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Painting of Lady Augusta Murray

Transforming access, knowledge and understanding

The commonplace books of Lady Augusta Murray

Painting of Lady Augusta Murray

Lady Augusta Murray, RCIN 604932 ©

Dr Jane Mycock

Almost all that was known about Lady Augusta Murray before the cataloguing of her commonplace books and book of cures, was in relation to her illegitimate marriage to Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex and sixth son of George III in 1793. Much of this is related in Mollie Gillen’s biography of the Prince (Royal Duke: Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843). This includes details of their separation in 1801, some subsequent conjecture and opinion about her liaisons, and the later quest of her son to obtain the title of the Duke of Sussex, which he would have inherited from his father. 

The Georgian Papers Programme reveals the commonplace books of Lady Augusta, dating from 1785 to 1810. In these books, into which significant extracts from other works were copied for her own personal use, we plunge deep into the inner world of the woman who lived through all of this, revealing, for the first time, how she seemingly fell into the Prince's arms and then suffered brutally from his rejection. 

Commonplace books in the Royal Archives

The Lady Augusta Murray was born in 1761 to John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore and Lady Charlotte Stewart, daughter of the 6th Earl of Galloway. Her commonplace books and book of cures came to the Royal Archives as a box of musty volumes, with crude board covers, embellished with hand-pasted cuttings of classical antiquity and rustic life, doodles and amateur paintings. Lady Augusta’s first commonplace book in the Royal Archives’ possession dates from around 1785, but it is labelled ‘Volume 5th’, so we might assume that her habit of keeping a record of her reading and thoughts predated the first book in our possession. 

The book, written in her late teens, gives strong indications as to her personality. The vast majority of texts are reflections upon love, emotions and sentiments, and portray her as a person with a very strongly-felt faculty of introspection, which mediated her perceptions of the world. The words are often highly idealistic: even nature assumes a pathetic fallacy - it is just and good. Lady Augusta engages with contemporary philosophies on the human condition and on true happiness, and writes sometimes about passion and the most romantic of themes: love, death and pain, and the staking of all on love. 

Marriage and separation

Later in life, Lady Augusta wrote that making sentiment the foundation of happiness could be the cause of unhappiness: 'Le sentiment sur lequel de fondais ma felicité est devenu lui même la source de mon infortune'. The series of events involving Prince Augustus would lead her to this unfortunate place. The whirlwind romance with Prince Augustus happened in Rome. One of the commonplace books ends with 'A prayer translated by Pope from Francis Xavier, & given to me by H. R. H. Prince Augustus at Rome, xber the 20th 1792' (GEO/ADD/51/3 f182r).

The couple were married at the Hotel Sarmiento on 4 April 1793, without witnesses and without asking the permission of the King – a requirement under the Royal Marriage Act 1772. They married again after the publication of banns in a ceremony at St George’s Hanover Square, London, on 5 December 1793, though without revealing their full identities. Witness statements were taken from members of the church and from Lady Augusta Murray as part of an inquiry at the Court of Arches, which declared the marriage null and void. The couple’s first child, Augustus Frederick, had been born the day before, on 13 January 1794. 

Extract from Lady Augusta Murray's commonplace books

Lady Augusta Murray's commonplace book, c. 1785-1797, GEO/ADD/51/2 Royal Archives /© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Lady Augusta spent most of the time following the separation without the Prince, raising her son. Between 1797 and 1798, the Prince was in Italy, where he met with the Italian contralto Giuseppina Grassini when she performed at the marriage of the Prince of Württemberg to Princess Charlotte Augusta of the Two Sicilies, and they were living together in Naples by March 1798 (Gillen 98-99). The Prince’s governor, Edward Livingston, writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the Prince then ‘kept up a constant correspondence’ with Grassini ‘and [had] made her the most solemn promise to take her into his family’. 

Lady Augusta was prevented from seeing the Prince until 10 August 1799 when she joined him in Berlin, returning to London in October 1799. For a brief time in May 1800, they lived as Prince and Princess Augustus Frederick in London, until, in December 1800, the Prince went to Portugal, and they never met again. A second child, Augusta Emma, was born on 11 August 1801. In the time leading up to the birth, Lady Augusta’s commonplace books indicate a marked shift in her mood, with her own words and copied texts depicting an often unhappy state of mind. 'I retire into my own heart for consolation but alas I find it not there […] melancholy […] reigns amid the ruins […] nothing cheers me within & without. I was once beloved' (GEO/ADD/51/2 ff113v – 114r).

