Letters from Katharine, countess of Clarendon, to [Maria] Theresa Lewis (née Villiers) 1844–1865

Primary Contributors:

Department of Special Collections, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford; Centre for Digital Scholarship, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford; and Cultures of Knowledge

Letters from Katharine, countess of Clarendon, to [Maria] Theresa Lewis (née Villiers) 1844–1865

Katharine Villiers, countess of Clarendon (1810–1874) was the wife of George William Frederick Villiers, fourth earl of Clarendon (1800–1870), a senior figure in the Liberal governments of the mid-nineteenth century. He was President of the Board of Trade, 1846–1847; Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 1847–1852; Foreign Secretary, 1853–1858; Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, 1864–1865; and Foreign Secretary again in 1865–1866 and 1868–1870. Katharine Villiers was his political confidante, and so the letters contain a good deal of discussion of the politics of the day, particularly (after 1853) about foreign affairs. Many of the letters of 1856 are written from Paris where the Earl and Countess were present during the peace negotiations that concluded the Crimean War.

Lady Clarendon’s letters are written to Theresa Lewis (1803–1865), sister of the earl of Clarendon, and wife of another Liberal politician, George Cornewall Lewis (1806–1863). George Lewis was Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1855–1858; Home Secretary, 1859–1861; and War Secretary, 1861–1863. Theresa Lewis was an author, and produced a work relating to the earlier earls of Clarendon (Hyde) — who were ancestors of the Villiers earls of Clarendon — entitled The lives of the friends and contemporaries of Lord Chancellor Clarendon: illustrative of the portraits in his gallery.

Despite the dominance of politics in the lives of both the Villiers and Lewis families, Lady Clarendon’s letters are not primarily political in nature. The two women were sisters-in-law but also close friends, and their correspondence covers all aspects of aristocratic life in the period, social events, the doings of children and family, and above all, health. Their lives are punctuated repeatedly by episodes of serious illness of parents, spouses, and children, and we learn much about Victorian medical opinion and remedies. The families of both women extended beyond their immediate homes, as both were widows when they married. Lady Clarendon was the daughter of James Walter Grimston, first earl of Verulam, and Lady Charlotte Jenkinson. In 1834 she married John Foster Barham, who died in 1838. She married George Villiers in 1839, and between 1840 and 1852 the couple had eight children, two of whom died in infancy. Theresa Lewis married Thomas Henry Lister (1800–1842) in 1830, and had one daughter from that marriage, Maria Theresa Lister. Maria Lister married the Liberal politician, Sir William Harcourt, but died in childbirth in 1863. Only a few weeks later, George Cornewall Lewis died, and Teresa herself died of cancer on 9 November 1865 ‘in the lodgings of her relative, the principal of Brasenose College, Oxford’ (see D. A. Smith, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2006: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/16595).

The letters (MSS. Eng. lett. c. 538, d. 514-519) were purchased by the Bodleian Library in 1982.

Mike Webb
Curator of Early Modern Archives and Manuscripts
Bodleian Libraries

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