John, Lord Acton: Letters to his daughter

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Letters from Lord Acton to his daughter 'Mamy' (Mary Elizabeth Anne Acton), 283 items, many accompanied by the original envelopes. There are two incomplete sets of typed transcripts of the letters with the collection.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Emerich Edward Charles Dalberg Acton (1834-1902), 1st Baron Acton, was born in Naples on 10 January 1834. His father was Sir Ferdinand Richard Acton (1801-1837), 7th Baronet, son of John Francis Edward Acton. His mother was Countess Marie Dalberg (d. 1860), heiress to one of the oldest of the German noble houses, who in 1840 married Granville George Leveson-Gower (1815-1891), 2nd Earl Granville. Acton studied in Munich under the church historian Ignaz von Döllinger. In 1859 he became the Liberal M.P. for the Irish constituency of Carlow, and in 1869 he 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.

Conditions Governing Access

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

Acquisition Information

Presented by Harold Acton, 1973.

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of the collection is available in the Manuscript Reading Room.

Archivist's Note

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

Related Material

Cambridge University Library holds other papers relating to the Lord Acton and the Acton family, MSS.Add.4607-5021, 5347, 5348, 5381-5710, 5751-5776, 6443, 6871, 6872, 7472, 7726-7732, 7892, 8119-8123, 8260, 8261, 8409-8417 and 9616, and MS.Doc.1275.

Shropshire Archives 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.