Hester Maria Elphinstone Keith papers
- Majority of material found within 1780-1821
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Extent3.25 linear feet (3 boxes)
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
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.
- I. Correspondence of Hester Maria Elphinstone, Viscountess Keith
- II. Letters to George Keith Elphinstone, Viscount Keith
- III. Letters to Georgina Augusta Henrietta Elphinstone Villiers Osborne
- IV. Letters from Hester Lynch Piozzi
- V. Henry Thrale Estate Documents
- VI. Papers of Henry Charles Keith Petty-FitzMaurice, Marquess of Lansdowne
- VII. Miscellaneous documents
Immediate Source of Acquisition
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)
- Keith, Hester Maria Elphinstone, Viscountess, 1764-1857. Hester Maria Elphinstone Keith papers: Guide.
- Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
- EAD ID
Part of the Houghton Library Repository
Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA