The Diaries of Lady Amabel Yorke, part 1: Who was Lady Amabel?

Hello! My name is Christiane, and I am student at University of Leeds where I am doing a Masters in War and Strategy. As part of my course I am doing an internship at the Leeds office of West Yorkshire Archive Services. I have been working with the diaries of Lady Amabel Yorke.  The following three posts are a written version of my talk at the International Women’s Day event on 8 March at the History Centre in Wakefield.

amabel_york_diaries

Just a few of Amabel’s diaries are shown here, there are 37 in total.

A diary holds the writer’s innermost feelings that can’t be shared with anyone else. A diary can also be a way to remember events, whether big or small. It is a private possession that in most cases the writer did not intend to be read by anyone but him or herself.

 

This is what makes the diaries of Lady Amabel Yorke so valuable as a historical source. Here we have a woman living in a period when women had limited outlets to express themselves commenting on politics and major events.

Born in 1751 to the second earl of Hardwicke, Philip Yorke and Jemima Yorke, née Campbell, Lady Amabel grew up in a household that was characterised by an intellectual and political atmosphere.[1] This would have a huge influence as she grew up and would shape her interests as an adult.

Lady Amabel was happily married to Lord Polwarth, Alexander Hume-Campbel from 1772 to his untimely death in 1781. Lady Amabel would never marry again nor did she have any children. The rest of her life she would spend in Bedfordshire and London until her death in 1833.

Thanks to her parents, Lady Amabel had a passionate interest in politics throughout her life. She lamented the fact that she as a woman could not enter politics but it did not stop her from taking part in political discussions with her friends and acquaintances. Indeed she would fill her diaries with her comments on political events.

Other women in the same period would also show an interest in politics, the Duchess of Devonshire being the most famous example.[2] Lady Amabel, however, stands out because her diaries have been preserved.

Lady Amabel was a keen diary writer, starting in 1769 and stopping in 1827. Her diaries offer a unique chance to read about a Georgian Lady’s life from the age of 18 till she was 76 years old.

[1] Dorian Gerhold, ‘Campbell, Amabel Hume- , suo jure Countess De Grey (1751–1833)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison ( Oxford: OUP, 2004) Online ed., edited by David Cannadine, (September 2014)<http://0-www.oxforddnb.com.wam.leeds.ac.uk/view/article/68352&gt; (accessed 31 March, 2017)

[2] Linda Colley, ‘Womanpower’, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2009)

 

Christiane Askirk, University of Leeds, HIST5020M Making History: Archive Collaborations.

Note from WYAS – if you would like to see the diaries of Lady Amabel Yorke they can be found at our Leeds office of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, reference WYL150 as part of the Vyner of Studley Royal collection.  Parts 2 and 3 of Christiane’s blog will be posted on our Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal blog, coming soon!

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