section of the Collection consists of 58 publications of the Roxburghe Club, of which the 6th Duke of Portland became a member c.1906.

Administrative / Biographical History

This Collection, which has become known to researchers as 'The Portland Literary Papers', in fact comprises several series of literary, personal and official papers from the Library of the Dukes of Portland at Welbeck Abbey. It complements in many respects material concerning individual members of the family and held in the other Portland collections. This is particularly true of the bound volumes of political, diplomatic and financial records in the Collection, which seem to have been preserved in this context because of their physical form and therefore the convenience of housing them on book shelves, rather than for any intrinsic association with the loose sheet literary manuscripts they accompanied.The exact provenance of the material in the Collection is still in many cases obscure. Some of the papers were undoubtedly generated within the family, both of the Cavendish-Bentinck Dukes of Portland and their Cavendish, Holles and Harley forebears. However, the overlapping circles of activity which engaged, for example, Robert Harley and William Bentinck, the 1st Earl of Portland, make it difficult to be certain in all cases how the papers were collected and brought together.A few of the archival sub-groups are clear; there is a small discrete series covering the papers of Denzel, John and Gervase Holles; Cavendish records, including literary and personal papers of William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne (1593-1676), are scattered through the Collection. By far the most significant group, in terms of the coherence of the literary collection, are the papers associated with the Harleys, both Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford (1661-1724) and his son, Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (1689-1741).Both the Harleys were active collectors of books and manuscripts. Their general literary and historical collections were sold after the death of the 2nd Duke, with the Harleian Manuscripts coming into the possession of the nation in 1753, in what is now the British Library. The Harley family papers descended to the Dukes of Portland by the marriage in 1734 of Margaret Harley, heiress of the 2nd Earl of Oxford, to the 2nd Duke of Portland. They remained intact at Welbeck Abbey, with the exception of a significant series which Elizabeth Cavendish Bentinck took to Longleat in 1759 on her marriage to Thomas Tynne, Viscount Weymouth, later first Marquess of Bath. The 7th Duke of Portland in the late 1940s dispersed the collections at Welbeck, with the majority of the Harley papers going to the British Library.The present series does not provide clear distinctions between the Holles, Cavendish, Harley or Bentinck elements, but in some cases gathers material together by subject or author, a reflection of the deliberate efforts made in the last century to organise and indeed augment the collection. While some of the papers were acquired by members of the various families in the course of their public lives or in pursuit of their personal literary interests, it is also clear that a number of the manuscripts were deliberately purchased. Into this category fall, for instance, about 24 volumes which came from the Phillipps Library in the late nineteenth century.The period of William J.A.C.J. Cavendish-Bentinck, 6th Duke of Portland, (1857-1943), saw the organisation and extension of the library, with its contents identified, rebound or repackaged. Although the 6th Duke was clearly a keen bibliophile, purchasing additional material as opportunity arose, the activity of his librarian, Richard W. Goulding, was critical in giving the Collection its present arrangement. Francis Needham succeeded Goulding as librarian and continued his work, corresponding with other scholars in research on the manuscripts and annotating their covers with his conclusions.


The Collection retains the arrangement given to it when housed at Welbeck. The manuscript volumes are filed together first and reflect some associations of origin or subject but not a fully systematic ordering. The loose sheet manuscripts have been divided between those with a clearly identified author (whether the papers are autograph or copy) and those which initially were unidentified. The final sequence is of the printed volumes from the Roxburghe Club publications.

Access Information

Accessible to all registered readers.

Other Finding Aids

Copyright in all Finding Aids belongs to the University of Nottingham. On the World Wide Web:Catalogue accessible from the website for Manuscripts and Special Collections, Manuscripts Online Catalogue.This is a detailed online finding aid with extensive search facilities, but readers should be aware that work on it is continuing. Its conversion from another software system has altered the presentation, so that some entries appear to lack a title description. These will be upgraded. Improvements in the methods of searching this long file will also be reviewed. Readers encountering any difficulties should meantime notify us on The original hard copy catalogue, without enhanced item level entries or searchable indexing is available In the Reading Room, King's Meadow Campus:Typescript Catalogue to item level, 95 pp At the National Register of Archives, London:Typescript Catalogue to item level, 95 pp

Conditions Governing Use

Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections (email copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposes only, depending on access status and the condition of the documents.

Custodial History

These papers form a sub-group of the Portland (Welbeck) Collection (Pw) and were part of the first deposit received from Welbeck Abbey in 1949 from the 7th Duke of Portland.

Related Material

Papers of Henry Bentinck, 1st Duke of Portland (1682-1726) GB 159 Pw B

Papers of the Harley Family, 1602-1738 GB 159 Pw 2 Hy

Papers of Lord William George Frederick Cavendish-Bentinck (1802-1848) GB 159 Pw L

Papers of William Henry C. Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809) GB 159 Pw F

Papers of Lord William H. Cavendish Bentinck (1774-1839) GB 159 Pw J

Papers of the Cavendish Family, 1563-1707 GB 159 Pw 1

Papers of the Holles Family, 1571-1728 GB 159 Pw 2

Longleat, Wiltshire

British Library

Personal Names