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Danby papers

Call Number: OSB MSS 6

Scope and Contents

The Danby Papers consist of two boxes of correspondence and related papers that document aspects of the Earl of Danby's political career, in particular, his investigation of the alleged Popish Plot and his impeachment by the House of Commons in 1678. The collection also includes papers and correspondence of Danby's sons and other family members of the Godolphin line. Hence, the papers span the years 1661-1748 but the bulk of the material concerns Danby's political career in the years 1670-1684.

Series I, Danby Correspondence , 1673-1685, contains letters to and from Danby, as well as third-party correspondence of contemporary political figures. Of particular interest are three petitions Danby wrote while imprisoned in the Tower in 1681, begging the king for his release on bail and a speedy trial. As the correspondence demonstrates, Danby's political associates and friends also pressed for his release. Henry Cavendish (1631-1712), Duke of Newcastle, in a letter to Danby, promised his "reddyness to be your [i.e Danby's] Baile, and this day I was reddy in ye House to be soe." Many of the letters concern administrative and diplomatic matters, but there is some political gossip and intrigue as well. Roger Boyle (1621-1679), Earl of Orrery, wrote such a letter to Danby with the names in cipher. Fortunately, Danby decoded the cipher and wrote a key, which is with the letter. Another letter of interest, also partially in cipher, was sent to Danby by Arthur Capel (1631-1683), Earl of Essex.

Series II, Danby Papers , c. 1660-1710, consists of memoranda, drafts, and other documents from various aspects of Danby's political career. Of particular note are the papers relating to the Popish Plot, including extracts of letters of Edward Coleman, and papers concerning Danby's subsequent impeachment. Also of interest is the list of supporters and opponents in the House of Lords drawn up by Danby while he was in the Tower. He divided the Lords temporal into three columns: those Lords "for my Baile; " those "against;" and those "neuter." Not willing to leave the possible question of bail to chance, Danby also sent a memorandum of private instructions with the list and advised the bearer to "show this List of the Lords to any of the Lords abovenamed, but to no others, & I would have you keep this list to yourselfe." Together, the list and instructions provide an indication of Danby's supporters and enemies as he perceived them during his imprisonment. The series includes documents from Danby's tenure as Secretary of the Navy, mainly memoranda of expenditures; papers from Treasury, particularly for the expenses of the royal household in 1673 1675, copies of the civil list for 1696 and 1708; and an estimate for the remodeling of St. Paul's Cathedral, 1708. The series also includes memoranda and correspondence relating to the activities of the West Riding Militia, primarily 1670-80; miscellaneous documents related to affairs of state, 1670 -1700; and other papers including a piece of Tory propaganda entitled "Narrative of the growth of Whigg" from the 1690s.

Series III, Later Osborne and Godolphin Papers , 1684-1748, contains correspondence and papers concerning family matters as well as affairs of state. These include letters to Danby's son, Viscount Latimer (1674-89) and to Thomas 4th Duke of Leeds (1713-89); correspondence and wills of Sir William Godolphin (1634?-1696) and his sister Penelope; and letters to Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl Godolphin (1645-1712).


  • 1661 - 1748
  • Majority of material found within 1661 - 1684


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Danby 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

The majority of the papers which comprise this collection were part of a collection purchased by John Webster in 1872, and later acquired by George Moffatt. James Osborn subsequently acquired the papers, lot 355 of the Sotheby's Moffatt sale, in October 1959. The Danby Papers were given to the Beinecke Library by Mr. Osborn in 1976.


2.5 Linear Feet (3 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers document aspects of Danby's political career, particularly his investigation of the Popish Plot and his impeachment in 1678. They include correspondence with Robert Spencer, Earl of Sunderland on the negotiation for the Treaty of Nijmegen; letters from several members of the House of Lords on affairs of state; extracts from the correspondence of Edward Coleman and from informants' testimonies; letters and documents relating to Danby's impeachment and imprisonment, including copies of his petitions for release; and papers concerning his various offices, including muster rolls for the West Riding Militia and Treasury accounts.


Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby, Marquis of Carmarthen, and Duke of Leeds was born on February 20, 1631/32, the son of Sir Edward Osborne and his wife, Anne. He spent his early years at the family estate of Kiveton in Yorkshire and succeeded his father as second baronet in 1647. In 1661 he was appointed High Sheriff of Yorkshire, probably through the influence of the Duke of Buckingham, his patron. He served as a member of Parliament for York (1665-73), Joint Commissioner of Public Accounts (1667); Joint Treasurer of the Navy (1668-71), and Treasurer of the Navy (1671-73). His administrative skills earned him the favor of Charles II and in 1673 he was appointed to the office of Lord High Treasurer. A year later, he was created Earl of Danby.

As chief minister to Charles II, Danby became one of the most powerful men in English politics during the 1670s. Proud and ambitious, the Earl had few friends. Instead, he concentrated his efforts on organizing a Court party which served the Cavalier and Church interests. He was active in foreign affairs and attempted to secure the permanent adoption of a Protestant and anti-French policy. However, he failed to gain the support of Charles II, who directed the Lord Treasurer to accept subsidies from France as the price for English neutrality in the wars fought by Louis XIV.

In 1678, Danby pressed for an investigation into an alleged conspiracy against the king, the government and the Protestant religion, an episode which became known as the Popish Plot. He was responsible for securing a warrant to obtain copies of the papers of Edward Coleman, a suspected intriguer, an action which had consequences for his own political security.

The Popish Plot gave Danby's enemies a chance to strike. In December 1678, the Privy Council ordered the seizure of political and diplomatic papers belonging to Ralph Montagu, the former ambassador in Paris. The papers contained highly damaging letters written by the Lord Treasurer which revealed the French subsidy to an outraged House of Commons. Danby was accused of high treason and charged with endeavoring to introduce arbitrary government. He was described as "popishly affected" and was said to have concealed the Plot. Danby was committed to the Tower of London and refused bail by the House of Commons. He resigned from his office as Lord Treasurer in March 1679.

Danby remained in the Tower for five years, during which time he made unremitting efforts to secure his freedom, appealing to both the king and Parliament. He finally was released on bail in 1684. The order of impeachment against him was annulled a year later.

In subsequent years, Danby took an active part in opposition to the government. He was one of the seven noblemen to sign an invitation to Prince William of Orange in 1688. After the Revolution, he served as the Lord President of the Council (1688-99). He was disliked by many of his fellow courtiers, one of whom described the earl as "a thin, ill-natured ghost that haunts the king" (DNB, p. 1195).

In 1689 he was created Marquis of Carmarthen and in 1694 he became Duke of Leeds. He served as the Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding (1674-79, 1689-99), the East Riding (1691-99), and of the North Riding (1692-99). He married, in 1653, Bridget, 2nd daughter of Montagu Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey, and had five daughters and three sons, among them Edward, Viscount Latimer (1655-89), and Peregrine, 2nd Duke of Leeds (1659-1734). He died on July 26, 1712 at the age of 81 and was buried at Harthill, in Yorkshire.
Guide to the The Danby Papers
Under Revision
by Beinecke Staff
March 1995
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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