The Duke and his diaries
Henry Pelham Fiennes Pelham Clinton, 4th Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne (1785-1851) maintained a regular personal diary between 27 May 1822 and 30 May 1850. This was a period of momentous change in the life of the British nation and in the personal fortunes of the duke and his family.
Newcastle was 37 years old in 1822 and one of the most prominent figures of his age. The duke’s principal country seat was Clumber House in North Nottinghamshire and he was also the owner of Nottingham Castle and its adjacent parkland. His extensive property interests conveyed electoral influence in several parliamentary constituencies.
Considerations of this sort led King George III (1738-1820) to appoint Newcastle to the high offices of Lord Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum (Keeper of the Rolls) for Nottinghamshire, in 1809.
See a full biography for the 4th Duke of Newcastle
His circumstances in 1822
The evidence suggests that Newcastle never kept a diary until this time and that the practice began in response to two domestic tragedies. In May 1822 Newcastle’s first born child, Anna Maria, died at the age of 14. Four months later his wife Georgiana [née Miller Mundy] (1789-1822) died after giving birth to twins, a still-born girl and a boy (who died within a few days).
The immediate function of the diary was to provide Newcastle with a medium through which to express his profound sense of loss and grief. On the anniversary of his wife’s death, for example, the duke addressed her directly through the pages of the diary:
'Beloved Spirit of departed worth & Eminent goodness if you are allowed to take any part in the direction of Earthly Matters Seal my fervent Wishes, watch Over us, be with us, accompany us in all our steps, be to me Still my wife, to our children Still their Kind, their affectionate, their inestimable Mother!!'
Thereafter, the diary began to be kept more regularly and (in terms of subject matter) diversely - to the extent that by the time Newcastle made his last entry in 1850, the diary comprised eight volumes, representing some 10000 entries, 2300 pages and 1 million words.
Motivations and habits as a diarist
The purpose of the diary, throughout the 28 years in which it was kept, was to provide a form of confessional or ‘record of account’. It also allowed the duke to unburden himself about the many disappointments to which (as he saw it) he was subjected during his lifetime.
It is difficult to know whether Newcastle intended his diary to be read by a third party, for nowhere does he explicitly state his reasons for keeping it. Nor does he openly state his habits as a diarist or whether certain areas of his life were consciously excluded from consideration.
However, some topics are notable by their absence or by the brevity with which Newcastle refers to them and the duke was not beyond exercising a degree of self-censorship. The historian is left to consider the hints and clues which Newcastle leaves behind for the reader, regarding his habits and motivation as a diarist and to compare the evidence they provide with other sources of information.
The important place which the diary occupied in Newcastle’s life is clearly indicated by the regularity with which he kept it, the fact that he took the diary with him wherever he went and the sense of guilt he felt when the diary was put aside due to illness or a disruption in his normal routines.
Physical description of the diaries
John Martineau was the first scholar to publicly draw attention to the diary’s existence. In his biography of the 5th Duke of Newcastle, he referred to ‘eight square substantial volumes of hand woven paper handsomely bound in green leather, closely written on every page from beginning to end’. This remains an apt description of the diaries' general physical form, although the length and style of individual volumes varies somewhat.
Unlike some diarists of the period, Newcastle did not use pre-printed pocket books or ready-lined jotters or account books to record his impressions of the day. The freedom conveyed by blank sheets of paper allowed Newcastle to be as brief or extensive in his diary entries as he wished. Usually, each volume of the diary covered a two to three year period, with individual volumes for 1822-4, 1825-7, 1828-March 1831, March 1831-4, 1835-8, 1839-42, 1843-6 and 1847-May 1850.
Newcastle’s manuscript hand was variable. On occasions it is clear, well-spaced and legible, but elsewhere in the diary the duke seems determined to fit as much as possible on to a single page or wishes to finish a volume with the end of a year. This forced him to write in a much smaller, more densely-packed script. Aside from a very small number of entries, however, the duke always wrote his diary in black ink.
How the diaries came to Nottingham
The eight volumes of Newcastle’s diary were deposited in Nottingham University Manuscripts Department in 1966. The history and location of the diary between Martineau’s use of it and its subsequent deposit at Nottingham remains unclear.
The intervening years witnessed a gradual decline in the fortunes of the Newcastle family and the subsequent sale and dispersal of the contents of Clumber House and Park in 1938. In the necessary sorting, arrangement and removal of property, possessions and manuscripts associated with these changes, it is quite possible that the diaries became separated from the main collection of family and estate correspondence.
The diary volumes now form accession Ne 2F, which also contains a number of enclosures which were stored with the original diary. Many of these enclosures are newspaper paragraphs, manuscript notes, letters or sketches which were placed, loose-leaf, at a relevant point in the diary. However, a number of other enclosures appear to relate to events covered in another part of the diary. It remains uncertain whether the enclosures became detached from their relevant volume in Newcastle’s lifetime, or at some subsequent stage in the history of the diary.
Next page: Historical context