Miniature of Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex

Augustus, Duke of Sussex, RCIN 421913 ©

Rumours and scandal 

In March 1802, Lady Augusta went to Lisbon, where the Prince was staying, in an unsuccessful attempt to see him. In a letter written by Lady Augusta to the Prince of Wales, dated 9 May 1802, which can be found in the Georgian Papers (GEO/MAIN/48236-9, not yet published online), Lady Augusta complains bitterly that in Portugal she was made ‘the sport of his mistress and dependents’. Rumours were circulating as to the relationship with Lady Augusta and her cousin, Lord Archibald Hamilton (1770-1827), even suggesting that he had fathered her child. In the letter to the Prince, Lady Augusta blamed the Duke of Cumberland for spreading the rumours, and Lady Charlotte Durham for circulating them further, and implores the Prince to do her justice (GEO/MAIN/48236-9, not yet published). The Prince then undertook to support her and the children with an annuity of £4,000. In 1806, following the commencement of legal proceedings, an agreement was made with the King whereby her debts were paid and she received an additional pension of £1,438 per annum.

The rumours about Lord Archibald would persist for many years (Farington, Vol. 7, 2698-9, 19 March 1806; Duke of Cumberland to Lord Strangford, 15 July 1844, quoted in Bird, 1966). Gillen (1976, 54-5, 200) suggests that Lady Augusta had been engaged to Lord Archibald before she met the Duke of Sussex and had certainly worn his ring. In fact, notes from Lord Archibald, sometimes styled as ‘A.H.’ are found in several places in the commonplace books – he is cited as author of a poem of 1790, in which he laments her wide circle of friends, the result of which was that, despite his love, ‘she always left; ever in search or something new’ (GEO/ADD/51/3 f73). 

Family and children

Despite her broken heart, Lady Augusta took great comfort in caring for her children. She took care in looking after the health of her ‘treasures’, using treatments, preventative medicine and good food to support their growth and documenting these in her book of cures, and she was concerned about their education and how her parenting style might impact upon them (GEO/ADD/51/4a f23r-24r). Following the ruling of the Court of Arches, Lady Augusta could not be styled as the Duchess of Sussex or as Her Royal Highness. Nevertheless, she continued to style her children as if they were to inherit that title. In one of the commonplace books, Lady Augusta appears to sign an agreement about behaviour with her son, and he signs using the title. The children were also her connection to the Prince, even after he had left her. During this time, Lady Augusta reflected that a son was like a ‘breathing pledge’ that might ‘sway the Father’ (GEO/ADD/51/118r). Lord Archibald also took an interest in the boy, giving him a bank note and a note to use it well, on his birthday in 1805 (GEO/ADD/51/2 f143r). In the copied text, Lord Archibald also wrote to Lady Augusta on her birthday that month, expressing his wish to prove a Husband to her.

We know little of the final 20 years of Lady Augusta’s life – she died in 1830. In reading such intimate texts as the commonplace books, one forms a bond with her, pities her for her depth of emotional attachment, and wills her to find the ‘happiness’ that so eludes her. Yet old sorrows and grudges had affected her badly and when we leave her, she seems unable to move beyond them.

Manuscript extract detailing cures and remedies

Lady Augusta Murray's book of cures, c. 1794 - 1812, GEO/ADD/51/5 Royal Archives /© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

The value of the commonplace books

Without these commonplace books, we would never have known how deeply affected Lady Augusta was by the separation, or known the kind of person that she was – an intense, feeling person, whose wounded sensibility compounded her sorrow. The commonplace genre, with its merging of the authority of the first and third person, gives us an insight into how someone might seek to mediate their inner life through words that both affirm and structure the experience of broken-heartedness. 

The genre also presents unique issues for cataloguers. It is not always clear to whom the attribution of authorship of the contents may be made. Some texts are copied, while others are the original words of Lady Augusta. The genre itself, and perhaps Lady Augusta’s keen sense of her internal world, make the words merge into a document revealing a state of mind. While in the catalogue attributions are not made unless obvious, literary scholars will delight at piecing together Lady Augusta’s contact with literary works – the books she lists as belonging to her, those that she says were passed to her by others, and the curious entries (a copy of Southey's Madoc), written immediately after an entry dated 29th June 1803 (GEO/ADD/51/2 f67v), an 'unpublished' poem of John Frederick Bryant (GEO/ADD/51/1 f100v). In documenting her reading across a wide, contemporary spectrum, and in drafting of lists on genealogy, heraldry and the natural sciences, she reveals a strong inclination to collect and document knowledge. While a full analysis of lexicon is not possible in the catalogue, either, transcription will open up the way to textual analysis, fully drawing out the meaning of vocabulary that shifted so radically from idealism to cynicism in the course of just a few years. 

Bibliography

Bird, A., The damnable Duke of Cumberland: a character study and vindication of Ernest Augustus Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover, London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1976.

Garlick, K., Macintyre, A., Cave, K. (eds.), The diary of Joseph Farington, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978-1984. 

Gillen, M. Royal Duke: Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1976.