Spencer Perceval: Correspondence

Scope and Content

The papers provide a most useful insight into the working of both administrations, comprising as they do some of Perceval's most intimate political correspondence both as chancellor of the exchequer under Portland (1807-9) and subsequently as prime minister (1809-12). All the major events of the day are considered, including the scandals surrounding the princess of Wales and the duke of York, the ill-fated military expedition to Walcheren in 1809, George III's recurring mental illness, and the formation of a regency in 1811. There are very frank letters from the king, queen, and prince and princess of Wales, as well as from Lords Liverpool and Eldon, and many other leading politicians. Perhaps most interesting of all are the drafts of Perceval's own letters, which provide a revealing insight into the workings of a prime minister's mind, and the substantial correspondence detailing the formation of his ministry in September and October 1809. The collection well illustrates the conventions observed in transacting business and shaping policy in an early-nineteenth century administration.

Access Information

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).

Acquisition Information

Papers purchased from the historian Sir John Plumb, together with correspondence of the eighteenth-century politician Thomas Walpole (Add.8708-12) in January 1988. While some of the papers were apparently used by Sir Spencer Walpole in his pioneering study of Perceval which appeared in 1874, it appears that they subsequently became detached from the Perceval papers now at the British Library (BL Add MSS 49173-49195) for they are nowhere cited by Perceval's most important modern biographer, Denis Gray (MUP, 1963). The papers in Add 8713 were sorted and numbered by Walpole's nephew in 1906, but his surviving list, though noting a small number of items now missing, makes no mention of the material acquired by the British Library.

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of the collection can be found on ArchiveSearch.

Related Material

A further group of Spencer Perceval's papers are now BL Add MS 88914, acquired in 2009.