List of the Verney Letters

The Microfilmed Verney Letters

History

The Verney family have lived at Claydon House in Buckinghamshire since 1620. It was probably Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Baronet (1613-96) who initiated a family tradition of keeping all his papers and letters, and his son John 2nd Baronet, 1st Viscount Fermanagh (1640-1717) retained the practice. Sir Ralph assiduously marked the date of receipt of letters on them after about 1643. His son appears to have gone through his papers at some point, writing the name of the correspondent on the outside with the date, and occasional comments.

In the eighteenth century, the extravagant life and bankruptcy of Ralph, 2nd Earl Verney (1714-91) have left us with a chaotic sequence of papers, mainly related to law suits, and the papers of his successor, Mary, 1st Baroness Fermanagh, who did much to stabilise the family’s fortunes, have survived in only small numbers. There is also a considerable body of nineteenth-century Verney family papers, including material about Florence Nightingale.

In the nineteenth century, the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Verney papers became available and widely known to historians. John Bruce edited Letters and Papers of the Verney Family to 1639 in 1853, and Sir Ralph Verney’s Notes of the Proceedings in the Long Parliament (1845) for the Camden Society. The Historic Manuscripts Commission undertook a survey of the collection in its published 7th Report (1879) p. 434ff. which included transcriptions of a selection of later material.

Meanwhile, Florence Nightingale’s sister (Frances) Parthenope, who was married to Sir Harry Verney, became intrigued by the family correspondence and with assistance from the noted historian of the English Civil War, S R Gardiner, produced a narrative account of the family up to 1650 with copious quotations from the letters. Two volumes appeared in 1892. Her daughter-in-law, Margaret Maria, published a third volume taking the story up to 1660 in 1894, and a fourth covering the period from the Restoration up to the death of Sir Ralph Verney in 1696 in 1899. In 1930 she produced two further volumes tracing the family’s history in the eighteenth century.

In the second half of the twentieth century, Lawrence Stone used the Verney papers to enrich his monumental Crisis of the Aristocracy (1965) and wrote a study of how Mary Verney’s tomb at Middle Claydon church was designed and made. At the same time Gilbert Verney, an American industrialist, took an interest in the family history, and it was at his instigation (and cost) that the letters used in the production of the various family letters volumes were microfilmed. Six copies of the sixty reels of film have been preserved in the following locations: Claydon House (with the Verney family), Buckinghamshire Record Office in Aylesbury, and the British Library (then British Museum Library) in England; the university libraries of Dartmouth, NH, Yale CT, and Princeton NJ in the United States.

Their production resulted in detailed academic work on various aspects of the collection. Gilbert Verney endowed a Studentship at St Edmund Hall Oxford which John Broad used to complete a D.Phil. thesis in 1973 on Sir Ralph Verney’s estates, followed by a book covering the whole of the seventeenth and eighteenth century financial, business and estate history Transforming English Rural Society: the Verneys and the Claydons (2004). At Princeton, Lawrence Stone’s graduate students used the microfilmed letters to good effect. Miriam Slater produced a study of family relationships in the Civil War period Family Life in the Seventeenth Century (1984), while fifteen years later Susan Whyman analysed the social connections of Sir John Verney with the rich interplay of merchant and gentry lives around 1700 in London and Buckinghamshire in her book Sociability and Power in Late-Stuart England (2000). Meanwhile various books have presented popular aspects of the Verney archive, notably Peter Verney’s The Standard Bearer (1963) and Adrian TInniswood’s The Verneys (2007).

Coverage – The Letters, the Papers, and the Archive

The papers used by the various Verney family members to produce their volumes were carefully looked after and by the 1960s were boxed in rough date order and kept in locked bookcases in the house. It was these papers that were microfilmed by Gilbert Verney. However, they are only one part of the Claydon archive and are by no means comprehensive even for the period they cover. Significant amounts of correspondence, including the bulk of estate correspondence between 1660 and 1730, were packaged and labelled ‘of no great interest’. They remained in the house, stored in the ‘Muniment Room’ and relatively un-sorted at that time. John Broad worked extensively on that part of the collection in the 1960s and 1970s, putting what were largely random and often un-bundled collections of papers and deeds into a workable order for the purposes of his research. With generous support from the Verney family he took that work forward into the eighteenth century where the papers were even less ordered, and c1980 provided a rough listing as to what was in each of the cupboards in the Muniment Room. In the 1987 the Claydon House Trust decided to undertake a proper inventory of the material, and the then archivist, Susan Ranson, undertook the task of calendaring them, a task completed with the production of a splendid full Calendar in 1994. However, this did not cover the boxed correspondence that had been microfilmed.

