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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Hyde 5

Hester Maria Elphinstone Keith papers


Letters to Hester Maria Elphinstone, Viscountess Keith (daughter of Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi), and other papers.


  • Creation: 1780-1910
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1780-1821

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.


3.25 linear feet (3 boxes)

The bulk of this collection consists of letters to Lady Keith from her friend Fanny Burney, her husband Lord Keith, and her mother Hester Lynch Piozzi. The letters from author Fanny Burney (later Frances d'Arblay) begin in 1780, at the peak of her fame. The early letters are concerned primarily with the controversial second marriage of Hester Lynch Piozzi, who had been a close friend of Burney's. Lady Keith's letters to D'Arblay, written from 1813 to 1823, offer frank assessments of her step-daughter Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, Comtesse de Flahaut; and of the estate built by her husband at Tulliallan, Scotland.

Lady Keith's letters from Lord Keith, both before and after their marriage in 1808, are significant sources on the naval aspects of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1803, when their surviving correspondence begins, Admiral Keith was Commander in Chief of the British fleet in the North Sea. His main concern was the French force massing at Boulogne, which his fleet attacked on 1804 Oct. 1. Keith stayed in active service on the blockade until 1807 May. From 1812 Feb. to 1814 July, he was the Commander in Chief of the Channel Fleet, although he spent some of that time at a house in Plymouth due to poor health. During this period, he enforced the blockade of France and supported the English troops in Spain in the Peninsular War. He resumed command of the Channel Fleet in 1815 during the Hundred Days War, and personally escorted Napoleon Bonaparte to the ship that bore him to his final exile in St. Helena.

A letter by Lord Keith dated circa July 11 1815 discusses news from Capt. Thomas Staines of HMS Briton. Staines had just returned from an accidental visit to Pitcairn Island, and made the first generally known report of this colony of Bounty mutineers and their descendants. Keith, as a fellow officer and old friend of Staines, was one of the first men in England to learn of this colony. Keith's formal deposition on the subject dated July 11 1815 is part of the papers of Joseph Banks at the State Library of New South Wales in Australia. Keith's letter to his wife, likely written near the same date, offers a short but compelling summary of this startling news in item (41).

Hester Thrale Piozzi's letters reflect an often stormy mother-daughter relationship. They are of particular interest for the occasional Samuel Johnson anecdotes, but also document Mrs. Piozzi's tenuous place in English literary society after her second marriage.

The remainder of the collection is somewhat miscellaneous in nature, but relates largely to various controversies over the Henry Thrale estate. Lord Keith became involved in these legal complexities, and the estate records from 1815 to 1823 are generally letters addressed to him, or documents annotated by him.

Also of interest are two items written by Hester Lynch Piozzi: her retained copy of a well-known 1784 June 30 letter informing Samuel Johnson of her pending marriage to Mr. Piozzi, item (101); and her detailed pedigree of her Salusbury family line, item (119). The collection also includes a scattering of documents from later family members through 1910.

Biographical / Historical

Hester Maria Elphinstone, Viscountess Keith (1764-1857) was born Hester Maria Thrale, the daughter of Henry Thrale (1728-1781) and Hester Lynch Thrale (1741-1821) of London. The famous lexicographer and poet Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was a frequent guest at their home from 1765 onward, and became friendly with young Hester, whom he affectionately called Queeney. Johnson cut off communications with Mrs. Thrale after she remarried to Gabriele Mario Piozzi in June 1784, but he remained friendly with Queeney until his death a few months later.

Queeney had three sisters who survived to adulthood: Susanna Arabella Thrale (1770-1858), Sophia Thrale Hoare (1771-1824), and Cecilia Thrale Mostyn (1777-1857). The four sisters had a troubled relationship with their mother after her marriage to Piozzi. Shortly after the wedding in 1784, Mr. and Mrs. Piozzi left the sisters in England and embarked on a tour of continental Europe that lasted more than two years. They were received frostily upon their return to England, and Queeney had no communications with her mother between July 1787 and March 1793, when they began a tenuous reconciliation. Various disagreements over the disposition of Henry Thrale's estate continued to simmer for many years.

In 1808, at the age of 43, Queeney wed the retired Admiral George Keith Elphinstone, Baron Keith (1746-1823), who had become wealthy through the accumulation of naval prize money. Lord Keith had a daughter, Margaret Mercer Elphinstone (1788-1867), by a previous marriage. A daughter, Georgina Augusta Henrietta Elphinstone (1809-1892), was born to Lady Keith the following year.

Lord Keith resumed active naval service from 1812 to 1814, and again in 1815. In 1814, he was created Viscount Keith. After 1815, Lord and Lady Keith had a quiet retirement. They constructed a castle at Tulliallan in Scotland, where they spent most of their time after 1818.

In 1817, Lady Keith's stepdaughter Margaret married Auguste Charles Joseph, Comte de Flahaut de La Billarderie (1785-1870), a Frenchman who had served as aide-de-camp to Napoleon. This was a bitter disappointment to Lord Keith, who had spent much of his professional life at war with Napoleon.

