Papers of the Harley Family, 1602-1738, in the Portland (Welbeck) Collection

Scope and Content

The earliest papers are those of Sir Robert Harley (1579-1656). These include a relatively small body of correspondence addressed to him, mainly concerned with estate business, and a series of miscellaneous papers mainly of more political interest.Correspondence addressed to Sir Edward Harley (1624-1700) is also primarily concerned with general estate business, but includes a significant number relating to his governorship of Dunkirk. A small series of miscellaneous papers includes items of local and occasionally national political interest.The papers of Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford (1661-1724) constitute the largest single section within the Harley Collection and predominantly reflect his career as a statesman. A section of pre-1703 letters and papers relates to elections, local affairs and the earl's role as Commissioner of Public Accounts. Other sections cover the years 1703-1709 and 1710-1724, and are more general in nature. The final section of foreign correspondence and associated papers is largely of diplomatic interest, including foreign newsletters from London and papers relating to Ireland and Scotland.The Harley papers also contain a small section of general family correspondence. Recipients of letters include Brilliana Harley (wife of Sir Robert Harley), Abigail Harley (wife of Sir Edward Harley) and her sister Katherine Bromfield. These and associated papers largely concern family and estate business, with some domestic bills. Some fifty items concerning Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (1689-1741), are also present, and include a few papers of political significance and some reference to his purchase of books.A group of approximately 45 items comprises correspondence addressed to Thomas Wharton, 1st Marquess of Wharton (1648-1715), M.P., with associated papers. These date from the 1714-1715 period.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Harley papers include correspondence and associated papers of various members of the Harley family of Herefordshire and Radnorshire. The bulk of them concern three individual members of the family.Sir Robert Harley (1579-1656) was Master of the Mint under Charles I and M.P. for Radnor Boroughs (1604), Herefordshire (1624, 1626 and 1640) and Evesham (1628). He was a patron of religion and learning, an iconoclast and a staunch supporter of the parliamentary cause in the Civil War.Sir Edward Harley (1624-1700) was the eldest son of Sir Robert and also M.P. for Radnor Boroughs and Herefordshire between 1646 and 1700. He was a member of the Council of State in 1659 and was appointed Governor of Dunkirk in 1660.Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford (1661-1724), was the eldest son of Sir Edward and a notable politician and statesman. In 1694 as M.P. he brought in the Triennial Bill. He was Speaker of the House of Commons between 1701 and 1705, and also held office as Secretary of State for the Northern Department and Chancellor of the Exchequer. His other activities included the establishment of the National Land Bank in 1696 and initiation of a scheme for funding the national debt through the South Sea Company.The descent of the Harley papers in the Portland Collection is explained by the marriage in 1734 of Lady Margaret Cavendish Harley (1715-1785) to William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland (1709-1762). Lady Margaret was the heiress of Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (1689-1741), and his wife, Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles (1694-1755). (See also article by Clyve Jones 'The Harley Family and the Harley Papers' in The British Library Journal, 15, No. 2, 1989 pp 123-133).The Collection also includes the papers of Thomas Wharton, 1st Marquess of Wharton (1648-1715). An M.P., he held several important political posts, including that of commissioner for the union with Scotland and the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1708 until 1710. It is not at present clear why the small series of correspondence addressed to Wharton, and associated papers, have survived with the Harley family papers.


The Harley papers are separated primarily into groups of papers of named individuals, with one group covering a general family sequence. Most of the groups are further subdivided between correspondence and miscellaneous papers. The letters are alphabetically arranged by writer and then in chronological sequence, although some of the 1st Earl of Oxford's correspondence has previously been bound, and is in no discernable order. The miscellaneous papers are arranged in predominantly chronological sequence.

Access Information

Accessible to all registered readers.

Other Finding Aids

Copyright in all Finding Aids belongs to the University of Nottingham. In the Reading Room, King's Meadow Campus:Old typescript catalogue, 106 pp At the National Register of Archives, London:Old typescript catalogue, 106 pp On the World Wide Web:Catalogue accessible from the website for Manuscripts and Special Collections, Manuscripts Online Catalogue.The old typescript catalogue has now been considerably upgraded and the Manuscripts Online Catalogue should be consulted for the full version.

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

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

Custodial History

These papers form a sub-group of the Portland (Welbeck) Collection (Pw) and were part of the accrual received from Welbeck Abbey in 1968.

Related Material

Further Harley papers, and literary papers collected by members of the Harley family, can be found in the Portland Literary Papers, GB 159 Pw V

Longleat House, Wiltshire

British Library