This online listing of the microfilmed material is a necessary aid for historians. Although the 60 reels are in roughly chronological order, they were basically photographed as found, and there are large numbers of papers out of order, sometimes only by a few days, but occasionally under the wrong year, and even the wrong decade. Furthermore, at one point the chronological order of the papers is reversed over a period of approximately six months. Finally, reels 01, 59 and 60 contain material from a variety of periods. The microfilm reel should overwhelmingly reflect the current content of the Claydon House boxes, though it is possible that in the late 1960s Sir Harry Verney, a delightful man with a mischievous streak, added a few items he thought should be there rather than in the Muniment Room.

Further information on the un-microfilmed Verney material and how to access it can be found on the Claydon House Archives web page.

The Database

The first section now on the web site covers roughly half the content, some 14500 items primarily before 1675, contained in microfilm reels 01 to 29. These are not all letters. Some are memoranda, business accounts, bills, receipts or just documents. Occasionally a long sequence of similar documents of this kind has been listed as a single item. All are referred to on the web site as ‘letters’.

The database contains tables of letters, reels, persons and years, allowing the letters to be listed in various ways. A person could have both sent and received letters, so when letters are listed for a person they are presented in two columns, Letters Sent and Letters Received. In all lists, each letter is presented like this:

Reel number-Letter number
Sent by Sender Standardized sender
from Place of origin
on Date sent ???
to Recipient Standardized recipient
Received at Place of receipt
on Date received
Notes: Notes
Queries: Queries

The following data is present for all letters:

  • Reel number followed by a dash and a Letter number – indicating how far through the reel it can be found. The total number of letters on a reel varies substantially. In the case of reels 01 and 02 this is because there are long documents, or sequences of documents that have been catalogued as one letter. Elsewhere it is simply a matter of where the photographers chose to change film.
  • Date sent given in the format year/month/day so that the material can be easily sorted by date. Where possible this is the date of writing as on the document. For some letters there is only a date of receipt, which may be one or two days later if local to London or the near countryside, but can be much longer if the letter is coming from abroad, or at a distance from London. Where the date can only be established to the month or year, 00 is substituted for the missing information to ensure uniformity and easy searching. Where there is some uncertainty the degree of uncertainty is indicated in this colour on a scale of ? to ???. All dates are given in the modern, Gregorian calendar, with the year beginning on 1st January (see Queries, below).

The following data may or may not be present:

  • Sender: this is the original noted form of the sender’s name. It varies depending on who undertook the listing and the shortcuts and methods they used. For more recent listings it is normally the best identifier on the microfilmed letter. It is useful to retain this because the next column involves imperfect decision making.
  • Standardized sender: this is a standardized form of the sender’s name. Providing this has two functions: 1) it distinguishes individuals with the same name at the same time, and at different times e.g. several people with the names Mary Verney, Ralph Verney, Edmund Verney; 2) It assumes that doubtful sender assignations are correct, and therefore allows searches for all probable occurrences of an individual as sender or author of a letter. Where there is great uncertainty, or where the letter is not a letter and / or does not have a single author this is indicated by [Uncertain/Unknown/Not Applicable]. On the web pages, the Standardized sender is a link to the page that list the letters sent and received by that person.
  • Recipient: this follows the pattern of Sender, providing the original or abbreviated assignation of a recipient.
  • Standardized recipient: this follows the pattern of Standardized sender. All the standardized names, whether senders or recipients, are listed in Letters by Person.
  • Place of origin, where this is noted by the author or by a near-contemporary annotation.
  • Notes: Subject and/or People: this field contains what information was noted by the original lister. Where this was John Broad or Susan Whyman (for post-1675 material) it represents the notes they took that were relevant to their targeted research, or, in the case of John Broad sometimes just information that caught his attention. For those letters listed more recently it should contain a brief summary of the type of content, in some cases with specifics, as well as listing individuals about whom there is relevant information.
  • Queries: this field includes a variety of information that seems pertinent or indicates uncertainty. One specific item is information about the date where the original is in the Julian calendar with the year beginning on 25th March. This is marked by e.g. 1633/4. Here also is information about the large number of letters in the 1640s and early 1650s where writers in England were using the old calendar, while those on the continent were using the new. Here there may be a discrepancy of date (10 days) as well as of month and year e.g 30 Dec/09 Jan 1649/50
  • Date received: Sir Ralph Verney methodically noted the date of receipt. In some cases this may be the only accurate date on the letter and has been used to approximate the date of sending where place of origin and receipt are known.
  • Place of receipt: in conjunction with Date sent, Date received, and Place of origin, this could be used to calculate speed of postal services.

Acknowledgments

John Broad and Susan Whyman began this project by pooling their resources. Putting this in a compatible form involved help with transcription of early listings by Jamie Ballantyne and Dr Tim Wales. The listing of those reels not originally covered has been assisted immensely by the work of Dr Rebecca Ford. For the design of the web interface we are much indebted to Catherine Glover. Grants from the Aurelius trust and anonymous donors have enabled the completion up to 1675. The Buckinghamshire Record Society has provided a portal to mount the finished database, while without the Verney family’s willingness to put the microfilmed letters in the public domain none of this would have been possible.