Lord Keith died in 1823. As a widow, Lady Keith resided at Tulliallan and London. Her daughter Georgina Augusta Henrietta Elphinstone Villiers Osborne (1809-1892) married twice, but had no children.


Organized into the following seven series:

  1. I. Correspondence of Hester Maria Elphinstone, Viscountess Keith
  2. II. Letters to George Keith Elphinstone, Viscount Keith
  3. III. Letters to Georgina Augusta Henrietta Elphinstone Villiers Osborne
  4. IV. Letters from Hester Lynch Piozzi
  5. V. Henry Thrale Estate Documents
  6. VI. Papers of Henry Charles Keith Petty-FitzMaurice, Marquess of Lansdowne
  7. VII. Miscellaneous documents

Physical Location



These papers were owned by the descendants of Viscount Keith until 1993. The bulk of them were apparently at the family estate at Tulliallan at the time of George Keith's death in 1823. All of the letters to Hester Thrale Keith precede that date, although she lived for thirty-four more years. In 1823, Tulliallan and its contents passed in trust to her stepdaughter Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, Comtesse de Flahaut (1788-1867). Six of her letters in the collection, all from Lady Keith, date from the period of her occupation. After her death in 1867, possession of the castle passed to her half-sister Georgiana Augusta Henrietta Elphinstone Villiers Osborne (1809-1892). Osborne died in 1892 without children, leaving the estate to her half-sister's daughter Emily Jane Mercer Elphinstone de Flahaut, the Marchioness of Lansdowne. On her death in 1895, it passed to her son Henry Charles Keith Petty-FitzMaurice, the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne (1845-1927). In 1904, he sold the Tulliallan estate, but removed the papers to his residence at Bowood House. After his death in 1927, the papers passed to his son Henry William Edmund Petty-FitzMaurice, 6th Marquess of Lansdowne (1872-1936); Charles Hope Petty-FitzMaurice, 7th Marquess of Lansdowne (1917-1944); and George John Charles Petty-FitzMaurice, 8th Marquess of Lansdowne (1912-1999). His son Charles Maurice Petty-FitzMaurice, then the Earl of Shelburne, assumed management of Bowood in 1972, and sold the papers via the firm of Bernard Quaritch to Mary Hyde, Viscountess Eccles, in 1993. She bequeathed the papers to the Houghton Library in 2003 as part of the Hyde Collection.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

*2003JM-59 and *2003JM-72. Bequest of Mary Hyde Eccles, Four Oaks Farm, Somerville, New Jersey; received: 2004.

Related Materials

A related collection of papers was sold by the Earl of Shelburne to the British Library in 1993. Known as the Bowood Papers, it contains the papers of the First, Third, and Fifth Marquesses of Lansdowne, as well as some Keith family papers. The James Loch Letters, consisting of financial and estate letters to Lord and Lady Keith from 1821 to 1824, were acquired by the National Library of Scotland in 2001. Some archival material also remains at Bowood.

Separated Materials

The papers acquired by Lady Eccles included 37 letters by Samuel Johnson to Hester and Susanna Thrale. These letters are now part of the Samuel Johnson Letters (MS Hyde 1), comprising almost all of item (61), and all of item (112).

Sources cited:

Many of the early letters through 1787 were published in Lansdowne, who also extracted many of Mrs. Piozzi's anecdotes concerning Samuel Johnson from later letters dated 1793 though 1816.
The Burney letters were apparently not consulted for Hemlow's twelve-volume set, but alternate versions of some were published from a letter copy book retained by the Burney family.
Some of Lord Keith's letters relating to the capture of Napoleon in 1815 were extracted in Kerry. Two of the letters transcribed in Kerry (1815 June 21 and July 2) have not been found in the collection. None of Lord Keith's letters to his wife were published in Lloyd, but his work provides valuable background on their correspondence.
Many of the letters written by Hester Lynch Piozzi appeared in the Blooms' six-volume set. The Blooms did not work from the original text for those early letters that had already appeared in Lansdowne's work, but their annotations may still prove useful. Finally, for general background on Lady Keith and her family, see Hyde.
  • Bloom, Edward A., and Lillian A. Bloom, eds., The Piozzi Letters: Correspondence of Hester Lynch Piozzi, 1784-1821 (Formerly Mrs. Thrale) (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware, 1989-2002)
  • Hemlow, Joyce, et al., eds., The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (Madame D'Arblay) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972-1984)
  • Hyde, Mary, The Thrales of Streatham Park (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1977)
  • Kerry, Earl of, ed., The First Napoleon: Some Unpublished Documents from the Bowood Papers (London: Constable & Co., 1925)
  • Lansdowne, 5th Marquess of, ed., The Queeney Letters, Being Letters Addressed to Hester Maria Thrale by Doctor Johnson, Fanny Burney, and Mrs. Thrale-Piozzi (London: Cassell & Co., 1934).
  • Lloyd, Christopher, ed., The Keith Papers: Selected from the Papers of Admiral Viscount Keith, Vol. III (Greenwich: Navy Records Society, 1955)

Processing Information

Processed by: Rick Stattler

Keith, Hester Maria Elphinstone, Viscountess, 1764-1857. Hester Maria Elphinstone Keith papers: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

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