|Administrative / biographical background:
This group of letters, written between 1771 and 1820, provides a wealth of information on topics of local, national and international interest, as well as giving an insight into contemporary politics and the social activities and mores of the nobility and gentry during the same period. The French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Regency controversy, Catholic emancipation, union with Ireland, the state of trade and the national economy are all discussed at length by the various correspondents, many of whom were actually involved in formulating national policy in both England and Ireland. At a local level opinions are expressed on Lord Sheffield's Ouse Navigation scheme, defence measures against a threatened French invasion, the Sussex elections of 1807, the appointment of local clergy, estate management and stock-rearing on the Sheffield's model estate. Frederick North's tour of Europe, North Africa and the Near East aroused considerable interest amongst and comment from his family, who in their turn wrote detailed accounts of events in England to keep the traveller in touch with affairs in his home country.
Extensive extracts from those letters relating to Ireland were published by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland as An Anglo-Irish Dialogue: a Calendar of the Correspondence between John Foster and Lord Sheffield, 1774-1821, taken from originals and photocopies held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI, 1975), which also included letters from Lord Sheffield to John Foster, speaker of the Irish Parliament, in the Foster-Massereene archive held by PRONI.
Before the dispersal by auction of the substantive Sheffield archive in 1981, further photocopies were made by PRONI from the additional Sheffield papers discovered in Fletching, some of which were acquired by ESRO. These photocopies were calendared (mainly as to their Irish content) in Additional Sheffield Papers (PRONI, 1980), having PRONI references T3465. However, letters which had formed a cohesive group prior to 1981 were divided up and separately lotted for the 1981 sale, and some of the correspondence, including that of Speaker Foster in the PRONI listed of 1980, will be found at ESRO, while other letters were purchased by PRONI, who thus hold originals as well as the T.3465 copies. The above two lists should be consulted for further information and background (copies in ESRO).
John Baker Holroyd, first Earl of Sheffield (1735-1821)
Born in Ireland and a landowner in Ireland and Yorkshire, he purchased Sheffield Place in Fletching in 1769. An active and influential member of the Sussex gentry, he took a leading part in such local ventures as the Ouse Navigation scheme, and the formation of the 22nd, or Sussex, regiment. He regarded himself as an authority on agriculture and his Sheffield Place estate was something of a model farm. He took a great interest in national politics, and after his election as MP for Bristol he frequently spoke in Parliamentary debates. His expertise on matters of agriculture and economics led to his appointment in 1803 as President of the Board of Agriculture, and in 1809 as Lord of the Board of Trade. An incessant pamphleteeer, he published his opinions on many controversies of his day, and one original survives in this group of papers (AMS 5440/425). He was raised to the Irish peerage in January 1781 and created Viscount Pevensey and Earl of Sheffield in January 1816.
Lord Sheffield married, first, in 1767, Abigail Way, with whom he had two surviving daughters. She died in 1793, and on 26 December 1794 he married Lucy Pelham, youngest daughter of Thomas Pelham, first Earl of Chichester. Theirs was a childless marriage; she died on 18 January 1797 and on 20 January 1798 he married, thirdly, Anne, second daughter of Frederick North, second Earl of Guilford, by whom he had one son and heir, George Augustus, and one daughter, Anne.
An account by John Cannon, 'Holroyd, John Baker, first earl of Sheffield (1741-1821)', was published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004.
Thomas Pelham, first Earl of Chichester, 1728-1805
MP for Rye from 1749 to 1754, and for Sussex from 1754 to 1768. He was a member of the 1765-1766 Rockingham ministry and was later awarded several lucrative sinecures. He was created second Baron Pelham in 1768 and raised to the peerage as Earl of Chichester in June 1801. He married Ann Frankland, by whom he had three sons and four daughters.
An account by G. Le G. Norgate, 'Pelham, Thomas, first earl of Chichester (1728-1805)', revised by Martyn J. Powell, was published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004.
1 Thomas Pelham, second Earl of Chichester, 1756-1826
Eldest son of Thomas Pelham, first Earl of Chichester, he travelled for some years in Europe before his appointment as lieutenant-colonel of the Sussex militia in 1794. He was elected MP for Sussex in 1780, and thenceforth took an active part in government, being surveyor-general of the ordnance, 1782-1783, secretary for Ireland 1783-1784, and again in 1795-1798; home secretary 1801-1803; and postmaster general 1807-1826. Pelham succeeded to his father's Barony in 1801, and in 1805, on his father's death, became second Earl of Chichester. He married Mary Osborne in 1801, by whom he had four sons and four daughters, having previously had a daughter with Elizabeth, wife of Sir Godfrey Webster. Between 1785 and 1793 Pelham travelled widely on the continent, and his letters to Lord Sheffield frequently comment on the upheavals in France and other parts of Europe. While he held office in Ireland, too, he corresponded regularly with his friend at Sheffield Place, and his letters afford an interesting insight into the affairs of that country during a troubled period of its history.
