Manuscripts and Special Collections

The Marlay Collection

February 24th, 2011 at 08:02

Charleville Castle, Ireland, the home of the Bury family

Charleville Castle, Ireland, the home of the Bury family

The Marlay papers have been owned by the University Library since 1943, but are perhaps not as well known to researchers as they should be. The collection is named after Charles Brinsley Marlay (1829-1912), owner of an estate at Belvedere in Westmeath, Ireland. Marlay was a conscientious landlord, but also a wealthy man of leisure and culture, who divided his time between Ireland and London and travelled extensively on the Continent. He was a collector of paintings, manuscripts and beautiful objects, and bequeathed his collection, along with a generous fund, to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. He bequeathed his family papers to Richard Warwick Bond, Professor of English at University College Nottingham, who had edited Marlay’s manuscript volume of Wylliam Bercher’s A dyssputacion of the Nobylytye of Wymen for publication by the Roxburghe Club in 1905. Bond spent many subsequent years editing the Marlay papers, and gave them to the University College library. This explains why this collection of letters and papers from an 18th-19th century Irish aristocratic family are, rather surprisingly, held in Nottingham.

The collection contains papers relating in the main to four people: Charles Brinsley Marlay, his mother Catherine A. Louisa Marlay (1796-1882), his uncle James J.T. Tisdall (1792-1850), and his grandmother Catherine Maria Bury, Countess of Charleville (1762-1851). There are also papers relating to other family members including the 2nd Earl of Charleville and his wife Beaujolais Bury, and C.B. Marlay’s sister Catherine L.G. Marlay (1831-1854), who was married to Lord John Manners, later the 7th Duke of Rutland.

The matriarch of the family, the Countess of Charleville, was a dominant figure in London literary society in the 1830s and 1840s. Her husband was an Irish representative peer in the British parliament, so her letters are a rich source for historians of the links between Britain and Ireland. The countess’s correspondence includes letters from two of the celebrated Lennox sisters, Lady Sarah Napier and Lady Louisa Conolly (daughters of the Earl of Richmond), and from Lady Sarah’s daughter Emily, Lady Bunbury; and others from the writers Amelia Opie, Maria Edgeworth, Lady Sydney Morgan, Miss Catherine Maria Fanshawe and Caroline Norton, and from various members of the Royal House of Hanover including King Ernest Augustus. The Countess of Charleville died on 24 February 1851, 160 years ago today.

R.W. Bond published edited extracts from the papers in The Marlay letters, 1778-1820 (London: Constable, 1937) – there are copies in Hallward Library, classmark DA506.C4. Two further volumes, taking the story of the family up to 1854, are present only in manuscript draft form within Bond’s own papers, which are also held by Manuscripts and Special Collections (Bd 29 and Bd 30).

The Marlay papers were added to our online catalogue in 2009, and a new printed version of the catalogue was placed on the Reading Room shelves last year. The new catalogue is much bigger than the old one, which described whole bundles of documents very briefly. Staff have enhanced the catalogue to show the names and brief addresses of the correspondents, and the date of each letter. However, the collection has not yet been catalogued in sufficient detail to bring out the content or subject matter of individual letters. We hope the Marlay catalogue will help researchers to judge whether the items are of potential use to them, and would be very interested to know more about what researchers find within them! The Marlay papers can be seen by appointment in the Reading Room at King’s Meadow Campus.

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