Correspondence from William Napier, 7th Lord Napier, and Lady Mary Anne Napier

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 HAM/1/19
  • Dates of Creation
  • Physical Description
      66 items. Condition: a number of the sheets are fragile and torn.

Scope and Content

William Napier (1730-1775), 7th Lord Napier of Merchistoun, was a Scottish Peer and a guardian of Mary Hamilton. He was the son of Francis Napier, 6th Lord Napier, and Henrietta Hope who was the daughter of Charles Hope, 1st Earl of Hopetoun. According to Sir James Balfour Paul, The Scots Peerage (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1909), vol. 6, pp. 434-5, Napier entered the army in 1747 and attained the rank of major in the Scots Greys in 1770, but he was obliged to sell his commission in 1773 due to ill health. He was then appointed Deputy Adjutant-General of forces in Scotland, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, a commission which he held until his death in Edinburgh on 2 January 1775. Napier married Mary Anne Cathcart (1727-1774), fourth daughter of Charles Cathcart, 8th Lord Cathcart, on 16 December 1754. They had a son and four daughters. Lady Napier died in Edinburgh on 11 July 1774. A number of letters from Lady Mary Napier are included within this sub-series. The correspondence of the Napiers' son Francis, 8th Lord Napier (1758-1823), is located elsewhere in the archive (see HAM/1/20).

The correspondence in this sub-series include advice that Napier gives to Hamilton on her wishing to learn Latin. He will keep her ambition secret but, if he could, he would dissuade her from learning the language. He views the language as 'tedious' and of little use unless one enters the 'learned professions'. He notes that a learned woman 'is most commonly looked on as a great fault even by the learned' (HAM/1/19/18). He later pleads with Hamilton not to send him any more letters to him in Greek or Latin: the 'very sight of either now would certainly kill me' (HAM/1/19/20). Napier writes to Hamilton on philosophy and literature and sends Hamilton a copy of Elizabeth Carter's poems amongst other works. He also sends her a globe noting that she will soon receive the 'World, which I lay at the feet of the only young Lady who in my opinion deserves it' (HAM/1/19/17). The letters relate to the death of Hamilton's father, Charles, and provide details of his will. Other letters relate to society, and his regiment.

Napier writes on the subject of marriage (HAM/1/19/57). He notes that a woman will not be happy without marriage but that she should choose her partner carefully and that she should 'consult her own heart' as well as her parents. Napier writes that all his time is accounted for in his regiment, with drills on horseback, field work and foot parades. He notes that he has no time to sit down from dawn until bedtime. He writes about Hamilton's family and Sir William Hamilton's Observations on Vesuvius, and he advises Hamilton to contact her other uncles and aunts more often. He offends Hamilton by teasing her that the 7th Dragoons are soon to be in Northampton and he understands that it has some very 'fine looking men' in it. He suggests that she writes to her 'female correspondents' on that subject rather than him. Hamilton takes offence at his term 'female correspondent', leaving Napier to defend his wording (HAM/1/19/21, /23-24). He also writes of a possible romantic attachment that Hamilton is becoming involved in with his relation, John Hope (see HAM/1/6/8) and he advises caution (HAM/1/19/29, /33, /36). He discusses taking the waters at Buxton and Hamilton's proposed visit to London with Lady Wake (see HAM/1/8/8), advising her to be 'wary of the people' (HAM/1/19/56). He later continues on the 'nonsense' of London and Bath - the theatre, plays, pantheon and the opera. 'Good God my head is not thy little head turned with to much nonsense' (HAM/1/19/63). In his final letter Napier writes of his ill health, noting that his letter to Hamilton is only the second he has written in two months. Hamilton notes in an inscription that the letter was written on the death-bed of 'my dearest friend' (HAM/1/19/66).


The letters are arranged in chronological order. Two undated letters been kept in the original order in which they were found.