An account by D. R. Fisher, 'Pelham, Thomas, second earl of Chichester (1756-1826)', was published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004.
2 Henry Pelham, 1759-1797
Married Catherine Cobb in 1789, by whom he had two daughters.
3 George Pelham, 1766-1827
Bishop of Bristol, afterwards Bishop of Exeter, and finally Bishop of Lincoln. He married Mary Rycroft in 1792 and died without an heir.
An account by W. P. Courtney, 'Pelham, George (1766-1827)', revised by H. C. G. Matthew, was published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004.
4 Henrietta Anne Pelham
Married George William Evelyn-Leslie, tenth Earl of Rothes.
5 Frances Pelham, d1783
Married George Brodrick, fourth Viscount Middleton.
6 Lucy Pelham, died 18 Jan 1797
Married John Baker Holroyd, first Earl of Sheffield, in 1794.
7 Amelia Pelham; known to Lord Sheffield (an her own family) as Princess Amelia; d1847.
Frederick North, second Earl of Guilford, 1732-1792
Better known as Lord North, Prime Minister 1770-1782, and a central figure on the English political scene throughout his Parliamentary career. However, his correspondence with Lord Sheffield occurs when his most active period in politics had come to an end, and his letters relate mainly to family matters. In 1756 he married Ann Speke, by whom he had three surviving sons and three daughters.
An account by Peter D. G. Thomas, 'North, Frederick, second earl of Guilford [Lord North] (1732-1792)', was published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004, and includes entries on his sons George and Francis, third and fourth Earls of Guilford.
1 George Augustus, third Earl of Guilford, 1757-1802
He married firstly, Maria, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire, in 1785, and secondly, Susan Coutte, neither of these marriages producing male issue. His correspondence with Lord Sheffield deals mainly with matters of estate management and family affairs.
2 Francis, fourth Earl of Guilford, 1766-1817
Married Maria Boycott in 1810, and died without heir in 1817
3 Frederick, fifth Earl of Guilford, 1766-1827
An accomplished Grecian scholar and an enthusiastic philhellene, he travelled widely in Europe and elsewhere, acting as secretary of state to the viceroy of Corsica, 1795-1796, and governor of Ceylon, 1798-1805. From that date until 1813 he was touring Europe, North Africa and the Near East, being accompanied for part of this time by his nephew, Frederick Douglas. Several of the letters in this group were addressed to him by various members of his family while he was abroad. In later years, North became chancellor of the Ionian University, residing for some time in Corfu, where he generously endowed the university library.
An account by M. C. Curthoys, 'North, Frederick, fifth earl of Guilford (1766-1827)', was published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004. His papers as Chancellor of the Ionian University were included in the sale of the Sheffield Park archive in 1981 and purchased by the Reading Society of Corfu, whose catalogue, A printed catalogue of these by the Corfu Reading Society is available (in Greek) was published in 1984.
4 Catherine Anne North, 1760-1817
Married Sylvester Douglas, Lord Glenbervie, in 1789 and had one son, Frederick.
5 Anne North, 1764-1832
Third wife of Lord Sheffield, whom she married in 1798
6 Charlotte North, 1770-1849
Married Lieutenant-colonel John Lindsay in 1800.
Sylvester Douglas, Lord Glenbervie, 1743-1823
He began his career as a lawyer, and in 1789 married Catherine Anne, eldest daughter of Lord North. His political career owed much to his family connections. He was returned as a member of the Irish parliament in 1794, and in 1795 was elected MP for Fowey. He soon gained appointment to office, acting as one of the commissioners of the Board of Control. In 1796 he was elected MP for Midhurst, Sussex, and was appointed a Lord of the Treasury; in 1800 he became governor of the Cape of Good Hope, 1801 joint paymaster general and vice president of the Board of Trade, and in 1803 surveyor-general of the Woods and Forests, a post he held until 1814. He was raised to the Irish peerage in 1800. His only son Frederick (1791-1819) accompanied his uncle, Frederick North, on a European tour between 1810 and 1812.
