The Correspondence of Elizabeth Compton

Primary Contributors:

Cultures of Knowledge and the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Detail of the signature of Elizabeth Compton, from a letter of 2 January 1735 (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, MS Eng. letters e. 2, fols 1–2).

Elizabeth Compton, Countess of Northampton (1694–1741)

Elizabeth Compton was born on 19 August 1694, the daughter of Robert Shirley (1673–1699) and Anne Ferrers. Her father — a none-too-successful English politican1 who failed in his bid to represent Staffordshire in Parliament in the election of 1698 — was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in January 1699 but died of smallpox just one month later; her mother succumbed to the same disease the following month.

Following the death of her last surviving brother in 1714, the estate of Tamworth Castle in Staffordshire and its associated titles — which had passed from her grandfather John Ferrers (d. 1680) through her mother —  came to Elizabeth. In 1716, she married James Compton, fifth earl of Northampton (1687–1754) and the next year, on the death of her paternal grandfather (also called Robert Shirley), she became Baroness Ferrers of Chartley in her own right.

The couple settled in Compton Wynates in Warwickshire, a house to which they made significant architectural alterations,2 and at Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire. They had at least two sons and five daughters: George (1718–19); James (1723–39); Ann (d. 1736); Charlotte (1729–70); Jane (1732–49).3 Elizabeth died on 13 March 1741.


Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata for this cluster of letters were incorporated initially into EMLO by Cultures of Knowledge in 2010 as part of the Bodleian card catalogue. In February 2017 the manuscripts were consulted and the metadata checked, corrected, and enriched by Oxford history students Sinéad Duffy, Charlotte Leung, and Sienna Rothery, who in their second year as undergraduates took the Further Subject ‘Writing in the early modern period’ under the direction of Professor Giora Sternberg. In place of a weekly essay, Sinéad and Charlotte generated a number of transcriptions which have been published within this catalogue.

Cultures of Knowledge would like to thank EMLO Digital Fellow Sarah Ward for her help to prepare the corrected metadata for upload and for her work to check and edit the transcriptions. Considerable thanks are extended in addition to Mike Webb, the Bodleian’s Curator of Early Modern Manuscripts for his help and willingness to arrange a session during which the students could work as a group together with the manuscript letters.



This catalogue contains at present thirty-eight letters, all of which are written in English and date from the years 1725 to 1735. With the exception of just one letter, dated 2 January 1734/5, the letters were all addressed to Elizabeth Compton. The majority of these incoming letters relate to the care and well-being of Elizabeth’s one surviving son, James.

James Compton, who was born in 1723, had been entrusted for his education to the care of Nicholas Guillebeau in Fulham. Guillebeau appears to have been a Huguenot and (as Nicolas Guillibau) is recorded as having taken an oath of naturalization in London in 1710.4



This catalogue of letters has been sourced from the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford. The letters were known to have been on sale with the London booksellers Ellis,5 and in 1931 were acquired by the Bodleian from Myers & Co., London.6


Scope of Catalogue

As part of their work with Compton’s correspondence, Sinéad Duffy and Charlotte Leung transcribed twenty-three letters. These transcriptions, edited by EMLO Digital Fellow Sarah Ward, have been mounted for consultation in the catalogue.

It is hoped that the metadata for further letters (see below) from Elizabeth’s correspondence will be entered into the catalogue at a future date.

Further resources

Correspondence of James Compton (1687–1754), fifth earl of Northampton, is held in the British Library.

The account book of James Compton (1687–1754), fifth earl of Northampton, for the years 1716–34 may be consulted in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Library, alongside a number of papers comprised of approximately eighty-five manuscript poems written by, to, or for Elizabeth and her close family. These include ‘birthday and wedding poems; elegies on the deaths of Compton children; verse epistles; invitations to visit; animal fables; humorous poems; and topical ballads and satires’.  (‘Lord Compton’s account book, 1716–34′, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, call no. OSB MSS 122’).

Elizabeth’s daughter Charlotte (1729–70) married George Townshend, first Marquess Townshend in 1751, a decade after Elizabeth’s death. In consequence, a number of private letters both from and to Elizabeth Compton, ended up in the collection of the Marquess of Townshend and have been published in The manuscripts of the Marquess Townshend … by Great Britain, Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (London, 1887), pp. 223–54. These letters date between 1713 and 1737.7


Additional Resources

Women’s Early Modern Letters Online [WEMLO] project page.

WEMLO network and resources hub.


Launch Catalogue

Please see our citation guidelines for instructions on how to cite this catalogue.


See The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690–1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley (2002), and History of Parliament Online: Staffordshire, 16901715.

2 See ‘Parishes: Compton Wyniates’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 5, Kington Hundred, ed. L. F. Salzman (London, 1949), pp. 60–67. British History Online [accessed 21 July 2017], and note 7, below.

3 C. F. R. Palmer, The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth: In the Counties of Stafford & Warwick (1845), p. 376.

4 Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization for Aliens in England and Ireland, 1701–1800, ed. William A. Shaw. Huguenot Society of London, vol. XXVII (Manchester, 1923), p. 256.

See A Catalogue of One Hundred and Fifty Choice and Valuable Books and Manuscripts: To which is Prefixed an Historical Account of the Bookselling Business Carried on Continuously at this House Since 1728 (London, 1913), p. 9, no. 56.

6  See Mary Clapinson and T. D. Rogers, Summary catalogue of post-medieval western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford: acquisitions 1916–1975 (Oxford, 1991), vol. 1, p. 374. [41795 Letters to Elizabeth Compton, Countess of Northampton, 1734-5, from a (fols. 1-18) her sisters-in-law; b (fols. 19-69) her servants, and c (fols. 70-1) her son James. i + 73 leaves; bound by Wallis in brown half morocco. Bought, Myers & Co., cat. 281 (1931),532. MS. Eng. lett. e. 2.]

See also the description in The National Archives catalogue under Townshend, family, Marquesses Townshend.