Tag Archives: Mary Assheton Lady Curzon (1695-1776)

Chronological collections (2)

Front cover Chronological collections

Front cover of Chronological collections, written by Mary Assheton, Lady Curzon, ca. 1755

In an earlier post, I talked about a small quarto volume in the Library at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. This book, an abbreviation of John Jackson’s Chronological antiquities, I believe was written by Mary Assheton, Lady Curzon (1695-1776). Mother of Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Baron Scarsdale (who built the existing mansion), she has never received much attention beyond the fact that she created a rococo garden on the edge of Kedleston estate. However, Mary is gradually emerging as an intriguing character in her own right (Here she is posing as a shepherdess in an Arcadian landscape); I will get back to her in a future post in more detail.

Today, I want to reflect a bit more on the contents of the Chronological collections itself. It is one of those slightly ironic twists of historical research that the copy of Jackson’s Chronological antiquities which was at Kedleston in 1765, was sold at auction in June 1888, as part of a ‘tidying up’ exercise of the book collection. Neither do we have a record of the purchase of the book. Without further research (or more serendipity!), it is therefore impossible to know whether Mary or her husband, Nathaniel Curzon, 4th Baronet (died 1758), purchased the Kedleston copy of the Chronological antiquities, and whether Mary annotated it in preparation for her abbreviation.

What is so fascinating about her project, if we can assume the comment in the Leicester University copy of Chronological collections is correct, is that she wrote it ‘for the use of her sons’. Both Nathaniel and Assheton, his younger brother, were adults in 1755, and Nathaniel had been married for five years. So, Mary could not have written it for their personal education. However, both men (not untypically for their time) were keen to present themselves as well-educated connoisseurs of art, good taste, and fashions, in order to advance themselves in society. Since so much of eighteenth-century British culture relied on a knowledge of ancient history (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Hebrew), but also showed an interest in the exotic (that is, the Far East), Mary’s abbreviation can be read as a quick reference guide to the main civilisations of the past. We are beginning to see that she was a driving force behind the social aspirations of her sons, and that she took an active interest in her son Nathaniel’s building activities at Kedleston from late 1758 onwards.

Although there were two copies of her abbreviation in the Kedleston Library in the nineteenth century, when the National Trust took over ownership in the mid-1980s, only Caroline Curzon’s copy remained. It is possible that the second of the two copies was similarly the victim of the late nineteenth-century auction sales.

 

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Filed under Bindings, Eighteenth century, Female authors, Historic Libraries, Kedleston Hall, National Trust, Provenance Research

Chronological collections (1)

IMG_2365This little volume can be found on the shelves in the Library at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, owned by the National Trust. The Hall was built by Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Lord Scarsdale,between 1759 and circa 1790, and it contains some of the most complete, unaltered, and stunning, Robert Adam interiors in the world. The book was actually catalogued by my colleague James Fishwick a few years ago, and because it does not have a title page or anything else obvious to identify it, he added the title from the spine to the catalogue record.

I came across it a couple of years ago, when I was preparing for a Library Open Day at Kedleston and doing some research into the 1st Lord Scarsdale’s family. Looking through the catalogue for provenance information, I found this book, Chronological collections. It had the following inscription on the back of the front flyleaf: “Carolina Curzon, June the 28th, 1756”.

IMG_2366

Carolina, or Caroline, married Nathaniel Curzon in 1750 when she was sixteen years old. She was the daughter of Charles Colyear, the earl of Portmore, one of Nathaniel’s horse racing friends.

Since my initial interest was in Caroline’s education (Robert Adam designed a wonderful bookcase for her private apartment at Kedleston, which was unfortunately sold by the Curzon family in 2002), I decided to investigate this book a bit further. Almost by chance (which is why I love historical research!), I happened to find another copy of the same work in the Special Collections held at the University of Leicester’s David Wilson Library. The Leicester copy similarly lacked a title page, but had the same binding as the item in Kedleston’s library. It also had an inscription, which helped me to identify the contents of the book, as well as the possible author:

The gift of Lady Curzon, widow of Sir Nathaniel Curzon, who abridged Mr. Jackson’s chronology for the use of her sons. Twenty copies only were printed.

Therefore, Chronological collections would appear to be an abridgement of John Jackson’s Chronological antiquities, which was published in 1752 in three volumes (ESTC T136688). The name Curzon does not show in the subscribers’ list, but a copy was in the family’s possession soon after it was published, if the provenance information in the Kedleston copy is correct. It was certainly in the library at Kedleston by 1765.

According to his dedication, Jackson aimed to bring together the histories of all major civilisations in antiquity and to reconcile recorded events with the story of the Old Testament – a very ambitious project, which came in for some criticism the year after it was published.

The author of the abridgement, named as “Lady Curzon, widow of Sir Nathaniel Curzon” in the Leicester copy, could only have been Mary Assheton, Lady Curzon (1695-1776). The item itself looks to be a piece of vanity publishing with a very limited print-run, for distribution among members of the family and perhaps close friends.

Future posts will talk in more detail about Chronological collections and about Mary Assheton.

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Filed under Bindings, Eighteenth century, ESTC items, Female authors, Historic Libraries, Kedleston Hall, National Trust, Provenance Research