Sophia Carteret’s History of England

On 30 May 1758 a twelve-year-old girl sat down with her grandmother to embark on an Educational Exercise: composing an ‘extract’ of the English portion of Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, probably the second edition of 1587 a copy of which survives in the library where they were staying, which was Windsor Castle.










The little girl was Sophia Carteret and her grandmother was the Countess of Pomfret.  Her aunt, Lady Charlotte Finch, was governess of the Royal Nursery from 1762.  To write the abridgement the grandmother found a book in which she had entered copies of four letters written to her in Italy in 1741. The rest of the book was conveniently blank, so they started at the other end of it.  As a preface to the abridgement they entered information as to the dimensions of the British Isles from A collection of voyages and travels, consisting of authentic writers in our own tongue, which have not before been collected in English, or have only been abridged in other collections… (London, MDCCXLV. [1745]. 748 pp.) volume 1 of 2, p. 13, of which a copy survives in the Royal Library at Windsor, and the statement that Great Britain ‘is situate under the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th climes’ was probably taken from either Matthias Symson’s Geography compendiz’d (Edinburgh 1702) or Peter Heylin’s Cosmography [1703] neither of which are now in the Royal Library.











They got as far as page 177 of Holinshed (Edmund’s defeat by Canute) filling the remaining blank pages of the book, whether the exercise was continued in another book we do not know.

Progress was spasmodic, taking place on 15 days in June, 5 days in July, 6 days in August, 3 in September, 5 in October and 11 in November 1758, and one in January and 15 in February 1759.  The country was at war in Europe, America, Senegal and Canada and whether Sophia and her grandmother were at Windsor throughout the period is not certain.  From late 1758 the King was seriously ill.

Sophia’s parents were John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville, and from 1751 to his death in 1763 Lord President of the Council and long favoured by George II, and Carteret’s second wife, Sophia Fermor, daughter of the 1st Earl Pomfret and his wife (the grandmother above) Henrietta Louisa née Jeffreys.

Sophia’s governess was Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, author of numerous books for children including a version of Beauty and the Beast and of the Magasin des enfants ou dialogues d’une sage gouvernante avec ses élèves (1757).  An English version of this appeared in four volumes in 1760 with the title The young ladies magazine, or dialogues between a discreet governess and several young ladies of the first rank under her education.

In 1765 Sophia married William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne (1737–1805) later Marquis of Lansdowne and Prime Minister, and extracts from her diary while his wife appear in his biography published in 1875–6.  She bore him two sons but died on 5 January 1771.  There is a fine monument to her in All Saints’ church, High Wycombe.







The ‘title page’ of the book bears the further inscription ‘Given to me by Mama / Jany 14th 1831 Wycombe Lodge / Louisa Gifford’.  This Wycombe Lodge was probably the one in Kensington on the site of the present Wycombe Square.  After Sophia’s death her husband married Maria Arabella (née Maddox or Maddock) widow of Duke Gifford or Giffard.  She died in 1833 and Louisa was perhaps a daughter from her first marriage.

The volume was presented to the library by Adrian Dixon in November 2018.









Written by Elisabeth Leedham-Green

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