Harriet Arbuthnot

Political diarist from 1820 - 1832

September 10, 1793 – August 2, 1834

Harriet Arbuthnot (1793-1834), Charles’ second wife, kept one of the most remarkable of all political diaries from 1820 to 1832, published only in 1950. She was a highly intelligent and perceptive woman, close apparently platonic friend of Castlereagh and Wellington and to a lesser extent of Liverpool himself; her editor the 7th Duke of Wellington’s description of her as “without any imagination” is a calumny. Of course, in the modern world she would have been a rising politician. Her diary breaks off in mid-sentence in 1832, when she had only two more years of dull inept Whiggery through which to live before cholera took her. Thus, one longs not for a sequel but for a prequel. She was privy to all the Liverpool government’s activities from 1814 on, as well as witnessing its apogee in the early 1820s, and one yearns for her insights into the difficult years of 1814-19. In any case Victorian historians of the period, without access to Mrs. Arbuthnot’s diary, got several things badly wrong, notably on the subject of the devious and slippery Canning.

© 2020 Martin Hutchinson