User perspectives: Examining Palmerston and Shaftesbury through the Broadlands Archives

In the autumn of 2013 Bry Martin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame, visited the Archives to conduct research for his dissertation, titled “The Power and the Country: The Earls of Shaftesbury, 1621-1885”. In the passage below he discusses his experience exploring the Broadlands Archives, including examining the relationship between Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, and Anthony Ashley-Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury.

Cartoon of the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, operating the vice extinguisher

Cartoon of the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, operating the vice extinguisher

“Regency and Victorian Britain, torn by the new money and social squalor of the Industrial Revolution, ascendant in the muscular imperialism of a renewed empire, and expansive in its commercial and financial power, rested in the uncertain grasp of a relatively small number of gentlemen and their families. Yet those same families, and particularly those of the South, withstood a political, economic and social assault on many of their traditional roles and values. As organizers of the militia for the maritime counties, their role as Britain’s first line of land defense against a Channel invasion strained beneath the weight of a flourishing professional army and navy. As landed families living close to ports, an ancient interdependence between the covetous energy of the merchant and the staid balance of the manor teetered under industrial pressures of factory and credit. As farmers, rentiers, and politicians, the families of the South gravitated in the season to London’s lure of civil society, political participation, and fashion, but recoiled at its corruption, its slums, and its violence. Looking outward at Europe, the Atlantic and the world, exercising a statesmanship that would leave a British footprint in all of the above, these families also embraced and worried over the immemorial landed England of the country estate.

There are few better windows into the lives and struggle of these families in the Nineteenth Century than the Broadlands Archives at the University of Southampton’s Hartley Library. Organized around the papers, relations and correspondents of Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston, Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, whose seat was the Broadlands Estate in nearby Romsey, the Broadlands Archives are a treasure of both the imperial and the intimate. At the highest level, Palmerston projected his conviction that every Briton should walk and sail the planet bound only by British laws wherever he or she went, and in domestic policy displayed a flexible liberalism, still rooted in the conservative politics of the early nineteenth century, but adaptable to changing times. In his personal letters to his correspondents and family, including his wife and her children, Palmerston’s letters in the Hartley Library display his sense of pragmatic dispatch, eagerness to do favors for friends, a tolerance for sleights and annoyances, and a moral humility always watchful of the world to do his best on its terms rather than imposing his own. His wife Emily, the organizer of polite society’s calendar, buttressed her husband’s political power with a general empathy and courtesy that extended even to political enemies, however much it pained her to see her husband subjected to the sleights accompanying political life.

I arrived at the Hartley Library, an American graduate student working on a dissertation about a different, but related family: the Ashley-Coopers, Earls of Shaftesbury. The Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, the “Poor Man’s Earl” commemorated in Piccadilly Circus by its famous statue of Eros, married Lady Palmerston’s daughter, and the Hartley Library has an extensive archive of their family correspondence. Shaftesbury strikes a remarkable contrast to Lord and Lady Palmerston. More saintlike than benign, he was chiliastic in holding unwavering convictions in the face of approaching end times, nostalgic in his longings for the Ancient Constitution and the dissolving harmony of the manor, and inflamed by a near-depressive compassion for the suffering of Britain’s many down-and-outs: lunatics, factory workers, indigent children and street pedlars. That Shaftesbury and Palmerston could not only tolerate but admire each other is a small wonder of British character with big implications for British history. Together they moderated the sharp ideological divisions by which the old divide of Whig and Tory was transforming into that of Liberal and Conservative.

Lord Shaftesbury’s diary for 29 December 1852

Lord Shaftesbury’s diary for 29 December 1852

The key to the personal chemistry, family affection, and political partnership of Palmerston and Shaftesbury lay in their papers at the Hartley Library. There, researchers may read of Palmerston’s continued, weary efforts to reward the cash-strapped Earl with lucrative offices, and the Earl’s refusal to take paid offices that could potentially force him to support even a friendly government against his own judgment. There, Palmerston consults Shaftesbury repeatedly and often decisively on matters ranging from whether Britain should pursue a Christian Zionist foreign policy with the Ottoman Empire to ecclesiastical appointments in the Church of England. In an age when duplicity and ladder-climbing was a given in politics, Palmerston seemed stunned into respect and trust by the selfless sincerity and naked emotion of Shaftesbury, just as Lady Palmerston had been when, as a bizarrely earnest and candid young man, he had courted her daughter. But also in the papers at the Hartley Library one can read Shaftesbury write his wife rebuking her mother’s worldliness and write his son bemoaning Palmerston’s placid flexibility and his religious ignorance. Later, he would grieve just as deeply for them, and never be quite so potent an influence on British political life in their absence as he had been when they had tempered his righteousness with their characteristic forbearance and tolerance for human frailty.

There is much else indispensable for the understanding of Shaftesbury at the Hartley Library. Just a few examples are: the extensive diaries he kept for most of his long life; a pained correspondence about electioneering in 1830s Dorset; letters registering the family heartbreak as they reeled from the premature deaths of children; and the affectionate humor of his surviving children at their intense, old-fashioned father. The Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury presents only the final generation of my study of a great British family, a study detailing the family’s central place in British “country” politics, opposing traditional local institutions to emerging modern pockets of power that threatened their independence and traditions. For most of two centuries, the Earls of Shaftesbury played a leading part in British “country” politics, Whig or Tory. The Hartley Library has been enormously helpful in providing an important archival basis to one of the most remarkable generations of the family.

One advantage of research at the Hartley Library ought not be omitted: the people. While the Hartley Library’s holdings are extensive, it is also a human-scale and personal archive. Perhaps as a result, I found that the archivists had a greater familiarity with the sources that I was using, and a greater depth of learning in the specific scholarship surrounding the manuscripts than is common elsewhere. In the course of academic research that is sometimes unavoidably lonely and stultifying, the Hartley Library offered the camaraderie of an intelligent, friendly staff that had already spent considerable time reading and thinking about many of the documents I was studying. I hope to return to the Hartley Library for a short visit in the Fall, revisiting its records of a remarkable family and the hardworking custodians of their legacy.”

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