Mary Hamilton Papers

Archive Collection
  • This material is held at
  • 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
      3 series; 22 sub-series; 53 sub-subseries; 2497 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.

Scope and Content

The Mary Hamilton Papers consists of 2474 pieces of correspondence, 16 diaries and 6 manuscript volumes and constitute a major resource for the study of the eighteenth century.

The majority of the correspondence in the archive consists of letters received by Hamilton from a wide variety of friends and family including Queen Charlotte, the Princess Royal as well as from other members of the royal family. Also included is the correspondence 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 as well as from court figures such as the Duchess of Portland, Lady Charlotte Finch and Charlotte Gunning. The correspondence is full of details on a wide range of subjects which includes the gossip of the day, the royal family including the illness and recovery of George III. They discuss family news, court life, marriage, fashion, literature, women's education, politics, servants, war, art and music.

The majority of the diaries in the archive cover the period from Hamilton 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 consists of various anthologies of letters, poetry, letters, 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 the papers offer a valuable insight into the life of a periphery member of the bas bleu and of a socially 'elite' woman of the late eighteenth century and are therefore an important and valuable resource for the study of the eighteenth century.

Administrative / Biographical History

The papers of Mary Hamilton represent a significant resource for the study of, and a window into, not only the intellectual and social world of the late eighteenth century but also to the court of George III and to the Bas Bleu circle - a group who included amongst them, prominent figures such as Elizabeth Montagu, Mary Delany, Elizabeth Vesey, Hannah More, Horace Walpole and Elizabeth Carter.

Mary Hamilton was a member of an old aristocratic family. She was born in 1756, the daughter of Charles Hamilton a soldier who had fought as a volunteer for the Empress of Russia and the son of Lord Archibald Hamilton and grandson of the third Duke of Hamilton. Her mother was Mary Catherine Dufresne, the daughter of Colonel Dufresne, aide-de-camp to Lord Archibald Hamilton. After her father’s death in 1771, she and her mother initially settled in Northamptonshire and then later moved to London. One of Hamilton’s uncle's 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 there. 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’. Also whilst there, the young Prince of Wales fell in love with Hamilton and inundated her with letters. [Hamilton 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 tiring and stifling. She also resented the politics of court and noted that it is quite an ‘instruction one gains by living in such a school’ as this. At an early stage as a governess she offered her resignation to the Queen but was 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 let her go.

After her ‘emancipation' from court, Hamilton lived as an independent woman, setting up house in London at Clarges Street 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 that of the 'bluestocking', Elizabeth Vesey who Hamilton visited almost on a daily basis. 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 are full of detailed entries of 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 and of attending the theatre [including having the use of Mrs Garrick's box to watch Mrs Siddons], attending lectures, concerts and exhibitions and with 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 herself, 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 Walsingham but was uncertain for what this might mean for her. In 1784 she wrote of Charlotte 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 will provide her with many rewards but she feared that it would also limit her socially as women will envy her and be afraid of her and the men will 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 in 1787 who married Sir William Anson in 1811. Hamilton died in her home at Devonshire Place, London in 1816.

The Mary Hamilton Papers is a significant resource for the study of the intellectual and social elite of society and for the study of court life in Britain during the latter part of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries.


The original order of the Mary Hamilton papers is impossible to determine as they have been rearranged by the previous owners and may not reflect the original arrangement of Mary Hamilton. Much of the correspondence has been organised by author and has been grouped together into sub-subseries to reflect the relationship of the author with Mary Hamilton such as her relations, friends at court and the Bas Bleu. The arrangement in which the archive was received has of necessity been retained and the archivist has placed, when possible, each item in chronological order within its respective sub-subseries.

The archive has been arranged into three series made up of 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. Each piece of correspondence, each diary and each manuscript volume has then be catalogued at item level.

A number of the items within this collection had been given references by a previous cataloguer. The archivist has included all former references provided throughout.

The structure of the catalogue is as follows: 

  • HAM/1 Correspondence
  • HAM/1/1 Correspondence from the Royal Family
  • HAM1/1/1/1 Miscellaneous letters from 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 Mary Hamilton to 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 Sr, Sarah Dickenson and Mrs 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 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
  • 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 D'Agincourt
  • HAM/1/7/2 Correspondence from Louise 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 Mrs A. 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 and Mrs Walkinshaw
  • HAM/1/7/13 Court Sundries
  • HAM/1/8 Correspondence from Various Friends
  • HAM/1/8/1 Correspondence from the Tremonger 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
  • 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 Lady Cremorne
  • HAM/1/12 Correspondence from Lady Charlotte Finch
  • HAM/1/13 Correspondence from Richard Glover and family
  • HAM/1/14 Correspondence from Martha Caroline 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
  • 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.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The archive was purchased by The John Rylands University Library in 2007 from Sotheby's.

Other Finding Aids


Alternative Form Available


Separated Material

The letters from Elizabeth Carter and Hannah More to Mary Hamilton Dickenson, circa 1780-1815 were separated from the Mary Hamilton Archive and purchased from Sotheby's by Harvard University. The letters from the Prince of Wales [Later George IV] to Mary Hamilton were also separated from the Mary Hamilton Archive and sold by Sotheby's 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 Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, 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 papers were sold by Sotheby's Auctioneers in 2007.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

  • The Library holds the Thrale-Piozzi Manuscripts [ref. >GB 133 TPM ] which contains the correspondence of Hamilton's comtemporary Hester Lynch Thrale-Piozzi née Salusbury (1741-1821). Included amongst the papers are correspondence from Samuel Johnson, Elizabeth Montagu, Frances Burney, Dr Charles Burney and James Boswell.
  • The Lancashire Record Office 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 and 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 Diary's of John Dickenson, [ref. DDX 274/13-17], an Account book of John Dickenson's dated 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 dated 15 April 1817 to 18 May 1817, [ref. DDX 274/11].


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

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

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

Ed., W. S. Lewis, et al Horace Walpole's Correspondence (London: Oxford University Press, 1961),

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

Geographical Names