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The Layard Papers

The Layard Papers

Medium: Ink on paper

Shelfmark: add_ms_38988_f169r

Scale: Millimetres

Genre: Letter


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The General Correspondence (including minutes) of A.H. Layard during the years 1861–1869, or the Layard Papers in short, are part of the Library’s collection of primary sources that are connected to Britain’s diplomatic relationship with America during the Civil War. Sir Austen Henry Layard served as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the British government from 1861–1866.

Several volumes of general correspondence between Layard and diplomats across Europe and America chart the issues he dealt with whilst holding this office. Letters relating to the American Civil War, particularly from the first year of the conflict, highlight tensions surrounding Britain’s potential acknowledgment of the Confederacy as a belligerent power.

The Layard Papers from 1862 can be found in the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts collection. The volume contains several letters to Layard that reference the Trent Affair and deteriorating relations between Britain and the Union, alongside pragmatic diplomatic reasoning about not becoming entangled with American military affairs. The volume also contains a note signed by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston.  

This first image is a note, dated June 1862, about the issue of whether Britain would acknowledge the Confederacy’s independence. Asking for Parliament’s opinion regarding the seceded states, it stresses ‘the propriety of recognising these states as an independent nation is worthy of the serious and immediate consideration of Her Majesty’s ministers’. That the matter was raised amongst the highest levels of government demonstrates how closely Britain paid attention to affairs across the Atlantic during the conflict.

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