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This collection of papers relating to the two Tory ministries of the Duke of Portland and of Spencer Perceval was purchased by Cambridge University Library in January 1988 from the historian Sir John Plumb, together with correspondence of the eighteenth-century politician Thomas Walpole (Add. MS 8708-8712). Its earlier history is uncertain. While some of the papers were apparently used by Sir Spencer Walpole in his pioneering study of Perceval which appeared in 1874, it appears that they subsequently became detached from the Perceval papers now at the British Library (BL Add. MS 49173-49195) for they are nowhere cited by Perceval's most important modern biographer, Denis Gray (MUP, 1963). The papers of Spencer Perceval (Add. MS 8713) were sorted and numbered by Walpole's nephew Reginald in 1906, but his surviving list, though noting a small number of items now missing, makes no mention of the material acquired by the British Library.

The papers provide a most useful insight into the working of both administrations, comprising as they do some of Perceval's most intimate political correspondence both as chancellor of the exchequer under Portland (1807-1809) and subsequently as prime minister (1809-1812). All the major events of the day are considered, including the scandals surrounding the princess of Wales and the duke of York, the ill-fated military expedition to Walcheren in 1809, George III's recurring mental illness, and the formation of a regency in 1811. There are very frank letters from the king, queen, and prince and princess of Wales, as well as from Lords Liverpool and Eldon, and many other leading politicians. Perhaps most interesting of all are the drafts of Perceval's own letters, which provide a revealing insight into the workings of a prime minister's mind, and the substantial correspondence detailing the formation of his ministry in September and October 1809. The collection well illustrates the conventions observed in transacting business and shaping policy in an early nineteenth century administration.

These papers form an important complement to other major collections of Perceval papers, including those at the British Library and the Royal Archives at Windsor. It should be noted in particular that Perceval's side of the Windsor correspondence between George III and his prime minister (published in volume 5 of A. Aspinall's The Later Correspondence of George III, CUP) is to be found here. Reginald Walpole's lists, although in need of some adjustment and correction, have been preserved as the basis of current classification, in part because they are themselves apparently based upon an earlier classification. The underlying chronological sequence within divisions has also been retained, although so too has Walpole's flexibility in stepping outside this chronological structure when the sequence of the correspondence so dictated.

Add. MS 8713 is open to all holders of full Library reader's tickets. A catalogue of the collection is available on the ArchiveSearch database.

Contact: John Wells (01223 333055;