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Picture of Georgian volumes in the Royal Archives

Transforming access, knowledge and understanding

Georgian Papers in the Royal Library

The present Royal Library owes much of its shape, and indeed its very existence, to the Hanoverians. The Old Royal Library, compiled between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, was presented to the newly formed British Museum in 1757 by George II. Its replacement, the King's Library of George III, was likewise given to the British Museum by George IV in 1823. William IV re-established the Royal Library at Windsor Castle in the 1830s, housing it in the Queen's Apartments on the north side of the Castle.

Royal Library, Windsor Castle

Royal Library, Windsor Castle ©

The new Royal Library brought together the private libraries of George III from Windsor Castle and Kew Palace, and the library of George IV, held at his London residence, Carlton House. George III's Windsor library covered an expansive array of subjects, but was particularly strong in the sciences and agriculture. Items of note included the designs for scientific instruments by George Adams and Nathaniel Kent's journals of his proposed agricultural improvements to Windsor Great Park, which he carried out for George III from 1791. Several prize volumes were retained from the King's Library, including incunabula (books printed between 1450 and 1500), presented by the antiquary Jacob Bryant in 1782, and Charles I's inscribed copy of the Second Folio of Shakespeare's plays. A magnificent collection of Indian Mughal manuscripts, presented by Lord Teignmouth, outgoing Governor-General of India, c.1799, were also kept. Another corpus that was retained in the Library at Windsor was the military map collection and related manuscript volumes, which had originally been collected by George III's uncle, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.

A catalogue of George III's library at Windsor, 1780

A catalogue of George III's library at Windsor, 1780, RCIN 1053543 ©

George IV's collection was not that of a bibliophile, but that of a modern, up-to-date collector, containing materials relating to current affairs, as well as the latest publications (including Jane Austen's presentation copy of Emma). The major exception was militaria, the only significant area in which George IV purchased books and manuscripts at auction, particularly from the 1814 sale of Lord Heathfield, Governor of Gibraltar, and the 1820 sale of General William Dowdeswell. William IV added to these collections, especially in the areas of natural history and early printing, taking advantage of incunabula sales, especially the 1835 sale of Dr Wilhelm Kloss, a Frankfurt book collector.

Joseph Farington's diaries

Joseph Farington's diaries ©

The Library continued to mature and expand throughout the nineteenth century, and was rearranged by subject in the 1860s. Significant twentieth century acquisitions were the Farington Papers – diaries and letters written by and to Joseph Farington, the eighteenth century landscape painter and diarist – some of which were presented to King George V, and others acquired at auction during the 1950s. In 2006 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II acquired at auction several manuscript volumes from the collection of Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, the fifth son of George III. Thus the Royal Library's contribution to Georgian Papers Online will include both items acquired by the Georgian monarchs, which have remained in the collection, and items from the period which have entered the Royal Library at a later date.

At present, Georgian Papers Online contains a number of Georgian manuscript inventories relating to the Royal Library; the material described above will be added to the catalogue as the Georgian Papers Programme progresses.