|Administrative / biographical background:
Without doubt the most important and interesting class in the Feilding archive is the long series of correspondence dating from the time of the 1st Earl of Denbigh in the early 17th century to that of his successors in the 20th. It is therefore no accident that almost one half of this catalogue concerns the correspondence, and this despite the fact that many of the letters of the 17th and 18th centuries, having been the subject of reports by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, could be treated in summary fashion here. The volumes of family and civil war letters and the ambassadorial correspondence of the 1630s were reported on by Mr.R.B.Knowles in the Historical Manuscripts Commission Reports Four and Six which appeared in 1874 and 1877. In Reports Seven and Eight, which were published in 1879 and 1881, Mr.Knowles dealt principally with the newsletters, correspondence and papers of the noted Dutch diplomatist, Everard de Weede, Baron de Dyckvelt, and to a lesser extent with the correspondence of Isabella, wife of the 5th Earl of Denbigh whose family was related to that of the de Weedes. By the early 20th century more correspondence had come to light and the above four short reports were followed by a volume (Part V) compiled by Mrs. S.C.Lomas and published in 1911, which was entirely devoted to the Denbigh manuscripts. Whilst primarily concerned with the correspondence of Isabella, Countess of Denbigh, a third of this volume contains 17th century material, much of it for the 1630s and 1690s which supplements that previously treated by Mr.Knowles. Perhaps inevitably there were significant omissions including a bundle of correspondence, newsletters and papers in Italian which would have complemented the ambassadorial material for the 1630s already published, and six letters bearing the signature and seal of Cardinal Richelieu were also not included.
Of the later correspondence not published by the H.M.C., perhaps the most important are the two large volumes containing copies of letters written and received by Basil, 6th Earl of Denbigh in the second half of the 18th century. Whilst these regrettably give no details of his private affairs, they reveal something of the workings of the 18th century patronage system and provide informed contemporary comment not simply on local affairs such as elections and the choice of a sheriff, but to a much greater extent on national politics both at home and abroad for the period from 1758 to 1800. Of particular interest are the letters written to Lord Denbigh by Captain William Feilding and Major John Bowater, both of the marines, who saw active service in America during the war of independence and whose correspondence includes eye-witness accounts of events which took place during that war. These letters and others of the same period from the letter books were published in "The Lost War" by Marion Balderston and David Syrett in 1975. The 19th century correspondence includes over 350 letters from Queen Adelaide in whose service the 7th Earl of Denbigh was, first as Chamberlain and then for fifteen years as Master of the Queen's Horse. The letters reflect the warm friendship which Lord Denbigh's family enjoyed with the Queen until her death in 1849. She visited Newnham Paddox in 1839, was godmother to at least one of Lord Denbigh's children and by providing some additional royal autographs helped to enrich the first volume of the family's fine collection of autographs of royal, noble and eminent persons. For the 20th century, the series of letters sent home by members of the family serving at the front in the 1st World War deserve especial mention.
On turning to the archives of estate management, one becomes aware that there are unfortunate gaps in the record. As with all such collections, preservation has been more the result of accident than a matter of policy and the Feilding papers are particularly deficient in records of medieval date: very little from this period has survived at all and the series of manorial court rolls, accounts, rentals and deeds, with a few exceptions, do not start until the 17th century and even from this date are by no means complete. Perhaps the most serious loss is the total absence of estate maps; that such maps existed is certain and the map made by James Fish in the 1720s of the manors of Newnham, Brockhurst, Monks Kirby and part of Street Ashton was doubtless up to his usual standard of excellence. But sadly only the book of reference to the map and Fish's account have survived.
To single out individual or unusual items of interest in an archive such as this is undoubtedly rash, but "the building book" kept with the accounts deserves comment for recorded in it is detailed information on the rebuilding of Newnham Paddox in the mid 18th century by Lancelot Brown who received £7,528.2d.9d for his work between 1768 and 1781. Amongst the rentals is a stray roll of 1350 for the alien priory of Monks Kirby; an early terrier of the town and open fields of Lutterworth is dated 1509 and a book of tithe accounts for Monks Kirby and its hamlets has survived for 1528-1529. The household papers contain an inventory recording in detail the household stuff, plate, jewels, pictures and other effects of William, 1st Earl of Denbigh found at Whitehall on his death in 1643: his possessions included fifty six pictures and articles of furniture such as a cot and chairs which he had brought back from India. Amongst the family's genealogical papers and pedigrees is a volume containing original correspondence with Sir William Dugdale about the Feilding forbears; this was written in the 1650s when the famous Warwickshire antiquary was compiling his entry on the Feildings for the "Warwickshire" and reference is made to the family's claim of descent from the Hapsburg Emperors of Germany.
The Feilding manuscripts are primarily concerned with the members of the family who succeeded to the title. An exception to this is the group of papers relating to one of the younger sons of the 7th Earl of Denbigh, General the Hon. William H.A.Feilding (1836-1895), whose varied career took him all over the world. For the most part the papers reflect General Feilding's preoccupation with military affairs, but perhaps his most outstanding tasks were non-military. In the early 1870s Feilding was responsible for the settlement of the town of Feilding in North Island, New Zealand; ten years later at the request of the Queensland Government he conducted an expedition from Roma to Point Parker to advise on the possibility of opening up this part of Australia by rail. In 1891 General Feilding was awarded the Diploma of the Most Honorable Order of the Crown of Johore by the Sultan in recognition of his services as adviser to the Sultan of Johore on the conduct of his affairs in Europe. General Feilding died of cholera at Singapore in March 1895.