RefNoWWM/BkP
TitlePapers of Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
AccessStatusOpen
LevelSection
CustodialHistorySome small groups of archives of obvious importance at Wentworth Woodhouse had long been kept separately in a kind of strong room at Wentworth. Among these were several wooden boxes containing the papers of Edmund Burke.

How these came to be among the family archives is explained by Professor T. Copeland:

'Burke appointed as his literary executors two of his most devoted disciples, Dr. French Laurence (1757-1809) and Dr. Walker King (1751-1827). They began work on Burke's papers at least five years before his death and, almost exactly thirty years after his death succeeded in completing the edition of his Works (Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke); the final volume came out in 1827 (The Epistolary Correspondence of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke and Dr. French Laurence. Published from the original manuscripts). (London : C. & J. Rivington, 1827)

Laurence and King both intended that their edition of the Works should end with a biography, illustrated with letters. They therefore called in what letters they could find in the hands of Burke’s surviving correspondents, and held onto the whole body of letters as the materials of the biography. As the biography was never written, the chief effect of their plan was to keep the main collection of Burke’ s letters from being printed or made accessible to other scholars for a period of thirty years. At King's death in 1827 the collection passed to the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, whom Mrs Burke had named as an additional literary executor after her husband's death. Lord Fitzwilliam was in his eightieth year when the papers came into his hands, so it is not surprising that he was not able to make up the time Laurence and King had lost. When he died at eighty-five the papers passed to his son and they were kept at Wentworth ever since.

The 5th Earl Fitzwilliam recognized his responsibility to print at least some of the letters, and in 1844 - nearly fifty years after Burke's death - he collaborated with Sir Richard Bourke in bringing out a four-volume selection under the title The Correspondence of Edmund Burke.

At the time of the 4th and 5th Earls there was another family mansion, Milton Park, Northamptonshire, and as the 5th Earl presumably carried on his editorial labours at both places, it is not surprising that some (a much smaller number) of the papers were left at Milton. At the 5th Earl's death in 1857, Milton passed to a younger branch of the family whose representative, Captain T. W. Fitzwilliam (as he then was), deposited his Burke papers with the Northampton Record Society at Lamport Hall in 1948 (they are now in Northamtonshire Record Office: FITZWILLIAM (MILTON) BURKE F(M)A). When Captain Fitzwilliam succeeded to the Earldom, the ownership of the Burke papers was united but the deposit is still divided.

Until the Burke papers reached these public institutions, access to them had been almost impossible, and the result of making available so much material relating to so great a man, generated much interest in him and his work.

The Second Marquis of Rockingham and the 2nd (4th) Earl Fitzwilliam - successive owners of Wentworth - were Burke's patrons and friends and themselves politically important in their day. When they were not in close touch with Burke in London, they were in frequent correspondence with him, and their papers contain not only letters from him but also from the group of politicians with whom they and Burke were most closely allied. In many ways, being less 'worked', the Rockingham and Fitzwilliam papers are more interesting than the Burke papers, though lacking the interest of the master mind. At any rate, all three need to be taken in conjunction.

The Burke papers themselves consist of letters, mainly to Burke, but including many drafts of his own, and some letters from him which the editors were able to gather in, including a certain number removed by them from the Fitzwilliam papers, and of bundles of miscellaneous and scrappy notes by Burke.
Burke's letters and papers, entrusted by him to Dr French Laurence and Dr Walker King, and left by Mrs Burke to Earl Fitzwilliam, Dr King and the Hon William Elliott, eventually all came into the custody of the Earl, as sole survivor of the three trustees. The bulk of them found a home at Wentworth Woodhouse, while a smaller number were kept at Milton, Northamptonshire, the Earl's other family seat.

In 1949 the 9th Earl Fitzwilliam deposited his family archives from Wentworth Woodhouse in the Sheffield Central Library. Among these were the letters and papers of Edmund Burke, which had come into the 2nd Earl's possession as the sole survivor of Burke's literary trustees. His son, the 3rd Earl, together with Sir Richard Bourke, edited a small proportion of these letters which they published as four volumes of correspondence in 1844, and it is thought that it was about this time that one box of Burke's papers became separated from those at Wentworth Woodhouse and came to the Earl's other seat at Milton in Northamptonshire. The contents of this box were deposited by Captain Thomas Wentworth Fitzwilliam (now the 10th Earl Fitzwilliam) in the Northamptonshire Record Office in 1948.

With these deposits, the two major existing collections of Burke's letters were made publicly available to scholars for the first time. A new ten-volume edition of The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, containing all known letters from Burke and some of those was begun under the general editorship of Professor T.W. Copeland, published by Cambridge University Press, 1958-1970, 1978.

Professor Copeland and his colleagues worked on this edition mainly in Sheffield for over twenty years. Many of the letters were undated, and as a result of their scholarship the chronological arrangement into which the letters had been placed on their arrival here (WWM/Bk P/1) was considerably revised; also many of the originally undated letters from a separate bundle (WWM/Bk P/2) were dated and put into their correct place in the main Bk P 1 series. In addition, the letters at the Northamptonshire Record Office were photocopied and the copies inserted in the bundles here to form a full chronological sequence of all the Burke correspondence owned by the Fitzwilliam family, some 4,000 documents in all (apart from a small number which remain in the Earl's private possession at Milton).

Sheffield Library's Archives Division staff postponed listing these letters until the new edition of the Correspondence was complete. It was then found that the painstaking work of the 'Burke Factory' had infinitely simplified this task. The whole correspondence has now been chronologically listed, entirely re-numbered and bound into 65 volumes (WWM/Bk P/1)

Some 50 letters still have not been assigned a date. These are bound in a volume numbered WWM/Bk P/2 and are listed alphabetically by correspondent.

WWM/Bk P/3/2 and 4/1 contain a series of letters which apparently were not written to Burke. Many may well have been enclosures which became separated from the main bulk of the correspondence. These are listed chronologically.
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