The Portland Collection is home to an extraordinary array of historic books.
The Book Collection
Generations of the family have added to the book collection, with 17th-century works collected by William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle (patron of the playwright Ben Johnson) and his brother, mathematician Sir Charles Cavendish. Later additions include books and manuscripts purchased by the great 18th-century collector and bibliophile Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford.
Further works were added in the 19th century by family members such as the 4th Duke of Portland, whose manuscripts can also be found in the department of Manuscripts and Special Collections, The University of Nottingham and the Nottinghamshire Archives.
We are digitising items from the book collection and have a selection of titles to browse below.
Books are added periodically, so please bookmark this page and visit again soon to see our new digital titles.
The Harleian Collection
The Harley Gallery and Foundation is named after Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (1689 – 1741). In 1713, Harley married Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles, the heiress to Welbeck.
[Harley] had inherited his father’s unbridled enthusiasm for collecting books, prints and manuscripts, and his wide circle of friends included such celebrated literary figures as Jonathan Swift, Matthew Prior, Daniel Defoe and Alexander Pope.
By the time of his death Harley owned the greatest private library in Britain – over 50,000 books, 41,000 prints and an astonishing 350,000 pamphlets.
The expense all but bankrupted him and in 1739 Henrietta had to sell Wimpole to meet his debts. Harley died only a year later; the humiliation was said to have killed him. His widow sold his books for £13,000, less than he had spent on having them bound, but kept his manuscripts until 1753, when she generously sold them to the nation for £10,000, a small fraction of their value, out of respect for her husband’s wish that his manuscripts should be kept together.
As the Harleian manuscripts they became one of the founding collections of what is now the British Library.
Michael Hall, Treasures of The Portland Collection
Caring for the book collection
We work closely with NADFAS who help us to conserve the book and manuscript collection.