Sheffield Archives - The Collections - Family and Estate Records - The Wentworth Woodhouse Collection

The Wentworth Woodhouse Collection

The Wentworth Woodhouse Collection (Wentworth-Fitzwilliam family) include personal papers of statesmen such as the Earl of Strafford, 2nd Marquis of Rockingham and Edmund Burke. The Wentworths had been at Woodhouse since the thirteenth century. Little however survives from any period prior to the early seventeenth century, except ancient deeds and some Gascoigne pedigrees which remain at Wentworth Woodhouse. The muniments may be said to begin properly with the period of Thomas Wentworth the great Earl of Strafford whose correspondence was preserved with care by the family. The archives of his son William, the 2nd earl, have not survived. Since his death in 1695 the estates have twice passed in the female line, first to Thomas Watson-Wentworth whose son, another Thomas, was created Marquis of Rockingham in 1746, and secondly in 1782 to the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam. Members of each of these families were deeply involved in the politics of the time. Much of their correspondence has survived, and forms, together with the correspondence of Edmund Burke, a prime source for the political history of the eighteenth century.

The Strafford correspondence comprises eleven letter books into which Wentworth's official correspondence was copied by his secretaries, and about 2,800 original letters, including a considerable number of his own letters to his family, servants and friends. Though by far the largest part of the correspondence dates from the last ten years of Wentworth's life (1631 - 1641), after his appointment as Lord Deputy of Ireland, there is a considerable amount of material even for the years up to 1628, before he held high office. There is naturally much correspondence with the king's ministers, Laud, Cottington, Portland and Secretary Coke, and, at the other end of the scale, many letters full of detail relating to the management of his estates and local affairs. Well-selected letters on national affairs were edited and published in 1739 by William Knowler; more recently Mr J. P. Cooper has published a volume in the Camden series (1973) of Wentworth papers 1597-1628. A vast amount of local interest and many letters from Wentworth's contemporaries remain virtually unknown.

The first Marquis of Rockingham copied selected correspondence into two vast letter books. It relates mainly to the York county elections of 1733 and 1741, the Stuart Rebellion of '45 and letters between him and his son while the latter was in Italy. The son succeeded his father as second Marquis in 1750 and a large amount of his correspondence survives for his two short periods as Prime Minister in 1765 - 1766 and January to July 1782, and for the intermediate period when he held the Whigs together in opposition. Some of these letters were published in 1852 by the Earl of Albemarle, strung together as Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham and his contemporaries. Two shortish but valuable studies have appeared since the muniments were deposited here, viz: The early career of Lord Rockingham 1730-1765 by the late Professor G. H. Guttridge, (1952), and Mr P. Langford's The first Rockingham Administration 1765-66, (1973). Rockingham is perhaps regarded as too colourless a figure to merit either a full-scale biography or an edition of his correspondence, though this view scarcely does his personality justice. For American history of the period and for Whig politics this section of the muniments remains of first class importance.

The labours of the Burke editors have now produced nine volumes of Edmund Burke's letters, about half of them from the Sheffield archives. These are virtually all letters from Burke. The bulk of the correspondence here, however, consists of letters addressed to him by a vast number of his contemporaries and relating to topics from America to India; of these the writers' names only are indexed.

The 4th Earl Fitzwilliam's correspondence covering the period 1782-1832, containing over 7,000 letters, has material relating to Ireland, to elections and to many local topics. Of particular interest are the papers concerning working class agitation from 1794 to 1819, ending with the Earl's dismissal from the Lord Lieutenancy of the West Riding at the time of Peterloo. His son, Lord Milton, also played a part in politics until he virtually retired on succeeding to the peerage in 1833. The Yorkshire election archives are extensive.

There is also a vast range of estate material relating to the Irish estates from 1707 and to the West Riding and Malton estates from the 1720s. The stewards' correspondence includes letters from John Carr the architect and there are a number of his original plans for many features in Wentworth House and Park. As with virtually all the great South Yorkshire families, collieries played an important part and are well represented in the Fitzwilliam muniments, up to and including the extensive opencast working on the estate during the last thirty years.

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