User perspectives: Researching Royal Refugees using the Palmerston Papers

Matthew Brand, who is a post-graduate research student at the University of East Anglia, reflects on his use of the Palmerston collection at Southampton.

“When one thinks of refugees, royalty don’t usually come to mind. This is perhaps also true of the 19th century, when countless European liberals and revolutionaries fled to Britain. However, many politicians and royal families also arrived, including French Kings and their families (Charles X in 1830 and Louis Philippe in 1848), and Spanish pretenders who sought to acquire the throne by force of arms – Don Carlos in 1834, and his son Carlos Luis, Count Montemolin in 1846.

Ships sailing near the Culver Down cliffs

Ships sailing near the Culver Down cliffs

I first made use of the Palmerston Papers for my MA dissertation, and have continued to use them whilst studying for my PhD. The collection is vast in scope; the nineteenth century was an era of ‘government by correspondence’, and private, rather than “official” letters often contained sensitive information.

Among the most intriguing items I have found is a letter from Don Carlos to King William IV, in which Carlos arrogantly excused his departure to lead his troops in a brutal civil war. He also wished that his family, who had remained in Britain, returned to Spain and left the damp English climate behind. Palmerston appears to have kept the letter because Britain did not recognise Carlos as King of Spain.

Other interesting documents include a disagreement between Palmerston and his Ambassador to France, Lord Normanby, in December 1851, about whether French President Louis Napoleon’s coup d’état had been in response to the exiled royal family’s rumoured plots. Another extraordinary exchange, with Prime Minister Lord Grey and Ambassador to France Lord Granville, discusses the potential implications of Charles X and his family’s departure to Austria in 1832. Charles’s daughter-in-law, the Duchesse de Berry, was then evading capture in France after a failed rebellion.

Palmerston’s diaries, draft newspaper articles and correspondence have helped me to piece together the story of a neglected but often important group in Victorian Britain. This fascinating collection and the archivists’ endless patience and professionalism have been of enormous benefit to my research.”

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