John Acton, 1st Baron Acton: Personal and Family Papers

Scope and Content

A large part of the collection consists of correspondence with British, Continental and North American correspondents, notably Ignaz von Dllinger, Richard Simpson and Thomas Frederick Wetherell. Other correspondents include W.E. Gladstone and his family, J.H. Newman and many of the bishops associated with the minority at the First Vatican Council. There are also large groups of letters sent between Acton's immediate ancestors, and between Acton and his own family. In addition to correspondence, the collection contains a wide range of biographical, financial and legal papers.

MS.Add.8119/1-6: General letters, mostly to Acton.

MS.Add.8119/7: Correspondence, mostly between Acton and Richard Simpson, Sir Rowland Blennerhassett, Lady Charlotte Blennerhassett and Henry Nutcombe Oxenham, with related material.

MS.Add.8119/8: Correspondence between Thomas Frederick Wetherell and Acton, with related correspondence; miscellaneous correspondence and papers, including material relating to parliamentary elections.

MS.Add.8119/9: Correspondence between Acton and members of the Gladstone family; school notes taken by Acton; diaries, journals and passports of Acton and Marie Acton; an incomplete biography of Sir John Francis Edward Acton, apparently by Annie Acton; recollections of her family by Mary Elizabeth Anne Acton.

MS.Add.8120/1: Letters, mostly to Acton, from foreign correspondents.

MS.Add.8120/2: Correspondence, mostly between Acton and Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dllinger, but including letters between these and other correspondents.

MS.Add.8121/1-2: Correspondence and legal papers concerning members of the Acton family, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

MS.Add.8121/3: Acton family letters, accounts and papers, mostly financial, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; correspondence of Mary Anne Acton and Sir Richard Acton; miscellaneous papers.

MS.Add.8121/4: Acton family letters, accounts and papers, mostly financial, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; correspondence of Mary Anne Acton, Elizabeth Throckmorton and Sir Richard Acton.

MS.Add.8121/5: Letters to Mary Anne Acton, Sir Richard Acton and others, mostly from members of the Acton family; miscellaneous legal and other papers.

MS.Add.8121/6: Letters, mostly to Acton and members of his family.

MS.Add.8121/7: Correspondence, etc., mostly between members of the Acton and Arco-Valley families, notably Anna Margareta Arco-Valley.

MS.Add.8121/8: Letters, mostly from Marie Acton to Baron Acton.

MS.Add.8121/9: Correspondence, mostly between Acton and his children Annie Acton and Richard Maximilian Dalberg Acton.

MS.Add.8121/10: Correspondence between Acton and Richard Maximilian Dalberg Acton; papers of Annie Acton, including material for a history of the Acton family.

MS.Add.8121/11: Letters from Mary Elizabeth Anne Acton to Acton; miscellaneous Acton family correspondence.

MS.Add.8122/1: Notes by Acton on various subjects; miscellaneous items.

MS.Add.8122/2: Miscellaneous notes, letters and legal documents; typescript copies of letters from Acton to Ignaz von Dllinger.

MS.Add.8122/3-4: Miscellaneous notes, letters and legal documents.

MS.Add.8123/1: Financial, legal and miscellaneous letters and documents, mainly concerning Acton and members of the Acton and related families, mostly nineteenth century.

MS.Add.8123/2: Financial and personal papers of Acton and his family.

MS.Add.8123/3: Press cuttings concerning Acton, his published works and his family; used envelopes.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Emerich Edward Charles Dalberg Acton, 1st Baron Acton (1834-1902), was born in Naples on 10 January 1834. His father was Sir Ferdinand Richard Acton, 7th Baronet, and his mother Countess Marie Dalberg, heiress to one of the oldest of the German noble houses. Acton studied at the University of Munich under the Church historian Ignaz von Dllinger. In 1859 he became the Liberal M.P. for the Irish constituency of Carlow, and in 1869 accepted a peerage. During this time Acton acquired The rambler and developed it as a liberal Catholic journal dedicated to discussing social, political and theological matters. The journal closed in 1864, and Acton began work on a 'History of the Papacy during the last three centuries'. For this purpose he moved to the Continent and carried out research in libraries and archives. During 1869-1870 he attended the first Vatican Council in Rome. Acton was forced to abandon his papal history in the late 1870s, largely because of the problems he faced in acquiring the evidence he required in Italy. He turned to a new project, 'The History of Freedom', which he worked on while living on the continent. In 1895 he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University. He gave lectures on the French Revolution and modern history, and was chiefly responsible for organising the Cambridge modern history. Acton died at Tegernsee, Bavaria, on 19 June 1902.

Access Information

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Purchased 1973.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives.

Other Finding Aids

Additional Manuscripts Catalogue. An item-level catalogue is also available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Custodial History

The papers were held initially by the Acton family. With the removal of Lord Acton to Southern Rhodesia in 1947 the collection passed to Mia Woodruff, grand-daughter of the first Lord, and her husband Douglas, at their residence at Marcham Priory, Berkshire. The papers remained at Marcham until their sale to Cambridge University Library in 1973.

Related Material

Cambridge University Library holds other papers of Acton, MSS.Add.4607-5021, 5347-5348, 5381-5710, 5751-5776, 7726-7732, 7892 and 9616; a set of letters to him on the subject of the Cambridge modern history, MS.Add.6443; and his own vast collection of printed books.

Shropshire Record Office holds the Acton of Aldenham papers, some 1,180 items dating from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, S. R. O. ref. 1093, together with other groups of papers relating to the Acton family.


Some of the letters in the collection have been published. These are indicated in the catalogue.