The British Library has acquired a vast collection of letters and political papers which shed light on one of the most powerful political dynasties of 18th and 19th century Britain.
The Granville Archive contains thousands of items of correspondence in more the 400 boxes from three generations of the influential Leveson-Gower family.
The family of diplomats and politicians played pivotal roles in the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the reign of Queen Victoria.
The acquisition was made using a grant of £865,200 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and funding from supporters.
The collection also includes letters from the family’s women such as Susannah Leveson-Gower, Countess Bessborough and her elder sister Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Countess Bessborough was the lover of Granville Leveson-Gower, the first Earl Granville, and they shared two illegitimate children. Her letters describe the secret births of their son and daughter.
Head of modern archives and manuscripts at the library, William Frame, said: “The Granville Archive is one of the most important single collections of papers and correspondence relating to British national life in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“We are delighted to have acquired the archive and we are tremendously grateful to the National Heritage Memorial Fund for their generous support, without which we would not have been able to make this purchase.”
NHMF chairman Sir Peter Luff said: “The previously unexplored correspondence between Lord Granville and Lady Bessborough provides an intimate window into aristocratic society and family life.
“The National Heritage Memorial Fund felt it was imperative to save and unite this collection.
“Consisting of over 400 boxes, the scale of this archive offers a rich and colourful understanding of the time period for both researchers and members of the public. To put it simply, it could not be overlooked.”
Heritage Minister Michael Ellis said: “This outstanding collection offers a unique insight into the personal and political lives of the aristocracy during an eventful period of British history.
“It is right that government investment has helped to ensure this archive remains accessible and in the public collection.
“That way, researchers can learn more about our past through the eyes of those who lived through it.”
Researchers will be able to access the Granville Archive at the British Library’s Reading Rooms in the next year.