An account by Roland Thorne, 'Douglas, Sylvester, Baron Glenbervie (1743-1823)', was published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004, and includes an entry for his son Frederick Sylvester North Douglas.
The Foster family in Ireland
The family tree included here will give some guide to the complex hierarchy of the Foster family, the following being the chief correspondents with Lord Sheffield:-
Thomas Foster, DD, 1709-1784
Rector of Dunleer, County Lough, married to Dorothy Burgh (d1774), by whom he had one child, John Thomas (see below). In the last decade of his life, from which this collection dates, his main concerns were family troubles, of which the Fosters had many, and society gossip. These topics make up the bulk of his letters to Lord Sheffield, the remainder being concerned with the management of Sheffield's Irish estates. John Thomas Foster, ? -1796. MP for Dunleer
Referred to by his family and in this correspondence as Jack, to distinguish him from the many other Johns in the family. He was the only son of Thomas and Dorothy Foster, and seems to have been the cause of anxiety to his father during his early, somewhat wild, youth. It was hoped that, with his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Hervey, daughter of the Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, in 1777, that he would settle down to a quieter life. However, this was not to be, for in 1781 the couple became estranged and Lady Elizabeth returned to England leaving her two young sons in their father's care. From comments on him made in ensuing letters to Lord Sheffield from his father, wife, and cousin, John Thomas' conduct seems to have been singularly strange and devious, although his own letters to Lord Sheffield give no indication of the family strife for they deal mainly with agricultural and management concerns relating to Lord Sheffield's Irish estate.
Lady Elizabeth Christiana Foster, 1757-1824
Daughter of Frederick Augustus Hervey (1730-1803), the fourth earl of Bristol and Church of Ireland bishop of Derry, in 1777 she married John Thomas Foster, by whom she had two sons. This marriage ended in a separation which lasted until John Thomas' death in 1796. During this period Lady Foster spent several years on the Continent, travelling with the Duchess of Devonshire and her husband, including a visit to Edward Gibbon in Lausanne. After the duchess's death, Lady Elizabeth and the Duke of Devonshire were married in 1809. Although Lady Elizabeth's correspondence with Lord Sheffield is not outstanding in topics of national or even local interest, it is a fascinating illustration of the moulding of a personality by personal encounters and events. She begins their correspondence as an excitable, impressionable newly-wed, lately introduced into Irish society, but after a few decades she emerges hardened, bored and not a little scathing about everything and anything connected with Ireland; only the excitability remains. These changes must have been wrought by the break-up of her marriage with John Foster (the reason for which is never indicated), her subsequent forcible separation from her sons, and her desperate struggle to be allowed some part in their upbringing. Her letters to Lord Sheffield illustrate the large part played by him and his wife in supporting her, and interceding, one suspects somewhat reluctantly, with his Irish friends the Fosters on her behalf.
An account by Amanda Foreman, 'Cavendish , Elizabeth Christiana, duchess of Devonshire (1757-1824)', was published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004.
John Foster of Collon, County Louth, Baron Oriel, 1740-1828
From 1761 until his elevation to the peerage in 1821, he was an eloquent and energetic MP, with particular interest in the financial and commercial affairs of Ireland. He was appointed to various commissions, in 1784 became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Ireland, in 1785 Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and in 1786 a member of the English Privy Council. He fell into disfavour with his frequent vociferous disagreements with the government over the question of union with Ireland, and for a time remained out of office. However, in 1804 he was appointed Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer, a post which he held with only a short break until 1811. He married his first cousin Margaret Burgh, later Baroness Oriel and Viscountess Ferrard, by whom he had two surviving sons. John Foster's correspondence with Lord Sheffield contains a great deal of information on the contemporary Irish scene, and he vividly illustrates Irish resentment of much of the English policy in his native land.
An account by A. P. W. Malcomson, 'Foster, John, first Baron Oriel (1740-1828)', was published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004.
Sir John Russell
Son of Charles Russell of St James', Westminster, he graduated from Oxford in 1765, and became a barrister-at-law at Lincoln's Inn. He married Katherine Cary in 1774 and seems to have retired from the legal profession to take up the life of a farmer and country gentleman at Chequers, Buckinghamshire (the present country residence of Prime Ministers). He died, a widower, in 1785.
His correspondence with Lord Sheffield was confined to discussion on farming matters and detailed bulletins on his wife's health, but the jocular and often confiding tone of the letters implies that the two were familiar friends.