Family correspondence of Sir William Temple

This week archivist John Rooney discusses his recent cataloguing of the family papers of Sir William Temple as part of ongoing work on the Broadlands archives.

Sir William Temple was the third child of Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, and his second wife Mary Mee. Born on 19 January 1788, he was the younger brother of Henry John Temple, later third Viscount Palmerston. Alongside the two boys were three Temple sisters: Frances (the eldest), Elizabeth, and Mary. However, Mary, the youngest of the siblings, died when she was still a young child as a result of smallpox inoculation.

Letter from William Temple, Munich, to his mother Mary (Mee), Viscountess Palmerston, 11 July [1794]

Letter from William Temple, Munich, to his mother Mary (Mee), Viscountess Palmerston, 11 July [1794]

Section BR32 of the Broadlands archives contains letters from William Temple to his mother, his brother Henry, and his sisters Frances and Elizabeth between 1794 and 1811, covering his early life and education. It begins when William is six years old and initially consists of letters to his mother, primarily relating to family life at Broadlands. In 1798 William followed his brother Henry to Harrow School where he studied until 1803. The correspondence from this period provides insights into his life at Harrow, as he discusses his studies and social engagements, together with details of Henry’s life at the University of Edinburgh, from 1800 to 1803, and subsequent tour of the Highlands. William and Henry were to maintain a close relationship throughout their lives with many of the letters in the collection containing references to (and reflections on) the future Prime Minister’s education and early political career.

It was with the death of their father on 17 April 1802 that Henry inherited the titled of third Viscount Palmerston. The following year he attended St John’s College, Cambridge, while William proceeded to the University of Edinburgh where he studied from 1803 to 1806. Correspondence from this period contains details of William’s life at Edinburgh, including his views on the controversial “Leslie affair” in which John Leslie, a suspected atheist, was appointed to the chair of mathematics at the University over the clergyman Thomas McKnight. Letters from 1805 also contain William’s views on the British victory at Trafalgar and the death of Lord Nelson, of which he writes: “If the report I have heard is true […] the late victory gained over the combined fleets, considering the number of the enemy’s ships taken, and the inferiority of our force; seems to me to be one of the most glorious and decisive that has ever taken place. It is impossible however to contemplate it with any feelings, but what are mixed with the deepest regret, when we consider how dearly it has been purchased; purchased with the loss of undoubtedly the greatest admiral Britain, or perhaps even the whole world, has ever produced.” [BR32/10/6]

As William made the move to Cambridge in 1806, Henry (now Lord Palmerston) was busy establishing his political career. He twice ran as a Tory candidate for the University of Cambridge constituency (first in 1806 and then again in 1807) but was defeated both times. He finally entered Parliament as Tory MP for the pocket borough of Newport in June 1807 and made his maiden speech on 3 February 1808, in which he defended the recent expedition against Copenhagen. Of the speech William writes: “I was surprised to hear him speak with such fluency and with so little hesitation, as speaking at all for the first night, but particularly before so large an audience and on so important a subject must be a most formidable undertaking. He performed however with very great success, and I am very happy to find that Sir Vicary Gibbs has written to Wood mentioning Harry’s debut in high terms of commendation…” [BR32/13/1]

Broadlands, the family home of the Temple children was later inherited by Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston

Broadlands, the family home of the Temple children was later inherited by Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston

A small selection of correspondence covers the period 1833 to 1837 during which time William is serving as British ambassador in Naples (1832-56). The letters from this period are from his sisters Frances (now married to William Bowles) and Elizabeth (now married to Laurence Sullivan), and Emily Ashley Cooper, Countess of Shaftesbury, primarily concerning family life, recent events at Broadlands, and William’s life in Naples. The final two letters date from 1856, the year of William’s death, with one being from Dr. William Ferguson to Lord Palmerston concerning his attending William during his final illness. Sir William Temple died on 24 July 1856, leaving no issue.

The accompanying section BR31 consists of two letters concerning the settlement of William’s estate, including a letter relating to a major collection of antiques bequeathed to the British Museum. By the time of his death both Frances and Elizabeth had passed away, leaving Henry, the eldest, the last surviving of the Temple children.

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One response to “Family correspondence of Sir William Temple

  1. Pingback: 2016: Year in review | University of Southampton Special Collections

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