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John Acton, 1st Baron Acton: Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.4607-5021

Scope and Contents

1. Family papers The papers contain material relating to the Actons of Naples: Commodore John Acton, his nephew J.F.E. Acton and H. Acton, a midshipman; material concerning the Dalberg family, particularly the family property on the Rhine, at Herrnsheim; a few manuscripts relating to Lord Granville; and the 1st Lord Acton's personal papers, including those covering his early years, his parliamentary career and interest in Ireland, relations with his family, and the period of his life spent in Cambridge. 2. Library development The collection includes a number of important manuscript series that were acquired by Acton for his library. These include the notes and lecture material of Ernst von Lasaulx, Acton's teacher in Munich in the early 1850s; manuscript and printed material for Acton's project 'The history of the papacy', collected during five years of travel on the continent; documents relating to the history of religion in modern times, particularly French religious history; and manuscripts concerning the history of England, particularly of Roman Catholicism. There are also catalogues of the library made by Acton and by librarians he employed to complete the work. 3. Transcript collection Acton and his copyists made a series of transcripts between 1865 and 1875 from archives held throughout Europe for 'The history of the papacy'. There are transcripts from archives in Vienna, Venice, Modena, Rome, Naples, Florence, Simancas, Paris, the British Museum, the Public Record Office, the Bodleian Library and other repositories. 4. Business archive The collection contains a large series of letters of the Paganelli and Cantucii families, merchants in Florence and Spain, dating predominantly from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It is not known how Acton came to acquire these papers. 5. Study projects and finished works Acton's research projects are represented in the collection by his card system and notebooks. The material covers 'The history of the papacy' project, including the Massacre of St Batholomew, the Inquisition, the Council of Trent, Henry VIII and James II; Acton's 'History of freedom'; his work with J.W. Cross on the latter's composition of The life of George Eliot; Acton's writing on Liberal Catholicism, including Church history and biographical material on his close friends Ignaz von Döllinger and Cardinal Newman; and Acton's time in Cambridge, including lectures on the French Revolution and modern history, and material concerning the Cambridge modern history. There are also notes and quotations on a variety of other subjects.


  • Creation: c. 1650 - 1900


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (


240 volume(s) (240 volumes)

156 archive box(es) (156 boxes)

19 file(s) (19 files)

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

A detailed catalogue is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Further entries can be found in the Additional Manuscripts Catalogue, which is also available in the Manuscripts Reading Room. A short account of the collection can be found in A.E.B. Owen, Summary guide to accessions of manuscripts to the University Library since 1867 (Cambridge University Press, 1966).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

A part of the collection originates from Lord Acton's library. Acton built this library during the 1860s at Aldenham in Shropshire, where it was attached to his residence. In order to relieve his financial problems, he sold the library to Andrew Carnegie in 1890, who gave Acton the use of it for his lifetime. After Acton's death, Carnegie gave the library to John Morley, who in turn gave it to Cambridge University Library in 1902. This constitutes MSS.Add.4607-4756, 5347, 5348 and 8409-8417. MSS.Add.4757-5021, 5381-5710 and 5751-5776 were purchased from the 2nd Lord Acton, 1903. MSS.Add.7726-7732 were found in the Acton Library during an inspection in 1966. MS.Add.7892 was found in the Acton Library in 1971.

Related Materials

MSS Add. 5347-5348, 5381-5710, 5751-5776, 7726-7732, 7892 and 8409-8417 are also included in this collection. Cambridge University Library holds other papers relating to Lord Acton and the Acton family, MSS.Add.6443, 6871, 6872, 7472, 7956, 8119-8123, 8260, 8261 and 9616, and MS.Doc.1275. Shropshire Archives holds the 'Acton of Aldenham papers', around 1,180 items dating from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, S.R.O. ref. 1093, together with other groups of papers relating to the Acton family.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
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Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom