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William Blathwayt papers

Call Number: OSB MSS 2

Scope and Contents

The William Blathwayt Papers consist of twelve boxes of correspondence and related historical and diplomatic papers that document Blathwayt's career and late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century English foreign policy and history. The papers span the years 1646-1796, but the bulk of the material covers the period 1668-1703.

The bulk of the William Blathwayt Papers consists of materials that were separately cataloged at Beinecke Library. These catalog entries have been essentially reproduced in the box and folder list. Copies of catalog cards have also been placed next to the materials they describe. Many of the original cards describe single documents (for example, the letters of Alexander Stanhope and Robert Yard), but others cover groups of materials. Some items that lacked cataloging have been given descriptions in the box and folder list, but not all documents. Several William Blathwayt letters to George Stepney and Robert Yard are not described individually in the box and folder list.

Series I, Correspondence (Boxes 1-10) holds correspondence and other papers spanning the years 1646-1796, but more than 92 per cent of the documents cover a 13 year period from 1691 to 1703. Some 79 per cent of the letters and papers date from the years 1692-1701, when Blathwayt attended William III on the continent. In addition to English, the collection contains a significant proportion of letters and documents written in French with successively lesser quantities in Dutch, German, Latin, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

The collection contains a seventeenth-century copy of a 1575 letter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, concerning the possibility of a French marriage for Queen Elizabeth (Box 2, folder 48), but the earliest dated document is a 1646 proclamation for a Lenten fair by Charles I (Box 4, folder 83). Other early documents include an address from around 1667 accusing Lord Clarendon of taking bribes and participating in a treasonous plot (Box 1, folder 1), a 1670 Catholic list of proscribed and controversial works, Edward Backwell's defense against charges of corruption in a 1673 Parliamentary by-election, a small group of 1680-81 letters of Thomas Martyn concerning conditions in Jamaica, a February 1683 letter of Hendrik Brill reporting the death of Lord Shaftsbury in Amsterdam, and two Nathaniel Bacon, the younger, letters to Blathwayt discussing conditions in Virginia.

The Blathwayt Papers contain a number of interesting documents dating from the reign of James II and the Glorious Revolution. They include a ca. 1687 defense of the Established Church and the penal laws (Box 3, folder 54), a June 1688 "List of the Jury for the Seven Bishops" (Box 1, folder 3), 1688 letters from Edward Scott of Guernsey reporting disaffection with the policies of James II, an August 1688 resignation letter from Thomas Sprat, the Bishop of Rochester, to the Ecclesiastical Commission because of his unwillingness to sit in judgment of those who refused to read the Declaration of Indulgence, and a declaration of Parliament dated February 12, 1688/89 stating the reasons why the English throne was vacant and offering it to William and Mary (Box 4, folder 81). For other documents covering the same period, see the headings for Nathaniel Crew, Bishop of Durham; Great Britain, Catholics (Box 4, folder 76); Great Britain, sovereigns, James II (Box 4, folder 83); Francis Gwyn; Sir Thomas Haggerston; Colonel John Hales; Anthony Heyford; and Jesuits. Letters of Mathew Plowman and Stephanus Van Cortlandt give reports of Leisler's Rebellion in New York.

The papers covering the period 1691-1703 primarily document English participation in the War of the Grand Alliance, the uneasy peace from the time of the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 to the death of Charles II of Spain, the early stages of the War of the Spanish Succession, and domestic politics.

Blathwayt's own letters are found in Boxes 1-2, folders 12-45. Many were written from the continent, mostly from The Hague and Loo, but also from such locations as Dieren, Goer, Loestdike, and "Before Namur." Major correspondents include Lord Galway, the Marquis de Ruvigny, commander-in-chief of English forces in Savoy during the War of the Grand Alliance; the Duke of Shrewsbury, Secretary of State for the Southern Department, 1695-98; James Vernon, Secretary of State for the Northern Department, 1697-1700; Robert Yard, a secretary of state at Whitehall; and George Stepney, Envoy Extraordinary to the Emperor in Vienna, 1702-06.

Blathwayt was the recipient, however, of the great majority of the papers in Series I. One group of correspondents, writing from England, commented primarily on politics, international affairs, and war-making during the reign of William III. A few letters also discussed events in Ireland, the North American colonies, and West Indies. For the period of the War of the Grand Alliance, important correspondents included George Clarke, Blathwayt's deputy secretary of war; Sidney Godolphin, First Lord of the Treasury; Henry Guy, secretary to the treasury; William Jephson, another treasury employee; James Vernon; and Robert Yard. Vernon's 1697-99 letters were particularly newsworthy, containing information on meetings of Parliament, the affairs of government, illnesses and deaths, events in North American and the West Indies, and of pirates in the East Indies and North America. Some half dozen 1699 letters contain references to Captain Kidd. Major correspondents for the years 1701-03 were Sir John Gibson, Lieutenant Governor of Portsmouth; Sir Charles Hedges, an admiralty court judge; William Lowndes, Guy's successor as secretary to the treasury; and Yard.

Diplomats and military commanders comprise the second major group of correspondents for the years 1691-1703. The collection contains extensive runs of letters from the Graf von Friesen, Commander-in-Chief of the English and Dutch forces on the Upper Rhine during the War of the Grand Alliance and Lord Galway, the Marquis de Ruvigny. English and Dutch diplomats represented include Sir Lambert Blackwell, English envoy at Leghorn, Genoa, and Tuscany; John Butts (Helsingör); C. V. Heemskerck, Dutch envoy to the Ottoman Empire; Richard Hill, Envoy Extraordinary in Flanders; Hugh Hughes, English representative to the Imperial Diet at Ratisbon; Thomas Kirke (Genoa); Baron Paget, English envoy to the Ottoman Empire; Edmund Poley (Turin); Sir Paul Rycaut (Hamburg); Alexander Stanhope (Madrid); George Stepney (the German states and Vienna); and Albert Van der Meer, Dutch envoy to the court of Savoy. The letters of Galway, Poley, and Van der Meer provide information on the Italian theatre of operations in the War of the Grand Alliance and the treachery of Victor Amadeus, Duke of Savoy. The letters of Alexander Stanhope from Madrid are particularly useful for the material they contain on the declining health of Charles II of Spain and the Spanish succession question.

The collection holds little material documenting the period from 1704 to Blathwayt's death in 1717 and just a handful of later papers, such as a genealogical account of the Helvin family from around 1770 and the 1781 will of the Countess of Orford.

Series II, Diplomatic Papers (Box 11), contains documents written in French, English, Latin, Dutch, and Spanish. Many date from the time when Blathwayt served as clerk to Sir William Temple, English ambassador to the Dutch Republic, between 1668 and 1672. A handful are in the hands of Blathwayt and Temple. A draft of a 1669 Blathwayt letter, for example, requests information about books published on the recent Anglo-Dutch war. A second group of papers dates from the time that Blathwayt was secretary to the Earl of Conway from 1681 to 1683. The series also includes late seventeenth-century English and Dutch copies of a 1599 commission to Sir Francis Vere (1560-1609) as commander of all English forces in the United Netherlands.

Box 12 holds Oversize papers from Series I and Series II and one folder of Restricted Fragile Papers.


  • 1646 - 1796
  • Majority of material found within 1668 - 1703


Physical Description

Other Storage Formats: Oversize

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile Papers in box 12, folder 248 may only be consulted with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The William Blathwayt Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, 1970-74. Each folder contains provenance information that can be used to track down specific purchase data in the files of the curator of The James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection.


5.96 Linear Feet (13 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence, newsletters, diplomatic papers, and reports documenting Blathwayt's career and English foreign policy and history in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.


William Blathwayt, civil servant and politician, was probably born in 1649, the only son of William Blathwayt of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields and Anne Povey Blathwayt. Blathwayt entered public life as clerk in the embassy of Sir William Temple at The Hague, 1668-72. This duty was followed by a grand tour of Germany and Italy. From 1675-79 he served as clerk in the Plantation Office and he became secretary to the Lords of Trade in 1679, a position held until 1696. In May 1680 Blathwayt was appointed surveyor and auditor general of Plantation Revenues. He was the first person to hold this office, one that he retained until his death in 1717. He also served as secretary to the Earl of Conway, Secretary of State for the Northern Department, 1681-83, and purchased the office of Secretary at War in August 1683. In June 1688 he was a reluctant witness in the trial of the Seven Bishops and as late as November 1688 loyally served James II.

His offices were renewed by William III in 1689 and from 1692-1701 he attended William during his campaigns in the Low Countries. Between 1693 and 1710 Blathwayt represented the constituency of Bath in the House of Commons. He also served on the Board of Trade 1696-1707. Although his offices were renewed again with the accession of Queen Anne, he gradually lost them during her reign. He was dismissed as Secretary at War in 1704, was dismissed from the Board of Trade in 1707 with the return of the Whigs to power, and lost his seat in Parliament in 1710 because he had offended to Duke of Beaufort, the man who controlled Gloucestershire.

Blathwayt married Mary Wynter of Dyrham Park in December 1686 and the couple had two sons before her death in November 1691. William Blathwayt died at Dyrham Park on August 16, 1717.

For additional biographical information, see: Gertrude Ann Jacobsen, William Blathwayt: A Late Seventeenth Century English Administrator (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932).

Processing Information

Changes to this finding aid were made in 2021 to make the description compatible with current systems.

Guide to the William Blathwayt Papers
by Bruce P. Stark
November 1991
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

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